Thursday, May 5, 2022

A Very Special Assembly... talking about death.

I talked in my last blog post about the strangeness of finishing my Melody Harper book series.

It's a book I poured a lot of my heart into, and right now, I have a friend dealing with the death of a loved one, and there's a part I want to share with them. This comes from book four, so spoilers, but then if you've not read the books until now, you probably won't really mind! ;-)

Just for context, as without the book series, a little might be confusing,

The natator is Julia, a 19 year old from the Moon, currently come to Earth with her partner, Melody. Julia has lived on the Moon all her life and needs a wheelchair in Earth's gravity.

Dylan is the seven-year-old girl she's adopted, who lost her parents. One to an accident called the Hub Crash, and the other to alcoholism.

Melody has just given birth to a baby for a couple of friends. The baby was named Harmony, to complement her mother's name.

Even though Harmony isn't her sister, Dylan refers to her as such.

Although a sci-fi book, a lot of it deals with characters growing up, finding love, and becoming adults. There's a lot of fun, but there are also difficult things to deal with too like grief and trauma.

A very special assembly

21:32 Wednesday 1st March 2084


Dylan’s teacher, Mrs Bottomley, approached me last week about her idea.

“Dylan has mentioned in class about missing the memorial service for her mother, for the whole Hub Crash event,” she’d told me.

“Oh? Well, there is a service planned on the Moon, which we were going to attend by video link. But to be honest, Dylan hasn’t mentioned much about it,” I replied. “I’ve brought up a few times if she wanted to talk or do anything for her mother, but she’s been quite buttoned up about it.”

“We were thinking of doing a special assembly for her, as a kind of memorial. But wanted to check with you if you were comfortable,” Mrs Bottomley explained.

I hadn’t jumped into it right away but talking to Dylan, she said she wanted to remember her mummy with her friends and the nice teachers at her new school, so gave consent to it.

Well, today was the day for the special assembly in the main school hall.

We arrived to find all the kids from Dylan’s school were sitting cross-legged on the floor, which looked incredibly uncomfortable. They all stood up for us as we moved to take our places at the back - Melody, Dylan, Ernie, Annie, Jessie and even Harmony, who Melody was rocking and trying to keep pacified.

I’m glad I came in my wheelchair. There’s an odd feeling of being in Lilliput being in a primary school. Everything feels ‘scaled down’ for use for under-10s and even the chairs they bring out for adults look too small for function, especially with my long limbs.

Dylan sat in a chair next to me, eventually coming to sit on my knee.

The assembly was introduced by the Principal, a lady named Mrs Morgan, who was dressed in a smart business suit. She warmly encouraged the children in the hall to sit again, and there was a few moments of chaos as a couple of hundred children returned to the floor, with at least a couple of children pushing a neighbour who they’d felt was encroaching on their space.

“I’d like to welcome you all to this very special assembly,” Mrs Morgan began. She was an odd character, she exuded warmth and rapport with the children, and yet there was a certain no-nonsense about her. I expected this went hand-in-glove with being a head primary school teacher. “It was almost a year ago now that we woke up to the news that something terrible had happened out at the Lunar colony. I remember it upset a lot of you wondering what was going on, scared about what had happened to the people out there.

“As a predominantly Christian school, we prayed every morning that the colonists there were safe. I know those of you of other faiths prayed in your own ways as well.

“Of course, a year ago, those people seemed so far away, but we felt a strong connection to them. So many of us as girls or boys have dreamt about moving away and becoming a colonist on Mars or the Moon. The people living out this frightening episode could so easily be us, people we identified with and wanted to be.

“What few of us could imagine was that some of those people would come and live among us just a few months later. We have Dylan and her family with us today, most of whom call the Moon their home.”

Principal Morgan raised her hand in greeting to us, and a great many curious children looked behind to get a look at us.

“Of course, we know overall the colony was lucky. They got through the Hub Crash crisis, and there are steps to make sure something like that never happens again. But unfortunately, people did die. They included Dylan’s mother and friends of Dylan’s guardians.

“What I want to talk to you about a little today is the subject of death. It would be nice if death was something you only encountered off world, but it’s a part of life here on Earth too. Even at your age, the likelihood is you’ll have encountered death on some scale. It might have been a beloved pet or a grandparent.

