Just before Christmas, I got a phone call from Baggo.
‘Bags. How’s it going?’
‘It’s going great. Fucking great. You around on February fourteenth?’
‘Don’t know offhand. What day of the week is it?’
‘Oh, then yeah, probably. Depends on games and stuff, but more than likely it’s my day off.’
‘Great. Glad to hear it, mate.’
There was a silence. I could almost hear him bursting to tell me something.
‘Baggo, please just spit it out. I haven’t got time to fuck about, I’m supposed to be picking Conor up from Mum’s.’
‘You always spoil my fun Callywally. So on February fourteenth, which is Valentine’s Day in case your cold hard unromantic heart has forgotten, me and Jen are getting married.’
Now it was my turn for silence. I needed a moment to compute what he’d told me. I knew it was going well, that he and Jen had sorted out some of the things that happened when he went off to Europe, but I had not expected this.
‘Holy shit Baggo. Seriously?’
‘Seriously, my friend. And I have a very serious favour to ask you.’
Naturally, he was going to want me to be his best man. Fair was only fair.
‘Yeah, anything, mate. Just ask.’
‘I thought that’s what you’d say. You’re my best mate, after all. OK then. What we need is some sparkly tablecloths, like those ones your mum used at your thirtieth. Could you ask her where she got them? Or even better, if she could give us a lend?’
‘Er … tablecloths?’
‘Yeah, mate. Jen’s dead set on them, with some little heart shaped candle holders. It’s gonna look really cute.’
‘Yeah. Sure. I’ll ask her.’
‘Oh, and something else you could do?’
OK, this was it now. He’d just been stringing me along. His little joke.
‘Name it, mate.’
‘Could you pop round the flat and have a look in the cupboard under the stairs for me? I think I’ve left my posh black shoes there.’
‘Oh. Shoes. Right. Sure thing.’
‘And while you’re there, check the answer machine and pick up the post?’
‘OK. Anything else?’
‘No, can’t think of anything. I’ll let you know.’
Oh who was I kidding? Baggo had two older brothers; he was kind of obliged to ask them, wasn’t he. I swallowed my disappointment and told myself I was happy for Bags, the important thing was he and Jen were happy.
‘You’ll be my best man though, right?’
Oh the bastard. He’d got me, right between the eyes.
‘Baggo, you complete arse. Of course I will. I thought you’d ask Michael or Wheels.’
‘What? And cause a fight because I asked one and not the other? No fucking way.’
‘So I’m just a fight avoider?’
‘No, not just a fight avoider. You’re probably better at stag dos than either of them.’
‘You’re never going to say I’m your first choice, are you.’
‘Fair enough. Fourteenth of February, you say?’
Baggo and Jen’s wedding was quick, intimate and romantic. There were only a few guests – Jen’s mum and sister, Baggo’s mum and brothers, Chrissie and me, Ayesh and Sam, a couple of Jen’s friends, and Daisy, who was a pretty cute bridesmaid.
We went back to Angus’s flat afterwards for a takeaway, which we ate at a table covered in sparkly tablecloths donated by Mum.
The full story was that Baggo had managed to get a job, with prospects no less, in a music shop, part of a chain. He was going to do some training, which would mean a promotion, and kept him in some small way in touch with the music world. He and Jen were trying hard to make things work between them, and she liked being in London, so they were staying. Daisy had started school at the beginning of January, and they were about to move into their own rented flat near Jen’s sister. Jen had got some evening work as a care assistant, and planned to study for a degree in the daytime at Open University, which she hoped would lead to a better paid job.
I was sad that Baggo was moving away permanently. He’d been around, part of the scenery, part of my life, since I was five, and although keeping in touch by phone, text, email, was easy, it wasn’t the same as having him text me at ten in the evening for ‘a quick half before closing‘ or being able to pop round there with Conor and Lily at the weekend.
But it was a good outcome of what could have been a tragedy for him, and I was glad for them all.
That last year, Matt and I had been to Ella’s graduation. It had taken a lot of organisation, as these things tended to have lots of rules attached, and pre-planning was required for any kind of disability. Matt was determined not to miss it, whatever it took, and in the end he was having a rare good day, and it wasn’t physically too difficult for us. His face as Ella received her certificate, the look of pride and love on it, was something that will stay with me the rest of my life, and he managed to charm all of Ella’s friends with his ever-present wit.
