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My best friend the Moose has died, and it’s as if all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room

I do not like this country, Bereavement. My drinks bill is through the roof and the language is an ugly mixture of howls and snivelling.

By Nicholas Lezard

Regular readers of this column will know that there is a recurring cast of supporting characters: Ben the Bouncer, Toby-who-is-not-Toby-Young, and the Moose, among others. Well, the Moose will not be recurring any more, because I learned that on Monday 10 May (I am writing on Wednesday 12) he dropped down dead, of a pulmonary embolism. He was 65.

So I am going to have to write about the Moose, because he was my friend; my best friend. There are one or two other contenders for that title, but he was the one I spoke to the most. Once a week, at the very least, for every time I sent off this column (or, Colin, as we always referred to it after a mishearing in the street when I ran into this magazine’s editor), I would, a few minutes later, send him a copy, too. He lived in the wilds of Cambridgeshire, and was entertained by my tales of the giddy metropolitan high life in Brighton, or wherever I happened to be.

His real name was not the Moose; his parents were not called Mr and Mrs Moose. He went officially under the name Kevin Jackson, although the nickname was so ingrained I would not have been surprised to see it on his passport. He even wrote a book for Reaktion’s “Animals” series called, simply, Moose. It’s very good. As was everything he wrote: a life of TE Lawrence; an appreciation of Withnail and I for the BFI Film Classics series; Constellation of Genius, a celebration of everything artistically noteworthy that happened in modernism’s annus mirabilis, 1922 – and some 30 or so other works. He was as busy as a bee, and earned about as much, and never achieved the fame he deserved, and he didn’t care.

What he did care about was friendship, for which he had an extraordinary knack. He might have been my best friend, but there were still people who knew him better and for longer than I did, and I first met him in 1982.

The scene: a booze-fuelled afternoon in my Director of Studies’ rooms in Cambridge. I am 19. My DoS and Kevin decide to have a rap battle (rap was a new big thing in those days). I have forgotten every couplet that was extemporised in that session, for the simple reason that this one obliterated the memory of all the rest: Kevin’s saying “I don’t want no Lionel Trilling/Putting it up where I’m not willing”. (Oh, and he could turn out occasional verse at the drop of a hat. Even acrostics.) I remember thinking: I want to be friends with this man for the rest of my life, and I was.

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We bonded properly a year later, when we both had night-time jobs: we would call each other up in the small hours and speculate moodily on the chances of being murdered by nocturnal criminals. A few years later, he would invite me round to his flat to watch this brilliant new cartoon show, The Simpsons. (He loved cartoons and comics, and collaborated many times with the excellent cartoonist, Hunt Emerson. Their version of Dante’s Inferno I recommend particularly highly.)

He knew everything, apart from how to work a computer or use a mobile phone. He had an unrivalled fund of anecdote and he could tell a story so well that he would leave you gasping for breath with laughter before it was half-way over. He hated doing his taxes and when his father was suffering from dementia, he said that even wiping his arse was better than writing. He loved his friends and I know he loved me because he said, “I am rather fond of you, old sausage”, which might sound cringeworthy, but is about the highest possible declaration of love that a heterosexual Englishman from a certain background can make to another.

And now he’s gone. There are worse ways to go if you’re the one dying, but for the rest of us it is cruel and horrible. It is as if all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room at once. At the moment I am entering the third day of bereavement – no other word will do – and the initial shock is receding, but other feelings are taking its place. Forgive me if I do not have a full grasp of them yet. Forgive me, too, for writing about him at all; whenever some minor catastrophe happened to either of us, one or the other would say: “Well, that’s next week’s Colin sorted.”

All I can say apart from that is I do not like this country, Bereavement. The food is lousy, your drinks bill is through the roof, the language is an ugly mixture of howls and snivelling, and the verbs only have a past tense, except for the formulation: I’ll never see him again.

And he won’t be reading these words, or any others, by anyone. (Books were to him, said a friend, like fags: 20 a day. A bit of an exaggeration, but not by too much.) There is so much more to say but I am done. 

[See also: I wonder if there is a right way to contemplate the success of someone who broke my heart]

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This article appears in the 19 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, In defence of meritocracy