At the end of January, one of my best friends left Kurume for Hiroshima. Ben Gammon, my longtime bowling companion and pool parter, has gone, and the hole he left is wide and gaping.
The first time I ever met Ben was at a Halloween party in 2004. I was dressed as a shadow, Ben as the You Me Town train driver (or Mario, as some people said), complete with canary yellow shirt and red dungarees. Our first conversation? He was talking to a Japanese girl and showing her on a map of the UK where all the bands were from. Turning to me, he asked me if he was correct. I nodded and mumbled that he was - in fact, apart from the more obvious ones, I didn't know. Amongst other things, Ben is a UK music encyclopaedia.
In our second conversation, it turned out that for a portion of his youth, Ben lived in Stowmarket, not too far from where I grew up. This was the first inkling that we had a lot of things in common, and lots to talk about.
For the next couple of years, we met chiefly on the bowling lanes of Kurume, with Thursday nights being the initial choice, then Saturday mornings, and then Friday mornings. Many people came and went during our bowling days, but we always remained. Ben is a fine bowler... he uses a houseballs, which are less responsive and consistent than my own, and without custom finger holes. He bowls straight, which means that he has to be more accurate than I do.
Bowling aside, our paths would cross at the many parties that pepper the Kurume social calendar. A nomihoudai here, a curry there, a costume here, a video night there. Perhaps my fondest memories are those in which we simply had a cup of tea of an evening, watching a bit of cable or playing a bit of Winning Eleven.
For the bowling memories, for understanding my asides about Don Estelle and other 70s references, and for the mushroom cushion wedding present that is proving incredibly useful, and most of all for being such a great guy, I thank you Ben.