It was not so much that they were kindred spirits, they were in fact quite different in temperament and outlook; Robert was more cerebral and preferred books and board games while John was gregarious and liked the outdoors. It was more a force of circumstance that had drawn them together and which provided the basis of their friendship. Theirs was a relatively isolated community and there were few other children with whom they could socialise. They could scarcely remember a time when they had not known each other and for much of their childhood, if they were not alone, they were in each other’s company. It was only when they went away to the same boarding school that they began to establish their own social independence, each with his preferred group of friends. During the holidays they would reconnect without any acrimony concerning their school alliances. They understood and respected each other’s differences.

Upon leaving school they had gone their separate ways, attending universities in different parts of the country. During this period they kept in touch in a haphazard sort of fashion and met up occasionally if one of them happened to be in the area at the same time as the other. It was more a sense of loyalty and an interest in the other’s progress than a real desire to spend time in each other’s company.

After graduation, Robert had gone into accounting and then finance while John had pursued a career in the computer industry, initially in software development before switching to technical sales. While Robert had settled in London, John’s work had taken him abroad and he had spent much of his twenties and thirties travelling and living in various parts of the world.

He was approaching forty when John found himself back in England. He had done reasonably well for himself, but had found it difficult to settle down in one place with one woman. He had a full and active life with many friends and pastimes, but he had a low boredom threshold and nothing terrified him so much as the prospect of being stuck in a relationship that palled and a career that failed to stimulate. He recognised that his approach to life was atypical and that at some point he would have to knuckle down, but not right now. Having just split with his latest girlfriend and having become dissatisfied with his work and life in the UK, he had decided to return to the USA.

“Rob, it’s Johnno, here. I am about to emigrate. Do you want to have lunch?”

They met at a restaurant near Robert’s office in the City. It had been over a year since they had last seen each and John hoped that he did not look quite as paunched and pasty as his friend.

There was much catching up to do and the wine flowed. John found himself trying to justify his reasons for going to live in America.

“Nonsense”, said Robert, “you don’t want to live there, you would make a lousy Yank. Why don’t you come and work with me? We would make a brilliant team.”

“I am flattered, but I don’t know anything about what it is you do.”

“Its easy and you will soon get the hang of it.”

“Tell me what it involves.”

“We raise money for small companies. We have a list of potential investors. Start-up companies come to us for capital. We look at the business plan and if we like it we do some due diligence. We agree on the amount to be raised and then we write a prospectus, or rather we give them a template and they write the prospectus and we edit it into something marketable. Then we get auditors, lawyers, market makers and registrars etc to check everything before sending it off for regulatory approval by the Financial Services Authority. When all that is done, we get it printed and mailed out to several thousand investors. We arrange too for some financial PR to attract investors and puff the shares. Then it is a question of waiting for the cash to roll in. Assuming we raise our target, we arrange a date for the shares to be listed on the junior market and they start trading. It’s dead simple.”

“It may sound simple to you, but sounds pretty daunting to me.”

“Don’t worry, It’s a piece of piss. All you need to do is to go through the process a couple of times. Oh and you will have to write an exam to become authorised by the FSA.”

“Bloody hell, an exam, I have not written one of those for years.”

“Trust me, you won’t have a problem. Any fool can pass it.”

“Thanks for that, I think. Why do you want me on board? You already have a team.”

“Yes, but you would be good at it. Besides, they do not understand me that way that you do. You and I share the same past. We know what the other is thinking. Together, we can make a lot of money and have lots of fun.”

“That sounds good, but how do we get paid?”

“We take a cut of the money raised and a warrant for a percentage of the company, exercisable at the listing price. If the shares go up, we exercise the warrant and sell the shares at a profit.”

“And if they do not go up?”

“We make nothing. But in this bull market, everything is going up.”

“Let me think about it.”

The terms that John had been offered were pretty favourable and he had agreed to take the position. At first things had gone well. He had passed the exam and had participated in and eventually managed several listings. He was, as Robert had promised, getting the hang of things and it did seem as if the business could turn out to be quite lucrative. A couple of things niggled, though, not least of which was Robert’s erratic behaviour and mood swings. He seemed to find many excuses to go out for a drink. John was not used to this sort of excess. He enjoyed a beer as much as the next person, or so he thought, but these heavy sessions at lunch and in the evening were getting to be a bit much for him.

