The Jolly Boys
We'll often get guest writers submitting articles for the website and today is no exception, as we welcome the long-time editor of 'Devon Life', Andy Cooper.
Clearly a man who is good with his words, in this article Andy tells us all about the Jolly Boys and why they're such an important part of his life. Over to you Andy...
I am one of the North Devon Jolly Boys. In fact, I am a founder member, tracing my involvement in this club back some 20+ years.
Unless you're a fellow JB then I doubt you will have heard of us. There are no rules to this club. There are no official membership records, or fees, elected officers or a funky website. Heck, we don’t even have a calendar of events and activities.
Nope, the North Devon Jolly Boys are just a loose gathering of blokes who knew each other through work, through our kids going to school or assorted societies together, or because they already knew a JB and were introduced to us as “a good bloke”.
The one key plank of JB activity was that every last Friday of the month we gathered at the same pub, at the same time for lunch. (The excellent Chichester Arms at Bishops Tawton, as you’re asking).
You didn’t have to say you were attending the lunch meeting. You just knew there would be a gathering and if you could make it you would be welcome. On any occasion there could be anything from 11 to three of us gathering. On one occasion there was just two of us. And a jolly good time was still had by all. I should know…I was one of the two.
The Jolly Boys occasionally extended out into other activities such as trips to the Exeter Chiefs, to the Test match, to a gig or Cheltenham Races. We occasionally rather patronisingly invited other halves on a Christmas social and christened them the Jolly Girls.
We sadly, along the way, lost one member to a shockingly sudden death. One member moved away from Devon and is a now a JB in exile. We conferred ‘honorary’ membership to a couple of “mates of mates” who lived up county and who we had encountered on our sporting travels.
But at its core remained the JBs monthly lunch. It was a chance to relax, to chat, to take the piss, to share stories (some of them true) and just kick back and have a pint and a plate of fabulously good food which was probably eminently bad for our ever expanding waistlines.
You may have noted I am writing about the North Devon Jolly Boys gatherings in the past tense. That’s because they are no more in their previous monthly format and now only seem to happen on a truly ad hoc basis (perhaps three times a year) when someone can be arsed to half-heartedly try and arrange a gathering.
Why is that? I am not sure. I can’t blame the COVID-19 pandemic as we were already struggling to make the meetings happen before Boris kept locking us all down. It just seemed….well…..phffffff…..we couldn’t get the mojo going any more to carry on.
Lives had moved on. Partners had changed. Our kids had grown up and moved away. As I say, we suffered the mortal blow of losing one of our best and brightest and the air seemed to go out of the balloon.
But I miss those JB gatherings. Boy, do I miss them. Especially during lockdown when that sense of isolation, boredom and insecurity which all of us would surely admit to can come boiling up in your mind like a pan of milk on the hob which has been left too long unchecked. It all gets a bit messy if you don’t keep an eye on things and turn down the heat.
The JBs gatherings were a release. A comfort. A prop. A giggle. A distraction…in fact, a whole toolkit of support mechanisms collected together under the auspices of one casual, monthly gathering.
At a time when I was probably at my lowest ebb during the past 20 years having been through the bereavement of losing someone supremely close to me, at the next JBs gathering my mates spent about three minutes in quiet, reflective, respectful silence before breaking into royally taking the piss out of me over what I was wearing whilst also simultaneously having a ding-dong argument about the Brexit vote which had taken place three days earlier.
I needed that. I needed the normality of my mates treating me just like they always did. I needed their banter and their invisible kindness and support which manifested itself in the way they just went about their business.
Writing these reflections on the JBs I realise how much I miss those gatherings and how much a network of chaps – sometimes like-minded, sometimes not – is pretty much essential for those of us who fall into that bracket the marketeers like to call ‘middle-aged’ in this modern world.
It can be tough out there, can’t it? Sometimes we don’t seem to have the answers. Bloody hell….sometimes I don’t even know what the sodding questions are. We can seem confident, bright, focussed and on our game when in reality we are anything but.
That’s why I am delighted to have been asked by Matt to get involved with Who Needs Instructions and to support its work. I know how much there is a gap in my life right now when it comes to just having some chaps there as a sounding board and support network.
So, I look forward to seeing where the WNI journey takes us all. And to having the piss royally taken out of me along the way!
Picture caption: The North Devon Jolly Boys on a very memorable occasion in their history – on an outing to the Test Match at Edgbaston…all dressed as Geoffrey Boycott! Andy is third from left.