Happy Birthday Helen

Nearly two years ago, in July 2011, I went back to my home town of Chester for a school reunion. Queen's Park High School was celebrating its centenary year and the staff had managed to get hold of several former pupils through Friends Reunited (yes, Friends Reunited, not Facebook). I ummed and ahhed about going and came to the conclusion that, yes, I'd like to go, but I'd only make the effort if my old friend Helen were going too. She was, I went.

L-R: Michele Cross (née Storey) and Helen Birkbeck (née Gibbons) in their old chairs in 4D1's classroom at Queen's Park High School, 8 July 2011

I can't remember the day I met Helen but it would have been our first day at Belgrave Primary School in September 1968. I may be wrong but I think we were in the same class throughout all our school days (including Overleigh Middle School) although by the end we were doing very different subjects (her arts, me science). There was a certain amount of rivalry but I can't recall a time when we didn't get on. That's not to say I can't recall times that make me cringe (I was such an arse at times) but that hardly makes me unique surely?

I roped her into helping out at hospital radio (did we really go to Angels night club with Richard Fair and Ian Waugh wearing Radio Lion sweatshirts one night??) and I clearly remember the day we got our A level results in August 1981.

In 1984 I was living in Stoke on Trent working as a barman by night and volunteering as a general dogsbody at Signal Radio by day when I had a letter from soon to be Cambridge graduate Helen asking if I'd do the disco for her 21st. I duly drove to Cambridge in Lee Finan's Ford Capri, did the gig and then drove back again, very nearly writing off Lee's car and killing myself on the way — falling asleep at the wheel can do that.

Helen and I have only seen each other occasionally since (two school reunions and one trip to her home in Bristol I believe) but I'm delighted that we're in touch.

It is unpardonably rude of me at this point not to mention Michele Cross who is also pictured here. She was a mutual friend at school for many years too. I was always amazed how far away from the school she lived ('way out in Guilden Sutton'). My more recent memory of Michele is from a reunion that was organised when we all turned 30 if I recall correctly. Pete Beaumont arranged for us to meet in the pub and Michele was there. I was chatting away merrily (about Guilden Sutton probably) when another school friend, Pete Duff, came across and apologised for having forgotten Michele's name. Not unnaturally she turned to me to make the introductions — at which point my mind went a complete blank and my face an unusual shade of red. I was able to remedy the situation at the cententary event I'm pleased to say.

It turned out that Michele had also said she'd go to the centenary reunion if Helen went … as did at least two of the teachers.

And so I wanted to mark today by publicly wishing my oldest friend a very happy birthday.

See you soon I hope.