Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Lovable Curmudgeon

Two weeks ago I met some friends for a drink at a pub about 5 minutes from my house. Hardly blog worthy but the people I met all hail from Plakias, Crete, Greece. A small fishing village on the eastern side of the island, that my father retired to in about 1998.

The people I met were my pals Carl and Rowena, a married couple who own a holiday home in the village, and by coincidence live in the same town as me back in the UK.

The other person I went to meet, and the reason we all hooked up in the first place was a bloke named Andy. He's a friend of my father's and also Carl and Rowena, and defines the expression "lovable curmudgeon" so much that his face is next to the definition in the Oxford English dictionary (Home Edition).

Like my father, he lives in Plakias most of the year but travels around occasionally visiting friends and family across the globe. I first met him at Christmas 2007 when I travelled out to spend Yuletide there and he was the driver who'd run Dad the 114km to the airport. Big guy, huge bushy beard, and shoulders like a prop for the England Rugby team. He was a man of few words but very friendly and good mates with Dad. I met him heaps of times over the next few years when I went to Plakias and he was always the same. A bit gruff but always pleased to see me and have a chat.

He had a cat named Lulabell who was the feline version of him. He apparently found her one day when she was a stray, scrounging for scraps of food. Andy left a packet of ham slices open on his porch. He came back later to find she'd scoffed the lot and then she adopted him. She was apparently very affectionate and looked like such a sweet little thing. I came to see him once and smiled, beckoning her to come to me. She gave me a look as if to say "fuck off you prick!" and hissed loudly, showing all her teeth before scarpering over the wall. I later found out that only two people in Plakias were deemed worthy of Lulabell's affections. Andy and the guy who fed her when Andy was away travelling. When I came to see him, if the cat was on the balcony, when he came out he'd usually point at me and go "KILL!!!"

Andy had some history, including tours of duty in the British Army with long service in Northern Ireland. Some of the stories he told me (and I heard from others) were eye opening but he was always calm, gentle yet gruff when I met him.

In 2014 his daughter visited him in Plakias and organised a surprise birthday party for him. It was organised like an MI5 operation with us all tip toeing to the chosen taverna at an appointed time, and avoiding a specific lane and it went past where she was having a drink with her dad, waiting for the right time to show up.  I caught him blowing out the candles on his cake, on film and it was in the video I made for that summer, with the (now ironic) song "Freeze Frame" by the J Geils Band as the theme. Dozens of people showed up and a good time was had by all. Andy took it with his usual calm and even cracked a smile.

When he turned up in Leamington Spa to visit Carl and Rowena I texted them to say I hoped we could meet for a pint and on the Saturday Carl said they'd finished dinner and to come join them for a beer. I was completely drunk and remember very little of the meeting beyond the usual banter and him replying "probably" when I asked Andy if he'd be in Plakias when I turn up in June to visit Dad. Being English there was the usual piss taking banter between me and Carl including my choice of headgear, a World War Z baseball cap. Carl "borrowed" it to try it on and plonked it on Andy's head. Wish I'd got a photo, as he failed to smile the entire time he had it on.

Yesterday I was down the pub with some friends and we were having the usual banter. Bit of drama, some drunken words then my mate and his family said goodbye and I moved to the bar to finish my pint before heading off home. In my mind were a multitude of everyday thoughts about my immediate future. Monday off work so maybe I'll be called to do my second job (classroom supervisor) if someone calls in sick; glad I'd switched to real ale instead of lager or Guinness as I wasn't feeling as queasy as normal and predicted a smaller or non existent hangover the next day; my friend in Moldova has applied for a visa and will be staying with me soon, provided it's awarded...and loads of other inconsequential little thoughts skipping across my brain as I savoured what was left of my Saddleback bitter and thought about what I'd eat when I got home.

Then my brother pinged me on Facebook messenger and as I squinted at the phone it said: "You there? Andy's dead."

Assuming he was taking the piss I stepped out to the smoking area, and phoned my father in Greece. He confirmed it was true and Andy had died a few days before in Canada. I then called Rowena who answered the phone in a somber voice. I didn't say hello but got to the point:

"I guess you know why I'm calling...?"
"Yes, I know. It's true."

I decided I didn't want to drink any more so finished my ale and went home, everything seeming just a little greyer than before and my desire to stay out and try and hook up with some pals later in the evening was  completely quashed.

I called Dad again when I got home and he said that Andy had apparently died in his sleep, possibly of a heart attack but it was too early to say. Everyone who knew him in Plakias was grieving and most were distraught that they'd never see him in the village again.

The trivial things I'd been worrying about and the inconsequential stuff in my seemed a lot less important. My brother and father were as upset as me and on Facebook, messages of condolence were springing up as people found out and were putting their feelings into words. The "little stuff" that had occupied my time didn't warrant much attention now. A larger than life and genuinely lovely guy was gone. The only good thing about it was that he had apparently died peacefully, possibly without even knowing what happened.

We all miss you Andy. Wherever you  are now, I hope you're having fun.

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