About 20 years ago I was in a very dark place indeed. My only real friend was alcohol and I was in a very deep depression. At the time I was working for the Royal Mail in Swindon and there was a group of lads in their early 20’s working there that I had a lot of secret admiration for; well actually it wasn’t so much admiration, it was more like secret envy. The stand-out character of this little crew was a young man by the name of Martin Follett (although I’ve probably spelt his surname wrong). The banter between the lads was always raucous and funny, and Martin was always at the centre of it all. On Mondays the mood in the sorting office was invariably vibrant as they recounted the details of their weekends of drunken debauchery. One particular Saturday night in Swansea involving a bottle of salad cream springs to mind, but the details are far too “X” rated to repeat in this post! So, here was this group of lads doing all the stuff that I felt I’d missed out on; and how I envied them.
I was in my late 30’s at the time and I wouldn’t say I was particularly friends with any of them, but we did speak and exchange a bit of “bloke stuff” on occasion. Martin was the one that I was probably the least friendly with, although we were on nodding/grunting terms.
Now for reasons that are too sad to go into here, Sunday was my main drinking night and this particular Sunday I’d been to my regular haunts and ended up at the kebab van parked down in Fleet Street in Swindon town centre. I was so drunk I could barely stand up, but in my inebriated state I noticed a familiar face; it was Follett, availing himself of some kebab van fayre! He saw that I was in no fit state and invited me to his house so I could get a taxi. Follett was the last person in the world that I would have expected to take pity on me in this situation, but I was in for a few more surprises before I got my taxi ride home. Now because I had only ever seen the bullish, “lads-on-the-beer” banter-machine side of Follett I expected his house to be a tip with empty beer cans strewn all over the place. Oh, and if you are wondering why I am not referring to him as Martin it’s because most of the lads called him by his surname. There is a certain science involved in “bloke thinking” and when a man gets called by his surname it’s normally because he’s disliked immensely or because he’s a legend. Follett was a legend. Anyway, as I was saying…
When we got to Follett’s house I was amazed to find that it was spotless, there was not an empty beer can in sight AND there was the most happy and loving little dog to greet us. It was crystal clear that both dog and master loved each other dearly; but that’s not all, there was a hamster too, who was also clearly loved by his human keeper. Follett made me a coffee and as we chatted I expressed my amazement at not finding a den of iniquity. But, it also became apparent that I had been guilty of severely misjudging this man. He was young, yet his head was firmly fixed on his shoulders, he was warm and kind; and compassionate to the extent that he was willing to take someone into his home who needed help because of a self-inflicted problem; someone who could hardly have been classed as a friend. After a while my taxi turned up and I expressed my gratitude profusely on leaving; and expressed it again the next time I saw Follett at work.
I have never ever forgotten the compassion shown to me by a man whom I had misjudged so greatly. I left the job in 1995 and only on occasion did I ever bump into Follett again. The last time I saw him was probably ten or more years ago, but from time to time the details of that unlikely encounter would pop into my head and I would find myself wondering what the legend was doing with himself these days. Only very recently these same thoughts popped into my head again, and I cast my mind back to being legless by the kebab van. Seeing Follett’s spotless house and the happiness of the little dog; his tail wagging so fast that the little treasure could have created eco electricity. Now, a few days ago I had a package that needed posting, so in the afternoon I walked the mile or so into Tetbury town centre and went into the post office. I duly despatched my package and when I came out, over the road by the zebra crossing was a 40 something year old man with grey spiky hair that was in the throes of thinning drastically; and there was something about this man that looked vaguely familiar.
I thought to myself “that’s Follett, but nah it can’t be”? He crossed the road towards me but at an angle so he was actually walking away from me diagonally. As we passed we gave each other a bemused glance; and I spoke “Martin”!. Sure enough it was Follett; complete with wife and two little kids. We stopped briefly and chatted, but it was mainly me telling his wife what a hero her husband had been on that night in the distant past. I told her that I’d expected his house to be a tip and before I could finish my sentence she said “I bet it was spotless”. Ahh, no one knows a man like his woman. Follett just looked indifferent to it all, and of course for him, like all of us, much water has passed under the bridge since that night. To him it was just a throw-away moment, but to me it was an event that I learned so much from.
It’s true what they say that there is no such thing as coincidence. Just imagine the precision of the synchronicities involved in that encounter in Tetbury. Me leaving my house at the time I did and going into the post office and finding just one other customer in there instead of the usual queue; and Follett and his family doing the tourist thing in Tetbury on that day and being in that precise spot at the time I came out of the post office.
Yes, the legend that is Martin Follett will never know the true magnitude of his simple act of kindness on that Sunday night in the early 1990’s. But hey, don’t you just love a blast from the past?
Just a reminder that you still have a few hours left in which to download a free Kindle copy of my booklet Musings Of A Medium