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.

 

His hair turned grey, but he never changed. Because he was pretty amazing the way he was.


It would be remiss to wrap up talking about Daren without mentioning Blade Runner. In 2007 I told him I was watching the Director's Cut, to which he said he'd got a special release which included about seven different cuts - including and excluding voiceovers, unicorn dreams and happy endings using stock footage from The Shining (I kid you not).

When we would watch Blade Runner, Daren was always enthused about Rutger Hauer's 'tears in the rain' speech. It is a powerhouse moment of cinema, and the actor reshaped the script to deliver a powerful and poignant ending.

In it, the replicant is shutting down, and he ponders all the things he's seen, both horrifying and wonderful. He considers how much those moments have made him who he is, and when he's gone, they'll be lost forever.



The consoling reminder is when someone you love like Daren dies, those moments aren't lost, because unlike for Rutger Hauer's replicant, someone remains to carry them. But those memories are changed.

When I use to watch 2001 or Blade Runner and tagged him in an update, it would be a callback to 'remember the time'. A shared moment of geekery. Not there's no longer someone to share, and that's part of the sadness of losing someone. 

But the memories endure.





1 comment: