Spencer turned thirty on Saturday. It was about fucking time. He's been in his twenties the whole time I've known him, first he was twenty-one and then a whole year at every age until thirty. It's been a long ride.
Thirty is one of those reflective birthdays where you sit down and have a little think. The first things I thought about were how much he has annoyed me, which is a lot but probably not quite as much as I have annoyed him. Friendship is sometimes a two-way annoyer-annoyee contract. I was thinking about making some notes about the annoying times but that would be easy and a little glib. Then I thought about the moments of support through sorrow, betrayal or ridiculous romantic muddles with hideously inappropriate men. Spencer was there for all of them but that too would be easy.
What is more difficult are moments of friendship and understanding that drop like a mantle pinning you still for just a second while the world glides on your own gentle axis.
Last Saturday I had to read a short story in front of an audience. I did not want to. I was petrified. I was coerced into going through with the deed by a horde of people, Spencer being one of them. I had friends in the crowd, all of them lovely, but Spencer was the one I knew I would go to if I fucked it up royally, made an irredeemable fool of myself and needed someone to make a fast exit with. I shouldn't have been so afraid, writers do this kind of thing all the time, but I was because before that night I've always said no, let my fear guide my answer and just said no.
The reading went with no major hitches, no one was more surprised than me. My next move should have been the bar, but the crowd seemed impenetrable. They were planted wall-to-wall like cross-legged rocks, jagged and unable to be stepped upon. I gave up on the idea of a drink but Spencer went over the back of the armchair he was holed up on and picked his way to the bar.
He strode back towards me, triumphant over the cross-legged crowd, holding two open bottles of beer. I saw he was heading for some difficulty, climbing simultaneously between the red hanging wall partitions and over the back of a sofa. I stood up to help and fell into a five second ballet. He came up suddenly over the back of the sofa rising gracefully as an eagle, passing a bottle into my open hand then placing his empty hand on the top of my head for balance. While he was up there, tall as a rafter, I looked up at the travelling arc of him and realised we were mirroring the same grin, shining and elongated with one long unlit cigarette out of the corner of each of our mouths. I kept looking and grinning as the flat palm of his hand centred his descent and he came to rest feet first on the ground.
It seemed to me that everything was communicated in that five second arc over the back of an old sofa with full beer bottles and unlit cigarettes and stupid grins. It seemed to me like we'd sat for hours talking, me saying how much I had needed him there, him saying of course he was going to be there and that I did alright. Me saying that for years it was him turning his back and taking three tall steps up and onto a stage and that it seemed important somehow that just this once it was me doing the climbing. Him saying that I did it, and he knew all along that I could.
I don't suppose it sounds like much, five seconds of grinning and balancing in the quest for beer but just in that moment it was everything. To be wordlessly understood as the somersaulting mix of fear and relief left me giddy. To know absolutely that his open palm on the top of my head was guiding him safely back down no less than his presence was safely guiding me.
Spencer is one hell of a friend. So happy birthday to him.
I actually received an overwhelming amount of encouraging advice and support about mastering my stage fright and reading my story. From a whole bunch of people like Gemnastics, Geoff Lemon, Anushka, Spencer, Vanessa Berry, Thomas G Watts, my mum and especially Tim Sinclair who came to my house and got all Geoffrey Rush on my Colin Firth arse but right now this is about Spencer.
I am grateful to the people who came up to me afterwards and said they liked my story, especially the people who quoted lines of it back to me, that was odd but nice that you remembered some of my words. And to the woman in the red coat at The Duke thank you for coming up to me and saying you liked my story, days and days and days after the fact. That was kind of great.
Oh and erm, thanks Pip Smith and Penguin Plays Rough for making me do it, giving me free drinks and then paying me money. I hid the money in my sock drawer.