Josh was playing regularly for Raiders, and loving every minute of his rugby-filled life, and Matt and I went to watch him when we could, although I still didn’t ever really know what I was cheering.
Cal and Jay had retired at the end of the same season, Jay ending up being the longest serving coach in the league, and Cal being one of the longest serving players Raiders had ever had.
When I think about it, the rugby-playing side of our family is very lucky not to have had any life-changing injuries (although Josh and Basty are still playing, so fingers crossed and let’s not think about it more than we have to). Jay has a bit of an ongoing hobble because of his knee, Dec has the facial scars and nose expected of a rugby player but which had actually been caused by a vindictive madman many years ago, and Cal and Nico and got away relatively unscathed. So celebrating retirement seemed the right thing to do, although Jay and Cal were both going to miss their respective roles in the sport they loved.
Huge parties were had by all, it also being Beth’s swan song as a party planner. She had sold her business and she and Jay were planning a big trip, taking in America, where Beth’s mum was, Argentina to visit Nico and Lis, and Australia and New Zealand.
It felt like the family had scattered; even Dec and Amy had talked about moving over to Australia for a while, Dec wondering if there was a market over there for some of the IT stuff he did with Matt.
That year started off so well, with Baggo’s wedding. It was my last year of playing professional rugby, and although a couple of years ago I would have mourned this, I had come to terms with it and, thanks to my awesome wife, had planned to start training to be a Physiotherapist in the September afterwards. I say thanks to Chrissie, but there are more people who deserve thanks.
Chrissie was the one who chivvied me, supported me, calmed my nerves, talked me into it, gave me confidence I could do it, showed me how we could organise our family and her job so I could do it and we could afford it. Chrissie was just amazing.
Gracie helped me see it was what I wanted to do; I visited her up in Manchester and spent time in a couple of her lectures, talking to her a lot about how the course worked and how she decided it was what she wanted to do.
Iz, who had Gracie as a lodger in the house she shared with Ben, got drunk with me and told me how proud she was of me (she could only do this drunk, and I could only let her drunk), not for being a successful rugby player, but for finally choosing to do something with my life, rather than just going along with what was in front of me.
Dad, who was retiring with me at the end of same season, also seemed to come alive with ambition, and he and Mum were full of plans for what they were going to do with their free time. I saw in them what I wanted for myself – a sense of having worked hard for a long time, with personal achievements that led to a reward of having enough money to stop and take in some of the world. I still had that ahead of me – I hadn’t made enough money playing rugby to stop yet, and I had my family to support.
Dec and Amy – well if it hadn’t been for them plying me with cups of tea and beer when I went round there and bored them to tears with my should-I-shouldn’t-I, rather than booting me out on my arse and telling me the truth, that I needed a good kick … well I’m just very grateful.
Matty and Lau – they’ve always been there, for all of us, and at the start of the year Matty was in pretty good shape for a while. After his little talk a while back, he hadn’t felt the need to try to interfere in my life plan, such as it was, but when I told him what I wanted to do, he looked as much of a smug git as he usually did when things went his way. Matty and Lau were the ones I could call at stupid times of the night when I was worrying about how Chrissie was going be able to do all the things she assured me she was going to do; they were the ones who said we could leave the kids with them anytime we needed to; they were the ones who would call for a chat at just the right moment, when I was pulling my hair out with how to make everything work.
Mum was equally awesome. She organised the retirement party to end all retirement parties for me and Dad. It felt like everyone who had ever played in or even been to a rugby match was there. But even though Mum was up to her eyes in organising all that, she was round at ours practically every day giving Conor and Lily cuddles, offering to babysit, telling us all the news about everyone.
How she kept up with it all I have no idea, but Mum was gossip central, as well as meddling central. It was never enough for her to know something about someone; she had to do something about it too. I know some people (ahem Matty) found it a bit much, but she cared so much about people, and she was a fixer. Yeah, of course she stuck her oar in with me, she’d been trying for years to get me to sort my after-rugby life out, and she had her opinions about the best places to go to train, the best exams to do to get in, and the best ways to study. And of course I ignored her and did things my way. It gave us something to talk about.
