As we get older, there are people that we come across and form friendships with. For me, they have been many and I treasure the time that we have spent together, the laughter, the adventures and the misadventures that we shared. I am sure that many of the friends I had when I was young have long since forgotten about me, but they are all etched in my memory.
From Stainbeck Preparatory School, to Harehills and then Roundhay, I have been lucky to have had a good circle of friends. I know other people may not have been so fortunate, but I enjoyed other people’s company and still do. Life is a series of stages and many of the friends we have do not follow the same journey. Some boys from Harehills went to schools other than Roundhay, and so did the girls. At primary school, we were less aware of the two genders, but at high school we were kept well apart. At first, this did strike me as a bit unusual, but it soon became the norm. I don’t know the reasoning for single-sex schools, but if it was to avoid distractions during lessons, then maybe it worked, but if it was to prevent us fraternising, or wanting to meet girls, then it failed miserably. The boys’ and girls’ school playing fields met at a row of trees and a few bushes and it was here that groups of the early years would gather, wave, smile and preen, hoping to attract someone’s attention. I knew some of the girls from primary school and a friend, Robert’s twin sister, Angela, was there. It seemed so strange that we had mixed so freely at Harehills primary and yet were now separated as if we weren’t safe to be trusted in each other’s company. The separation had the altogether opposite effect and made us far more interested in each other. We would sneak to the bushes and notes would be passed backwards and forwards. The notes revealed who was interested in who on the other side. If the feelings were mutual, you were in heaven, but if your interest was scorned, then the world ended, at least for the rest of lunchtime. Teachers and prefects would patrol the border with the intensity of East German guards at the Berlin Wall, and lines, detentions and litter collecting were handed out for anyone caught in no-man’s-land.
Friendship amongst the boys was a completely different matter. Such friendships were never discussed, but evolved through some sort of osmosis. Boys would hang around together and there were clear divisions and social status amongst the boys in the class. There was the alpha group, sporty, often handsome, confident and gregarious, who everyone wanted to be friends with, the beta group who were popular and included, and then there were the outers. The outers struggled to be accepted, and despite trying so hard, were never first on the alpha’s friendship list. Some would attempt to buy their way in, literally. I remember one boy who handed out money, and bought those he wanted to befriend packets of crisps from the tuck shop. The sad thing is that their gifts were gladly accepted, but they were never truly allowed into the clique, and at best, were tolerated.
Nothing puts someone off being a friend more than desperation, and the rejection was often merciless and cruel. Teenage boys are not naturally empathetic to other people’s feelings and I was no better than anyone else. Even the humble picking of sides for football games at lunchtime could be a source of torture for those wanting to be accepted. The first picks were obvious, they were the sporty ones; the remainder were the tryers and the also-rans, but the last few were humiliated by rejection, or put in goals. There was an even lower level and the one or two would be rejected by a team captain and offered free to the opposition. They weren’t even good enough to put in goals and have probably carried the scars of social rejection for the rest of their lives. During sport lessons, they were the ones never moving, shivering in the icy wind and who only moved when the ball came anywhere near them, and that was to run in the opposite direction. Those with any sense never put themselves forward and chose to hang around at lunch times with others who were not soccer players, and probably went on to hold very worthy positions in society.
At Roundhay, we tended to form friendships within individual classes, and as we moved up through the school, there were divisions that altered these groupings again. Science students hung around together, Arts students did the same, particularly in the sixth forms, but by this time we had formed quite close-knit friendships, and they seemed immune to this division.
The big difference for me was that at thirteen I went to St Edmund’s Youth Club. I went with a friend, Paul Banks, and it was the first time I had been out without my older brother to such a place. In reality, it was quite tame. There was table tennis, I think badminton, music playing and you could buy soft drinks and snacks. The one thing that it had was Roundhay Girls School girls and there was no barrier between us. This was great, in theory, but now there was no excuse for us not to mingle. The limiting factor now was that we were embarrassed, didn’t know what to say, and were only saved by the one or two that we knew from primary school. These were girls we were used to chatting with and so we tended to gather around them.
I went there regularly and started going to Lidgett Methodist Youth Club as well. The same kids went to both and the same sort of activities took place, but there was a smattering of non-Roundhay boys and girls who attended. On one occasion, a group of lads turned up. They were a year or two older, looked different. They were long-haired, slightly wild-looking, and certainly had a presence that made them stand out, a look that was slightly dangerous. This was it. Like moths to a flame, a few of us sidled over, entered conversations with them and their leader, and now, fifty-two years later, some of us are still friends.
It appears that there is something about these formative teenage years that stays with us. In some cases, you still see people who dress in the fashion that was current when they were teenagers. Their hair may be the same style: long-hair, mullet, quiff or whatever. Despite sometimes being ridiculed, nothing is going to make them change. It is similar with music. The music we loved during these times is still probably our favourite. I suppose each generation feels the same, but can you image Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, David Bowie, Pink Floyd or Alice Cooper playing in retirement homes? I also think it is the same with friendships. Those we made during these formative years have lasted far longer than those I have made since. I guess we had less to lose, less baggage to bring with us, and we were more trusting and less cynical. I don’t remember ever looking for friends, they just appeared in an almost organic way. I can’t say the same about girlfriends, as I was very keen on finding them, and at first I did go in search, but that never seemed to work. It was when I wasn’t looking that they appeared. At this time, we tended to be quite intense and relationships burned brightly, and were quickly extinguished, but it is surprising how so many stayed within the same circle of friends.
Couples would form and then they tended to move away from the circle for a while, whilst they spent time together. If the relationships lasted, they tended to return and managed to be part of the friendship group as well as be in a relationship. If the relationship failed, then there always seemed to be one heartbroken soul. Nick and John were the two notable cases. Both had been in intense relationships and when they split, there was no consoling them. Their world had fallen apart, and it wasn’t just their egos that were bruised. They would hang around with us and at first we showed what we thought was compassion and understanding, as they would speak of their broken hearts and how they longed to reunite. However, after a week or so, our patience would run thin and no one wanted to sit next to them and get an ear-bending of doom and gloom.
There was a lesson there for the future. People want to hang around with people who are positive and fun to be around, and having the right attitude can make you attractive. Making people laugh is the most endearing quality, as long as it isn’t at someone else’s cost, and those who can, tend to be popular. We didn’t have a lot of disposable income in the late 1960s, early 1970s, but that didn’t seem to matter. For entertainment, there were the youth clubs, parties, friends’ houses, the cinema, Leeds Poly and other music venues. To see a band would cost about fifty pence, and beer at college was ten pence a pint. For most of the time, we just needed to be in our circle of friends, and that was enough. The other thing was that we had a band, and that seemed to fill any spare time we might have had. When I look at my own children, now grown up, I see much the same pattern of friendships. The friends that they made at high school are the friends that they still have. They may not see each other often, but when they do, it as if they are back in time sharing the memories of the silly things they did together.
The strange thing for me is that even though times have changed dramatically, and technology has changed the world, my sons enjoy playing board games just as much as we did. The playing of games seems to allow us to compete, fall-out, humiliate each other, laugh, argue over rules, and more than anything, cement the friendships. I can’t speak for girls, but boys don’t seem to grow up. We age, look older, have responsible jobs, families and worries, but underneath it all, we tend to be the silly little boys who want to be noticed, liked and have fun. Shallow, maybe, emotionally shielded, possibly, but unsure of our place in the world.
We do lose track of friends along the way, but I have always felt that put back into the same situations, I would become friends with the same people. I guess we borrow some people, like books from a library, and have to put them back when we have finished with them. Some become our favourites and they stick with us through our lives, whether by accident or design.