Thursday, July 12, 2006
Mourning the untimely passing of a friend
This is without doubt the most difficult column I have had to write so far.
That is because I am writing it just a few hours after being told that one of my closest friends died at the weekend, after being suddenly rushed to hospital suffering from meningitis.
I was on the point of contacting Linda and asking her if I could postpone writing a column this week. But on reflection, I think, me being a newspaper reporter, a column is perhaps the most appropriate way for me to pay tribute to my friend.
His name was Pascal Norris and he was a unique person. I am not sure of his age. When I first met him 10 years ago he was in his 40s, so I suppose he must have been around 50-ish now.
How to describe Pascal? He was a Buddhist, a vegetarian, a self-employed wood carver who made the most beautiful wooden musical instruments, a tai chi practitioner of many years, an organic gardener, an African drumming enthusiast and one of the most honest, open and natural people you could ever hope to meet.
He lived about 35 miles from me in one of the more remote rural locations in the Borders, in a small lodge cottage which had once been home to his parents. There, in the workshops where he had learned the intricacies of working with wood from his late father, he produced delicate bowls from hazel and walnut, pieces of furniture and astonishing cellos, fiddles and guitars.
He also made his own shoes - in fact if you could possibly make something from wood, Pascal could do it.
He is the only person I have ever known who repaired the air filter of his car by making a replacement part for it out of wood!
I first met him when he joined the Wing Chun kung fu club that had started in the town of Melrose here in the Borders back in 1996. Pascal joined six months after I did and became a stalwart member, attending seminars in England and Newcastle.
Often he and I would be the only people in my car as we drove the 60-odd miles to Newcastle on cold, dark winter nights for private lessons with our kung fu master.
I always enjoyed Pascal’s company and the conversations in the car would range from the obvious ones of martial arts to music, gardening, the countryside and countless other topics. often interpersed with his dry sense of humour.
One of my wife and my’s most prized possessions is a wooden bowl, hewn from a solid piece of walnut and lovingly polished and smoothed into shape which Pascal gave us as our wedding present.
We also commissioned some bookshelves from Pascal. Knowing him as well as I did, I should have realised Pascal did not do just ‘shelves.’ Instead we got a beautiful fitted bookcase so strong you can actually climb up its shelves.
Although Pascal stopped coming to the kung fu club well over a year ago - mainly due I suspect to his energy levels never having recovered fully from a battle with leukaemia several years ago - we still kept in regular contact by phone, email and visits.
So it came as a complete shock this morning when I received the phone call from a mutual acquaintance to tell me of his sudden passing.
As I write this it still has not truly sunk in that I will no longer enjoy those long conversations over cups of steaming jasmine tea.
His death has underlined for me, yet again, how transient this life can be.
Tonight I will be phoning round other friends to commiserate, console and renew contact. For the most important things in life are not wealth or power, but people.
We should never leave it too late before realising that.
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