So my new attempt at a career was underway – I managed to pass two A levels and a GCSE in the years leading up to my retirement from playing, and I got on to the only course I applied for, forty minutes drive away from home. Well I’d always lived here, it’s not like I was looking to move.
Ella graduated from Uni with a first in Law, the bloody know-all, and to everyone’s amazement Matty made it up to her graduation, all the way up to bloody Durham. There was just no way he was going to miss it – Lau’s got a picture in the front room of Matty looking at Ella, in her cap and gown, and I swear it should be captioned ‘Proud’, because that’s all you can see on his face.
Matty was equally proud of Josh, who was starting regularly for Raiders. He’d made it to as many games as he could, which wasn’t many, but he got the tech bods at Raiders to stream him footage when he couldn’t make it. That season, my and Dad’s last for Raiders, saw us win the European Cup and come second in the League, and when Josh gave Matty his Cup winner’s medal, Matty hung it over his bed and told everyone he kissed it every night. He was a lying bastard, he never did any such thing, but it meant a lot to him.
Charlie managed to bag a full-time job. She’d tried Uni, but couldn’t be doing with the organisation and, let’s face it, hard work she needed to do to make it. She’d come back at the end of her second term and been through bar job after waitressing job after shop job, but had finally found, for now, her niche. Beauty therapy. Massage, pedicures, hair, make-up, all that. And she was studying for qualifications. She still lived at home, but it was possible to be a hundred metres from Dec and Amy’s house and not hear her screeching in anger about something.
Tom was helping Dec and Matty with their business, in fact he covered for both of them more than either of them knew. He was even more of a genius with computers than Matty, and now Matty wasn’t as able to keep up with new developments, Tom would shyly suggest that the new ‘insert something techy here’ programme might be as good a fix for the ‘insert some techy problem’ that someone was having, and should he let Matty have the details or just email direct; and he’d often pick up emails and phone calls that Dec should have answered days or weeks ago, and smooth things over and promise to have things sorted as soon as. To be honest, he could have run the business on his own, but that would have left Dec and Matty with far too much time on their hands to play computer games, when really they should be doing something useful.
So until the end of the summer, that year was going well. Chrissie and I took the kids on our first going abroad family holiday. We went to the South of France and played on the beach all day, soaking up the sun, loving watching our children make sandcastles, loving being together and relaxing. It gave me a chance to feel like things had really finished at Raiders. We went when everyone was going back to pre-season, and although part of me missed all the coming back together banter and bonding that had always gone on, most of me really didn’t miss the back-breaking conditioning work that we had to do to make sure we were fit after the six-week lay-off. Being away while pre-season was going on made sure my mind and body knew all that was over.
When we came back, it was to the news that Matty was ill again. He hadn’t been ill since the winter, not like this, but Lau had all the kit, and he rarely had to go into hospital these days.
We went straight round to visit him, and he did look worse than I’d ever seen him, even those days in Stafford when he was so close to … whatever.
He managed a smile, but had no energy to talk, and he drifted in and out of sleep while we were there. Lau didn’t want us to stay in his room for long, so we went and sat in the living room with her for a bit.
‘You should have texted us, Lau.’
‘No, flower, there was no point worrying you. I didn’t want you to rush back.’
‘He looks worse than usual.’
‘Yeah, he’s not good. But tell me about France. You look like you all caught the sun.’
And that was as much as Lau was prepared to say about it. She would talk to Mum and to Amy when things got too much for her, but mostly she just coped on her own, as Josh had just moved out with some mates, although he still called round most days. She didn’t want to keep going over things with people, and we respected that. She and Matty still supported each other, and I wondered fleetingly what she was going to do without him. Then I banished that thought, because Matty always got better. It took a lot out of him, but he always made a huge effort, and with Lau and medication and all of us, he’d turn the corner and be back to his old self.
It was taking a while, though, and there were the inevitable family discussions.
Matty and Lau hadn’t been to Sunday lunch for a while; in fact, Mum hadn’t done Sunday lunch for a while, because now there were fewer of us around (like, only twelve on a good day), it apparently felt ‘too empty’.
