In 1996 I was running a Courier Company just behind Kings Cross station in Central London. I finished work for the day and began the long drive home to Essex. The traffic was a nightmare. I was driving through Bow (an area in east London) and decided to stop and let the traffic die down. I stopped at a Pub I had never been in before. It was a typical East End pub. The sort of pub that when a stranger walks in the music stops and everyone looks at you, especially if you’re wearing a suit! I was wearing a suit.
“Its ok, I’m not the old bill, just getting out of this fucking traffic!”
A few people laughed and got on with what they were doing before.
Then I heard a familiar voice from behind the bar “Fuck me, look who it is, hello stranger”
It was Roy’s brother Ronny.
We did the man hug thing, and then we started talking. I hadn’t seen him in almost 20 years. We talked all evening about the old days. The one thing he made quite clear at the very start of our long talk was that he couldn’t say anything about Roy! Apart from he and Sue were fine and so were the twins. He stressed that was all he could tell me.
I was disappointed but understood. After almost 20 years Roy still had to be careful.
I left the car at Ronnie’s pub that night and got home extremely pissed!
Over the next few years, Ronnie and I became firm friends, best friends. He was so much like Roy that I just enjoyed being with him. It was the same for him, he couldn’t see his younger brother very often but being with me reminded him of Roy. It worked both ways. I popped in to Ronnie’s pub about twice a week, either on my way home or to watch a football match, any excuse really! Whenever we met he would always start the conversation with “ Roy’s fine, before you ask!”
In 2004 Ronnie gave me some bad news. Roy had cancer and was having chemotherapy; he wouldn’t say anymore about it just that Roy was very ill. I was gutted; this was Roy we were talking about. I had always thought he was bigger than life itself, indestructible.
In September 2004 I was at work when I got a call. It was Ronnie. Come to the pub today around 1.00pm if you can. He didn’t say why but I guessed it was important. So I took the rest of the day off.
When I got to the pub, Ronnie was waiting with his coat on.
“Don’t sit down, get in your car and follow me. Someone wants to see you!”
He smiled and gave me a wink.
I was like a little kid again waiting to see Father Christmas; I knew I was going to see Roy again, 28 years since I last saw him!
We left the pub in Bow and drove down the M11. We came off at Harlow. We drove to a travel lodge just outside Harlow town. Parked the cars and then walked in to the bar area of the hotel.
Sitting in a chair in the corner by the bar was a bald, frail, grey faced man. Then he stood up and said “Hello you old bastard!”
It was Roy. He had changed so much but his voice was just the same. We put our arms around each other and I realised he was just skin and bone. This once big, powerful, larger than life character was a shadow of his former self.
“Look at the fucking size of you, no longer the Boy, a grown man, what 40 now?
“Fuck, 28 years, 28 fucking years!”
We sat in the bar for hours; Ronnie left us so we could catch up. We talked about everything and I mean everything. He’d been all over the world. Dubai, Bahrain, New Zealand, Switzerland. But had now settled back in the UK.
He knew he was dieing, even laughed about it. He’d even picked out the songs for his funeral.
At about 7.00pm he looked at his watch and said. I better go. We hugged again and that’s when he broke down;
“I am so sorry mate, so fucking sorry, I screwed my life up, I couldn’t bear to fuck yours up as well. That’s why I couldn’t get in touch, I couldn’t chance it. Forgive me?”
He was in tears and now I was. Two grown men cuddling in a bar crying there eyes out!
“Of course I forgive you, you old bastard!”
We parted and each got into our cars. I never saw him again.
Roy died six weeks later, at the age of 56. He had spent almost 30 years having to pretend to be another person. I never went to the funeral, I couldn’t bear to. We had already said our goodbyes.
I am now 54; I have been many things in my life. But deep down I think I’m still just a Butcher Boy!