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L-R: Andy, Mike, me, Sid. Seated: the groom, Simon

L-R: Andy, Mike, me, Sid. Seated: the groom, Simon

Well, as Saturdays go, yesterday was definitely a good one. A rare victory on the football pitch was followed by an evening at the wedding reception of one of my oldest friends. I’ve known Simon (the one sat in the chair in the picture) since secondary school. We were in the same class and used to take the same coach to school. We’ve known each other for more than 27 years. The picture above shows those of us who went to school together who were there last night.

Martin – known as a Sid, for reasons I won’t go into now – was in a different form to me so while I was at school with him, I’ve only really properly been friends with him since the sixth form. I became firm friends with him when we were in the school chamber choir together and we were roommates on a choir tour of Norway in 1992. You can imagine the fun we had reminiscing about that tour. Nothing tawdry or embarrassing, mind you. Most of my memories revolved around the food on that tour. All good – I can still remember the taste of the prawns we ate in Bergen. It was a simple meal that consisted of fresh prawns and maybe a bit of bread, and it’s still one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Sid’s the cleverest bloke I know but you wouldn’t know it from meeting him. That’s a compliment, by the way. He’s so down to earth even though he has a brain the size of a planet. He’s also one of nicest blokes I know. In fact, right now, I struggle to think of anyone nicer. He’s also very religious but the fact that I’m a confirmed atheist doesn’t get in the way of our friendship. We don’t shy away from talking about the work he does for a church in Battersea or his beliefs but there’s never any feeling of awkwardness in the conversation. It struck me last night, as he was talking about his experiences that if you take away the god aspect, the framework for our views on society are fundamentally very similar. You can pigeonhole them as do-gooding, socialist, liberal, bleeding heart, Christian or whatever, but at its core we share the same respect for all our fellow humans. I’m sure at times I will come out with some utter intolerant rot about people I don’t know in situations I will never understand, but ultimately I don’t really mean it. Sid, being a much better person than I am, would never do that.

While I abhor the status religion holds in our constitution and the overdue influence it holds in the state – and I will always support anything that breaks the link between church and state – people like Sid remind me that outside of the politics of religion and bits that people interpret as licence to be intolerant, there’s not that much difference between us.