On Wednesday I had a bad day. Amore left for a business event at Berchtesgarten first thing in the morning, meaning I was on my own for the next couple of days. And what was worse was that she hadn’t even given me a hint as to what she’d be getting up to at this conference at Hitler’s old Eagle’s Nest… I instead decided to let her keep her secrets and gather evidence passively for later use. Suited and (jack)booted, she landed a shower of kisses upon my face whilst I blearily howked my arse.
Ciao Amore ciao, ti amo, ciao.
…As if that wasn’t bad enough, workmen were tinkering, as they often seem to in Munich, with the heating and water systems of my apartment building which meant that I couldn’t shower before work. As I hadn’t showered the night before, and as I perform physical labour in a warehouse for a living the situation was likely to become ‘nasally problematic’.
Crumpled and decaffeinated (no running water for coffee either), I left for work. I was in a huff, frankly. I couldn’t be bothered to listen to the Sam Harris podcast witter on, I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to drink my cancerous takeaway cappuccino and I definitely didn’t want to go to the warehouse. But the world doesn’t owe you a living and Germany certainly doesn’t either, so off I went bundled down the U3 UBahn line, staring wistfully at my own unkempt reflection in the carriage window.
Immediately after having taken my seat at work I realised, dolt that I am, that I had left the kitchen tap open back home in the vain hope that should the water kick back in whilst I sat contemplating whether to fill the kettle with toilet water, I would be able to shower after all. You see it was in that moment that I had noted with piqued interest that Amore had left her leather trench-coat and officer’s hat over the sofa arm, when I finally gave up and distractedly left for work. I confessed my stupidity to the management who kindly allowed me to go home only five hours after my dim realisation, usefully giving me the opportunity to bear witness to my kitchen table and chairs go tumbling through the sinkhole into the flat below. And then I received a message. My friend Martyn had died.
Martyn was dead? How? What do you mean? My table and chairs had gone beyond? What a day I was having. That was my first thought. Seriously, it was. Another thing. I am not a man used to bereavements, certainly of friends my own age, and I was surprised and a touch ashamed to note the immediate self-centredness of my reaction to the news. Martyn was dead? I had only spoken to him two days ago about my blog and I was still yet to receive any feedback from him, and the week before that we’d agreed to meet for a pint over Christmas. Surely that meant he was simply ignoring me like we all do to each other, not actually physically unable to respond?
I sat for what felt like many hours and thought about him. I had met him two years ago when we both joined the company at the same time and right from the beginning I noticed him, first as a competitor in the interview process to be feared, courted, and then smote; and laterally as a bright and funny colleague with an air that put us all at our ease. When I spoke to him I recognised much of myself in him and we were able to converse as though we’d known each other for a long time almost immediately. He certainly wouldn’t have needed an explanation as to what Berchtesgarten had been. He had the air of a seasoned academic when he spoke, inherent even within the tone of his voice, along with an appreciation for a good anecdote.
When he and I began at the company we were both trained along with two other new starts Dan Ellis and Kieran Mackenzie. For three weeks we were with each other in a small white office designated the ‘training room’ which immediately reminded me of the room in ‘The Matrix’ in which Neo has his lips digitally stitched together and his body bugged by Agent Smith. Eilidh, our corporate reeducator (sorry, trainer), got us to introduce ourselves to the many new faces we saw with an interesting fact about ourselves. Dan introduced himself to us as a minimalist who kept his possessions in boxes under his bed and said that if he didn’t need to retrieve an item from that box within six months then he concluded that he had no further use for it and thus burned it in a barrel behind his house on the night of a full moon whilst not wearing any clothes. He didn’t speak again for the remaining three weeks. Kieran misunderstood the purpose entirely and gave us a half-baked interview answer about him being able to work alone but also function as part of a close team. I’d heard that RGU was a vocational college but to see everything as an interview situation? I mean, come on! He’d already got the job! I ran out of steam by day five and began to shuffle my existing facts, deploying them according to how attractive I found the new person I was meeting. But Martyn, my old colleagues can confirm, gave a new fact every day for three weeks, each more interesting than the last. Here he was in his element, sharing funny stories from his life in which he was often the comedic hero. My favourite one was the time he became the first person to attempt to take a pizza through the security of the House of Commons when he was running late for a meeting, eventually giving rise to the absurd circumstance of being told off by William Hague as he blundered into the wrong room. I can imagine Martyn, given the ultimatum from an underpaid G4S employee of either getting to his meeting on time or eating his pizza, holding up a line of MPs waiting to have their inner thighs frisked as he chomped on a pepperoni slice without a care in the world. He’d paid for the pizza and by God he was going to finish it.
