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Last night I attended a prizegiving at Lesmahagow High School. My job was to shake hands, congratulate each prizewinner and then pass them their certificate or trophy. I managed it without any serious difficulty. After all, the heavy–lifting had been done by the pupils themselves and the on–the–ball staff members who ensured that the correct pupil received the correct prize.

The pupils I met were bright, energised, engaged and active. Young people get a bad press these days but they’re not all video game playing hoodie drop–outs.

However, it got me to thinking about my own school days. They weren’t so long ago – after all I’m only 30.

I’ll pause here to allow those who know me to guffaw and snort tea down their nostrils.

Apparently on my first day of primary school I came home at lunchtime and announced I wasn’t going back because ‘I knew it all.’

I don’t recall this and I’m not sure what particular all it was I knew but that arrogance didn’t last long.

Truth be told, I was not the brightest bulb in the box. I’m still not.

Neither was I proficient at anything sporty. Science was beyond me. And maths and arithmetic were a mystery. That’s still the case, apparently, because just recently someone told me the plot of one of my books just didn’t add up.

What I could do, though, was string words together. Sometimes even in the right order. And I could make shit up. As an adult, I eventually gravitated towards an occupation where being able to string words together and make shit up came in handy.

Naturally, I became a journalist.

(I’m kidding. No angry letters from outraged reporters, please!)

School has changed, though. In my day, computers were something in ‘Star Trek.’ Even calculators were akin to science fiction. My fingers were my calculators. For complex sums the shoes and socks came off. Not a fragrant experience on a hot day. And examiners frowned upon a question like ‘what is 5×4’ being answered with ’10 plus 10 little piggies.’

However, as I said, the complexities of mathematics were beyond me. I thought a logarithm was a dancing lumberjack. And when a friend told me he’d passed Highers in French, German, Latin and Algebra, I wondered how you said ‘Good Morning’ in the latter.

During last night’s ceremony, a terrific speech from the outgoing school captains underlined the value of friendship.

Friendship is important. I still have a few friends from my youth. I don’t see nearly enough of them (one is the brains behind this very website) but they mean a lot to me. And they know that everything I’ve said above is very nearly true. They’re also the ones wiping the expelled beverage from their upper lip.

It is also a theme in my fiction. Davie McCall is very much a loner but where would he be without Bobby Newman? Or Arrow, Davie’s dog n the final two books? And Dominic Queste has strong support group in the Sutherland Brothers and Father Verne.

There are a couple of lines about friendship from the film ‘Stand by Me’ (I’m not sure if they’re in the original Stephen King novella, ‘The Body’). One is, ‘Friends come in and out of our lives like busboys in a restaurant.’

That’s is true. Friends can come and go.

The other line is this – ‘I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?’

That is both true and false.

There’s something about friendship when you’re young. It’s not something you think about at the time, analysis comes when you’re an old fart, it’s just something that is. Friends at that stage are more important than anything, even family.

As you grow older, you drift. Pressures of work, of family, of life take precedence. Soon those people who you roamed the streets with, who you played with, who you fought with, who you thought would be there forever are gone. Maybe in later life you hook up – a reunion, more likely a funeral – but something has gone.

So I think myself lucky that I’m still at least in contact with a couple of people who knew me way back then.

Of course, I’ve made more friends since school. Good friends. Close friends. Friends I rely on. Friends I know will be there when the solids hit the air conditioning. Friends I no doubt piss off regularly but are still there. Some are authors, some are not. Some are recent, some I’ve known for years. But they, like my old school chums, remain as vital a part of my life as the need to breath. I’m glad I have them.

The school captains last night said their friendship would last.

Wouldn’t it be great if they’re right?