He enjoyed a long career in journalism – interviewing everyone from Muhammad Ali to Enoch Powell – and became known across the Midlands for his love of theatre.
But now former Birmingham Post and Mail reporter John Slim has written his most poignant article – about being given just a year to live.
The 82-year-old, who lives in Bromsgrove, said he found writing about his stomach cancer diagnosis much easier than telling friends face-to-face when, he said, he “welled up on the instant”. John, a dad-of-four and grandfather-of-nine who has been married to wife Elsa for 56 years, was given the news at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital after he experienced nausea and jaundice.
He decided to share it with readers of the stage website behindthearras.com, which he founded with fellow former Post and Mail man Roger Clarke.
Here is John’s touching account, in his own words.
There's a play – at least, there was, and I can’t imagine that it has ceased to be since I saw it many years ago – called Why Me?
It’s about a chap who’s poorly in bed with something unpleasant, and I’ve suddenly just thought about it for the first time in eons – because I have been asking myself that very question.
September 20, 2013 – yesterday – was the day that a lovely, gentle doctor at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital told me that cancer, of which I had been informed on September 1, was probably going to finish me off in the next 12 months.
These were tidings that stopped me in my tracks – admittedly, not quite as decisively as my own personal Mr Big C, with whom there can be no useful argument, is going to do. Nevertheless, they gave rise to what is technically called Pause for Thought.
So I paused – and I still, to veer into the vernacular, can’t quite get my head round it. Much scratching of the occiput has yielded roughly as much light as a wartime blackout curtain.
After all, here I am, as has always been my wont or will, striding about with an impressive tan and looking quite unreasonably healthy, but suddenly aware that I’m about to come to a halt.
Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a bit of a shock.
Cancer of the gut and unwanted spots on the lungs. Mr Big C has caught up with me. It’s taken him 82 years, but he’s done it.
Good on ’im! I’m sure he’s extraordinarily pleased with himself.
But I don’t understand why 82 years of not a single cigarette have earned me his attention. My father chain-smoked for 60 years and got away with a heart attack.
That was an episode that found him suddenly sitting up in bed and shouting, “I’m dying!” – whereupon, my mother, so she later reported, replied, “Never! Nobody could die with a voice like that”, and returned to her disturbed sleep, only later to learn that her semi-detached and disturbed neighbour in bed beyond the wall had understandably wondered what was going on.
Anyway, unlike my dear old Dad, I’ve perhaps got 12 months to contemplate my coming farewell.
I’ve got as far as thinking that I don’t want a Requiem Mass, just a quick convergence on the crem.
I can’t help feeling it would be a bit presumptuous to expect my four children, their four spouses and the nine grandchildren with whom they have furnished me so splendidly, to wave me goodbye not once but twice.
Moderation in all things.
I’m finding this easy to write, incidentally – far easier than I have found the business of telling people face-to-face that it’s nearly goodbye time.
That’s because I’m not getting any reaction, whereas on the couple of times I have tried the face-to-face approach I have welled up on the instant.
It’s not that I am afraid to go.
I’m 82 and I’ve had a good run, a lot of jolly, happy decades in which I have deployed my insistence on failing to understand any given situation in the knowledge that if everything is not quite hunky-dory it will eventually go away.
No, it’s just that the face-to-face business evokes shock, consternation and a sort of stuttering sympathy – which in turn renews in me the realisation that another dear friend is suddenly not much happier than I am, which hurts.
Life goes on. Until eventually it doesn’t.
And that, I think, is all I wanted to say. It’s goodbye from me.