TWO boyhood 'best pals' who lost touch almost 70 years ago have been reunited by their shared experience of dementia.

When Davenham resident, Keith Riley, first started going to Age UK Cheshire’s Bright Memories activity group, he had no idea the man he sat next to at lunch, Richard, had been one of his dearest childhood friends.

The group provides activities for people with memory loss and dementia, and it was only when they started chatting about their childhoods in Stockton Heath in the 1940s and 50s did retired IMB computer programmer Keith realise who his mealtime companion was.

War babies Keith and Richard had been bosom buddies at their council school in Stockton Heath, and would spend hours cycling all over Cheshire and playing around Warrington’s canals.

At once time, they were even love rivals for the attentions of the beautiful Olwyn, though when she picked Richard, Keith took it with dignity and didn’t allow it to get in the way of their friendship.

Sadly, the pair lost touch when they went to different secondary schools, and each had more or less forgotten the other had existed until their chance meeting at their Northwich dementia support group.

Northwich Guardian: Keith Riley (left) attends Bright Memories dementia activity group run by Age UK Cheshire service manager, Trish WilliamsKeith Riley (left) attends Bright Memories dementia activity group run by Age UK Cheshire service manager, Trish Williams (Image: Newsquest)

Keith, now a spritely 82-year-old, said once they’d recognised each other, it was like the intervening 70 years ‘had never happened’.

“It was quite a surprise, I can tell you,” he said.

“It didn’t seem too strange we’d grown up in the same village, but when we realised we were exactly the same age, and went to the same school, it got us thinking.

“It was when we discovered we'd lived in adjacent streets the penny finally dropped.

“We were best pals. We used to spend hours playing around the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canal together, watching the coal barges heading towards Wales.

“Sometimes the crews of the American ships would fire us packets of chewing gum by catapult as they passed by, which was very much appreciated.

“We used to love riding our bikes out to Stretton Airfield too, to watch the wartime Spitfires taking off and landing. It was wonderful country for cycling back then.

“My father used to take us on walks in the countryside and forests too. Life was a lot simpler when we were boys.

“We were both keen on the same girl once, who was called Olwyn, and used to dress in dramatically bright clothes. It turned out she was more interested in Richard, but such is life."

Richard, whose family asked for his surname not to be published, no longer attends the Bright Memories group, but he and Keith still keep in touch on the phone.

Keith added: "Later, we went to different schools and lost touch. That was almost 70 years ago.

“But our shared experience of dementia brought is back together, allowing us to reminisce and enjoy our friendship once again.”   

Age UK Cheshire service manager, Trish Williams, said: “When people hear the word dementia, they often think, ‘well, that’s it’.

"But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can still live well and enjoy yourself.

“Richard and Keith’s story just goes to show a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t necessarily mean an end to quality of life."