Alan Spybey 16.1.06

It's Monday morning when I get the news, relayed through Kep. It's eight o'clock and I'm sitting in the junk room we call a design office in a part of Nairobi which would be called run-down if it had ever run up. The sky is overcast, rather unusual for these days, in which the same sun which means balmy times in the hammock in the garden, also means no grass, no crops, no water in the three quarters of the country classified as arid.

I guess I'm rambling on because I'm still a bit stunned and anaesthetised reading about Chris. It's kind of trite I suppose to go on about how Chris will live on and on in the minds of his friends and family, but I can say this at least. A week ago, before of course I knew any of this, I was talking to my three kids about stuff, and nine year old Ben made a crack about people interested in maths being a bit tedious. I didn't even have to think about who I knew of was good at maths and yet wasn't boring. It's just one of the fascinating things about Chris which has sat right there in the front of my mind since the 1970s - a set of Elvin standards against which I measure people and circumstances - a complex image of warm humanity, brilliant intelligence, and seemingly boundless talent.

So I told my kids little stories about Chris: about how he used to bicycle around Brighton in the winter in bare feet; how he carried a box around his shoulder with slots for harmonicas of every key and could break into and complement any music he ran into; how he taught himself to play the saxophone by refusing to look at any manuals and torturing the instrument and the ears of any bystanders for several weeks (though for most of the time he exiled himself to a more remote part of the garden) until nothing came out but sweetness; how he would stay up till the early hours of the morning engaged in psychotropic battle with the most abstruse kinds of calculus. OK I didn't mention the psychotropic bit. But anyway they listened transfixed. Uh, cool! Opined 17 year old Raya, I'd love to meet him! And I wondered about this and thought about Chris and wondered what he might be up to and thought about how hard or easy it would be to get in touch, not realising that I was already too late.

And in telling my kids about Chris I thought about something else - although their fascination showed he was extraordinary enough to be the stuff of legend, he had a quality which most very talented people don't - one which matters to a less cerebrally-endowed character like me, who has no particularly developed skills in any noticeable direction. In my job I am constantly meeting people with exceptional talents, but almost to a man (and if they are like this they usually are), they are self-promoters, auto-proselytisers, genii with megaphones. In contrast, Chris was very modest with his talent. No, that's not the right way to put it, because it implies he deliberately downplayed it. With him it wasn't like that - it was more like he acted as if his accomplishments were just there, like a tree or a boulder, and were no more a product of his creation than nature. So if one referred to something he said or did which was incomprehensible, he didn't act as if one was the lumbering idiot that one actually is, but explained things in that bubbling enthusiastic way as if it was something that one would have course have understood, but had just temporarily overlooked. (Do I get a prize for using the word 'one' that many times in the same sentence?)…

Anyway Sue, I remember you, and Heather, and when you meet with the others on Feb 4th, I won't be able to be there, but I'll be thinking of him, you can bet on that, and not just then either.

Love, Alan


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