What do I have in common with Sir Ian Botham and Freddie Mercury I hear you ask? To answer that we need to return to August 1986, but before that let’s travel briefly to the mid-70s.
I was a very skinny kid. Growing up I was always conscious of my bandy legs, pencil thin and knobbly kneed they were. Strong, muscled, masculine they weren’t. I have a lingering memory of my mum coercing me to put shorts on during one particularly long, hot summer. It could have been the heatwave of ’76, I can’t recall exactly, but I do remember that I was so self conscious of my twiggy extensions that I refused to take off my (probably flared) corduroy trousers when I went out to play.
And yet here I am, in middle age, now overweight, and now as conscious of my heftiness, as I was of my skinniness as a child. I’m not the kind of person who gains and loses weight, I don’t yo-yo like some people do. To borrow a mathematical term, my weight has been monotonically increasing since the day I was born, give or take the odd diet or Delhi belly episode, here and there.
This led me to thinking therefore, that there must have been a point when I was the ideal weight, sometime between ‘then’ and ‘now’. There must have been a moment where my physical stature was just about right. I don’t want to con my readership by suggesting I was ever Adonis-like in any way, and I am sure even back then I was still unhappy about certain features, but of course what I never realised or appreciated, was that that was it, that was the best it was ever going to be for me. Only hindsight offers me such a perspective.
I remember after I left university and started working in London, that I slowly started to become conscious of my weight. The heavy boozing through my university years and the inevitable slowdown in physical activity that accompanied it, were starting to take their toll. That was September 1986, ergo, I reckon August 1986 must have been when I was at my absolute physical peak.
I remember now, I went on holiday to the USA in August 1986. We were 2 boys and 2 girls fresh out of university. We travelled through Connecticut, New England, New Hampshire, Vermont, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago. We visited Niagara, we took in a baseball game at the White Sox, we stayed in cheap motels, we stopped wherever and whenever we wanted and we partied long into the night. I think one hot day on that trip I even took my t-shirt off, further evidence if needed that I was indeed at one with my physical self. Happy days.
Also during that month in August 1986, when I was enjoying my peak, one of my boyhood heroes, Ian Botham (a man who ironically also battled with his weight later in his career), returned to test cricket after a ban for taking Cannabis. He was recalled at The Oval against New Zealand, and with his second and 12th balls took the two wickets he needed to equal, and pass, Dennis Lillee’s then world record of 355 Test wickets. Botham went on to play international cricket until 1992 but only collected another 30 or so wickets in those intervening 6 years.
August 1986 was also the month that saw Queen play their last live gig with Freddie Mercury as frontman. Mercury’s final live performance with Queen took place on 9 August 1986 at Knebworth Park and which was rumoured to draw an attendance estimated to be as high as 300,000.
So the answer to the opening conundrum is that Andy Ramsden, Ian Botham and Freddie Mercury all enjoyed their peak in August 1986. Although none of us knew it. It’s only with the luxury of hindsight that we can look back and identify the peaks and the troughs. At any point in real time, whether we feel low, or high, we never know if we have troughed or peaked until some time after the event. Ah, the benefit of hindsight.
‘Beefy’ probably thought he could take another 100 test wickets. Freddie probably already had the lyrics laid down for his next album, and as I drove along the freeways of North America, fresh out of university, reading Jack Kerouac, listening to Joni Mitchell, contentedly stroking my six-pack with one hand whilst drinking a Michelob with the other, I certainly never believed for one moment that I had a 20 year career at BT waiting for me at Heathrow in just 2 weeks time, along with a monotonically increasing waistline that would continue to grow with me from that day onwards.
Sadly Freddie is no longer with us, but Ian and I continue to waddle on. With life experience behind us instead of in front of us, we re-adjust and reset our goals to more realistic levels.
Ian and I both still enjoy a glass or two of red wine (allegedly), and I don’t doubt that just as I occasionally sit back and think about that crazy, hot summer in North America, that Ian perhaps does the same, recalling the LBW of Jeff Crowe that gave him his world record 356th test wicket.
If only we had known then what we know now, would we have followed different paths?