I awoke early on the morning of Friday the 6th of May 2011 with terrible pains pulsating from my lower back and a throbbing head from the excesses of the previous night. It took me a couple of attempts before I could stand up and with the stiffness which accompanies a night’s sleep, I crept down the stairs like a person who needed a stair-lift for such things. I made myself a strong coffee, and sat down looking at my box of notes which I had accumulated during the months my story had been building within my mind.
It was at this point I knew instinctively I would need some help, not with the physical writing of my manuscript, but help from somebody who could give me not only their critique on my story as it progressed, but who would help me keep to a routine of writing.
Dangerous John sprang into my thoughts.
I knew I would have to keep myself disciplined or not I would settle into the kind of holiday mood you can get into when; say you take a couple of weeks leave to complete some decorating. You have good intentions of painting at least three rooms, but only get one finished because you wake up in the morning, saying to yourself ‘I will make a start tomorrow, I am on holiday after all!’ No this was going to be my new career and like all jobs you need to put in a minimum of forty hours a week to make it pay.
I knew dangerous John always finished work early on a Friday and would head to my local for a couple of refreshing drinks, so after popping a hand full of pain killers for my back and then more for my head, I finished my coffee and went for a shower. I normally like to a have bath, but since my spine gave way It had been painfully impossible to get in or out, so as I hobbled up the stairs I contemplated how much it would cost to install a stair-lift.
Dangerous John got his nick-name because he is as placid as a Rastafarian on a reefer and as harmless as a puppy. He has a neat cropped silver beard that matches his silver hair which makes him look like a younger (and slimmer version of Father Christmas). He also had one very admirable trait, his ferocious love of books which he reads for hours every day, and he’s not happy unless he has at least three more in a row waiting to be read. He was also the one who rekindled my love of reading fiction.
I was first introduced to him down my local pub some years previous and one day we got talking about our favourite books. The next week he brought in one of his for me to read, and when I had finished it he replaced it with another, then another and the friendship arose from there. I also started to re-read some of my past favourites, especially George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Big Brother and other classics of his.
Dangerous John would be the perfect person for the job and I could get his knowledge of literature for the price of a warm pint. I would always recommend anyone who is starting to write, or has already been there, to have someone like John who can be honest in their views. It will save a lot of time in the future, and anyway the things we do in life are always much more fun when you have somebody to share them with.
It was half past four and a lovely sunny Friday afternoon. I had the rare luxury (up to that point) of being able to take a lunch time siesta and after popping another fist-full of painkillers I hobbled into my local, and there sitting on a high stool, next to the bar, was dangerous John. He gave me a welcoming smile and was already rising to his feet, offering to buy me a drink. I kindly accepted his offer and pulled up another stool to join him and divulge my plan for the manuscript.
‘Lovely idea,’ came dangerous Johns reply (it was the first time I hadn’t been called mad.) He gladly welcomed my request to him for his help and a plan was hatched. We would meet every Friday afternoon in the pub, I would hand over that week’s scribbling’s for him to review, and he would then hand back the previous week’s work which we would go through, and debate any changes over a pint or two. What a glorious way to spend a Friday afternoon much better than when I was employed and would work like a mad-man, from seven in the morning to ten a night, trying to clear my work load so I could at least try and relax on the Saturday.
The conversation flowed and so did the beer and John told me about some of the stories he had started but never quite got around to finishing. He explained about how he looked forward to retiring so he could take up writing more seriously and it was this sentence which hit me like a glass bottle over the head.
Cancer is a nasty word; it’s the one thing that comedians never make a joke about. Cancer is the one universal word which brings dread to every person on this planet, no matter their colour, religion, sex, politics, class or caste it brings fear into our hearts like the Black Death brought terror to the people of the medieval age.
John’s words about finally having the time to complete his dreams when he retired brought back to me that fatal day when the doorbell rang. I answered it and there stood my father and mother-in-law. It was a surprise, ‘sorry to disturb you but we have something to tell you,’ they stated in a calm voice, but as they entered my mother-in-law broke down and started to weep. My father-in-law sat down and looked at us, still calm, he said, ‘I have cancer, it was confirmed today, I have six months to live.’ We buried him three months later.
I’m remember my mother-in-laws words which she kept tearfully repeating, ‘it’s so unfair, we have worked hard all our lives, hurt no one, and now we’ve just retired, and it’s all being taken away.’
For anybody that has experienced that moment I don’t think even Shakespeare could describe the numbness (if you know otherwise then please leave a comment). I’m surprised that after a hundred years and the billions spent on research along with the tens of thousands of people employed in one way or another that humanity hasn’t achieved more. Every decade there is a promise of some new break through just around the corner (it always seems to be when some research body needs more funding) and ten years later nothing has changed. At this present moment I have a friend who is in his thirties with cancer and is looking death in the eye as he sees out his last few weeks on this planet. The cancer industry is the great untouchable; no one is allowed to question if maybe after this great endeavour by humanity why we aren’t seeing more of a return? It reminds in a way of the finance industry, all that money invested by ordinary people, and governments alike, and what has it achieved?
The cancer industry likes to boast that because of it people are living longer when diagnosed with the disease, ‘they now live for three years instead of two,’ but I think it’s because of better education. People are more aware and thus seek help earlier but generally the outcome is no different to what it was thirty years ago, fifty years ago, or even seventy.
John’s remark about retiring just reminded me of the one big positive I learned from the death of my father-in-law. Life is precious, follow your dream today for tomorrow may never come, and be thankful for everything you have.
His death was one of the factors which had been building up inside of me, and which would eventually burst out like seeds in a pod, in my determination to give up what I had and risk all to publish a book.