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March 28, 2013

My closest friend died last week. His funeral took place this afternoon.

Jack Arrundale lived more than half his life in Gullane, but he was always a Glossop lad, and always loyal to Derbyshire. It was odd that he and I should have become friends, as we were polar opposites in many ways. Jack was baptised Catholic, and was an altar boy, I was baptised into a right-footed family at a time when the twain never met in the West of Scotland. Yes, we’d both moved on from those beginnings, but Jack was always one of nature’s Guardian readers, while I had a Telegraph tendency. Less than surprising then, that we argued for much of those 40 years, over things as diverse as whether black was in fact a shade of grey, or whether white was really a sort of meringue colour. Yes, we argued, but we never quarrelled, never exchanged a word in anger. Truly, Jack was like a brother to me, and I’m glad that I told him that while I had time.

Jack was the most popular man I’ve ever known, without ever trying to be, or ever realising it. He made friends as if they were metal, and he was a magnet; people were attracted to him, naturally. With no expectation of return, he gave of himself most generously. For example, to Haddington cricket club in his younger days . . . and beyond them, truth be told. He was involved in the early days of the kids’ Swimming Club, which I believe still exists. He was a scout leader, and he was a stalwart of the five a side group that gave rise to my book, ‘Thursday Legends’. Jack played as he lived, enthusiastically. A heart attack didn’t stop him. The first time he came to the fives afterwards I had to beg him to slow down, telling him point blank that if he keeled over it would be me that got pelters from Bren, not him. Of course he didn’t slow down, or keel over: he played his last game when he was seventy; nobody will beat that, ever. In retirement Jack gave of himself to the village that he had adopted, in the day centre, and latterly in helping Brenda’s work with the RDA. Anything else needed doing, Jack was always up for it.

Through it all, he was also the most modest man I’ve ever known. He was always quick to praise others for their generosity, their deeds and their sanctity, without ever realising that everyone who knew him saw him in exactly that way.

I confess to being angry today, as well as sad. Why? Because Jack’s been short-changed, big-time. Okay he was 75, but he should have had another few decades left. His parents lived to a combined age of around 180 years, and there was every reason to expect that in 2037 he would receive his centenary birthday card from King William the Fifth. But now he won’t. He was not a man given to complaining about personal troubles, so when he came round to see me last November, and said simply, ‘I’m not well,’ I knew that he wasn’t kidding. Yet he handled it with a courage to which we all aspire, and hope to attain when the time comes.

After 9/11, the old lady who reigns over us told the American people, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ That’s a price that I’m privileged to pay for Jack, and it’s a mark of the man that so many people are grieving so deeply for him.



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