PC Be Damned! The Drunken Years

A SPECIFIC illness, in my case terminal prostate cancer, is accompanied by all the loneliness and soul-searching the world can throw at you, but it’s difficult not to become absorbed in it . In all probability, it’ll send some readers into an unfathomable torpor concerning its idiosyncratic ways.

I’m taking a different tack today in order to address something that has troubled me – or, more likely, troubled others, these past 20-odd years: How, then, on God’s bountiful earth, did I manage to secure the best sports job in national newspaper journalism? This blog requires two parts.

It was apparent to me, at an early age, that I liked a drink. This was demonstrated at the Scottish Daily Express in Glasgow when two news sub-editors and this 23-year-old went for our customary break and managed to swallow six pints each which we unilaterally extended from half-an- hour into a round hour.

Such an extension played havoc with our reasoning and we returned to work in the most militant of moods: simply put, we adjudged we were being rewarded in sweeties rather than pound notes. Thus, it made sense that we with-held our labour. This intolerable state of affairs did not last long.

The editor, the incomparable Ian McColl, otherwise known as the Wee Man, summoned us to his capacious office and picked us off one by one to download our troubles. My colleagues were just on the wrong side of intelligible, but worse was to come: my inarticulacy was a bucking bronco, and when I attempted to mount the beast, I tumbled back to the floor.

‘Paid being I am £25 a week,’ I started as the startled eyes of McColl fixated me, opening up a horror script.. ‘Oh, Christ!! Here have been I here, for, oh, for fuck’s sake…but…’ The sentence never located a full stop. It was interrupted by a by-now fulminating McColl.

‘The three of you are drunk…foustie drunk! Now get out of my office, you foustie ginks!’

How I survived that particular encounter with an editor who favoured temperance, I’ll never know. But, within a few weeks, I was on my way to Fleet Street, via the Crawley Advertiser. A year later, in 1969, I was appointed as a stone sports sub on the great Daily Mail, and rubbing shoulders with such luminaries as J.L.Manning, Janet Street-Porter , Colin Reid and Ian Wooldridge. This is where the my life left the rails and tumbled down an embankment.

As my job in the composing room entailed late nights, I was given a year’s complimentary membership of the Press Club. Now, if Fleet Street pubs such as the Old Bell, Albion and King and Keys could give evidence, they would submit that alcohol ruled and wrecked many lives. The Press Club instituted my familiarity with hell.

I became a habitue of the place and soon was drinking with the likes of light drinkers Kelvin McKenzie, Tony Boullemier (Kelvin’s great pal), and heavy bevvy merchants such as Hugh McIllvaney and Peter Batt. But even their considerable talent for imbibing was eclipsed by a guy who was fine arts correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. I can’t recall his name, but I do recall that this Scot’s capacity for drink was phenomenal. Significantly, he had an even greater capacity for insult.

Sean, the head barman, was usually addressed as C*** Face. And if he was tardy in serving up the drinks, he was liable to find the cash register pushed off the bar into an area adjacent to his toes. Yes, drinking in the Press Club could be a hazardous business. I, meanwhile, had developed a passion for brandy, in addition to the vodka and pints of lager, not to mention red and white wine. On occasion, such anaesthesia encouraged Dr Jekyll to try his luck as Mr Hide. There came a time when that luck ran out, however.

There was one particular guy who insisted on declaring himself a public nuisance and Mr Batt, who already claimed that unfortunate title, was quick to point this out to him with a round-house swing to the jaw. This guy was particularly resilient, being roughly 6ft 5in, and rose to answer the violence. Stimulated by the action, I joined in and sent the aggressor back down from whence he came.

I reflected on my actions. By this time, I had left the Mail and joined Tbe Sun and it seemed only right that I should reinforce my colleague’s pugilistic lead. The next day, both Batt and I were summoned to an emergency meeting of the Press Club committee. We declined the invitation and promptly received notices that we were banned forthwith.

