Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It had been a beautiful, perfect moment, but two and a half years later I was crying.

The 4th of February 2001 had been my 31st birthday. That year, everyone had really made the effort. A day or so later, at about one o'clock in the morning, I had found myself sitting alone in my living-room, just gazing-up at all the cards on the mantle-piece...

The cards might all look fairly ordinary to you, but to me, they were touching because of how personal they all were. One was of my favourite TV show - Doctor Who - containing a CD-story. Opposite it sat a silly Button Moon one, drawn-in by my best friend Herschel. Below that was a Bagpuss card which my mum had made. My dad and the rest of my family, they never failed either. On the right of the top shelf you can also see a photo of our white cat Phantom.

Around me in other rooms of the house, the rest of my family were hopefully sleeping. Well, maybe not my dad, he got a lot of insomnia, but he was there. Just a minute down the road was Herschel. And somewhere around about, potentially further away than anyone else, was Phantom. Probably stealing another cat's food, and growling at their owner. He was that sort of a cat – a rottweiler.

Very occasionally in life, a huge inexplicable peace seems to descend. As I looked up at the cards, this was one of those beautiful moments. I had no idea why.

A few days later, I got in from work. No-one else was in the living-room to greet me, but I knew where they each were. My dad, for instance, was in the front room as usual. My mum would be busying away upstairs. Phantom was probably terrorising a neighbour somewhere.

Presently, my mum came downstairs. She told me about all the hassle that she and my dad had had at the hospital that morning. You know the sort of thing – tests, queuing, waiting around, general disorganisation. When my mum got to the end of the story, and told me that my dad's insomnia was actually because he had a heart condition he'd known nothing about, it was a bit of a scare.

But my jaw really hit the ground when she told me that they'd decided to keep him there. I mean, they hadn't, because he was in the next room, wasn't he? Surely he was just on the other side of this wall, like he always was.

No, he wasn't. He was across town in a bed attached to a heart-monitor. The twenty-seven years that we had lived there had caused me to just assume.

Very shortly we were all in the ward visiting him. He was his usual self, and remained so for about two weeks, barring the side-effects of treatment for this heart-condition which he had suddenly had for a while.

I knew that he wanted to go on the London Eye – so did I – and so I agreed with him that after he'd been discharged, we would.

One night, the phone rang. At half-past eleven. It was the hospital.

Every nerve in my body suddenly registered cold. There's no way they ring at that time with good news. I thought, "If I'm incredibly lucky, then he's alive, but really, really ill." I remember pressing the lightswitch, and registering that the split-second delay before the bulb came on seemed to take longer than usual – that's how tense I was.

It turned-out that the hospital had just admitted a new patient to my father's ward, so to free up a bed they had transferred the healthiest patient there to another room. My dad was the healthiest patient there. They were just ringing to let us know.

Of course they were - Father would have told them to, because he knew how late I always stayed-up.

That was a very shaking moment. I thought to myself afterwards, "If I live to be a hundred, I will never be that lucky again."

Know what? Father got better. After his fortnight in hospital, he did come home. With a few pills regularly, all was well again. He was even getting some sleep at nights.

Except that now Phantom was ill, and needed the ends of his ears amputated. His two weeks of incarceration were spent in one of the upstairs bedrooms, with one of those lampshade-type collars to stop him scratching his wounds open. As I stood in the back garden looking up through the window at him, and he back down at me, I knew he was having a very odd year.

So were we all.

Come summer, Mum, Father and I went on that trip to the London Eye. It was a very simple afternoon, but quite special to me. We got the train there, we went on the wheel for half-an-hour, we had a snack and a drink afterwards, looked around the souvenir shop, and made our way back to Waterloo station, my father pausing every couple of minutes. It was becoming harder for him to walk. Such a lovely afternoon, but one with a gnawing sense that something was silently wrong.

Phantom became ill again. On Christmas Eve, he died on my bed.

None of us felt like opening presents, so I spent Christmas Day digging a very deep hole in the back garden, far too deep for the foxes to burrow down through. Then my shovel broke, so I had to borrow one off of Herschel down the road. On Boxing Day, I rigged-up one of my film-making lights, and in the cold we all stood there saying goodbye to our much-loved family pet.

Phantom had come to represent 'family' to me, perhaps partly because he was always so bad-tempered, but we all forgave him unconditionally.

That was the last time we all went out and did something together as a family.

