Bloke I know - it's a sad story - he sets up new email accounts every other day so he can message his dead wife at her work. He gets her out of office on a pingback. I don't know what her out of office says, but it's probably something innocuous; something which makes him feel like she's just taken an extra day off after the bank holiday or something and that she'll be returning soon.
Getting the pingback only works once per email account. Hence all the different aliases. It must be quite hard work for him. But I suppose you don't mind hard work if the alternative is facing gravestone-cold reality.
One day his wife's work will kill off her email though and then the whole thing - her cancer, her treatment, her near-recovery, its comeback, her refusal to have any more chemo - will smash into him like an express train.
I suppose then he'll have to move on.
Onwards and upwards as my old man used to say.
Onto the next stage. You see, the bloke I know's in denial, which is one of the seven stages of grief, and only in navigating himself through all those stages can he map his recovery out.
I don't go round telling people usually, but I do something similar. See on Googlemaps where they have that 'street view' feature where you can drag, dangle and drop the little yellow man over practically any place in the world (or at least those which the Google spy-mobile's been able to access) and then you can look at that place as though you're having a long stand on the pavement in front of it. I use that all the bloody time. What I do is I drag the yellow man over to Greenfields, over the west side of the city where the streets become tangled and higgledy-piggeldy. I drop him right where I want him on the corner of Warwick Road, where it meets Brooklands Avenue.
And then I wait for my computer to catch up.
When it does, I spin my man around and he - lucky bastard - can feast his eyes (and my virtual eyes) on the glory of Greenfields Stadium. Don't be confused by the mass of sheer concrete and the peeling paintwork of the façade of the East Stand. Don't be put off by the rusting steel of the joists which hoist the floodlights into the dullard city sky. Don't turn your nose up at the tumbledown ticket office or the crumbledown City Club Clobber shop. Don't judge this book by its cover.
Instead revel. Bathe in the memories: suck in the shirt-tugging stink of liniment oil in the north-east quadrant of the stadium, above the players' changing rooms; taste the pies from that van, so cold on the outside, hot as the surface of the sun on the inside; feel the crush of folk all around you; hear the crackle of excitement in the air.
Remember coming down here when you were knee-high to a shin-pad, with your old man; sucking in a gutful of the second-hand smoke which spills out from his roll-up, chimneys out from under the brim of his flat-cap, and spirals up to you, on his shoulders, swaying. Mind when you were here with the lads, all got up in the famous green and black colours, and you'd snuck a few smokes of your own. Those lads stopped going in the end. Life got in the way. But for you, going down the Greenfields was your one constant in a topsy-turvy roadmap of a life: changes in your job, your marriage, your old man passing away quite suddenly (mind, he always had a dicky ticker: couldn't stand to watch if City got a penno), not quite making it to see the City glory days. After all that suffering, suddenly they had a great team and they won things and you shared in the victories. You kicked every ball. You went to the game on your own, then. Less distractions. But still, those were the happiest days of your life.
Hindsight's 20:20, of course, but even then, the seeds of change were being sown. Those early glory days brought City to the attention of the world at large. They put us on the map, as my old man would have also said. Middle Eastern businessmen suddenly knew where we were, and where to send their whopping cheques to buy the place, lock, stock, and a couple sets of goalposts.
Greenfields Stadium's gone now, of course. Replaced by a brand-spanking new stadium in the suburbs with not a one rusty steel and not a patch of peeling paintwork. But in moving, City neglected to take its heart and soul. Maybe it's still there on the old Greenfields site, buried like a green and black time capsule, ready for someone to dig up in a couple hundred years or so. Whoever does dig it up will feel it, beating like Poe's telltale ticker.
If they do find it, they'll have to dig deep, past the foundations of the new Greenfields housing estate which has sprung up so fast. I mean, jump in your grave?
I used to wander on down to Greenfields on a Saturday after City upped sticks and left. For a while the stadium just stood there, malingering like some stood-up date who'd kept having one last glass of wine to save face and in the end had wound up getting maudlin drunk and tearful and wouldn't someone just take her home? Was eerie. Nobody else about save a few Hoodies came down. They'd use the place as a glorified skate park. I didn't actually mind this as much as I might have, on account of at least there was still sport going on at Greenfields.
After a few months Greenfields found a date, only it was with a wrecking ball.
