How we met: Jonathan Meades and Harry Dodson

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The Independent Culture
Jonathan Meades, 46, is a novelist, food writer and television presenter. He lives with his second wife in Maida Vale, London. He has four daughters - twins aged 12, a six- year-old, and a two-week-old baby. His latest novel, Pompey, has just been published, and a new televsion series, Further Abroad, will be on BBC2 later this year. Harry Dodson, 46, met Meades at school in Salisbury. He has since worked as a chauffeur for a car-hire firm, a roadie for Lindisfarne, and has run a West London pub. For the last two years he has been a used- car salesman. He is married.

JONATHAN MEADES: Harry and I met 41 years ago when we were five. We were at a genteel school called Holmwood in Salisbury known as Mrs Mears. We went to three schools together from the ages of five to 16 by coincidence. We were lower middle- class children in a middle-class school but whether one is conscious of that at that age I don't know. Most of the children were from the families of doctors, the clergy and firework-makers - it was a military area. My father had been in the Army but left because my mother didn't want to be an Army wife, so he was a rep for a biscuit company. Harry's father worked for a timber company.

He was quite aggressive, as many five-year-old boys are. I was quite meek and retiring. I didn't have any siblings, and the kind of children I was friendly with tended to be those who were in some way my opposites, children who were wayward and irresponsible. I remember him throwing pine cones at traffic. It was really rather gruesome but at the age of six I thought it was a laugh.

Harry got laid first, his sister used to procure girls for him. He used to try to sell his sister for a fiver. She was far too strong-minded to go along with it.

I've never had intimate men-friends, I've had friends like Harry, but none so long, with whom one can spend time in a very undemanding sort of way. There have been emotional moments. He was estranged from his parents at the time of his father's death in 1974. I got a phone call from my mother saying his father had fallen out of a tree he was inspecting during an angina attack. She asked me to go and see Harry. My girlfriend and I went to his flat; it was 8am. I said: 'I have something terrible to tell you, your father's died.' Harry said: 'Ah, so the old bastard threw a seven did he, come in and have a drink.' A dice goes up to six, you throw a seven, that's the end - I'd never heard the expression before.

He fell in with a psychedelic entrepreneur in the late Sixties. He wore a lot of crushed velvet but he looked preposterous in it because he didn't have the figure for it. But he was far too canny to be taken in by that mass wave of soppiness that overtook our generation. I wasn't very druggy, he was a bit more - he used to take a lot of speed. I remember him telling me he took a lot of speed and Quaaludes on a Spanish beach and fell asleep in the blazing sun with his arm across his chest leaving a white imprint where the arm had been. I remember walking into a room at a wedding and Harry was there screwing someone - someone was always screwing someone in a room at parties in those days - I said sorry, but he was quite unperturbed.

The sheer weight of having known someone for so long means there's no difficulty doing a fast replay into shared memories. If I were to meet him now there wouldn't be that same bond - we don't have that much in common - but what is nice is our friendship transcends the absence of commonality.

I feel at ease with Harry. He gives licence to my animal side, also I don't feel competitive with him, he's never inhabited the same professional world as I have. Most people I know are journalists, writers and telly people, there's a competitiveness that doesn't exist with Harry.

HARRY DODSON: The earliest memory that I have of Jonty is of him having a very small maroon bicycle which he used to ride to school. Our friendship didn't really take off until we were 10 or 11, I suppose. It's a time in your life when friendships gradually develop. I can't remember what games we played. There was never any homosexual relationship, no comparing of size, I suppose that's unusual for boys. I've never had a homosexual relationship with anyone, least of all Jonty, not that I regard him as an ugly bugger or anything, it just never happened, we just played in a wholesome fashion. I remember his 10th or 11th birthday party at a half-timbered cottage they lived in, there was about six or eight of us and it ended in an enormous rough-house with one boy hanging from a top bunk by one foot, howling his head off.

When we left school we used to go to the same parties and get horrifically drunk the way you do at that age, and then either one of us would pull. When he went off to RADA I went on the road with pop groups. I was a tearaway in our youth, he was very conventional in many ways. He had a firmer understanding of what was required of him by life, I just lurched around for years and years.

I have a clear recollection of him at my wedding. In those days Jonty seldom drank but when he did he drank whisky which had a dramatic and profound effect on him. He decided that a speech would be in order since nobody had made one and so he lurched to his feet and began, 'I've known Harry for many, many years now, I've known him at the age of 12 when he had a ball and a conker in one pocket and a prepubescent foreskin in the other, and from an early age we experimented with mutual fellatio, that well known Italian insurance company.' That reduced everyone to tears of laughter and then absolutely out of the blue he started being sick. My wife grabbed a fruit bowl, threw out the fruit and shoved it under his face but the bowl was cracked and she was standing there with the sick dribbling down her arm. She was a nurse and quite used to this sort of thing.

I only met Jonty's first wife once or twice, I don't know why that was. Perhaps it was a period when we didn't see each other much. He always operated on his own and didn't drag his wife around with him. I ran the Warwick Castle, a pub in Maida Vale from 1977 to 1988 and he used to come in and have a drink. Then I had a wine bar and he'd come around there. My wife Kathy has never met Frances, Jonty's second wife, although I've been married to Kathy for eight years and he to Frances for the same period of time. I'm sure they'd get on. I really don't know why they've never met. I suppose it's strange.

My first wife died and I had to put on a brave face; there's nothing worse than the governor of a pub crying into his gin because his wife's died. But with Jonty I feel uninhibited. If things go wrong I don't get on the phone but if I did, I would ring him.

It's very hard to say what we talk about, we just chat. We talk about what he's doing and a bit about what I'm doing but there's not a lot you can say about second-hand car selling. We share an interest in food and wine. My wife and I go out and eat regularly with him. We have a very similar sense of humour but I'm wholly unable to define what that is.

I've read one of his books and this is awful but I forget the title - you know, the short story one. I found it absolutely enthralling but he has a level of erudition that I find hard to handle for prolonged periods. A short story I can do, but a full-strapped novel I would find a trifle daunting. I haven't had a chance to look at Pompey yet. It is probably masterful but whether I would regard it as a rattling good read is another matter. To be honest I read rubbish - thrillers and general crap. I have never discussed my reading habits with Jonathan.

Jonty and I are very different. I am just a grubby second-hand car dealer and Jonty writes wonderful prose and he has a commanding knowledge of many subjects. But I don't feel in the least inferior. He never shows off.

I lead a very simple straightforward life. I don't form complex relationships with people - Jonathan's relationships are far more complex, although there's nothing complex about my relationship with Jonty. I've never been angry with him, I suppose I should have been, it makes it seem an idyllic relationship which it is in so far as it's totally undemanding and he is quite unequivocally my best friend. Jonty is the brother I never had. I love him, there's no doubt about it.-

(Photograph omitted)