Twenty-four years ago tonight, our lives fell to pieces when my father Ken Jones fell under a train. He was the Independent’s chief sportswriter at the time, and was making his way home from the office Christmas party. He’d done the sensible thing: he’d left the car at home, and was taking the train. A few had been cancelled. There was a platform-change announcement at London Bridge. A stampede up the stairs, over the bridge and down the other side. My father, a compact Welshman, was swept up in the maelstrom and hurled down onto the rails, just as the train was pulling in. It took them more than four hours to cut him from the wreckage. What was left of his right arm, and his writing hand, was left behind.
He still hears the voice of the nameless paramedic who talked him into holding on, into clinging to life. To this day, he suffers searing phantom pain in the arm that isn't there. He has lived for almost a quarter of a century as a one-armed bandit. He continued to travel the world as one, well into his seventies, covering major prize fights, football matches, summer and winter Olympic Games. He only retired when they made him, and he could still kick them senseless for that.
Ken is eighty-five years old, as sharp as a scythe, and bored, much of the time. On a cocktail of class A meds, he phases in and out of the moment. He spends half the day on an oxygen generator for emphysema. We still have fierce bouts over politics and sport. He never has fewer than five books on the go, everything from Ancient Rome and Shakespeare to contemporary biographies (he's partial to Bowie at the moment), and ever the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
He lost a part of himself, that bitter night. But he became somehow more of himself because of it. In many ways, utterly random and brutal though such accidents are, it was the making of him. I've been looking at that raw, tragic stump for two and a half decades, now. It still shocks me to recall what happened, longer ago than the births of my children. It breaks my heart to this day. But then I remember, he's still a whole dad. No less of a complete, confounding jigsaw puzzle of a man for want of a single absent piece.
Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell. Go easy out there, this coming week. Hang back from the edge. Stay behind the yellow line. Keep off the roads, if you can. Run for the shadows, but not for the train. Never, ever, run for the train. There will always be another. You might not be as lucky as Dad. Which is the way he sees it. Always has. It must be what saved him.
So this is Christmas. A brave and joyous, hopeful 2017 to you all. It's worth keeping in mind that life can turn on a sixpence, be demolished in a heartbeat. All we can do is love passionately, live honestly, and do what we do to the hilt, while we still can.