Carefree Arms. Lunchtime yesterday.
I walk in the sunshine to meet my friend Tom (not his real name). I miss him. But Mr French, who Tom once introduced me to, is.
He has a bottle in front of him so I go inside and get a drink.
Mr French – not his real name either – is a fixture. As people pass, one-in-three say ‘hi’ or pass a comment.
I joke with him that it is lunchtime and they are jealous as they are only grasping a few minutes of freedom before heading back into the office.
It’s all friendly, though. None of the passers-by make that pretence at not seeing him, as they might with a busker or beggar.
He tells me a story about a boy and his uncle. The boy had been badly treated by his father as a child and had grown to love his uncle. They would go mountain climbing together; not speak much, but share the joy of views, smells, back-breaking walks, danger, excitement.
It’s a world away from our metal chairs on the street outside Carefree Arms.
“One day, on the mountain,” says Mr French, “the uncle turned to the boy and said, ‘When I die, no matter what anyone says, burn me and bring me up here.’ And when he died, that’s what the boy did. When he told me, I felt it.”
Mr French’s eyes are welling up now.
“You make an agreement with a friend, you stick to it,” I said, sounding like Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch.
Mr French, not talking for a moment, but swallowing his Adam’s apple firmly, nodded.
We are silent. After a while, Mr French said: “My wife hates me, you know. But she hates Tom more.”