A verdict of sine die deterred neither Batt nor I and, drinking outrageously, I began to find myself in scrapes that not even the Marquess of Queensberry would have underwritten.

And so we move, swiftly, on to my appointment as Scottish football writer in 1974. By now, alcohol was my closest confidante. First fame made me believe I was a big noise: I lived in a top-class hotel for six months, took taxis everywhere and tried my best not to underestimate my expenses. Was I a fully-fledged alcoholic, a dipsomaniac? Was there any difference.? Not that I could notice when I consulted the mirror each morning, saw a thousand stars staring back at me, after vomiting spectacularly.

There were dramatic repercussions, of course, particularly so when the Scotland football squad flew to Spain in February of 1975 on European Championship qualifying business. Having imbibed outrageously with the Daily Mail team of Ian Wooldridge and Brian Scott in their Valencia city-centre hotel, I bore down on my resting place on the outskirts of the city, which happened crucially to be the team hotel. By the time I reached that destination, walking was an nigh on an impossibility, with talking a close second.

Unfortunately for me – and perhaps for Valencian society and the Scotland football team – there was an official reception for the visitors that night. The doors burst open to reveal a man who was drunker than Tam O’Shanter – and insulting with it. I do remember one burning insult to Charlie Cooke. Something about being a tanner baw player.

I do not remember anything else. Perhaps it’s just as well. They tell me I was assisted by the Scotland backroom staff up to the reception desk, where they asked me for the number of my room. Apparently, I gave them the only one I could remember – and that belonged to the Daily Mail team back in Valencia.

I was deposited in the space I had drunkenly requested and left to sleep it off. Some chance. A few hours later, as dawn provided drama on the Spanish skyline, I awoke with that uneasy feeling that something untoward, even disastrous, had occurred.

With my pulse belting out a discordant tune, I slipped out of the hotel and began the long walk (make that stagger) back to the city. It took me ages. When I eventually arrived at the restaurant where the troops were gathering, my immediate past returned to haunt me. The rest of the journalists managed to suppress their glee as John ‘The Voice’ Mackenzie, of the Scottish Daily Express, laid it on the line.

Strangely, there was no application of candy coating. ‘The SFA committee are holding an emergency meeting, Bryan.’ I tried a casual approach, though the bile was already beginning to tease the back of my throat, and asked what was on their agenda. ‘Oh, it’s about you and your behaviour last night,’ an unrelenting McKenzie added. He went on to delineate every faux pas of which I had been guilty. Evidently, Charlie Cooke had not been the only recipient of my outburst. For some obscure and provocative reason, I had decided that the Scots players would be hard pushed to kick a steady backside.

But the hotel bedroom scenario had exacted the worst toll on my future. It had belonged to an SFA selector and he became naturally aggrieved when he was initially denied entry, only to find yours truly occupying a king-sized bed.

They could not awaken me, so they sent for the doctor. His initial prognosis, allegedly, was not promising. It is claimed he could not locate a pulse and declared me dead. Only on further inspection did they discover required the word ‘dead’ to be accompanied by the word ‘drunk.!’

The bile was now demanding to find an exit. Hughie Taylor ostensibly provided it. Just as Mackenzie was removing the black cloth from his head, Taylor, who suffered from a minor speech impediment, munched into a seafood platter, and said:’You should try these calamaresh, Coon – they’re sh-sh-shmashin!

It is not necessary to enter any further detail about that awful night in the hinterland of Valencia, except to say the SFA’s response was a protest letter that was equivalent in length to the Dead Sea Scrolls – and banned me from travelling with them again. There was no appeal. I was out of a job some weeks later, and it took me another three years to test the dangerous rapids of journalism again, this time with the Daily Express.

Now, I cannot say that this unfortunate incident cured me of my dipsomania. Indeed, it did not. But it inserted a warning light in my brain that over-indulgence could be a serious obstacle to my career. That light turned to strobe in 1986 when I was whisked into an intensive care unit in a Kirkcaldy hospital with an enlarged heart.