A day or so later, Father found that he could no longer stand-up. A few months passed. He went back into hospital again. Then one evening we all stood around, holding his cooling hands, thanking him, and saying goodbye.


It was a beautiful death.

In the first few days that followed, I found it was a cover-version by the Pet Shop Boys that kept on rotating round and round in my head...

Maybe I didn't treat you,
Quite as well as I could,
Maybe I didn't love you,
Quite as often as I should,
Little things I should have said and done,
Somehow I never found the time.
You are always on my mind...
You are always on my.

(I said it was the Pets Shop Boys' version)

After the funeral, slowly, without rushing anything, we picked-up the pieces of our home and began to take the unthinkable steps toward redefining the word 'family' as meaning 'three' people, instead of 'four'. I never cried. I'm thankful to God for letting me off lightly.

Without Phantom either, the house was now quite empty, so two new cats came to live with us, who were far more docile than Phantom, and less interested in us with it. What a trade-off!

The following year, (last year) via a Christian travel company, I took a long-overdue holiday in Crete:

(that's me on the left, with my hands on my hips)

Shortly afterwards, my job in London came to an end, after seven years.

So this year, unemployed, I took advantage of the pause in my professional life, and took a longer holiday...

... this time three weeks in New Zealand. I had wanted to stay, and it really looked like God wanted me to, but some things scared me, and so it only took one sentence to talk me out of it.

Once back in London, I was actually invited back to Crete to help run a walking holiday, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

God seemed to be lining things up for me to do.

Sitting there on the Evita Bay Beach again, eating a Moro bar I'd been posted from New Zealand, and drinking a banoffee-pie flavoured Frijj drink from the UK, (my favourite) I prayed.

I had the opportunity to remain in Crete and continue working for the rest of the summer season. That sounded like fun, but with the Christian holiday company taking care of meals and accommodation, it didn't sound like much of a challenge.

Returning to New Zealand seemed much more like striking out on my own, facing my fears, and relying on only myself and/or God. Well, God really. And I was getting a lot more encouragement to return there.

But what if that wasn't his plan? There was really only one way to find out.

So, after much soul-searching, I booked a ticket back to Auckland with Air New Zealand. I have an appointment in London that I can't miss in three months time, so if things haven't worked-out by then, I'm coming home again.

Tonight, I said goodbye to my best friend Herschel.

While packing for my flight back to Auckland tomorrow, I put-on an old radio-show from Christmas 1993 that I'd presented. I was making a copy of it to take with me, partly for my own pleasure, but also to help me find work within radio.

I said goodnight to my mum and the rest of my family. I carried on packing.

On the cassette, one of the songs finished and segued into a comedy-sketch I'd done. We were pretending to argue with each other on air. It was fun, my sort of sense of humour. Then the timecheck reached for 3:30 and the slot for the show's regular Elvis track.

The king of rock'n'roll's familiar deep powerful voice began to boom his ballad...

Maybe I... didn't treat you...
...quite as well as I should have...

I stopped packing, my mind overwhelmed by a memory from 1977 – when I had been six years old...

It had been hot that summer. All summer. Six weeks of school holidays had seemed like a very long time indeed. My mum had been at work at an old folks' home around the corner, while my dad had been working in a shop. We weren't allowed out of the house – only down to the front gate. That meant that we couldn't play with the other kids in our road, and they were having water-fights, tons of them. So all that summer, all the other kids in our street had come round to our house. They weren't allowed to come in, but they were allowed in the front garden. So we spent all summer long just having all these stupid water-fights in our front garden. It was so hot, it was so fun, it was so much like being a child in the hot summer of 1977, back when Elvis was still a current artist.

As his voice on the tape crooned respectfully away, I leant on my bed and wept tears so thick, and cried and cried and cried, muttering over and over out loud, "I love you Dad, I love you so much."

Finally, the song ended, I heard myself in 1993 outro the track and intro the next one, and the show continued as normal. I wiped my tears from my face, and wondered why on Earth I had just spent the last three minutes blubbering about my father, whilst immersed in a memory that hadn't even been of him.

Oh yeah, that was why. I was just reaching the end of a process that had begun two-and-a-half years ago, just after I had looked at those birthday cards on the mantelpiece. Since then, the family cat had died, my dad had died, my job had ended, and now of my own free will I was packing my bag to leave home and begin a new life, as far away from my remaining family as it is possible to travel.

At 33½, on some subconscious level, I realised that my childhood had just spent the last two-and-a-half years closing-down.


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