If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“Success is money,” Eddie said. “I am going to buy a car with a suitcase of cash,” Eddie said, laughing. He was always easy to laugh and that was a quality I admired.
We were going up the escalator in The Glades shopping centre in South East London. It was lunchtime and we has wolfed a Mcdonald’s before wandering around looking at ‘fit’ girls.
“I am not so sure it is. Surely it is power or influence. Like being a Lord” I answered.
This was not the first time we had been grappling with the notions of success. Eddie was fixated on buying a big house and brand new BMW using a ‘suitcase of cash’.
I was rather keen at the time to do anything good which would enable positive change in the world which even then seemed unjust.
“Shut up.” He had become very serious and put in his cool face with one raised eyebrow. It could only mean one thing. Some girls were coming down the other direction on the adjacent escalator and we had to pose as they passed, somehow seductively ignoring them in silence.
This bizarre pattern of behaviour played out time and again with the girls, we fancied apparently following the same method of nonchalant seduction. Looking back, the whole thing was so very awkward in our innocence.
My old friend Eddie and I had decided that all of our acquaintances at Bromley College were doing nothing for us. They were (and this is obviously a sweeping generalisation), ‘going nowhere fast’.
We decided to find some new friends who were educated, erudite and who had ambition, and we came up with a systematic way that we were going to do that.
Every Friday and Saturday night we would attempt to visit three or four pubs.
We would go in, get a drink and part ways agreeing to engage at least three people as we explored, meeting back near the door after 20 minutes.
Time and again we would meet up and agree that this was not the pub for us, and that the people were not the same.
Conversations would tend to be formulaic and predictable, football, rugby, sometimes racism, and always a lack of enthusiasm for life.
We would move on to the next pub.
We had started at Bromley South at the Crown at Bromley Common and then the Star and Garter, up through the High Street and then beyond into Bromley North.
We normally visited about three or four pubs an evening, before deciding to call it a night and I would drop him back home near Mottingham.
The same thing happened again and again and we had been at this for a number of weekends when we found ourselves near the American Pool Club. If we ventured any further it would mean going into Downham, a different environment completely and so we determined to call it a day.
We would cease our endeavour and just accept our dissatisfaction with our lot and leave our keenness to connect with the world utterly unfulfilled for the time being.
We glanced across the road to where the Beech Tree was. A quiet ‘old man’s pub’. We thought we would go in and have one last drink before heading off home.
As we entered, we realised that this was no ordinary night. It was full of young people.
We both immediately followed the usual protocol; drink, separation, reconnaissance and meeting back to confer.
This cohort of pub-dwellers were exceptional people as far as I was concerned. They had all just received their GCSE results and they were talking about foundation courses, they were talking about aspirations. Some wanted to be artists, some lawyers, accountants, and musicians – they all had firm ideas about how they were going to be a success.
Their dreams put into sharp relief what was being taught to us at Bromley College where I still recall one lecturer explained to us, if worked very hard, we might aspire to become middle management at a supermarket which comes with a very attractive package. I was left uninspired.
So here we were and we found some people who were excited about the future, unbound in ambition and whose dreams seemed to have no constraints.
We found some new friends.