In June of 2012, I met up with my old friend Jules in Manchester for one night. He had flown in from Melbourne, and I had flown in from Texas. We were there to see the first Stone Roses performance in 22 years, but it was a bittersweet night. The show was incredible, but when I said goodbye to Jules in the middle of Manchester later that night, it was with the knowledge that I would never see him again.
I’d met Jules in 1998 when I was living in Melbourne. We worked together and we saw each other almost every day. I got to know his friends, his family, and together we shared a lot of ups and downs during my 12 months in Australia.
We kept in touch over the years, and I visited him again in Melbourne in 2002. Some years later, Jules came to stay with me in New York for a week, but he wasn’t the same. He’d always been a shy and sensitive soul, prone to depression in the winters and sustained periods of social withdrawal and isolation. I knew about that. I empathized with that. But I hadn’t really experienced his depression first hand.
Before he got to New York, he had been trying to get in touch with some girl that he had known from Melbourne who had also moved to New York State, but she hadn’t replied to any of his messages. He was obviously very fond of her and he had written songs and poems for her that he wanted to share. He was convinced that somehow she hadn’t got his messages, but when he arrived in NYC, and tried again to reach out to her, the girl sent a response, through her father, telling Jules that she didn’t want to see ever again.
That all happened one afternoon while I was at work and the rejection dragged Jules down into a very, very dark place. It was a difficult 24 hours. We talked about some really deep stuff that night, and into the morning, but eventually we were able to work through it together. By the end of the week he seemed more positive about things, but I was worried about him. He just didn’t have the same spark in his eyes.
About a month after he got home to Melbourne, Jules sent me an email with the subject “Grim News”. He told me that he had just been diagnosed with bowel and liver cancer. The doctors told him he had about a year to live, and maybe two years if he did chemotherapy. Jules was about the same age as me – 34 years old.
There is not much you can do when you get an email like that from someone about whom you care deeply. I think I tried to make a joke about how this would give him some great material for a country song. And that this diagnosis might explain why he was such a lightweight at drinking. But I just wished I could be there in person for him.
We continued to chat and email while he went through surgeries and chemotherapy, mixing up horribly dark correspondence with silly chat about music and sport. Then after nine months of brutal chemotherapy I got the news that, miraculously, the cancer was in remission. He had beaten cancer. Again I wished that I was closer to him and I made plans to visit Australia that Christmas, but I never did.
Then in 2011, I got another email from him entitled “Bad News / Good News”. That was typical of Jules. The bad news was that a regular check up had revealed a dozen tumors in his lungs, and this time the cancer was inoperable. The good news was that he had decided he wasn’t going to go though chemo again, and he was just going to live his life and have fun while he could.
I was living back in Austin by then and so immediate plans were made for Jules and eight other Aussie mates to fly to Texas and then head off on a road trip across America. They all arrived in Dallas one evening in June 2011, having flown for 24 hours. They went directly to a Western store and then I met them at a rodeo in Llano. I’ll never forger seeing them all arrive in convertibles, all of them in jeans, checked shirts and cowboy hats, having had no sleep, but full of energy. I took them all tubing in New Braunfels the next day, and then we went out to Lovejoys and played pool all night. We had a great time although it was hard to forget the grave reason why we were all together.
In early 2012 I got another email from Jules saying that the cancer had now spread to his brain and was starting to cause him visual problems. In the same email exchange he said that if he survived the scheduled brain surgery, then he wanted to go and see The Stone Roses play their comeback show in Manchester, England. Farah and I had just had a baby, but I promised him that if he was going, I would be there too.
Well, he survived, and he somehow got in touch with Ian Brown’s management. When they heard about Jules’ situation and that the Stone Roses were his favorite band, they sorted us out with 4 VIP tickets for the first of the three huge Heaton Park shows in Manchester that summer.
At around the same time, my Forest Pump friends from Edinburgh University were planning a reunion of our own in a chateau in France. I figured out that we could just about do both Manchester and France.
So in June 2012, Farah and I flew overnight from Austin to Heathrow via Philadelphia, took the train into London, the underground across the city to Euston station, then got on a train up to Manchester, arriving about 4 o’clock in the afternoon the day of the show. We calculated that it was a 22 hour journey door to door. And we did all that with an 8-month-old baby, a car seat, a stroller, a diaper bag etc. I remember that we didn’t even get a seat on the train up to Manchester.
But we made it to Manchester. We couldn’t find a babysitter so even though she is a huge Stone Roses fan, Farah volunteered to stay in the hotel with the kid, and I met up with Jules and Craig (Dools), another mate of ours from Australia. I was exhausted, but I know I didn’t feel as bad as Jules.
So off we went to the gig of the century. The fooking Stone Roses. Back together for the first time in decades. On a balmy summer’s evening. In Manchester.
