When I have finished this post I am going for a long walk around Hampstead Heath. I am going with a few friends, following a path that I so often followed with our friend David Fleming who died, totally unexpectedly in his sleep last Sunday night.
David was a towering figure in the environmental movement – a founder of the Ecology/Green Party (despite the fact that he always voted Conservative…), chair of the Soil Association for ten years in the 1980s/90s, inventor of TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas), speaker at countless conferences, meetings and gatherings all over the UK and much further afield, deeply involved with the transition movement and author of innumerable pamphlets and several seminal works on sustainability the latest of which, Lean Logic, was it its final revision stages when he died last week.
I met David, not through the environmental movement but through my close foodie friend, Miriam Polunin, whose partner he was. But I only got to know him well after Miriam died, tragically, in a fire when, along with others of Miriam’s friends, we were drawn together in her memory.
Despite his incisive intellect and obsessive work ethic, David was the most delightful, funny, kind, cultured, entertaining, thoughtful, courteous, infuriating and lovable friend and companion. Tall and skinny, with a shock of grey-white hair and large horn rimmed glasses (numerous attempts to get him to go modern and rim-less failed abysmally) he spoke very fast and at length, with great intensity and erudition, on almost any subject. But although often intemperate, he was never arrogant. (Indeed, his openness to others’ opinions played havoc with deadlines and publishing schedules as he continued to revise and update in the light of others’ comments.)
He was a wonderful raconteur – both in person and on paper – with a pixie-ish twinkle which always threatened to undermine his ‘serious side’ as one could never be absolutely sure that the view he was espousing with such fervour (the war in Iraq, eating red meat for every meal, the crime of moving evensong to an earlier hour) was quite as deeply held as he would have one believe.
Very early on in our aquaintance, when Miriam was still alive, they both came to one of our tasting dinners – gluten-free breads and bread mixes. Afterwards he wrote me a thank you letter which was so quirky and so delightful that even then, I kept it. It evokes his spirit far better than any words of mine ever could…
6th November 1999
There is something unforgettable about your supper parties, and I want to say thank you for having me to the most recent one, which was lovely, and included the vision of that astonishing loaf of anti-bread, the bread equivalent of anti-matter, all stalagmites of white like the ice-mountains of New Zealand except, of course, on a smaller scale. Well, actually, there were quite a lot of other differences between it and the ice mountains, now that I come to think of it. For instance, it was not the habitat of the kakapo bird, which is so fertile that it has to invent anti-aphrodisiac behaviour patters, one of which is that the male’s mating call for the female is so deep that it gives no information as to direction, so she does not know where to walk to (they are flightless). All she knows is that there is a male within ten miles who is feeling chirpy, but of course she knew that anyway, so nothing very much happens. I am sure there are other differences between your loaf and the ice mountains of New Zealand, but I feel that I should leave the kakapo birds to their pristine pathos, without intruding any further.
But it is nice to be at an event at the cutting edge of experimental cooking. I have always thought myself there, actually, but no one else has been wholly convinced. And yet, now, evidently, I am vindicated. Tomorrow I am going to try a cutting edge stew on Miriam. I used to think that she was very polite, but what you need to watch about Miriam (as I am sure you know) is not what she says but the timing with which she says it. “No, really, I think it’s… [pause]… very nice.” A 5-second pause means you have really got problems. If it could be translated from Miraimish into English, it would be totally unprintable, blistering. In fact, it makes me sweat a bit to think that she has such thoughts in her innocent-looking head. Anyway, it is amazing what chemistry can do, if it has to. There are five beautiful gleaming healthy swans living outside my window – and what do they eat? What do they eat? I shall say no more.
You may think this is a issue of Nature News which has gone astray, but it is, essentially, a thank you letter. Thank you for a very nice evening.
With best wishes – David
The world will be a very much poorer place without him – and walking on Hampstead Heath will be less rich an experience knowing that one has no chance of bumping into his long gangling figure striding home with his bulging cloth shopping bag over his shoulder.