Mum and Dad were getting ready to go on a huge round the world trip. They were going to start with the States and stay with Nana Jane, then branch out to South America, Australia and New Zealand and then take it from there. They spent a lot of time looking at different destinations, or rather I suspect that Mum looked and Dad nodded, and I think they were waiting for Matty to get better so they could firm things up and start making some reservations. Dad even got excited when he talked about it, and I wondered why he hadn’t done something like it sooner.
So, because it had been so long since the last one, when Mum asked us all round for Sunday lunch, everyone who was about made the effort. Chrissie and I picked up Gran, Josh brought April, Dec and Amy came with Tom and Rosa, and apologies from Charlie who had her usual Sunday hangover, which was huge enough to last most of the day. Matty wasn’t up to it, and Lau had stayed with him, but Josh had orders to bring roast potatoes and lemon tart back with him ‘to tempt Matt’, although it was more likely Lau would scoff most of it.
There were enough of us to make a bit of noise, enough kids that the older children (Dec and me) had plenty of fun, enough food that we were all stuffed before dessert but still managed to cram it all in and go back for seconds, but enough room for us all on the sofas without having to spill out onto the floor or split into two groups, one in the living room, one staying in the dining room.
Conor fell asleep on Gran’s knee, and Lily seemed happy enough to be distracted by various aunts while we chatted, and the topic inevitably got round to Matty. He and Lau were never really far from any of our thoughts.
‘Anyone seen Matty this week?’
Mum was angling for making a list of who wasn’t pulling their weight, but it turned out we’d all been round one way or another. So now she used the opportunity to compare notes.
‘He seems a bit brighter, don’t you think?’
‘Not when I was there, Mum. He was asleep most of the time, and when he was awake, he wasn’t really with it.’
‘Yeah, he was a bit like that when Ames and me went yesterday, he dozed off about three times, and we were only in there five minutes, but Lau said he’s been fairly good in the mornings. I think the day wipes him out and by the time it gets to Cash in the Attic, he’s had enough.’
‘So should we be trying to go round in the mornings more?’
‘Then he’ll just get more tired more quickly, Beth. Maybe we should go round less? They’re never going to turn us away, are they.’
‘No, James, but they need to know they’re not alone. It must be awful lying in that bed all day –’
‘– watching TV and being waited on hand and foot. Yeah, it’s a bit shit.’
‘Dec, you know he wouldn’t be in bed if he could choose. Matty’s always liked being out and about. I was wondering though … I had an idea.’
We all waited to find out what Mum was going to make us do now. More timetables and scheduled visits was my guess, but I was way off the mark.
‘It’s such a shame that Matty can’t go hiking any more; even if he was up and about, most of his favourite walks are too steep for his wheelchair.’
‘And too down sheer cliffs.’
‘Which was my point, Cal. I know most of us have been walking with him at one time or another, and I wondered about everyone filming his favourite rambles so he can watch them from his bed. It might make him feel more like he’s outside.’
We all sat, a little stunned, for a few moments. It was the best idea I’d ever heard.
‘Mum, that is brilliant. How did you come up with that?’
‘Well I can’t claim total credit, I did steal it slightly. I was in the dentist waiting room the other day, and they had a screen showing clips of walking trails around the area, and it just got me to thinking. Shall we do it then?’
Mum liked nothing better than everyone agreeing she’d had a great idea, so she could boss us about and get it done. We had a long discussion about Matty’s favourite walks, who was going to do them, and how we were going to film it. Matty was a legendary hiker, and some of his most favourite trails were too long for us – it wasn’t unusual for him in his prime to be gone all day and cover twenty miles or more.
I remembered going with him to the top of the big hill overlooking the sea, down the other side and then back round it. It was easily ten miles, and I had been wiped well before we got back, but Matty had still been fresh as a daisy. I volunteered to do that one.
Josh remembered doing some shorter walks with Matty when he was younger, and he and Rosa decided to do a couple together. Mum and Dad said they’d do a couple of walks on the moors that they knew Matty had enjoyed, and Dec and Amy said they’d walk along the beach near where they’d got married, because ‘there should be footage of the sea’ (and because old man Summers had let himself go a bit, and anything with a slight incline would have him puffing like a steam train).
