Monday, December 2nd, 2013 – 7:01 am
Hi Jamie, Leigh has passed away this morning. Sue
I read those words and I felt a pain that I had never felt.
I’d known Leigh for years. I vividly remember him from 2 days before I even met him.
I was at college at the time, studying electronics and cutting my teeth on computer programming. I’d decided that I wanted to start earning a little money at the weekends. So I headed over to the job centre to see if they had any part time jobs listed – it was my first time actively seeking work you see.
I got sat with an advisor, who was talking me through all sorts of things (looking back now, it was definitely not a full blown job centre) and places I could apply to. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple who were sat waiting for an appointment. Why did they catch my eye? The guy was really tall and they were both wearing sun glasses… indoors.
I thought nothing more of it. Not even until I got to a group interview for GAME and met the couple again.
We were told that they could only take on 5 or 6 people, but that they had brought the best 12 people who applied in for a group interview. We were sat in a room, around a large circle of desks. A video game box was passed around, and we had 30 seconds to “sell” the game to the panel of interviewers (I would later learn that they were the managers of the store) – this was our first test.
We were then put into teams of 3 and told to come up with a pitch for a video games console bundle sale. How would we market it? Who would buy it? We had to act out an advertisement for the bundle. The group I was in was last, but I watched the other groups with great attention to detail. I was looking for any ideas that we could steal and implement at the last minute.
A really tall guy stood up and gave his group’s advert performance. He was great, very funny and over the top. He got a few laughs and a mini round of applause at the end of his performance.
Wait. Did he just say… Yes. Yes he did.
EA. It’s in the game.
He must have heard my team’s ideas session and stolen that line (it has always been the tag line for all EA advertising, and I was going to use it for our advert). But after he’d said it, he looked directly at me and winked.
Memory fails me on the rest of the day and the application process, mainly through thinking back on my advert and it being embarrassingly bad. I believe the whole thing was a two day process, but I can’t be sure. I do remember going to the pub for lunch with most of the other hopefuls.
Anyway, long story short: I got the job. So did the tall guy and his girlfriend.
This would have been around June 2003 according to my C.V
From the first shift we worked together, the tall guy and I became fast friends. I learnt that he was called Leigh. He was studying at the local Lincoln university campus, he was from the Midlands, loved films and his girlfriend was called Nikki.
From that day onward, the three of us formed a close-nit group of friends.
Leigh was the person who came up with my nickname: “GaProgMan”
So, you’re studying Games Programming right? If you where a super hero you could be called “GaProgMan”; short for Games Programmer Man.
I was invited along to a Rugby final at Twickenham (we got lost on our way back to Newport Pagnel because of my legendarily bad navigation skills); I was invited along to New Year’s celebrations (Leigh threw an amazing Mexican dinner party one time); I became close with his entire family.
The first thing that Leigh’s Dad ever said to me was:
What’s this that you’re playin’ then?
Leigh and I were playing Star Wars: Battlefront on the Xbox in his parent’s living room. I’d paused the game when Keith entered the room, so that I could introduce myself.
When Leigh’s parents bought an HD TV, Leigh and I watched Aliens on it:
I’ve wanted to see this film in HD for years
Soon enough, Leigh graduated. He moved back home, but we kept in contact. I was invited over whenever I had a break in my studies (I was in the second year of a 4 year degree when he graduated).
setting his sights on Japan
It didn’t take him very long to get accepted on the JET (Japan Exchange Teachers) programme. He would soon be jetting off to a new life in Japan. He started taking Japanese classes, and dragged me to one of them, when I visited (I’d been taking Japanese classes since the first year of university). I still remember the pub we all went to after the class: The Black Horse on Wolverton Road just outside Milton Keynes.
All of a sudden, he was living in Japan. One of the first things he emailed me about, from his Japanese phone (once he’d had it set up, and cosigned by one of the teachers at the school) was:
When are you coming to visit?
As this was late 2007 and I was due to graduate in 2008, I decided that I’d get myself an early graduation/birthday gift and go visit him.
