I went to a wine tasting last night. I almost didn’t go, but then I realised that, of all nights, it was the night when I very definitely should be somewhere that the alcohol flowed freely.
When I first began dating Caro, she told me that, aside from her parents, there was one other person whose approval I needed. That person was her Uncle Arnold
Arnold Kirkpatrick wasn’t her real uncle, but the father of her oldest friend, Joyce. Caro and Joyce shared their childhoods and their birthday parties. Their parents shared their own parties and a wealth of stories.
It is quite common to describe someone as ‘larger than life’, but in the case of Arnold it wouldn’t be accurate. When I first met him he struck me as a cross between Peter Ustinov and the Spirit of Christmas Present – a first rate raconteur (with a Ustinov-esque girth and thinning white pate) through whom the very energy of life itself seemed to emanate.
Arnold was one of those people that you meet and feel like you have known for years. He took the Spirit’s cry of “Come in and know me better, man” and added “…in the company of a large drink and a bottomless pool of hilarious stories and terrible risque jokes”
The effect of this is that I can’t tell you about the first time that I met Arnold. I had only known him for five years, and yet it feels like I had always known him. I don’t even know if I passed the ‘Uncle Arnold Test’, although I have always assumed that I must have done because we could talk for ages about horses (his passion) American football (both of our passions) and Caro (thinking about it, also both of ours, although in different ways). I assume that I must have done, though, because she married me.
You will gather, both from the tone of this piece and from the fact that it is a Thursday, that Arnold isn’t with us any more. A few months ago he was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. Yesterday, he suffered a bad reaction to the drugs that were supposed to cure him. It was, in one sense, a very ‘Arnold-ish’ way to go. Rather than risk becoming anything other than the man he had been, he went out with a bang.
But today I feel desperately sad, for his wife Julia and his children, who have an enormous, Arnold-shaped, hole in their lives (and believe me, that’s one heck of a hole). For the grandchildren who got to spend way too little time with the grandfather who loved them so very much. For my in-laws, who have lost their best friend. For my wife, who has lost a man she looked up to and greatly respected. For my son, who never even got to know the finest grand-uncle he could have wished for.
And, in a funny sort of way, I feel sorry for you. Because you didn’t know him, and I did. As the Welsh say, hon was dynn – this was a man