It’s hard to know what to say on a day like today.

My nephew Michael would have been 18.

After spending the last year writing about him in a fictional sense, it’s difficult to come back to the reality of his absence. I prefer to imagine.

I imagine I’d probably have been taking him out for his first legal pint (which he’d almost certainly hate) and talking to him about what it means to be an adult; I mean, one of us would hopefully figure it out. Especially with beer.

Then I’d take ownership of the pint that he’d abandoned, try to say something meaningful to mark the occasion, quoting Kipling or something, mess it up and give him the car keys in resignation.

Designated drivers! That would be the meaningful lesson of the day.

After all, Michael liked driving and would have had his licence by now, given the opportunity. And I suspect that would become the theme of our conversation: opportunity.

I wonder what he’d have made of the past three years he missed, if he’d had the opportunity?

If he’d survived, he’d have probably have barely noticed COVID-19 lockdowns – having effectively been in personal lockdown since the age of nine due to chemotherapy, immuno-suppression et al. It would have been business as normal. Or perhaps he would have raged at yet another reason he couldn’t go swimming. I also suspect he would have been disappointed at the lack of zombies. Nonetheless, now he would have his whole life ahead of him, and we could have talked about what he was planning to do with it.

He had ambitions to be a HGV driver, which makes me wonder what he’d have made of the Brexit/Dover fiasco. Unlike his grumbling remoaner uncle, I think he would have seen opportunity. Plenty of lorry driving jobs now, after all. I’d probably have muttered something about hoping he enjoyed sitting in queues and shitting in bushes. Because swearing is okay now too, okay? He wouldn’t have approved.

But I shouldn’t discourage him from becoming a noble knight of the road (as Mum used to describe old-school lorry drivers). Because Michael also liked tanks, and I’d worry he’d somehow see an opportunity in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He’d be following the coverage I’m sure, if only to identify all the vehicles he recognised from the war games he enjoyed playing. I’d try to talk sagely about the horrors of war and he’d tune me out and change the subject. I don’t know how I’d deal with that one. I know we shouldn’t look away, but at the same time I wouldn’t want to encourage the fetishisation of war.

But ultimately, he would be an adult. Entitled to make his own mind up, and he would have upheld the long-standing family tradition of ignoring everything the older windbags have to say.

I would have respected that, and been proud (and okay, a bit annoyed). But mostly, I’d have been glad that he had the opportunity.

But he didn’t. So we can only think of him and wonder what might have been, and make the best of our opportunities while we can.

Cheers Michael, happy birthday fella. See you in the next room.


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