South of the River – with friends


Compass-SouthIt’s time to reflect on a busy week. After a quiet summer, I’ve been out every evening this week.

On Wednesday I was at the Area Committee, which included a sobering discussion about welfare reform and high interest lending. Behind the modern jargon there’s a more straightforward word: poverty. And it’s on the march in South Leeds. I should be writing about poverty this week, but I’m not going to.

Monday night was a very different experience. My Other Half and I drove down to Wolverhampton for a gig. Robert Plant (for those of you who don’t know, he was the singer in the popular beat combo Led Zeppelin) was playing a hometown gig at the end of a world tour. We are big fans, both of Zep and his recent work with increasingly interesting musicians from around the world.

It was a great night and amongst the old Zep songs he played was one of my favourites – Friends. It has a rather haunted melody and interesting time signature and then a bit of hippy-dippy chorus:

“Mmm, I’m telling you now, The greatest thing you ever can do now,
Is trade a smile with someone who’s blue now, It’s very easy just… “

By the way, you may have noticed that I changed my byline photo the other week. I thought it was about time I admitted that I’ve been wearing glasses for the last three years. I got a lot of comments saying that I looked younger – I think it’s down to the fact that I’m smiling in this shot.

So last night, I was out with friends (did you see what I did there?). I don’t really have a lot of friends. I’m not looking for sympathy here, I know lots of people, but I’m not sure how many I would class as friends. You might not guess from what I write on this blog, but I’m really quite shy in company. I met the friends I was out with last night on a professional development course, it was quite intense and afterwards we said lets meet up socially. We meet up about twice a year for a drink and some food. We don’t have contact in between, but I can tell these people everything about what’s going on in my life. I don’t have to pretend with them.

I have another group of friends I see once a year. We were thrown together in the early 1990s when the housing association I worked for took over, sorry, merged with another association. I was one of the union reps negotiating how the staff would be integrated, which offices would close, etc. At the end of the process the other three reps on the negotiating team all took redundancy. We went out for a meal to mark the end of the process and said we should meet up in a year and see how things are going.

It’s the sort of thing that people say when someone leaves a job and moves on. Rather cynically, I thought nice idea, but it will never happen. Twelve months later there we are again and we’ve met nearly every year since.

It’s something to do with the intensity of the initial experience. It creates a bond and it creates trust. I think that’s what friendship is, isn’t it? You can tell a friend about how you really feel, you can ask a friend for help.

Jeremy Morton Aug13I promise to come back to the subject of poverty another day. It’s clear there are some very tough times ahead for many of us, how we react will shape our communities into the future. We will need to rely on our trusted friends, but we can also help people we don’t know with a smile and kind word. It won’t solve their problems, but it will make life a little more bearable. And as Robert said “it’s very easy”.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.