There was no ceremony. Hell, those flats by the motorway, those godawful 1960s ones with the terribly hopeful 1960s names like the Peace Apartments and the Hope Springs Flats, they got blown up Fred Dibnah style and they rolled out the city mayor (along with his new cronies, some of those same Middle Eastern businessmen had bought City) for the occasion. But for Greenfields? Nothing. Not even an And Finally… piece about it on the local news bulletin.
A demolition crew flattened a century of memories in just under a week (and I watched them like a hawk; never did that crew complete a single proper working day; they were forever knocking off early and high-tailing it down the local boozer, laughing it up like they weren't committing cultural and historical heresy on a grand scale).
Then, it was gone; all of it save a palisade perimeter fence to keep the skateboarders out. I tied a green and black scarf to the fence one Saturday, but on the Sunday it was gone. Nightwatchman must have moved it. Must have fluttered a lot in the breeze and played havoc with the motion sensors on the CCTV cameras.
Talking of cameras, if the Google spy-mobile had happened onto the corner of Warwick and Brooklands around about that time all it would have spied out was a hulking blank space. And if those images were then uploaded onto Googlemaps 'street view' it would have looked like it was being censored, like what was really there was some kind of military installation or else some top secret warehouse in which the government might store lost treasures like the Ark of the Covenant.
The covenant between City and its supporters, men like me, had been broken. The covenant between the city council and city-folk was broken too. When a contracting firm appeared one day on this prime Brownfield site and that same contracting firm were found to have strong links with a company owned by - yes - a Middle Eastern businessman, I saw it as my duty to bring this corruption to light. Only nobody would listen to me; my findings were dismissed as the fanatical rantings of a mad conspiracy theorist. And besides, the city needed new housing. Supply had been running on empty ever since the Peace Apartments and the Hope Springs Flats were for the heave-ho.
Didn't bother me people thought I was a nutjob; it was the principle of the thing.
As far back as I can remember folk have thought I'd be located on a map a few miles farther out than way out west. In the territory which used to be marked on maps with the legend 'here be monsters'. Nobody could comprehend the sheer scale of my monstrous devotion to City, and what I sacrificed to keep worshipping at that particular altar.
My wife thought it was funny at first. She laughed at my tics, like, say, I'd be watching an away game on the TV and I'd have to keep switching chairs on account of we won more throw-ins if I was sitting in that chair, the one in the bay window, and the ref kept blowing up for fouls if I twitched and squirmed on the sofa. Then she didn't find it funny. Not when our entire calendar for nine months of the year was decided by the fixture computer at Lancaster Gate. Not when I missed weddings, funerals and birthdays because green and black came first. Why, she asked, would it matter if I missed one match? I was watching on TV after all and what effect did I really expect to have on the result? And - Christ, Ray! - City always lose anyway!
My work colleagues eyed me strangely. How I took it all so seriously. How I wouldn't drink from a blue mug. How I refused to play ball with one of our biggest contracts - Crown Paints - because they sponsored a rival team. They couldn't understand my dedication. They didn't map time the way I did. Even now, on my Outlook calendar a City game shows up as an all day event. It blocks out half of the free-time I'm allocated every weekend (and actually, if you factor in time spent thinking about football and potential results, then it would be much more than half; it would probably show at around 90% or something).
Hell even my old man - City rest his soul - couldn't understand why I let City landgrab so much of my life. He saw City as a pastime, a way of getting out into the world amongst men like him of a weekend. He saw it as a chance to have a drink and a smoke and a laugh and the result was secondary. He couldn't wrap his skull around why I let the club colonise so much of the territory of my imagination.
I kept chipping down to the Greenfields every lunch-time. Maybe it was my furtive hope that one day I'd return and there the stadium would be, rearing up from out of the flat concrete like some sea monster with an urgent vendetta. Maybe I was simply, fanatically stupid. Maybe I was a glutton for punishment. A life-time of watching City would testify to the latter.
The contractors appeared on site like an invading army. Like a crew of away supporters hungry to win land and bragging-rights. They brought the apparatus of war: diggers, cement-mixers, other miscellaneous plant. Why do they call it plant? Those brutal machines couldn't get much further from flora.
They knew me, the workmen. Called me Ray and they'd shout me over and tell me the latest developments - today they'd been digging the foundations for one of the three-beds and they'd discovered an old corner-flag; yesterday they'd found a flat-cap (my old man's, lost after a surge following a City goal?) in the scabby dirt right where the old Warwick Road Paddock used to be.
