Wednesday 29 December 2010


I'm sitting outside a cafe in Granity on New Zealand's west coast - the spot closest to our rented holiday house from which I can get sufficient cell signal to blog from my phone. Yay Android. But we're cutting the vacation short to head back to Christchurch tomorrow for Denis Dutton's memorial service. Ben's asked me to say a few words on Friday. I'll have a few hours in the car tomorrow to think on that, so long as the kids nap as they ought. But it is something I've been thinking on rather a lot these past few.months. Denis has been a very good friend to us since we got to know each other a couple of years after our arrival in Christchurch - and especially over the last three or four years. I was very surprised when he told me just a few months ago now that he had cancer. We then figured he likely had a couple of years left. Time flies.

I'm going to miss getting the random phone calls of his revelling in his latest triumph - a new translation of his book that was bound even more beautifully than he expected, a gig at TED, a feature interview with John Cleese, me giving him grief for shamelessly linking to the positive reviews of his book on Arts & Letters, him throwing a Forbes op-ed my way that he hadn't time to write. Denis is the one who pointed Greg Lindsay at me for the MPS meetings this year. He was tired in Sydney but gave a great talk.

We were visiting him at hospice on Boxing Day when the big aftershocks hit. Until only a few days before we'd been talking about getting wireless internet set up for him there for his scheduled January visit when Margit would be out to Oz for Ben's wedding. But on Sunday he'd decided that he probably wasn't up for running ALD any more.

Denis was always an optimist, on the side of dynamism and always long on humanity. It's the right side to be on, even when he's not there to cheer us on.

A year ago or so we'd planned on having cigars of protest out on the quad at University when the new antismoking regs came into force. That was put on hold. I think I'll save mine to have outside at the staff club with a good whisky.

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