At the back end of November in 1992, I invited a group of people to a London pub and then supper. It was a simple and immensely enjoyable evening. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened. I was treated to several speeches and some slightly humiliating photographs. We met around 7pm on 5th December and the whole thing was over by about eleven.
By the standards that have evolved and developed since, it was tame to the point of lame. We drank a lot, ate well and laughed. People went home. I can still remember much about it. Looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
These were my people. I sent an introductory sheet before we all met up. We are still talking to each other, albeit with gaps sometimes lasting years between sentences. Each of the twelve has gone on to be hugely successful and live full, remarkable lives. I was, and still am, lucky to know them.
Here, with slightly more recent thumbnail photos, is how I described them nearly thirty years ago. Given their illustrious careers since, my attempts weren’t entirely prescient.
Will Awdry. Respectable young chap, easily embarrassed. Would prefer to talk about wholesome subjects like motorway driving or folk dancing. Especially next Saturday.
Jim Davies. Curator of the schooldays archive of anecdotes. Easy to spot thanks to aerodynamic haircut. Tall, quiet journalist and playwright (Directed groom as a rhinoceros in house play. Scenery fell apart during performance.) Fellow prefect with groom, entered into dubious poetic exchange in closing months of joint school careers. Both peed in the hole in which Princess Anne was to plant tree. Tree miraculously still alive. Half Dutch, linguistic gymnast of the printed word, still calls groom ‘Boz’. It’s a long story.
Kevin Duncan. Wiry, freckled entrepreneur, footballer, father and rock guitarist (influences: Lead, Mercury, Titanium). Fellow traveller in Geography at Oxford with groom, more importantly songwriter, organiser and leading light in succession of bands: The Inrage, Straight No Chaser, Lines To London, numerous recordings all sadly available. Extremely organized, works for large advertising agency, has thankfully laid to rest distressing collection of T shirts.
Peter Field. Avuncular gastronome with splendid nose for fine wine, cream tea or simply admiring. Has walked every inch of Great British map, eaten everything you can think of, probably including missionary. Satiric style may be late 20th Century answer to Enid Blyton. Driving style as featured in ‘The Italian Job’. Brilliant gardener, cook, fills in any extra time as advertising planner in a big building with a red staircase.
Martin Galton. Has spent more time with the groom than anyone else on earth (8 hours a day for the last 7 years). May explain tendency to loll about going ‘Ha Ha Ha’. Bearded, owns many bright jumpers. Top artist, single-handedly closed down Tunbridge Wells art gallery with one exhibition. (The critics: ‘Too controversial.’ ‘Crap.’) An art director with a bacchanalian taste for colour, will go to any lengths to seek out lunch. Draws nude people on Tuesdays.
John Hunt. Groom met John in Uxbridge in 1983, driving bizarrely mustard-coloured TR7. About six differently-hued motors (currently a red Porsche) later, now advises groom on matters financial – mortgage, parking tickets, Ladbrokes – which explains why there’s never enough to write rest of you a cheque. Musical fanatic, ex-manager of various bands, one-time body-builder. Deeply secretive about relationships with opposite sex. Perhaps he needs to be.
Jeremy Legge. Geography tutorial partner of groom at Brasenose, Oxford (both wore ties). Militarily correct bearing conceals seething ferment of literary genius – used to write poems and listen to Gordon Lightfoot (American answer to Wally Whiton). Able sportsman – cricket/rugby – proud dad of two, now our man in Cabinet Office. Like the Foreign Office, except advises opposite of everything the FO suggests. Fascinating on subject of tilt-flow rain gauges, South Africa (advised ANC for 2 years), nasturtiums.
Bill Locke. Went out with groom’s cousin aged 16 and never came back. Price on head still stands. Ran teenage band ‘Volta Redunda’, before graduating downwards to ‘Lines to London’ or whatever it was called. Bit of a thesp, jolly jape history of distinguished reviews as Cambridge student. After crisis of conscience in law (3 years at the photocopy machine), took off for BBC. Now produces/directs Blue Peter. No milk bottle top jokes please. Recently married; beforehand possessed several cookery books in which every dish stated; ‘Serves 2’.
Adam Morgan. Tall, blue-eyed, some would say döppelganger for groom (who are they kidding?), recently married gentleman, desperately regretful of agreeing to be Best Man. Prediliction for bottom jokes, pudding wine, Michelle Pfeiffer in waders. Prospective novel doing rounds of agents after six month sabbatical writing it. Has returned to be overworked planning (now there’s a conversation topic) director of hugely, er, big London advertising agency. Met groom in doorways in Oxford, pondered future together. Kind, generous and lovely and making a speech on 12th December.
Matthew Orr. The boy next door, knows all sorts of embarrassing early Awdry life details. Would dress up together (yes, really), play in sandpit, collect huge amounts of frog’s spawn. Spent early teenagerhood with groom sneaking unwittingly into only gay pub in High Wycombe. Ask about the gladiator story. Powerful rower, now owns private stockbrokers, married, lives in several squares of the A-Z, most of them in Chelsea. For some reason, has always been a wow with girls, particularly French Au Pairs. Bastard. We got the one with glasses, acne and a crush on my older brother.
Tim Riley. An handsome, athletic cove, good runner, racy copywriting style. Avid tea drinker. Buys every dance record from latest techno creatures (reverse baseball caps, silly trousers) before it’s released. Has driven extraordinary number of motorcars. Fixed up groom with blind date once, but labrador widdled everywhere. Lives in small cathedral in West London. Dry sense of humour verges on the Saharan at full stretch. Watch for immaculately ironed shirt. Holiday’d with three travel irons this year. Doesn’t everyone?
Phil Streather. Dubious honour of being groom’s next-door-neighbour and hence first in line for cat-feeding duties. Laid groom’s garden (there’s sexual achievement for you). Top documentary director, most recent film about, um, kites, and sound recordist – about 15 weeks sticking mikes up strange animals in London Zoo last year. Has just returned from Nepalese honeymoon. Actually gets married next January. Is strict veggie, enthusiastic mountaineer, Bonnington lookalike, cook. Referred to as one of ‘The Weirds’ by all at 61 Oakmead Road, stands about in stone circles at Solstice, festivals at Glastonbury, pubs anywhere.