“The dead can survive as part of the lives of those that still live.” Kenzaburō Ōe
We are now fairly certain that our good friend Graham has died after a very long battle with prostate cancer. We are not certain because his Malaysian wife is apparently not very good with technology, but Graham did send us a couple of very brief goodbye messages a few weeks ago, and there has been nothing since, and so I can only assume that he is no longer with us. Forgive me Graham if you are still there - for, amongst many other things, Graham was one of my early and almost unique followers of my blog.
What to say when a very long-time friend leaves your life? Perhaps if I start at the beginning it will lead me somewhere.
Graham was from Lancashire - I think Manchester, but I am not absolutely sure about this. I know in his later life he had a flat in Blackpool which I think is where his mother lived. By then he was living in Kuala Lumpur but spent some considerable time in England every year visiting his mother and his daughters, although one of these, for at least some time, lived in Spain.
We met Graham and his then wife Carol in Melbourne when we first came to Australia. They too had come for the obligatory two years of the ten pound poms. Graham worked for the same company (ICL) as David which was populated by numerous young English people. Which led to a very sociable atmosphere and lifelong friendships which are still maintained by an alumni group that meets a few times during the year even now. Some have died, some returned to England, some moved interstate but there is a large core that still meets on a regular basis.
We instantaneously struck up a friendship with Graham and Carol, and, I think it was our first Christmas in Australia, that we went on a camping trip with them up the Victorian coast to Sydney, where we caught up with another English acquaintance who eventually married the boss's daughter. None of us had children. We were all still in our twenties. The future was bright and the sun shone on our first Australian Christmas, which was very appropriately celebrated on a beach somewhere. Although I do not remember what we ate.
Graham and Carol seemed to fit in perfectly to the Australian lifestyle and it was therefore a surprise to us all when they decided to return to England after their compulsory two years. Perhaps family called. A sweeping generalisation about the northern English is that they are much more family orientated than we cold southerners. But we still remained in touch and indeed, a few years later, when we all had young children they visited Australia briefly and stayed with us in our second home for a while. I tried very hard this morning to find photographs of those early years of friendship but I can find none. There must be some hidden away surely?
The next we heard was that Graham and Carol had ended their marriage and later still that Graham had retired at a very early age having been made redundant on very generous terms that allowed him to live comfortably in Malaysia for the rest of his long life - I say long because he would have been almost 80. I cannot quite remember how he ended up in Malaysia but there he met Latifah whom he eventually married - having 'converted' to Islam to do so. Somewhere there is a photograph of Graham in his Malaysian garb for the wedding. But I have lost that too.
Obviously we never lost touch and then began our holidays in Europe with Graham becoming one of our most regular house guests. Perhaps not quite at the beginning of our trips, but very soon after.
He was the ideal holiday companion. Charming, interested - in everything - people, places, history, a bit of a flirt, always ready with a quirky story or a silly trick. He fitted in with just about all of our other holiday friends, although maybe one of our lady companions didn't take as well to the flirting even if the rest of us enjoyed it, as the pictures show. And the men loved his company too I hasten to add - for he was a great conversationalist. He was one of those people who just fitted in.
He particularly endeared himself, I think, to our friend Mike through their shared love of maps and planning what to see and how to get there. Back in England he was in charge of a group of footpaths through the Lancashire countryside, so it was probably hard for him to allow me to navigate us through the French countryside. Particularly as David and I would often argue about where we were. I remember him once telling David to concentrate on driving and me on navigating after a particularly loud disagreement between us.
He also introduced us to the lovely Reg, who joined us in Narbonne in 2017 and who died not long after that trip. I think he knew he was dying although the rest of us, bar Graham probably did not. They would spend many hours together talking, no doubt, about life the universe and everything as we relaxed in our beautiful holiday home and travelled around Narbonne and the nearby sights.
As I said, Graham was a flirt but also very loyal to his wife back in Malaysia, who was always invited but always refused to come. It was probably too much for her to be flung into a group of strangers. Graham would phone her on a daily basis no matter where we were - as walking in the Pyrenees here. He would also select mildly naughty postcards to send back home to her with great glee and amusement. For Graham was one of those people who seemed to find much to smile about in life, although, as I said, he suffered for several years from the disease that finally killed him. He will be much missed by his English family, by Latifah and his adopted Malaysian family, by all of his friends from long ago and from more recent times. It is rare that friendships are maintained over such long distances as he experienced.
There is a huge amount of Graham's life that I know nothing about but it was always such a pleasure to spend time with him in the beautiful French and Italian countryside - and all those years ago - here in Australia. A man determined to squeeze as much life as he could out of life and, cornily, do it his way.