“Facing death is often a difficult journey, even for us adults. People who are going through grief can seem to us very sad or very angry. Fundamentally, they’re missing the person they’re grieving for, and adjusting to the fact that someone they’ve always known is no longer here with us. As their friends, we need to remember always to practice kindness with them because it’s a difficult time for them.

“It takes time to adjust, and different people take different times for this. It’s a very personal journey. So, we also need to practice patience. Someone who is grieving might want to talk about the person they’re missing today, but not want to tomorrow. We need to remember to respect their boundaries and let them lead.

“I asked Dylan how she’d like to remember her mother on this anniversary of her passing,” Principal Morgan said, and Dylan put her arms around me and clung tightly. “She said she remembers her mummy as someone who gave the best hugs. She misses telling her about her school day, which would be a ritual they’d do over dinner on the colony. Her mummy used to take her to the domed gardens they have on the colony and would tell her the names of all the plants. Dylan misses when her parents used to put her to bed with a story at night. Little memories which remind Dylan how much her mummy loved her. But they are important ones.”

Dylan buried her head in my shoulder, and I patted her back.

“Maybe you’re going through your own grief process, and there are little memories you’d like to share. You know my door is always open, or your teacher is always able to listen and talk to you if you need to share them. I like to think of this school as a family, and whatever our differences, we support one another through the years we share together.”

Harmony began to stir a little at this point, and Melody did her best to rock her with a few soothing shushes to attempt to placate her.

“Well, I’m very pleased to have that little interruption,” joked Principal Morgan, and the school assembly broke into light laughter. “We’ve been talking a lot today about death, and how it’s an important but sad part of life. About its ending and about us having to say goodbye. But there’s an opposite to this that we can take joy in.

“A year ago, Dylan’s sister, Harmony, didn’t exist. She was born back in January and is the reason Dylan’s family came back to Earth for a while. Birth is the beginning of life, and it’s a reminder that although it’s sad when people leave, there’s joy in remembering that new people will come into life as well.

“And on that note, let us pray.”

They then broke into prayers. I have to admit I just stayed silent, not really being one to pray. Dylan had been crying a little, and I gave her an extra squeeze of a hug.

At the end, the school filed out, and we hung behind. I asked if Dylan was going to be okay, and she said yes, but she wanted to know if I could stay around school just in case.

Afterwards, when all the other children had filed out, I met up with the Principal and thanked her for her words.

“I try to do an assembly on death once a year, especially if someone has recently lost someone. It raises a lot of anxiety in other children, and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with that person,” Principal Morgan explained. “I like to think it’s something that we as a school do really well, but of course some parents think it’s taking time from education.”

Mrs Morgan was delighted to have me join her class and had me talk to the children a little about life on the Lunar colony. I explained about how the gravity was lower and we had no air on the surface, but lived mainly underground, growing food on the glass houses on the surface.

I got asked questions about if I needed to use my wheelchair on the Moon (no, because I just find Earth gravity too intense), have I ever walked on the Moon (yes, I work surveying with my partner’s father, who is an ex-student of this school), how did I get to live on the Moon (I was just born there).

Later on, I helped Mrs Morgan by having some children read aloud to me, giving them prompts when needed. It took me back to teaching Dylan when I was back in school. I really missed interacting with the kids. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do more of this once I’m considered sufficiently apprenticed with Mr Malcolm.

Yes, that reminded me, how formal Earth schools seem, using people’s last names like Morgan and Bottomley. I think our way is much better. They sound like they’re in Victorian literature, addressing people with their surnames.

I noticed though, Dylan kept looking across from her table to me, to check I was still there. It looked more nervous than anything. It was a reminder that just my presence was emotional support.

At night, Dylan opened up a bit more.

“Something Principal Morgan said got me thinking,” Dylan said at bedtime. “We’ve covered different religions in school. Some people think that when you die, you go off to heaven. But others think that when you die, you get born again as someone new.”

I wondered where she was going with this, “I’ve heard of it. I personally don’t believe it myself though. What about you?”

“It’s just I’ve been wondering,” Dylan continued. “Do you think maybe Harmony is a reincarnation of my mummy?”

Oh, that had me stumped.

