Subject: Football & fear of dying (not — as far as I know — connected)...
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Thursday, 10 January 2002 00:00:00 +0000
To: All

Note before: This is an old “Diary Entry” from the Modem-Help site, re-jigged into the etmg format. The original site is now long gone.

I work a twilight shift, which means I work Californian hours (though in Britain), and returned home to watch the Wednesday Worthington Cup semi-final first-leg Football match between Chelsea (at home) & Tottenham Hotspur as-live recorded on Video.

Football matches for me are a difficult game of avoiding TV & handing out anathemas to any work colleague that may mention the game score, so that I can go home & watch the game as if it was live. The greatest majority of the workforce in the 24/7 Call-Centre that provides my income is male - except for management, of course - and football is a minor religion here. This is a little strange as the Call-Centre is located within Nottingham (ouch) & I come from Hull (ouch ouch). The canteen TV always has the free-to-air games on, and when a major game is showing this TV is put in a prominent place within the atrium of the centre. This makes good business sense, I guess, as it prevents half the workforce being “sick”. My shift pattern usually means that I can watch these games at home, but I often think of the calls being taken (even with the sound turned way down) with the call-handler having one eye on the TV.

An experience I had about 20 years ago causes the above to pale into insignificance. At the time I was working for East Yorkshire Glazing in Hull (they are a national firm now, and with a bit of luck will try to sue me - I’m still in touch with the individual who witnessed this) leading a couple of sales canvass teams. One afternoon I arrived back at the office with my team & one of them took our results for the day in to the sales office. She came back with a look of astonishment on her face, reporting that the TV in the corner was playing a hard-core pornographic video. One of the young sales guys was leaning back in his chair, feet up on the desk, watching 2 blokes getting sexual with a girl on a bed, the room full of loud grunting sounds, as he discussed patio doors on the telephone with some hapless Hull homeowner.

I got mad. I also made a mistake. The witness to this bizarre scenario pointed out that she was not bothered by the event, but I ignored her & took the Sales Manager to task, dressing him down & demanding that it not happen again. Two weeks later the (very successful) team was broken up & I was out of a job.

The football game (remember, the game - Chelsea v Spurs) was worth watching. Not utterly top flight - we’ve got to wait for the Summer for that - but engrossing. It had everything, really, that belongs with the modern game. 2 London teams that are bitter rivals. Chelsea, managed by a guy that couldn’t speak the native language when he arrived & with barely one Englishman in the team, seem like a foreign enclave ensconced within that most international of towns. Spurs - what could be more English than “Hotspur” (don’t write, there’s irony in there) - managed by a weirdo that has the football manager’s knack. Two players in the Chelsea team released on bail by a Magistrate’s Court on assault charges that very day (the events remain the same, only the names change). Important players missing because of bans or illness. Both teams have mastered the art of midfield one-touch passing - real sparkle. Appalling referee decisions - fouls given that should not, fouls not given that should have - but since the alternative would give us American Football, personally I’m happy. A stadium that has the fans really close to the field. For me, this is what English football should be like, but on the night some fans invaded onto the pitch & some bottles were thrown (and hit) some players. Don’t these stupid b*stards remember twenty or thirty years ago - they weren’t alive of course - and what the same events of that time all led to? Security fences, and Hillsborough, and mass death? Finally, 2 teams both up for it and trying to win. For the record, Chelsea won this leg 2-1.

Towards the end of the match, lying on my sofa watching the game, I found myself developing a strong muscle-ache in my back, well below my shoulder-blades on the right-hand side. It was uncomfortable, so after the game I decided to go to bed early, at about 3 am. Lying in my bed, waiting to fall asleep, I found myself suffering the most profound fear of dying.

This was both frightening & puzzling. Fear is itself frightening, which is what makes it so difficult to avoid once it starts. I do also have some tinder to catch alight - I’m no longer young & my heart-beat gave up on me a couple of years ago and, even though a defibrillator was put into my chest on 8 Apr 1999, my mind begins to worry about it every so often. But a muscle-ache as the cause of this? It was very puzzling. I know learning & reasoning to be the route out of this, so that is what I did.

I reckon that the brain is the only part of the body that’s afraid of dying. Most of our physical body dies all the time anyway - cells in the leg apparently only live for 7 seconds - and certainly do not suffer a fear of death. Both brains, however - head & spine - are immortal compared with the body. Their cells do not die & renew, like the body cells. The brain will, however, die at the end of the body’s time, and it has no hope of reincarnation or future continuance, unlike the soul, spirit or mind. Thus, the brain is afraid of death, and in a particular way, and this is what I was experiencing for a couple of hours as I lay in bed. But why?

Come sleep & the morning there was no trace of the night before. My mother had told me at Christmas that she had been having these fears since moving to a new bungalow, so I phoned her up. She reckoned that it was the old folks around her (she is 70+ herself) who are popping off one-by-one that is causing it for her, aggravated by her own health problems. Certainly, fear is very contagious. Arriving at work I immediately found 3 colleagues who had been kept awake until 6 or 7 am for different reasons (one had had a girlfriend throwing up all night). Then, just to cap it all, arriving home & watching one of my favourite TV programs video-ed whilst at work (Buffy the Vampire Killer) it turns out to be the episode where Buffy arrives home & finds her mum lying dead on the sofa. An excellent piece of TV & all that but I mean - what’s going on?

4 January 2004 A cruel site, changing most instances of “dead” to “Dead”, I came across this page afresh for the first time since I wrote it. Checking the date, with a very strange feeling, I then realised that it was written precisely a year--to the day--before my mother died.

12 January 2015: I could not face writing about my mum’s death nor her funeral at the time. Essentially I wasn’t able to function beyond what was absolutely necessary. Here’s the short sentence that I wrote in the index to the site Diary:

10 Jan 2003: My mother has died at 10 minutes past 8 in the morning at Dove House hospice in Hull, today. The funeral will be at 10 am on 20 Jan. No flowers — donations to the Hospice, please.

02 February 2016: About 5 years after the incidents spoken of here I discovered what what causing the original discomfort: it was kidney stones. Kidney stones are ‘fixed’ by drinking sufficient water, though that is something that needs to be a habit before they ever develop. The complication for late middle-age men is that the prostate tends to swell & place pressure on the bladder, which in turn tends to cause them to drink less water.

Alex Kemp