It wasn’t even 8am when the ‘phone rang.
The house ‘phone. We didn’t have mobiles in 1980.
It woke me. I leaned out the bed and picked up the handset.
“John Lennon is dead,” the caller said.
I said nothing.
He said it again. I knew the voice.
It was my news editor Padraig and he wanted me in and working on stuff about John Lennon.
I lay back on the bed. I still wasn’t sure whether to believe Padraig or not. But he wasn’t one for practical jokes. And anyway, it was my day off so who’d bother with sick stuff like that?
It eventually dawned on me to turn on the radio. That would tell me quickly if it was true or not.
It was all about John.
He had been shot dead outside the Dakota building in New York where he lived with Yoko and their son Séan.
The ‘phone rang again. It was another editorial boss Michael Brophy.
Would I write the obit. It wasn’t really a question.
I lay back on the bed again. I didn’t want to do anything that day except mourn.
Yes, looking back it’s a bit pathetic that a 31 year old seasoned hack couldn’t get his act together to work on the biggest Beatles’ story ever.
So I rang Brendan, one of my closest friends and, like me, a Beatle freak.
Would he write a piece for the Herald?
No. He felt just as I did. Numb.
I had hoped he would do a piece. Because I was resolved that I wouldn’t.
I rang the office and told them I’d work from home for a while – this was 20 years before anyone worked from home.
But really I couldn’t.
I think I wrote some small stuff, ‘phoned it in and then feigned illness.
Because for me, the only death which hit me harder was that of my dad, almost exactly two years earlier.
Of course, there was no comparison between the two, none whatsoever.
But Johnny had been my ‘friend’ for almost 20 years. Brendan and I were genuine Beatle freaks.
Though both our memories are fuzzy about this, I think it was he who was with me when we met George for less than 10 seconds eight years earlier in London.
John died on December 8 in New York.
It was December 9 here.
The day Johnny died.
And I let my employer down by behaving in a really unprofessional way.
But I didn’t let myself down.
Because despite all the things I now know, despite all the things he told us about himself in his music – one example: “I used to be cruel to my woman and beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved” – he’s a kind of hero.
I wanted space to mourn him.
And I took it.