Monday, April 10, 2006

April is the cruellest month.

NB rang on Friday afternoon, just after 2pm. Odd, I thought, why is he ringing in the middle of the day? "Hello," he said, sounding subdued. "Are you at work?" I told him it was my day off.

"Well, I'm sorry to ruin your day off..."

Instantly, all my mind did that canter round all the possible bad things that could have happened – always quite a revealing instant, because it tells you not only what you would feel most guilty about if it were discovered, but whether you really think there's a chance of it coming out.

"...but Eddie has died."

Sudden inrush of breath. This is the second time in two months I've had this kind of phone call, so I suppose I should have been more accepting, less questioning. But obviously not.

"MR told me, " he continued. "His parents are flying over to the Lebanon now, apparently."

I'm no good at dialogue, so let me tell you the facts: Eddie was in his twenties, had just finished a degree in Classics at Oxford - where he had taken a year out to be President of the Union - and had gone to the Lebanon to improve his French, and learn Arabic.


From: Edward Tomlinson 28 February 2006 18:43

Just a quick note from Beirut for you. How is life at the mo? Things over here ticking along, with the odd demonstration by millions and millions against Syrian political interference, and the odd bout of Islamic mob violence a-trashing embassies too.

The French and Arabic are making rather slower progress than I would like, but I have lots of charming Francophone types in my classes. They are very nice and we get along perfectly but I fear we are not as one politically. After class today one of them said that he wanted there to be a European head of state ruling the whole continent.


Eddie died of an embolism, in his sleep. I'm happy that he felt no pain, had no foreboding over what was to come, but at the same time, selfishly, I almost wish he'd been ill first, had given us time to say goodbye.

Bizarrely, after being acquaintances for three or so years, I had got to know him much better in the last six months. For some unknown reason, he had turned to me and NB for relationship advice, particularly in regard to Sarah, a girl he'd known at Oxford who was living in Paris for a year. She hadn't replied to his Ace in the hole - a postcard onto which he had lovingly translated the lyrics of Take That's Back For Good into Latin.

NB and I had regarded him rather sceptically when he had told us this the last time I saw him - the last time I will ever see him - tucking into artisan sausages in the Stoney Street café opposite Borough Market.

"Erm," I'd ventured, "why Back For Good? Does she particularly like Take That?"

"Um, no, not really," said Eddie, blinking rapidly as he always when he felt he was going to be told off for some piece of fuckwittage. NB and I exchanged glances, but neither of us had the heart to say that quoting decade-old pop songs randomly in an ancient language was a less than watertight way of pulling.

Two weeks later, in the Lebanon, he was concerned by his lack of success with the postcard gambit.


From: Edward Tomlinson 28 February 2006 18:43

This doesn't look too good, especially as she said she would be delighted to hear from me anytime, when she sent on through
her Parisian postal address. So, now I need to know whether to persist
with this line of enquiry or just take the hint and bog off.

To: Edward Tomlinson 02 March 2006 11:51

Dear Eddie,

Can only conclude that La Poste have eaten your postcard due
to horsemeat shortage, or are on strike, bloody trades unionists that
they are.


The Take That wooing scheme was typical Eddie. He was a self-confessed fuckwit when it came to pursuing women, and hardly Machiavelli when it came to arranging other aspects of his life either. "Edd-ieeeeee," we'd chorus at his latest harebrained scheme, "that's a preposterous idea. Don't fuck it uuuup!"


From: Edward Tomlinson 03 March 2006 21:50

I have a nice balcony here in Lebanon and on the mountainside is a truly massive statue of the Madonna. I'm living in the Christian bit out here and there are saints' shrines, crucifixes and images of the pope/Maronite patriarch everywhere. Oh yes, and Church bells which play out the tune for "Ave Maria" twice a day, everyday.

Anyway, I was bopping along listening to my portable CD player on my balcony, as one must. When "Back for Good" came on (I HAD to bring it with me) I obviously started getting a bit excited and started singing, because the chap in the next room along popped his head out to see what the fuss was. He's a 50 year-old Syrio-Catholic priest with a long white beard, and he rather naively thought that I was having some sort of religious experience, and so saluted with both his hands the statue of the Madonna on the hillside.

I thought it was only right to do the same, and so as Gary sang out "your lipstick marks still on my coffee cup" I held out both my hands to the Holy Mother of
God. Am I in trouble, do you think?


Went for dinner with NB last night, to see how he was coping. He'd spent all day with MR, looking at pictures on Eddie's facebook profile and reminiscing. "How are you feeling?" I ventured.

"I think it's still sinking in." He drank reflectively.
"I think that's the trouble with grief," I said. "You expect it to hit you all at once and leave you totally incapacitated. It'd be easier if it did, I reckon. As it is, you feel so horrible you can carry on with your everyday life. And it just stings like new every time you think, "Oh, I must tell Eddie that," or, "I wonder how Eddie's getting on..."'
'Yes. That's what we were saying today - all we want to do is talk to Eddie and say: Eddie, what the fuck? Why have you gone and died?'

I laughed. I suppose on one level it's horribly disrespectful, but it's so typically Eddie to go to some unstable riot-filled country and die in the night and have his body found by a monk. It's untidy. It's harebrained. It's so irritatingly like him.


I knew pretty much as soon as I heard that I would have to write about Eddie's death. I couldn't not - following what BS Johnson said about his need to write – I write to have it there, in a book, not here in my head. I asked NB if it would be disrespectful to write about him on my blog. Would it trivialise the situation?
"No, I don't think so. I think he would have liked it."
So here it is.


All I can think about now is how unfair it all is. It’s hit me like a ton of clichés, but the most painful thing about death is that there’s no arguing. It’s done. That’s it – no rematch, no recount, no quibbling, no winning on points in the final minute when all seemed lost. One of the nicest, sweetest, most unassumingly brilliant people I’ve ever met will never have a chance to do all the things he could have done. And the rest of us will go on living, and forgetting.

And I don’t want to do that either – I want to remember his voice, calling me by my surname, which always made me feel like a public schoolboy, and remember him telling me about his grand plan to marry a baronet’s daughter, and him fiddling with his glasses and looking sheepish.

All I can think of is the end of Dr Faustus: “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight.”


From: Edward Tomlinson March 13 2006

Really, despite the drama of recent messages, I'm perfectly happy at the moment and it's not as if I have suddenly become a total wreck or anything. As ever I'll just keep life ticking over and I have no doubt it will continue to surprise and delight.


Unaware but underlined I figured out this story / It wasn't good /But in the corner of my mind I celebrated glory /But that was not to be...

Honestly, Eddie. Take That?


Blogger galatea said...


I originally decided not to have a comments forum on this beause I didn't want people to feel obliged to say something. But I've had so many people email me privately that I thought that one might be needed.

4/14/2006 11:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HL - that was beautiful. Thank you. I am totally devastated and inconsolable about Eddie's death. Too much wasted time, missed opportunities, and regrets. He was not a total fuckwit with women. I always loved him. LO.

4/14/2006 5:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eddie would have loved that blog. He translated the Commodores 'Three Times a Lady' into Latin and emailed it to me from Lebanon. I only regret I never got to thank him for it in person.

4/26/2006 12:28 pm  
Anonymous Guillaume said...

Hi there,

My name is Guillaume, and together with a group of french students in Beirut, we have pictures and stories about our loved friend Edward. We are about to send them to his family. We miss him. He was a gentleman. Today was our first arabic course without him.

Would you like something from us ?

Guillaume ( and other friends from Edward )

4/26/2006 5:34 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

That would be wonderful... could you email them to

Thank you so much!

4/26/2006 7:31 pm  

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