It's ten years now since you died. What a long time a decade seemed when we heard Paul Simon's song Ten Years at your funeral! I'm sharing this letter now because I still think of you often.
You died on 9 July 2009, between your sixtieth birthday and your sixtieth birthday party. You weren't an easy friend. I think I was one of the few that you didn't have a major falling-out with at some point or another. But there were lots of people who loved you. There were going to be lots of people at your party, and there was standing room only at your funeral later that month.
Jane Clossick and I stood there together and listened to this song. An old friend of yours told the story. You were his guest at Christmas one year, and being characteristically convivial at the dinner table. When this came on the stereo your focus changed, you dropped out of the conversation, listened intently; you asked for it to be played again, and again; you listened again, and again, concentrating. It's a scene vividly familiar to anyone who knew you. What was it about the song that caught your attention?
I have so much to thank you for. You introduced me to three of the great loves of my life: music, Scotland, and whisky.
I'm sorry that I never got on with the oboe, the instrument you chose for me. But the steel pans were magnificent. What a joy to be part of making that glorious happy music! It's nearly 25 years since we took our band Panache to Spain, and you charmed the mayor of Cadiz into letting us headline at the Carnival. I remember your magnificent vain delight at being given the remote control for the culminating firework display; at sending the signal so that the rockets burst just as we played the last chord in our favourite song.
Thank you for introducing me to Scotland. I had already visited that corner of Argyll on holiday with my family when we first took a trip to Inverliever in May 1995, but it was on our school music trips to the Lodge between then and 2001 that the Highlands really captured my heart. Now I live in Scotland, teaching and writing here, and spending my spare time exploring the Highlands (by bus and train - you'd approve!). So much of my life has been shaped by that connection. Thank you for sharing that love with me.
In truth it probably wasn't very professional for you to sit drinking Laphroaig with me until the small hours in Inverliever while we waited for the younger students to go to sleep. But we set the world to rights several times over, and I've enjoyed the stuff ever since. For a few years I kept a stock of Port Ellen, your favourite. I think we both liked it because the distillery closed in 1983, so we knew that each glass was part of a dwindling, dying stock. I wonder what you would make of the news that the distillery will be reopening? Excited, but also maybe - like me - just a little bit grumpy about being deprived of that pleasurable melancholy? In any case, I'll test it for you, in about fifteen years' time, when I can get my hands on a bottle.
Here's one of my favourite memories. In the lonely years before I found my feet at school I used to arrive early and sit with you in the Music Suite. We'd drink lapsang souchong tea (another gift to me - I still drink it all the time) and talk about maths, music, politics, and philosophy. The morning I'm thinking of we didn't talk much. When I arrived you were listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams on the stereo. I sat down silently and we listened together for about twenty minutes, watching the early summer sunshine on the trees, hearing the Lark Ascending, enjoying the music and each other's company, and saying nothing.
Anyway. I miss you. I know you were lonely, and ill, and afraid of going blind. I nod along when other people say that it's probably a blessing that you died so suddenly when you did. But I miss you all the same. I wish we could talk over a glass of whisky every now and again.