Friday, 25 November 2011

Das Urteil (The Judgement)

Well it took a few weeks to get here (received last Thursday through the post) and the contents were not quite what I'd asked Farmer Christmas for last year. The judgement has arrived and I'd like to say I was thoroughly disappointed but I can't as it would be something akin to a fib. Yes, the University of Salford (the Respondent) have won their case at the Employment Tribunal against a certain chap of some liking for beards. For those with a keen eye to matters Employment Tribunal related, you can access the entire reserved judgement here. Why was I not disappointed? Well the result wasn't entirely unexpected.

Apologies first

Firstly I am duty bound to make an apology in not having informed readers and posted this decision sooner. This was not an active policy or as some might take the view, an attempt  to sweeten the piquancy of the bitter gall of defeat. It was a matter of priorities. Priority # une was to prepare for a Case Management Hearing which was scheduled for Monday this week (21st November) and a raft of other matters related to the ongoing libel claim initiated against me last year ostensibly by Vice Chancellor Martin Hall, and his deputy Adrian Graves who, according to the Claimant's Particulars of Claim, are deemed to be the University and 'therefore the claimant'. Moreover, as I'm sure readers can imagine, writing these blogs takes up a great deal of time for all the obvious reasons. As such, any analysis is going to take a little time and should manifest itself over the next week or so.

Sour grapes or sweet vinegar?

When I say the decision was not entirely unexpected, this is not to infer that I believed our case was weak - on the contrary - I believe we put forward a strong and compelling case backed by a lashings of hard evidence. The tribunal panel simply didn't quite see our case in the same way or give as much weight to our arguments. I'm also of the opinion that the panel gave hardly any weight to the evidence we supplied, or considered in any real depth the submissions made by us on the final day. I've had a hard time finding any substantive reference to them in the decision. You may concur when you compare the two.

A youthful looking 'The author' before initiating proceedings
at the Employment Tribunal 

When I say that the result wasn't entirely unexpected, I should elaborate. I'm not at all a cynical type. But I'm more often than not inclined towards a healthy scepticism when it comes to matters of law, especially when there is an obvious inequality of resources between the two sides. From the outset the great bells of alarm were chiming almost in unison their sombre laments whilst we attempted to scale an extraordinarily steep hill. Request after request to the Tribunal for disclosure of documents and witness orders was refused. I was thus almost entirely dependant on the machinery of Data Protection legislation to provide the bulk of the documentary evidence I was to rely upon for my case. I am also and will remain eternally grateful to those anonymous supporters who provided me some interesting documentary evidence. Most of these documents were ruled out as not relevant by the Tribunal when we asked for their inclusion into evidence.

Moreover, it's taken two years and one month to reach this point which by any measure is a long time. The hearing itself was split with a delay of almost six months between the first two days in March and the final three days in August. Did this impact upon our case? It is difficult to say. I don't think it enhanced our chances.

A not so youthful looking 'The author' today on
re-reading the Tribunal's decision

The appeal of the warm afterglow and a rough shag

But over the last two days, I've had the chance to fire up a well shaped briar or two and absorb the decision in its entirety. Nor has my phone ceased ringing with astonished commentators. Much valuable advice has been imparted. And I concur with those who feel that the decision of the Tribunal leaves many vital questions raised by us within the Tribunal unanswered. So important are they that I have decided to appeal the decision at the Employment Appeal Tribunal and will be submitting my appeal over the next few weeks. I shall endeavour to complete this task in between gathering witness statements, compiling a list of documents I wish to be disclosed prior to the libel trial in the New Year, in line with directions from the Court, as well as keeping adherents to this blog regularly updated.

Acknowledgement and indebtedness

I cannot close without extending a most heartfelt thank you to all those near and far who have helped me in so many different ways over the last two and a half years. Without your advice, assistance and support, this battle would have been far lonelier and far less rewarding despite the outcome. Along the way I have made a great many friends.

I also owe a great deal of gratitude and an unpayable debt to my friend and lay representative the gallant Suffolkian Eric Longley who has provided me with sackfuls of sound advice and unstinting support throughout the proceedings and over the years.

La Lutte Continue!

