This is a piece I wrote in memory of one of our most enthusiastic supporters as well as close friend, Simon McGuinness, who died in London in June 2014.
Simon McGuinness was born in the University College Hospital, London on June 22 1963. The same hospital, as it turned out, in which my partner, Alex Pinder, was born. This, as well as their passion for theatre, cemented their friendship.
I met Simon about forty years later in a pub in Belsize Park. I hasten to say he hadn’t spent those intervening years wandering the few kilometres in between Euston Road NW1 and Haverstock Hill NW3. The family had moved to Australia where Simon grew up, and he did lots of things that others will no doubt write about, before he moved back to London to take up a position at University College, London.
I was in London with Alex who was, at that time my new partner. I had just spent time in France and Belgium studying the First World War for a Master’s in Fine Arts Degree. Simon was amongst the first of our friends with whom we shared the news of our relationship. This was delicate as my partner was recently widowed and many people, including Simon, knew and loved his late wife. Simon was warm and open towards me and I felt an immediate connection with him that only grew with time.
About 18 months later I was delighted by the surprise of Simon being at the opening of an exhibition at the Shrine in Melbourne, of work created from that trip. He was especially enthusiastic that I should plan ahead to the 100th anniversary of the start of the war – in ten years’ time. I began to see his gift of strategising about our projects – although he was not always as successful in seeing the steps ahead for his own.
Alex and I married in 2005, and not long after Simon met Heather, whom he married a few years later. All of a sudden there was the four of us, late starters in our marriages! We spent a wonderful New Years Eve together in 2009 under our huge pine tree, eating a summery meal, with a small fire at our feet. In that warm and convivial space, we touched on the things that mattered most, and discussed them openly. I treasured the openness and that evening, and so many similar discussions, for their honesty, kindness, non-judgement and sharing.
Each time Heather and Simon came to Australia or I visited to the UK, we met ; one summer Alex and I took them to one of our favourite picnic spots, Badger Creek, near Healesville. At home, we were in full summer mode and trying to keep our vegie patch productive. It is not an uncommon practice here to purchase a bag or two of animal manure from a seller along the side of the road on rural expeditions, but the practice was totally unknown to Simon. He was aghast at one level that we would even think of putting a bag of shit into the car, but on another, he found it totally hilarious – and the manure collecting became an on-going topic of mirth.
Simon loved being in Australia; seeing his many friends and family members and our easy summer lifestyle was appealing. But he loved London, the theatre, the culture, the university life. The opportunities. I meet him and Heather a couple of years back at the Tate, and later they proudly took me on a wonderful boat trip up the Thames, on London’s newest form of public transport. Another expedition was around the Borough Market. However, the last time I was in the UK he was unable to see me as his battles with his weight and his long time depression had overwhelmed him. We talked – but he was in a dark space.
Alex and I continued to talk with Simon and Skype him and gradually we noticed his mood shifting for the better. In our last conversation in April he was bright and positive about the future.
He supported our individual and shared projects, he encouraged, linked us with people who shared similar interests; he retweeted and shared our Facebook posts. When he had no work, a $50 note arrived with a card as a contribution to our crowd-sourcing campaign for a project in Nepal. He was a prolific real and social networker. But last Sunday, on his birthday, we realised we hadn’t seen his social commentary for a while and Skyped him. But there was no answer.
He was again in the University College Hospital. This time he was dying. In that immense circle that started and finished in the same place, he lived his life that was complex, loving, passionate, humourous, filled with a wife, family, friends, and students who loved him, that that was one of light and shade, joy as well as darkness. He was a lovely friend and we are deeply saddened to say goodbye to him.
There is a Facebook page dedicated to Simon’s memory, contributions are welcome.
Recent relevant ABC TV programs about loss and grief which may be of interest :
Funerals and Faith : COMPASS. Interesting five part series on different approaches to funerals in Australia.
Lessons from the Grave : a heartwarming and sensitive series of 3 minute videos about life after death. A young woman coming to terms with the death of her father. with Bryan Brown.