Sunday, 4 October 2009

PJ's Old Stamping Ground

This is the third and final post about my friend PJ (you can read the two previous ones here and here).

It's the week before Christmas 1999 and we are scrambling up a steep, rock-strewn Welsh mountainside.  PJ is with us but is very quiet this day.

"There you go," I say, handing back the Tesco bag of classical CDs I have borrowed.  PJ takes them and invites me in for a cuppa.  I don't have time today, so we shoot the breeze for a few minutes, and then I'm away.  He seems happier of late than he has been in a while, which is a good thing.  Maybe he's staying off the weed a bit - it always seems to make the shadows deeper for him, that stuff, and I wish he'd pack it in altogether, but while he shares a house with JH, that's never going to happen.

"There's an awful lot of Geology hereabouts, isn't there?"  I joke in a lame, Terry Pratchett kind of way, as I haul my spectacularly unfit body up yet another mini-cliff.  One the Ms - MG, I think - laughs far too much at this, really.  I suppose it's the oddness of this thing we're doing, taking PJ for a climb in the middle of winter, in a place he used to always love rock-climbing in as a younger man.

My Other Half and I get into the house, shopping bag-laden.  The kettle's on and, oh look, there's a message on the answering machine (nobody called it voicemail in those days).  It's from JH, PJ's housemate, asking us to call back as soon as we can.

There's ice on some of these rocks, making it more dangerous.  If I'm honest, though, I really shouldn't be doing this: clambering about the scenery in the dead of winter.  The sky is a dead lead-colour and it's pretty cold.  We were due to make this trip a week ago, but one of the cars broke down on the motorway and it poured with rain so much that we had to give up in the end.  PJ didn't mind, though, and today he's not bitching either - but then this is his old stomping ground and he's used to this kind of thing.

We call PJ's home number and JH answers.  He's in a panic, can we come over straight away?

We reach the top finally, a place of sere, wind-swept grass, unforgiving boulders and patches of startlingly  white snow.  There's just myself, my Other Half, the two Ms and, of course, PJ.  JH, KP and one or two others should have made the trip with us - it had been their idea in the first place, after all - but when we had turned up at their place, they were all so wasted on drugs that we had to leave them - only PJ came with us in the end.

JH is sitting in the back of a police car outside the house when we arrive.  What the hell...?  We manage to snag a detective who is milling about with the handful of uniforms, going in and out of PJ's house.  The detective won't say anything to us about what has happened here.  I immediately assume the worst: PJ has finally managed to take his own life (he's tried this at least twice before).  I give the police what little information I have about his family, his grownup kids' names, his sister's in Kent.  In the end, we have to leave with no information - they won't even let us talk to JH.

"So, who's going to be first?" 

We all look at each other a little sheepishly.  I think we all want that honour.  Both of the Ms have known PJ longer than I have, so it should be one of them, I suppose.  They seem a bit reticent, though, so in the end I put out my hand.

I unscrew the lid, tilt the black plastic container and the wind immediately starts hungrily grabbing the fine grey powder, pulling it out over the dead grass and away, away to the mountains.  One by one, the others take their turn and we each say goodbye to our old friend PJ.

It turns out, PJ had had a massive heart attack in the early hours of the morning and his housemate had found him slumped at the bottom of the stairs.  The kittens, which PJ had loved, had been playing on and around him, which would have amused him hugely if he'd known.  I hope he does know.

So long, old friend.


  1. You have SUCH a way of telling a story. I knew that I would end in sadness, but I was still pulled along. PJ was lucky to have you as a friend!

  2. I love the way you write; whatever it is, sad, lively, funny, you pull me along and I need to read right to the end (which I don't always do with all blog posts).

  3. Such a touching insight into a moment in time.. a stunningly gentle and intelligent tribute to a soul.... It is something any person would be proud of, to be remembered in such a way is a beautiful thing and makes a life worthwhile... thank-you :-)

  4. To write like this about him, you must have been a good friend to him and that is a tribute in itself.

  5. I'm with Dave. Sorry for your loss.

  6. @Bug - Yes, I suppose I did give it away a bit by saying it was the final post and it was sad, but I'm glad you enjoyed it all the same.

    @Friko - High praise indeed from one who writes so well herself.

    @Watercats - I realised after I wrote this piece that it's been almost exactly 10 years since PJ died. I hadn't planned on doing any kind of anniversary tribute but I guess it must have been in the back of my mind or something. After he died, all the writing just went out of me and it's taken till this year to get it back (PJ used to read and enjoy my stuff). Thanks goodness for blogging!

    @Dave - PJ was just about as close a friend as it's possible to be platonically, I think. PJ was a really troubled soul who massively undervalued himself, but I always saw something incredibly worthwhile in him and stuck with him through his dark days - which were pretty dark sometimes. He was a top bloke.

    @ER - Thanks. It's been 10 years now but I'll never forget him.


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