Dave, my brother-in-law, has just died after living with Parkinson's for several decades. What follows below is not the whole story of Dave by any means, just the bits I remember best. (We're remembering him by suggesting donations to Parkinson's UK.)
I’ve known him for more than fifty years. It was a bit of a surprise when I worked that out; I hadn’t realised that I was so old. I was about 18 when he married my sister, the first occasion I’d ever been to in proper formal dress. My parents insisted on that sort of thing.
He was doing a PhD which our dad teased him about; our dad teased everyone about everything. Dave took it in good spirit; I wish I’d learned from him. But then he didn’t have to live with the old bugger.*
Once Dave had finished his PhD, he got a job at Portsmouth Poly as it was back then – I told you it was a long time ago – teaching maths and stats. Dave did everything with enthusiasm. I’ve worked with a few statisticians in my time. I’ve never known anyone get as enthusiastic about stats as him. He was equally enthusiastic as a teacher, and I am sure there are many hundreds of students who have reason to be grateful to him. He developed a lot of research projects in his time as well, and moved into the field of statistical modelling of chemical reactions. If you have any idea what than means, please let me know. Actually there is somebody in the family who does, his son, Ben, who inherited Dave’s way with numbers. Ben saw the light, however, and moved into an entirely different field when it came to making a living.
The Parkinson's was with him for several decades. It was a few years before it was properly diagnosed and he was able to get the appropriate treatment. He lived with it for many, many years. He had a life and he lived it well. He continued for many years to cycle into college. He went on working, researching, teaching, contributing and enjoying his food. He dabbled in many things. Well, when I say dabbled, he put a lot into it – a railway line in the garden, astronomy – proper astronomy with a telescope on wheels, sailing, a human mix of joy in nature with scientific precision. And the curiosity of the researcher never went away. After retirement and with his Parkinson's well advanced, he got interested in a problem somebody told him about to do with yachts, keels and sailing positions. There must be a mathematical model for this, he thought, and began to examine the problem with a computer programme. I never heard whether he solved it, but for him I don’t think solving it was ever the main motive. He just liked messing around with things and with numbers and seeing what they would do together.
He was always good for a chat, liberally sprinkled with dad jokes. We didn’t agree about everything. He supported Chelsea. I mean….
He also continued with his life the way he always had done, not letting the Parkinson's get in the way of that. There were meals out and holidays, even cruises. I would get pictures from time to time which I might have thought were designed to make me jealous if there was an ounce of malice in either Dave or Julia. Nearly every picture we have of him involves a sun hat. He would cook; and when I say cook, I mean cook, not just opening tins, but starting from scratch. I remember him, with a considerable tremble, cooking butternut squash soup, then sashaying across the kitchen with a pan full of boiling soup, everyone else diving for cover, and Dave filling the bowls from the pan without spilling a drop.
One of the treatments offered in later years was brain implants, which involved the head being screwed into a vice and then holes drilled in the skull to insert electrodes. The patient has to stay awake during the operation so that at the crucial time they can tell the surgeon what they feel when the electrodes are wiggled around. The patient is required to keep talking to the surgical team throughout so that they can tell he’s still OK. This was a situation tailor made for Dave, an opportunity to tell Dad jokes for four hours without anyone begging him to stop.** The operation worked, though not as well as it might have done. Moving on from it involved kicking rolled up socks around the house. I have no idea why, but Dave took to it with some gusto.
I was last able to see Dave a good couple of years ago. He was communicating then very slowly with an alphabet sheet, but with his mind fully sharp, and able to absorb and engage.
Covid changed the world for everybody, but particularly for people with any kind of disability or chronic condition. And their carers. With Dave worsening, Julia had to look after him largely unsupported, and with her own bodily issues, for many months. She had to do all the cooking and housework, see to his medication, pick him up when he fell, communicate with him with painful slowness whenever necessary. It was a very dispiriting and undeserved end period for a life lived with such verve. The final decline was mercifully brief, and a shock to all of us. We’d known for a long time that it was coming, but after living with Parkinson's and a gradually worsening body for thirty years, Dave seemed indestructible. He wasn’t, but our memories of him will be.
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*My sister reminds me, quite rightly, that Dad was actually liked by a lot of people, and that Dave and he got on very well. My relationship with him was not typical.
**A Dave joke
An American tourist eats at an Italian restaurant one day. He tells the waiter, “I want a steak. Done just right. Not too well done. Not too rare. Just, tchk, in the groove.”
The waiter goes into the kitchen and says to the chef, “There’s a bigga Americana tourista. He wantsa a steak. Done notta too well, notta too rare, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The chef says, “OK, He can havea da steak, notta too well done, notta too rare, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The steak is delivered. The tourist wants vegetables. “Not too mushy, not too crunchy. Just, tchk, in the groove.”
The waiter goes into the kitchen and says to the chef, “Tha bigga Americana tourista wantsa vegetables. Notta too mushy, notta too crunchy, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The chef says, “OK, He can havea da vegetables. Notta too mushy, notta too crunchy, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The vegetables are delivered. The tourist asks for roast potatoes. “Not too soft, not too hard. Just, tchk, in the groove.”
The waiter goes into the kitchen and says to the chef, “Tha bigga Americana tourista wantsa roast potatoes. Notta too soft, notta too hard, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The chef says, “OK, He can havea da roast potatoes. Notta too soft, notta too hard, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The roast potatoes are delivered to the table. The tourist says, “OK, I’d like some gravy. Not too thick, not too thin. Just, tchk, in the groove.”
The waiter goes into the kitchen and says to the chef, “Tha bigga Americana tourista wantsa gravy. Notta too thick, notta too thin, just, tchk, inna da groove.”
The chef finally loses patience. “You tella da big American tourist. He canna kissa my ass. Not onna da left cheek, not onna da right cheek, just, tchk, inna da groove.”