The pub may have changed, but the beer and the banter hasn’t. The photo back then would have been taken on a camera you had to load with a 35mm film canister rather than a smartphone that instantly uploads to Facebook. But the people were the same.
Same faces (maybe a grey hair here, an ageing line there) calling each other by the same offensive nicknames, making fun of each other’s misdemeanours, draping our arms around each other by the end of the night.
The posse, as my parents used to call us. The group of friends who caught the bus to college together, spent Friday nights at the Dorchester nightclub (think grimy indy rock venue, rather than posh west London hotel) and lined up our battered Dr Martens by the back door before we crashed upstairs at one of our parent’s houses, after returning worse for wear in the early hours.
Some of us knew each other long before we got together as a single group. But like knotweed, we gradually became inseparably entwined. To us, we were united by music, dress sense and discovery (drugs, sex and the Sultans of Ping). To our folks, we were probably a faintly embarrassing blight on their teenager-tolerant lives.
It’s been a full 20 years ago since we started hanging around as a group. And when the Dorchester announced a re-union club night in Wolverhampton where we all grew up; well, who could resist another night of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, Carter USM and the Cure, Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.
Back then, I don’t remember looking ahead too much, thinking about where we’d be right now. I’m not sure we knew the future existed. There was only us, and it would always be the same.
We certainly wouldn’t have envisaged the mild embarrassment of head banging (but no longer with long hair) at 36 years old, feeling slightly self-conscious as we jumped around (though not quite as high) to House of Pain, or returning together to one of our own (comfortably mortgaged) homes to kip on a put up bed.
We certainly wouldn’t have envisaged getting together the next day, almost paralysed with hangover (they get worse as you grow older don’t they?), with our kids and our dogs and our Costa Coffee loyalty cards, to talk about house prices, and primary schools, and who in our wider circle of friends was already getting divorced.
Before my brain tumour diagnosis nearly two years ago, I think I also only had a very hazy idea of the future. What would life be like in another 20 or 30 years from now?
I’d be balder still, that was dead-on. I looked forward to my kids growing up, almost impatient to see what they’d become. I saw myself as a sage-old writer of 60-something, a number of critically-acclaimed tomes under my belt. I imagined myself sitting by the fire with my wife, surrounding by trinkets and pictures we’d accumulated over the years, laughing and swearing about politics and listening fondly to Morrissey.
And perhaps I also thought about the annual get together of the posse. Would we still unite for reunions, even in our fifties and sixties in some dank pub somewhere in Wolves to drink pints of Banks’ Mild and take the piss?
But the future was really just a haze I was happy to gaze into with wide-eyed interest. I wanted to grow old. I almost looked forward to it, because I didn’t know what it looked like.
Post-diagnosis, I still don’t know what will happen in the future. But I do know what it is most likely to contain. And perhaps I know that my future won’t be as long as I’d hoped.
An unwelcome clarity has emerged from the mysterious fuzz of tomorrow.
Before, uncertainty brought a warm glow. Now it’s all too real. Will I see my primary school age children grow into drunken dancing, Dr Marten boot (or equivalent) wearing teens that we all were 20 years ago?
And so I try to concentrate on the present: my family, my writing, my home, my cycling. The future is something I no longer look forward to. It’s something I already miss.