James Delingpole

What will I do with a second chance at life? Play more video games

After my pulmonary embolism I’m watching trash TV with my son, spending hours on the Xbox... and reading The Iliad

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

Does a near-death experience make you a better person? This is something I’ve been thinking about on and off since my pulmonary embolism. Initially, it hadn’t occurred to me that a PE was a big deal. But the research that I’ve done since suggests that these things aren’t unserious. My seen-it-all ex-army GP, for example, was properly impressed. As too have been the various people I know whose friends and relatives have died of them, one a 23-year-old girl who succumbed after breaking her ankle while walking on the moors. So yes, as my fellow ‘survivors’ keep telling me, I should be grateful for my lucky escape — and perhaps see it as a heaven-sent opportunity to put my life into perspective.

What I can’t work out at this stage, though, is whether the experience has really changed me — or whether I’m just inventing it because I feel it’s what I ought to do and I’m a bit of a drama queen.

One effect is that I’ve been dedicating a lot more time to playing Call of Duty, Saints Row 2 and Medal of Honor on the Xbox. The Afghanistan sequences in the latter are just amazing, especially when you’re in a US infantry unit moving up a valley swarming with Taleban, and you cover one another, keeping the enemy pinned down, being careful to conserve ammo because if you don’t you’re stuffed a bit later when you have to hold out in a crumbling outpost against hordes of RPG-toting al-Qaeda.

In the past I would have felt guilty about this spectacular waste of life. Now it causes me no qualms whatsoever because a) I’ve decided that it’s an important form of therapy, and b) I’ve remembered how very much I enjoy playing video games and, now I realise how precarious existence is, it seems quite wrong to deny myself so vital a pleasure.

Same goes with the kids; just simple stuff like making sure I spend more time slobbing with Boy in front of whatever crap TV he’s watching when he’s home on school leave. Previously I scarcely dared do this, for fear of being accused by the Fawn of being a lazy bastard. Actually, though, if you want to commune with teenage children, this is pretty much the only way. It’s not like they’re going to say: ‘Yes, please Dad!’ when you say: ‘Fancy coming to walk the dog?’ And though you don’t say much to one another while watching TV, you do definitely bond in that companionable near-silence. So not only do you get to catch up with funny old stuff you might otherwise never have watched, such as Two and a Half Men and Malcolm in the Middle, both of which I highly recommend. But you also get to be a really good dad: the kind I now wish I’d been to the Rat when he was growing up, because then I’d have got to play a lot more video games and watch a lot more trash TV in my mid-thirties, rather than just in my early fifties.

Work: this is another thing I’m feeling healthily ambivalent about. Though I’m still perfectly happy being a journalist, blogger, gun-for-hire, I no longer think it would be the end of the world if it all went tits up and I had to do something else. Podcasting on a more regular, professional level, say: I’d probably be quite a good shock jock. Or teaching: my brief stints at Malvern and Radley were among the most satisfying things I’ve ever tried. Or just writing more books, which is, after all, what I most wanted to do in life before I got distracted by the adrenaline-buzz immediacy and regular-ish income of hackery.

If you don’t want to die young — and I really don’t — I think this ambivalence is important. Anxiety, fear about your job, about where your next work is coming from, is an absolute killer. It can be so all-consuming you might as well not exist, because it ruins even those moments when you should be relaxed and enjoying yourself. It makes you desperate, needy and afraid to say no, which isn’t exactly conducive to great self-esteem. ‘He ate shit because once you hit 50 what other option do you have?’ I’m not necessarily sure it’s what I want as my epitaph.

Another thing: I want to know more, read more, see more. Like, the other evening, I began dipping into The Iliad. (Not in the original Greek, obviously, that being one of the many skills I regret having failed to develop.) These weird, intense, vivid characters at once so familiar and yet so alien because — unlike us — their values haven’t been tempered by the Romans, Christianity and the Enlightenment. This is the stuff that you should be filling your head with, this is what makes you a rounded human being. Not to mention the edge it will give you while watching future episodes of University Challenge.

But is it the pulmonary embolism exper-ience which has brought me this rush of wisdom — or is it stuff that hits you anyway round about mid-life-crisis time? I don’t know, not least because, despite all that research, as I mentioned at the beginning I still feel a complete imposter as a ‘survivor’. It’s not like I got machine-gunned to within an inch of my life leading a platoon in Afghanistan. I just got very ill for a few days.

Maybe it doesn’t matter though where it comes from. I know what I’m about to say is right because loads of much more sensible people have said it before me in the days I was too busy to listen: all that really counts in life is family, friends and health. Oh, and Medal of Honor, obviously. Happy Easter!

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  • misomiso

    Here are some of the best computer games ever made for you to play James! Download them off Steam, or off the Xbox network.

    The Half Life Series (Half-life: Source, Half -Life 2, Half Life 2 episodes 1+2)
    Portal 1 and 2
    The Witness
    Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (might not be your thing….)

    Batman: Arkham Series

    Or you could play with your family – ‘Keep talking and nobody explodes’ which is brilliant fun.