They'd tell me these things and wait for me to respond. I think they thought I was going to burst out crying or something. Or else they reckoned I was entering the 'anger' stage of my Seven Stages. And when I walked off I could hear them snickering amongst themselves about me. But sod them. Sod them all. These things have to be witnessed. Somebody must be here to bear witness.
A colleague sent me a link to a house on Rightmove. I clicked on it. Number 1 The Greenfields. It was going for nearly three-hundred K. And here was me thinking the estate was supposed to be earmarked for social, or council housing. I browsed through the pictures. Number 1 (is Corrigan, as the old song used to go) was certainly well-stocked with the mod-cons. Built-in fridges and walk-in wardrobes. The like. The garden wasn't much to write home about. Wasn't much bigger than the six-yard box and the flower-bed would have barely covered a penalty spot. Still, in aid of the photos, someone had set up a pair of kiddy-sized goalposts and there was a Colgate-white football lying right there in between them.
I heard my colleague - the one who'd sent the mail - guffawing. Couldn't see him. Not past all the framed photos of his family (and dogs!) with which he made a high-rise cityscape of his desk. But I knew he knew he was rubbing it in. Pissing on my grave, as the old man definitely wouldn't have said.
And so, right there, before I could change my mind, I called up the estate agents listed on the Rightmove page. Dunkerley and Bryant. They sounded like a City forward-line from the days before even my old man stood on the terraces. Centre-forwards were a different breed back then. Great lumbering brick-shithouses who'd carry everything - ball, goalie, turf - into the net with them as long as they scored. Dunkerley was a lot friendlier. Nosy mind. Before I could even request a viewing at Number 1 The Greenfields, he wanted to know whether I was an existing property owner, what I did for a living, whether the funds would be in place for a move in the near future.
So I lied and told him I was more than a simple desk-jockey in an insurance call centre. I made out like the road-map of my life had been all happy-driving, rather than City-induced U-turns and K-turns and thankless journeys down one-way streets. I even told him I was married. Made like Marie and I were still one country, not one torn apart by civil war. My biggest whopper was this: I told Dunkerley the main reason I was attracted to Number 1 The Greenfields was the photo of the goals in the garden. I wasn't much of a soccer fan myself, but my son sure loved a kick-around.
I hadn't seen my son in eight years, ever since City's remarkable comeback play-off win which took us into the big time for the first time since the war years (a game which coincided with my son's first role in the chorus line in a musical at the local playhouse - he'd gone on to bigger and better things since). And usually I'd have snapped the neck of anyone used the word soccer around me, swift as I snapped my relationship with Brian (since changed to Marcus, since you ask: he never liked being named after City's star creative-midfielder of the 1970s and early '80s).
The viewing was at 3pm on a Saturday in May. It coincided with City's second FA Cup final in three years. I'd been up early that morning and I'd seen all the green and black scarves flapping out of car windows as they headed for the motorway, and for Wembley. I'd never been. Never would now. Bryant took me round on account of Dunkerley was one of the green and black hoards.
I thought I might sense the soul of the old stadium then, in the space it had once been. I thought I'd feel the thrum of its beating heart under my feet (and under that bloody under-floor heating they had in the spacious kitchen). And I half-thought that if I did, I'd stage some sort of scene. Barricade myself into Number 1 and drape bedsheet-banners out the windows (City 'til I die and the like). Or paint a massive green and black X-marks the spot on the roof so every plane stuttered past across the dullard city sky could look down and see that here was the place City did die.
But I didn't feel anything.
I asked Bryant: 'what used to be here, on this site?'
And he shrugged. Said: 'not very much.'
Not very much, he says.
Before I got in the car to traipse back home - I'd parked a couple blocks away from the front of Number 1 in case Bryant clocked I wasn't driving a Mondeo or something and wouldn't let me in - I saw a removal van turn up outside Number 11 (they retired that shirt after Paul May, our tricky left-winger, who once played for England and who died after a burglary turned sour at his house near where the new stadium is now). A nuclear family were riding up front of the van and they all clambered out once the van was straight (as a wall facing a free-kick) against the kerb. Mum, Dad, little sister first, then a big brother. Had to be twelve. Wearing a football kit. Only it was a blue one.
I sighed, went home, and logged in to Googlemaps. Brought up the old Greenfields. The images were timestamped 2012. At some point though, that Google spy-mobile will happen down this way again and the pictures of Greenfields as it was will be replaced.
I know this. The only thing I don't know is whereabouts on my roadmap to recovery I'll be.