Bad Boy

I sometimes get asked whether there’s anything I’d change about my life if I could live it again.This is hard. Apart from the problem of analysing five decades of adult life on the spur of the moment, my response would depend on who’s asking the question and why.

The last person to ask (between mouthfuls of home-made steak and kidney pie, and completely out of the blue) was my 94 year old mum. Earlier I’d asked how often she thought of dad who’d died eight years before. She’d replied, ‘Every day,’ and seemed glad to talk about him for a while. Perhaps, buoyed by this, she’d felt confident to ask me something equally personal. Or maybe she’d realised that even though I’m still ‘her boy’, at 67 I too have a life story to tap into. Anyway, feeling as unprepared as ever and not wishing to offend someone so key to my upbringing, I bumbled a suitable response.

She then gave her own answer to the question by hinting at my behaviour as an angry late-teen fifty years earlier. Perhaps this had been nagging her ever since – one of life’s blemishes she wanted to clear up. To prevent the steak and kidney pie from getting cold, I found it easiest to (rather belatedly) acknowledge any former wrongdoing whilst insisting that my happiness today was the sum total of all experiences, good and bad, throughout life.

There really is very little I would change. In each phase I’ve risen (or fallen) to the opportunities presented, and not looked back. I wasn’t disappointed at being expelled from school (and nearly from home), and I liked my early jobs in bars and bakeries, farms and fisheries. For the first time I had money, new friends and a sense of independence – just what I needed at the time. And later, when I decided to go to university, I wasn’t worried about getting a particular grade or not knowing what I wanted to do afterwards or why I’d chosen economics in the first place. More than anything I was, and still am, stimulated by travel – building a picture of what’s ‘out there’ and revelling in the unpredictable situations travel gives rise to. When at one stage I felt the need to ‘belong’ to an organisation, I happily drifted into paper-pushing in high-rise blocks. And at 40 I did the best thing of all – setting up and running a successful Bed and Breakfast in Shropshire, greeting and pleasing hundreds of lovely visitors and becoming my own boss.

Other than to work for myself, I had no career goals or vocation. I certainly wasn’t cunning or conforming enough to be a corporate success and would ultimately have hated myself for becoming like some of the people I shunned. A steadier path would no doubt have pleased my parents, whose perceived straightness I vehemently rejected in my youth. I’m now accepting of this as having come from a military-minded father himself raised in Victorian ways, and at least it created a secure environment from which I could express myself and prepare for the independence I craved. We each find our own way, and I’m happy with the route I chose.

Nor would I have changed much about my personal life. Two marriages and a number of other serious relationships, interspersed with extended periods alone, were all good in their time. Even my unhappiest live-in relationship served to convince me that I preferred living by myself – for as long as I can remember I’ve been content in my own company. And I feel privileged, following an early adulthood during which I professed a desire for anything but a family, to have landed up with such a lovely daughter.

I’ve often wished that, as a younger adult discovering sex and sexuality and finding my place in life, I’d already had the knowledge and self-assurance that only came later. I might have offered greater respect to certain people and sought fairer treatment from others. But it’s chicken and egg. Without the maturing effect of exploration, learning from each success and failure – each delightful do and disappointing don’t – I might not feel so at ease with life now.

Bad Boy 1966

Bad Boy 1966

But if only I could eradicate some specific incidents from that fraught period of 16 to 18 …

Bad things I did – which really don’t matter now except that they’re a blot, like a tiny chip on a valuable old vase. Mum had alluded only to my general teenage behaviour, but these other ‘things’ are for me alone to know – and be haunted by.

Of course, if someone plied me with copious amounts of alcohol, fine cuisine and other favours, I might spill.

Or am I being bad suggesting this?

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Chance Encounters

What’s the chance of meeting someone you know in a random location miles from home? Well, the odds might be surprisingly high. A couple of Saturdays ago I had my fourth such experience in recent years.

Tessa and I were in The Albert, a busy gastro-pub in Llandudno, on the first night of a short break. The menu looked promising and with real ales called Try Time and Scrum Down we were all set to watch England v Wales rugby on the big screen. As I headed to the bar a figure stepped in front of me and said,

‘Hello Paul, how are you?’

