Me and my brother Gary haven’t spoken properly in about 15 years.
There was no major row, disturbance or Jimmy Saville-esque secret to this, it just happened gradually over the years.
I still don’t know the exact reasons why.
Contact ceased completely in about 1998 and all attempts I’ve made to get in touch since then have been met with a reply along the lines of “fuck off you cunt.”
I missed him badly and tried to get used to the idea that my brother was no longer around, wanted nothing to do with me and probably hated my guts.
I heard stories about him from my Dad that either filled me with a sense of admiration or complete amazement or both. Gary has a 2nd class honours degree in Social Psychology. He lifts weights and is hugely muscled on his arms and chest. He has tattoos down both his arms. He gained a black belt in Judo, a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu and won a silver medal in a Thai national Jiu Jitsu championship a couple of years ago. He recently passed a Post Graduate certificate of Education in Teaching. He works teaching English to little kids in Thailand. He has a long term girlfriend.
He has very little sense of fear and is immensely focussed. He also doesn’t suffer fools at all and after being attacked in a pub by a guy punching him in the back of the head (brave lad) he got up and hit the other man back so hard he broke his cheek bone. Police then turned up and arrested the other bloke as witnesses confirmed he’d started it.
While in Australia in 2003 he heard the locals were “Pommy bashing” due to the Rugby World Cup and just to prove a point, went on his own alone into a bar full of Antipodeans to watch the final. When England won he got into an argument with an Ozzy who went and fetched a few of his mates and it ended up in a bar brawl.
Highly intelligent. Works teaching kids. Does martial arts. Is incredibly strong. Won’t back down.
Last summer in Plakias there was a 3 day overlap between me arriving and him leaving. I hadn’t seen him since 1998 and when we met it was stilted and very uncomfortable and ended up in an argument where I got up and walked away. He flew back to Thailand before I saw him again.
This year there was a 6 day overlap and Dad had made us both promise to behave ourselves while staying at his house. The best analogy would be ‘Highlanders cannot fight on holy ground.’
So, with this meeting of the Israelis and the Palestinians under one roof, I was decidedly nervous the day he was due to arrive.
Then Dad got a phone call to say that my brother had missed his connecting flight in Dubai and would have to wait till the next day for another one.
Next day at about 7pm my Dad got a call from Lost & Found at Heraklion airport in Crete to say that there was someone who wanted to speak to him. My brother had had his money belt stolen containing all his cash (about 1000 Euros) and all his credit cards. Dad arranged for a taxi to pick him up from a firm he was friendly with and after 3 hours he finally arrived. I went out and shook hands with the cab driver, took one of my brother’s backpacks and walked him via torch light to the apartment.
“Dad’s asleep. You ok?”
“Not really no.”
We got into the flat and my brother walked straight over to my father who was sleeping on a mattress on the floor and woke him up with a hug. Realising they would probably want to catch up I went out to get drunk in the bars around town.
The relationship was more polite than last time but I had no hopes that anything would change much.
Then one afternoon something bad happened.
I was asleep at 12pm in the bedroom after a heavy session until 6am where I’d also smoked some weed. My head was fucked and I was trying to remain in the oblivion of unconsciousness until my hangover abated. There was a knock at the door and my brother was there, a little drunk and asked if I wanted to watch Mad Max 2 with him on YouTube. I said I would but not just now. I then lay down again and half an hour later he knocked again. When I opened the door he grimaced, stumbled into the room and mumbled “get me a doctor I think I’m going to die” and fell over the bed, violently puking on the bedroom floor.
I lunged over and yanked my camera and phone chargers out the wall socket in case he got a bad case of “electrocution by vomit” and then ran for the bathroom, grabbing Dads’ plastic washing bowl and returning to stick it under Gary’s face.
Trying to talk to him didn’t get a reaction and he just lay there.
“Hey, sit up don’t lie down” I yelled and with much grunting and hauling, managed to heave him to the edge of the bed with the bowl between his feet.
“I’m going to get help, wait there.”
I took my phone and headed into the village. Problem was that my father was nowhere to be found and wasn’t picking up when I called him. Heading down to Joe’s bar and no one had seen my old man. The pool bar gave me the number of a local doctor and I rang Wolf, an old friend who dropped everything and came over to lend a hand.
I got home and Gary had fallen off the bed and was lying on the floor, tattoos everywhere and fast asleep.
I slapped his face hard a few times and yelled “HEY! WAKE UP!!!” His eyes fluttered open, he looked up in confusion and then managed to haul himself up into a sitting position.
“Lance, I can’t think” he managed to croak. “I need a doctor.”
As he was only in his shorts I handed him his clothes but he could barely move so I helped him get dressed.
Wolf took one look at him and called the local Cretan doctor, who turned up 20 minutes later and took one look at him and went “I can’t help him, get him to hospital.”
