When I was about 8, roughly 40 years ago, my best friend at the time, Paul Philby, was killed in a road accident.
As my own son reaches that age I find myself thinking about that, for many reasons.
But let me give the sum total of my memory of Paul first. He was a fun kid, with dark curly hair. His father was (I think) a manager in the mine in the valley where I lived at the time. Paul was outstandingly good at art. I retain a mental image of a painting that he did in first year junior school of a fire (it may have been the great fire of London) with black buildings silhouetted by an impressive yellow and red fire behind.
His telephone number was Ogmore Valley 246 (hard to conceive of three digit phone numbers now isn’t it!). Ours was Ogmore Valley 248, which gave me an early insight into the difference between an arithmetical and geometrical progression.
Paul’s parents had a detached house just up the road from where we lived, which was at the foot of a mountain. It was surrounded by copious quantities of ferns, and Paul and I used to run around in those ferns which, characteristically, had apparent paths running through them. On one occasion Paul and I saw some people fly tipping in a layby near his house, from the cover of the ferns. And we felt like the Secret 7, watching this criminality.
As was entirely normal at the time, Paul was out with other friends,with no adults, when he was killed. He was (I am told) crossing the road, and had crossed to the second half of the road, saw something coming and started to move back, into the path of a vehicle coming the other way.
At that time, and at that age, it was quite normal for me and other children to go out for the day with friends, sometimes with money to buy chips for lunch, sometimes to go to the next village to go swimming, or to cycle a couple of miles up the valley, without any adult supervision, and with an injunction to return before tea time, and no way of checking up on where we were. This would have been around 1972.
My father told me that Paul had been killed, and he decided to do this as “I have bad news and I have good news”. The bad news was that Paul had been killed. The good news was that Paul was with Jesus and the angels. This last was insufficient compensation, and I remember feeling enormously cheated by this at the time.
Paul was an only child. His parents moved away from the valley shortly afterwards. I can (now) completely understand that.
All I’ve been able to do for Paul since is to remember him. But now, I can share my memories of him with others, and a offer a certain internet posterity. So I have.