Next week, I will be speaking at a memorial service for a friend and a relative who succumbed to the effects of his alcoholism and died, aged sixty.
He and I had an outdoor relationship from the beginning, almost thirty years ago.
I invited him on my stag weekend in Snowdonia so that I could get know him. And I think I truly did. He walked hard and talked just as hard, all the way up and all the way down the mountain. He got on well with my friends – better, I think, than I did that night.
But when they crept into my hotel room in the early hours, intent on doing mischief to me, he was the one whose nose I broke. It was quite a struggle, and I think a few of my friends were ready to leave the hotel early the next morning. Then, as I sat in silence at breakfast, in he walked. He grabbed a coffee and sat down opposite me, wearing his big, sunny grin. “That was quite a night, wasn’t it?” We were friends from then on.
I saw the best of him when he worked tirelessly to organise the team for the Three Peaks Challenge, in aid of children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. We had many long conversations before it, and spoke at length as he drove us between mountains. He was driven by something. I’m not sure if I ever found out what it was.
I saw a gentle side to him with his children when they were little, but also towards the end, when I walked beside him through the lanes around his home town. He counted on me as a friend and was never anything but kind and polite to me. That is the man I will choose to remember and celebrate.
I have a photograph of him from my stag weekend. He’s standing on Adam, a rock more than two metres in height and a little more than a step away from another rock, known as Eve. They are at the top of a mountain called Tryfan. Unless you’ve stood on the top, you don’t know how dangerous it feels to step from one to the other. If you get it wrong, there seems to be nothing between you and a thousand foot drop. He got up onto the rock and then stood there, unable to step across. He agonised for a very long time, pacing around the top of that rock, oblivious to the encouragement and impatient shouts from those around him. And finally he climbed down from the rock. It was brave to get up there in the first place. It was perhaps just as brave not to take the risk and to get down again.
Unless you’ve stood where he has stood, you cannot know how it feels.