Bill was a bit of a tease, a bit of a drinker and a bit of a gambler; nothing serious, just a few pounds on the dogs and nags every Saturday.
He was ex-navy, sunk twice in the war after joining up at fourteen. His father died young and his mother was an alcoholic, so Bill had to pretty much look after himself from the age of six.
When he was eight, his mother died and he was collected by the authorities and taken into care. Bill hated the strict regime he was forced to live under and at thirteen he ran away from the Barnardos home that he claimed was little more than a workhouse.
After the war, he travelled the world, working his passage. He sheared sheep, washed pots in numerous restaurants and even delivered water to a leper colony.
Bill was born a Catholic but had no time for the church; he was a clever man, self-educated, always ready with a quote from Shakespeare or Noel Coward. He could have won any of the TV quiz shows he loved to watch, including Mastermind. He was a crossword addict and could knock out a Sunday, cryptic puzzle faster than Inspector Morse on a good day.
When Bill settled down and had kids, he took a job as an aluminium window fixer, working all over the country on high rise flats or shopping precincts.
At weekends, he could be found playing with his kids in the woods or drinking with his mates in the pub. Bill was what used to be known as a ladies’ man, although he wasn’t really that handsome. His friendly manner and funny quips meant everyone was pleased to see him, even the husbands of the ladies who would blush at a compliment or simper when he put the back of their hand to his lips.
Although he would have found it incredibly easy, Bill didn’t play the field; he was a flirt, not a Casanova.
Men were quite happy to leave their wives in Bill’s company while they went off to play darts, crib, or dominoes. Bill was an enigma. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. He could listen to Gilbert and Sullivan or Gilbert O’Sullivan, he could watch University Challenge or Columbo, but mostly he loved the soaps. Bill watched all of them; he knew the characters’ histories better than the writers.
He regarded the video recorder as the invention of the century; it meant he didn’t have to miss Emmerdale while watching Coronation Street or Eastenders.
Apart from the form guide, soaps and crosswords, Bill’s other passion was reading, he could get through a book in a day. He was voracious, he read anything and everything, magazines to biographies, Dostoevsky to Jackie Collins. He never forgot what he had read either. If someone dropped a box of books off at this flat, he could sort them into piles of read and un-read inside a couple of minutes; he didn’t need to read the blurb on the back, the title and author was enough.
We first noticed a change in Bill when he became time obsessed. He began worrying about whether he should be elsewhere, or meeting someone. He began to get ready for work when he got up in the mornings, although he’d been retired for fifteen years. He couldn’t remember who was who in the soaps and would watch a recorded episode over-and-over again. Vera, his frail but rock of a wife, regularly found him in the bathroom having a shave at three in the morning.
Not long after that the police became regular visitors, returning him to the flat after finding him on the main road in his pyjamas. Vera hid the keys and even his shoes, but then she’d find him hanging out of the window shouting that he had been locked up against his will. Thankfully he never tried to climb out, they were four floors up.
Bill’s condition was complicated by an undiagnosed stroke and his condition got worse as the year progressed.
By the late summer, he had gone from having a carer, to get him dressed in the morning, to short stays in a care home. By September he was admitted full time. It was hard to get any sense out of Bill at all at this stage; he didn’t seem to recognise anyone and never got out of bed. He did wake up now and then when visitors were present but he never replied to a question, or responded to a hug or a kiss on the cheek.
Bill had gone from happy, alert, soap-watching, crossword solver, to little more than a coma victim in just fifteen months.
The last time I saw Bill, I was with my wife, Doreen, (his daughter,) and Vera. We had been chatting away for about an hour at his bedside when he suddenly opened his eyes, looked around, smiled at us all and said, ‘thank you for coming.’ He died a few hours later, he was eighty-three. Vera died the following year; twenty-four hour-nursing; the lack of decent sleep, nursing duties and the continual worry had taken their toll. She was never the same after Bill’s death, she pretty much gave up. She went to her grave cursing the disease that had stolen their last year together.