Things I could do

Dance like John Travolta. (They didn’t call me Simon Gravolta for nothing.)

Polish off half a bottle of Lagavulin into the early hours with my buddy Andrew. And then go to work the next morning.

Touch my toes.

Smoke gold tipped black Sobranie cigarettes. Sometimes a pink one.

Vote Conservative. (I didn’t know better.)

Drink five pints of beer and drive home afterwards.

Win a game of tennis with a wooden racquet.

Purchase a lifetime of mood-altering experience for £1.99 at Andy’s Records in Market Square, Cambridge: Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl.

Get from A to B without sat nav.

Eat 36 Weetabix in a single sitting.

Queue overnight on Kings Parade, Cambridge in late December to get into the Kings College Carol Service. (And then fall asleep during the service.)

Queue overnight outside Our Price records, Cambridge to get Led Zeppelin Knebworth tickets. (Completely unnecessarily as it transpired as my girlfriend popped into a shop the next week and bought some more without having to queue.)

Discover a chocolate nut spread in Italy that was not then available in the UK. (Nutella. Italy instantly became my favourite country in the world.)

Travel at 59.6mph down an Alpine mountain on two planks of laminated wood.

Drink Baileys by the pint.

Create a 5-a-side football team than would go on to win the Cambridgeshire Under-16 tournament. (Unachievable now, not because I couldn’t win it – I’m sure I could – but because I’m ineligible to enter unless I self-identify as a 15 year old.)

Leave home without an electronic device.

Smell blood during a game of Monopoly. Indeed, smell anything.

Enjoy my last ever day at school and hear my housemaster’s fond farewell to me – ‘fuck off will you, just fuck off.’

Attract a flirtatious glance across a bar from a twenty something girl.

Create a smoking den in the loft of our boarding house at school with my good friend Trevor. (Not achievable now because I don’t smoke and Trevor, RIP, is no longer with us.)

Enjoy the intense pleasure of first time experiences. Most notably my first ever chocolate hob nob.

Feel my shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind.

Whatever the hell I want

Death in Appledore

I commented to a friend that I could always spot him from a distance because he had a distinctive way of walking. He suggested I write a short piece to describe it. This is my response. Two pieces of context: 1. My friend moved to Appledore in Devon a year or so ago. 2. We went to Appledore Book Festival with him last year and he really took against Gavin Esler, who talked about his new book.

The policeman looked up at his colleague and shook his head. ‘Nothing’, he said. ‘No pulse.’

His colleague, a WPC, put her hand to her mouth. She’d never seen a dead body before. They didn’t tend to get them in Appledore, at least not ones that had come about through unnatural courses. Plenty of people died of old age and there was the occasional accidental death at sea, but murder – that never happened here. Or at least it hadn’t until now.

It clearly was murder. She knew from her training that she shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but the pool of blood indicated that the life of the middle-aged man lying prostrate on the conservatory floor had been brought to a premature end. The long pole near the body looked as if it might be the weapon.

‘Lead piping’, explained the policeman. ‘The poor sod’s been struck on the back of the head with a piece of lead piping’.

There was a muffled scream from behind them. In their preoccupation with the corpse they had forgotten the lady of the house, who had raised the alarm. ‘He’s not been murdered has he?’

The policeman nodded, ‘I’m afraid it looks as if he might have been.’

‘But that’ll be terrible for business,’ the lady sobbed. ‘I thought having a celebrity stay would help put me on the map, but not after what he’s gone and done’

A bit harsh, he hardly hit himself over the head, thought the WPC, she’s obviously in shock.

‘Celebrity, you say?’ The policeman perked up. His colleague noticed the briefest of smiles cross his face. He tried to hide it, but she knew what he was thinking. It would put the Appledore Crime Prevention team on the map. Not that they’d prevented any crime. Appledore would hit the national news as the murder capital of Devon, a place where it was not safe to walk the streets at night. He would be interviewed on South West TV. ‘Who is he? Sorry, was.’

‘Gavin Esler. The BBC presenter. Lovely man. He was giving a talk at the book festival.’

She was interrupted by the WPC excitedly announcing, ‘I’ve got it. I know who did it.’

Her colleague looked at her sceptically.

‘It’s the colonel.’

‘What the guy with free-range chickens? The man from Kentucky?’

‘Yes, him. He did it.’ She replied, forgetting that she shouldn’t jump to conclusions. ‘I’m sure of it.’

The policeman shook his head slowly. ‘He wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a chicken. The man’s not capable of murder. What makes you think he did it?’

‘It seems obvious now, but lead piping in the conservatory… we don’t have a Reverend Green or a Professor Plum in the village. It has to be the colonel.’

The policeman looked at his colleague with a mix of incomprehension and pity. ‘This isn’t a game, you know. And anyway, isn’t it Colonel Mustard. Our colonel is Saunders.’

The assistant realised that maybe she hadn’t solved the case after all. Trying to recover, she dug further into her hole. ’What about Miss Scarlet? They all say that Betsy’s a scarlet woman.’