Mum and Dad had a video camera, which had hardly been taken out of its box but seemed the ideal place to record the walks; Tom was the obvious person to ask to put all the footage together so Matty would be able to watch it.
It made us feel useful, almost excited, like we were doing something positive to help, rather than just calling round and never knowing if we should be there or not.
Doing the walks was good fun too. Chrissie came part of the way on mine, circling back after a while and meeting me at the end with the car. It almost felt like I was doing it with Matty; I was seeing things through his eyes, pointing the camera at birds I was seeing, standing with the lens capturing the view from the top of the hill, slowly panning round to see back to the woods, trying to make it as much of an experience through the camera as if he was actually there.
It was all a surprise for him, and we would have loved to have all been there to see his face when he watched them for the first time, but he really wasn’t able to cope with all of us crammed in his room, or even all being in the house at the same time, so we had to hear about it second hand from Mum who, as the one who’d thought of it, got to drop round the DVDs to Lau.
Matty apparently cried, although he would be quick to deny it and when questioned about it said he’d got chilli on his fingers. After that, I’d often find one of the walks on the TV screen when I went round, and as well as doing what Mum wanted, which was to mentally take him outside of the four walls of his room, it meant we didn’t have to sit and watch crap on TV or make conversation which tired him out.
The walk videos had always been intended as a two-fold thing – to bring the outside in to Matty, and to give him some motivation to get better. And his spirits did seem to lift afterwards.
But Matty didn’t get much better, and it started to occur to us that he’d been ill for much longer than ever before. Mum made one of her rotas to give Lau time off – we’d take it in turns to spend an evening or an afternoon with Matty once or twice a week so she could go and get her hair done, or have coffee with a friend, or go to a yoga class – but more often than not she’d just sit with us instead. It was like she couldn’t bear to leave him even for an hour or two, and often when I turned up she’d be sitting by Matty’s bed holding his hand, just looking at him.
Their old dining room was their bedroom now, and Matty had a special bed that went up and down and could be tilted up to let his chest drain, a bit like the bed he used to have in Stafford only swankier. I still had an urge to mess about with the controls, but I managed to contain myself.
Sometimes I took Conor with me, and would have a weird sense of deja vu when he’d play with his cars on the floor while Matty drifted in and out of sleep. It took me right back to Stafford, and I think Matty recognised it too, although we never mentioned it. Once, he woke up with a start, looked really disoriented and said ‘Tehl Beth … do ih mysehf … dohnt wana mihs Chrihsmus dihner’ and I was sure he thought he was back there too.
Lau slept in a single bed in the same room, so she could respond immediately if Matty needed anything in the night. In the day, when she wasn’t in the room, there was a monitor so she could hear if his breathing changed. It really was full circle back to the time he was first ill, and it wasn’t lost on me that we’d nearly lost him that time. I tried not to think about it. Matty would fight back, he always did. If there was ever a stubborn bastard who got his own way, it was Matty.
Summer turned to Autumn, and still Matty languished in his bed. He hardly ate, he wasn’t awake much, but he still had his sense of humour. Sometimes he felt a bit brighter, and I’d get a text from him.
‘Fancy an arm-wrestle? Now ur retired, cld beat u no sweat.‘
‘Tottenham Tottenham no one can stop em they’re gonna do it like they did last year‘
And he’d make me smile, and it would feel as if he was just texting me from his desk, rather than laboured letter by laboured letter in his sick-person’s bed surrounded by drips and oxygen masks. That was Matty, he always wanted us to think of him as Matty the dude, rather than Matty the pity case, and we tried, but it was hard watching him, it was hard to go there and just kid about with him, pretending like he hadn’t fallen asleep while we were telling him about the kids or bantering with him about the footy. It was hard, but we did it because he was Matty, and he deserved it.
Before I go, as I said, I want to tell you all what you’ve meant to me.