    Give us a review when you’ve played them!

    • uberwest

      Counter Strike multiplayer is fun, if slightly dated. Especially on a server with good banter.

  • bufo75

    65 years ago all we had was a game called “L’Attaque” where bits of cardboard, invisible to your opponent, were moved against each other across a board, and If I remember rightly, only a “spy” could kill a “general”and only a “sapper” could remove a “mine”.
    If you can avoid being thrown off another horse you’ve probably got another 40 years to enjoy.
    I wonder what will keep you amused in 2056 ?

    • DavidL

      L’attaque was great. And there was a naval version too. Anyway, happy Easter.

      • bufo75

        We’re in Lanzarote for Easter thanks.
        Apparently Sam’n Dave will be joining us !
        Yes, I remember the naval version.
        One problem was that greasy fingers could leave a thumb-print, so you could identify the opposing “spy” too easily, on a well-used set.
        But can anybody hazard a guess at what will be available 40 years hence ?

      • D J

        aka Stratego

  • Jackthesmilingblack


  • William Matthews

    I have the same guilt as you had with video games. I play War Thunder, an online WW2 Tank and War Plane game. Anyway, I must have killed this one player three times in a row, and so cross was he, he sent me a direct message suggesting my skill was down to the fact I had no girlfriend. Now, I’m over 40 years old, married for 16 years and run my own business. However, I wasn’t sure what was more preferable, him thinking I was a lonely teenager or the actual truth? I never responded.

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Here are some TV show recommendations:
    – Firefly (Scify;20 episodes; sadly cancelled after 1 season)
    – Better Off Ted (Comedy; very fun to watch; you’ll find it on youtube)
    – Police Squad! (Comedy; starring Leslie Nielsen; also on youtube)
    – Battlestar Galactica (the new one; thrilling and amazing show – if you’re ok with smoking cigarettes on spaceships)

    That’s an overall 100 hours of wasting your lifetime in an enjoyable way.

    Well, or you simply watch US news television and Trumps rise to power. In a way that’s great entertainment, too. Maybe put 1.000 Euro on Trumps victory. That will get you involved emotionally.

  • FrancescaMacfarlane

    If you want to waste fifty hours of your life without feeling guilty, try watching Breaking Bad on Netflix – if you haven’t done so already. And then follow it up with the prequel Call Saul (still ongoing). Who needs the Beeb with comedy/drama of that quality permanently available ?

  • Mightywizzard

    I was brought up with computer games since the age of 5 and i think i am probably invariably paying for the whole experience intellectually now having not read the classics and the messianics and visiting art galleries etc etc at a young age. Its interesting how life goes on and the mind begins to explore the change. I wonder whether it was all worth it sometimes but hey, as James Dellingpole says here in his article. There is something about a headshot and an illegal Napalm strike deep into enemy or sometimes even allied territory; that can just be a strangely satisfying experience for the soul.

  • Really glad to hear you have recovered James.

    Malcolm in the Middle is a brilliant series and probably one of the best to watch alongside your sons.

    I watched most of the reruns with my teenage boys when I was a stressed, unemployed single parent and it was a great experience. It is of course great partly due to the excellent acting and script writing but also because the series vividly portrays the chaos and desperation of family life and the utter, jaw dropping stupidity of teenage boys (as witnessed in myself and my brothers at that age and my own sons).

    As a TV critic, you probably don’t need recommendations for TV series, but as someone has had the nerve to mention the 3rd best TV Sci Fi series Battlestar Galactica and the 2nd best, Firefly, above without mentioning the best, I feel obliged to point out that the bestest ever TV Sci Fi series in the known universe, ever, is Babylon 5.
    Happy Easter.

  • uberwest

    I hadn’t heard about your PE. I wish you a speedy recovery.

    • jamesdelingpole

      thank you

      • Violin.

        Second that.

  • No, you should be designing an escapist computer game, a fantasy world of honest science, honest politicians, true freedom, elimination of Marxism propaganda, etc. Programming is actually not very technical nowadays. You just steal – whoops I mean borrow – chunks of other people’s code and rearrange it to do what you want: http://www.wikihow.com/Program-a-Video-Game

  • Tew

    I hope you’re feeling better soon. My Mother died last year (Multiple Sclerosis), and I find myself watching/listening to Allan Watts’s talks on youtube recently (especially when recovering from a hangover on a Sunday afternoon). So I recommend that for your “getting life into perspective” recovery material.

  • Jacobi

    Do remember that is you have a narrow scrape you will be doubly repsonsibe for the extra time gained before keeling over. In my case, I think, am trebly responsible, and I sometimes think of this at night.

    Fortunately, I then sleep very soundly!

  • Jackthesmilingblack


  • ephraingadsby

    James it will take you a while to trust your body again. It did for me after a heart attack.So just kicking back is entirely the right thing to do. Recomend Rome total War 2.I wish you a quick and full recovery.

  • mikewaller

    My antipathy to much of his oeuvre inclines me to hope that JD becomes a full-time games player However, common decency and his obvious love of his children leads me to hope that he makes a speedy recovery.