Jan was the fat boy of Monteney Junior School. Jan was fat and he cared not a shit what people thought or said.
It is difficult to understand how Jan and I ended up being the best of friends for we were as different as chalk and cheese.
Jan, John M and I were in the same class at Monteney and when we went to Ecclesfield Grammar School, we found ourselves in the same class there too, as the first letter of our surnames are close together in the Alphabet which is how they sorted out the first form kids.
Jan and I remained in the same class as each other throughout our (less than illustrious school careers).
Jan’s parents were Polish Immigrants, the only ‘non-British’ family I can recall living on the whole of the estate. Whilst I was a quietish introvert kid (apart from brief bursts of teacher-kicking), Jan was very extrovert, always spoke his mind usually with a big smile on his fat face, no matter who he was speaking to. Even physically we were opposites, I was one of the smallest kids in the class (I waited until I was fifteen to start growing) whilst Jan was undoubtedly the biggest. While I was teaching myself to play chess from a library book, Jan was immersed in Superman comics.
He showed me the first pornographic photograph that I had ever seen (God only knows where he got it from) and he was with me, no, I was with him, the first time I got my hand up a girl’s skirt.
I always remember Jan’s mum being somewhat prudish (in a nice way) insisting the name of the TV Programme ‘The Naked City ‘must have been a mistake as they would surely never allow the word ‘naked’ to be spoken on television! She would have been mortified if she had known some of the things Jan had in his possession
We moved on from Junior School to Grammar School together coincidentally landing in the same first form class. We remained in the same class as each other throughout our-less-than illustrious school careers.
We got into all sorts of trouble together, nothing bad you understand, mostly staying out too late, being in areas we were told not to go in and generally being a nuisance.
Jan and I drifted apart after leaving school and my last, sad memory of him is bumping into him in the Penthouse Night Club around 1976, where he told me ‘they let us out sometimes you know’ (they’ being the people who ran Middlewood Mental Hospital which by then had become Jan’s home).
As I listened to his voice I noticed it had acquired a strange submissive quality, totally out of character with the Jan of old. As we stood together in the gloomy atmosphere of The Penthouse, I studied his eyes; the same eyes that had once sparkled with mischief in his fat face as he planned our next escapade.
I could see…. nothing.
Jan’s spirit had been broken, perhaps by something that had happened to him or perhaps by self-induced demons inside his head, maybe just by life itself, who knows?
I continued to ask after him whenever I met one of the few mutual acquaintances we had, but nobody seemed to know or seemed to care where he was.
When somebody finally informed me that my closest childhood friend had chosen to take his own life, I hardly reacted at all.
Somehow, I already knew.