Magazine article The Spectator

A Silver Lining

Magazine article The Spectator

A Silver Lining

Article excerpt

Low life

In this column a few weeks ago I described going to a reunion of my old primary school class, held in a country pub. On Boxing Day, I get a call on my mobile from the reunion organiser. One of the blokes there that night, Ash, had gone to see the quack about a sore throat just before Christmas, and it's turned out he's got cancer of the oesophagus. The cancer is advanced and there is a possibility that he might die on the operating table. The surgeons are cutting him open on New Year's Eve, says the reunion organiser, which is tomorrow. Would I give Ash a bell and wish him well. He's on his own at home and probably a bit down about things at the moment.

When I get this call I'm in the car, being driven by my 13-year-old boy. We're driving round an empty carpark. The carpark, next to a beach, is roughly the size and shape of a football pitch, but with a considerable slope between the diagonals.

I let my boy drive round this carpark after dark if it's empty, which it normally is at this time of year. He lives for his driving at the moment, so we go there often. He does racing changes, handbrake turns, the lot, and keeps his foot hard down in between. While he drives, I hang on to the strap with one hand and talk on the phone with the other. From my point of view in the passenger seat, it's a bit like being on a fairground attraction that has been specifically designed to disorientate the punters. One moment I'm face to face with an earth bank and fence, uncomfortably close in the headlights, the next I'm facing uphill and looking at the constellation of Orion. He's a good driver, though. Better than I am, to be honest, because his reactions are that much faster. We generally stop when I'm giddy, or when the needle on the temperature gauge encroaches on the red.

So we're flying round and round the carpark like this and I manage to press all the right numbers to call Ash. After two rings, Ash answers. I'm not very good at these sorts of phone calls, I say to Ash, thinking only of myself even in this situation. But Ash isn't depressed at all. 'Oh that's all right, Jel,' Ash says. 'I'm on top of it, mate. If I die tomorrow, I die. I'll see you on the other side. If not, we'll get together for a drink in the New Year. …

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