Growing up in rural Norfolk has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures. Having moved to university to me its green, patchwork landscape and rich beauty represent a stronghold. It is a bastion against the gritty urban life of the city. As a young boy it was a place of bustling activity. Building dens, exploring woods and climbing trees are all frequent activities of any young, voracious rapscallion.
Inevitably these bustling obsessions gave way to adolescent idleless a sport that Sam and I would perfect over the following years. This change of interests alongside my parents divorce skewered my perception of this idyllic haven slightly. Long summers holidays that had once spread out over the vast plains of a boyish dream world were still glorious yet at times solitary and isolated.
In August 2003 however three wild haired boys with torn jeans and graphic t shirts catapulted out of the back of simon finches land rover and into my life. Sam Jack and George. These specimens were fascinating for a boy who had attended a strict proper british prep school yet the style and attitude they presented was heavily contagious. To my delight I was sucked into a whirlpool of Linda Mccarthy sausages, rackety ska music and an alliegance to the might of the cricket bat.
We became an unholy trinity – of four and more– that summer. I returned to much of my childhood – long days on the Norfolk coast, cricket played on an endless loop and the freedom to run wild but now I saw it through the eyes of Sam Jack and George too, and they embraced everything.
We were marooned by the sea on the Stiffkey Freshes almost immediately we met. The bond and friendship that is sealed by an inch of thick oozing mud covering our entire bodies is one that cannot be washed off in a bath. That friendship runs deep. Our summers ebbed and flowed on eternally as we rehearsed plays, practiced our batting strokes and blasted the kinks out of car windows on the way for a swim at the beach.
Sam embraced these activities with such a fervid intention. He poured his entire heart, soul and energy into every outdoor pursuit thrown our way. Once single handedly destroying an entire cricket team of adults with a wicked right arm spin. We were playing the annual Norfolk cricket cup, The AU Don DE Jeuge named after a mad Norfolk character’s uncle. Much to our amusement Sam embraced the absurd, chatting to the plum mouthed characters with a Woodhouse-esque aplomb.
On every car journey Sam argued exhaustingly against my Mums country and western music and won, the Clash being the soundtrack to our summers for years running. This was only surpassed when he copied the whole back catalogue of both the Smiths and Morrissey onto my laptop, filling up over half the available space with his passion. The summers came and went and were there again as riot filled as ever.
One of my fondest memories is one night Sam introduced us to the game musical beds in which at any point in the night he played an incessantly repetitive polyphonic ring tone and we all leaped out of our beds and swapped with another player. Be it midnight or 6am we could be found by discerning parents collapsed on the floor in fits of hysterics. The next days play rehearsals were patchy and unhelped by the live test cricket on tv yet the show went on. Jack tearing his hair out, Sam and I tireless in our efforts to cause mayhem and drive him mad.
After the plays, dazzled by our starlit fantasy we assured a family friend we were the perfect brass band for her christening. None of us could play anything beyond a few chords but in spirit we were Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer and Keith Moon, a falling apart garage as our Woodstock and an audience of squawking poultry. The end product was still marvellous as far as I can remember. I spent most of the day sprawled passed out across the bathroom floor with an empty bottle of red wine.
One of the final more recent episodes happened on New Years day two years ago at Voewood Jacks family house. Although nursing rather bad-hang overs we decided to celebrate the start of the year by swilling down gin and replacing our wintery overcoats with loincloths and spears. Thus clad we ripped out into the icy winters night to hunt the plough. Sam saying that the only meat he could morally stomach would be that of our friend Josh.
The primitive wildness of the Norfolk countryside and the way we grew up there seems to me to have touched Sam profoundly. He loved to immerse himself in a way of life that was steeped in English nostalgia with a strong pulse of revelry and mayhem.
Somewhere along the way I joined those three boys in Simons Land Rover speeding along through country lanes into adulthood. As we grow and go separate ways values of such an indelible friendship will never become obsolete. Memories are timeless flecks of mud that nothing will remove.
And as we travel, all of us are bringing Sam with us. George has his moral and philosophical clarity, his love of fine wine and good company. Jack has his compassion, a shared flame of creativity and undying passion for Old Blighty and what it stands for. And I am left with Sam’s mischief, much to my Mum’s consternation. Now Norfolk means more to me than it ever has as it holds so much of Sam’s irrepressible spirit and he is in every part of it and will continue to be for ever.