On returning to England, I was invited to attend the world-famous Harefield hospital. The consultant surgeon delivered the troublesome news with a suitably inscrutable visage. ‘Of course, this means you will never drink again – and if you do, I shan’t perform the necessary heart transplant!’ Did anyone need a better excuse than to say goodbye to John Barleycorn?

The fact is that the goodbye was scarcely unequivocal. Thus, over the years, I have disengaged myself from the hook of sobriety, but only on very special occasions. And, during my most recent wrestle with the old prostate, I have not touched a bloody drop.

Which brought my conversation with my doctor into sharp focus. She asked me to nominate my favourite tipple. ‘Remy Martin,’ I responded, my lips scarcely moving. ‘Well, why don’t you have one before you go to bed,’ she added.

One? Bless her. I told her I’d think about it and I did, long and hard. As a recovering dipsomaniac, I wasn’t bold enough to divulge that my particular trouble is that one is never enough. Especially not with brandy!


PC Be Damned- Taxi for Cooney!

ARE there any days when a wonderful feeling of emancipation sweeps over you? Mine arrived on Monday. I’m out in the recreational world for the first time in months and there’s not a hospital in sight. I therefore have taken occupation of Nirvana.

Currently, as driving is being discouraged, I’m sitting in the back seat of our car awaiting my wife’s return from the local shopping centre. A leg injury means she’s picking up prescriptions from the chemist.

Now, at times like these, I replicate a coiled spring, ready to rant about the time she has spent shopping. Not on this day. I have things on my mind and, for once, they do not include the indignity of terminal prostate cancer and impending death.

Soon, the past is whispering in my ear as if it has signed a confidentiality agreement. There is no need for secrecy, really, because I am restored to my youth and those halycon days when serious maladies were scarcely a consideration.

Yet, complications are occurring. Having left Aberdeen Academy with qualifications that only a dolt would endorse, I am looking for employment that acknowleges respectability. No luck there. Rejection is everywhere. at almost 19 years of age, I decide on diversification.

At least I’ve passed my driving test and there is a vacancy up in the city’s west end with a rather elite private taxi firm. It is mainly account work and, in general, you know exactly the calibre of your fare.

First, however, comes the initiation test. Those of you who have watched Stanley Baker in Hell Drivers will capture some of the picture. Anyway, I sit beside a veteran employee of Campbell and Sellar, who prompts me to drive a Morris Oxford to a two-mile distant destination. The car has a column gear change, – completely foreign to myself – and, therefore, with a lack of correlation between my brain and my accelerator foot, begins exhibiting all the signs of having being sponsored by kangaroo petrol.

The man beside me is unimpressed and expresses his reservations. It is all or nothing on the return journey. I finally conquer the gear change conundrum. Luckily for me, his better nature prevails. I am hired and introduced to a lugubrious-looking chiel called Mr Sellar. Youwould not want to meet this gentleman in a staring competition. He is not wearing socks and doesn’t appear to be wearing me, either. On our introduction, he tells me to get my hair cut and wear the company cap at all times.

I find myself billeted in a bothey with a bell that summons drivers to their various tasks. It is not a bothey of fraternity, being filled with rather old, rather fractious, men with a dislike for young thrusters like myself. Yet, young thrusters have their uses.

Towards the end of a rather uneventful first week, the bothey bell is imbued with a new urgency; almost like a fire bell. Whatever, the room suddenly empties of old men with chips riding on their shoulders. The bell, however, pays the exodus no heed and maintains its emergency tone.

Where have my colleagues gone? These fuckers know something that I don’t, but there is nothing for it but to answer a call of this nature. Mr Sellar hands me a slip that tells of two sisters who live locally and insist on an hour’s tour of the city once every week. But there are caveats; the driver must not exceed 25mph, or take corners in a daredevil fashion. If at all possible, cobblestones have to be avoided in addition, of course, to emergency stops. A complete no-no, this.