This was less of a medical referral and more of ‘being a lazy cunt’ as his ‘evaluation’ consisted of asking my brother his name and how he felt. Reply was an almost-whispered, “My name’s Gary, and I’m not taking the piss mate but I feel like fucking shit!”
The doctor left.
The hospital was 25 miles away.
My brother looked like he was going to die.
Wolf had gone back home so I called him again, asking if he’d take us. He agreed without hesitation and turned up 10 minutes later. He pointed out that Gary might have to stay the night and to grab a change of clothes and a towel. I took what I could, plus some money, water and Gary’s passport, well aware that without proof of medical insurance we would have to pay all treatment up front, in cash.
As we sat in the car Gary turned to me and mumbled, “Don’t let me fall asleep. I don’t think I’ll wake up.”
As we hadn’t communicated in 15 years beyond vitriol and foul language, I was momentarily at a loss for what to talk about so stuck to safe bets about our childhood. Gary chuckled at a few stories and reminded me of games we used to play as kids, some of which I’d forgotten. I then switched to TV shows and we got onto the awesome Starz show ‘Spartacus’. Wolf then piped up how much he loved the original Kirk Douglas movie from the 1960s and we chatted about the merits of each. Gary still looked like shit and was pale, his eyelids fluttering and his head lolling. After about 20 minutes he patted my leg with his hand and said quietly “thank you” and tried to smile.
At the hospital the A&E department referred us straight to Pathology. Wolf lent me 100 Euros and said he had to go, leaving us there. Gary could barely stand by this point so I asked a passing doctor if he could lay down somewhere. The doctor told me to take one of the trolley beds from outside. Getting Gary onto it was a task, particularly as the sodding thing’s brakes were busted. Finally I jammed it against the wall and he climbed up, laying down on his side and dozing. The nurse came out and told me to bring him in. Wheeling him in was hard, as the doorway was narrow but I finally got him into the room and the nurse then snapped “You, wait outside.”
I still had a hangover and anxiety issues from being pissed and stoned the night before. I sat on one of the metal chairs outside the Pathology lab and tried to sleep, my mind churning with what was going on and the knowledge that my brother could be seriously sick. I called Dad and finally got through, reassuring him that Gary would be OK and I’d wait with him until he was discharged, even staying overnight if I had to.
After about 3 hours I finally saw him walking back from the toilet down the corridor, an intravenous drip in left arm and the bag in his right hand. He looked far from happy and still looked really ill, albeit better than when we arrived.
“Gary! You ok?” I stood up.
He grimaced and said “They’ve given me this, have to wait now” and went back in the lab and lay down on his bed.
After another hour or so the nurse came out and told him to sit in a wheelchair, hooking his bag up to a drip stand. She handed me some forms and said “Go and get these stamped by that man over there,” pointing to a morose looking bearded Greek in a glass booth near the exit. “Once you have done this, take these to the Blood Analysis lab and get them tested.” She handed me 4 vials of Gary’s blood.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
“Whatever he was doing last night,” she said curtly and walked away.
As the drip stand’s wheels were stuck Gary held the bag above his head and we walked to the booth. The guy spoke no English but luckily a woman before us in the queue did and told us we had to pay 67 Euros before we could get the forms stamped. I pointed out that was about half our money and we needed to get home by taxi. The guy shrugged and via the translator said that if we DIDN’T pay him, then everything stopped here. I realised we still had just about enough so coughed up and he dutifully banged the forms with ink.
As we walked to the next lab, Gary growled “I was going to take those forms and shove them up his arse.”
The nurse at Blood Analysis said that we’d have to wait a further 2 hours. Gary was bored, in pain (big needle in his arm) and pissed off. “Fuck this! Where’s the toilet” he snapped. “I’m going to rip this fucking thing out my arm!”
I reasoned with him that we should stay and 2 hours of his time was worth it for knowing whether or not he was seriously sick. He reluctantly agreed and we sat there, again remembering our childhood and laughing about things.
“You remember the ‘bummer’ joke from school?” he asked grinning.
“Nope. Which one?”
“In the 1970s, walk up to another kid and ask ‘are you a bummer tied to a tree?’ When they replied ‘no!’ the other person would shout ‘AAAHHH! BUMMER ON THE LOOSE!”
This set me off into giggles as I had forgotten about this for over 30 years but remembered it clearly now he’d reminded me.
“Do you remember every playtime when we went back to class you’d kiss me on the cheek, even if I tried to stop you?” I asked him. “Any kid watching would always go “OOOH” BUMMERS!!!”
He laughs at that and we get round to talking about The Goodies and Tiswas and our favourite cartoon Marine Boy (with his electric boomerang and Oxygum).
Then I notice that his drip bag is not dripping any more and the pipe is full of blood. The nurse in the office says to go back to Pathology. When we get there the same nurse we originally saw says that by not keeping it elevated the thing has stopped working. She smiles as she changes the bag for another one, telling us it has to be kept high or it won’t work.
