I was going to see an old friend of mine this morning, but last night his wife phoned me to say he had died.
Bob’s death was a long time coming, he had been attacked by a virus which reduced his body to a wreck, but left his brain as sharp as ever. Imagine being in a prison like that.
I knew him since we were teenagers in the 70s. I always thought he was like Ritchie in Happy Days. Ritchie with a very dry sense of humour and an ability to neck a pint in one easy go. He was best mates with my boyfriend and we all hung out together. We went to see the first Star Wars film together, and laughed all the way home on the bus to his student house in Acocks Green listening to some bloke in a Brummie accent giving a low down of the plot. I can’t write it down. It doesn’t work on paper, 40 years later.
We all went to America together too, in 1980 on a Freddie Laker bargain flight. Bob nearly fell down the Grand Canyon and then got taken in hand by some weird Californian girl on a greyhound bus, whose entire luggage was a child’s travelling cot, and who kept announcing she was going to get pregnant by artificial insemination. And I remember on some plane trip during that journey, when all the other passengers were either chucking up in sick bags or looking with fierce concentration out of the window, because the turbulence was something terrible, Bob teaching me how to sing Paddy McGinty’s Goat. I wrote down the words. I must go and look for them.
And then of course, we grew up, and Bob found Eve (or rather, she found him, lucky boy) and they got married and they had two kids, and lived very happily, and I heard from them at Christmases.
A few years ago, Bob came to see me, right out of the blue. He was staggering slightly, but it was nothing serious, it was a hangover from him getting pneumonia and he’d be as right as ninepence in a few months.
He didn’t get better. He just got worse. Eve and their sons had to watch him being taken away from them piece by piece. They had to struggle with incompetent bureaucratic twits to get the help they needed, and finally he had to go into a nursing home. I visited him, not a quarter as often as I should have done, and it didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak any more, we could still communicate; we still, unbelievably, had a laugh.
I’ve been meaning to see him for the last few months, but, I suppose, I was too scared to go. I didn’t want to see what new low he’d been brought to. But Eve said he was getting worse, so I arranged to see him today.
And it’s too late. He’s gone. And all the jokes we shared are gone too. So, here’s to you, Bob. It was really, really nice knowing you. And I’ve still got the dog biscuit you gave me for my 18th birthday.
There is one more thing I want to say. If I am ever incapable of looking after myself, or standing up for my rights, I want Eve in my corner. She is one strong woman. She didn’t just stick with Bob all the way through those nightmare last years, she fought for him every single inch of the way. She didn’t shout, she didn’t threaten, but by God, she made sure Bob got the best care that could possibly be got. They loved each other to the very last second. They still love each other. And that’s something no stupid virus can take away.