OUT THERE: When your number comes up

'I was lucky. I'd already lost everything when it happened. I know exactly who my real friends are'
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sunday morning at the office; the phone rings. It's Andy: "Are you sitting down?" Of course I'm sitting down, I write for a living - what is it? "Well, you know the number 13..." I rub my eyes. This is it, he's finally gone.

He's been on about it for months, how number 13 keeps appearing in his life at every opportunity. Cloakroom tickets, seat numbers, thermometers, digital clocks, he's seeing 13 wherever he looks. I'd never noticed till he pointed it out, but even the house opposite my own is... yep, number 13.

Andy's been my friend for more than 20 years now. I was his best man when we were still kids and Christine, little more than a child herself, was expecting Dean. As we sat alone in church waiting for her I said look, we could be in Paris before it gets dark. He thought about it, too.

A couple of years later he turns up on my doorstep, headed for six months on a Greek island. He sends me pictures of topless Swedish girls. Next thing, he's back, and Christine's pregnant again before his tan has faded.

They call the second boy Alexander and work day and night so they can afford wall-to-wall carpets, matching curtains and a big colour telly. They work so hard they grow to hate each other, and the marriage collapses in an ugly mess.

Then he meets Tracie, who gives him a reason to live and another son, called Kane. He builds up a roofing business, employing 16 guys, with a turnover of pounds 260,000 a year. They've got a big house and brand new, state-of-the-art, matt-black everything, completely over-extended on HP, and suddenly the recession hits hard: it's deja vu all over again. The bank forecloses. Everything's repossesed or sold off; the house is in negative equity. He's made bankrupt. He starts drinking. Tracie leaves him. This time it really does him in.

Andy's a big, cuddly bear of a guy, the kind of friend nobody should be without, but few are lucky enough to have. When Jane and I had to move house one Easter, with an 18-month-old Phoebe, no car, and my arm in a sling, who did I call? There's not a mean bone in his body, but he keeps trying to make it big time and losing out, and the frustration drives him mad. I've tried telling him to slack off, stop achieving, but he won't listen.

Last February, he shows up again, drunk, speeding, depressed, running on empty. He's struggling to hang on to the house, six months behind on the mortgage. No work. I say to him, smoke this, swallow this, jump in the shower and put these on, we're going out. It seems to work, he starts pulling his life together. And it's surprising how good it feels, helping a friend. I almost felt human.

So here he is again, calling me at work on a Sunday, still on about this stupid number. Oh, and he got his eviction notice on Thursday. "Only, you know the number 13?" Yeah, yeah, your point being? "Well, yesterday was the 13th of May... and last night my dad won the Lottery. Three million quid."

"Andy, I haven't got time for this bollocks." But he says it again, and I hear all the noise in the background and I know it's true. Three, Million, Pounds. Pete, the old man, has told Andy, his brother, and his sister that all their problems are over.

"Well, don't go out and buy yourself a new set," I say. "Don't turn into a rich bastard. If you do, I can't be your friend anymore, you know that."

I'm talking to myself. Long before that factory worker won the pounds l8 million jackpot, I stopped buying tickets. Enough money to realise every fantasy, and drop all responsibility. Guaranteed 24-hour room service for a lifetime. Yeah, that's all I need. Another 18 million reasons to sit on my arse all day. But Andy, he's a worker. And like he says, "I was lucky. I'd already lost everything when it happened. I know exactly who my real friends are." Take a bow Fletch, Lloyd, Spence, Stipey and Roy.

Did it go to his head? Of course not. He simply went out and bought a top-of-the-range Mitsubishi Shogun Royale, complete with 3.5 litre, 2.4- valve, V6 engine, four-wheel drive, a six-disc CD player, seven leather seats that fold down into a double bed, separate air-conditioning systems front and rear, and all for only 47 grand. He calls it "the troop carrier".

One more thing. A few seconds ago, a package arrived via Federal Express. "Just sign here please," said the delivery man, pointing to my place on his list. "Number 13."

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