An old friend died recently. The cause of death has not been made public, but he is believed to have killed himself. The news came as a profound shock. Though I knew he had had mental health problems, I thought he was largely out the other side and had found a way of living with them. Our relationship was unusual. We rarely – if ever – socialised together, but knew each other intimately. We were in the same psychotherapy group for many years. I’m still going. He was a lovely man. Generous, warm, kind and very, very funny. And damaged. Though you can take that as read. My heart goes out to his wife and children. When I was in rehab more than 35 years ago, one of the counsellors told us that, statistically speaking, half of us would be dead within 15 years or so. At the time I just thought she was trying to shock us into changing our behaviour, but it turned out she was telling no more than the truth. Half of us were dead well within the time frame. Since then the death rate among those people I knew who were addicts has at times felt attritional. Quite apart from the usual suspects of relapse, overdose, Aids and suicide, the incidence of death through cancer and heart disease have been far higher among the addicts I know than other people. It might just be a coincidence but I suspect not. My dad, towards the end of his life, used to say that old age wasn’t for wimps. I’m beginning to know how he felt. The number of people who used to know me as a young man are getting fewer and fewer. It’s starting to get lonely.
The trailer for the second half of the Harry and Meghan Netflix series appeared in my Twitter feed. It promised more “explosive” revelations, with Meghan saying she hadn’t been thrown to the wolves, she had been fed to them, and Harry saying that an unidentified they – could be the palace, could be the media – had lied to protect his brother and had failed to tell the truth to protect him. Having not bothered to watch the first part last week, I thought I would go back and give it a go to see what all the fuss was about, if nothing else. I lasted two episodes before bailing out. Turns out that either I’m not sufficiently attuned to the nuances of royal psychodramas (though I loved The Crown) or I’m just not that interested. I don’t find it surprising that some members of the royal family may be a bit racist and are emotionally shut off, and I just felt I was hearing Harry and Meghan say the same things they had been saying for years. There was nothing new in it. It was also a bum note to start the series with Harry complaining how hard done by he was with footage of him in the Windsor VIP suite at Heathrow. Tin-eared or what? It also seems an odd way of going about things to trouser £20m to make a series about how you hate the media, when the best way to get the media off your back would be to lie low. I’d be more inclined to listen to the couple – did you really not realise that the fifth in line to the throne gets treated differently to the heir? – if they stopped taking money from his dad, got proper jobs (Meghan could make a decent living as an actor: Harry could become a surf instructor at Malibu) and abandoned their royal titles. Harry could even take Meghan’s surname. For properly class TV, I will stick with The White Lotus. Series two even better than series one. It deserves to win every prize going.
One weekend in September, I got caught speeding on the way up to north London to have lunch with a friend. I was doing 24 mph in a 20 mph zone and felt I was driving safely. But the cameras don’t lie – at least I assume they don’t – and a month or so later I got a letter informing me of the offence. I was also given the opportunity to go on a speed awareness course, which I quickly accepted as I didn’t want the fine, the three points and higher insurance premium. This week I finally did the course online. I had no great expectations of it, thinking it was likely to be punitive and shaming, but was something to be endured. Instead it was highly informative, non-judgmental and thoroughly worthwhile. Almost enjoyable. Hats off to whoever designed the course. Right away my assumptions were shattered. I had always rather reckoned that going a few miles per hour over the speed limit in a 20 mph zone would make little difference to my ability to stop as I was already driving slowly. Wrong. Just 1 mph adds several metres to braking distance. Enough to hit a pedestrian stepping out into the road. I also realised that I had no idea how some of the controls on the car operated. The car says it has a cruise control but I haven’t worked out how to set it. Something for the weekend. I’d also like to make the radio work properly: I used to be able to get hundreds of digital stations and can now only get a handful. Most of which I don’t want. It’s anyone’s guess where the others have got to. Sorry to sound like a zealot, but I’m a recent convert. That annoying person driving at 20 when the road ahead is clear? That’s me.
I’ve let myself down. I’ve fallen for the Qatari dollars. I had been determined I wouldn’t get too caught up in this year’s World Cup. It was too corrupt; riddled with human rights abuses. I wouldn’t watch many games. And I certainly wouldn’t start a Panini sticker album for the first time since 1970. I did at least stick to that. The rest not so much. It was the lobby league, run by the i’s Paul Waugh, that sucked me in. The brilliant competition where everyone in Westminster has 10 teams – four favourite, four intermediates, two outsiders – ranked in order and you get awarded points for how well they perform. The higher you’ve ranked a team, the more points you get. It’s addictive stuff. I took my choices more seriously this year. I didn’t pick England as I thought they would get knocked out in the quarter-finals. I got that right, but came unstuck with Portugal, Spain and Belgium. I’m currently in about 170th place out of 250. The Guardian’s fabulous Jess Elgot is second. But with the semi-finals played – I’m for France in the final – I’ve just about had enough. I can’t face another shabby ITV commentary. The “little genius” Messi. The plucky Croats. Agh. It’s time to return to proper football. Starting with Brentford v Spurs on Boxing Day.
Tomorrow is the Guardian’s annual charity telethon. I will be taking calls between 10am and noon, so please do ring in. After that I will be off to what was meant to be a surprise lunch in honour of Terry Blake, the co-founder and captain of what was described in Wisden – I should know, I wrote it – as the country’s worst cricket team. But Terry has an unerring knack of rooting out secrets and has spent the last two months trying to organise his own surprise by proxy. So take a bow, Terry. And take a bow the Hemingford Hermits, 1977 to the present day. Many is the afternoon I’ve watched Terry decide he is the ideal man to open the innings and score a careful 20 at less than a run an over, leaving the middle order to try to rustle up a non-competitive total in the remaining 12 overs. It was my pleasure to be a member of the Hermits from the mid-1980s until 2010, when I had an artificial knee fitted and could run even slower than Terry. My retirement went entirely unnoticed and unremarked on by everyone. Even me. Most people stop playing when they notice an unacceptable fall in performance. I had no such decline as I was always hopeless. Despite many threats and entreaties, Terry never put me higher in the order than nine – I generally only got to bat when there were four balls left and was instructed to slog – and considered me his fifth change bowler. Other more useless players who may have been in a position to help Terry in his career were allowed to bat where they liked. The Hermits were and are his fiefdom. And for reasons I still can’t explain, those summer days spent being ignored were some of the happiest days of my life. I came to realise my role in the team was to sledge my own team. What’s not to like? Terry. O captain, my captain.
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For more information visit www.samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counsellor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org