Last night the wife of one of my very few friends rang to tell me that he had passed away. John had been magnificently influential to me since we first met in a gay bar in Amsterdam in the early 1980s. He was at that time about as old as I am now and I could see that his then conspicuous age in a place where youthful looks was everything was isolating him. So, yes, out of pity, I started talking to him and what a fruitful friendship it turned out to be! Although he lived with his wife in an isolated part of England I did visit them once. But he visited me when I lived in Germany, we made further trips to Amsterdam together, as well as twice to Berlin, one time even with his wife. Even when I first talked with him he told me that he had six adult children and was a grandfather several times over. His wife was aware of an 'alternative' side of his personality, as were his children who, apparently, were all relaxed about it. (His youngest daughter thought it was 'hilarious'!) But John had a giant philosphical intellect which would put most, including me, to shame. He was also a Wagner-worshipper - a composer I can live with but don't adulate quite as much as he did.
In one very surprising respect John opened up a new feature of my life - disco-dancing. Before our acquaintanceship the thought of twirling alone on the disco floor so embarrassed me that I would always stand on the sidelines looking on longingly and enviously. But John found it so exhilerating he didn't care what anyone else thought. It certainly looked, erm, 'unusual' to see a white-haired old man energetically jigging around among youngsters some of whom looked askance or bemusedly at him. (By the way, he wasn't just sober - he was also teetotal.) So one day I forced myself onto the floor with him and started letting go. It was indescribably great. In fact for the next ten years there were hardly greater pleasures for me than shaking a leg or three on the disco floors of Gay Europe. I doubt I would ever have done that myself were it not for John's example.
He was 87. Last year he'd had a heart by-pass and a few years ago had had a hip replacement so the end was not totally surprising. But he was active right up to the last - caring for his very large garden which he and his wife let out for public viewings. I hadn't actuallyseen him since he visited me in 1997 when I lived in Brighton but we kept phone contact about once a month. It's unusual for me to lose a friend by means other than through the big 'A' but it makes it quite as devastating. I'll miss him one hell of a lot.
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