They say that one ought not speak ill of the dead, but with some people, it truly is an unnecessary proscription. If Simon had any faults, it was that he was too generous, too open-hearted, too damn agreeable. These are faults to which we all might aspire. By this you may have inferred the subject.
It was a few years ago that someone pointed out that while he may have thought that a book he read about Vietnam was rubbish, at least the author had written it. He began to think about writing, and decided to enter a travel writing competition and with much to-ing and fro-ing he finally did, and ended up a runner-up. He always had a story to tell, mainly because he had a knack of walking into anywhere and never being considered a threat. He made friends everywhere.
He ended up in Senegal through a typically ludicrous set of circumstances. Having rented out his house to move up to York, he moved back, rented my ex-wife’s house, she came back, he wanted his house back, but the managing agents had fucked up. At a low point due to various problems, when the agents offered to pay his rent and storage for his stuff plus a bit more on top, his response was ‘well, I always wanted to cross the Sahara …’ One adventure led to another, and he came home some months later rather chastened. I told him he’d be back in Africa soon enough.
Sometimes I read things right. He went back, decided that was where his heart belonged, and stayed. His thoughts turned to a book. We worked together on early versions of the opening chapter, which detailed how he and his partner, Khady, were in a bus which turned over, injuring many, but which Simon escaped without a mark. Khady had recently given him a gris-gris, a charm to protect the traveller. Having dragged Khady from the wreckage, he found himself at the house of an uncle of hers.
‘That evening as I crouched in the dark, ladling water over myself to wash off the blood, diesel and dust,’ he wrote, ‘I felt the gris-gris around my neck. I voiced my cynicism when I returned to the house – the gris-gris hadn’t worked, they were just superstitious nonsense.
‘Khady replied in quite simple terms: “of course they worked. You were the only person to walk out of the crash without a scratch, weren’t you?”’
Life was an adventure for Si, though never plain sailing, and while he made mistakes, he had a heart as big as a whale, and life in Senegal was exactly what he wanted it to be. He was truly happy there, and thought himself the luckiest guy alive, living with Khady and two children.
On Saturday, his luck ran out.
I’m proud to be able to have called him my friend.
Si already found peace. This really was unnecessary, world.