Usual disclaimer: This work is the opinion of the author and is produced in order to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents herein is to provide accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested. To make any such request press here.

The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. So, to save £££sss please avail yourself of this opportunity if you really feel it necessary, which you can do by clicking here.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Pestilence and the Poppy

Yes.... we’re a little late. It's axiomatic of our lifestyles and the odd night or two spent imbibing the meanest quality turpentine in what is unusually clement weather. The controversy has once again raged in the tabloids and media excoriating some in the public arena including Channel Four's Jon Snow. It goes something like this: people like Mr Snow should bow to the peer-pressure and the ideology of the right-wing rags, don their red floral emblems in the most public manner on our screens in order to remember the dead of the First World War.

Raging bull... shit

We won't dwell too long on the arguments for the red or indeed those for the white poppy. We won't delve into the history/rationale for the adoption of the poppy as a symbol in the first place as writers such as Mark Steel, Robert Fisk and others have pretty much covered this base. We won't raise the issue as to why we never seem to remember the war dead of South East Asia, the millions killed in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, as well as the war dead of Africa and the Middle East: Angola, Algeria, Congo, Kenya and countries such as recently invaded Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine.

We shan't linger on those who argue that Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday have been hijacked by the pro-war lobby in order to justify the two most recent invasions and occupations of foreign countries by British troops (something we were taught only the nasty Nazis did during the war). We'll ignore for now the despicable way 'our boys', the so called 'heroes' have to rely on such a simple mechanism as charity to reintegrate the physically and mentally war-crippled back into society. We'll also avoid for the time being the way in which this kind of unquestioning support for foreign imperialistic endeavours is always usually the sub text which states 'we're all in this together' as part of the wider project of building some sort of 'national interest' which will no doubt serve the British ruling class well as they slip the neoliberal juggernaut into its final top gear and dismantle what's left of the publicly provided welfare and health systems and all recognisable forms of social provision. 

The cauldron of heresy

Instead, we've come up with an alternative and we'd like to throw into the cauldron of heresy. It goes something exactly like this: that we should eject good old Papaver rhoeas (the traditional red poppy) from its premier position on the combined lapels of the British masses and replace it with a variety that is equally well known around the globe - Papaver somniferum more commonly known as the Opium Poppy.

Try wearing this fucker with
pride on any Remembrance
We can almost hear the national accord resonating across breakfast tables as hirsute Mail-reading opinionists scream forth “Why you hypocritical pre-Christian berserker...!” And anyone who read last week’s sorrowful serving from our campfire pot might at first glance agree with this general sentiment as they wipe what’s left of their unannounced and reconstituted early morning tea and toast from their impeccably waxed handlebars. Yes we’re arguing for the good old Opium Poppy and we won’t be deterred. We will of course endeavour to explain why. It’s got something to do with trade and of course war... oh yes, and it’s also got something to do with the growth and consolidation of the British Empire and British capitalism. We hope it will give some food for thought.

The British state - drug pusher extraordinaire

At the root of our justification of the above is a short historical analysis of drug addiction of the opium based variety. We're not discussing such addiction at a private or individual level, but its use at the macro level.

John Newsinger in his fascinating expose of the bloody history of the British Empire puts it rather succinctly: ‘The British Empire was the largest drug pusher the world has ever seen.’(1) Putting the forced enslavement of millions of black Africans to one side for the moment, it appears that far from being a civilising force for good as some revisionist historians would have us believe, the good old British Empire was also founded in large part on using military force as well as illicitly state-sponsoring smuggling operations in its initial stages, to 'encourage' millions of Chinese people to become... well... heroin addicts! At the centre of this operation was the East India Company which was granted a monopoly in its production and trade by the British government in 1775. Newsinger shows how:

[i]n the 1760s some 1,000 chests of opium (each weighing 140 lbs) were smuggled into China, and this figure gradually increased to around 4,000 chests in 1800... Expansion only really began after 1820 so that by 1824 over 12,000 chests were being smuggled into China, rising to 19,000 in 1830, to 30,000 in 1835 and to 40,000 chests (an incredible 2,500 tons of opium) in 1838.(2)

In Gibb-ian terms are we talking jive or simply talking shite?