I am confronted by two predecessors of Miss Daisy. If the sisters are conversationalists, they prove mistresses of disguise. The hour’s journey which takes us down to the heavily cobbled streets of Old Aberdeen, on to the again cobbled fish market – my mistake, ladies – is conducted in silence but at a pace that would besmirch the reputation of Stirling Moss. At least there are no jolts or calamities, however.

The uneasy hour is up but the ladies seem pleased enough with my performance. Highly pleased, as it turns out. ‘Weel, driver,’ said the more garrulous of the two, resorting to the vernacular and pressing two half-crowns into my right hand, ‘I’ve got to tell ye that’s the best ride we’ve ever hid!’

I’m absorbing this segment of the past and laughing uproariously when my wife returns. By this time, I have taken occupation of the driving seat. I haven’t driven for many months and Margaret is not about to let this situation alter. But I’m adamant and deaf to her entreaties that my legs have been sorely weakened by the cancer.

Off we go, then, with Margaret trying vainly to suppress her anxiety. We drive all over the Southside of Glasgow and eventually alight at my son Darren’s house. My performance behind the wheel has been exemplary and I’m still congratulating myself whilst taking up safe distancing in the back garden. When it’s time to leave – and that’s about ten minutes later – I attempt to negotiate the first decking step which looks to be deeper than normal.

Hereabouts, my luck runs out so fast that no-one could catch it. I feel my left knee collapse and I land up in an undignified and painful heap. The melee transfers itself to Margaret, who is helping me up: she also takes a dangerous tumble. Our son is summoned to effect the rescue act.

Now, I’m waiting for the inevitable reproach from the distaff side of my life but, incredibly, it never comes. Indeed, I resume my position in the car’s driving seat and motor sedately back to our apartment, without a squawk from Margaret. You will never know how much this hour or so of independence means to me. Am I getting better and ridding myself of the remorseless enemy that is prostate cancer? Of course I’m not. But the point is I’m feeling better about myself while renewing my acquaintance with normality.

How do I explain my good health, even if it is of a temporary nature? I must make an admission hereabouts. You may remember I refused the offer of a third blood transfusion some weeks ago, adamant that the presence of Covid-19 meant I’d be giving hospitals the widest of berths. I stopped just short of stamping my feet. No, nothing would change my mind.

Well, I did change my stubborn mindset, after an assurance from the medical profession that there would be minimal risk as hospitals were now equipped to deal with the behemoth of coronovirus.

On the day, I, too, was equipped for the situation at the hospital: I donned my mask and rubber gloves, and settled into a wheelchair that would only work if it was being pulled backwards. There was a radically different regime there now. Security was everywhere: plus warning notices, demarcation lines for patients to follow and enough hygiene gel to cover a multitude of hands and then some.

The panic which lay just below my breastbone gradually evaporated as they settled me into a private room and began pumping new blood into my sorely depleted body. The process took approximately seven hours and the attention given me could not be faulted. I was attended by a doctor and a host of nurses, all of whom meticulously obeyed the new strictures forced upon them.

After a long day, the lovely presence of Margaret filled the room; she was coming to take me away, bless her. We thanked the nurses, the doctor and bade them goodbye. Margaret wheeled me to freedom, leaving me just inside the back door, and left to re-position the car.

There was a guy standing next to me: I imagined him to be a porter. He volunteered to pull me out to the car park. I was in no position to refuse. So out we went and I took up my usual position in the back seat. It was then I congratulated Margaret on a day without complication. ‘And full marks to that porter,’ I added.

‘That wasn’t a porter,’ she responded. ‘That was just a helpful member of the public – and he wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves!’ she said. I had only words of the desperate. ‘And there was me taking every bloody precaution!’

The thing is I’m still here and Covid-19, thank God, is hopefully somewhere else.

PC Be Damned: Dignity in death

ALTRUISTS will tell you there can be dignity in impending death. For me, a nationwide search party will be required to find this particular quality. I’m damned if I can locate it.