‘WPC Marple. Stop it.’ The policeman’s rebuke sounded sterner than he had intended.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have a Mrs White.’ As she said this, she stopped suddenly, hit by another insight. Her boss had the same thought. Both of them turned slowly to look at the lady of the house. A certain Mrs White.

‘Mrs White. Where were you between the hours of five and seven?’

Mrs White looked incredulous. ‘You don’t seriously think I did this?’

The policeman did indeed think was implausible, but he knew from his Agatha Christies that the murderer was often the last person anyone suspected. ‘The evidence suggests you might well have done it. You were at the scene of the crime.’

‘I was not. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner.’

‘Have you any witnesses that could corroborate that?’

‘My cat.’

‘And you’re called Mrs White.’ The WPC added. Rather unhelpfully, the policeman thought.

‘This is ridiculous,’ said Mrs White. ‘I’ve got a pretty good idea who did it.’


‘The man on the hill. I saw him through the kitchen window, lurking in the street. He looked highly suspicious.’

‘The man on the hill?’

‘Yes, you know. The Londoner. He’s been here for about a year. They say he’s writing an epic novel. I often see him in the evening standing in that big window of his, surveying the village like a feudal lord.’

‘I know who you mean,’ said WPC Marple, ‘he sometimes has a little terrier with him. A good looking man.’ Realising this disclosure might have been a little unprofessional, she added, ‘but too old for me.’ The policeman wondered if she believed that, such was her tone. It sounded to him as if she had a bit of a crush on the man from the hill.

Mrs White continued, ‘there’s something distinctive about the way he walks. Very upright.’

‘Yes,’ WPC Marple added, ‘and from behind his broad shoulders and narrow waist form a perfect triangle.’

‘It’s more his straight back I was thinking of.’

‘Why?’ The policeman was curious.

‘Well, he could easily conceal a long object against his back. He could walk down the street with it there and no-one would think anything of it because he always walks like that.’

‘The lead piping.’

‘Yes,’ Mrs White continued ‘and there’s something else.’

‘What’s that?’

‘He was at Mr Esler’s talk at the book festival. I couldn’t help noticing that he seemed very agitated. He was harrumphing away and saying it was all nonsense.’

‘What was nonsense?’

‘He seemed to think that Mr Esler’s talk was nonsense. It wasn’t though, I thought it was rather good.’ Mrs White turned to the corpse. ‘Poor man.’

‘Is that enough to kill him?’ The policeman looked sceptical.

‘I don’t know. All I know is that he seemed angry with Mr Esler, he was loitering suspiciously around here at the time of the murder and he walks in a way that could conceal the murder weapon.’

That was enough to persuade the policeman that the man on a hill was, at the very least, a suspect. It gave him the chance to speed through the streets of Appledore with siren blaring and lights flashing, imagining they were Starsky and Hutch. WPC Marple thought it was a bit over the top, but thrilling all the same.

‘You’ve missed him,’ a pedestrian on the pavement outside the house on the hill said. ‘He saw you coming and scarpered.’

‘Was he running in a very upright way?’

’No, but he ran like no-one I’ve ever seen. Extremely fast, I doubt you’ll ever catch him. Looked like he had a rocket up his arse.’

Less of a man

Over the past year I’ve lost 20% of me, 12% in the last three months. I’m substantially less of a man than I was.

As I’m quite tall, people tend to think of me as relatively slim. I hide my weight well. I’m embarrassed to admit that this time last year I weighed 99 kg, which is one of the main reasons why I slipped into diabetes. Today I weigh 77 kg.

The question that’s troubling me is where has it gone ? Where’s the missing part of me? Little bits of me have been lost: my tumour, a wisdom tooth (extracted), my wedding ring (more of that later) and my diabetes. But, together, they don’t amount to 22 kg. So what else is missing and where has it gone?

I’ve lost my youthfulness, but that’s been happening over quite a few years and so doesn’t explain the sudden loss over the last 12 months. Unless, maybe, I tipped into old age overnight.

My toothache went with my wisdom tooth, but that was just a bit of sensitivity rather than anything too heavy.

I’ve lost my sense of smell. My consultant told me this is the tumour’s fault. (Presumably my sense of smell took one look at the tumour and decided to get the hell out of my head, never to return.)

(As an aside, Ros and I went to a wine tasting course last year. They gave us a glass of Rosé and a glass of white wine. First, they asked us to look at the difference in colour. My colour blindness meant they looked identical. Then they asked us to nose them. I couldn’t smell a thing. Then they asked us to sip them. Could I detect the notes of strawberry and citrus? Not a chance.)

Being in remission from diabetes is a weight off my mind, as is the removal of my tumour, and I’m certainly feeling the lightness of being (which isn’t at all unbearable). Could that be what I’ve lost? The unbearable heaviness of being. I think that could be it. This could well be the missing 20%.

The lost wedding ring is a consequence rather than a cause of my diminution. My fingers have become thinner and my wedding ring had become looser. I was about to get it resized, but then one day, it wasn’t there. It was our wedding anniversary recently. I’d worn my wedding ring for 33 years and then one day it just dropped off.

What am I supposed to read into that? That I’m no longer the man my wife married