“It could be,” I said, trying to be tactful. “I know your mummy was someone very special in our lives, and I know Harmony is going to be special too. But I like to think we’re our own people. I think…”

I cut myself off because I was crossing the line about telling Dylan instead of letting her express her own beliefs. I’d criticised others for overstepping this in the past.

But Dylan wanted to know more and kept asking.

“Okay, it’s probably silly. I know when I was young, I used to lock horns a lot with my mother, and not understand some of what she did. There was always some friction between me and my parents,” I explained. “As I’ve been your guardian, I’ve felt that I understand them more. Like I’ve become them in small ways, or at least understand them better. Even if there are still some big items that I still don’t see eye-to-eye with.

“I think those important memories of your mummy that you told your principal about. You won’t see them in other people. When the time is right, you’ll see them in yourself. When you become a parent, you’ll choose to keep alive within you what was important about your parents. That, to me, is how we reincarnate.”

Dylan thought about that for a while, “I like that, but I’ll have to think about it some more myself.”

We finished our bedtime story, and Dylan asked if we could pray about Mummy and Daddy. She’s never really asked to before, and I assume some of school is rubbing off on her, but I said okay, but she would have to lead.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

An ending of sorts...

Today, when I publish this, will be quite a milestone.

A few people since 2017 have asked me why I don't post as much about tech stuff. Is everything okay? Yes, things have been pretty good.

The truth is that I have in fact been busier than ever with writing. It's just not been with technical things.

Back in 2003, I was going through a rough time. Wanting an escape of some form, I came up with an idea for a book about a girl named Melody Harper who moves to the Moon, and the culture shock which waited for her. I tried several times to write it, my friend Violet loved what she saw, but I'd lose focus. I really got the momentum going in 2009, but wouldn't you know, moving to New Zealand interrupted my flow.

On the 1st March 2022, the book, Melody Harper's War will be published, and will realise the last of four books in the Melody Harper series. Bittersweet doesn't come close to explaining my feelings right now.

I'm relieved to reach the finish line, but also incredibly sad. Because Melody Harper and her cast have been an important place of refuge during an emotionally tough time.

So I had all these notes and the first 40 pages written, but it was the events of 2016 which got me writing again. There was something about the rise of Trump which was unnerving, and I found myself writing the first book, Melody Harper's Moon to really challenge a world of extremism that I was seeing grow around me (let's not forget Brexit, the move which pushed me to identify more strongly than ever with being a New Zealander).

You might remember the day Trump was elected, and I posted "Sophie Says Buckle Up" as a call within myself and others to resist. To not give up hope. To stand up for what was right, more importantly now than ever before.

I actually wrote some of the last parts of my first book, Melody Harper's Moon, on the way to my first Agile Testing Days on that loooong plane ride. I remember using inspiration from conversations here and there for my characters. I finished my first draft in late 2016 and got beta readers onto it in 2017. With it edited, I sent it around publishers for over a year but didn't get interest, ending up going down the self-publishing route.

I wasn't surprised - it is a book that sits in an odd niche. And those who love it, really love it. But a lot of people can't really be bothered. I have to admit, even though I love what I've achieved to bits, I'm a little embarrassed about it. Perhaps because I put a little too much of myself as a person in there. And a little because the book series is best described as a science-fiction romance at heart, and no-one is more surprised at that than me. And no-one defends it for being this more than I.

Nevertheless, in 2018 I wanted to keep going, to find out if writing a single book was a fluke. I'd left a lot of threads loose at the end (one reviewer was annoyed about this), and I wanted to keep going and find where they'd lead. [I know, you'd think as the author, I'd know, but writing is a voyage of discovery, after all]

On advice from a friend who was an agile coach, I talked about how hard writing book one had been - mainly as I was writing a book while doing a lot of other writing projects (like this blog). They advised me to focus on my book, because multitasking robbed me of achieving, not only slowed things down but caused distractions.

They were right (and hence why my regular posting dried up).

Over 2018 and going into 2019, writing fiction became more and more second nature to me. That thing they say 'if you keep practicing you get better'.

With challenging times during the Trump presidency and work, the idea that a manuscript was waiting at home for me to pour myself in was a real safe haven. It was a place to divert myself from other troubles. It became a place of sanctuary for me.