Stage Four prostate cancer has brought me literally to my knees. There is a worrying numbness in my left leg, in particular. But the joints that used to support me so valiantly are now creaking in protest at every movement and I am glad of the three-wheeled walker that helps me steer an uneven path around our apartment. I fear there is no way back. I know there is no way back. My lot is decided.

Recently, the doctor who has ministered to my needs with a selfless magnificence since last November asked me to consider a third blood transfusion. My platelets evidently have slumped again. After much consultation with my beloved wife Margaret, I decided against this option. Why? It’s summed up in a word: Coronovirus.

Like so many others before (suffering from heart, cancer and all representatives of similar horrors), I was terrified of the consequences of spending most of a day in hospital and perhaps inviting into my body the prospect of the evil virus that is afflicting our universe right now. No, I have enough problems of my own, thank you, despite being told that the odds on me catching something would linger around the 5-1 mark. Disrespect, by the way, should not be directed at the hospital where I have been treated. It’s doing its best, despite being hampered by the ham-fists of government.

So, in essence, with a personal prognosis now probably reduced to weeks rather than months, what can the medical profession do for me now? Not a lot, I’m afraid – an eventuality compounded the other day when that same doctor phoned me to say he was joining another practice. Was that the sound of hope leaving the building? God’s curse my suspicious nature. He will not abandon me and already is phoning me regularly out of friendship.

Now, we arrive at a most important matter. Friendship. It has overwhelmed me recently, made me weep, contrived to make me feel a deep sense of shame that I could have in any way doubted the loyalty of men with whom I worked over the years. Consider those frenetic days of the revamped Scottish Daily Mail of 1995 to 1997 when time and consideration of family were lobbed out of the window and we recruits formed the building blocks of a new newspaper era. We downplayed the 12-hour-plus days and the conditions of prohibition – in an overcrowded office where there was no allowance for safe distancing.

My profound thanks are extended to all those good people who have contacted me these past few weeks and months – to Dougie, Jasa, Tommo, Jeff – and in other areas, to Jim, Tony, Frank, Steve. Oh, they all know who they are. Hey, two of their wives (Avril and Marie) have even put serious illness aside to convey their feelings. It’s the sincerity with which they communicate that makes me wonder why there can be any bitterness within me at all.

But I’m human and therefore susceptible to those foibles associated with man. Events, or rather non-events, make it necessary to expectorate on a strawberry patch which I grew to love – and despise. Enter the Daily Mail. Back in March of ’97, I received a summons to arms from that doyen of all editors, Paul Dacre. I had been about to join the Scotsman under Martin Clarke, but Dacre’s offer turned my head so quickly I needed a neck brace for some time.

Associate editor, Head of Sport: The temptation was too great. I signed, as they say, on the dotted line that day in the lounge of the Royal Garden hotel, only after an alteration to Dacre’s sense of maths.

Dacre was the word of law; generally, he was feared and he encouraged that fear. Unfortunately, his sports staff in Kensington were so set in their ways they wouldn’t have recognised the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse if they had road into town. They had set their own standards and, in many cases, had decided that the best story of any day was lunch, plus a few Harry Lifters.

And thus things changed. This former drunk – who’d once been told, rather peremptorily by once editor David English that he didn’t not fit the Mail template – set about that change. People had to go. And soon they went. Of course, you can imagine the chagrin, the jealousy, the rage of those who were considered as untouchable as Elliot Ness and his gang. But, significantly, I had the editor’s backing. The back end of the newspaper, consequently, began to throb and thrive and challenge the red tops’ hegemony.

Ill health – an overdose of potassium – necessitated my resignation in 2000-1. Fame and fortune are ephemeral, of course and, therefore, within six years I was gone and perhaps the legacy forgotten. My contact with the Mail ostensibly ended, save for the odd email exchange from former mentor Dacre.