I recognised him immediately as the former manager of Boscobel House, an English Heritage site near Telford where I’d worked as gardener. Peter had lived in staff accommodation at Boscobel although his home was in Lincoln. We’d got to know each other well, but since our relationship had never extended beyond work we hadn’t stayed in touch after he left.

In the 60s Peter had been drummer in a band playing covers in dance halls across the UK. Periodically he’d pull out a set of drumsticks and perform elaborate rhythms on the oak counter of Boscobel’s reception. It was still in his blood. And only he knew the tune he was tapping along to. Before he retired from English Heritage he insisted on tailor-making me a CD from his enormous vinyl collection – Helen Shapiro, Bobby Vee and the like, plus a bonus track by his own band. His wife told us that even now he played the kitchen work surface at home.  Strangely, Peter looks a lot like the Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. Maybe he missed his true vocation.

Tessa and I had travelled the 150 miles from Ledbury to Llandudno and Peter and his wife the 170 miles from Lincoln on the same weekend. Of the many restaurants in Llandudno, we’d chosen to eat in the same pub on the same night at the same time, having not seen each other for eight years.

On another occasion, around the time Peter left Boscobel, I’d experienced a similar chance encounter on a week’s holiday with my brother in Goa . As we tucked into a spicy Indian lunch on our first day, a voice called from a table across the small dining area,

‘Hello Paul, what are you doing here?’

Geoff and Colleen had been neighbours and good friends for seventeen years, although I’d not seen them for three years since I left the B&B I’d run near Shrewsbury. They’d retired from farming a few years before I left and visited warmer climes whenever they could. Goa is 6,600 miles from Shrewsbury and has a holiday season of eight months – between monsoons. There are many resorts in Goa and hotel growth had proliferated over the previous ten years. What therefore were the chances of our staying in the same hotel at the same time? We only got together once or twice during our stay, but the conversation was rich with nostalgia and gossip – as if I’d never moved away.

A third coincidence took place one summer a few years ago on a family coach outing to Sidmouth with Ledbury Community Choir. Late afternoon, as the sun came out after a violent thunderstorm, my teenage daughter and I made our way towards a teashop in the town’s colourful clifftop garden. Coming through an archway a man stepped across my path and said,

‘Look who it isn’t!’

Chris had been stage manager for a Malvern Theatre group with whom I’d performed a few years earlier. During the three months of rehearsal and performance we’d become well acquainted. Now we’d met again, randomly, under a stone arch in the small garden of a seaside resort 130 miles from home.

In an even more bizarre happenstance in the late noughties, en route from Ledbury to visit my mother in Brighton, I was scanning the departure board on the packed concourse of London Victoria railway station when a voice next to me said,

‘Fancy seeing you here!’

It had been five years since my acrimonious parting with a Shrewsbury girlfriend and there’d been no contact since. Luckily, after an awkward three-minute exchange the lady had to dash for an imminent train to West Sussex where she now lived.

But it didn’t end there. Having initially earmarked her train for my trip, I abandoned the idea in favour of a train leaving ten minutes later. With great relief I settled in a carriage halfway along my twelve-coach train. Glancing, as you do, into the window of a train on the adjacent platform (delayed, as it turned out) I was shocked to see her sitting opposite! She hadn’t spotted me so I ducked below window level and waddled to another seat – a precious snippet for Southern Rail CCTV.

Her journey was 220 miles to Sussex from Shrewsbury where she’d been visiting friends. Mine was 170 miles. We’d crossed Victoria at exactly the same time. There was no evidence that I’d been stalked, though for a while I chose that interpretation. It was simply a preposterous (double) coincidence.

That episode aside, I find these chance meetings reassuring. Past friends and acquaintances never seem totally lost, and compared with dreams or déja vu the experience is at least tangible, albeit fleeting. I now keep a lookout on the off chance that an old friend is on the same plane or is sitting a few rows down watching the same West End matinée.

Perhaps like-minded people with similar backgrounds tread common social paths, making the chances of meeting greater than we think. In any case, despite a world surface of 510 million square kilometres and more than 525 thousand minutes in a year it’s bound to happen sometime!

So cheerio for now. I’m sure we’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8