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April 23, 2006


"What it is, is," he would say when he would begin explaining something, or perhaps, "well," in a drawn-out Wiltshire accent. Nigel was doing an Electronic Engineering degree at Reading at the same time as me. He was a mature student. "At Boscombe Down, we would do it like this," he would tell us. He'd been a technician with Racal Defense Electronics at Boscombe Down, developing radars; tuning resonant cavities.

He was slightly overweight with a lot of hair growing from his shoulders. He had glasses and his voice was tight and somewhat nasal. He wore jeans, white sneakers, and plain sweatshirts; nothing very loose; all fitting snugly on his rotund body.

We often sat in the Students Union at lunchtime and drank Guinness. We talked deeply into physics and math. We talked about our lives and experiences. "At Boscombe Down," he would say, and I would think: will you shut-up about Boscombe Down!

He loved curry. He made his own and made it as strong as he could. He would sweat when eating curry.

He had a house in Salisbury. When I first visited I saw the big speakers which he'd designed; how carefully he'd tuned those resonant cavities. His name was on the front, and through them he listened to classical music.

The stairs rose above his bath, from foot to head; underneath, he had attached a radio which he tuned with his toes. In his kitchen was one of the first microwaves. Like something from 1960s NASA footage, it was three feet on a side and the front door was made only of open mesh.

There was a public footpath running through his tiny garden. His father owned some property in Salisbury. I used to kid him and say that his dad ran Salisbury with his sheepskin coat; the landlord knocking menacingly on doors and asking for rent.

The Wig and Quill was his local pub. He met his friends there; lawyers and such. In his group of friends there was a girl whom he liked. He was very shy in general and even more so about girls.

He designed the printers that write dates and other information onto products as they whizz past on the production line. He was their expert on switched power supplies. He could solve any design challenge in a power supply.

He visited us in Umbria. Eight of us stayed in a three-storey stucco house in acres of baked Italian grassland. The floors were square-foot brown tiles under rectangular rooms set apart at various levels from a large central cylindrical stairwell that channeled sweeping steps and our echoing voices. The rooms opened onto balconies looking at brightness in all directions from the breeze-cooled shade.

The carburetor lay in pieces on the kitchen table as he tinkered joyfully with precision screwdrivers and a desire to solve problems. Nigel drove his new, old car from England but there was something wrong, something that needed looking at.

We separated from the group of girls and wandered around Florence together, seeing old buildings and looking out from high places. We thought that we'd seen The David but later found that it was the replica that they leave outside.

Several years ago he sat in the Lotus and inhaled its fragrance until he died. I am crying now as I think of this. His parents told us that he had suffered from depression. We flew from San Francisco to London, visiting for two days.

I wondered if I could have been a better friend, if I could have called him or visited more. But I know that this is how it was meant to be.

I think of him often. He was such a sweet man. Perhaps he didn't know how sweet he was; perhaps he never knew. Why else would anyone kill such sweetness?

I did a symbol exercise recently to find out if I had disconnected from the internalized negative image of my father. The symbol which I pulled from my heart in that exercise was a coffin. The event as an adult that the coffin reminded me of was Nigel's funeral. At the funeral I had been thinking, what a beautiful, sweet man, and I had been feeling love.

In confusion and immense pain I looked at my father's coffin when I was eight. My spiritual self had used Nigel and his sweetness to show me that I had taken a major step in my own self-discovery and healing. Nigel still lives: he is music in the resonant cavity of my heart.

"You have brought this man alive for me here with your writing and the feelings you have for him. I feel grief that he is no longer here with us." — Rosie


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