“What’s in that?” I ask.
“Saline…salt. He needs it.”
“What’s made him sick…apart from last night?”
She smiles again. “Fever, too much alcohol, too much sun and he said he hasn’t eaten for 2 days. Not good.”
We make our way back to the Blood lab, me holding a drip stand like a golf umbrella as we mooch along. After another hour I notice blood is appearing in the tube again. I stand over Gary and we chat about The Tomorrow People and Alas Smith & Jones while I gently massage the blood back down the tube into his arm. Luckily the saline solution starts to work again and we wait.
Finally the nurse gives us the results and back in Pathology they say he can go if he wants to. She takes him in and dismantles the drip. He comes out with his arm dripping blood and wedges some toilet paper into the crook of his elbow.
As we wait outside I call the taxi firm my Dad’s friendly with and arrange to get picked up. The price is only 35 Euros meaning I now have enough for food too. I haven’t eaten since last night. A mixture of adrenalin, hangover, anxiety and general abuse of my body for over 3 weeks has killed my appetite. I realise we both need to eat and find a local grocers. I get two sandwiches and a couple of cartons of Ribena.
Sitting on the wall opposite the hospital entrance I hand him his grub and Gary looks at me, smiles and extends his hand.
“Thanks” he says and I can see he means it.
“Any time,” I reply and he grips my hand hard as he shakes it.
When the cab finally arrives we get home and the night goes much the same as any other.
It was only the next day that I realised just how serious this incident had been.
My Dad’s friends were well aware of what could politely be called ‘sibling rivalry’ between me and Gary. A guy named Richard came up to me in Joe’s bar the next afternoon and said “at the end of the day blood’s thicker than water. You did the right thing. Well done,” and shook my hand.
Later that day me and Gary were watching one of our favourite movies from our childhood, Flash Gordon (the one with Queen on the soundtrack) and were both quite drunk. It got to the scene where Flash and Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) were fighting a gladiatorial battle on a moving, spiked platform hanging over an abyss. Barin is hanging off the edge, while the awesome Brian Blessed as Voltan the Hawkman whoops with laughter. This was meant to be a fight to the death but Flash dangles precariously on the platform and says to Barin “take my hand” and then pulls him up. Timothy Dalton played this scene very well, emoting clearly the confusion and disbelief the character feels at being saved by a man whose head he was trying to push onto a spike a few minutes earlier. He then shakes Flash’s hand and says “where you go, I will follow.”
Gary turned to me and said, “That’s what happened yesterday” then continued watching the film.
At the time I thought he simply meant that two guys who didn’t like each other had made their peace but later on I realised what he actually meant. That night me and Dad were walking down to Joe’s bar and Gary wasn’t with us. I was very drunk and asked my Dad, “Did he really think I’d have left him to die?” my voice cracking and tears welling up.
Dad shrugged and said, “I don’t know. But he did say he appreciates what you did for him. He believes you saved his life.”
I got riotously pissed that night and at 5am came home to find Gary on the balcony in the darkness, waiting to watch the sunrise. I sat next to him and we again had a good laugh about our childhood as the dawn broke over the beautiful scenery and seascape of Plakias I turned to him and asked directly, “Do you really believe I’d have left you to die?”
He just looked at me and said nothing.
“Give me a hug” I said. And he did. All that was missing was that Rolf Harris’s ‘Two Little Boys’ wasn’t playing in the background.
Two days later it was my last night in the town and I took Dad and Gary out for dinner. I deliberately chose Sifi’s taverna next to Joe’s bar for this. Sifi always calls me ‘Son of Mike’ whenever he sees me and I really wanted to hear the following dialogue which to my great joy, I did.
Sifi saw me walk up and went “Heeey, Son of Mike,” and shook my hand. Then he saw Dad and went, “and Mike, hello.” Then he saw Gary and loudly went “TWO sons of Mike,” which made all of us laugh and made Dad grin broadly.
A pleasant evening and a few beers and as I had to get up early I stayed sober. Next morning me and Gary watched a few YouTube videos together (The Goodies taking the piss out of Arthur C Clarke is one of the funniest things I’ve EVER seen. The Smith & Jones sketch of the ‘Businessmen Babies’ is a close second) and as I went to leave he hugged me again and said:
“Thank you. The money I owe you I’ll pay you back when I get to Thailand OK?”
I got my stuff in my friend’s car and walked over to Gary again, patting his shoulder and saying, “You take care of yourself, yeah.”
He looked at me, smiled and shook my hand hard, not letting go and nodded.
I got in the car and drove to the airport with my friend.
I think God/ Nature/ Fate was saying, “Right! You two are going to sort this shit out once and for all. Sit in a room and deal with it. One’s sick the other’s not. Off you go.”