John also realised that Robert was spending more and more time away from his wife and family. He had a ‘pied-à-terre’ in London and often invited John to come round for supper which usually involved a take-away and lots of whisky. As he became progressively inebriated, Robert would go from being cheerful and witty to bitter and miserable, even tearful. Sad or happy, he would play the same music over and over again; just one of only three or four CDs that evoked the past. When upbeat, he would tell the same old jokes, giggling inanely at the punch lines. When morose, he would recall often-repeated tales about who had wronged him and how badly life had treated him. He would tell John how he was his only true friend and how much he yearned for the days of their carefree youth.

At first, John was bemused by these sessions, but eventually they became a little tedious. He had enjoyed renewing their friendship and had come to realise that their shared background had given them much more in common than he had realised. He was very fond of Robert and had a great deal or respect for his intelligence. He was extremely able, entertaining and very generous, often to a fault. But gradually John began to realise that there was more than one side to his personality. The emotion and apparent sincerity expressed while in his cups disappeared when he was sober. His behaviour at work was putting the company’s welfare in jeopardy. He would arrive at meetings intoxicated and would embarrass his clients, his colleagues and himself. Initially John sympathised with Robert’s justification for excessive drinking, namely that he was having marital issues, but soon he realised that the problem was much deeper. He had to face the fact that Robert was clearly an alcoholic.

John was perplexed. He had never really known anybody with such an affliction and that it most certainly was. He sought advice and was told that nothing could be done until Robert himself was able to admit it and was prepared to give up alcohol for ever. For ever! That shocked. He thought that it was all very well branding someone and expecting him to make lifelong sacrifices but John was well aware that though he was no addict, he would really struggle to go without liquor for a month, let alone the remainder of his life. It would require not only abstinence but a whole change of lifestyle including a vastly different social network. John reflected that he had been running away from a life of routine and drudgery to which so many around him seemed to have fallen victim. If he could not accept such restrictions, how could he expect so of his friend?

Despite repeated requests, Robert refused to get professional help or attend Alcoholics Anonymous. From time to time he would go on the wagon. Sometimes this was on his own initiative but more often than not after John had pleaded with him. He had once witnessed Robert’s suffering the DTs. It was a shocking sight and John had felt deep compassion for him. During the few weeks of sobriety that followed, Robert tended to be moody and short tempered. His wit was replaced by sarcasm and his generosity by resentfulness. He was clearly miserable and there seemed little purpose to his life. Nothing it seemed could replace the feeling of wellbeing he got from alcohol. His life was falling apart and unless he was able to bring back some meaning to it, he would drink himself to death.

Things came to a head shortly after Robert had badly mismanaged a major deal.

“Rob, it’s gone too far. We have been friends all our lives and I hate watching you destroy yourself. You must go to AA.”

“We’ve been through this a million times. It’s not necessary.”

“Yes it is. I have already found the local branch and there is a meeting this evening. I’ll come with you.”

“I do not need to go. I can stop on my own.”

“You have tried many times and you always start again. You need a support network. At this rate you will lose your kids, your wife, your business, your home, your friends; everybody and everything.”

Robert sat staring into his beer, his shoulders slouched and there were tears running down his cheek. John waited silently.

“All right, I’ll go.”

They entered the meeting room at the back of the church. A semi-circle of chairs was arranged around another, facing, on an otherwise empty floor. Several people were gathered, chatting animatedly. Some nodded and smiled at the new arrivals. Eventually the group leader appeared.

“It’s time to start folks, can you all sit down.”

John chose a chair. Robert sat next to him, nervous and uncomfortable.

“Good evening all. Can we go through the introductions? Let’s begin with the older members. Annette, why don’t you start?”

As each person stood up in turn and introduced his or her self with that simple, uniform statement, John was overcome by a sense of awe at the terrifying journey that they had begun and the hardships each faced on a daily basis. Did his friend really have what it took to join them in their life-long struggle?

“I see we have some new faces,” said the leader, “would you care to introduce yourselves?”

A hush descended. John stared silently and intently at the floor, hoping beyond hope. Then, slowly, deliberately his friend stood up.

“Good evening, my name is Robert and I am an alcoholic.”

“Oh brave new world that has such people in it.”

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