Whilst I was struggling up the writing ladder and beginning to cast an eye over those new-fangled Amstrad word processors, my brother Martin, having worked as a diesel fitter then bus driver, took an electronics course, then a job with a company repairing printers, computers and other office hardware and, as time passed, sorting out software too. He suggested to me that I needed an IBM clone computer to do my writing on. I demurred, I was a writer, so why would I need anything more than a glorified typewriter? So much for the foresight of this science fiction author.
Because he could and because he knew better (he did), Martin provided me with one nonetheless and, after a period of painful adjustment, I saw the advantages in this green screen Wordstar computer with its one megabyte hard drive. Martin moved on, working in various other computer repair companies, and upgrading me throughout that time to what I have now. He went through a divorce, has a daughter called Dawn who is now thirty, hooked up with Kathy and, after they were together for a number of years, eventually married her. He scuba dived, wind surfed, took holidays, read books, watched TV, got drunk, spent too much time on his computer, ate meals… He did all those things we all do as we live a life, and some things we don’t all do. He ended up running servers and sorting out computers at Essex Police HQ in Chelmsford and was valued there, made a lot of friends there. Throughout that time he was the one I could rely on when my computer went wrong, the one who sorted it all out for me, and incidentally sorted computers out for the rest of our family and numerous other people besides.
But not any more.
I had three brothers: Paul is four years older than me and Bob is ten years older than me, and Martin was six years older than me. Difficult to write in the past tense here. I grew up with them all, they’re all a part of my life, my history. From Martin I read my first Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter on Mars book, and some J T Edson’s… The first and only shotgun I fired was his. Two small memories from a great mass of them; two small aspects of that large chunk of existence that was, well, my brother.
We’re not one of those families that need to live in each other’s pockets – it’s enough to know that the others are there, and we get on with our own lives. On occasional family get-togethers you realise you still have a lot in common, but less and less as the years pass. But still.
Martin was, I think, proud of my success. But as I said, we were not so close that we needed continuous contact, so I wondered why when he called me over the phone whilst we were in Crete this summer. It was to inform me that he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He would have six weeks of chemo then an operation to remove the affected part. All very matter-of-fact, and maybe some degree of unconscious self-preservation stopped me checking out statistics on the Internet.
He was operated on about the time we got back – part of his oesophagus and stomach removed, and the two severed ends sewn together again. He spent many weeks in hospital. We went in to see him and it shocked me to see how thin he was, but then, he hadn’t eaten food in four weeks, the food fed in by tube. Even the water was fed in by tube and all he could do was rinse his mouth out and not swallow. While he was in hospital he had problems, things weren’t healing up, he had a leak inside, then, all at once he was out. Looked like he was getting there.
Out of hospital for just a few weeks and he didn’t improve, almost died and was taken back. Eventually they got round to testing the fluid in his abdomen only to discover a secondary inoperable cancer. Quite bald statement then: he is going to die, and soon. How do you handle that? It’s something you can neither deny or ignore. You can get angry, but it doesn’t change the verdict, and in the end you just feel a horrible hollow misery. We went to see him in hospital, he was skeletal, barely coherent, obviously uncomfortable. His life-span was one week, then two weeks, then a few days, then twenty-four hours. He died today on Sunday 24th January, and has left a hole in my life. He was 54 years old and too damn fucking young to die.
I guess I’m not the first person to say that.