Rob

My wife Kay’s brother, Rob, died on Sunday night. This is her remembrance of him.

For my brother

It is 30th March 2020 and we are in the midst of a pandemic sweeping across a locked-down world. Life is somewhat surreal, its preciousness thrown into stark relief. Perhaps it was better that Rob, my brother, should not be part of all this. He’d been wanting to leave the world for some time. Last night, in Harare, his body let him go.

In our African childhood he was a round child, shy, funny, sporty. That’s how I think of him – round – but when I look at photos I see that he wasn’t, particularly. I also think of him, in those years, as a pest. He was two years younger and, typically, the annoying younger sibling. And then we were both sent to boarding school and missed each other and our relationship improved. In my early teens the family moved to a remote mining village and there my brother and I hung out with the same crowd, because there was only one crowd, and we became close.

At senior school he took off in the sports arena, less so in the academic one. That light did not shine until he attended university. After that it was the guerrilla war, and after that he headed into the world of development and conservation in Africa. He was passionate about all that. With that passion came great success in attracting funds and raising awareness of the causes he was involved in through local, regional and international fora.

In the early 2000s, cracks began to appear in his working life. The country he loved had ceased to attract much international sympathy or attention and funds dried up. By then his personal life had become more difficult too, and his move to England for family medical reasons exacerbated that. By 2010 a deep unhappiness had set in. It turned into distress, which triggered psychosis. He tried then and later to find a way out, but in the end he decided that the safest place to go was inside his own head.

Over the years he gradually removed himself from the world, although he never really stopped observing it. The decline in his mental state was followed by a decline in his physical health, and when he died he was a frail shadow, mentally and physically, of what he’d once been.

Although being inside his head gave him safety, I doubt it ever gave him peace. He is at peace now. And will always be remembered with love and sorrow, as well as admiration for all that he tried to achieve for the country and continent that he loved.

Wherever I lay my hat

Indian notebook 2

High in the uplands of Kerala, surrounded by acres of tea plantations, sits the town of Munnar. We were visiting anyway and, prompted by a friend who grew up there and whose father was a tea planter, we searched out the High Range Club, an unreformed relic of the imperial age. In the bar, surrounded by the stuffed heads of tigers and leopards, we found her father’s hat. Anyone who was a member for 30 years or more was entitled to have their hat hung on the wall. The hats are still there, but not the culture that engendered the Club.   [read more]

1 July 2016

At 07:28 last Friday, 1 July, I was standing with hundreds of others on the edge of the Lochnagar Crater, near La Boisselle in the valley of the Somme, scattering the petals of poppies into the wind. It was at this place, and at this time, 100 years earlier, that the Battle of the Somme commenced. A vast mine had been laid by the Royal Engineers, and it was the detonation of the mine that acted as the signal for this part of the British offensive.   [read more]