Learning to Live with
It was with some trepidation two months ago that I went to see Robin whom I have known for sixty years. He is my oldest friend, in every sense of the word.
We met at school when I found him more amusing than many of our colleagues. Later on, we sailed his boat together until he married a shy French lady. Our sons went to the French Lyceé in London. We spent summer holidays together, en famille. We met periodically afterwards until he had an affair with another lady. His wife begged me to intercede which eventually and reluctantly I did at the cost of our friendship. Although I felt at the time it would be better for them to part company, it is not my business to encourage other people to end their marriages.
Robin and I met later from time to time in the City where we both worked. At the time he complained of back problems which had forced to give up not only sailing but also windsurfing, at which he was expert.
A short time later he told me he had Parkinson’s disease. The back problem was a cover. He came to dinner one evening soon after coming clean about his condition. As he left our house, I watched him walking back to the Underground, his arms flailing and legs apparently out of control. I had a horrid feeling that I would not see Robin again.
Twenty five years later, a few months ago, I was in Le Touquet. Long before any of his problems became apparent we spent a happy week end with Robin and his family there. This visit reminded me that I had no idea today if he is dead or alive. In order to avoid an embarrassing conversation with his wife and fearing the very worst, I contacted his Lyceé educated son, now a successful solicitor in the City.
We had a wonderful, if eccentric, lunch together on the edge of the City. I thought that City solicitors were far to busy to have non business meetings in the middle of the day but I was assured that being half French, there was no way he was prepared to eat a sandwich or, anything else, at his desk!
Robin’s condition had deteriorated so much that his family had put him in a nursing home last spring where I promised to visit him. I was advised not to go before lunch time because he is uncontrollable in the first part of the day. I felt very uncomfortable at the prospect of seeing Robin again as I am not good with severely disabled people. I am lost for words.
Robin recognised me as soon as I walked into his room. His arms flailing all over the place and shifting position in his chair all the time. The sun was shining so I took him out in his wheelchair. I have no idea if our conversation made an impression but he seemed pleased to see me.
My second visit was more positive. The rain prevented us form going out. One of our favourite musicians, if that is the right description, of the fifties was Spike Jones and His City Slickers. The high point of my visit was when I sang a few lines from his version of ‘Cocktails for Two’ with which he joined in enthusiastically: ‘Most any afternoon at five, We’ll be so glad we’re both alive’!