I know this photo isnít the best ever (sorry to Claz who took it but Iím afraid itís true) but it shows a scene thatís been close to my heart this week. Iíve been on a gruelling journey upcountry to the funeral of Robin Wallace-Sims, my best buddy Clazís Dad. Robin is the chap in the red tee-shirt and straw hat behind a much younger me. Yes, I know Iím grinning like a fool and thatís because this day was one of the best days Iíve ever had.
The boat is the Elidir, built by Robin out of scrap. I consider it a huge honour to have been able to ride on it along the Thames. Much of Elidirís woodwork was built from recycled wardrobes. By recycled I donít mean that a carpentry company had taken them, disassembled them and rebuilt them as a boat hull for him, oh no Ė that sort of malarkey wasnít for Robin. Oh no. He took apart the wardrobes and built the boat himself. As for the rest of the boat? Well, I donít know - although I am hopeful that there is a record of how this beauty was made somewhere. Apparently the boat has an unusual way of cooling the boiler when it gets too hot and this is something that few, if any, other people understand now that Robin is gone. I heard today that the entire boat cost less than £400 to build because so much of it was effectively scrap. You might think this would make for a half-arsed boat but no Ė take a look at it here and youíll see that there was nothing half-arsed about this beautiful thing.
Robin died last week, when he was at home with Mary, his lovely wife.
Judging by the vast number of people at his funeral today he touched many, many lives. I met him in either 1980 or 1981, canít remember which Ė soon after meeting Claz. The Wallace-Sims family took a bit of getting used to because the entire time they were all together there was shouting, arguing and general mayhem going on, led by Robin in every way. He was a genius and didnít suffer fools gladly so if you said something stupid in his company you WOULD be hauled up for it. Please respect that I use the word genius here in the real sense of the word Ė itís all too often bandied about inappropriately these days but in his case it was true.
One of the speakers at his funeral recounted that Robin thought that a day spent not making something was a day wasted. I reckon thatís a great philosophy of life.
No-one at the funeral mentioned that Robin had cheated death some 28 years earlier when he was riddled with cancer, in hospital and his family had been told he was not expected to last the night. I must say that I visited him on a couple of occasions with Claire during those dark days and I am not sure that I have ever seen anyone so desperately ill. Itís not an image thatís easy to dispel. Claire thought that the reason no one mentioned it wasnít because of a ďdonít mention the warĒ attitude but was because Robin never dwelled on it and just got on with every day as though nothing had happened. While Iím certain thatís true, I also know that he did celebrate the tenth and twenty-fifth anniversary of beating the disease so he must have recognised how lucky he was.
Robin was unique. He did everything his own way. His engineering skills were remarkable and he had absolutely no fear so would try things out to see if they worked where a lesser man might have worried about getting frazzled or blown up. Over the years heís come a cropper because of this and has fallen off walls, caused fires, blown stuff up and generally caused chaos.
Throughout our long association, we would usually meet up in the company of Claire but a couple of years ago, Robin and Mary visited us here in Cornwall and we took them wandering around the mines and ancient monuments of our area. Robin was fascinated because he was an industrial history enthusiast and a steam enthusiast so ďourĒ mine buildings ticked lots of boxesÖÖ.mind you, even on that day he got into ďtroubleĒ climbing over fences to get a closer look at stuff. I was half expecting him to end up 200 feet down a mine shaft but fortunately there were no mishaps on that day.
Sadly that was the last time I saw Robin.
His funeral was a joyous celebration of his life. All of the speakers told tales of his ďnaughtinessĒ and wilfulness and, aside from the fact that weíve lost a genius, these memories are his lasting legacy to us.
Mary, Claire and Andy lost their husband/dad and I am SO sorry for their loss.The rest of us who knew him lost a charismatic, vibrant man whose knowledge and skills were rare in this world.