Thursday, 11 December 2008

Swan Song

Bitter spot

This month saw the end of a painful battle fought by my good friend, Tad. Cancer was detected in his lungs earlier this year, and was found to have spread to his brain and his spine, and latterly to his kidneys and liver. In less than 12 months, he was dead.

I have known Tad since the age of 11, when we were in the same class at secondary school in Oswestry, and - though it's a cliche - I will say that the world is an infinitely poorer place without him. He can only be described as salt of the earth. A rock on which many people fixed themselves. He was stockily built, with a frame suited for rugby, which I would say was his favourite sport, though he did play a mean game of chess. I can also honestly say that few were his equal on the football table, where he began as a defensive specialist with a vicious left back snapshot, but soon progressed to become as well an infuriating attacker, with superb close control from his centre forward. He had a keen sense of the ridiculous (which seems to be a common trait among the people I like the most) and was even laughing about his own illness the last time I saw him, back in September.

He was born in Nigeria and used to enjoy showing us his dad's Super 8 movies from those days, depicting the initiation ceremony for the young men of the local African tribes people, which appeared to involve keeping a straight face (assisted by the chewing of some mildly narcotic nuts) while taking severe whacks across the kidneys with enormous long sticks. Somehow from there, he ended up in Oswestry and attended the Boys' High School, where he was in the same class as me until educational reform meant a separation of schools.

After that, the pub was our common ground, as well as many uproarious teenage parties and occasional trips out to the beach in his mini. His appetite for beer was voracious, with Guinness his tipple of choice for many years. He once told me, and I had no reason to doubt it, that he had drunk 36 pints of the stuff in a single day. Latterly, he moved on to Strongbow, and I would always hasten to the Boar's Head on my visits to town in the hope of catching him at the bar or the pool table, for an afternoon of drink and conversation.

His early childhood in Africa and the move to England must have instilled in him a love of travel, for he visited many places in his too short life, from (as far as I know - there may have been other trips I did not have the time to hear about) Vietnam, Laos (one of his best-loved places) and Cambodia, to Peru and across the Andes, the USA, Australia and extensively through Africa. Wherever he went, he made new friends and never shied away from any adventure. He wanted, towards the end, to be told he was well enough to get on a plane and fly away, but this wish was to be denied him.

For much of his adult life he worked in a Cadbury's chocolate factory in Chirk, and he revelled in stories of the many eccentrics who stalked the halls there. For some time, he drove a forklift truck, and this gave him great pleasure as he trundled around with his feet up singing Sylvester's You Make Me Feel Mighty Real in an (almost) authentic soprano.

He bore the great suffering of his illness and its attendant treatments with his usual dignity and self-deprecating humour, and I know that the welfare of others was uppermost in his thoughts all the time - even in the midst of this pain.

I don't believe in an interventionist god. But if I did...

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