A perfect day
It was the winter of 1999. My best friend Richard was working for the Royal Forestry Commission up in Yorkshire. For a time, on a Friday night I would visit him for the weekend, taking the train up from London to Malton, where he would pick me up and take me back to the farm where he was living.
One weekend in late November we set out in his rusty old Land Rover on a bright Saturday morning. Our errand was to pick up a dead deer from the Ranger, for Richard’s family to eat as Venison.
At 7am the snow covered everything, the landscape was white for miles. Sitting in the ancient car we may as well have been outside, our breath escaped as visible vapour trails and our noses and cheeks were ruddy with the sting of the sharp cold. The radio didn’t work, so we had an old battery-powered ghetto blaster tuned in to Classic FM.
We turned off the road onto a narrow trail that only the Forestry Commission had access to. We drove through the silent beauty of the forest, up, up the path into the growing darkness of the crowded trees.
I looked at Richard. He had just turned 22. Within the same year the century would have turned, we would have travelled to the other side of the world together, and I would hold him tight as he said good bye to his dying mother. But we didn’t know any of that yet.
With his public school haircut and turned-up nose he looked like a WW1 soldier doomed to an early death. There was a beauty to his face that existed only because it was transient. I looked at him and just enjoyed being able to sit alone and stare at him in this way. I had loved him for three years, without ever saying as much. I loved him so much it ached, and my eyes welled up with tears because I knew at the same moment I was living it, that the memory of this day would be one I would cling to forever.
Oblivious to this Richard smoked a fag and hopped out as we finally reached a wooden hut at the heart of the forest. Like Hansel and Gretel we looked into the darkened hut with a sense of foreboding. Deer hung there with no heads and no feet, but strung up with their fur still on. We slung the deer into the back of the car and said our goodbyes to the gruff ranger. There was something macabre about the featureless torso in the boot, but at the same time the whole expedition felt like a remarkable adventure. Winding back down the now-muddy forest paths we headed for the butcher in town.
And the radio played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Now how many people associate that with New York, thanks to Woody Allen’s Manhattan? I don’t. For me it will always conjure up that perfect day - snow, trees, and a boy who would never be mine.