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Will I survive my mid-life marathon?

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

Rift Valley

‘I’ve got a brilliant idea,’ said Jools on the phone, his voice characteristically rising like a commentator on the Grand National as Red Rum comes in for the finish. ‘Tell me,’ I said. ‘We buy land in Kenya — and then sell it.’ ‘Genius,’ I said. Exclaimed Jools, ‘I know! And I’ll give you ten per cent!’

I have been telling Jools to buy land in Kenya for ages. Property prices are rising faster here than anywhere else in the world. I know a great deal about buying houses in these parts. It seemed natural that he would want me to advise him on such a business even if he appeared to have forgotten I’d suggested it to him in the first place.

For Jools and I, this was part of a protracted reconciliation after falling out badly, when we didn’t speak for several years. It’s a long story, but we were born in the same Kenyan hospital. As young correspondents we shared a house in Nairobi. Later we established a TV production company in London — a complete disaster with very few commissions. Jools and I got on so badly we had a fistfight in Burger King on Oxford Street. I left the company, slid into blissful poverty and met my wife Claire. Jools became a tycoon.


We were still friends. When we invited Jools for dinner, he’d come by and then after the starter he would leave to ‘go on’. We called this the BBD — Bigger, Better Deal. If he invited us to supper, we’d be asked to come for drinks after pudding — when the A-list guests had already departed. I did not like any of this. Jools nicknamed me ‘Mister Angry’.

At the opening of the nightclub China White, we both drank about 20 vodkas. En route home, Jools kicked me out of his BMW. I was wearing a pirate’s eye patch because I had been beaten up in a pub some days before. I could barely see my way home. Another night on the motorway Jools kicked me out of his car a second time.

Claire and I bought a flat. Jools bought a house. We bought a house and Jools bought a bigger one. We moved back to Africa and bought a ranch…and Jools didn’t.

When our daughter Eve was born, we asked Jools to be her godfather. We were all invited to a wedding in Suffolk. ‘Come in my new BMW,’ said Jools. I refused, but he wore me down. ‘Only if you don’t kick me out of your car.’ At the wedding we argued and the last I saw of Jools, he was racing around a ploughed field with all four doors open before vanishing. Good Samaritans gave Claire and Eve a lift back to our hotel but there was no room for me in their vehicle. I got another lift to the only place where I could get a taxi — on the other side of East Anglia — then drove back to Suffolk swearing all the way. Claire had spent an hour throwing pebbles at the hotel window to wake up the owners while Eve slept on a pub table. Jools was nowhere to be seen and Eve’s nappies and bottle were in his car.

I vowed I would never again travel in the same car as Jools. I would never again work with Jools. And I would never go to dinner with Jools.

But a lot of water passed under the bridge, and here we are. We’re friends again. And the call comes through: ‘I’ve got a brilliant idea…!’ I’m no longer broke — but rich people still give me that look, as if to say, ‘Hmm. Middle-aged hack. Shabby. Financially desperate.’ It worries me. By contrast Jools looks as if he’s just flown in from Ibiza.

For days he urges me to meet him in Nairobi. Supper, he says. Let’s have supper. Supper-supper-supper. ‘Are we having supper?’

I get in to Nairobi. Jools suggests I come to Tribe, the louche hotel where he’s putting up. When I arrive we talk about property development. Among other things he wants to buy… a ranch. ‘I can squeeze in the time to help you,’ I greedily offer, thinking about that ten per cent. Jools looks puzzled. ‘What do you mean? Aren’t you going to work on it full-time?’ Alarm bells are going off. As I order my food, Jools announces that he can’t stay for supper. He has plans — to ‘go on’. ‘Supper?’ — but then my food arrives and it’s all coming back to me. While I’m eating alone he looks at his watch and announces he’s late and must leave. The sound of his footsteps recedes and I say to my lamb chops, ‘Don’t worry about the lift – I’ve got my own car.’


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