You were my next door neighbour until you moved into a care home 4 years ago with a brain tumour, and you died this week, aged 77.
I didn’t know much about you, but this is what I know:
You danced to your own tune.
You were a recluse and a hoarder. You had a distinguished career at the BBC as a costume designer. I didn’t meet you properly until you invited me into your house and showed me around. Afterwards, I couldn’t catch my breath trying to relay the experience. Rooms to the ceiling with books and magazines. Wardrobes of vintage material you hadn’t got to since 1975, because there was too much stuff in the way. Chandeliers and candle holders collected from auctions and shops. A box room of porn- a WHOLE ROOM- that was ‘naughty’, and I wasn’t to spend too long in. (I spent too long in there once, after you left the house.)
You were talented.
You recreated the look of a Versailles Palace in your living room. (We live in Acton.) You crafted the mouldings with your own hands and painted the walls duck-egg blue. You placed antique clocks and ornaments all around. You made lighting fixtures, with tiny painted metallic flowers that must have taken literally hours.
You were funny.
You had a sense of homour. No, you had a great sense of humour. You made incisive observations about all the cretins around you. Adroitly queeny, never mean. It was clear you were spot on.
You had presence.
Before you went into the home you came to help me make some decorations I was planning to sell at a homesale. You were joyful and considered, when you said things.
You had an amazing collection of art books.
When you moved out of your home, a lovely local book dealer went through your collection and was impressed. He paid a decent sum to your relatives, for the books he took.
Indirectly, you gave my mother-in-law a good ending to her life.
I liked your care home and recommended it to my father-in-law, for my mother-in-law. She was also well looked after there, until she passed.
You loved your garden.
It was a bit of a jungle. But you were out there with your clippers, tending the roses, up until the day you left. About 5,000 foxes moved in afterwards that your nephew had re-located to the countryside.
You had a family who tried.
Your sister and nephew came to visit you in the home. I’m not sure this sister understood you, but she did the best she could. I didn’t visit enough either, by the way. When I did, you didn’t know who I was, but it didn’t matter.
You had a true friend called Jack.
Jack stuck by you through everything. He bathed you and comforted you during the crisis times. He visited you when no-one else did. He was at the hospital and the care home and back at the hospital at the time of your death, and a great deal besides. This man was your friend.
There was a local Bobby on a bike who looked out for you.
He checked on you regularly and brought you home when you were wandering and becoming unwell. He’s Scottish with a beard, and he’s been helpful in other ways since.
You lived in an age where it wasn’t OK to be homosexual.
People laughed. Your family struggled. I don’t know the half of it. But you weren’t cowed.
You liked classy things.
Art. Ideas. Humour. You were friends with the Royal household. Your family didn’t get this about you. You were just posher than them. Not to say they were common as muck. (You’d have tittered at this.)
You loved and were loved.
You loved your Mum, and she loved you. You were her ‘little boy’, and you were always good. Your sister, who died, loved you, too.
You were kind and gentle.
It’s just the way you were, Barrie.
We enjoy your beautiful garden ornaments.
When our shared fence was replaced, your relatives invited us to take what we wanted from your house and garden. We have your bench (the one the BBC gave you on your retirement that you said you would sit on and think about how shitty the BBC were), a bird bath, and stone pieces. Our garden would be much rubbisher without your treasures, and we talk about you, whenever anyone points things out.
I also took a rare limited edition art book I thought I could sell on Ebay. I will, but I’ll donate the proceeds to Cancer Research in your name.
I didn’t know much about you, Barrie, but these are the things I know.
And now anyone who reads this (and I have a vast and influential readership) knows these things too.
Rest in Peace, Old Bean.
‘Nice Sophie from next door’, Gethin and the boys