Throughout this blog I have stolen words from Albert Einstein, Alexander Pope, Jay Z, Cormac Mc Carthy, Dante Alighieri, Euripides, David Gutta, Mary Shelly and London Grammar. Today all the words come from the very talented Tom Connolly, author of – The Spider Truces- one of the last books James read.
He sent me a letter a few weeks after James died which was to be given to an older Flynn and Celeste. It reads:
Dear Flynn and Celeste.
You don’t know me, but in the portrait of your father that will have been drawn for you over the years by the adults in your life, I have a tiny piece to add. I knew your Dad less, probably, than anyone who has ever spoken to you about him. But I thought that perhaps one day it would make you smile to know that your Dad was one of the most instantly loveable people I have ever met. We talked for the first time one summer evening last year, over the fence at West Wittering. He was putting the bar-b-q in to the shed in your front garden and drinking a bottle of beer. We said hello, and an hour later, we were still chatting. Even in that short time, I knew your father to be an intelligent, interesting, curious, well-travelled, well-read, humorous man. It was clear that he adored his wife and son and daughter more than anything in the world.
It is now the third week of March, 2015. I am, like many people right now, finding every day weighed down by the sadness of the news that your father, James, has died.
When I was offered the chance to live in 3 Coastguards Cottages for a few years, I was very pleased indeed. It is a deeply enriching experience to live by this beautiful estuary and wide open beach for a period of my life. I have walked for hours in the woods and on the beaches and I have windsurfed for many hours (not terribly well, I have to admit) in the waves and on the flat waters off the beach. I love this place and getting to know your father just a little was one of those unforeseen rewards of being here.
Last Autumn, one Sunday evening, I was out walking on the edge of the estuary. It was a beautiful day’s end. The air was cool. The sky was a faint pale blue. The estuary was still. I encountered a very happy family coming along the footpath from Snowhill on to the seaweed strewn beach near Roman Landing. The two of you were sat in a wooden cart, being pulled by your Dad. Your parents and I fell into conversation on the beach, meanwhile, Flynn, you got out of the cart and tried to pull your sister. The cart fell on its side and the two of you ended in a heap on the beach. I waited for the tears, but all I heard was your laughter. You both played with the cart and then ran around on the beach. Your cheeks were red from the chilly air. At one point, you Celeste, came running past me and your Mum as she was talking to me. You stumbled and muttered, “oh fuck”. We roared with laughter. Later, you Flynn decided to clamber up the bank of rocks and get to the top. I thought it would be impossible for you to manage but you made it, and then you called to your Dad to follow. Your Dad and your sister clambered up to the top too and you all stood triumphantly at the summit together. Your Mum talked to me about her teaching and the writing she would like to do. Later, as we all walked back towards the cottages, your father and I had a good conversation about books and he talked about his own father, your Grand-Father David, who had died that year. It was the evening I got to know your parents a little more and the one time I had the absolute pleasure of meeting you both and seeing you have fun and making us all laugh. It was no more than an hour on the beach, but there was a magic to that evening, and the image of your Dad playing with you so happily makes me smile and reminds me that whether it was for just a very short while, as it was for me, or for many years, everyone who knew your Dad was very fortunate indeed.
It is inadequate to say it, but nevertheless is all I have to offer, that from the moment of writing this letter to the distant future when you are adults and might perhaps read it, I will keep the two of you in my thoughts and in my agnostic prayers, wishing you a happy and fulfilled life. I will always remember your dad too. I have no doubt at all that you will both be happy, neither do I imagine that you will have reached adulthood without moments of darkness for losing your father. Many adults in your life, most of all your amazing Mother, will have made it possible for you to have a vivid picture of him but I hope that you will also remember that your Father’s picture of life, and his experience of happiness, was made whole by the two of you, and the two of you made his happiness complete.
When my brother was dying, he wrote to his son and daughter and said to them; “I hope that you will continue doing all the things you love doing. That will make me happy forever.” If, in your adult life you ever falter and suffer doubt or loss of direction (both of which experiences are inevitable) and you should ever feel sad about your Dad, perhaps continuing to do the things in life that you love and care about will be the way for you to get through hard times, and maybe that is how to be close to your Dad- by doing the things you believe in and love doing, because I am sure that nothing would have made him happier.
Your dad, James, was one of life’s good blokes. He was the sort who made an immediate impression. He knew how to listen and was well worth listening to. He had a kindness and modesty that shone. He was handsome and impressive. He had soul. All this was apparent to me, and I barely knew him.
I hope you are proud of him as adults even though you have had him stolen from you as young children. I hope you are happy. I hope that and trust that life is good to you both.
With fond respects always for your father and sincere best wishes to you both.