Peter was my childhood friend – right up until 1999 in fact, when I moved away from East Sussex to Norfolk. Although we now exchange Christmas cards and the odd email our friendship has, sadly, struggled to cope with the extended distances between us.
We knew each other from when I was about seven, but became true friends in my early teenage years. It was you who introduced me to the delights of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Queen – although I wasn’t a quick convert: in fact, I distinctly remember the first time I heard you play what I later came to know and love as Shine on you Crazy Diamond, dismissing it with what now seems a wholly ignorant “what’s this crap?”
My other initial memories are of that grey, wooden radio controlled boat you built. We would take it down to Hove Lagoon on a Sunday afternoon, a trip that would inevitably culminate in a protracted and painful sinking, with you wading in to recover the stricken vessel. The boating would be alternated with bike trips. We’d leave my house, wheel our racers up the twitten to Southwick Hill, then breeze down Kingston Lane, through Southwick and Shoreham and across the harbour lock gates. Finally, we’d muster all our speed and attempt to rush that short stretch of promenade behind the power station, where the shingle broke through the sea defences.
A few years later, the boating was replaced with kites. Peter Powell stunt kites, to be precise. These were revolutionary to us and flew best in very strong winds. Accordingly, we would drive up to Devil’s Dyke in near gale-force conditions and park the car so that we could drop the windows to the lee of the wind. With one of us perched in the front seat controlling one string and other in the back with the second, we’d see how long we could keep the thing flying, whilst challenging ourselves to perform riskier and riskier manouvres ever closer to terra firma. As with the boating years earlier, the inevitable calamity occurred and one of us would have to brave the elements to launch it skywards once more.
June 7, 1977 was a great day for us, the date of the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations. We set off early on the train from Brighton to London. I remember us scrambling up the side of a building at Trafalgar Square to get a good view of proceedings and being hastily removed by a member of Her Majesty’s constabulary. We simply waited until he moved on and clambered straight back up. After the formal processions, we took a boat trip to Greenwich where I remember us winning a few quid on a pub fruit machine. But then came the real highlight of the day; our first concert – gig, as they say today – at Earl’s Court to see the other Queen – the band. The ticket cost £2 and later, inside the programme cover, I wrote out the title of every song they played that night. What a great trip that was.
In later years, we would spend the occasional summer evening walking from our homes in Mile Oak over the Downs to the sleepy little village of Fulking, some three miles away. Here, we would enjoy a few pints and a Southern Comfort or three at the watering hole known as the Shepherd and Dog – which we referred to, for some inexplicable reason, as The Ferret. It nestled at the foot of the escarpment, next to the little spring which, famously, has never dried up. Having imbibed a few sherbets, the walk home was usually rather more adventurous. You were renowned for being accident-prone at the best of times and I recall one occasion where you drunkenly strayed from the path to encounter an electric fence. There was a strangled buzzing noise, a recoil of wire and the splintering of a wooden post. This was immediately followed by a cry of “shit!” and, after a tiny delay, some rather startled mooing and scurrying of hooves from the field below.
As we meandered from our teenage years in to adulthood, we used to make our annual pilgrimage to Pontins in Brixham, Devon, with our friends Barry and Brian. Snooker was very popular in holiday camps in those days and there was an exhibition from a professional each week. The first year it was Ray Reardon. I recall him setting up the machine-gun shot with five reds. Just as he was about to hit the cue-ball, I remarked: “John Spencer can do it with six balls.” He paused, stood up slowly, let his cue run through his fingers and hit the floor with a dull thud. He turned and stared directly at me. “Fuck John Spencer” he barked, and potted the balls as planned. The following year was supposed to be a further exhibition by the great Mr Reardon, but he was taken ill and they sent a replacement; an individual who nobody in the room – and I do mean nobody – had ever heard of: a young slip of a lad with spots and red hair who went by the name of Steve Davis!
You were always willing to give me a lift to and from my first proper job, in the Registry at Brighton Town Hall, in your old blue Ford Cortina BJG 978K (how DO I remember that registration number? And, more importantly, why?) Eventually, I managed to achieve transportation independence and bought a moped, a Yamaha FS1E, coloquially known as a Fizzy. The summer mornings would see us racing each other, rather stupidly in hindsight, along the seafront.
As we entered out thirties, family life meant that we didn’t see as much of each other although, a couple of times each summer, we could be found in the beer garden at Hangleton Manor, the sun on our backs, recounting stories of the good old days.
This letter shows that I have fond memories of you and the times we shared. Thank you, Pete, and all my best wishes for the future.