I wasn’t planning for a post this weekend, but then was reminded that a few days ago it would have been the birthday of my oldest friend, Ian, who, throughout our time at school, and for years afterwards, I called Jimmy. The last time I saw him was in June 2013, when I stayed for three days, with him and his wife Pat, in their home in Alicante. A couple of months later, he died. I wrote this for him then.
Nothing to be said
( James Ian Scott. d. August, 2013)
Invaded, occupied by multiplying
cells and the dark litanies of the names –
carcinomas, trophoblastic tumours,
melanomas – in the argot of the trade
they’ll be divided. Malignant or benign.
As if they might have consciences;
as though they had intention or design.
Brainless as weather, like hurricanes
or lightning strikes, or floods, or droughts,
they happen for a time. Then stop.
As if they’d never happened, never been.
Devastation’s what they leave behind,
maybe beyond repair or hope.
My oldest friend is dying. Nurses,
surgeons, consultants, cleaners
go about their business. The routines:
the radiation, chemo, cutting out
and stitching up, and monitoring,
ticking charts and changing sheets.
Another checkpoint transient,
my patient friend. Passing through.
This morning I got a call
to tell me that last night he died,
and on the page my words
are multiplying like cells
and there is nothing I can say.
Nothing at all.
But of course, there is. There always is.We’d hitch-hiked though Germany together, we’d been summarily evicted from private woodlands where we’d pitched a tent together. We’d learned the whole of ‘The best of Sellers’ and ‘Songs for swinging Sellers’ together. We were word-perfect. We fine-tuned irony on each other. We swapped clothes. We played three-card Brag for hours, and I never, ever won. We laughed a lot. That’s what I’ll remember for his birthday. And I’ll share one story. Ian/Jimmy had been a high-grade civil servant,but when he got early retirement he promptly signed up for a job as a Security Man at sinister-looking chemical works (all chemical works are sinister looking). Here’s the story of his first night shift. Jimmy/Ian was a deadpan storyteller, with great timing. I can’t live up to that, but here it is anyway.
There were the ones who dreamed
of ladders and angels and heaven,
the ones set to watch, who nodded off..
but I’m thinking of my mate Jimmy
in a paramilitary peaked cap,
two-way radio clipped to his belt,
on a night of sulphur and ammonia, fog
like wet washing in the fretwork gantries
and his first ten-till-six
on a murky night among the steel
catscradle pipes and silos, ladders
gangways, plumes of steam, odd sighings
in the chemical works,
My best friend who was the subject
of a manhunt he didn’t know a thing about
until, sometime round 3.00am
a darkness in the fog
morphed to a colleague in Security
who asked if he’d had a glimpse
of that Security man
gone missing ever since he’d set off
the one they couldn’t raise,
the one the plant had gone on high alert for,
involving Panda cars, blue flashing lights
and panic generally, and listen, Pal,
have you seen him?
Jimmy said he hadn’t.
Said he’d keep an eye out.
About then he realised
his two-way was switched off,
and maybe his first night shift
could be his last.
It wasn’t, of course. He could talk his way out of stuff could my best friend.
We used to do Sellers’ ‘Balham, gateway to the South’, in unison, with the Sellers’ voices.
The Scene: The Copacabana Tearoom.
Overdramatic American: Stands the church clock at ten to three, and is there honey, still for tea?
Bored Balham waitress: Honey’s off, Dear.
I miss him.