ON Saturday at 1.18pm I was walking past the Saltdean Lido as the Hawker Hunter flew over. My husband recognised the plane from his RAF days and remarked on its heritage. We stopped to watch it swoop and invert before it headed west towards Shoreham.
I thought his obsession with the crash that happened minutes later was because he had known the plane. As the day progressed, my husband kept frantically checking for updates, his mood becoming ever more sombre. I was running round after the kids on the beach, distracted. I didn’t know the aircraft had crashed on the A27. I didn’t know anyone was hurt.
My dear husband let me enjoy my Saturday in the sun and my family meal out in the evening with my brother before showing me the photos of the crash. The reason he had kept them from me, and the reason he had been online all day, is because the burned out Daimler limo in the photos belonged to my friend Maurice.
More than this, he knew that Maurice had a wedding at 2pm in Lancing as we were talking about it the day before, because we spoke every day.
Maurice was a friend like no other. He came into my life as a handy-man, but he soon became my rock.
He visited every day. Though he had seven different cars, the dog knew the sound of them all and would wag his tail in delighted welcome.
The noise would alert the children who would call out in chorus “Maurice is here” before turning back to their playing. No need to let him in, he has his own key. “Hello old man,” I’d say, walking over to put the kettle on. “Hello lady,” he would reply and pull up a stool.
Our friendship flowed like water. There was nothing we didn’t talk about. He was my go-to for advice on everything from where to get my car towed to what flowers to plant in the garden.
He had so much patience. He’d explain the art of wallpapering to me when I wanted to rush through: “Put the bloody paste down!”
He showed me how to use a Stanley knife properly seconds after I’d used it wrongly and sliced my hand open cutting off my stair carpets (on a whim).
That’s what I loved about Maurice, he went along with my madness. He’d come and repaint walls he’d just painted, or hang up pictures, cheerily remarking: “I’ll be taking this to the dump next week when you change your mind.”
When my car (regularly) broke down on rainy school mornings, he’d come to my rescue, cramming me, the kids and the dog in the back of his Mini. He’d beep and wave the whole way, laughing at my fake embarrassment.
When I went away, he had milk and bread waiting for my return or strawberries and cream.
He delivered The Argus to me at 8am every Friday, having checked my column was in it. Often, he’d pick a flower from my own garden to hand over with it, and take another couple back for his beloved wife when he left.
There was nothing he liked more than creeping in and waking me up just to call me a lazy cow and brag about how he’d been up since 6am doing all sorts.
My dear old man saw me through an awful lot of pain and heartbreak. My heavy troubles never fazed him. I’d sit and cry my eyes out, he’d tell me stories about his days in the Paras or the police until I stopped.
On my birthday last year, when life was low, he turned up out the blue. I was wearing a filthy T-shirt and some ripped jogging bottoms. My children were naked and covered in ice-cream.
He was dressed in his chauffeur suit, looking a million dollars. “My lady, my little ladies, please come this way,” he gestured down the drive to where his Daimler was waiting, shining in the sun. He poured me Prosecco and drove us round and round the block. He made me feel like a princess.
On Sunday we painted my staircase grey and yellow. On Monday he cleaned my windows. On Tuesday he bought me some plant pots. On Wednesday he gave me a lift to Kemptown (and told me off for slamming the door of his precious Mini). On Thursday he came to see the house we are hoping to buy. On Friday he came round to tell us how much he thought of it and how he hoped it would be ours.
My dog has been looking at the patio door all day. I have checked my phone for a call that is never going to come, and I know I will continue to do so. I have lost a friend of the rarest kind.
I cannot even attempt to understand the grief his family must be feeling, based on this grief of my own. My only comfort each time I see his face on the news is that the world now knows the name of a truly amazing man.