And in 2020, this was about to become a life-saver!

2019 of course closed with news of a new, deadly virus coming out of China. By March 2020, this was something the world could no longer ignore, and Covid-19 became a global pandemic. It became very real when my son became ill in early March. Although we've had a relatively sheltered time of it, I've still lost a teacher and a friend over this over in the UK. I know a lot of school friends whose own parents didn't make it.

Part of our defense against the pandemic here in NZ was the use of lockdowns. And for several months, my day would consist of sitting in one room for eight hours a day to work. Then moving to a different room in the house to relax for the rest of the day. And I was lucky compared to many coworkers to have two rooms and allow myself to mentally switch.

Lockdowns were necessary, but they were hard. There were times I felt claustrophobic and shut-in (even though I could, in fact, go outside). And the anxiety - particularly checking infection rates in the US and the UK where I had friends and people I loved. I would wake up at 3am and feel compelled to check.

It's no surprise the big growth word of 2020-1 is 'doomscrolling' which summarises our morbid need to find the latest news, knowing it will be terrifying.

Writing came to my aid. At the end of such tough days, I could escape into my writing. In a quirk of fiction, book 3 (which I was writing) takes place a lot on Earth, where Melody and her partner return to Earth so that Melody can have the baby she's carrying for friends.

It would feel surreal at times writing about going shopping, to a cafe, to lectures all the while knowing these things were things we couldn't do. It allowed me to live vicariously through my characters, as well as channel some of my anxiety through Julia (Melody's partner) who had always lived on a colony on the Moon and found the concept of 'walking outside' (without a spacesuit) disorientating.

I found this wonderful quote that my friend, Faiza Yousuf, shared, which really sums everything up,

It says something of how important this process got to me - books 1 and 2 (pre-Covid) took 18 and 15 months to write respectively. Books 3 and 4 written during Covid took about 8 months each to write, including substantial editing.

Sadly, the timing of  my book release (planned way back in 2021) couldn't be worse! 

In book 4 (and mild spoilers) the Lunar colony declares its independence, and a war breaks out between the two superpowers of the fiction era over who will take control, with an invasion impending.

There's a poignant line in the book which makes me think of what's happening in the Ukraine, "I'm terrified that your friends think they're prepared to take on what's coming and are treating it lightly. I've learned the most brutal way imaginable that you don't give a weapon to someone who thinks that war's a game, because it's not. And the end result is always more horror than you can stomach."

In the book, the Lunar colonists do prevail. But it comes at a terrible price. Then again, doesn't war always come with a terrible and unnecessary price tag?

Since finishing in December, I've started work on a new technical book, The Scrum Tester: A Survival Guide which is out with beta readers, and I expect to launch via LeanPub.

I'm interested to know how what's helped you during Covid and lockdown. Any hobbies? Have you struggled like me and so many with the anxiety?

Drop me a line on Twitter... 

Bracing for Omicron to hit my country, I'm currently working on a new novella which is more upbeat, and essentially a buddy-movie-as-a-book about a halfling conwoman who'd stuck with the half-orc she steals a sword from.

That, and I really need to paint some Games Workshop figures. If the hobby's good enough for Henry Cavill...

But for right now, it's goodbye to this lady (the titular Melody Harper). Thanks for being a companion in tough times...

Monday, December 6, 2021

The anxiety epidemic


We all relate a little more to this picture than we did in 2019...

I had a catchup with John (not his real name) over Skype the last week. It had been a while, and I was hoping all was well with him. I soon discovered that it wasn’t.

After a few minutes of catchup and idle chit-chat, the topic of mental health came up. They weren’t doing too well. Indeed for them, it was sucking the joy from life, they didn't feel any hope left for 2022.

I wasn’t surprised. Because I’d been having this conversation a lot – in video chats, in private messages, in emails. With so many different people in my life.

Our lives have changed so much since the early months of 2020, when a deadly virus started its world tour. Covid-19 has been terrifying.

The necessary lockdowns we’ve endured have helped to contain the spread and deaths to varying degrees (it seems like going hard and early has paid off for countries who have). But they have been difficult on us all.

For myself, even though I totally agreed with them, I could still feel claustrophobic and shut-in at times.

