THE packed crematorium was hushed, a tear in most eyes, as we said farewell to all-round good guy Dexter Perry, who died over Christmas after a long-running battle with illness. A sad day. But I couldn't help but break into a smile as the vicar bowed his head and the music began - not the soul-searching sound of the church organ but the opening bar chords of that great Clash anthem "Should I stay or should I go?". I must admit the man in charge of the service didn't quite know how to act as Joe Strummer bellowed: "Darling you've got to let me know... should I stay or should I go?"
If requesting this particular piece of music - rather than the more common choices of Frank Sinatra's My Way or Robbie Williams’ Angels - was Dexter's final act, then it was one that summed him up. A person full of mischief, good humour and, put simply, fun. And in answer to the question: You should have stayed, Dex, for much longer.
THE first time I heard the name Dexter Perry was when I was at junior school. My future friend didn't even go to the same one as me but as a kid I used to report on the school football team (being classed too small to play in it - some things never change!)
One day our sportsmaster gathered the team around for a pre-match briefing. He finished it off with "... and don't you worry about that Dexter Perry." Even at the age of 10 his impact was spreading far and wide.
By the time I got to the Ridings High School his name was already legendary, possibly because his dad had taken to naming him after that former England cricket captain Ted Dexter. It was a name that stood out. And Dexter - tall for his age, well built, and a dab hand at any sport he chose to follow, whether it be basketball, football or athletics - lived up to the name.
It was after school that we started to get to know each other - at the Rising Sun public house in Frampton Cotterell, if the truth were known. We used to sneak in there as 14 year olds, Dex tall enough to pass for a lot older while I hid behind him, wearing a cravat because I was convinced it made me appear more mature.
Evenings of knocking back cider and blackcurrant or lager and black, accompanied by a game of three-card brag, were followed by a slow, meandering wobble to Fromeside Youth Club for a night of mayhem. Underage drinking? Terrible thing.
There was also a famous trip to the Rheine Valley in Germany. A crowd of us went across and I recall a night spent drinking German Bier in the front room of a bar that resembled a little house. While we supped away at the strong lager we watched European football on the TV, cheering on West Ham and singing "I'm forever blowing bubbles". When we realised that you didn't have to pay for your beers immediately we kept getting the orders in, then worried what the final tab would be. Looking at each other, we did an immediate runner back to the hotel.
Dex had been wearing green that night but by the time the teacher knocked on our dorm door an hour later most of us were ready for bed. The only one who wasn't was Graham - and he hadn't been with us that night. When we opened the door the teacher announced: "A local bar has complained that a group of English schoolkids had run away without paying for drinks. He said one of them was wearing green trousers and a green shirt." His eyes scanned Graham whose clothes, purely co-incidentally, were a complete match. The legend of Shades of Green was born.
A bit older and Dex and I began to frequent the Western Coach House. The landlord there, Howard, told us he was thinking of launching a pool team and, naturally, we became the founder members. It shocked Howard a bit though when I suggested we put on a bit of a bash for Dex's birthday. "How old will he be?" asked the barkeep. "Um, 18 actually," was the reply. This was around a year after we first became regulars.
I recall, too, when Dex first began his job at Sun Life in Bristol. I used to meet him in the Full Moon in Stokes Croft for games of pool with his workmates, normally followed by a good old session. And I remember when he first met Karen, nee Paulton, his future wife, and the instant chemistry between the two.
The build-up to the wedding, though, didn't go without its hiccups. Quite alot, in fact, when you consider the stag night was a visit to Bath and an evening's supping of strong natch - natural dry cider. Having hired a coach for the trip it departed the following morning with only five of the original 20 strong party on board - the rest of us were in the cells at Bath police station trying to uncover who had smashed a window in the local supermarket. I pleaded complete innocence for this, having only turned up at the door of the cop shop to ask the way to the coach depot. After a number of interviews the culprit was finally uncovered: Dexter's best man.
When Karen found out he was promptly removed from the post...
The last time I saw Dex was on the night bus on the way back from Bristol at about 2 in the morning. We had a grand reunion before he went into hospital for another operation which amounted to a full blood transfusion. It was a great night, catching up after more than 25 years. He had lost a bit of hair and was the father of two lads, Jordan and Taylor, but apart from that he had changed very little. He still had the element of mischief, the cheeky grin and the love of fun. We ended up in some super club called Oceania which had a floor for 70s and 80s music. It was like old times. And I almost lost my shoes after kicking them off for a dance. I luckily caught a waiter as he walked off with them on a tray alongside all the glasses he had been collecting.
Thursday was a sad, wet day, but great to catch up with old school friends, some of whom I didn't recognise. There was a Labour MP, Dexter's life-long partner-in-crime, Danny Norris or Nogin as we knew him. There was also Martin Mogy Caine, Mike Salter, Haydn Vaulters, Rich Burden and Pete Brunt - to name just a few. Even Howard and Moira, who had run the coachhouse during those heady days in the late 70s and early 80s, were there. It reminded me of what great times those had been and of which Dex had been an integral part. He will be greatly missed.