An afternoon with friends

Friday was a good day, a chance to put all my health worries on the back burner and return to a more familiar world. A few weeks ago I’d received an invite to an afternoon buffet meal to mark the retirement of my boss and good friend, Bill. Lunchtime farewell meals had become something of a fairly regular routine over the past year as people gradually left the company ahead of the site closure. But it looked like Bill intended to go in style and was determined to lay on something a bit special. A hyperlink in the email invite brought up a web page showing a vintage bus which was promised as our means of travel!

Well of course I jumped at the opportunity to see all my friends and colleagues once again including those who had left the company. Sure, it was only a month since I saw some of them but already I was starting to feel a little socially isolated from not seeing many people. I wanted to be around familiar faces once again and for at least one moment create the illusion that life was normal again.

So late Friday morning I was collected from home and chauffeured back to Eli Lilly for one last time. I’m so lucky to have good friends who are prepared to go out of their way like this for me, but at the same time it is so frustrating not being able to drive my own car anymore. I’m afraid that as time goes by my independence is slowly transforming into dependence, so I suppose I had better get used to it.

Walking back into the office and seeing my desk made me realise how much I had missed being there surrounded by the people I know. Funny thing about work; we hate it when we have it but miss it when it’s not there, or is it the people we miss? Probably a bit of both; I certainly enjoyed my work but it’s the company I miss more then anything now.

AEC Regent I - STL 441. 'Our bus' as depicted on the Cobham Bus Museum website

We all gathered at the front of what is known as ‘A’ building where a beautifully restored 1934 vintage bus (on loan from The London Bus Preservation Trust) had been parked. This was an ideal photo location as the building itself is of 1939 vintage, and so those of us who had brought our cameras along got busy taking snaps. In fact even our local newspaper had sent along a photographer and reporter to cover the event – and at very short notice too. I was really glad that I had decided to bring mine along although it was only at the last moment that I had decided to do so because of the problems I now have in holding anything to my eye. But in the end I thought that even if I wasn’t able to take any pictures then perhaps someone else might be able to take some on my behalf. And anyway this would most likely be the last time I would see all my friends and colleagues together so it was an opportunity not to be missed.

Well I was determined to at least have a go at getting some photos myself but trying to raise my arms up whilst holding a camera is becoming ever more difficult. My arms just don’t respond or move in the way they used to and this coupled with their unpredictable nature makes me very wary about lifting fragile or expensive things. Even getting a camera strap over my head is very difficult unless I bend right down and lower my head. Thankfully I had help with that this time. As digital SLRs go my old Canon 300D is quite a lightweight (although I have a hard time convincing my arms of that) but trying to keep it steady whilst holding it at eye level was quite a challenge. All my pictures now have to be taken in the horizontal format as I am unable to raise my right arm up to hold the camera in a vertical position. How frustrating that is at times! I upped the shutter speed to hopefully compensate for any camera shake knowing that this would be at the expense of depth of field. On hindsight (which is a wonderful thing) I should have bumped up the film speed slightly. Memo to myself – look into image stabilised lenses for hand held photos! Of course what I really need is a head cam or a hover cam!

Pictures taken, we all boarded the bus and headed off towards the Queens College Arms not far from Basingstoke where our buffet meal awaited us. Being the kid I still am (at heart) I rushed upstairs to get a grandstand view of the countryside as we trundled along at a leisurely pace – well that’s all that buses of this delicate age can manage. To think, the last time I was on a double-decker bus was when I was knee high to a grasshopper! And yes we did sing a few bars of ‘Where all going on a summer holiday’ – the temptation was too much to resist.

We had a lovely buffet meal but more importantly it was a great opportunity to see old friends once again and for me this was what made the afternoon so enjoyable. Time passed quickly as it so often does when you are in good company, and after another round of group photos gathered around the bus it was time to head off back to Eli Lilly where there was one more photo opportunity I wanted to take advantage of before saying goodbye – some group shots on the steps outside the main building.

So to all my dear friends, thank you for a lovely afternoon. It was great to see you all again. I’ve said all along that Lilly’s greatest asset is its people and I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with throughout my time there. I’m sure going to miss you folks but hope you’ll pass by here from time to time. To those of you about to leave I wish you good luck in the future.

Before signing off I would like to say a special thank you to Kim (my chauffeur for the day and personal assistant – who kept track of where my glasses and camera case were), Carry (my assistant photographer and waitress – who just couldn’t stop clicking once she found where the shutter release on my camera was) and Ron (2nd assistant photographer who helped out on all those hard to get photos at the end of the afternoon i.e. those with me in), and a big THANK YOU to Bill for arranging a unique and memorable afternoon. Nice one, Bill! That was the one day when it was okay to be a bus enthusiast, hehe… 🙂 Oh, nearly forgot and most important – enjoy your (semi) retirement – you’ve earned it!

I shall be uploading a companion gallery of photos before too long. Stay tuned!

Mark

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