Monday, July 3, 2023

Finding radiance - memories of a friend.

Riding tandem in Wales - many years ago now.

Last week, while walking in the mountains of the Haute Savoie, I received a call from Jane. An old friend needed to speak to me urgently, she said; there'd been an accident in which 'Pat' had been killed while riding her bike. 

It took a moment to register the volley of information... a collision with a car... on holiday in  Scotland... riding her 'solo'...  Pat...?

And then it hit me.

For in the milliseconds it takes to compute, all becomes clear and irreversible — the future forever altered by something so swiftly related: a person gone, a chainlink lost; memories tinged with sorrow now...  

In truth, I hadn't seen Pat or her husband Reg for perhaps two decades. And yet I'd rank them high among the seminal people in my life, inhabiting that curious space of persons whose impact extends far beyond their physical presence. 

It's a time and place thing — the fatalistic collision of personality and circumstance that makes some encounters pivotal while consigning others (for all they may be closer, deeper and longer lasting) to a more marginal role in the trajectory of our lives.

The phrase that struck me most, when I spoke to my friend who relayed the detail, was 'riding her solo'.  It's a term that tandem riders use to distinguish between standard bikes and their two-up cousins. Pat and Reg were made for the latter; a strong couple in every sense, and leading lights in a gang of enthusiasts who've stayed loosely connected for almost forty years. 

I always think that the bonds of shared experience are the hardest to break. In this case, forged by the tens of thousands of pedal revolutions we shared in Northumberland, the Dales and later Wales...  And by those nights of laughter in hostels, the attempts at time trials, the coming to our wedding in Betws y Coed...  the sheer delight of cocking a leg over a crossbar. 

We used to call them 'Peg and Rat', they even adopted the moniker on their email address. For all I know it may still be the same.  

Except it can't be, can it?  Not ever again.  

And all because of time and circumstance and the fatalistic collision of iron on skin and the breaking of bones that we could so easily allow to go round and round... and round again, by thinking if only this or what if that ... and how there, but for the grace of an effing God, go any of us...

I have no faith — or at least none of the religious sort — but I know this much: that unless we embrace life and live it to the fullest that we can, then it is nothing; that joy and meaning are as interconnected as the steersman and stoker of a tandem; that risk and reward are two sides of a coin that's weighted in favour of the latter, but just occasionally flips the way we didn't foresee.

Pat lived like that when I knew her well. It's how I'll recall her and perhaps how we might conjure a radiance in her memory.

Today —with some dark irony — I'm writing this tribute of a sorts from a hotel patio in Mallorca, an island that's a magnet for cyclists. All around me is sunshine and life; mountains and sea; youth and the future... She would have loved it here.

Of that I have no doubt... so too, that the wheels and gears of our lives will continue to turn, and, in time,  just as smoothly as ever.  

Just as it should be.


  1. Mark - when my time comes (and at 90 I hope it is not too far away) I hope than someone can write such a charming obituary to me. Many years ago my first husband and I had a tandem - there is a kind of cameraderie amongst tandem riders - rarely seen here in the Dales these days.
    She sounds a lovely lady - and may be if one has to go what a good way - to die out in the fresh air on a bike one loves.

  2. Losing such friends strikes deep

  3. I know exactly what you mean about friends like that. The ones who, if they had not been in our lives, we would not be the people we are now, leading the lives we live now, and so much the poorer for that.
    I am so sorry that Pat is gone. I am so glad she was here.

  4. Mark, I am so sorry to hear this news. Firstly, sorry of course for the tragic and sudden loss of your friend with whom you shared so many precious experiences. And secondly, sorry as someone who regularly rides her bicycle on the roads of Scotland, the death of a cyclist on one's 'home territory' feels almost personal.
    My thoughts are with you, and with Pat's nearest and dearest.

  5. Hari Om
    My condolences to all who knew and loved Pat. Your tribute, as ever, serves so many layers of understanding. YAM xx

  6. You have written a heart warming piece here despite the sadness of the passing of a long time friend. I've had close friends for many years who suddenly, since Covid, have become more like old memories that have hidden away in their comfy homes, no longer wanting to dance, drink, eat in a bustling place, don't travel far from home, won't throw caution to the wind and have fun. However, knowing them was important, they made my life better in many ways. We are much older now, bikes we leave for the young and agile. I must make some calls - Mark you have kickstarted me with this lovely tribute to Pat - and I want to gather those old friends around me again. . . . . . just in case. . . . . . . . .
    Enjoy your travels - mine are coming up soon, meanwhile I roast here in 100 degrees!
    Mary -

  7. Mark, my husband likes to say that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime, and he is so right. There are those like your friend Pat, who made an indelible impact on your life during a season. I am grateful for the different friendships that I have had over the years. Now that I am older and I hope, more mature, I don't rail at the sky whenever a friendship changes, or ends. May you and Pat's family find peace and comfort.

  8. Sad and happy memories accumulated in this obituary. As it should be. Our friends live on buried deep in our psyche and perhaps for Pat it was a good ending.

  9. I read about the accident in the newspaper and it was a sad way to end a cycling life. I feel sorry for her husband left on his own and having to remember that fateful ride. A mixture of emotions reading here for me.

  10. This is a beautiful tribute to your friend. How eloquently you've written about the impact one life can have on another.

  11. So beautifully written. Life continues, doesn't it. We all have our beginnings. and our endings too, but in the middle, our stories entwine themselves into the stories of others. Life is beautiful. With us or without us, it continues.

  12. Of course I did not know Pat but she sounds like the sort of person I'd like, and you've written a very moving tribute to her.

  13. It is difficult especially when there is a bond of shared experience .

  14. Mark, I'm sorry i somehow missed this when you posted it. Really sorry to read it was inspired by the untimely death of someone dear to your life. Perhaps it is the active ones who are more exposed to the risk, even though exercise is the only thing known to science to slow the effects of aging. Pat will never grow old, never slow down, never lose her mental faculties. She will always be a bright flame i the memories of those who knew her and who will join with yoh in missing her.