“Sir, although reasonably eloquent, you are little more than a tripe-speaking adjunct to the periphery. What the devil does this have to do with war and the fallen?” can almost be discerned among the general hubbub emanating within the plate glassed environs of the bald and apparently untouchable. Given the involvement of the East India Company, we thought it was worth doing a little digging. It appears that the East India Company still exists today. On its website it states:

‘Since its creation in 1600 by The Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I, the influence of The East India Company has been well documented. Without The Company our world would not be as it is today. It changed the world’s tastes, its thinking, and its people. It created new communities, trading places, cities and shaped countries and commercial routes. Singapore and Hong Kong were established by The Company and India was shaped and influenced by it. At one point The Company had the largest merchant navy in the world and conducted and controlled 50% of world trade. With statistics like that it’s easy to forget that at its heart, were real people.

Our heritage is in the spirit of those pioneers. The East India Company’s employees did not set out to change the world. They were people who set sail to establish trade routes, to discover and bring back new goods, and in doing so broke down the barriers of the world. They were explorers, traders, innovators. They took risks, they broke new ground and they sometimes got it wrong...’

The Honourable East India Company - changers of taste

Well it certainly changed the tastes of many Chinese. And we've never heard of drug pushers referred to as 'pioneers' before. Maybe today's pushers of narcotics could re-invent themselves by whacking on a Playtex body-shaper, dropping the word 'pusher' and replacing it for the more business friendly and taxable word 'trader'. It appears that the history of the East India Company has had a similar makeover:

The East India Company made the first successful sea venture to China in 1699, and Hong Kong’s trade with British merchants developed rapidly soon after. The Company was interested in Hong Kong’s safe harbour located on the trade routes of the Far East, thus establishing a trade enterprise between Western businessmen and China. Chinese commodities, namely porcelains, landscaped-furnishings and tea were popular among the European aristocrats. As trade grew the British Government became concerned to reduce its huge purchases in silver from China and replaced the silver with opium. The trade of opium for Chinese products grew rapidly. The Chinese emperor banned the drug trade in 1799 but to no avail. Smuggling came about as neither foreign traders nor Guangdong merchants were inclined to forgo the profitable business, and this led to the Opium Wars. Throughout the next few years, the British enjoyed a fruition of success from opium. When they lost monopoly of the trade, other foreign traders stepped into the illegal opium business for a share of wealth.(3)

A postmodernist take on pipe smoking?

All in a day's work

Give those chaps at the contemporaneous East India Company their due, it is at least a dabble into a form of history albeit of the 'cod' variety. It does mention the Opium Wars. It also mentions the trade in opium but it manages this in a rather sanitised sort of way. So let's just re-adjust the historical record slightly and establish here that not only did the Honourable East India Company trade opium, the Company mass produced it in India. It was a fortunate consequence of the Company's conquest of Bengal (the East India Company had its own large private army of around 200,000 men and a large private navy) that it 'took control of a well-established opium industry involving peasant producers, merchants, and long-distance traders.' 

These activities were reflected in this region with the Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-58 and finally from 1859-60 where the British and their French allies finally occupied Beijing) which consolidated Britain's stranglehold on the trade in opium in China.

Opium - the super commodity of its day

The consequences of the initial illegal trade in opium and the later wars to establish its 'legitimacy', ensured that opium would become the most profitable commodity of this period. This resulted in huge levels of addiction with the inevitable social breakdown. For Britain and the East India Company the 300 million inhabitants of China were viewed as 300 million potential 'customers' for their highly desirable commodity. The statistics are quite staggering. By 1830, the illegal trade in opium had created around 3 million Chinese addicts with some estimates stating that the levels of addiction among the Chinese was as high as 12 million, fed principally by illegal importation by the Honourable East India Company. Britain and the East India Company can bask in their shared glory knowing that by the early 20th century approximately twenty seven per cent of the Chinese population were regular opium users.