I would do a daily doom-scroll of numbers in different countries where I had people I loved and cared about (a lot of countries, a lot of love). I felt anxious for a lot of people, scared even for myself.

And it went beyond the life-and-death fears. As companies responded to the epidemic, sadly, a lot did so by throwing employees under the bus. People who lost their jobs feared what they could do.

Those of us who still had jobs were in fear of losing them if we couldn’t be productive enough at home.

It was a tough time. And for some of us, it’s left us changed.

I’ve got so used to working from home and it just being my wife and me, I felt like I’ve become severely introverted. I find social situations and anything which requires a bit of extroversion from me to be challenging and a little terrifying.


In a talk I did for ATD online last year in 2020, I talked about how we did not give ourselves enough credit for JUST GETTING THROUGH such a tough year.

Back then, it felt like normality was just within reach. Vaccines had been trialed and were effective. Indeed, they helped to sever the connection between infection rates and deaths. But their rollout took time.

In 2021 we saw more lockdowns as Covid-19 mutated into Delta.

But we were out of the severe mortal danger.


So why was I having so many conversations like that I’d had with John?

Indeed, I’d been proactive on reaching out to many friends during the last couple of years, just to see how they were. Ironically the Covid-era has made up more comfortable and less self-conscious about doing video catch-ups, or just text chats.

But when I heard both my father and brother had been diagnosed with anxiety, I began to realise just how big this was getting. John had a history of mental health issues. But a lot of folks like my father and brother were not those I’d traditionally associate with mental health struggles.

Indeed, I’ve had patches where I’ve found it difficult. More so this year than last. Perhaps it’s a feeling of going on too long. The seaman in the submarine drama who suddenly loses his nerve while being depth charged. You can only hold yourself together for so long, and then it becomes too much.

But definitely, it’s become an epidemic. And something that needs to be acknowledged.


That doesn’t mean I’m advocating for no more lockdowns. On the scale of things, preventing Covid spread vs mental health impact, dealing with the former involves the least harm. Although the second, especially through increased suicide rates is no soft option either.

And unfortunately, I can’t offer any easy advice. Except this most important of notes – to remember that if you feel this way, you are far from alone.

Indeed, one of the most vicious illusions we can experience when dealing with mental health problems is to imagine that we’re alone. We’re not.


If you’re experiencing issues, I recommend first of all that you speak to someone. It can be a family member or close friend. A lot of workplaces have counseling services available (I’ve had to use these myself in the last year). If no one else will listen, my DMs on Twitter are always open, but my response will depend on timeline differences. And, of course, there are local helplines to talk to who are available 247.

[Of course, this time difference might be of benefit, if you’re in the UK up and fretting at 3am, it’s probably just 5pm my time]

If this goes on for a while, it’s worth talking to your doctor. There are medications that do help take the edge off things like this. My wife has to take some for her anxiety, and they have helped change her life and her world.


But most of all, like I’ve said, acknowledge that this has been a tough time. Each of our respective countries should issue us a medal for the sacrifices we've made to do this. Okay, maybe not a big medal, more a certificate of acknowledgment.

But also remember that you’re not alone. The one good thing about Covid has been how it’s brought many of us closer together through social media and the various Skype/Zoom/Hangout offerings. Video calls have become a convenient way to share time with people we love.

Support and company is just a jangly ring-tone away.

We will get through this, like we have got through to date, together.

Take care and best wishes for the holidays whether you’re going to be with family or chilling at home!

[Thanks to the folks who have likewise thought to check on me during this year - I've really appreciated it]

Friday, November 26, 2021

Remembering John French - games teacher

Yesterday I had a message from school friend Annie. She was both my classmate, and daughter to my games teacher. She announced the news that her dad had died over the weekend.

I was sad to hear this - Mr French was one of the teachers everyone loved at school, and I'd often relayed messages to him through his daughter.

I wanted to take time to write about my memories of him for Annie, and how he left a lasting influence on me...

When you think about a PE teacher in the 80s, there’s a certain image that it’s hard to shake. Brian Glover’s tyrannical, bullying games teacher in the movie Kes.

Indeed, when I went on to University, many of my peers would share similar ghastly stories about loathsome PE teachers and how much they came to hate any session with these people.

