Whitstable People: Julian Spurrier

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

Ripple by The Grateful Dead

Something tragic always happens at Christmas. This year it was the death of my dear friend Julian Spurrier, who passed away on the morning of December 31st 2017.

Typical Julian, courteous to the last. He wanted to get the grim stuff out of the way in time for the New Year celebrations.

His illness was sudden and catastrophic. Barely a month ago he was still out walking his dog, or going to the Labour Club, having a few drinks and catching up with the gossip, as was his wont.

Then one day he was overwhelmed with tiredness while out on a walk. He had to lie down on the footpath in the woods to recover.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few days before Christmas there was still talk of treatment, but the cancer had spread throughout his body by then and it was already too late. He went into a hospice, and within a week he was dead.

He died without pain. A friend, who went to see him, told me his eyes were soft, at peace.

What can you say about Julian? He was extraordinary: possibly the most kind, the most welcoming, the most generous person I ever knew. He was funny, irreverent, anarchic, mischievous and an old fashioned gentleman, all at the same time.

He liked nothing better than being the host at an impromptu party. My most abiding memory is of him preparing wine glasses in the kitchen. He had a whole ritual around this: pouring hot water into the glass, then polishing it till it shone; after which he would emerge, tea towel draped over his shoulder, a tray full of glasses, sparkling and filled to the brim, to serve to his guests.

I knew him for 40 years or more. I shared a house with him. He taught me to drive, and helped to bring up my son.

The last time I saw him was was on Thursday the 19th October 2017. I know this because my brother was over from America. We went out for a drink and ended up at the Labour Club.

Julian was at the bar before I even had chance to order. That was one of his tricks. He always had to make sure he got the drinks in first.

He said to my brother: “Thank you for bringing Chris out. I don’t see enough of my old friend.”

Those were almost the last words I heard him speak.

The night before he died I couldn’t sleep. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was restless and itchy and my brain wouldn’t stop churning, I didn’t know why. I had to get up. I went and sat in front of my computer.

There are two songs I associate with Julian. One is Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. I’d been singing it that morning in Tesco, no doubt to the annoyance of everyone at the delicatessen counter.

The other is I’ll Fly Away by the Kossoy Sisters, from O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Coen Brothers movie. It was Julian’s favourite film.

I’d sent a friend a link to it earlier in the evening. So I dug out the email and clicked on the link to listen to the song.

The words are very precise and very apt.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away, fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away, fly away

I’ll fly away, fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away, fly away, in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away, fly away

I wasn’t thinking of this in a religious way. I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I don’t know what lies after death. But I wanted Julian’s passing to be swift, for him not to have to suffer, and the idea of him flying away into the clear blue sky, like a bird, seemed the perfect image of what I wished for him.

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away, fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away, fly away

I was thinking of my Mum’s passing. Her last few months were spent bed bound in hospital, her body a twisted, useless wreck. It was like her spirit was shackled to a corpse. She could do nothing for herself. She was utterly dependent. She was, indeed, in prison. When she died, it was as if she had broken free.

So I was wishing this for my friend. May he break out of the prison of his bound and broken body. May he be free to journey to the next realm, wherever, whatever, however that may be.

After a while I went back to my bed and tried to sleep. I was not very successful. My heart kept thumping in my chest and I dozed fitfully for the rest of the night, the words of the song echoing in my head.

I’ll fly away, fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away, fly away, in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away, fly away,
In the morning…

It was when I got up in the morning that I heard that he was gone.

So now it’s goodbye Julian, my old friend. I saw you drunk a hundred times, but I never saw you angry or aggressive. I never saw you violent. I saw you make any number of mistakes, but I never saw you lay the blame on anyone else for your own shortcomings. I saw that you lived your life according to a routine at times, but you never lost the light of possibility from your eyes, and you never gave in to hatred or scorn.

I only lived around the corner from you, no more than five minutes walk, but I never came to visit. That’s because I always knew you were there, and I could visit any time.

How wrong I was. I won’t make that mistake again. I will cherish my friends from now on.

Every minute of every day, every heartache, every pain; every smile, every laugh, every moment of joy; every weary step along the way, by the same old roads through the endless changing days: it is all so precious, it is all so alive. Let me know the value of everything that touches on my life, and let me never forget.

You, my friend. Let me never forget you.

Friends pay tribute to local Labour stalwart Julian Spurrier:

http://www.kentonline.co.uk/canterbury/news/tributes-pour-in-for-well-known-labour-stalwart-157905/

http://www.cjstone.co.uk/

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3 thoughts on “Whitstable People: Julian Spurrier

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  1. The saddest news that I have heard for a long time. Julian was perhaps the most complete gentleman that I ever met, he was as Chris states a gentleman in every sense of the word as an example on one occasion I was admitted to hospital in an emergency Julian popped in on his way to work with a complete toilet bag,two books, a packet of cigarettes and twenty pounds, just thought that you might need these! Julian was always ready to lend a car for anyone who had need. As Chris says always the first to the bar, always good for a riot of entertainment, or a helping hand. I feel honoured to have called Julian a friend, and I know that he will be sorely missed . I can’t make it on Friday due to illness, but I shall be there in spirit. Alex Richardson ( ex. Whitespace Labour Club)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A fantastic article about a true gentlemen I have tears of laughter and sadness rolling down my face as I read this catching glimpses of my time in Julian’s company.

    Rest In Peace Julian

    Liked by 1 person

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