I’m going to start with Lau, because, my only and forever love, you have meant the most. Without you, none of this would have happened. I would have been gone, offed myself probably, at least be sunk in a sea of anti-depressants in a mental hospital somewhere. I don’t know if you fully appreciate how much you turned me around, how different I am now from who I was, and who I was becoming. You are my world, my shining star, my sun, my moon. I could not exist without you. I would not be Matthew Robert Scott without you, and I thank the universe for the day you swapped your day off with Anna and ended up doing your sex talk in that church hall. I only have one regret, which is that our time together has been marred by the fucking bastard, that you’ve had to do so much more for me than a wife should have to do for a husband.
Lau, I still love you, so fucking much. You made my life complete the day you walked into it, and to have had our bloody brilliant family together has bested anything else I may think I have achieved.
If I were going to choose one moment to put in a memory box and take with me, it would be – oh fuck it, I can’t choose one. So many things have come flooding into my mind: you, looking like you’d been lit up by a sunbeam on that day in the church hall; tousled and naked after some awesome lovin’; looking as beautiful, although fully clothed, on our wedding day; looking less beautiful, although only slightly, and employing somewhat juicier language, while giving birth to the twins; laughing with the family; making the most of the wettest camping holiday in history with an impromptu game of hide the spatula; mind-blowing sex; paint on your nose when we did Mum’s living room; crying after taking Josh and Ella to school for the first time; playing Jenga with me when you were so fat (pregnantly of course) that we couldn’t go out, and laughing so much you made the tower fall over – five times; getting rat-arsed on your fortieth birthday; mind-blowing sex; spending our tenth anniversary in bed and making me feel like it was because you wanted to be there with me, not because I couldn’t actually get out on my own; crying at sad films and happy films; mind-blowing sex; singing boy band shit; looking happy; oh, just tons and bloody tons of things, including some bloody mind-blowing sex. It’s all crowding in now, and I couldn’t possibly choose just one. I’m not going to get all maudlin, I’m going to say thank you. I will hold your hand forever with the last of my strength. I love you.
OK kids, your turn. How the fuck did I manage to father both a future England rugby international and a future top international lawyer? Left to their own devices, my genes would have produced two skinny, short-sighted nerds with no ball skills and a penchant for computer code, so I think you must have your mum to thank for any rippling muscles or off-the-scale IQs.
Josh, the day you made your first start for Raiders was the proudest I have ever been of you. I have no doubt you will play for your country. But sport aside, I am proud of you for the man you have become. I remember when you were little, you used to follow your sister round like a little sheep (yeah, I know, ‘little sheep are actually called lambs, Dad’. Don’t get clever with me, alright?), and you’d let her make all your decisions for you. Then, about the time puberty hit in an explosion of body hair, pustules and growth spurts, you worked out that she’d been using this to her advantage, and took control of your own destiny. I saw you change from a follower to a leader, and I love the quietly assertive Josh who stops your mum from fussing about whether you’re eating right with a look and a ‘chill, Mum’, who sits on the edge of my bed and says ‘about time you got out of your pit old man’, who picks up a screaming Conor and quiets him with a cuddle without making Chrissie or Cal feel bad.
Ella, you seem to have spent your whole life trying to make up for being the youngest. Baby girl, it’s only fifteen minutes, get over it. You’ve taken the world by the horns and shaken it to let it know you’re here, and it can’t help but take notice of you. Your brother’s a home bird, but you’ve flown, and although it’s been so quiet when you’ve been off on your travels, and when you were at Uni, it’s been OK too, because it’s like you’re out there doing what you want to do, spreading Ella-ness around the globe. I don’t think a dad has ever been prouder of a daughter than I was of you when you graduated. I’m so glad I was here for that.
Hippo and Squeaks, you are both fucking awesome. I have loved being a dad, best thing I ever did, but above all I am privileged to have been your Dad and to have been able to watch you grow up. I love you both so much.
Who next? Mum. Mum, I’m so sorry. Oh fuck, I really didn’t want this to be a big mope, but it’s not right, is it? I’ve been thinking a lot recently, about things in general and you in particular, and about kids and parents and what’s right and what’s wrong. And it’s a cliché but nonetheless true that you shouldn’t outlive your kids. So I’m sorry for bringing that wrongness to your doorstep. Just think of it as Matthew’s way of bucking the trend, two fingers up to convention as per.
