His name was Christopher, but with his usual wish to be individual he spelt it Chriss. When I was about 13 he first turned up, with his characteristic ambling gait, on the short train journey to our boys’ grammar school. He was different. He wore a suit, not the normal jacket and trousers. His hair was longer than everybody else’s, and his attitude was…. individual. He provoked some adverse responses from teachers, pupils and parents- in hindsight, not justified. They were somehow straighter times, especially in sleepy Sussex
His mother was a doctor, just moved to the growing village practice. His father was an ordained priest, who taught woodwork and I think lectured in philosophy. He called me Marcus Aurelius.
Chriss borrowed his father’s cassock to go to a youth club disco, immediately singling him out for potential violence, which he escaped across fields and streams. He rode a home-made bike to the station with upside-down racing handlebars and a tiny front wheel. He went off on holiday in Norfolk on his proper racing bike with a home-made trailer, and ended up meeting a well-known illustrator and getting a ride on a Norton Commando. He saw bands first, and organised a coach trip to see Deep Purple at the Rainbow.
He was always that bit better than me at everything: chess, tennis (he could give me a 40 love advantage in each game and still beat me), running and of course meeting girls. I could nearly match him at table tennis, which we played on a huge table in his parents’ barn. My parents really didn’t like him, because of his parents’ relaxed approach. Writing this, I realise that I unconsciously copied him. I wanted a racing bike. I went off on a cycling holiday on my own (and gave up after two nights). I admired Nortons. When he went off on Inter-Rail across Europe I envied him, but was too scared to do it.
I still fondly remember many evenings at his house listening to records on his parents’ impressive B&O hi-fi. I suppose I did have individual tastes, but their au-pair had LPs which widened my horizons: ‘Love’ and ‘Juicy Lucy’ for example. We had fiecely contested games of Monopoly and chess. We cycled to Brighton: the longest trip I’ve ever done. It seems tame now, but it was a big adventure then.
We left school and lost touch. He went to university, I went to teacher training college. I think he was eventually doing a master’s degree in agriculture. The last time I saw him was when I was 22. I was very happy (I had a girlfriend!) and we met in the pub one late December night, where we drank King and Barnes Old Ale (sadly missed) before saying goodbye in the snow. I’ve done the inevitable internet searches, without success. Perhaps he’s gone off grid. That would be very satisfying somehow. Perhaps it’s best not to resurrect the past.
There was no good reason for writing this, except that as usual I just felt compelled to do so. The beautiful Norton motorbike is just for the sake of having an image.