In large part, I owe my career to my brother. I’m a few years younger than him, and as any junior sibling will know, many of our formative influences come from an older brother or sister.
In my case, I inherited all my early cultural reference points from my brother. Like, for instance, a passion for sport. And a love for the films of Woody Allen (early to mid-period). Plus an appreciation of juggling. And not forgetting the early works of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. More than that, however, it was he who sparked my interest in becoming a journalist.
I was still at school, and my brother was a journalist working for one of Britain’s great regional papers. His life seemed impossibly glamorous to me: he had a car, he had freedom, he got free LPs to review, and there was even talk of expenses. If I’m being honest, I don’t remember much discussion about this noble calling: the quest for truth, the fight against injustice, the shining of the torch to expose the wicked and the corrupt. In those days, we kept our swords and our shields under wraps. I was just desperate to have my own mini and live in a faraway town, claiming petrol at 15p a mile.
Even though the subsequent decades saw our careers move in very different directions – my brother, the one with cultured tones, became a radio presenter – he still is a newspaper columnist, and now contributes a weekly piece to Britain’s leading racing paper.
He has always been clever and funny, and is responsible for one of my favourite lines of all time. In a column about the enthusiasm with which Clare Balding throws herself into everything she presents, he offered the thought that, on her way to cover Crufts, she probably had her head out of the window all the way up to Birmingham. Yes, I know I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating. And I’m aware that a columnist writing about another writer’s column is the last refuge of the scoundrel. But that’s exactly what I propose to do now.
My brother has not had the best of times recently. In fact, it couldn’t have been much worse. Two weeks ago, he had an operation to remove a tumour, the size of which was, according to him, “like a Marks & Spencer spatchcock chicken with a Black Forest gateau for two”. (They removed the sarcoma, but left the sarcasm).
He was in intensive care for some time, and even now, in a general ward at the magnificent St. James’s Hospital in Leeds, he’s attached to various tubes and pipes. I visited him yesterday, and couldn’t believe what he told me. Yes, he was in terrible agony and couldn’t sleep. Yes, he’d had loads of new tests and scans. And yes, he’d written his column. What? It’s true. He was in bed with liquid morphine dulling the pain, and had filed a characteristically humorous piece about online betting while in a hospital bed. I couldn’t have been more awestruck. Of course, this does not rank in the pantheon of acts of journalistic heroism. But, for this reason and many others beside, he’s a hero to me.