Except for me. And that in a way is a good way to start any remembrance of John French and his cohort of PE and games teachers at Abbot Beyne.

Rather than being stern authority figures, the games teacher of Abbot Beyne felt more like our peers, our older brothers. You could imagine them as kids who loved sports so much at school that they chose to never grow up, instead turning a career in sharing their passion.

To form an image of Mr French in my mind is to imagine a trim figure in a faded, well-love rugby kit that almost resembled a jester. It’s an apt image he would typically watch us assemble before a lesson with a smile on his face, and a quip never far from his lips.

Mr French introduced me to the sport of rugby, and as he did so, and he broke down the rules and the plays, there was no doubt about the huge enthusiasm she shared with us all. And his passion was contagious.

When he selected me to train as a second row, I don’t think either of us knew how this would be a position I’d play on and off until I reached my forties. He chose well.

Looking back, Mr French was that first unique individual who did not teach, he coached. Whether we were training or playing his was a constant voice of encouragement. “You can do this, Talkie.” (His nickname for me, he loved giving nicknames)

I was a science nerd, I excelled in one area, but as a clumsy, awkward teen, sports terrified me. I felt like I lacked the coordination, I lacked the physicality. I constantly told myself that I couldn’t.

But games teachers like Mr French and Mr Atkinson constantly reminded me that I could. To avoid the defeatism and to strive. Make it happen.

I got to not mind our sports and PE lessons. I really got into rugby, although I remember Mr French pulling me to one side and tell me “this isn’t American football, only tackle the person with the ball”. I guess I had a few rage issues.

Even in the much hates cross-country, he was typically with the stragglers, reminding people that they could do it. Although I came to hate his cure for stitch which was “put your hands on your head, lean back and RUN FASTER”. [IT DIDN’T WORK]

In five years of having him as a teacher, I only had him get annoyed at us once. One Wednesday he gave a group of us end-of-day detention for not getting changed after a lesson fast enough.

True to form, when we all turned up for our punishment at the end of day, he looked at us baffled, and just sent us away saying there wasn’t really any need for it, and just change quicker next time.

The teachers we experience in life stay with us.

The bullying ones who belittle us and become a voice inside us. A naysayer. An echo we hear every time we fail. When things go wrong, we hear the mocking tones of our hated foreign language teacher telling us how we’d never amount to anything. And we think they were right.

But the ones who had faith in us hold a sway over us which can be life changing.

When in my late twenties, I decided to start cross country running, I felt like an idiot. But the voice of John French that stayed with me said that I could. I just needed to keep trying and when stitch hit, run faster.

When in my early thirties I decided to take up rugby again, I felt nervous as hell, finding many of the players of my local club were much younger.

I’m still far from a physical specimen, but I have no fear of the gym. I know too many who feel intimidated before they even enter one. But when my best friend tells me that there’s a new boxing class or resistance band or even a three-hour-dance workshop on, I’m not afraid. I tell myself I can do it and enjoy it. It’s a remarkable gift and a freedom.

The voices of our teachers and our coaches who believe in us never dwindle. They become spirits which walk with us to encourage us and remind us that we can achieve, especially when we doubt it ourselves.

Such people are a gift in our lives, and it’s no exaggeration to say that we love them for it.

So, thank you for that gift, Mr French.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Farewell to a good friend in hard times...

I woke up on Saturday morning to a devestating notification. Daren Pearcy, one of my best friends at University, had died after a short illness.

His wife had written a message on his Facebook, and I left the best condolence I could, reading through other people's experiences with him. Experiences which echoed my own.

TLDR; Daren was one of the good ones.

I met Daren at University, we were both at Sheffield studying Physics and Astronomy. Something he was not just passionate about, but incredibly philosophical at times.

University is sold to you as an incredibly experience, almost like attending Disneyland but with more alcohol. I have to admit, mentally I struggled incredibly with it -there were incredible aspects, but also feelings of alienation and struggles with my mental health.

I say this because time with Daren and our circle of friends was always incredibly soothing. When I think back on him, it's impossible to think of a time when he didn't come along and make me laugh and leave me in a happier state.

