In the run up to college, 1993 was very kind to me. The sotalol, despite my misgivings, proved to keep me out of trouble. It was also great to have my brother Paul back home from college in Bristol where he was training as an aircraft maintenance engineer. The events of 92 proved very hard for him being away, with only phone updates and the occasional weekend visit home to give him comfort that his little brother was going to be OK. My parents had urged him not to quit and come home even though that was his intention. He'd worked so hard and was about to go into his final year and exams. Thankfully he listened and he passed in style.
I was born five years after Paul. At a young age, that snippet of time felt like an unfair gulf in ability and privilege to me. I was the typical younger brother, annoying and easily jealous when I wasn't allowed, or capable of doing things I could see him doing. "I don't want to ride on the teacups, he's on the fast roller-coaster! It's soooo unfair!" "Why can he ride to his friends house but I'm not allowed out of the end of the lane?! It's soooo unfair!" . A very annoying little brother.
Despite all this, Paul doted on me. From the sheer excitement of me being born, where he was in such a rush to tell the neighbours he had a baby brother, he ran through a closed glass patio door. He gave up all his teddies instantly to his little brother. He once hand crafted an intricate cardboard treasure box, filling it with chocolate over the space of weeks for one of my birthdays, spending weeks worth of his pocket money in the process. Despite all this I still remained the annoying little brother.
He got a paper round and again I was jealous. I wanted to earn my own money too but I was too young to get a round of my own. To make it worse we were both getting into bikes in a big way. Now he had a job and earnings, I knew that one day, he could afford to buy a bike I could only dream of and I would have to wait years until I could get my own round. It's soooo unfair! Eventually that day came, and I was green with envy.
He invited me along to the bike shop on the day it needed collecting. My love of bikes took me there, I'd just have to swallow the jealousy for a few hours. He'd had his eye on this amazing green and white MBK Super Mistral racing bike for a while, this bike was a thing of beauty to my eyes. It looked like it was doing 40mph when it was stood still. It was so shiny and so expensive. The owner of the bike shop wheeled it forward and Paul took hold of it with a huge smile on his face, already smitten.
Next to it was another MBK model, the Mistral. It too was a thing of beauty with it's red and white highly polished paint. It looked just like the team bike Stephen Roche rode in the Tour de France, awesome!
"Why don't you take it out of the rack?" Paul asked me.
"Why? What's the point in that?" I said dejectedly.
"Go on, there's no harm in looking" pulling it forward for me.
He left me holding it and went to the till to pay for his bike with the shop owner.
"Perhaps I should leg it, the owner would never catch me on this bike........ No, I can't, my mum would kill me!"
Paul duly returned from the till and grabbed his bike. "Come on then, let's go" he instructed. "Hang on, wait for me, I just need to pop this bike back in the stand".
"No you don't" he insisted
Oh, leave it for the shop keeper, sure. He wouldn't want me to damage it.
"It's yours, I've bought it for you!"
My face must have been a picture, I was so gobsmacked.
"Come on, let's go!"
That was the day I realised who my brother really was.
The deep jealously paled away after that and I started seeing Paul through different eyes. He is a gifted engineer and even from an young age was very mechanically minded. I was ham-fisted and lacked finesse with tools by comparison. Paul would go on to patiently teach me all about bikes and how to fix them, a walking talking bike Wiki on tap to answer all of my questions and to guide me. No YouTube how-to's for me! By the time we both had progressed to mountain bikes we were the best of friends.
We made the most of 1993, the scares of the previous year started to pale and normality returned. Biking resumed, and enrolment at college for me sealed it in 1994. I'd turned 18, I could advocate for myself properly and I had the freedom of the car (pinched from my mum). I was now on a Sports Science course, with lots of practical sport from volleyball to bleep tests. Back in the environment where I was happiest, I began to thrive once again. The thoughts of illness were now very firmly at the back of my mind.
The beauty of my course was the small group size. We all very quickly became good friends and the two year course was basically one big social sport fest, with the occasional assignment thrown in for good measure to maintain the illusion of serious education. A bunch of like minded, young lads playing sport and buzzing around in crap, cheap cars like we were Colin McRae.
I was very envious of James' Metro. His was an MG, I was driving a crap Austin Metro (sorry mum, it was!). Although truth be told they were both pathetic examples of cars, we'd be out at every opportunity, buzzing around the Island like idiots with the rev counters firmly wedged in the red. I'd never got over the loss of the Mini I learnt to drive in. I loved it and was gutted when Mum and Dad used my financial contribution towards its replacement on a METRO?! The shame. This Metro deserved to die by the rev counter, a suitable sacrifice to the car gods, a means of appeasement on behalf of the soulless designer who's troubled mind created it. Imagine my reaction when James only went and got a Mini. He was quickly shoved to one side so I could do hand brake turns in a private empty car park, all the while James screaming the type of scream that is half laughter, half blind fear. He repaid the favour when he drove me to his house to grab some things for an assignment. I nearly needed replacement underwear.
Our friendship grew easily, James was a very easy person to like. He was kind, considerate and a great laugh to be around. He was mature for his years, already in a serious relationship with his lovely girlfriend Mary and they were planning to marry. Many of the lads on the course thought he was crazy, marriage, so young? What was he thinking? I, on the other hand, thought differently. Maybe because of my health scare and experience with Aaron, I was already starting to grow up quicker than my peers. I could see just how much James and Mary were suited, and they adored each other. To me, it just seemed right.
As I was 18, I was transferred from the Paediatric cardiology team at the hospital and to the adult cardiology team. I was very pleased to be passed to the head cardiac electrophysiology consultant. Early consultations were very matter of fact and there was nothing that caused me or the consultant concern. He muted the option of performing an ablation, a procedure that involves passing a catheter up into the heart via the groin and burning the area of the heart causing the "short circuit". A relatively safe, highly successful procedure that should eradicate my SVT for good. He advised it would be good to perform it so I could stop the sotalol, given it was at a dose that could "floor a rhinoceros" . I was to give it some thought and make a decision to proceed or not.
I didn't need to think too hard. It fitted the goal I had of getting rid of the sotalol for good. I decided it was something that should be coordinated to happen after I finished college in 96 so I could recuperate and go to University the following year. Very simple, just as I had planned. James and Mary were also making plans to marry in 96 after they both finished college and before they both headed to university together in Oxford.
The reluctant end to two great years came to be in 96. Everybody was to part ways and head off in their respective own directions. James and Mary were however not parting, they were heading for the aisle and I was thrilled to receive my invite, that was until I saw the date. It clashed. My dad had booked an extremely rare family holiday in the Quantocks and Exmoor, complete with bikes. I felt torn as I really wanted to go to the wedding but I also didn't want to miss the opportunity for a family holiday. Holidays in our family were practically non existent, we didn't go away as a family many times. The previous holiday was so long ago I barely remembered it as I was so young. My dad also had given us a scare when he had a minor heart attack owing to a blockage, a stent was fitted and he made a great recovery thankfully. Dad hadn't looked after himself, he had been under a lot of pressure in his director job role that meant there was little time left for family after the demands of work. Since his heart attack he decided to do something about it. I was dragging him out on the bike pushing him to get fitter. To his credit he persevered and it was great to watch him getting fitter. It was for this reason that I decided that I would go on the family holiday and passed my apologies and best wishes to James and Mary.
James and I solemnly promised to keep in contact after they left for University and I would let him know how my ablation went when it was done.
It was a promise we would both honour.