There was a while when I was working in Dorchester a couple of years ago, that I’d park my car in the village of East Coker, where I grew up, on the way home from work and go for a jog around the village. One of the routes I’d go was to jog up Pendomer Hill, past the cattle and the fields. Every time I did so I thought about the boy next door.
It was me and Bertie that were best friends when I was a child, even though I had two brothers pretty close in age to me. We were united by a sense of mischievousness, like two characters straight out of the Beano. I would bring my guinea pigs round to his house and we’d put them in his electic minature train that had a route around the rockery.
He had a slightly overweight, full of fun short haired golden labrador called Honey, with deep brown soulful eyes. She would sometimes chase her tail in circles around and around and around. We’d take Honey for a walk with our families up Pendomer Hill and in the surrounding fields – which is why I always think of him when I’m there.
I loved going to his house where he’d have piles of the Beano to read and his Dad would make toast on the fire with one of those long forks and sometimes I’d do crafts with his Mum like making a necklace out of melon seeds. My little boy gets the Beano through the post every week, and I’m pleased to say it hasn’t changed much.
Bertie looked after our goldfish when we were on holiday and I remember one time we came back we were a goldfish or two down. He wrote a letter to explain and to break the news to us of the globfish. Another remarkable spelling based memory was when we received a Christmas card from next door addressed to me and my brothers (Andrew, Sarah and Simon) He simply put our initials and that acronym was a revelation to us all!
At some point we became aware that maybe it wasn’t cool for a boy and a girl to be best friends. When Bertie was in his 20s I heard the news that he was very poorly and sadly he passed away.
I walked past our old houses recently, side by side. In his old back garden the family was flying a large skull and cross bones. He would have liked that.