This is the last post on this blog, written not by Jon but by L, his “lovely gypsy wife”, as he referred to me in his book Silent Memoir.
Jon tragically died a few weeks ago, on the 5th of August. It was unexpected. He excused himself and said he wanted to lie down for a bit. When I came to wake him with a cup of tea some two hours later it was clear that he must have died from a heart attack pretty much as soon as he reached the bed. He still had his sandals on.
Jon was the most honest person I have ever known and he dedicated his life to trying to make a difference to others. At Basecamp, an outdoor centre for ‘youth at risk’, we ran courses for young people under social work provision, kids from children’s homes, hardened offenders, and personal development courses for the social workers and prison officers who worked with these young people. His work was published in a book entitled ‘Why adventure?’. He didn’t make money from these engagements. He would pay his staff, but generally we worked for nothing except a small food allowance. I personally was paid a token amount during our last two years at Basecamp, having worked for ten years unpaid.
When he died he was working to complete a book called ‘Sustainability for Real’. I’m hoping that this will still go ahead with the publisher.
Jon wasn’t motivated by money and he had the skills and drive to achieve anything he put his mind to. In Scotland we bought an old barn on money borrowed because he saw the potential in it. He worked each day to build the foundations, walls, floors, stairs, windows and chimneys that would turn that shell into a home. Jon didn’t go out drinking and socialising. He spent his time with me or he’d build for others at too low a rate in order to make ends meet. I was working as a support worker at the time and laboured for him when not at work. It took him around four years to finish the project. We lived in a caravan for the first year on site; but wow, people thought we were loaded. It was truly amazing when we came to sell it and it was bought in the first week that it was on the market.
Jon used to carry a small book around with him because if he liked something he would sketch it and make it. His restoration work was second to none. He would pack every minute of the day with some task, and by nine o’clock in the morning he would often have achieved what some people take all day to do. He was good and kind and compassionate and would put his own needs on hold while trying to address the needs of some family member. Jon always did the right thing. He was a moral compass but he wasn’t rigid. He was a complete free thinker who thought out of the box, and most important, he had empathy.
He was never intimidated by people in authority. He wouldn’t back away from a situation that needed confronting, but would do it in a compassionate way unless they were a complete arsehole: then the eyes would turn red. Not a good sign! At these times his knowledge and articulacy would kick in. He could write letters like a solicitor if necessary. He was on the side of the angels, and never for personal gain. But most of the time, Jon just wanted people to be decent to each other.
He could break things down and get people to relate on a human level. I remember an incident in a French notary’s office after we had been strung along for a year by an estate agent. In France agents are very well protected; right and wrong don’t exist, and it’s the law that matters. Anyway, I remember a huge argument in the notary’s office. Because the agent had cost us thousands and made huge mistakes, Jon didn’t want to pay the full fees, but instead proposed to pay the equivalent of what an English agent would get on the property. We had sold the barn and transferred the money so we couldn’t live off the interest, and then found ourselves stuck in London with a rent for a year instead of what should have been a couple of months. The climax came when the agent asked: “Who are you to come to France and tell me what I can have? Are you calling me a crook?” Jon responded: “I’m not saying you’re a crook, but you are an arrogant man. You can take me to court and you can string this out for years, you may even win. And I may spend every penny on this. But I’m not paying you a penny more. I’ll pay the notary. I’ll pay the owner for the loss of a sale. But not you.” Jon’s sister-in-law was trying to pull him back in his seat as she is French and knew the cards were stacked in the agents favour, but he turned and said “I’m an honest man, not a rich English second-homer and morally what you have done, regardless of the law, is wrong”. Then he asked the notary if the agent could give us a moment with him out of the room (I think because Jon wanted to hit him!). While we were discussing how to proceed with the owner and the notary, the agent knocked on the door, came in and said, “There is no fee, and I hope the next time we meet its over a drink as friends”. He shook hands with us both and wished us luck. In her entire career, the notary had never witnessed this.
There will only ever be one bossboots and life will never be the same with out him, not for me.
At his funeral, our son Tristam ended it with Jon’s words, a reading from the last page of Silent Memoir. This book really was pretty true to his life. A couple of weeks later, Tristam rowed me out to sea in a small rowing boat with Rowan, our daughter, waiting on the sands. We put his ashes out to sea at Beg ar Fri. It was a perfect morning and I know that’s where he wanted to be.
I haven’t got Jon’s gift for writing. I’m dyslexic (and not the middle-class form of dyslexia with a few spelling mistakes). But Jon always said write from the heart. It doesn’t matter how other people perceive or judge it if it’s honest. So I have written this because he had so many hits on his website and he would never talk about the knowledge or talents he had in conversation, often allowing a person to think they were informing him on a subject that he knew in-depth, and I just thought you might like to know a bit about the man he was.
The love that I have for the life that I have is yours and yours and yours…