Mum, I don’t think I’ve ever said this to your face, but I love you. I hope you know that. You’ve saved me from myself more times than I care to remember, and although there are quite a few people who know me pretty well, no one knows me like you.
Sometimes I can tell what you’re thinking without even having to look at you, can feel your look as I’m arsing about, taking things too far, and then I’ll glance up, and there it is, that expression, and I’ll know.
You’ve always given me everything I needed, whether it was a cuddle when I fell over and banged my knee, the last portion of shepherd’s pie when Jay wanted it, a kick up the arse when I was being a pain, whatever it was. It was always delivered with gentleness and compassion.
You are a clever lady; you hide it well, don’t want to blow your own trumpet, but I bet if you took an IQ test you’d be up there with the top lot. But you’re not only intellectually smart, you’re savvy too. You know when to make a fuss and when to leave things, and it draws people to you rather than pushing them away. I’m glad I could give you Josh and Ella, they adore you, and I think they’ll help you when you need it.
Oh alright, then. Jay. Bloody hell, have I got to think of some nice things to say about you, you bastard? Hope I don’t get struck by a thunderbolt for talking out of my arse, or some such shit. OK, here goes then. I bloody hated you when we were kids. There, that’s nice enough, isn’t it? Oh, I should perhaps add that I bloody loved you too, even though I’d really rather not. See, the thing is brother mine, it’s hard to have a superstar for an older brother, it’s a lot to live up to. You have this kind of conflict going on, wanting so much to be like him, but wanting to be completely different and your own person at the same time. It’s a bloody good job I don’t have a sporting bone in my body, as I seriously could not have stood the competition. But that was then, and I guess now, well now I can look at your pot belly and compare it to my much slenderer frame; I can be a bit smug, because I know which one of us is the finer figure of a man.
I never got a chance to speechify to you like you did to me at my wedding, but if I had, I would have arsed around and made light of the things you’ve done for me, and what we’ve become to each other. Oh, I just got a bit serious – did that take you by surprise? It did me. Oh well, now I’m on this track, I guess I should add that although we maybe didn’t start out as the best of brothers, and went our own ways for quite a while, I’m glad that for whatever reason (I’m not going to wax lyrical about your noble sacrifice, I’ve said it before, you know how I feel) we are where we are, comfortable with our differences and in each other’s company. I love you, Jay.
Beth. What can I say to you, Beth? I’ve made your life a bloody misery at times, I’m quite sure, often on purpose, but you never bloody well give up. You have superhuman levels of persistence in the face of overwhelming odds of lack of success, and I salute you. I won’t say I have always, or even often, appreciated your – oh how many ways have I categorised it? Interfering, fussing, do-goodering, mithering, wittering, get the thesaurus out, they’ll all be in there. But I do appreciate that behind it is genuine caring. You didn’t have to take on Jay’s recalcitrant younger sibling and try to make him do things differently, you could have left me to it and thought ‘sod him, why do I bother?’. You bothered, because you’re kind and good and I know, in my heart, you only want what you think is best for people. We’ve had our differences, but we’ve also had our sames, and the bottom line is that you’ve always been there when I’ve needed you, even though I would not have blamed you in the slightest for giving up on my ungrateful arse. Sorry I’ve said ‘fuck’ so much. I don’t think you actually mind it that much, it just gives you something to bang on about. Beth, I like you a lot, although I don’t often show it, and I love you.
Declan Charles Summers. Oh my fucking God, if ever a man had love for another man who wasn’t related to him and who he wasn’t even a teensy bit romantically attached to, then it would be mine for you. I sometimes wish you were my brother, just so I could say this is Dec, he’s my brother, rather than he’s my mate. But the truth is, you are my brother, and my mate, and I thank the universe on a fairly regular basis for the circumstances that brought you up to Stafford that Christmas when we realised we were the same. I guess we’re not really the same any more, you’ve sorted a lot of your crap out, while I’ve gone on having lots of crap and never really sorted it, but your nineteeny self and my thirty onety self were pretty fucking similar.
I would say I’ve watched you grow up, but you were fairly growed already back then, telling me a few home truths and showing me how it was going to be. I like to think I’ve never grown up, a bit like Peter Pan, or Michael J Fox, but you were always streets ahead of me in the maturity stakes.