'On the company lies the responsibility of fostering the trade in every way possible, the revenue from this source alone, in Bengal and Bombay amounting probably to some five millions sterling a year … at present the British government holds the position of a producer and dealer in opium; a postion not only anomalous, but highly derogatory to the dignity of, and which can hardly be maintained with honour to, the crown'. (4)

There were more direct human costs with the imposition of the will of the British state on the Chinese state and its people? Militarily there was a huge technological imbalance. It ensured massacre after bloody massacre. For example, in October 1841 around 2,000 Chinese were slaughtered in the taking of Jinhai by the British. Mass rape and pillage were also commonplace in order to ensure the appropriate conditions for trade.

Opium and war
Natural bed-chaps: war and opium

We've seen how three wars were fought by the British to establish and monopolise the trade of opium to China and to create a 'free market' for the East India Company's products. Conversely, and rather ironically, today the language of 'war' is used by the US and UK governments to conduct their largely futile 'war on drugs'.(5) And at a military level we are told, wars are needed to stop the production and export of cocaine from countries such as Colombia. How does one fight such a war? By funding right-wing paramilitary death squads of course. Investing billions in countering the trade in untaxed cocaine really has nothing whatsoever to do with maintaining a foothold in its 'backyard'. Nor does it reflect a worry among the US ruling class that the poor and disenfranchised have brought to power the likes of the often leftish Hugo Chavez in neighbouring Venezuela.

Oddly enough, the biggest producer of opium today is Afghanistan. Given the invasion by NATO forces led by the US and UK, common sense might suggest that the trade would be declining. We were told after all that one of the reasons for the invasion was to stop opium production in Afghanistan. Even more ironically it appears that under the brutal pre-invasion Taliban regime, production had decreased markedly. What can we extrapolate from this? The actions of the US and its NATO allies have led directly to the huge increase in opium production and its concomitant - the growing problem of heroin addiction in that region and throughout the West.(6) A cynical type might even say that the evidence shows that the British troops stationed in the Helmand Province who we are told are there to help in the efforts at reconstruction, have done little more than help reconstruct the pre Taliban opium trade.(7) Long gone are the promises that the invasion would help reduce the production of opium.

The history sanitisers

Rarely does the British state recognise its culpability in the heinous crimes perpetrated in the name of trade or the protection of the right to trade. More so when the victims of these crimes are hidden from view, half a world and a century and a half away. There are quite a few high profile historians who are perfectly happy to assist them in this endeavour. Despite the teeth gnashing of the 'glory-in-death' pundits or the analysis-free liberals who believe that those who were slaughtered on the fields of Flander died 'in the service of Queen and country', there is no glory, nor indeed is there any victory in marching across the life-hungry corpulence of no-man's land towards certain death in order to establish the primacy of British capitalism over its German competitor. There's no glory in slaughtering hundreds of thousands simply to establish a framework for 'free trade' in the Middle East and the right of Britain to 'do business' in Iraq or Afghanistan when the true human costs remain conveniently hidden from our view.

Outside of the rarified atmosphere of the jingos' glorious Valhallah of blood and blue, for many, seeking to impose what is for all intents a rather British foible on the world, is a little like the 'red in tooth and claw' British imperialists imposing their blood-soaked 'Butcher's Apron' on their former colonies.

So next year we'd like to propose the wholesale adoption of Papaver somniferum to be worn on our collective lapel-age to both internationalise an event, but more importantly as a symbol to remember those who were the innocent victims of the greed of a tiny but powerful group, and who saw nothing but profit in the misery of the untold addicted Chinese millions.

Notes and Resources

(1) Newsinger J, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Bookmarks, London, 2010, Pg 44
(2) Greenberg M, British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-1842, Cambridge, 1951, quoted in Newsinger J, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Bookmarks, London, 2010, Pg 49
(3) Website of the East India Company sourced at
(4)Lockhart W, William Lockhart: The medical missionary in China : a narrative of twenty years’ experience London : Hurst and Blackett, 1861, pp 401-402
(5) For an excellent analysis on the role drug use plays in Western societies see A Farrell 'Addicted to Profit: Capitalism and Drugs at
(6) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime sourced at
(7) The Independent, 28th August 2007 sourced at

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Monday, 7 November 2011

The Death of a Beautiful Friend

On Wednesday, I shall be attending a funeral. Not only will this funeral be a deeply sad occasion, I think I can safely say that it will break the hearts of every person there.

