I don’t know exactly when he was born, around the same time as me. We went to uni together. Had some adventures. Some people you know so well that the idea of giving them a birthday present seems stupid. We had better things to do than indulge that nonsense with each other.
However, I once brought him a little cutesy dragon, hatching out of an egg. He liked dragons, had various figurines of them. But they were majestic, clawing, snarling beasts. I gave him the egg dragon, he said he didn’t want it, not his kind of thing. He was right, it wasn’t. I liked this honesty. I can’t imagine him ever lying to me.
Usually he would go the extra mile not to offend anyone. He told me he eased off buying things online for a while, because he felt sorry for the postman having to carry the items to his door. Someone who presumably he barely knew, yet he had empathy for them.
I know to die and leave so many loved ones behind would pain him greatly.
He was my oldest friend. Others fell by the wayside. But Simon was different. We kept in touch for 27 years. His easy going nature and warmth prevailed.
At Manchester university, an afternoon pint or two was often sunk at the Phoenix, the odd nightclub, Rockworld. A day trip here or there.
I would visit him once or twice a year, his hospitality welcoming. A warm, firm handshake and grin at the door. “Hey!!”. His house was frequently visited by all his friends, I never saw another house so full of caring chatter and discussion. Everyone felt utterly at home and at ease in his company.
He hated Microsoft with a passion, a product of working with their buggy operating systems. He would surely agree with this opportunity to slag them off! He was artful and skillful with IT. If he wanted to do something technical, he would apply himself and get it done. He was smart.
He was a great fan of 1980’s films. A connoisseur. Especially the more outrageous, fun horror films. He educated me. We’d stick a tape in and relax and enjoy the likes of Hellraiser, Re-animator or John Carpenters “They Live” – a film I recently brought with the hopes of watching it again with him.
He once opined his memory was no good, I pointed out that he could remember the works of H.P. Lovecraft with clarity! He changed his mind.
He had read Lovecraft with a dictionary nearby, like I did. Although not a man of literature he could recognise quality, and we could recognise it in him.
The darkness of Lovecraft was on the surface reflected in his heavy metal musical tastes, a skull candle decoration, a cenobite figurine and so on. Yet whatever surface themes a first time visitor may have briefly noticed in his house would be shortly obliterated by the brilliant power of his warm, friendly nature that any words I clumsily set down cannot convey. As you knew him, you don’t need those words. We are all now members of an exclusive, privileged club, we can only pity others that membership has sadly closed.
The Megadrive would get fired up, then we would tackle Streets of Rage 2. I mostly lost all the lives as he did all the work and saved me. We finished that game together once in 1997, a memorable day in “sunny Whitefield”.
In 2011 we played a multiplayer game of Civilisation 5 together, and actually finished it! It took most of the weekend. I could no longer josh him about never finishing a game of Civ.
In Left for Dead 2, he would carry the team. Coming back to rescue me when needed. His listening skills and the way he related meant such rescues he performed were not wholly limited to the videogame world.
I remember the good times we shared, the experiences.
Scouring a scant photo collection, I found only a single one with Simon, he is playing pool in a Manchester pub. There are many more in my mind, the memories form an aura of which I doubt I will be fortunate enough to experience again with anyone else.
Generous and giving, he would think the best of people, but not suffer fools too long. Thinking of him now, his exceptional qualities, which perhaps I didn’t consider and appreciate enough, come into focus, and present themselves as the reason why our friendship lasted so long.
In his later years his demons encircled him, he would push them away for a while, but they were always there. Tormenting him. Sleep was no escape. He didn’t talk about them often, probably to save us all the horror. Sometimes he would open a small door, and let me glimpse inside it. Very occasionally they overcame him, but they would only rage at him, he was too good to hurt others. A lesser man would have given up. He was strong.
Latterly, he would sit for hours, interrupted by the occasional “brew”, chat or cigarette, playing Civilisation, or Lord of the Rings online. Not because he especially liked those games, but because they distracted and quietened his mind.
I said I would visit in November after my work finished. If my job continued I am sure I would have put it off until 2018. My own self-centred nature has robbed me of that last visit forever. Now a train journey up to Manchester will for all time be a gruelling reminder of who I am not visiting, and what I have lost. Of what we all have lost.
A few months ago we chatted about a PC motherboard problem he had, we both slagged off the shitty design that made the solution non obvious. I imagine we laughed and joked about some other stuff too. That is my overriding memory of him. Giggling away at some such nonsense. A grin never too far away. I would like to call him up and tell him how sad I am, but I can’t as he is dead and the reason I am sad! If I related that in an exasperated manner to him perhaps he would see the funny side. A tragic Ouroboros, that perhaps time can slay or lessen, but it doesn’t feel like it today.
His mind was open to all the possibilities of all the gods in all the world. Didn’t matter how small the chances were. He always said you couldn’t prove it one way or another. Si, you make a grown man see the attraction of religion. He was a man of character I was proud to have known.
He called me in September, my phone was on silent, I didn’t return the call when I noticed. Now I can’t.
How can I replace him? It can’t be done. He wrenches a piece of me away with him.
Perhaps I will forget he is gone and look see if he is online playing games, so I can have a chat with him. “STE! You numpty!”
His experiences will be lost, the impressions we have of him will be corrupted and distorted by time. But, I would suggest those memories will only grow brighter whilst they last in us, for the memories I have of Simon are overwhelmingly happy ones. If I could speak to him again, I wouldn’t have anything profound to relate, nor ask him. I would just chat easily about this and that and be happy to hear his voice. The tears pour from me as I type this. “Aww STE!” he would say, a frown on his face.
I wonder if he knew it was his end as he lay dying. No more nightmares for him. No more laughter for us. I am not sure it would be right to turn back the clock a year if I could, but I would selfishly do it in an instant, I miss him so much.