What leads me to the new gun-slinging editor in London town. Geordie Greig is the name and I’m told he is an affable sort, not given to the tempestuous rages exhibited by the man I once christened Big Bollocks. But where, oh where, are his manners? Some weeks ago, I wrote my first blog on this accursed illness and sent it to Mr Greig in the hope that he might be able to use it as a kind of instruction kit for those of consigned to the inevitable.

Some hope! In spite of receiving favourable reports from a wide spectrum of people, all I heard from Derry Street was the sound of a deathly silence. Not even an email, an acknowledgment, or even a message that my time had gone and should not be resurrected.

Now, that’s one source of bitterness; am I displaying a lack of dignity? Quite possibly. But, hey, I possess a concessionary ticket, don’t I? It doesn’t end there, however. I am still trying to work out the whereabouts of a famous football manager with whom I have engaged in almost constant contact these past few years, often sharing sensitive information He has disappeared from my landscape as if it had been ordained by the Magic Circle. I won’t name him or possibly shame him, but shame on him all the same. A phone call would have been appropriate.

The same applies to an even more famous footballer, who was once moved to phone me on a Sunday morning to congratulate on a piece I had written. I left a message for him recently but there was no reply forthcoming. Oh, dear. Football personages continually talk about there being some kind of entente cordial between the fraternity. There is, as long as it suits them or their needs.

But, honestly, we’re all bound up by hypocrisy, aren’t we? It smothers society; dilutes the best intentions. Maybe these people qualify as wimps on the embarrassment factor, and find themselves overwhelmed by influences beyond their control. Maybe I should have held judgment. But the thing is, in reality, I just don’t have the time. If there is to be any satisfactory recrimination, now is the hour.

And thus we arrive at the biggest disappointment of my life. An extraordinarily gifted youngster arrived at the Scottish Daily Mail in 1995 and, after an awkward beginning, proceeded to help me form my team. His name: Graham Hunter. Soon, I had two tender-feet by my side for the joint princely sum of £30,500: Fraser Mackie and John Greechan. These young sports journalists rose quickly in the ranks, were rewarded fiscally and deserved their respective elevations.

You could not subdue this man Hunter or his talent for the unexpected. He managed to unearth the Jean Marc Bosman scandal which would change the face of football forever – something those laid-back Metropolitans in Derry Street inexplicably failed to recognise. You reward talent and this I attempted to do. When I moved to London in 1997, Hunter followed and, as far as I was led to believe, was happy to do so. Soon, the title of chief football writer was his; then, doubtless too early in his fledgling career, deputy sports editor.

Hunter, as is common to those of his talent, was spliced with complication. He arrived at the arrived at the SDM office unannounced and yet you could almost hear a fanfare of trumpets playing his song. He sealed his place in the team with an exclusive on Pierre van Hooijdonk’s late arrival at Celtic. Let’s say we debated the matter enthusiastically before he was dispatched to Parkhead.

Ultimately, he made mistakes – and I pointed these out in my rather graphic e-book autobiography, *Fingerprints of a Football Rascal. The greatest mistake, however, belonged to me. Imagine promoting to such a stature, someone who possessed only a glimpse of the perils of promotion and experience. Set aside the debilitating effects of potassium poisoning, what the hell was I thinking?

Still, I did not expect what was coming my way. Hunter, by now domiciled in Barcelona and embracing fame with a rare enthusiasm owing to his brilliant book on the local heroes, was being interviewed by an old Daily Star colleague of mine. Christopher Davies had done well in the autumn of his life, finding himself at the ultra-Tory newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, after years of comparative obscurity.

Their joint effort at balanced journalism appeared on the Football Writers’ Association – ironically delivered on May 22, 2013. I have waited too long to respond, although I was tempted to litigate. It claimed that, just before the van Hooijdonk signing, I had my hands around Hunter’s throat and was throwing him out of the door when someone came running in and shouted announced that there was a press conference at Parkhead, where a new- as yet unknown signature was about to be announced. Hunter was immediately emancipated from his ‘purgatory.’ and dispatched. Who, I mean, who writes this kind of unsubstantiated crap?

