Bittersweet reunion of friends across airwaves

Davy and Marie-Paule Verkamer with Geoffrey McBride.
Davy and Marie-Paule Verkamer with Geoffrey McBride.

Breaker, breaker come back! Familiar words to those of us of a certain vintage.

Before the advent of the likes of Facebook and Twitter there was CB - Citizens’ Band Radio - the 80s form of social media.

Stefaan Verkamer.

Stefaan Verkamer.

For those who missed the 80s CB Radio was exactly as you’d think, a two way radio format open to the public - a glorified walkie-talkie.

Now for most the range of the radio was limited to a few miles but Trasna Way man Geoffrey McBride took it to a whole new level with his signals reaching all the way to Belgium thanks to some fancy kit and solar activity raising the ionosphere (science stuff literally way over most of our heads).

This quirk of nature led to an enduring friendship for Geoffrey and a family in Belgium.

This week they had a bittersweet reunion - bittersweet because the head of the Belgian family had passed away last year but his widow Marie-Paule and son Davy Verkamer made the trip to meet Geoffrey.

It’s 11 years since Marie-Paule was last here - a visit she had paid with her late husband Stefaan.

Geoffrey and Stefaan struck up their friendship in the early 80s thanks to their CB radio conversations, Later continued by phone, Christmas cards, visits and latterly through social media.

Indeed that friendship was so enduring that Stefaan’s youngest son (now aged 36) is named after Geoffrey.

Stefaan worked for an upholster manufacturer and invited while Geoffrey for a visit over but he was unemployed at the time.

Kind hearted Stefaan took it on himself to fund Geoffrey’s way over - by putting one franc a week away in a jar, he saved up till summertime when he sent Geoffrey the money for his ticket over.

Geoffrey said: “It was my first trip away to Europe, I was nervous about the journey.”

In 1988 Stefaan and his wife made the trip to Northern Ireland - to Dervock where Geoffrey was living at the time - and after that Stefaan again started putting his money in a jar to fund Geoffrey’s travel.

This time round Stefaan was putting two Francs away - to bring Geoffrey’s girlfriend of the time along too.

Sadly Stefaan passed away in April and Geoffrey’s wife Joanne passed away in June last year.

Stefaan’s son Davy decided to keep up the tradition and organised the reunion visit - keeping it a secret from his mum - and so after an 11 year gap they made the return visit this month to catch up with Geoffrey and his three daughters (aged 11, 17 and 22).

Marie-Paule said: “Not much has changed but the children are growing up.”