I decided not to run this morning, choosing instead a reflective day cleaning the cars, mowing the grass, tidying the garage and so on.
Three years ago, on a Wednesday afternoon towards the end of April, one of my closest friends died in tragic circumstances. He took his own life, leaving those around him to only guess at his motives.
Since then he’s never far from my mind and though my usual ritual is to toast him with a glass of beer whenever I’m cooking, at this time of year I feel closest to him by giving my car a decent Spring clean.
In fact, those of you who think that I keep my car in good condition (and many do) probably never saw his small collection… immaculate in every detail, polished to perfection, even his classic 20-something year old Jaguar.
Whether or not you knew him, I hope that you will forgive me for repeating here the eulogy that I spoke at his funeral. It’s a way of keeping the happy memories alive. A simple reminder to cherish friends and family and make the most of every moment, since life can be over all too soon.
Eulogy to a dear friend
As family and friends, colleagues and clients, I suspect that we have each seen different sides of Richard, and each carry a different version of this remarkable man around with us. I sincerely hope that, if you knew him, you might feel inclined to compare and contrast your memories of him, in the same way that you might have swapped Top Trumps cards as children.
Having known him quite literally all of my life, I thought that you might like to hear some short tales from his more formative years. You may like to close your eyes, in order to better imagine the Kodak coloured seventies… two young boys standing on the main road, before it was busy, naming the make and model of every car that came towards them.
Here was a man who shared his parents love for cats, showing me how to gently handle them from an early age. He would teach the kittens to run at the back door, encouraging them to jump higher and higher up his Mum’s pristine net curtains. As they got older, and heavier, he would then feign ignorance as to the circumstances surrounding the ripped curtains, demonstrating how mischievously irreverent he could be.
From an early age he was an amazing chess player, chosen to play for our primary school team. In all the innumerable times he and I played chess as children, he beat me every time. Except once. We would sit at a child-sized table & chairs in the storeroom beneath his house. Two inevitable moves from his one and only thrashing at my hands, he deftly upset the table with his knees, sending board and pieces flying and demonstrating both a highly competitive nature and a natural flair for thinking outside the box.
He seemed to gain a sense of the intrinsic value of money at a really early age, saving hard-earned cash from a part-time job to buy a really smart racing bike to replace his cherished Raleigh Chopper. Even before this stage he showed how discerning he was in his choices and how very careful he was to retain the value in things by looking after them; keeping them spotlessly clean and well maintained, adding well considered accessories. Here was a boy who knew exactly what he wanted, was prepared to work very hard to get it and would then work equally hard to keep it looking like new.
This process was repeated when he graduated to a moped, a treasured, unregulated Suzuki, and again when he purchased his gleaming Honda, some number of weeks ahead of his 17th birthday when he would be legally able to ride it. His parents used regularly to go out dancing and he and I would sit in the garage, cleaning the bike and listening to its Yoshimura exhaust. Knowing his son really well, his Dad would leave his car in the garage, blocking the exit, to ensure both son and bike stayed put while they were out.
To start with we merely pushed the car back a little to give us more space with the bike. As time went by, we would push it back up the drive, with great effort, to allow a small gap to get the bike out so that he could ride it around the block: returning both it and the car before his parents got home. His Dad came into the garage to chat to us one evening and commented that the bike was really hot. Cool as a cucumber, he explained that we had just been running it in situ to listen to the pipe: Keeping a straight face was a skill that would set him in good stead as a lawyer.
To save energy, one evening he started the car, reversing it up the drive and on to the road. Waving for me to occupy the passenger seat and much to my consternation, he then drove off along the road towards a rise, at the top of which is a T-junction. Unsure quite what to do at this point, he pumped the gas, swung the wheel left and, having cut across the pavement, braked to a sudden halt in the middle of the road.
I should point out, that in these early years, there were very few cars in the street and no traffic, but my heart was beating like a steam train and we sat there, petrified, for some moments. Then he returned, more slowly, back to the house and dropped me off, still shaking, before rolling into the garage, misjudging the brakes and slamming noisily into his treasured bike. Fortunately no damage was done.
He famously passed his motorcycle test just 11 days after his 17th birthday and got his car licence after only a few short lessons.
He went to secondary school and whilst there, started saying some really strange things. You may have heard him say any of the following, though they will have made very little sense: byemate, seeya, Boit denissan semiflourick galootube, dehennaway, incredible eh Adrian, bvort. These were words and sounds that were common parlance to him and those closest to him.
I went to secondary school in Falmer and he would arrive to collect me on his bike, generally riding off with the flourish of a well-executed wheelie. He did this on one notable occasion and caught me not holding on: I rolled back fully to kick him hard under the armpits, as I stared backwards and upside-down at the front wheel of a friend following us on his Yamaha.
This aside, he was the smoothest of riders and later, the silky smoothest of drivers too, with cars and bikes remaining as a passion throughout his life.
These are personal memories, but I suspect that your own experiences might chime with some of mine: His honour and sense of fair play, especially for the under-kitten; His mischievous dry humour and gentle irreverence; His highly competitive nature, sense of value, love of detail, care and nurture of those things and people most precious to him; His passionate love of his wife, cars, motorcycles. And oh, how much he truly adored his children.
I have spent countless hours with him in various garages, and on driveways, surrounded by motorbikes & cars and I personally shall always feel closest to him there, amongst the buckets and sponges and polishing cloths. That place that we shared so much time and ultimately, where he felt most comfortable.
I am truly honoured to have counted him amongst my very few close friends and I hope that his children will forever feel proud to have had such a truly remarkable man as their father.