As I'm passing his desk on the sixth floor of Broadcasting House, Mike Garland turns and wiggles a finger at me. Only when I'm crouched by his side does he whisper his bit of news: "Roger's gone into hospital."
I'm well aware why Mike has forced me into this collusive posture. When you reach my age and still pursue a mildly dissolute life, no one ever tells you about anyone else's illness without simultaneously suggesting that the surgeons have got the wrong person on the operating table. Whatever Roger's current condition, Mike would be hell-bent on implying that it was morally unfair that such a fate should have befallen someone who had so recently given up smoking and drinking and started to spend every second morning of his life on a running machine.
I adjusted my crouch so as to take a little weight off my left knee (which has been giving me a spot of bother since my nasty fall from the harbour wall during the Padstow May Day celebrations) and asked about the nature of the problem. "Heart," whispered Mike, as though naming a hitherto undiscovered organ. "Apparently, he'd been to the gym as usual and noticed when he got home that he had a throbbing in his stomach. It didn't bother him too much, but his wife suggested a check-up, and it turned out to be his aorta. Hugely swollen. So they rushed him to hospital and did the operation the same afternoon. Huge cut. Right across the stomach. Had to take out the spleen. Lost three and a half litres of blood. Nearly didn't make it. And yet you saw him at James Boyle's farewell bash five weeks ago, didn't you? Never looked better."
I did my best to suggest I was grasping every nuance of Mike's analysis, even though I was absorbed by the more immediate problem of converting litres into pints so as to have a clearer idea of exactly how many milk bottles it would have taken to contain Roger's lost blood. "Never knew you could have problems with the aorta," said Mike. "But I suppose that, as you get older, you become more like an old car. Unless you take proper care of yourself, parts you didn't know you had simply drop off." I put off phoning Roger for three days on the grounds that anyone who'd lost so much blood (not to mention an entire spleen) was unlikely to welcome a call from a former colleague who'd previously only engaged him in animated conversation about the minor resurgence of Liverpool under Gerald Houllier, or the relative broadcasting talents of Melvyn Bragg and Jeremy Paxman.
When I finally rang, he apologised for sounding so hoarse. "They put these tubes down your throat." I told him he sounded fine, just fine, and slowly nudged the talk around towards my own agenda. "What's all this about the old aorta?" I asked. "Apparently, it's one of those things," he told me. "Happens in some people. Completely unpredictable." "So it could happen to anyone?" (Anyone, for example, who happens to drink and smoke and chooses to regard the occasional ten-minute stroll to Safeway's off-licence as an aerobic workout.) "More or less anyone."
Yesterday was retribution day. "Mike," I whispered, crouching by his desk. "I had a little word with Roger yesterday. He's feeling much better. Apparently, it could happen to anyone. Nothing to do with your lifestyle. Completely fortuitous. Like a bite from a malarial mosquito." I slapped him heartily on the back, stood up briskly and made for the door. I might have turned back, smiled, and said "Nice try, you old bugger", if I hadn't been so busy wincing from a sudden and slightly novel pain in my left knee.