There's this old joke, credited to some old literary gent; forgotten who first supposedly said it. Each morning on waking up, he opens the newspaper and turns to the obituary pages. Having checked he isn't in, he decides
to get out of bed. Har har.
What I do every morning is study the birthdays. After reading the football pages, of course - I do have my priorities right. Over the past few years, Today's Birthdays have grown bigger and broader. All the quality papers have long lists, taken from a wide section of national life, not just boring old ambassadors and bishops, as in ye olden days.
I have this game I play with myself. I have to have known, or met in the flesh, at least one of the birthday boys or girls named each morning in the Independent, otherwise I can't start my own work. My record is three; two is not unusual, but I suppose the average, over the year, is one. Sometimes, I have met none, so I go out and buy the Times and Guardian, hoping they'll have longer lists - and very often they do.
I have met loads of well-knownish folk, not because they are my best chums, but because of the nature of my work - interviewing for the Sunday Times, later the Indie, plus writing biogs.
The other day (24 February, to be precise), I was getting a bit worried about a barren trawl when, towards the end, I came across two. One was David Langdon, the cartoonist and illustrator, 96 that day. I sat beside him once at a Punch table lunch - so that counts, oh yes, whose rules are they? The other was Denis Law, aged 70.
I interviewed him once, and also had a long discussion about him with David Hockney. It was in 1966, when Hockney was 29 and living in a scruffy little flat in Bayswater. He had just dyed his hair blond while on a trip to the US. He'd been having a few drinks and watching TV with a friend when an advert came on saying "Blondes have more fun". They both rushed out, bought some stuff, dyed their hair.
While with Hockney, I went to his lavatory - and there, on the wall, was a photo of Denis Law, torn from a newspaper. When I came back, I said, heh, I didn't know you were a football fan. "I'm not," he said, "I just like his thighs."
I never mentioned that incident in the piece, not in 1966. Seemed a bit rude, possibly illegal. Denis Law was known for his thighs - mainly because he used to hitch up his shorts and give us all a good gape. He was, in fact, quite thin and slender - which he still is, judging by recent photographs. Unlike most retired footballers, he did not immediately turn fat and bloated, bald and unrecognisable.
Denis Law, aged 70. I can't believe it. In my mind, he will be 26 for ever, the golden-haired imp, scoring cheeky goals for Scotland and Man United.
Oh, I do hate it when those lumpen Chelsea fans hold up banners saying "JT, Captain, Leader, Legend" or, even worse, apply the epithet to Ashley Cole. The word legend, along with icon, has been totally degraded. Today, you only have to play five games without falling over or scoring an own-goal and you are immediately accorded legendary status.
Denis Law will never age - being a true legend.