I flew out of Heathrow airport 8 hours late; landed at Tokyo Narita airport and headed straight to the nearest bank of computers I could find:
Dude, my plane was super delayed. I’ve just landed at Toyko. I’ll be at Fukuoka tomorrow morning at 9am. Flight number is…
I’d already managed to email Leigh about the flight being delayed as soon as I found out, in Heathrow. I’d had to use my phone (this was 2008, and we didn’t have 4G then. Hell we didn’t even have 3G) and hope that it was sent ok because it ran out of power seconds after I hit the send button.
So I’m standing at a computer in Tokyo Narita airport with my emails open, I’m waiting on a reply from Leigh (he was always really good at getting back to folks), hoping that he get’s back to me soon because my transport to Tokyo Haneda airport will be here any minute.
No worries. I’ll see you at arrivals tomorrow.
I logged out and ran for the transport.
My passport says that I was in Japan for 3 weeks; there’s no way that’s true. It certainly felt a lot shorter than that.
We did squeeze a lot of travel into that time, though. We visited Fukuoka (Leigh lived on a small island near Hirado), Sasebo, Nagasaki and a whole bunch of places within those cities. We visited Dragon Wharf, found a small bar (which isn’t there any more) called “Sakura”, visited numerous temples and historic sites (I still hold Hirado Castle close to my heart, and the view from Mt. Inasa is breath taking).
I travelled home, and Leigh stayed in Japan for another 4 years or so. The impression he made on everyone he met there was amazing (as was evidenced at his funeral).
When Leigh came back to the UK, he moved back to his parents’ home. At some point while he was in Japan, they’d moved.
I was invited over several times a year, and took the chance to spend time with Leigh and his family.
Leigh found it difficult to get a job after he’d come back from Japan, and spent the rest of his life unemployed.
During one of my visits, Leigh developed a limp. He was in a lot of pain by the end of each day. You have to understand that Leigh had always been a very active person. The summer before he returned from Japan, he’d run a marathon… in a top hat and tails.
I just need to stretch it out a bit. I’ve not been that active in the past few months.
Leigh had been working on a book: his first fantasy novel, book 1 of a trilogy. It took a lot of his time and energy; he had piles of notebooks explaining the world, it’s people and the history; 2 whiteboards explaining how the characters were related; and a selection of dictaphones and audio recordings with all sorts of plot points.
May 15th 2012
I have a favour to ask all of you. I will need your strength and support more than ever now. If you pray, please think of me when you do. I have cancer.
I may not be the most deserving of good grace, but I ask you for what positive waves you can spare me now.
Let’s be clear: I will beat this, there is no doubt in my mind on that. But the road will be hard and you all know me, I’m a stubborn hard-headed fool, I will need your strength.
Ps. Sorry for the melodramatic tone! I’m a writer what are you gonna do?
I am ok, truly. It’s just gonna be a hard run. Then the drinks are on me!!
It turned out that the limp was the precursor to Leigh’s cancer.
I made a point of visiting Leigh whenever I had any free time. The way that I saw it:
- I could be a friendly face
- Offer some silliness
- Keep an eye on Leigh when his parents where at work
- Remind him to take his medication
Over the next year and a half I saw Leigh get better, then get worse, then get a lot better, then lose a LOT of weight. I remember seeing him in a state when he couldn’t walk more than 100 yards. Leigh, a man who had run marathons, who played rugby, the healthiest guy I know, the guy I would turn to for advise on working out couldn’t walk 100 yards without having to sit down and rest.
I’ve written about the White Water Rafting that we all did, under the guise of “Team Kawabunga” before; and here’s a link: [LINK]
We settled on Kawabunga for two reasons:
- Leigh and I are big fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Kawabunga is one of Mikey’s catchphrases)
- Kawa is “water” in Japanese; bunga is “Style” in Japanese
That was the last time that I saw Leigh.