Martyn was dead? How? What do you mean? My table and chairs had gone beyond? What a day I was having.
My thoughts turned to a Halloween party hosted by my brother’s girlfriend (both of whom also worked with Martyn and I). I walked into the flat dressed as a budget Pat Bateman from American Psycho hoping to be a hit with the ladies. On my way down the hall I was accosted by a guy wearing an extremely intricate Batman costume who was eyeballing me intently without saying a word. It was genuinely unnerving.
“Alright mate?” I said defensively, trying to get him to reveal his identity or purpose.
He remained silent, so I squeezed passed his bulging breastplate, scratching the back of my head awkwardly with my plastic axe. I spun on my heel to find him still giving me the stink-eye.
“Wait… Martyn?!” I said, as something linking a Batman costume to the man clunked into place. Immediately the steely eyes crinkled into laughter, and I felt I saw the echo of Martyn’s slight frame jar comically with the giant kevlar pecs bouncing around on his chest as he laughed, his tin of Tennents quaking in his hand. Indeed this suit, the subject I seem to recall of another of his interesting facts, was worn another day by Martyn as he was fastened to a lamppost by his friends for reasons known only to them. All I can say is that, whether it was pizza inexplicably sourced metres from the Houses of Parliament or a £400 vulcanised rubber Batman suit, Martyn invested money in the things he cared about.
One of the funniest things I have ever seen occurred the following morning, when both Martyn and I had the misfortune to be at work. I was not permitted to wear suit trousers on the shop-floor, and, as I’d spent the night on my brother’s sofa, suit trousers were all I had. I therefore rented a ghastly pair of jeans (unbeknownst to them) from H&M so that I could work that day. I had also applied a liberal amount of fake blood to my face to recreate the scene in which Batemen does Paul Allen in with an axe as Huey Lewis and the News plays in the background. My brother’s girlfriend, at six am, after the party had ended, set about me with a cotton face-pad to try to remove it but succeeded only so far as reducing my status from mass-murderer to victim of a severe detergent allergy. When I saw Martyn across the shop floor, groggily talking about insurance policies with an absolutely baffled pensioner, it appeared that he’d run into similar trouble given that he’d almost completely failed to remove the black eye make-up he’d been wearing beneath his mask, giving him the ridiculous quality of looking as though he’d not so much ‘woke up’ that morning, as been dug up.
I found I’d conveyed myself back home in the course of these sharp reminiscences. The tap was open, water flowing, and sink half-full. Or should I say half-empty? There were dishes piled up around it. I turned it off and sat down. It is so cruel that a man as promising as Martyn was taken so young, and, as an added insult, so close to Christmas and I ache for his family. It does them good to know, I hope, that Martyn was a dear friend to many and a charismatic mover in life. My phone screen was lit by notifications pouring in: messages from old colleagues asking me if I had heard the news; messages of disbelief from others whom I had told in shock; reassurances and promises to find out more from others. At the time of writing the cause of Martyn’s passing is unknown to me, other than that it seems to have happened in his sleep, and we can only hope to take the small comfort we can from the fact that he was therefore hopefully oblivious. One conversation in my messages remained silent, and now, always would. I wondered that I should delete it, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I would make his death more real if I did. No longer could I seek his valuable career counsel or make him laugh.
In truth I didn’t know Martyn on a day-to-day basis. Certainly not as one of his close friends or one of his family, whom we all think of now. Ours was the kind of relationship that would pass for months in silence only to be broken, as was the case this time, by a decontextualised clip of a Sanders supporting android on their knees screaming ‘NOOOOOOO!’ as a tannoy announces the election of Donald J Trump to the White House. But these are not the problems in life. In our company there is a special bond formed between those who go through their training together. Indeed, Eilidh, our trainer, was the first to tell me the news and I felt that she had lost one of her own. Our group of trainees was her first ever batch. I think of him now and I miss him. As the new year comes in I will raise a glass to Martyn, and do my best to live without waste of time or effort in respect to him, who now need not worry about the cares of this world, but who will rest for the ages in peace.