You see, my friend Dave Roberts died two weeks ago. He was only twenty eight.

I can remember when I first met Dave. I’d moved into a dilapidated house in Salford which I was renovating from the ground up. It was September or early October 2001 and the US and Blair were preparing to drop weapons of mass destruction on the population of Afghanistan in response to the terrorist crimes committed by a group comprised of largely Saudi nationals. To say I was a little angry would have been an understatement. I’d plastered anti-war posters across the boarded-up windows and hung them from the scaffolding surrounding the house. In an odd way, this acted as a catalyst. A young lad called Dave introduced himself to me. I can't quite remember if he knocked on the door by way of an introduction. I recall that when I met him for the first time he did have two or three of his friends with him. Given he was only 18 or 19 he exuded a supreme confidence. From that point on, I was accepted into his extended family of friends.

Dave was an organiser par excellence. He was also a do-er. Together, as an anti-war group we travelled to countless demos, fly-postered everywhere and organised anti-war meetings in Eccles and Salford. It went something like this: I’d book the coaches on my credit card and Dave, Gaz, Ste and Beb would organise the bums on seats. He was almost single-handedly responsible for our anti-war banner – the legendary ‘Red Eccles’ standard. I think he was also the principal composer of the chant "Red... Fucking... Eccles... Red... Fucking... Eccles..."  which was of course an important accompaniment to any anti-war protest whenever our banner had a presence. He certainly had a hand in spray painting 'Welcome to Red Eccles' on the entrance to Albert Street in Eccles adjacent to the motorway on Wellington Road a greeting that didn't last long at the hands of the local New Labour Salford City Council.  

Dave was passionate in his anti-war activities. In producing the above banner he was given a remit: he wasn't allowed to spend more than £1.50! Not only did he produce a fine banner, he also came in under budget! He was so immensely proud of it. It quickly became the focus of attention from a variety of different groups. On every demonstration, throngs of people would stop us and ask if they could take pictures of our rather simplistic, Heath-Robinsonesque standard, which unlike the professionally made trade union or anti-war counterparts, displayed its amateurishness proudly, oozed anger and directed its venom like a stick-bound spitting cobra directly in the eyes of the naked imperialist ambitions of the US, the gods of war and war-profiteers. This was a banner everyone wanted to carry.

Yet there was another group who demonstrated an ardent interest in our banner. They also demonstrated an almost universal hatred of it and proved uniquely determined in their efforts to seize at every opportunity our huge red anti-establishment emblematic. The rationale for their determined efforts we concluded was the wording which proclaimed boldly FUCK CAPITALISM, FUCK IMPERIALISM, ‘FUCK WAR’ AND FIGHT THE LAW’ among other things. How many times did we have to prize from the poles grabbing constabularic hands. Very quickly a pattern emerged on protests which went something like this:

Generic Police officer: Take the banner down or I’ll have to arrest you.

Dave: Why?

Generic Police Officer: Its offensive.

Dave: I find the bombing of innocent civilians offensive. Why don’t you arrest Tony Blair?

Generic Police Officer: Displaying offensive words is illegal under section blah... blah... blah... of the blah... blah ... blah...

Dave: Get fucked!

The final line inevitably induced the same response from the police. It also engendered an equal and concomitant response from members of the public who would surround the banner and berate the police, successfully fending off their hostile advances. It was Dave’s handiwork that did that!

The second Red Eccles banner on tour
with CarbonSilicon
Many battles later, the police were to seize our banner at the fag end of an anti-war demonstration in Manchester. I say seize... the person left in charge of the banner (who shall remain nameless but knows who he is) kindly handed it to the police when they asked him to. I later went to Bootle Street police station with a few irked colleagues and enquired at the reception if I could have our banner back. The officer on duty disappeared and returned five minutes later. “I’m afraid we burned your banner out the back earlier” stated the grinning officer barely able to suppress his glee at their apparent triumph. “You can have the poles back though” he added caustically and with more than a hint of irony which was odd given he was a copper. We made our excuses and indicated to the officer where he could put them which involved shoving them up his arse. At the time, I didn’t realise that Dave had been arrested and was being held in the very same police station. Luckily, later on that evening, we were also allowed to retrieve young Dave who unlike the banner, had not been burned out the back. The triumphalism of the police was to be short-lived as the very next demo provided ample opportunity to air the bastard progeny of banner#1 which was even more offensive to the police. I still have this banner. I could never throw it away as I know the effort and loving care Dave invested in this project, produced in his parents garage. I took it on tour with me when I played with Mick Jones in CarbonSilicon. It became our backdrop at every gig.

