The significance in Gerald's case was not that he'd been an absent friend. Quite the reverse, really, as we'd been meeting at the same coffee bar in Leicester Square every Thursday fortnight for years now. Over the years Gerald had stubbornly refused all invitations at this time of year. It wasn't that he was purposely being rude, it was that, although, physically, he was as Jewish as chopped liver, Gerald was a confirmed atheist.
He'd been one since we'd first known him at the age of 11. He'd refused a barmitzvah, studiously avoided contact with all things Jewish and, God forbid, enjoyed playing the works of Wagner, yet! It was therefore a little unfortunate for Gerald that, although he'd disowned his God and his heritage, he was blessed (cursed?) with a visage that could have graced the pages of Goebbel's 'Der Sturmer', as a Jewish caricature. No amount of plastic surgery could have altered that fact and it was the source of great annoyance to him.
Interestingly, regardless of our origins, Gerald, Jonathan and I had got on with each other rather well at school and, I'm sure, would even have been buddies if we'd been the proverbial Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman, rather than three Ashkenazi Jews. I reckon we would have struck a friendship if we'd met regularly at Sunday school and enjoyed boiled beef and dripping at High Tea rather than meeting at the weekly 'alternative RE lessons' for non-Christians and enjoying viennas and chips at the daily nosh.
I'm afraid it was the prospect of a school reunion that enticed Gerald along. He'd brought a walkman along, loaded with the works of Beethoven, to slip over his head when things got too heavy. It was his security blanket and, if that was the price we had to pay for his presence, then so be it. So, our first get together since the days of acne, spots and pimples was to be at the traditional Jewish festival, celebrating release from slavery and freedom. And, ironically, to a political Zionist and an atheist, the religious elements would represent the very slavery that the festival purported to celebrate freedom from. But they were coming, and that was the important thing.