After the white water rafting event, Leigh fell into a sharp decline. He went into the hospital and his parent were told that he wasn’t long for the world. They asked that he could be returned home with a bed.
As December dawned, Leigh was sleeping almost constantly. He was in a permanent bed in the living room, which was were he passed at 7am.
Leigh’s funeral was held on the 18th of December. I travelled down the day before and stayed in a bed and breakfast in a nearby village. I couldn’t sleep that night, and spent part of the evening walking around the village aimlessly, and lost in thought.
I turned up at Sue and Keith’s house the next day a little early; we’d arranged for everyone to filter over from midday, but I got there at 11am due to me not knowing the local geography and setting off early.
Sue opened the door and broke down in tears.
You’ve just made it real. It didn’t feel real until you showed up.
It would have happened whoever had been the first person to arrive, to be fair.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur, but a very detailed blur… if that makes sense.
A group of Leigh’s friends over in Japan had put together a DVD of images for Leigh and messages to him, written by his friends out there, the students he’d taught, and the teachers he’d worked with, all set to the backing of Friends Will Be Friends by Queen (a song that still affects me to this day). It was extremely powerful; every time that the DVD was played, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
There was a wall of cards, photos and well wishes – all directed at Leigh’s family. Messages of love, sadness and commiseration mixed in with fond memories of him and the ways that Leigh had touched their lives.
Pretty soon, it was time to take Leigh to his resting place. It was a cold day, even the weather knew what was going on. We travelled with Leigh to where the service would be performed. It was a beautiful, humanist graveside service. We all got to say goodbye in the most respectful way.
After the service, everyone went to a nearby pub where everyone loosened up and spent the afternoon (and most of the evening) drinking, laughing and partaking in the lovely spread that the pub had put on. We were all swapping stories, drinking and having a great time.
Some of us ended up heading back to Sue and Keith’s house afterwards. A few more hours of chatting and swapping stories before I… “Er… Keith, I’ve lost my phone”.
“You’re going to laugh, actually. The last time I remember having it was at the graveside.”
Keith ran me up to the gravesite, where we searched in the rain for my phone, all the while, torches in hand, Keith was calling my phone. We ended up retuning to the house, empty handed.
Then I remembered that I had Cerberus installed on my phone which meant that I could track it’s whereabouts, in real time… assuming that it still had power. After a few moments of waiting for Leigh’s computer to start (so that I could check the location of my phone), a Google map appeared with my phone’s location on it. We waited for the signal to settle down (anyone who has used Google Maps for navigation in the UK will know what I mean), we were startled to realise that it was in the area.
After a bit of zooming in on the map, and more waiting for the map to settle, we discovered that my phone had slipped from my suit jacket pocket and fallen down the inside of the couch. The whole time that we had been out, fumbling around in the rain, searching for it, it had been under the sofa cushion that Sally had been sat on… vibrating away. We all had a laugh about it, and it helped to relieve the remainder of the tension.
I stayed at Sue and Keith’s house that night, sharing a bed with Howard (Leigh’s brother), in Leigh’s room. The next day, a few of us had a pub meal and I headed home. That was nearly a year ago.
I’ve done quite a lot since then (I’ve moved nearly 100 miles; gotten a new job; started a new relationship; and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’m not 100% OK sharing here), but I still expect to hear from Leigh any day now.
A few months ago, Howard travelled up to Leeds and we had a wicked weekend. We saw Steven Seagal perform live (and met the band, almost by accident, in a hotel bar afterwards) and had more than a few drinks. At one point on the Saturday night, Howard said this and I stand by it:
It’s been 8 months since he died, but it doesn’t feel like he’s gone. It feels like he’s gone on one of his adventures and that he’ll be back home soon.
It really does feel like I’ll get an email one day, with something along the lines of:
Hey bro. It’s been ages, let’s go for a beer or three (just like Hiroshi Nohara). Let me know where and when, and I’ll be there. Stay frosty
Until then 18 year old me, 23 year old Leigh and a blurry 16 year old Ben will wave you off.