He was also a vehement anti-racist and anti-fascist. How often had I seen him dart out of a kettled demonstration against the BNP in Oldham to try and beat seven kinds out of one or two members of the ‘master race’ who despite their apparent liking for fist-based trouble proved remarkably light on their feet when pursued by Dave in a pair of rather striking tartan trousers! Indeed, I ran into Dave on the 11th October 2009 at the organised protest against the EDL in Manchester in Piccadilly Gardens whom I almost stumbled across. He was a little worse for wear drink-wise and I was the apotheosis of gloom. I was glad to see him as he grabbed me in his trademark all encompassing affection-laden hug. Dave’s hugs were always heartfelt and meaningful. You were for that moment, the centre of his often oblique yet wonderful universe. Seeing him cheered me up no end.

He was also a talented musician. I once bumped into him at Big Fish rehearsal rooms in Ancoats where he was rehearsing with the Whiskey Bastards. He invited me in. True to type, he sat down, ignored the band and started gabbing away asking how I was, what I was doing... much to the chagrin of his compatriots who didn’t know me from Adam and clearly wanted to resume their rehearsals as the room was costing them money. He jumped up and they launched into one of their songs. It was excellent. Although I’d heard about the band, I’d never seen them play before. It was clear to me that here Dave was in his element... happy playing, performing and being creative in the moment. He had a huge grin plastered across his face which for me was his default setting. He was sunshine epitomised. Not wishing to disturb the band further, I stood up, waved my goodbyes and left. It was the last time I saw him.

It's often the case that those around us who seem to have the most carefree lives and exude such an intrinsic effervescence, are underneath profoundly troubled. For Dave, over the years heroin increasingly came to dominate his life. I found it impossible to keep in touch with him as he was always losing his mobile. I wasn't even sure which part of the country or world he was living in. 

Nevertheless he exuded a warmth and compassion, displaying a tireless concern for you even when you knew that his day to day life was at the very least precarious. Yet he was more, much more than this. You see Dave was one of those very rare people that gave a damn about the underdog. It was as if it was programmed into his DNA. I once came out of the Crescent pub with Dave around 1:30 one morning many years ago. We were both a little inebriated. We stood at a bus stop. On the opposite side of the road, two lads waiting for a bus to take them into Manchester were being mugged by a gang of around ten lads on bikes. He was off over the road like a shot. Hot on his heels I caught up. Dave was in the thick of it and the crowd dispersed as if by magic not knowing what had hit them. He proved again and again not only in words but in deeds that he was the eternal friend of those being oppressed. When he entered a room he became the focus of attention, not because of any ego – he was the most self-effacing person I knew. He was the focus of such attention because he'd earned it or would earn it in the future. In a crowded room or bar, when you were in conversation with him he listened. To him you were the most important person in the world. He loved life and those he touched loved him.

Looking at the many pictures of him posted on Facebook by so many people and I realise that my own recollections are but a tiny anecdotal fragment in a much grander life that was crammed with adventure, passion and love. In truth I can hardly bear to look at them as the tragic death of such a young man has for me created a huge vacuum and a deep sorrow. Yet I look back and realise that young David Roberts taught me a lot. He taught me a great deal about politics. He taught me to be bold, to be confident, to act on your ideas and to seize the moment. Yes, in his short life he demonstrated time and again that the important thing is to plan and to act.

What will I miss most with the passing of Dave Roberts? I will miss his uniquely colourful and whimsical voice, and the way in which it would weave in and around the general hubbub in the room. I will miss his laughter and his singular humour attached to that wonderful mischievous smile that only Dave Roberts could smile. But most of all I will miss the fact that he was simply there.