Irreplaceable, unforgettable Digger
Sunday 8 February 2015
The irreplaceable Digger is dead. It is hard to believe that such a vital, strong and funny man could have left us, though with his wife Aliki he fought a formidable fight for life against huge odds. Brian had a mighty appetite for life and until the last few months he enjoyed every minute of it.
All of us who have known him over the decades know and love his narrow-eyed smile, his affectionate and no-holds-barred nature, his generosity, his hatred and non-consumption of vegetables, and his way of seeming to be easy-going but in fact always doing what he wanted. But Greece changed him and marrying his wonderful wife Aliki changed him. Suddenly he was eating items other than steak, oysters and chips! Aubergines, salads, you name it. It was amazing.
Digger loved games. He was a great tennis player, a marvellous swimmer and a talented Scrabble player, among other things. A few years ago at their flat he and I had a game of Scrabble which he won by three points; you should have seen the joy! Australia beats England! (his clarion cry). The following morning there he was at the table actually analysing the game and pointing out his marvellous and devastating moves. That was one of the endearing things about the Digger, his untrammelled and childlike glee when he got one over on you.
He grew to adore Greece. He loved the outdoor lifestyle, the sea, the all-night tavernas, the warmth of the people. For some reason he never learned a word of Greek. It wasn't that he couldn't, he had a very sharp mind and spoke good French, but he just didn't see the need, so poor Aliki had to speak English to him all the time. Nevertheless he understood and was very in tune with all things Greek, and it seemed all things Greek were tuned in to him.
On one memorable day England beat Australia for the Ashes. My late husband Alan and the Digger were in convulsions. Endless discussions, recriminations, gloating, hair-tearing etc, ensued. Alan searched everywhere for a suitable little urn. He brought it home tenderly and spent days turning it into a facsimile of the real Ashes. He painted it, packed it up and wrote Digger a (very funny and amusing) poem about it and presented it to him on our next trip to Greece. Digger put the urn by his bed and kept it there. That's a precious thing, he said. It was touching and typical of both of them.
Digger and I were fairly good at both talking and drinking when we were a bit younger. One of my favourite memories was at a news conference when we were staying at the Hampshire Hotel on Leicester Square. We all met in the bar afterwards - wives who were there too - and Digger and I started chatting. Everyone eventually went to bed. At about 3:00 am the staff were loading up chairs onto tables, still we were talking. Should we go to bed, said I. No! says Digger, let's have another bottle of brandy! I think they refused to give us one, but I will always remember that conversation.
Digger would throw his arms around you and shout "Good on yer, mate!" And kiss you soundly on both cheeks - he was the only man Alan ever kissed, he being born in Surrey. To say that Brian was unconventional would be missing the point; it was more that, though he was aware of the conventions he could take 'em or leave 'em and he chose to leave 'em most of the time. He had a fierce intelligence behind this laid-back Aussie attitude though, and he was swift and competitive when working. He was extremely well informed and had the TV news on permanently. How many times we sat on Aliki and Brian's wonderful central Athens balcony, news droning on in the background, ciggies burning, the warm Greek air and the wonderful late night conversation beneath the lights of the Parthenon a short distance away. Wonderful times, unforgettable times, unforgettable Digger. ■