My friend Colin is over for the day. This is a man I know almost everything about.
I know how he thinks, I know his past, I know his dreams and ambitions. I know what he’d call his autobiography (a trilogy, beginning with Life In The Fast Lane). This is a man I can spot in a crowd from a distance of 200m thanks to his signature lollop, yet this is also a man who remains capable of capturing my attention in a heartbeat.
Such as when the town of Norwich appears on a TV news report and he says…
“I was actually a page boy at the bishop of Norwich’s wedding.”
These words strike from the blue like an in-house thunderbolt. I put down my beer can and turn to him. I have so many questions. But he has already moved on.
“Looks like good weather this weekend.”
But I don’t care about the weather this weekend, I care about the thunderbolt that just set my living room on fire.
“Wait,” I say. “What did you say about the bishop of Norwich?”
“Hmm?” he says. “Oh, I was a page boy at his wedding.”
“I think so.”
This is quite a shock to the system. But wait.
“What do you mean you think?” I say. “Being a page boy at a bishop’s wedding strikes me as something you would know you did or did not do.”
“I do a lot of stuff,” says Colin, shrugging.
They say an important part of any long-term relationship is maintaining the ability to surprise. It’s necessary to keep that spark of interest and intrigue alive. The fact that at no point in the nearly 30 years I have known him has he ever even once mentioned the fact that he was a page boy at a bishop’s wedding has thrown everything I thought we had in the air.
He is not posh. He is not from landed gentry. I did not go to school with people who become page boys at bishops’ weddings.
“How?” I ask. “And wait – can bishops get married? Do they have weddings?”
I thought they were all married to God or something!
“I think so?” he says, despite the fact he apparently went to one.
“So you think you might have been a page boy at a wedding that may or may not have happened?”
I say, trying to see just how sure he is of his own memory, because I don’t want to start introducing him at parties this way only for him to frown and say, “What? No I wasn’t!”
Colin scrunches his eyes shut, taking himself back to the day he had to presumably dress in a little page boy’s uniform and walk behind a man of God.
“I’m like almost certain it was the bishop of Norwich. Or Norfolk.”
I suddenly have my suspicions. It was just a man in a hat, wasn’t it? A man in a hat with a golden stick. The sort you’d see in a park shouting at the clouds. I bet ‘the bishop of Norwich’ was his parents’ nickname for this guy, because they couldn’t call him ‘mad Geoff’ in front of the kids. I bet they got phone calls late at night from police officers all the time and had to speak in code and say things like, “Oh no. What’s the bishop of Norwich done this time?”
And now they have created a false memory for poor Colin, but not one striking enough for him to even really trust in. Because I’d remember being a page boy for the bishop of Norwich’s wedding.
So would you. We all would.
By the way, this is not a kind of hint or me laying the groundwork for random bishops to ask me to be their page boy. There is a 90 per cent chance I’d turn you down, and the last thing I need is my inbox filling up with emails from random bishops. So, listen up, bishops: page boy work is not my scene.
“He was definitely a bishop anyway,” says Colin, sensing my distrust.
“Sure he was,” I say. “Of course he was. One bishop just blends into the other, doesn’t it, when you’re page boy at so many of their weddings.”
Quietly, I Google ‘Can bishops get married’ and it turns out that yes, of course they can. I try to ignore the fact that this lends a bit more credence to Colin’s insane tale. And then I consider Googling the bishop of Norwich and Colin’s name, and trying to figure out exactly how this could have been allowed to happen – and in a holy place of worship, too!
But then I look at this clown, and realise he has given me the greatest gift of all. He has given me surprise. Mystery. Intrigue. There has been no seven-year itch for us, and nor will there ever be – not when he saves vague and almost detail-less anecdotes like this for 30 years to suddenly drop in during regional news reports. So no. I will simply choose to believe my friend Colin may or may not have been page boy for someone who may or may not have been a bishop in a place that may or may not have been Norwich.
Because that’s what friendship is.
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