Finishing Strong –Simon Ricketts and Me


Sometimes, after posting one of my Sunday blogs, I might get a message from Simon saying something like, “I figured you’d be writing about this today so I swung by to have a read.” Simon would certainly have figured what I would be writing about late into last night and this morning but, alas, he won’t be swinging by to see it.

When a person dies, I like to say just like that, ‘they died’. But for Simon, I think ‘passed on’ is actually a better fit. Simon has died but he has also very much passed on.

He has passed on to a special place in the many hearts where he will be alive forever.

He has passed on into legend.

I was lucky enough to meet Simon a couple of times but our friendship was mostly enacted through Twitter and, more recently, over on Facebook too. A lot of the interaction was public but there was also the considerable underbelly of messaging where more personal truths were often exchanged.

At first, we were all part of a social media cohort. A loose community of folk who tended to drift in and out of each other’s consciousness. At the centre of this amorphous collective, there were a bunch of people who just seemed to get along really well. I imagine there were a thousand such collectives – maybe a million – across the entire social media universe. But ours felt a bit special… perhaps they all did. This fellowship gently disbanded over time, as fellowships tend to do, but a kernel of people never quite managed to let each other go. We might not have spoken every day or even every week but we remained strangely ‘aware’ of each other. Our little successes raising us all up a little, our trials pricking our collective hearts.

Simon was a firm part of that collective but, man, he was so much more too. He was a superb communicator, always sharp and witty, kind yet edgy all at once. As was the case with many of us then, his life played out a little week by week on Twitter. I will always remember his Saturdays in particular, going to the match, retiring with his great friend Glen to the pub for a couple of pints, taking in the ‘turn’ then home to the cats for a late pizza.

We always got on really well, Simon and me. I like to think it was empathy that played a part in loosely binding us together. We both seemed to have a lot of empathy for stuff. We understood how that could be both a blessing and a curse.

So that was it. Simon Ricketts. To me, a valued member of a loose collective. A free-flowing social media friendship, slowly formed. That was enough, it was plenty.

But then he went and did something that amazed me. He came to see me. He hired a car and he came to Ireland and he drove over here to the west coast to my town. To come to see me.

We had us a day. I wrote about it here. We drove around and I showed him stuff, we walked a little and sat and ate seafood and drank a pint or two at the end of the day after the driving was done. He said he had wanted to meet me and I sure as hell wanted to meet him.

I think his coming all this way to see me illustrates an important aspect of who Simon was. I think it can serve as a microcosm of his overall wonderfulness. Maybe he just wanted to see me, like he said. Maybe that was the beginning and the end of it. But I don’t think so. I think he sensed that perhaps I needed to see someone, someone real from out of all the internet relationships I have come to lean quite heavily on. I was so remote, you see, that sometimes my absence from the occasional meetups would make me feel isolated and not really belonging. By coming all this way, to see me, he did me a huge service. It was a boost that still boosts me to this very day, many years along. He made me feel a bit important.

And, yes, there it is. The microcosm. Isn’t that what Simon did so well? He made his friends feel a bit important. Regardless of whether they were online sketches of people or real flesh and blood folk. He made us feel important. And it wasn’t any sleight of hand or three card trick he was pulling when he did it. No. We felt important to him because we were important to him. He cared. He really bloody cared and we really bloody mattered to him.

I don’t want to paint him as an angel and I don’t want to paint him as a saint. That was perhaps the greatest part of it, the fact that he wasn’t an angel and he wasn’t a saint. He was a man. In person, he was earthy and mischievous and sometimes downright naughty. In our times together he said things that I would never repeat but which made me slap my thigh at the wonderful ‘incorrectness’ of them. I’ll sum it up as we do in these parts and I really mean this too… Simon was Great Crack. And in case you feel like correcting me and telling me that word I’m searching for is actually ‘Craic’ then, sorry, ‘Craic’ is for the tourists; in these here parts, we call it Crack.

Gibbzer was a great friend too and when those two found each other, it was such a delight to see. It’s not for me to type here how I know he felt about her but I know it and I’m positive she knows it too. They had a marvellous adventure in their too-brief time together and they travelled the hard road together too. They were each other’s prize.

