When we first met Steve Davidson, he was the manager of the local recycling centre. He was living on the site in a caravan – an old one that had been brought in for recycling, all fixed up with bits and pieces from other things that had been brought in. He initially spotted my son and me as kindred spirits by the fact we were delivering unwanted subsoil in a tatty old horsebox, working as a team offloading the soil with shovels and buckets, and then snooping around looking for old double glazing units to build a greenhouse (you can find a picture of the finished greenhouse here). We generally arrived pretty much as soon as the centre opened, and he’d greet us cheerfully, “Morning, team!”
When he retired, they evicted him from the site. He was given a modern housing association flat. He didn’t like it, he wasn’t used to that kind of life.
His death rated seven lines in the local paper – he deserved more.
More importantly, he deserved more attention in life. Damn lot of good more attention does anyone after they’re dead.
He was a very friendly fellow, and a great raconteur who’d had a very interesting life. I’d been round to his flat to fix his plumbing for him; he used to come round to our house every now and then for a cuppa and half a dozen eggs (we kept chickens at that time) and a long blether. We’d known him about ten years.
I wish I’d recorded him talking, but I don’t think it would have worked unless I’d done it secretly, and I wouldn’t do that. He’d travelled the world, working in casinos on cruise liners – and taking breaks here and there. One would have thought that he was fantasizing, except that his recounts had too much circumstantial detail, much of which one wouldn’t easily discover without the travel, and some of which I knew to be true from my own travels. Much of the reason we got on so well is that he travelled – despite his means of supporting his hobby – with much the same perspective on the world that I have.
A very observant traveller, with great empathy with the people he met, rich or poor, and a great willingness to see beyond the cultural assumptions he was brought up with.
I think that the official line that he suffered a heart attack while walking by the river was probably a polite fiction. Do read my friend Deb’s poem, The Ballad of Gypsy Jack, which I strongly suspect is much nearer the truth (although it’s written about a different real individual). When I first heard her read that at an open mic evening, it brought Steve to mind and moved me to tears. There are important differences, of course – not least that Steve certainly wasn’t “thick in the head”, far from it.
It was a long time before I felt able to write this.