Friday, 17 January 2014

A tribute to a friend

Last week I had to attend the funeral of my oldest friend.
     I first met Ted at junior school, when I was seven. The friendship continued at grammar school and university.  For most of the subsequent years we lived in different parts of the country, and only met occasionally, but we always kept in touch because we both enjoyed writing letters. His letters were always better than mine. We even wrote an "epic novel" together in the 1960s: "The Life and Epic Adventures of Cecil Z. Frampton, gent."; which was destined to be abandoned unfinished (perhaps just as well!)
     Ted was highly intelligent (being a Cambridge scholar and a PhD in electrical engineering), but was also exceptionally widely read and was never short of something comic and apposite to say. He loved to find absurd or surrealist items, and sent them to me, knowing I would like them too. My favourite of these was when he sent me a cutting from his local paper about a football match "in a blizzard which would have deterred even Titus Oates". Ted's comment was, "Popish Plot called off! Pitch unfit!"
     He used to kill conversation on literature by announcing firmly, "I've read Little Dorrit!", because no-one else ever had. He had actually worked his way through Balzac and Zola, and much of Henry James. The only writers I could claim to have introduced him to were Tolkien and Francois Rabelais, and perhaps Henry Fielding. In addition he was one of the friendliest people I have ever met: everyone was very fond of him. Once when he was staying with us he reduced my mother to helpless laughter. She commented that she was pleased to see "such a well-brought-up young man" at the table. "Where? where?" responded Ted, lifting up the tablecloth to have a look.
    The last time I saw him he was clearly well below his best. He was too short of breath to go for a walk, and he admitted that he could no longer read book as voraciously as in the past. I thought this was particularly sad.
     For years he battled against cancer, but his letters over the last couple of years gave little hint of how ill he was: there was never any trace of self-pity, and he managed even to treat his operations in a light-hearted way. But I would have expected no less of him.
     Ted finally lost his struggle with cancer a few days before Christmas.

Ted (on the right) with Shilstons: Levens Hall, Cumbria; 1970.
Dr. Edward George Ryland Smith (Ted); 1945-2013     

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