I went up on the train to Newcastle last Thursday to see my dear friend Gazza. He has had my manuscript of his life story for six weeks now, but not yet managed to read it. Probably hasn't read a book in his life, that's what you could be thinking. And you'd be wrong. By his bedside, the last time I saw him, were five weighty volumes by American doctors and academics - all about depression and anxiety. But it's true that he doesn't read books for pleasure.
I need talk. I read books for work not pleasure, though they often turn out to be pleasurable. I recently read 50 books on adoption while writing a book about triplets who had been adopted. God, was that heavy going.
Paul met me outside the station, looking great, with a brilliant tan - all from a sunbed - lean and fit with his hair newly dyed silver. Then he started moaning and groaning. He'd got up at two in the morning to start on the manuscript, managing to read for four hours, then he'd gone to the gym. He was now knackered, but had got only halfway through.
I was desperate for him to read it, every word. When he does the publicity, it would be so embarrassing if he gets asked about things he knows nothing about. I haven't made up any stories, certainly not, but I have put a few thoughts into his mouth that he didn't quite say, though I felt he felt them. I also wanted him to check any facts, dates or names, which I could easily have got wrong and which might hurt other people. I suspect that Roy Keane hardly read Eamon Dunphy's biography of him, not properly, judging by Roy's smirks and evasions when being interviewed.
So I sat with Paul for another four hours while he laboriously went through every page, his head down, his brow furrowed. I said: "Just talk aloud the bits you don't like, I'll make notes, no need for you to write things." But he insisted - correcting all my spelling mistakes. He did, after all, pass CSE English. He failed maths, his best subject, because his desk collapsed. All his fault. He took the screws apart to see how it worked.
While he read, not stopping for food or coffee or even a break (so who says he has an attention deficit problem?), I poked around the flat. He's staying with Jimmy Five Bellies, in his spare room, for reasons explained in the book. Jimmy was out roofing. I hadn't been to the flat before, and half expected a lads' den with fag ends, pin-ups, empty bottles, dirty clothes, dirty dishes. But it was pristine. White carpet, immaculate walls, little glass tables. In the fridge, there was no beer, only Red Bull. Paul, after all, has been teetotal for over a year now. Well done.
After another four hours, he had finished the manuscript, saying he was about to collapse, he could never do that again. But he insisted on driving me back to the station, which I wish he hadn't. I am always scared stiff by his driving.
On the train home, I did have a few drinks to celebrate a successful trip, and got a taxi home from King's Cross. I, too, was knackered, having got up at six to catch the early train. I went straight to bed - little knowing that I had left half of Paul's annotated manuscript in the taxi, the only existing copy.
About an hour later, I was wakened by loud knocking on the front door. I could hear my wife answering it, taking in some package, saying thank you. She didn't, of course, know I had left anything in the taxi, but she gave him a fiver, which was all she had in her purse. It was the second half of the manuscript, about 200 photostatted pages that I'd left behind, but with no title page, neither my name nor Gazza's anywhere. It would have been understandable if the cab driver had just binned it. And I would have been distraught. I don't think Gazza could have read it again.
The taxi driver had driven halfway across London, gone up and down our street knocking at doors, as he hadn't seen which house I had gone into. All for a measly fiver. If you know any drivers of black cabs, pass on the word. I definitely owe him one. There could even be a free copy of the finished book. A thousand thanks, whoever it was . . .