Way back in the 1980s I worked with a guy called Neil on the advertising sales team of a magazine company. I was a terrible salesperson. I wasn’t motivated by money or targets or commission, but it was fun for a while, despite my lack of business acumen.
Another colleague, Lorna, quickly became a best friend, and the three of us would waste hours chatting by the photocopier or at the coffee machine.
Neil was the sales manager of one of the magazines and we got on famously. He forgave all my flaws and failings as we had a similar sense of humour and shared a love of music. We once travelled to Paris together, by car and ferry, to attend a trade exhibition, talking music and playing our two or three cassettes on repeat as we drove down the autoroute from Calais. At one point Neil stopped at a service station to buy another a cassette.
We stayed in a beautiful French hotel on the Boulevard Haussmann. Company expense accounts were generous back then. When our work each day was done, we would walk along the Seine, eat exquisite food in little bistros and share our dreams. One of his, if memory serves me well, was to be a farmer. Mine was to write books and travel the world.
It was totally platonic. We may have considered a romantic dalliance (who wouldn’t, in Paris?) but we respected and valued our friendship too much to jeopardise it.
Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself newly returned to London from overseas, penniless and jobless. Fortunately, the publishing company gave me my job back. Neil and Lorna were still there and had recently started dating. It was going well. I was thrilled for them.
After a few months, I realized my future did not lie in sales. It was time for a change of direction. I began to send job applications to schools to see if I could find work as a French and Spanish teacher. While abroad, I’d taught English as a foreign language, loved it, and seemed to have some aptitude for it. Teaching was in my genes (see extract from my article ‘this teaching life’ on the Teaching page of this website). https://suetredget.com/teacher/
Much to my amazement, I got the first teaching position I applied for and completed my PGCE on the job. By then, Lorna had moved in with Neil at his lovely old mews house, about 30 minutes’ drive from the boarding school where I worked, in one of those picturesque villages in leafy north Essex.
Going to Lorna and Neil’s became a weekend ritual for me. I lived at the school and work was intense. Fabulous – I’d finally found my vocation – but intense and all consuming. Getting away each weekend gave me the chance to unwind and refresh without bumping into staff (or students) at the village pub.
When I arrived Neil and I would go to Waitrose, buy all our favourite food and wine and cook up a storm, ready for when Lorna came back from her work in London. They had both left our original publishing company by then, and Neil had set up his own business closer to home.
By the time Lorna got home we’d be on our second bottle of wine. She never minded. She would rush upstairs, change into her weekend clothes and join in. We’d eat dinner and while away the evening as only old friends can.
They were joyous, happy days. After dinner, the records would come out, along with more wine, and, I seem to remember, port and the occasional cigar. Neil and I would take turns to play DJ. The living room floor would be littered with album covers. He introduced me to his favourite music and bands I’d never heard of. We’d sing along and dance around the room until the wee small hours.
Listen to this, he would say. Listen to this melody. Listen to those lyrics. Can you hear that key change? Do you hear that chord progression? We shared a love of sad, sad songs and melodic keys. Of heart-piercing lyrics, filled with yearning and regret. He also loved poetry, like me, and would read me poems by one of his favourites, Rupert Brooke.
Lorna and Neil went their separate ways in the early 1990s. Neil and I would see each other now and again, but it wasn’t quite the same without Lorna. Our happy little trio had disbanded.
Life moved on. I got married, moved to the north of England, then to Australia and began a whole new life. I later heard through the grapevine that, not long after we lost touch, Neil had travelled to Australia and worked on a farm.
On the morning of 11 September 2001 Neil and his fiancée were attending a meeting in one of the twin towers in New York. They didn’t stand a chance.
Friends from three continents and almost every phase of his life gathered to share memories of Neil. My friend Julia, a journalist who had worked with us at the publishing company, wrote a piece about him. I hope his family found some comfort in what she wrote. She described him perfectly: a compassionate man with a gentle sensitivity who helped his friends through the sorrows and joys of life; a nature lover with a passion for fishing and the great outdoors.
Neil and his fiancée had bought a house in Port Washington, NY, and were planning to adopt a child. His name is inscribed in bronze at Ground Zero in New York, a memorial to a life cut short.
One of the albums Neil introduced me too was Hats by The Blue Nile. It’s searingly emotional music, filled with the sadness, messiness and joy of life. I could never bring myself to listen to it again until last year. When I did, it took my breath away. The pain was so intense I couldn’t move for hours.
Lorna has been happily married for over twenty years. She remains one of my best friends ever and is one of several life-long friends who provide a home from home for my son Daniel when he needs to get out of London.
Daniel is a musician. Music allowed him to express himself, to find himself, to unlock his creativity and follow his own unique path. Lorna’s son, Angus, and my younger son Ben are both keen hockey players. Angus came to stay with us in Australia last year. His plan to work and play hockey in Perth for six months was cut short when COVID struck and he returned home prematurely.
Life is messy. Kindred spirits are rare. True friendship is precious. Real connection will last a lifetime if we respect it, honour it, treasure it and never take it for granted.
‘A friend to all is a friend to none.’ ~ Aristotle
‘Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.’ ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
If you enjoyed this tale, you may also like my post, Reconnection. https://suetredget.com/reconnection/
You can read more about the joy of friendship and music in my book, Changing Lightbulbs, available on Amazon and other platforms.