Davies, for one. I sent him a Facebook message on reading what was a palpable libel. Hey, I have enough smudges on my CV without being tarnished with an outright untruth. Strangely, I did not receive a reply, far less an explanation. If only he had telephoned me for the delivery of the real story which was witnessed by my deputy Doug McRobb, who ‘saw no ships.’ Why? Because there were no gunboats firing that day.

Hunter and I, as you would expect, have pursued a policy of estrangement over the intervening years. Please excuse this exercise in possible hyperbole, but blame it on the fragility of a dying man’s displaced voice.

Infinitely more pleasant memories are discovered at the christening of Hunter’s daughter, Cara, in the late 90s. We all met near Hill Street on a Sunday, the highlight of which was my introduction to Hunter’s father. A solicitor by profession, he thanked me profusely for his son’s chance in life and followed this up with a thank you card.

The disappointment in me deepens to despair that his son failed to recognise the benefits of such good grace and dignity.

*Fingerprints of a Football Rascal: £2.99 Kindle Edition, Amazon e-books.

Dignity in Death

'PC Be Damned! – Keep'

By Bryan Cooney

JUST to become unfashionable and temporarily ignore the horrors of Covid-19, allow me to take you back approximately 18 months and alight on the personal chaos engendered by another potentially fatal disease.

    The prostate cancer that I’d fought since 2008 and had learned to loathe with a great intensity, suddenly selected an inevitable overdrive gear. The radical prostatectomy and multiple radiation sessions were forgotten as I sat facing the consultant. I prepared for the worst. It did not disappoint.

    With perhaps a lesser degree of empathy than perhaps I might have expected from someone who was picking up a veritable fortune for a 10-minute chat, he was delivering a terminal prognosis.

    Mind you, I had also much for which to thank him. Fortuitously, I had retained my BUPA registration and therefore had been sent from Glasgow to London for the second of two PSMA scans (these are inordinately expensive pieces of kit that pick up the tiniest particles of the disease. The arrival of this scanner has been much promised in Scotland, but is still not available for a reason that perhaps only Nicola Sturgeon can explain).

    Back in that consulting room, the oncologist announced that the disease had entered my bones and also was attacking the lymph nodes. A debilitating double whammy, then, which had a seriously deleterious effect on my Adam’s Apple.

   Death, inexplicably, had not laid siege to my mind up until then, but here it was crashing through my front door without waiting to knock. But, hey, it’s scarcely permissible for old boys to cry in public, so why should a 75-year-old be granted any special privileges? I’ve generally had a fabulous and privileged existence in rising from a young (clueless) sports journalist from Aberdeen to the rank of Daily Mail head of sport in London.

    Trying to subdue the fear, I asked the oncologist to place a forecast on my demise. Hereabouts, there was more than a trickle of emollience. Who could tell? Eighteen months, perhaps?  But he asked to be forgiven for the lack of fine detail: dealing with the inexactitudes of death was a difficult matter, he explained

   And so we move on, just over 18 months on, in fact. I can’t believe it. I’m still here, hopefully still trying to punch my weight, albeit with a loss of perhaps a much-needed 4st. As I said, I’ve had more than a great life, but please permit me a small consideration for self-obsession hereabouts. The past few months have been more than difficult, my body experiencing an enervation never experienced before. And this includes an almost fatal cardiomyopathy back in 1985, and another flirtation with death in 2000 when I overdosed on potassium and was obliged to take early retirement from the Mail.

    Away from the clinic, the tears eventually flowed. Yeah, this old boy cried, certainly in private, or under the sympathetic gaze of Margaret my beloved wife of 44 years.

   There were times, that my home was besieged by selfless doctors (one of whom was particularly helpful in recommending two blood transfusions), district nurses, carers, representatives from the local hospice, a special hospital bed, a walker, an old walking stick and finally a wheelchair. Oh, and a tentative suggestion that Carol Smiley might conduct the humanist funeral service. The hospice intervention really had me initially spooked before I visited it and was in awe of not only its enlightened approach to end-of-life treatment but to the impressively bespoke building and myriad facilities. .

