There are a few moments when life changes. In my day, it was meeting your partner across a crowded room. Now it’s sadly the flick of an app. What hasn’t changed is that only later do you realize this really was a moment.
This isn’t a story about romance or, as I’m straight and it’s about meeting my mate Nigel, a bromance. It’s more about twisted fate.
It was either during the interval of a play, or afterward, that we were introduced. We had a lot in common. We both loved comedy and worked in comedy; we’re writers and equally irascible. We also loved whisky, though it was only much later and after deep, deep tribulation that this would prove to be a saving grace. (A tale that will be picked up next week.)
We were wary of each other; the irony of deeply shallow is a cliché perfect for show business. Acquaintances many, friendship a rarity.
We also were set up.
My wife was friends with his partner. Both were well aware of our shortcomings, but thought we’d get on. They were right.
Happy days laid ahead: Him getting drunk on a small motor boat on the Thames (you just dock at pubs on the river front!). I became the responsible one and skippered. Luckily, the skill set of driving a car proved enough. And you just can’t get lost — it’s either up or down river.
We were gone from their house for so long my eight-year-old showed his displeasure by throwing a Game Boy (an early hand held computer toy) into the river. It wasn’t even his! A new one had to be bought, and then surreptitiously replaced.
So, that’s why, James (Nigel’s stepson), all your best scores disappeared. He’s now at the university studying history, so here’s a bit more for him.
As two couples, we became firm friends. We had a wonderful dinner out celebrating the more wonderful news that Michele (Nigel’s partner and the one who introduced us) was pregnant. The two males of the party happily ranted drunkenly to each other in the back seat all the way to our house. Nige was going to be a dad. And pregnancy came with a built-in designated driver! Yes, we misbehaved, but it was joyous.
One week later this was just a memory to cling to.
Nigel was struck down. He had a massive sclerosis at the root of his brain.
His life was saved by his neurologist trying out a new procedure to the U.K. They filtered all his blood and this worked.
I presume we visited when he was out of the ICU, but he was still in an awful way. The only time I’d seen anyone that ill had been my father when he was dying of cancer.
Nige ever-so-slowly recovered. His voice had become a slur. An agony for someone in a communication business. Much voice therapy would follow. He would write a humorous and poignant book about his ordeal — I Think There’s Something Wrong with Me by Nigel Smith (Random House 2007).
A few years later I was the one in hospital and Nige and Shell were visiting me. I’d also had a sclerosis. What are the odds? Nige told me how hard the fatigue would be. He was right, but luckily I had a couple more years of bumbling about before it dug in. Unlike Nigel’s, mine was to turn into MS.
Though my balance was shot, I could manage with a stick. Halfway down the hill from my home I felt my world again change. I’d lost another gear. Weeks turned into months waiting to see a neurologist at my local hospital.
But I did know one, a very good one. I’d sat next to her at Nigel and Michele’s wedding breakfast. She’d saved Nigel’s life. She saw me almost immediately, put me through all the tests and in June 2009 confirmed that I had MS. Not good news, but a lot faster news than I had been getting.
And I’d arrived at this moment from that previous moment of sitting down, and putting the comedy world to rights with some bloke I’d just met.
Be sure to check back next week to read more about how Nigel and I went on a whisky-drinking spree together 3 years ago.
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