Simon is gone today and I can only begin to guess how I will miss knowing he is out there. Sometimes he would message me, offering some private counterpoint to whatever was currently happening in the public online domain. I wish he would do that now, to tell me that what I’m seeing is not really true, but I know that is not to be. People who don’t know about online stuff think that it’s not really real but it is. It is all too real.

I think Simon has left me some important lessons about living. About owning the good things and also the bad things that get thrown at you. He’s taught me a little about dying too, I reckon, that you can bring people along with you quite a long way, until you can bring them no further.

The final lesson, though, is about social media and maybe that is as it should be.

All the Twitters and Facebooks and such are damaged goods now. They are not what they were and they never will be again. But we can still use them. Simon showed me how his social media became his bionic arm. Even as his body failed him, he utilised his social media so that he remained strong and sharp and witty and loving right up to the final moments of his life.

He used it to finish strong.

And he did, he finished strong.

He never shirked from his illness and the trials and tribulations that it brought along with it. He told it like it was. But he played the game, the game never played him. He never lost his empathy, his strength, his humour, not in this public arena, not for a moment.

And we will remember him this way. We will remember him as a beacon for what was best in all the myriad of online relationships that we weave. A force for warmth and truth in the world. A good man to know.

And me?

I will also be able to remember the bloke who waited outside the library for me though I was a little late and who smiled at me when I crossed the road to greet him.

And how I smiled back.

17 comments:

Brigid said...

Simon was such a massive part of my early Twitter experience. I’m not on there much anymore but always went to check in with him. So sorry for your loss, Ken.

fatnigos said...

A wonderful eulogy for a wonderful man. I never met him, but as you have expressed, I felt he was my friend through Twitter.

offpat @smile_of_decade said...

When I first joined Twitter I was a bit unsure I would ever become the addict I now am - people often asked me, "You like that placer? - what on earth for?"

The answer came when I started following Simon N Rickets as recommended by someone I vaguely respected.
It was the time of the London Olympics and I was "watching with phone" - the spectacle was over to sightly amazed and growing massive enthusiasm, "OMG we can actually do this thing well!"
then came the boring bit of all the nations athletes parading into the arena waving a few flags and smiling a lot...

Except Simon provided a running commentary mined from his brilliant creative description vaults. It had me in stitches.

The fact that I remember the mood he created better than I remember Danny's Ceremony choreography says it all - Simon could make you feel so bloody good...
because he was,
just so good.

Audrey Maughan said...

Your very heartfelt and warm tribute makes me wish I'd known that man Ken. Evocative writing as ever. 😊😊

Julirose said...

Such sad news. I will miss his indomitable spirit, his wit, his charm - for those are the memories of him that I will keep close. I envy you for having actually met him. Thank you for your heartfelt delivery of our mutual loss.

Caroline kavanagh said...

Thank you for writing this Ken. I feel like I’ve known him years. I remember him going to visit you. Everything you’ve said I nodded at as I read it. All true. All Simon. Thanks. Caroline

Bob Hanson said...

This is really good, Ken. It made me feel sad and happy at the same time.

Graham Smith said...

Will be sorely missed at Wealdstone FC
R.I.P

Alison Moyet said...

Thank you for this. I was a mere twitter chum but time and again met his sheer kindnesses on the paths where we met. He is a beautiful soul and I was fortunate indeed to receive his thoughtful and generous missives. A great man measured by the human love that emanated from him. X

Christopher Daley said...

As always, your words bring a gentle peace into the world. I am so sorry for your loss.

Jeremy Austin (jeremymonkey) said...

He was so pleased that he made that journey. He talked about it a lot after. I got the impression he was immensely fond of you too. And I like you mention his mischievous side. He was. I posted a pic of him at Glastonbury smoking under a no smoking sign, two fingers raised in salute to his personal rebellion. There’s a gang of us who met on or through the Watford Observer and this last day I’ve been singing Morrissey - “he was the first in the gang with a gun in his hand, the first in the gang to die”. That was him. He lived life to the full and just used it up too soon. Thanks for this marvellous memory.

Marc Paterson said...

Well said, Ken.

Fran said...

