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Corona Diaries: the death of a decent man

November 13, 2020

A few days ago, a lucky streak – if you can call it that – came to an end. Until then, I had known nobody who had died of COVID.

One of the hallmarks of previous episodes of mass death over the past century – in my country and I’m sure in many others – is that those of us who survived all knew someone who didn’t. My family suffered losses in both world wars. I’ve been to graves of relatives who died in the first war. Unfortunately, our only casualty of the second war, an uncle, died at sea, so we have no monument or grave to visit.

As far as I’m aware, we lost no relatives to the 1917-19 flu pandemic. But I’d be surprised if those who were around at the time didn’t know people who did die.

Now it’s my turn.  The person who met his end thanks to the virus died in St Peter’s Hospital in Surrey. I knew him well enough, because he was a member of my golf club. Not as a close friend, but someone I often encountered, though less over the past couple of years as health problems started to impinge.

So I’m going to write a few words about him, not in the manner of a mourner who might say a few kind words at his funeral, but as someone who sees him as a memorable person, who therefore should be remembered. Also because he was a real person, with strengths and failings, like all the thousands of others who have died from COVID. And because, for all his eccentricities, he was fundamentally a decent man.

Peter was in his seventies when he died. I knew little about his life outside the golf course. I believe he was once in marketing. His wife passed away a couple of years ago. They had no children. It seems to have been a marriage of co-dependency, though perhaps he was more dependent than she was. She was also an active member of the golf club. She was always doing stuff and organising things. According to Peter, she was his rock. He was lost without her.

Peter, at least in the time when I knew him, was a classic case of what unkind smart-arses from younger generations might call a gammon – In appearance at least. He was short, bald, chubby, with a ruddy complexion that you might think came from an enjoyment of the good things in life. He had the jovial but occasionally dyspeptic manner of the sort of retired army colonel you might encounter in a PG Wodehouse novel.

I sometimes found him a slightly off-kilter figure as he sounded off in the clubhouse about all manner of subjects. On one matter, though, we made common cause against the vast body of opinion among our fellow golfers: Brexit. He, like me, thought that the whole project was utterly stupid. For that I would overlook all his other strange opinions.

But it was on the golf course that he made the strongest impression. To be honest, he was a terrible golfer. A hacker of the worst kind. If I was as bad as him – and I also have my bad moments – I would have given up hitting stupid white balls a long time ago. But Peter kept hacking on, literally, hoping against hope that one day he would cure his incurable habit of removing half the fairway with every shot. And with each turf-ripping excavation that sent the ball, as an accidental result of his efforts, a mere thirty yards, he would issue forth an expletive-laden howl of frustration and self-pity that could be heard in the next county.

It got to the point that I actively avoided playing with him, because it could be a major distraction having to watch a grown man cry several times on each round of golf. His cursing I could handle, because I’m not above the occasional (and some would say regular) screamed expletive. But it didn’t endear him to the women golfers who would occasionally be drawn with him in mixed competitions. I always found this rather unkind, because who these days under the age of ninety is really offended by the wide range of expletives that have become common currency whenever people open their mouths?

Perhaps the real reason for the sniffiness was that those who play golf fancy themselves as adhering to a higher code of conduct than the rest of humanity, which presumably is why people like Donald Trump love playing the game.

Peter became a legend for his golfing exploits. I called him The JCB, because a good fifty percent of the scars on the fairways were the result of his efforts to re-fashion their contours. Equally remarkable was his good humour when he returned from his regular journeys of devastation, and his relentless optimism that next time would be better. It never was.

Those who knew him better than me would say that his first love was sailing. It was to the coast that he headed every weekend. Friends who sailed with him say that at the helm of his boat he was something of a Captain Bligh, though he apparently stopped short of making people walk the plank. Despite what I said earlier, I suspect that battling the elements on the open sea was the reason for his weathered appearance. Unless, of course, his capillaries failed to withstand his regular moments of near-apoplexy on the golf course.

He was also into cars, and would go into raptures about a certain model of MG or some other sports car beloved of people of small stature, though totally uninteresting to someone like me, who would have to be cut into a number of small pieces to fit into those ridiculous fetish objects.

Since I’m not really into sailing either, should I end up next to him at a table, I would make polite conversation about his latest jaunt across the channel, courageously avoiding passing warships and supertankers. Beyond that, unless the conversation turned to the iniquities of Brexit, we didn’t really have too much to say to each other, because I tended to blank out if he started a blow-by-blow account of his latest disaster on the golf course. One doesn’t have much sympathy to spare if one’s busy dealing with one’s own pain.

But he stood out as a character, and I’m sure his name will be mentioned far more often than mine when my golfing days are over.

I hope he’ll forgive me for this less than reverent portrayal if he’s looking down at us from some clubhouse in the sky. I shall miss him, though not because he was a particularly remarkable person, any more than I am. After all, who among us is truly remarkable over the long stretch of time?

No, I shall miss him because in some respects he was a bit like me, at least in his habit of expressing opinions regardless of whether or not they’re sought. But as much as anything else, I’m sad to see him go because he was the first of my acquaintances to be taken by COVID. The thought of him in hospital struggling to breathe or lying senseless on a ventilator is more painful than the sight of all the poor people you see in those incessant fly-on-the-wall reports on the TV news. Because I knew him, and now he’s gone.

For me, he is the first, though probably not the last. And for that, Peter deserves, at least by me, to be recognised, remembered and bidden a fond farewell.

From → Social, Sport, UK

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