Saturday, December 12, 2015

Too late: The loss of Ian Bell

Too late.

As we both approached our days-apart 60th birthdays, I thought about getting in touch with Ian. In the past we’d at least commiserated with each other about our mutually-advancing years. But I didn’t.

Lot of water under the bridge, lot of other stuff too...

Mostly to do with the referendum, I think. The curious thing is, although I knew Ian for 25 years, although we met, drank, ate, corresponded, we never really talked about politics. Which may seem strange, given he was Scotland’s pre-eminent political columnist. But it was all music, newspapers, family, books, dogs and a bit of religion. Gossip. Dylan and Springsteen, publishers and editors and...other stuff too. We just kind of got on.

Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through  

We shared a publisher, Mainstream, the same employers at different times. There was a memorable year of very sociable brainstorming sessions at  STV as members of a ‘cultural think tank’; some evenings and lunchtimes I can only remember patchily (“there’s jellyfish on this menu...jellyfish”), calls and letters and long emails about this and that. The thumb drive he sent me, containing an enormous selection of extremely obscure Bob bootlegs, still sits on my desk.

We rarely met, once I moved to Shetland. Eyemouth is  a long way, even in this small country. There was the occasional rendezvous in Edinburgh or Glasgow. A Book Festival gig which ended with me making dreadfully ill-judged jokes at a terribly serious  Amnesty International event, a drink or three after interviewing him about his wonderful, magisterial Dylan biography. I could never keep up, not remotely, not in any sense.

People are crazy and times are strange

The referendum. I wrote a  couple of heated columns, blogged, sometimes intemperately, wrote and published some songs and poems which I thought were entertaining and not too offensive, though with hindsight, they were. I argued against borders. Ian was of course the most trenchant, eloquent and committed supporter of independence.

There was no confrontation. Just a sudden absence of communication. We both had a lot to say, and suddenly nothing to each other. 

Things changed. And now we’ll never speak again.

Too late.

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

Like so many others who knew him, I’m absolutely devastated. 

(Things Have Changed by Bob Dylan)


Popdoc said...

Heartbreaking Tom. So very eloquently put. Thinking of you.

Unknown said...

Fine words. I wonder how many of us in future years will reflect on friendships, once strong and close, that withered and died on the back of the independence referendum? And all so unnecessarily. I still believe that, instead of strengthening free speech and respect for each others' beliefs, the referendum has stifled many voices for fear of scorn and abuse.

gz said...

Well said.
Incentive to keep in touch with friends, acquaintances or family...even if not in person...even just to say we're here, whatever...too easy to be complacent and then regret