That's great Ken, because I knew a lot of the stuff you've written about. I knew he went to see you, that you had a social group that met and the photos, Glen, Andrea, all part of the unfolding stories enabled by social media, in particular Twitter as it used to be, full of characters. That's what makes me, and many others sad and happy too. We were in the room. You and Simon might have met by the sea, or the lake, but we were all there too at the back of the room, or the sides, or just over there talking to someone else.

'Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.' Henry Van Dyke.

A gap is there in our web woods.

Nibs said...

Poignant and accurate Ken. I had the privilege of knowing Simon from a young age and he was as you said both naughty and wise. I certainly believe I am a better person having known him & he will live on in my memory and my heart forever

SamBlonde said...

You know, you and Simon were two of the first people I followed on twitter and I ALWAYS knew you two would meet, somehow, to me you were both quite similar in many ways and I would often see you both in my feed and always get you both mixed up. I am so glad you met and I know how deep that friendship ran, sometimes twitter can be like "the outside looking in" when you see people you follow interacting, but in a way it is nice to know that friendship can transcend the barriers that social media creates.

Twitter back then was a small place, full of decent people trying something new, not many people were on there and a lot of it was "so what is this site about" and the discovery of what you can do with it. Now it is an amalgamation of the slime of social media, the attention seekers, the selfies, the self promotion, the self importance, and we are but numbers now, I made that mistake stupidly following everyone back (I believed in doing so you could meet amazing people, see amazing content) but honestly it ruined the site for me and I admit I dropped out mostly only conversing via DM's as the whole site and interaction now to me has died, I have nothing to promote, therefore tweet complete garbage, and I am nothing but a number to people, honestly it is true, quality not quantity, too many people on there now BUT it makes the originals from the beginning shine brighter (to me anyway) they were the good guys before the questionable neighbours rocked up to ruin the neighbourhood, but I am far too lazy to unfollow the "spam" so often feel out of the loop with keeping in touch with people and up to date. I felt guilty I hadn't trawled through his feed in a while. Similarly yours (I would have a good nosey at your blogs and loved your random cork floor full of haunting faces). Think I have a few ghost stories to catch up on there...

I am glad he got the #bangingout he deserved, it is poetic how he trended and how so many people loved him. I don't think he would have believed it really. He was a lot of peoples "first" follows. I don't think he got lost in the numbers and that made him stand out. Some people pass without notice, he didn't, that shows how much he affected people in a positive way. I often told him he had a poetic soul. His descriptions in his stories, the way he connection with people and described that. That is rare, he truly saw how important connections were. A special RARE skill!

But, I now wish twitter was back to the small groups, the writers, the creatives, the thinkers, the inside jokes, I learned a lot from you guys. It was a special time. I feel like that time is coming to an end, everyone seems to have lost that passion for the site. When I would be struggling with writers block or some silly mental block I would see a blog, a message, anything pop up and feel inspired (usually at 4-5am when I was often the only one awake/online). I feel like it was the ultimate group of misfits in the beginning of twitter. Non conforming, rebellious and hilarious. I am glad you found each other and the group lives on.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you all for your comments here. x

Jim Murdoch said...

I never knew Simon and it does seem I’ve missed out there. I’m genuinely sorry for your loss but what I’m more upset about is that it feels like there’s nothing out there to fill that void. I’m not sure at what age I noticed that, that more of my enjoyment comes from remembering life than actually living it, but it’s been a while. When I first went online there was no Facebook or anything like that—even the blogosphere was still in its infancy—and I didn’t really know what to expect from it other than finding a way to get a few poems published. I certainly never expected to make friends. I really never expected to find a wife. But there you go. As you say, it’s mostly gone to shite and that’s a loss we both share but where there’s a will people will find a way. Not all the people. Not even most of them. But enough. I’ve long felt that the Internet exists in strata. You and I and few dozen, maybe as many as a hundred or so, keep bumping into each other because we all know each other and yet there must be other circles of e-friends out there who don’t even know we exist, not one of us. How many thousands of writers must be online right now that we know nothing of? It’s a ruddy miracle you and I ever met and an even bigger one we managed to cultivate the friendship we have.