They are an eclectic bunch, and I have learned something different from each; from Captain Johns a certain boyish gallantry, from Garrison Keillor a cautious optimism, and so on. I reckon I've read everything they have ever written, and as I have changed, made weak by time and fate, I have seen them change as well - adapting to new challenges, even wading through the Sloughs of Despond where their prose was like old porridge and the critics were writing them off (so to speak).
But we don't give up our friends lightly and I have stuck with them all the way, even when it seems that the highs of scintillating brilliance are gone forever and are going to remain only a memory. Because that is what friends do, they stick together.
I hope I am being afforded a similar degree of understanding as my powers diminish. My love-making is less passionate, my roistering less vigorous, my sarcasm less bitter, my splendid baldness less a fashion-statement and more a sign of premature senility.
The old devil-may-care Liam is gone, replaced by a more sedate model. 'Old men must die,' said Tennyson, 'else the earth grow mouldy.'
But 'Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are.' Once a doctor accepts the chains of responsibility they can never be set aside; they define us and our place in society. Our clinical instincts are never asleep, and we can never take off those clothes and stand buck-naked before the world.
'You are clinically obese,' I told her firmly. 'You need to eat a balanced diet and take more exercise, otherwise you are at significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes; we will need a full risk profile on you, including BP, lipids and glucose, which will need to be done fasting, if you know the meaning of the word.'
She looked askance, got up and walked away without a backward glance; one lady who would never sit beside a stranger on the underground again, I thought.