He had pale blond hair which hung limply around his ears and down to his shoulders, with an ill-advised straight-across fringe that did little to draw attention away from his huge, hooked nose. Skinny to the point of bony, I recall that his limbs looked too long for his body and that his fingers looked too long for his hands. Large feet, too. Always inside Clarks Wayfarers shoes (we used to call them ‘Cornish Pasties’. If you know the footwear I mean you'll know why). They were just visible beneath the hem of his light brown and highly unfashionable flared cords.
Then there was his voice. I first met him when we were 16 but, even at 30 (the age he was when I last saw him briefly) it was as if it hadn’t quite broken yet. It oscillated unpredictably between high and low notes, and it took a while to get used to realising that the variation in octave didn’t actually indicate surprise or fright or any other emotion. There was just something not quite right with his voicebox which gave him a strange kind of involuntary yodel.
I spent three years in his company at art college when we were in our teens; he became one of my best mates there. I liked him, I felt safe with him, felt like I understood him. Plus, being shy too, I was comfortable enough with him to really be myself and to not feel inferior or intimidated. Our friendship was liberating. We’d frequently go to the town’s record shop at lunchtime and browse through the album racks, I’d take the piss out of the heavy metal LPs he pored over while he laughed at the names of some lesser known bands I searched for. I won him over to the B52s for a while, though - I remember that. Like many really shy people who find themselves treated as outsiders, he had a great sense of humour - nicely dry and often wickedly caustic. And he was the most wonderful artist, the best in the class by a long stretch. He had an incredible imagination and an amazing talent for difficult perspectives and angles that the rest of us would never even begin to attempt (in fact I still won’t). But, the last I heard of him, he was long-term unemployed, long-term single and living alone in a town centre tower block bedsit. I just don't think he had what it takes to fit.
There’s no punchline to this post, no twist, nor revelation – I don’t even know quite why I started thinking about my old college mate in the first place! I suppose I was just wondering why it is that some of us feel like ‘outsiders’ (even if in disguise…) and others don’t. Who decides what the ‘inside’ is? And who decides what fits in it?
This is the song I turned him on to. Funny how you remember these things.
And it still sounds great to me!