In 1972, I was given 7 years to live by the doctors at St. Thomas’ Hospital, Lambeth. When 8 or 10 years had passed, and I felt as well as I’d ever felt, I began to mark my progress in life with future markers in time.
I started to use things that I wanted to think of as life markers, that I could maybe look forward to, like when was the next Olympic Games or World Cup happening? or even how far away was the next general Election. Not that I would be looking forward to that, particularly, but it would be a future point of interest.. And how long was I going to be able to live anyway? Since I obviously wasn’t dying yet, contrary to the opinion they’d had in ’72. Year by year, my potential stride got longer.
It’s the 20th anniversary of 9/11 today. 20 years ago, I was in a waiting room in University Hospital, Cork, Ireland, when a man hastily set up a tv in the waiting room, switched it on and left just as hastily, without saying a word.
It became obvious after a few moments that an aircraft had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Tracy was sat with me, and I quietly said to her,
“The world has just changed – forever”.
It was a quick thought. It took a few seconds between the tv being switched on, and seeing that first image. There was no tv commentary along with the images. It was silent in the room. I didn’t hear Tracy say anything, we just watched it in silence. The fifteen people in that waiting room did the same thing.
I still hadn’t progressed in the queue that far when the second aircraft hit the other building. There were voices in the room, under their breaths, and a heightened sense of a definite tragedy unfolding. Under my breath, I said it again. I was almost inaudible. It was only just spoken, and only really to myself,
“The world has changed”.
There were a couple of bouncers in the room with the doctor when I finally got in. He was Indian. They’d obviously been having some trouble in the hospital. Probably the same sort of thing that transpires at A+E on Saturday night.
On the way home in the car, there was a quiet monologue emerging from my mouth about the problems in the world, along with why and how it was going to change. Loads of stuff..
Tracy was still relatively new to world politics, and she didn’t have that much of a developed view of geo-political stresses. I’d been watching Tim Marshall’s mini lectures on Sky for an age, and I was still in my Lockerbie mindset, keeping up with embryonic online current affairs, world news and comment. The usual. I was quite depressed.. and muttering. Verna and I had been to the top of of the South Tower in c.1977, and taken photos of each other. I still have at least one of those.
9/11 was a life marker. I remember it every year. I’d met a friend of mine, Angela Erigo, on top of the Empire State Building in circa ’75. Since 9/11, I’ve wondered whether there was anyone I knew out on a day trip to the top of those buildings on that particular day.
‘It’s a small world’, as Angela and I remarked, at the top of the Empire State Building.
There are a few different kinds of life markers that I carry around with me. Over the years, this has become a permanent way to express myself, to myself, within myself. A kind of intra-personal form of expression. Something that I carry around on a permanent basis, and think about every time a life marker comes into play. It’s like an extended version of stepping over cracks in the pavement, or acknowledging Raphael Nadal do something similar in front of a few million people.
I have tended, in the aftermath of those remarks in 1972, to time my life by making different kinds of goals for myself. Goals that I can achieve in order to see my longevity progress perhaps. To inform myself about moving on within my goals. It’s become a process.
I pick a player; sportsman/woman/musician/scientist. Some kind of icon who’s career I can enjoy watching over time. Sports people are probably the best to align with for this requirement, because their careers are relatively short. Their careers have a date that goes only so far into the future, and I say to myself, ‘If I can get to the end of his career, I’ll be satisfied with that’. (As a point I’d like to reach before my own demise).
I think that this habit developed and progressed during Ian Botham’s career, probably when he was about half way through, in the early to mid 80’s, I’d said to myself that if I died at around the time his career came to an end, I’d be satisfied with that. Something positive to see happening and follow, that might even be entertaining right up to the point of departure. I loved watching him excel. Sure, there was plenty of ego, but it had been hard earned, and there was a genuine humility there with it.
These were genuine goals I started to enlist for myself. There was nothing morbid about this. I’d been given a sentence in 1972, and I needed to make the best of it, so I was looking ahead. Always looking ahead.
Some of my goals were pretty short term at the beginning of this ‘life marking’. When I first started doing this, back in the mid to late 80’s, I remember thinking that it’d be good if I could last as long as it would take for my team, Manchester City, to get back into the First Division of the English Football League.
They were in the Third Division at the time! This particular thought was unrealistic though, as any kind of marker, because it was so open-ended. They may never have got out of the Third Division in three average whole lifetimes, but my ‘gamble’ on them doing so before I quit this coil was that they were at least one of the biggest so-called ’sleeping giants’ in the whole league system.
I’ve since long realised that this behaviour of mine has been part of a mental reflex that I’ve used as a spur in some kind of an effort by myself to prolong an active self-being. A kind of spur, with a goal at the end, that if I could achieve, could drive me on to another stage of life, give me more confidence perhaps, at which time I might be able to make/add another choice. And live another passage of life, however vicariously.
…That is, in the other life I lead when I’m not writing, rehearsing or making poetic notes on anything I can lay my hands on, which now includes media.. in my time-off, I tell myself.. in my ‘spare time’. When I’m relaxing!
(I should plant this emoji 🤣 right here! Right now! So, exactly WHEN do you turn off then, roy? ..and move from one kind of life to another? Even when you might be watching a game?)
So I’ve come through quite a lot of stages with this. I’ve out lived some of my heroes I never thought would depart before me. Colin Bell, Frank Worthington, even Steven Hawking.
Back at the ranch, after Botham there was Freddie Flintoff, who could win a game on his own. During and after that there were decent England football teams which included Beckham and Scholes, followed by Mo Farah on the track, and then the best of the lot, a magnificent ten years of David Silva at City, accompanied by Sergio Aguerro. I reached so many goals.
In fact, I’ve now reached a stage where I’ve almost outgrown this mechanism that I began to set up all those years ago. At the age of 80, is it feasible any longer to set any other goal than to just enjoy what’s left?
After all, I’ve now outlived most of the doctors I met in 1972. (Not all of course, and there are one or two I should still be in contact with). BUT, as has been said in one way or another for millennia, ‘Pride before a fall’, so pride in any achievement has to go overboard immediately. Right now roy!
Phew! Thank goodness for that. Time to choose another career to try to exceed then, in a long list of heroes I’ve admired, who’ve inspired me. Well, there’s one obvious candidate who’s been with me since I first saw her playing at Wimbledon this year. Yes, you probably guessed it.. Emma Raducanu, tennis star extraordinaire. At the age of 18 she is about to become noted as one of the best tennis players in the world. That’ll be a career worth following. An inspiring career. It’ll last about fifteen years at the very top.
Do I have a chance? Not a chance in hell! Go for it roy! Why not, you’ll be approaching 100 by the time she even thinks about downing tools.
PS. I met Virginia Wade in a lift about ten years ago. It might have been in Soho, but I didn’t make any note. She used to be a fave rave, but too early for that list, when she was in her prime.
PPS. Emma Raducanu is playing the match of her young life tonight. She’s going for her first Major Championship. She’s playing in the final of The US Open. She’s the first ever ‘qualifier’ in world tennis to do that. Ever! What a girl.. What a woman! Problem is.. it’s only on Amazon Prime. Bollocks…