An arm round the shoulder

I said right from the start that one of the reasons for writing this blog was that I felt sure that it would encourage people to share their own experiences and that some mutual benefit could come from a bit of typing and an honest portrayal of my situation.

And apart from one spiteful anonymous bastard, who has mocked my writing as “self-pitying, self-indulgent twaddle”, the response has been pretty good. What has been particularly striking has been the willingness of men to share their own fears, weaknesses and vulnerability. Yes ladies, this is men I’m talking about.  Those grumpy, silent, emotionally retarded, smelly things that inexplicably attract you.

I’m not a tactile creature. If I let you past my invisible but hugely effective social barriers, there is one major rule which must not be broken at any cost. You must not touch me. I will disintegrate with embarrassment. There was a man I worked with once – the leader of the Welsh National Opera Orchestra who would stand to my side and talk to me with his hand resting on the nape of my back. I used to inch forward, but he would nudge himself into alignment to retain contact. After a long conversation we sometimes found ourselves on the other side of the room. It was a battle of wills which I always lost.

There are even some women out there who try to kiss me when they say hello and goodbye. I am not afraid to tell them straight – “I’m sorry but I just don’t do kissing or hugging”.  The truth is that any visible or physical sign of affection mortifies me.

There are exceptions of course. There are some women who perservere. They know full well that it makes me uncomfortable, but they carry on regardless. They make a joke of it. You see, the thing is, they know that behind all my protests and embarrassment that secretly I like it. They kiss me when they see me and they kiss me when they say goodbye. I scrunch up my features and offer a pursed peck in return – it must be like kissing a year old tangerine that you’ve found behind the fridge. But once it’s over, I go all warm and fuzzy.

And that’s a bit how it’s been with this blog. I’ve received phone calls and emails from grizzled old hardcore football fans which have really taken me aback. There’s one old rock’n’roll hedonist from Cardiff who’s had a stroke – a couple with cancer scares, and  a few who have been sharing their experiences with the cartilage injuries. Some have nothing to share at all other than general bromance- soppiness, affection and concern.  These are the most disconcerting.

The truth is that I under-estimated all these people. I learnt very early on in my career at WNO that you should not judge people on how you see them – you never know what tragedy or difficulties are going on in their private lives. And this is what I’m seeing now – the blog has opened up windows to their humanity.  And when I put that phone down after an uneasy, stuttering arm-around-the-shoulder conversation with an old mate, with whom previous interaction has been restricted to refereeing decisions and the merits of scrumpy, I feel like I’ve changed just a little bit. I’m a little bit more human.

Some time earlier this week, I spent ninety minutes chatting to somebody I’ve never met. He’s a double cancer survivor currently suffering with Lukemia caused by the chemotherapy from his first scare. He’s just been told that his arm will be crippled as the result of an unrelated injury caused in a fall. I’ll say that again in case you missed it – NINETY MINUTES on the phone to a bloke. I haven’t spent more than five minutes on the phone since before the invention of the internet.

This bloke is annoying – despite all of those dreadful medical problems he feels lucky. During his treatment he has seen people devastated by disease. He knows there are people much worse off than himself and this affects his attitude to his own misfortune. He is unrelentingly cheerful, supportive, unselfish and an all round good bloke. He has seriously hindered my wallowing. I am doing my best to dissolve into a self-pitying mess, but this bastard keeps me positive. My greatest fear is that when we meet, he may literally put an arm around my shoulder.

And then there’s the stranger. A woman I’ve never met or spoken to. An insomniac on twitter who joins in with Welsh football discussions. We’ve never flirted or shared any intimacy – she occasionally asks after my health, and I tell her I’m OK . Well this morning she sent me a hamper. I was stunned. She must have found my address from my business website and just sent it. It’s packed with goodies for my family too – sweets for the boys- jam, biscuits chocolate and soap. Nothing sinister – she’s not a stalker or somebody posing as a Russian Mail Order bride – she’s just one of the many kind, thoughtful, generous strangers who sadly, never appear in the news.

About 2clots

47-year old Welsh cyclist. I suffered a dual pulmonary embolism in March 2011, following an attack of transverse myelinitis in 1994. Apart from that, I'm fine. Author of Red Dragons: The Story of Welsh Football.
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1 Response to An arm round the shoulder

  1. Tracey says:

    Phil, what have I told you?
    Don’t go soft on us, or we’ll start to believe that you really are ill!

    Oh, and you’ve forgotten to mention that it’s not just physical affection you don’t like – how about the time you wouldn’t even let me call you by your real name? 😉

    Loving your writing – love you, mate.x

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