You were enjoying life so much and had so many plans, plans for the summer, plans for the future, adventures in the pipeline. There are all sorts of things that you won’t be doing. That three week field course, just finished, somewhere in British Columbia, and you weren’t on it although you were so excited at the prospect. You won’t be doing your dissertation on glaciation in Wester Ross. There will be no field trip to Iceland. You will never see the Northern Lights, walk the trails on Vancouver Island or go whale watching. No more work at the Seabird Centre or with my crowd in Wales. You won’t get to show us round Vancouver and next year’s flatmates will be looking for someone else to take your space. We wont see you graduate from Edinburgh University. I still can’t believe this is true, and that you’re not on that flight home today.
So instead of thinking of all those things that aren’t going to happen, I’m trying to remember all the things we’ve done together. All the adventures we had together and your own adventures that you told us about with such excitement.
You may not have seen the Northern Lights but you did once lie on your back on the Great Barrier Reef and look up at the Southern Cross. And do you remember the phosphorescence on that Maldivian beach? The wavelets glowed in the dark as if it were Christmas, and we jumped up and down to make our footsteps sparkle. There was a chilly dawn one New Year’s morning when we snorkelled with manatees in the Crystal River; they rolled on their backs so we could stroke them as if they were puppies. You were so cold that your shivering bounced the hot chocolate. It was warmer drifting down the Rainbow River that afternoon with garfish and turtles for company, gator teeth to dive for and warm water bubbling up from the river bed. Later that week we followed a creek in the Everglades and found dozens of alligators snoozing in the sun by the roadside. We dived together on the Poor Knights in New Zealand, the Rainbow Reef in the Sumo-Sumo Straits in Fiji and at St John’s Point in Donegal, and we hung side by side on a coral ledge in the Indian Ocean and marvelled at manta rays.
It was you who decided one summer that we should go to the Small Isles. I remember you stood on deck all the way to Eigg watching for dolphins, and were rewarded with porpoises and then a basking shark swimming round the harbour. We stayed in the Castle on Rum and walked across the island in fierce sunshine to a deserted white sand beach. On Eigg, after cycling to the singing sands, you both played in the stream by our tent and we sat by the campfire in the evening sunshine and watched a storm track northwards towards us. We dashed for the tent as the first big drops of rain landed and by the morning the tent was wet and the stream was a raging torrent. We waited, sodden, for the ferry in the coffee shop and, finding nowhere to stay on the mainland – Scotland was full – ended up back in Edinburgh late that night. It didn’t stop raining for a fortnight, the tail end of some American hurricane, so we took ourselves off to the festival for the last few days of holiday. I remember fishing for crabs in Torridon with paperclips and cheese. Watching golden eagles overhead at Cape Wrath. Digging holes in the sand in Donegal. Sculpting sand racing cars on Mull. Sand surfing on the dunes in Abu Dhabi. Rounders at midnight with the dive club on a beach on Coll, and your complaints about the corncrakes keeping you awake. We did triathlons and aquathlons together and there was that apocryphal nose dive into a holly bush on a cycle ride to Gifford. I watched you do a bungee jump in New Zealand, not really believing that flimsy strap round the ankle would hold. We were denied entry at a posh hotel in Bangkok for our inappropriate dress but the Japanese steak at Yaz Marina in Abu Dhabi became the stuff of folklore. And that from a boy who grew up on cucumber, pizza and sausages. “That’s quite a balanced diet” the health pros said.
There was the swim. I was driving across Scotland in the pouring rain, and you were kayaking on Loch Awe in the pouring rain, and there was water everywhere. “Enough water to swim across Scotland” I thought and the Shin Swim was born. You got stuck into the planning with enthusiasm and sensible ideas in equal measure and swam round Threipmuir Reservoir with me when I was training. As one half of the kayak support, you were all too ready with a paddle to bop me on my head if I stopped for too long. “Stop moaning! It was your idea!” was your retort, with a big smile, if I complained, but “Come on you can do it!” when I flagged.
There were so many adventures of your own; you would come home bright eyed, bursting with excitement and wouldn’t stop talking for days. Duke of Edinburgh and SOAP expeditions with the school, exploring Scotland by kayak and on foot. Sailing tall ships with the crowd from Marple; Jane told us that she remembers you on night watch somewhere in the North Sea, lying on the deck of Pegasus watching the Perseus meteor shower then falling asleep. Inter-railing round eastern Europe, fuelled I suspect by quantities of alcohol. Snowboarding with the school; was it that trip where you had to forge my signature to make sure you got a place? Tough Mudder, not once but twice. And of course the Big One – your year at UBC, full of new friends, new experiences, new doors opening.
This is just a snapshot of my memories, pictures in my head. My last memory is of the bear hug from your young, strong arms before you strode off, rucksack on your back, through the departure gates at Edinburgh Airport after Christmas, heading to Whistler for New Year. None of us had the slightest inkling that it was the last time we would see you. We were a lovely family circle of four; the three of us will make a smaller circle but you will always be in our centre. We will always remember you as the smiling, bright eyed, excited, enthusiastic little boy and young man.
By the way, your cactus is growing.