Malcolm leaves a legacy.
When I first met Malcolm, I was about fourteen years old and he would of been about sixteen, the precise details escape me now, as this took place over fifty years ago. The impression he left on me though, is as powerful now as it was back then. I remember that he was not very well co-ordinated and when we played soccer, he was just as likely to kick us, as he was to kick the ball. I can’t remember how he came to be in our neighbourhood gang, as he lived on the other side of town. His father rode a vintage motor bike, which turned out to be significant.
Malcolm was different to anyone I had ever met at the time, I was drawn to him, because he stood apart from us, he had an air of quiet confidence which I didn’t have. When the gang passed around the quart bottle of cider he refused to drink. He just smiled, as if he knew something that we didn’t and quite possibly he did. Everyone laughed, including me, but I may as well have been laughing at myself, because I realised, I didn’t want to drink either. Malcolm was economical with words, he spoke quietly and thoughtfully as if he wanted to make every word count. He was the outsider and I felt that way too, I wasn’t particularly brave, but I had a compulsion to push everything to the limit. The best way to get me to do something, was to tell me not to do it.
The differences we both felt as individuals, drew us together, he had two contrasting sides to his character and I identified with them both. Like me, he was willing to go to extremes, but unlike me, he either didn’t see any danger or if he did, he was comfortable with it. This was juxtaposed with gentleness, a love of nature and infinite patience. We would spend hours looking for a particular wild flower he had read about, but it wasn’t to pick them, or dig them out, as I was inclined to do.
I remember looking for a Lapwings nest with him, they were notoriously hard to find, they hardly built a nest site, often just in a small hollow in the earth. We spent hours and hours looking in a field that we had seen them flying over. Eventually, more by luck than judgment we found a nest with eggs, which neither of us had ever seen before. Great, at last a Lapwings egg for my collection. I can’t remember now exactly how he explained it to me, but it was something like, “Let’s just take the memory away with us, we don’t need anything else” I don’t know how he convinced me to do as he asked, but l did. I would have preferred to put an egg in my collection and boast to who ever I could, about my find.
Malcolm gets a Motorbike
Malcolm turned up one day on a motorbike, this was typical of him. I would have announced to everyone, that I was getting a motor bike. I would have given them a countdown to the very moment it actually happened. It wasn’t a very powerful machine, but it allowed us to go farther afield than our pushbikes. It didn’t change our friendship, I thought it might, as I would have wanted to join a motor bike gang. In fact, on the bike, I became part of him, because he taught me to be his shadow. I was always to be directly behind him and anticipate everything he did as the bike pulled around the corners.
The things we enjoyed doing together were the same, but the intensity changed. The rooks nested high up in the trees and their nests could often be seen from miles around. Any thought of taking an egg was gone, we were just there to look. The strangeness of our surroundings and the distance from home confirmed that we were going to climb the trees, so we did. I was thinking, if I fall, I won’t be going home on the bike and if he falls, what the hell am l going to do. As it turned out, we were both thinking the same thing.
High up in the canopy of the tree, the branches moved erratically with our weight and the strength of the wind didn’t help. We weren’t on the same branch though, as there were dozens of nests all around us. We both laughed uncontrollably when we got back on the ground. A promise was made, that we would climb again soon, but we both knew we never would.
Malcolm’s parents house.
I only went to Malcolm’s home once and I don’t think he ever came to mine. There wasn’t a reason to be inside in those days, as there was very little technology to keep us there. Nature was preserved everywhere in his house, dried flowers from the fields and hedgerows mounted in picture frames. Examples of taxidermy were everywhere, which both he and his father had done. A large Barn owl, looked down from one of the display cases. “All the animals have died of natural causes” he explained. “What do you think?” he asked, I said, “everything is fantastic, but somehow, I don’t think my parents will like the idea of having them in our house.” This seemed to please him, as we both laughed.
I learned later, that he had never taken anyone to his parents house before. I asked him if he wanted to see my house, but luckily he didn’t. I’m sure he would have been disappointed, it would have been boring, after living in the menagerie that surrounded him. By now school was in the past for me as well and like Malcolm, I was working, but we still went into the countryside together as much as we could. We still enjoyed nature, but there was a realisation, that it wasn’t enough now. Our new found responsibility of growing up, was starting to tarnish the simple pleasures that it provided.
Malcolm’s big red motorbike.
We started to hang around the local coffee shops and pubs for the first time, pretending to have a good time, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny and buying drinks that neither of us wanted. Plans were starting to formulate in my head about traveling overseas as soon as l could. Malcolm had other ideas, he asked me to meet him on the weekend, at the usual place.
This time he turned up on the biggest red motorbike, l had ever seen. I can still see it now, a Norton 750 Atlas, a British bike that I’m sure would have met with his fathers approval. The British part, but possibly, not the size and power. The kick start pedal needed the pressure of full body weight downwards to have any chance of starting it. He threw me a crash helmet, “let’s go.” I was going to mention that we had never worn crash helmets before, but this time, it felt appropriate that we did. The very first corner we went around, he leaned the bike over farther than he ever had before, the kick start pedal hit the road with a shower of sparks. We came to an upright position before we should have and were lucky to stay on, that’s the only part l remember distinctly.
Malcolm’s plans for the future
“I know you plan to travel overseas eventually, but I could never leave this place, everything l need is here. l can’t imagine living anywhere else” That’s how l would have liked to have felt, but I resented, what I imagined, was an ordinary future ahead of me. My plan was to be an adventurer, but the thought scared me even more than Malcom’s bike. I told him how uncomfortable I felt for him, but l didn’t mention how I felt. Already, I had made up my mind that I wouldn’t get on the bike again. But this wasn’t something I wanted to say to him, as I knew it would hurt his feelings.
I never had to tell him, because on the following weekend, he crashed the bike and was killed. I cried my heart out for the first time ever, over the loss of a close friend. He was mature beyond his young years, a deep thinker, who was in my opinion, a genuinely good person. I think of him often, I am grateful to have known him and grateful that I have had the opportunity to grow old and experience many of the things that he was unable to experience. As I grow older, I notice his influence in my actions and my thoughts. How could It have taken me this long to think the way he did back then? I think he felt as calm then, as I am now, that’s why I realize, he was such a special person.