By the time I met him Jack was not a young man. He lived a quiet life by the sea with a cottage which faced onto the harbour. It was his pleasure to sit by the window watching the boats going back and forth. In his youth, he told me, it had been largely trawlers but now it was pleasure boats with the odd fishing vessel making it’s appearance. He called the pleasure boats “meringues” because they were made of plastic and sat on the water rather than in it. Meaning their draught was minimal in proportion to their size . “Such is life” he said.
“Such is life” was one of his favourite sayings, and he had seen a lot of it. He fought with Montgomery in the desert as a nineteen year old boy. He complained about the heat a bit and said servicing trucks in it had been difficult. “You could fry an egg on the bonnet of the truck if you were lucky enough to have one” he said. Eggs were in short supply but other than that he spoke very little of his time there. It is a common characteristic of war veterans unless they are in each others company.
For most of his life Jack made models of famous boats; the Cutty Sark, Victory, The Ark Royal. Each boat took forever to make and was a work of art in its own right. Meticulous, detailed and beautifully in scale. He also did birds and soldiers from eighteenth century regiments: again correct in every detail and researched with thoroughness. Meticulous was one of his key characteristics. He hated sloppy workmanship, or manners for that matter. Like the trawlers he loved so much there was much more of Jack below the waterline and out of view than above it and on show. He used to shake his head at show-offs and boasters or people exclaiming they were “in senior management” with a multi-national company. He talked of what he knew and left the formation of poorly researched opinions to others. I loved him for that.
With passing time his reputation grew so that he made a very decent living doing what he loved. Collectors ordered his work so that he always had on more than he could ever do. He never seemed to want that much. “marmalade and cigarettes, they’re my luxuries” he used to say and he was often to be found with a cigarette in his mouth; the smoke curling up past his face with one eye half closed in silent protest.
The movements of stock markets and the strategies and lofty pronouncement of politicians were things he took little interest in. Once when I was watching television with him the prime minister stepped out of 10 Downing Street to make some announcement Jack said, “I suppose he’s having fun”. Jack could see no other reason for doing the job.
Catering was not his strong suite and seldom moved beyond sausages and mash with apple pie to follow. He didn’t have much time for unnecessary variety. If you came round at the right time he would always ask if you fancied some sausages and mash. “If you’ve got enough” I would say. “I always keep a few in reserve” he said and so he did. His fridge was full of them. In moments of intoxicating celebration he might add brussel sprouts to the plate, “to round it off” he said. If you bought him a bag of brussel sprouts on some random day in the year he always looked quizzically at you, “Is it Christmas” he would ask. “No, I just fancied some greens” I would say and he might shake his head slightly as if I was going off the rails. Making too much fuss of yourself, chest-puffing or other signs of self-importance and loose living were not favoured characteristics in his eyes.
I loved Jack. He was everything I would be proud to be. He died last Wednesday. I shall miss him.