     I was more than grateful, for everything contributed massively to my well-being, but the well-being factor was proving difficult to pin down. As the weight tumbled from my legs and arms, I found it almost impossible to walk without my walker and had to be helped into the shower. The simple act of being showered left me bereft of any energy. Even with assistance, I managed to fall heavily and reduce confidence in an already depleted body.

    Everything that was dear, it seemed, was shutting down, particularly when I tried – and almost failed – to summon the strength to clean my teeth.

    Fortunately, there was little pain, owing to the fact I was fitted with a syringe driver that distributed the various panaceas around my system. Added to that was the fact that, at one juncture, I was swallowing 22 pills a day, but no amount of these, it seemed, could repel the sickness that suddenly announced a malevolent presence. This sickness, more than anything else, relegated me to an area previously unvisited, as the medical profession juggled with various combination of drugs amid reluctant admissions that my survival quotient rated between weeks and maybe months.

   The drugs, however, were representing an unexpected roadblock. Call it psychological resistance. I began to hate the sight of them and consequently began to retch when they were laid before me. My appetite vanished almost overnight. A sick bucket became my closest companion and accompanied every stilted movement.

   Time for an admission.- an admission of which I can no way be proud. In my deluded mind, I was experiencing life in rock-bottom mode. Initially, I prayed for the luxury of life – of course I did, but at two critical points in those last few weeks I wanted – nay, prayed – for death, for a release from this purgatory that did not affect only myself but my aforesaid wife. How do you tell the woman you love that you want to leave her? How is that for ingratitude?

    So, where am I now? It’s difficult to believe, but I’m feeling better now than I have for months. There are no promises, no guarantee in this game that swings vicariously and mysteriously between here and the great beyond, and maybe I’m glimpsing a false horizon. I can only present hard fact. And, in this hopefully real world, I can report that last Friday I walked 500 yards, unaided by my walking stick or indeed my wheelchair. Mind you, the rehab took a couple of days!

   I’ve almost forgotten the prohibitions of ill health. I walk around our flat, unaided. The carers have been dismissed, politely, of course. Owing to Covid-19, the district nurses now phone instead of calling; my favourite doctor necessarily phones instead of visits. And I’m relieved to report that he is talking cautiously about my life measuring in months rather than weeks.

    No matter the eventual lifespan, it is time to be grateful to everyone who has helped an old man who finds himself with his head pressed up against a wall that represents a barrier as formidable as any prison.

    How has this metamorphosis occurred? Of course, it’s the devotion of the medical profession, the blood transfusions and the unswerving devotion of a wife who must have qualified as a Madonna (I’m referring to the Biblical one, of course). Yet here’s a thing: unexpected assistance is coming from the fall-out of Covid-19 and the madness of men who should know better.

     I sit in front of the television and cringe at their antics; this includes watching Stephen Fry pontificating on the disease from his Norfolk home – whilst conveniently forgetting that perhaps he should have remained in London rather than travelled to the country.

    I’ve seen holes being picked in a succession of Government ministers who have palpably failed to read their briefs; and I’ve seen droves of mindless people frolicking around in ignorance of the advice of safe distancing. Yesterday, I watched some moron, caught on camera, licking the goods on the shelves of a supermarket.

    Don’t these people want to live? Don’t they understand the value of life? I have begun to realise that value over the last few months and found it to be incalculable. I’m ashamed of those awful, self-regarding times when I wished the Grim Reaper was only a handshake away. 

    But I’m here, living a life that admittedly still mainlines on the rules of prohibition. For how long, God only knows. The temptation is to be a bit pleased with myself, but it’s only an empty temptation. I came within a hairsbreadth of surrender and it would have been a mistake of gargantuan proportions.

    Life is the most precious jewel we have. The people of Britain should remember things like this when they are tempted to poke Covid-19 in the eye.

Ends blog