Thu 17 Sep 2009
Tomorrow I am going to a funeral, not of a friend but of a colleague / team-mate, whichever of the two words best fit. I won’t use the person’s real name out of respect. He was 52 and played for the same chess club as me, but he was at a much stronger level so our paths barely crossed. I played once with him and enjoyed his company immensely. But throughout the long game (each of us lost games that lasted four to five hours) he was drinking heavily. It was clear he had a problem. A few weeks later he was hospitalised with severe problems with his liver. A few members of the club went to visit and it was clear that he was very ill. His gaunt figure and depressed face were icons of a body unable or unwilling to walk and eat properly. His situation was desperate.
After six weeks in hospital he was discharged back to his flat with empty bottles of Scotch where a week later he died. With few or no friends to talk of, the bottles were always there to reassure him life was worth living. Tomorrow, a few colleagues from the chess club will stand at his grave with his only remaining relative, a sister who lives far away.
On the day we played in that match together he told me about his great prowess as a chess junior, about how he once beat a now famous grandmaster, about his interesting work in computer programming for a blue-chip company. And you might think that a man with such a mind and talent could find his way in a great city like London with its myriad of opportunities for work and play. But no, here was a person who was out of the social services radar and did not have the ability to ask for help. I wonder how many more like him are out there.