I meet them in The Head Of Steam, a pub next to the railway station in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, the stand-offish male friends whom I pursue via social media. This was the third such. He can’t have been all that stand-offish, because he arrived, first.
We were at university together, in Liverpool, in the 1980s. A is not the initial of any of his names. I was studying chemistry. He was studying Egyptology. We were interested in what the BBC used to call, “various left wing causes”, and which would now be called – inaccurately – “anti-globalisation”.
I have stood outside a branch of McDonald’s with him, handing out leaflets.
I have huddled in the back of a Transit van with no seats with him, and suffered under the rain of condensing breath in November as a group of 25 hunt saboteurs decided how best to disrupt the annual hunt ball in Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire. And the aftermath, in the service station. I have never felt so cold.
I have been left behind with him by the coach from Liverpool after we got held up on an anti-fascist demo in London. While we were pursuing, and being pursued by, the National Front, along The Embankment, he jumped up onto the plinth of a statue, and translated the hieroglyphics. Were we afraid of the National Front? Well, that.
He now occupies a responsible position at a hospital in West Yorkshire. He had to work weekends in order to finance his medical training.
He is one of those people who is on call, waiting to save your life.
He talked about his wife. He talked about reading to his children. He is delighted by his children’s love for reading.
He mentioned my novella, ‘Escape Kit’. He said it was too short. Everybody says it is too short.
We talked about work, and that metamorphosed into a conversation about politics. It is remarkable, not just how much our priorities have changed in the intervening 30 years, but how much they have stayed the same.
Of all the people I have known for this long, Doctor A has matured the most, has learnt the most from experience, and is most able to articulate how he has changed.
I can imagine his and my standing outside McDonald’s, handing out more leaflets, but the leaflets would say somewhat different things. “Provide adequate funding for Mental Health services,” would be a new one. “Stop demonising immigrants,” would be an old one, along with, “Wake up. Question everything. Trust no one in power. Stop voting for people who have been to Eton.”
We recommended books to each other: children’s books, books on neurology and medicine.
He complained about funding for various health services, mainly mental health. Complaints about funding for his own service were conspicuously absent. That doesn’t mean that his service is adequately funded: it means that he uses his genius to deal with the shortcomings. It is possible that he doesn’t realise he is doing it. This is a man who lives in the moment.
I live in a certain city in West Yorkshire. If I ever enjoy the luxury of knowing in advance if I am going to undergo a life-threatening episode, I may travel to a different district of West Yorkshire, before it happens.