Mate, I have so enjoyed working with you. That day we had the idea for our business, I can’t tell you how excited I was. When I got the job at Raiders, that was Level 10 excited. When I realised we could work together, and how it might all pan out … Level 692, at least. It has been a blast, the last few years, making a go of it, seeing it work, knowing Tom will be there when I’m not.
You have been the most awesome dude, almost Beth-like scary in knowing what I’m thinking, but not as bloody pushy about it. I love you, mate. I love your bloody awesome family. I’m privileged to have shared so much of my life with yours.
Amy, I love you. Ha, I just wanted to put it there to make Dec look twice. It’s true, though. Remember the first time we met, and you told me to fuck off? Awesome. I’ve hardly heard you curse since, but I knew Dec had found a keeper. You were so young then, and, I don’t know, demure and contained. On the outside, at least. You were a right little goer according to Dec. Yeah, I’m just trying to embarrass you; you’re cute when you blush. I bet you’re blushing now, aren’t you? Knew it. Dec loves it when you go red, does all sorts of man-things to him, so consider this my gift to you both.
Amy, you have been so, so fucking awesome. I’m sure having me just up the road, constantly on the look out for an opportunity to arse about with your husband, has been sorely trying at times, but you’ve always made me feel like nothing is too much trouble, like whatever I get up to, you just accept it. I know when you ask if I’m alright, I’d better bloody well behave myself, because you just don’t do that fussing thing that every other bugger in the family seems to.
I think you kind of keep the rest of us sane – you let us get on with the insanity, the idiocy, the bickering, the posturing, and then you just go ‘but don’t you think that …’ and say the one thing that makes us all look at each other, embarrassed at what we were just doing, and stop to remember that we love each other. Look after him, Amy, he’ll need you.
Spawn of Summers – I have already sung your praises elsewhere, you’re not getting a second go, but suffice it to say the whole bleeding lot of you are more trouble than you’re worth, a bunch of noisy ne’er-do-wells who should learn to pipe down and have a bit of respect for your ageing crippled uncle. I love the whole bloody annoying rabble of you, alright?
Nico, Lis and Bastien. Sorry, I’ve lumped you all together as the South American branch of Scott Global Incorporated. We miss you guys, you really should come over more often.
Basty – are you ever going to make an honest woman out of Ella? (Ha, I bet neither of you thought I knew, but I know everything. There’s not much for a fucking cripple to do all day in bed except listen, cogitate, ruminate and hypothesise. I’m right, aren’t I?)
Nico – Argentina isn’t that great. Come and live in England again. The country is suffering from a shortage of flirting, and you could save the day.
Lis – I understand Linebreak is recruiting to a senior sales position, if you’re interested. A day off a week solely for networking in Costa purposes, and a personal Jimmy Choo budget.
Tiago Tribe, I love you all.
April, April, April. God I was so fucking scared of you. You may notice that I have both sworn and blasphemed in the same sentence, which I usually avoid when communicating with you, but now I’m no longer around, I feel like not giving a shit, and I hope you won’t either.
Thanks for Lau. I know she wouldn’t be who she was without you; she has your steely determination, your compassion and your eyes, and I’m nearly as scared of her. Actually, I’m not scared of you any more, I know you’re not as much of a dragon as you liked to make out early on, in an attempt to scare off any of Lau’s boyfriends who weren’t that serious about her. You’re a warm-hearted person, and I know Ella and Josh love you to bits. I love you too.
Andrew fucking Distock, you old bastard. You are the person who has known me the longest, apart from my mum and Jay. You knew me when we were nerdy science geeks together, and all these years later, here we are, still throwing bits of code and random physics facts at each other and loving the Mighty Spurs with all our hearts. You’re one of those rare people who I can have a chat with after months, or years, and it feels like it’s only been a few days (that time when you fucked off to Africa with Jesus notwithstanding); you’ve been a rock, someone outside of the madness of being here, being me, who I can cling to and call up when I need it. I hope you’ve felt the same about me, but you never know, maybe you’ve been trying to get rid of me all these years. Andrew, you have been a great mate, and I love you.