They say life is full of ups and downs and you only really appreciate the ups when you have had plenty of downs, but sometimes things happen that give you a glimpse of what life could be like. When you see those things, if you have an ounce of humanity, you will be shaken to the core and will want to seek the warmth of your family and the comfort of your friends.
I have just experienced one such jolt, a massive wake up call. On Tuesday night, I along with another mate went to see another mate, both will remain nameless for the sake of this story, but the mate I travelled with is mate 1 and the mate we went to see is mate 2. I travelled down to the Docklands in London, not to the new ubiquitous swish developments that are a familiar sight to any London marathon runner who has run the race in the noughties, but to an old set of what we used to call ‘buildings’ – those 2 and 3 storey tenement blocks that were built in the 1920’s. This one was called Naval House and had ‘1927’ proudly chiselled into it’s brickwork. I rang the bell a few times and there was no answer. I called mate 1 who was en route to see if there was anything unusual. My mate 1 had mentioned that we really did need to get to see our friend (mate 2) rather soon as he had ‘got worse’. I had fudged around and broken the date twice, much to my chagrin.
My mate 1 phoned mate 2 and within a minute I hear his familiar dulcet tones from within an open window on the ground floor. Seconds later I was greeted by the man who I had not seen for about five years (mate 2). We subsequently agreed it must have been 5 years since we met up in a boozer on Fetter Lane, as I had taken a call that very night about travelling to Germany for the 2006 World Cup. 5 years, a long time and yet actually quite short as it turned out.
It was the three of us united again, 5 years on. Except this time it was very different. My friend let me in and was a very different man from the one I had last seen. We’ve all put a bit of weight on down the years, indeed I have led the way, but my friend was the finest figure of a man we knew. Fighting fit, literally at a moments notice, he was honed and hard. Years of semi pro fighting had made him almost indestructible, aside from the flattest nose this side of the Repton Boys Club. Fearless and distinguished, controlled and noble, this man was an exponent of the Chinese Martial Arts like few others. Yet the man who greeted me tonight had that same face, flattened nose and wolf like eyes, sharp as pins and almost glowing, but his body had become twisted and awkward. He was like a puppet who had got his strings terribly tangled mid dance. LikeAction Man with twisted internal rubber bands.
I was shocked. I had heard that he had been in a bad way and was getting worse, indeed that night 5 years back he had baled early citing that he had some illness which was effecting his energy levels, something he and we had laughed off. Little did we know that he would contract a rare and seemingly incurable muscle wasting disease that would render this once indestructible man, almost crippled.
He told us of his daily life of powerful painkilling drugs, endless DVDs, terminal tiredness and the debilitating realisation that he could no longer take a stroll down the shops, pop out for a drink or lead the high life that we used to lead such a short time back. The endless pain, the depression and the lack of contact with the outside world had taken a toll. Even typing on his laptop became exhausting and frustrating in equal measure.
This gave both of us a horrible and brutal window in what it must be like to get old, lose touch with the outside world and never be able to revisit the times when you were fitter and more able to enjoy the good things. The really shocking layer however, was that our mate is only a few years older than us, and has literally become an ageing man in a couple of years.
We discussed old times, the boxing scene, the fights we went to see, the football matches abroad, the capers, the good times and the bad. We laughed a lot and we listened. We both came away feeling helpless, a tad depressed and above all gutted that our very good friend was in this physical state. Indeed I am actually quite angry. The social services have been less than brilliant, the medical profession have let him down, his ex business partner has treated him like a mug and most of all his friends have gone missing. That includes us.
If you ever get down about your lot life, spare a thought for those who are worse off. There are millions and millions and yet it is only when you see someone you know really down on their luck do you actually wake up and realise how lucky we all are. Look out for your friends and family, they are the ones who need you most and we all need to support each other before it is too late. You can never roll back time. Never.