Bad news, another old friend gone, a school chum buddy who I got drunk with in Switzerland and pulled back through the window when one night we drank too many lagers on a school painting trip. I don’t know why Pete was on that trip, he couldn’t paint to save his life, but there we both were sharing a room in a traditional Swiss hotel somewhere outside of Lucerne.
We were only 13 or so, but Pete was one of those boy-men even at that age that you wouldn’t want to get the wrong side of. That's him sixth from the left, whilst I am third from the right. There we are chalk and cheese, he all macho smoulder and me with my stupid frizzed hair. If he’d fallen from the ledge he was standing on that night he was looking at certain death. It was a long drop to the rocks below, I pulled him back in and sat on him till he calmed down whilst he poured beer all over the beds. ironic that it was another drop that got him in the end.
It seemed to me at the time that Pete wasn’t scared of anything. He was on all the sports teams and always held his corner without a flinch. To be honest I was as much scared of him as I admired his bravery, even if his bravery was often driven by a need for danger and to be top dog. He was all courage and I was all fear. So sad that this magnificent, muscle bound, ball of testosterone should fall down the stairs and just never wake up again. He wasn’t even sixty.
Which brings it around to me to me as always.
So here I go, out on that last chapter of my life; the one where all the work, pain and disappointment comes to fruition and I get what I have always deserved and wanted. Most of the things are in place to make it happen, all I need to do now is to be brave and not embarrassed. All I need is the will and some of that courage that Pete seemed to have in abundance.
The courage to make that next leap is a thing that throughout my life has been a commodity I have needed to muster. I am not naturally brave, I’m naturally a coward quite content to live inside a comfort zone, but at the same time hating every bland and single moment of it. I loved playing rugby, but was always so scared of dropping the ball that I stopped. Idiot me, I was actually pretty good, but I chose blandness instead. Now, my main need is that I don’t want to be bland in my future – and I feel I am bland to the point of white and hazy nothingness sometimes.
Of course I’m not going to nest with the wolves, or climb mountains, live in the woods in a shack made from tin cans and rope, or stand drunk on a ledge at a Swiss hotel seventy feet from the ground. I’m not going to hit the headlines for my sport or art or inventiveness; but I don’t want to go without someone chancing across me in the future and saying: ‘Interesting. Weird but interesting’.
So here is my big plan (ha, ha). I just want a nice house close to the sea with a garden and somewhere I can do all that painting I’ve said that I will do but really haven’t got around to making happen. I’m not a bad painter as painters go, certainly better than Pete was, and I’m not a bad gardener. I want to leave behind everything I have made happen to date and start again and if I’m really lucky I’ll have twenty years to achieve something like fulfillment and then it’s death of course, the ultimate adventure.
I wonder what I will be like at eighty? I wonder if I'll even get to eighty? I doubt it, but strangely I'm not scared about that.
It’s time to move on, get out all those preliminary sketches and ideas, splash some paint about and drink loads of wine and whisky and soda. Time to move on, become cultured, self-interested and wear hats. Time to surprise with acts of kindness and acts of vitriol when required, time to begin the slow coast to whatever remains. All I need is some courage.
Chuck us that ball Pete.