And it was so nice to see Jules again. I could tell he was feeling it, but he forced himself to stay upbeat. He was not doing chemo this time around and he actually looked ok. But we didn’t talk about the cancer much. We didn’t need to.
The gig itself was incredible. We had VIP access and recognized a few famous faces in the backstage area. Primal Scream opened and got everyone going. Then as the sun began to set, everyone started getting very excited. Knowing the Stone Roses history of course, there was also a little bit of doubt as to whether they would actually show up. But they did.
When they came on and Mani played the opening bass riff to “I Wanna Be Adored” the crowd went mad. Listening and watching the people was awesome too. There were tens of thousands of people there, but it seemed like everyone knew each other from back in the days of the Hacienda and Madchester. It felt like we were guests at a giant house party.
Me and Jules shared several hugs as the Roses played all their best songs. To be honest, the sound was pretty shit and Ian Brown’s voice was a bit ropey, but it didn’t matter. Brown was prowling around the stage like a resurrected messiah, and Reni was rolling on the drums like an epileptic octopus. When they finished with an epic “I Am The Resurrection”, everyone was happy.
After the gig was over it took us a long time to get back into the city. There were not enough buses for all the people and by the time we got back downtown, Jules’ reserves of energy were spent. We had one more unnecessary pint, but by that stage all I could think about was the farewell that was about to happen.
I can only think of a couple of other times in my life, when I’ve said goodbye to someone, knowing I will never see them again. I thought about it for a long time, but what can you say?
I don’t like goodbyes at the best of times. But knowing that Jules only had a few months to live meant that this was the Last Goodbye. I walked Jules and Craig to their hotel, gave Jules a big hug and just told him that I loved him. I walked in the opposite direction, went around the corner, sat down on the street, and cried my eyes out.
After a couple of hours sleep, Farah, Duney and I got on an early morning train back to London. We took the underground across the city, the train back out to Heathrow, got on a plane to Toulouse, and then drove two hours to our chateau in Saux, a tiny village near Cahors in the South West of France.
Along with Jambo and his wife and kid, we were the first to arrive. It was a proper chateau built in the 15th Century with room for 24 people, a swimming pool and it’s own vineyard. Over the next few hours we were joined by Nelly, Jonny, Ed, Stef, Joly, Beno, their wives and kids.
I was pretty exhausted but it didn’t take long for us all to start having fun. And to start competing against each other. We had table tennis competitions, golf competitions, and underwater swimming competitions. There was a lot of Scotland v England battles, or just me versus anyone battles. I suppose in some weird way, I find competition relaxing.
Most of our wives didn’t know each other but everyone seemed to get on well. We got into a rhythm of taking turns shopping for dinner, getting wine, looking after the kids, cooking and cleaning. But I’m not much of a cook, or a shopper, so I didn’t think I was being very helpful.
One night I decided I would make myself useful by being the archivist. There were times in the past with my University friends where I wanted to just hide behind my video camera, and to be on the outside looking in. So perhaps I fell back into that role, but mainly I thought it would be fun to document the week because it was so rare that we all got together.
So over dinner one evening I came up with an idea to make a short film that involved everyone. I wrote an outline on the back of a napkin, but I didn’t bother to write a script. Then I filmed it over a few days with my iPhone. The story doesn’t really make any sense. It was a Back to the Future influenced idea about a couple guys that invent a time machine. But then the first time machine doesn’t work, so the others have to go back in time to warn the first group not to get in the time machine. With hilarious consequences.
Anyway, there was a part for everyone, including the kids. As a short movie, it is shit. None of us, except Stef, are actors. But as a snapshot of our week together, I think it works. The best bit is probably the bloopers at the end. I called it ‘Le Crunch De Time’.
It was an amazing week and it probably reestablished our friendships for at least another decade. I think we all had hopes to do it again the next year, but so far it hasn’t happened. When it does we will be there.
The last text I got from Jules was on Christmas Day 2012. He said he was not feeling the greatest but that he had still had a good day.
On January 17, 2013, six months after the Stone Roses in Manchester, Craig emailed me to say that Jules had passed away. Even though I knew it was going to happen, it was still a shock. His friends put together a slide show for his funeral, and I was able to contribute some photos of us and a few words about him.
One of my best memories of Jules was when we had a few drinks at the office one Friday night in Melbourne, and then we had some fun with the photocopier, as you do when you are 22 years old and left alone in an office. We made a stack of stupid copies, mostly of our faces. But then, apparently, I hid some of them in the legal files that we were reviewing. For weeks after that, he was still finding these drunken photocopies of our faces in the firm’s files. We both found that hilarious.
I still have some of the photocopies too. Looking at them now it feels a bit like looking at a ghost, but it still makes me laugh.
I miss Jules, but I got to say goodbye to him and, more importantly, I got to tell him how much he meant to me before he died. I promised myself then that I would try and do that more often. It’s one of the main motivations for this entire writing project – that I can put on record my feelings for the people that I love. Thank you Jules.