Let's be absolutely blunt, Daren was a geek. 100% and unashamedly. And I think this is why we got along so well. He loved science fiction, he loved astronomy and he loved a joke - although his humour could be bleak, vulgar and sweary. But that was Darent. He was naturally obsessed with jokes from Viz especially, which he'd cut out and placed all around the kitchen where he lived.


The Hudson building in Sheffield where we studied Physics and Astronomy. Or was it the Hicks building? A joke Daren made more than once... [You need to be a geek to get it]


But to tell a story best about Daren is to tell about the Thursday we technically bunked off studing to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey...

Let's be honest, it was a bleak Thursday. We'd all turned up to our solitary lecture of the day to find that it was cancelled. It was February 1991, and an event we'd all been on edge about had happened... the US and UK were at war with Iraq, in an operation to free Kuwait after a recent invasion.

The news was uncomfortable, with a lot of footage showing bombing of targets. It was a strange time - there was a marvel at the technology of pinpoint bombing, but as a graffiti succinctly put it, 'people are dying and they show us video games'.

Indeed, this was the cause of our cancelled lectures as protests had been ongoing across the University. I will be honest, Daren didn't 100% agree with this. He couldn't get how the same people calling to 'stop the war' had been the same people with 'free Kuwait' banners just a couple of months before. He didn't like the inconsitency.

Anyway, there was a group of us who'd expected a lecture, and found the rest of the day was free. I mean, we could have gone to the lab and done some work, but nah...

Daren was our ringleader suggesting we go back to his place in Cross Lane, Crookes. One of his house had recently purchased a copy of 2001, and he'd been keen to give it a watch. He enthused on just what a groundbreaking film it was, and it'd be amazing to watch as a group.

I mean, we could always study some other time...

It might be an exaggeration to say we watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. We critiqued it. We were, after all, a group of astronomy students, and space was our passion.

Fortunately, the film doesn't really have much in the way of dialogue to interrupt. We were amazed at the visuals, how much of the science they'd got right, from the weightlessness to the lack of sound.

We talked about colonies on the Moon, of intelligent computers, of the probability of life in the Universe. This geeky passion, after all, was why we'd come here to study the subject we had.

The afternoon became night. We bought beers, we ordered curry (Daren is almost single-handedly responsible for me liking curry, with me opting for a safe chicken korma to his favoured lamb bhuna).

The conversation (now addled with alcohol) lasted long past the movie. In fact, Daren was convinced this was a good time to ring up Sheffield talk radio to talk about alien life.

He did his best to explain the likelihood of life in space, trying to describe the Drake equation. In a nutshell this theory is that given the vastness of the universe, the sheer likelihood of other planet, life could not be a singular occurrence in this one small spec. It would be a statistical anomaly.

Sadly being a little drunk at this point, he didn't do a particularly good job of explaining this. Heck, I'm not sure I have, and I'm stone-cold sober.

But then, I had to admit, I'd never heard of the Drake equation until then. Daren had, it's just his eloquence wasn't helped by several cans of Fosters. His passion here far exceeded mine.

The night descended into talk of computer games - the new Amiga ones and the ones he'd loved on the ZX Spectrum. Like I said, he was a geek, and this was the reason I loved spending time with him.

Eventually, the night descended into jokes, and his customary impression of Jimmy Saville and a little bit of Rolf Harris (can I say with hindsight, oh dear). He would love to break into terrible impressions, but we'd always find them hilarious.

He was, after all, our joker-in-chief.


I headed home having had an amazing day with kindred spirits, forgetting all the anxiety which was going on in the world right then.

Daren's home always was a welcome place to drop in. We'd share other nights like this, sometimes with Blade Runner, sometimes just at the pub, but this particular day sums up all that was best about our friendship. Eventually when we graduated, he moved out, and I moved in, deciding to do a teacher training extension. Even moving beyond University, he was a regular visitor to the place.


We dropped out of touch until the world of social media. But once connected we picked up where we left up. Exchanges between us were never deep or meaningful, they were celebrations of all things geek. Because that's what we did.

I would usually tag him in whenever I was watching either 2001: A Space Odyssey or Blade Runner. Or if there was a big astronomy/Mars/probe discovery.

Over the years he's continued to contribute to celebrations of the ZX Spectrum or the daftest jokes from Viz. He would celebrate having a 'top tip' published in Viz like I've known friends get a scientific paper get published.