I have been moved to silent tears on any number of occasions since, by the reading of so many touching comments and tributes from his amazingly wide circle of readers, brothers in arms and blog followers from across the globe. I traded ribald, good humoured banter with many of them and, through this medium, got a feel for what they were about and I feel for them in their sorrow as I would for any good friends. It is a `first` for me, this `friends I've yet to meet` thing.
Although I started blogging anecdotes from my police career I have always had an interest in current affairs, politics, military history, aircraft plus life, the universe and everything and I found all of the aforementioned in abundance at Lex's place. I would occasionally correspond privately with him on issues of mutual interest and always received a reply, sometimes in detail, sometimes short and sweet but always with courtesy and great warmth. He paid me a great compliment by flagging up a recent post of mine as a little pot-boiler on his blog, to fill a gap whilst he was away from his computer keyboard. I took this honourable mention to heart. I was chuffed as nuts.
This last week has been a bit of a trial for me. Just a few days before Lex's fatal crash I lost a friend of some 30 years standing. He finally succumbed to the ravages of Parkinson's disease, aided and abetted by that killer of the weak, pneumonia. His wife asked me if I would prepare and read a eulogy at the funeral service and I agreed. Then as the day drew nearer I found out that I was actually conducting the entire service, with his sons and daughters adding personal tributes. That was OK too. They were grief stricken but did a great job. His family are Roman Catholic but one of his sons became a Bhuddist, and was a pillar of calm. The service itself was `humanist`. As for me, despite the best efforts of my parents in getting me Christened and sending me off to Sunday school every week as a child, I am not a religious man, per se, but I always try to live to codes that good Christians will recognise. I respect religious faith and will join in that of others when invited. Over the years I have received much support and help from the police Padres I've known and, as a senior police officer, found myself on several occasions suggesting a troubled officer could do a lot worse than speaking to `Father Mike`. As for me, I've always felt I was too scientific for religion but I'll admit that I do `feel a force` that I have been unable to explain.
I started this post about Lex and wanted to share it primarily with his friends, because something happened yesterday that involved me and our much mourned brother and I wanted to share it. It was a little shake up call and left me astounded and amazed but ultimately with a smile on my face, not unlike how many of Hizzoner's posts did. I had driven the delightful-delovely Mrs Hogday to a small estuary town in Suffolk, where she was going to meet the proprietor of a business that she was considering joining. We had never been there before and so having dropped her off outside the Wild Strawberry Cafe I drove to the riverside car park and thought I'd take a stroll.
Woodbridge is a quaint old town with a quiet waterfront, a tidal mill and a nautical history. It was also a watering hole for many American service personnel who were based here during the Cold War years. One of Lex's regulars rattled many a window in the surrounding area, flying F4's out of RAF Woodbridge/Bentwaters and his successors did likewise with their whispering A10's. I decided that I would take a few snaps on my mobile phone camera and perhaps post them up on the blog sometime, with just a covering story and a few fitting words. And this is what happened, in chronological order:
First place I came to was this pub, "The Old Mariner". `Great sign`, I thought. `I bet Hizzoner would insist we took a sample in there`. This town is a little maze of side streets and back alleys that were evocative of a different era, of a wood and sailcloth navy, of victuallers and sailmakers that Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin would have known. I took my photograph and strolled on up the hill.
I came upon this rather interesting house. Probably 15th century. I didn't have time to enter the museum just down the road to check. I briefly pondered on the souls who were born there, lived there and died there. The air was chilly and the street was quiet, the main shopping thoroughfare being lower down the road. I took my photograph and moved on.
Just a little further up the street was this hostelry. If you cast your eye down the street you can see that I hadn't come very far. I think, by now, this would ordinarily have called for a small Guinness (for strength) but it was before noon and I wasn't in the mood to drink alone. Onwards and upwards.
Aha! A civic building methinks. Yes, its the old Town Hall. I am beginning to recognise where I am. Just behind it is the small square where I dropped off Mrs HD.
I can almost smell the coffee.
Now that's a place I could sink a pint. Adnams beer is up there with the very best of British, but do not despair friends, the Irish know their business, Guinness is served everywhere (for strength). Thinks: `This could be a good place for Mrs HD to work. For the `Wild Strawberry` is next door, I could come to fetch her as an act of love and devotion, park the car in the square, park myself in the Inn and then she could drive me home. A great plan.
It was as I was taking this picture that I became aware of a couple standing just behind me. It was a man and a woman, a husband and wife - and British. She was reading the sign and told me, with a smile, that she was curious as to why I was taking a picture of it. I explained that I was killing a little time and also taking photographs of pubs and places that I felt a recently departed friend of mine would have been interested to see but, sadly, I would never be able to take him. I went on to briefly explain the circumstances. I didn't go into fine detail. They told me that they were just visiting the area for a short winter break and that they lived in Oxfordshire, which is several hours drive away. They too had never been to Woodbridge before.
I mentioned that Lex lived on the West Coast and of how I, and others like me, came to know him through his writing. Then the spookiness started and this is how the conversation went:
"So whereabouts did he come from?"
"Near San Diego, though he was a Virginian".
"Oh, how strange, we used to live just outside San Diego up until a few years ago".
`What a co-incidence that I should meet an English couple, in a Suffolk town, that neither of us have ever visited before - and that you lived near San Diego".
"Yes, that really is a strange co-incidence".
"We have Canadian friends who often stay there over the winter months".
"Yes, it's a lovely temparature then. We were there not long ago visiting our old friends. You'd like it, they have trolley buses. It's very quaint. We always go to an English styled pub called Shakespeare's Bar, you'd really enjoy that".
At this point I had to do a mental re-boot. I was casually taking pictures whilst thinking of a man I'd never met. I bump into an English couple I'd never met before, in a town none of us had been to before, 6000 miles from San Diego, which is where they just happened to live until recently and they'd just recommended I visit sometime and take a drink in Shakespeare's Bar. OK.....
I took a chance and mentioned the Shakespeare's connection. I got an old fashioned look from them but I managed to assure them that I was not a crazy person. We laughed at the co-incidence. We exchanged pleasantries and bade each other farewell. As they walked off towards towards the quay, I heard a vehicle pull up next to where I was standing, by that sign. I heard the door close but didn't turn to look straight away. Mrs HD suddenly emerged from "Wild Strawberry" and as she walked towards me I noticed that the vehicle that had parked next to me was a Nissan Warrior 4x4 truck. I took a photograph of it.
I like to think of myself as scientific, logical, rational, open minded but whatever I think I am, that morning in Woodbridge, yesterday, was something rather different. It is to savour.