Like the Bearded Piper of Dulwich Park, he lead fascinated bat enthusiasts on a walk through the twilight of south London. He instilled a spectral calm amongst the crowd as they pricked their ears, listening for the tell tale rattle on the bat detectors that told them to look to the sky and see pipistrelles dart across the inky blue.
He held us in thrall with tales of how clouds of bats used to be seen at dusk along the Thames estuary, how numbers had declined so far in a short time that they had become an urban myth. Something most people would never believe existed until they came on a bat walk or met a bat enthusiast such as Pete.
Every time I see a bat I think of Pete.
I had the privilege to work with Pete – to start a new project with him and share the excitement of what was possible before the day to day grind wore us both down. Even in the worst of times, he took joy in his work. He took me to see the reserves where he was king – telling me with pride of the fabulous volunteers who had worked for years to build the best boardwalk in West London – walking so fast while he talked that he slipped as he stepped onto that boardwalk – something for which I was forever chastised by colleagues and volunteers. “I hear you pushed Pete over” they said, and I feigned horror while giggling at the camaraderie of good friends and colleagues who can tease each other.
Every time I see a boardwalk, I think of Pete. I judge it according to his standards. Very few measure up.
Pete introduced me to his ‘flying cattle’ – he told me how they would walk their way around the edge of a field so they knew their boundaries before they return to the start and begin to munch.
Every time I think of boundaries and how important it is to know where they lie, I think of a cow. Every time I see a cow I think of Pete.
On Pete’s 50th birthday, he came to my own birthday picnic. We were born a day and 25 years apart. He quietly said nothing about his own birthday, but soaked up the sunshine, smiling and observing the world with as much care as he observed the natural world.
Every birthday, I think of Pete.
Pete introduced me to the wonder of HTML – patiently explaining to someone who, at the time, had no need of the information and no background in it, how those coded instructions were translated into what we see on screen. Through Pete’s eyes, I suddenly saw the beauty of coding and the possibilities it afforded. He introduced me to something that, years later, when I first began to explore the possibilities of web and digital design, made sense because of that small insight he had given me years before.
The patient care with which he had explained something dear to his own heart, gave me the tools to develop my career beyond the printed world.
Every time I struggle with at a piece of coding, I think of Pete. Yesterday, trying to re-write a line of code, my immediate thought was “Pete would know”.
And if Pete didn’t know, he would ask. He listened as well as he explained. When you took the time to explain something to Pete, you had Pete on your side. With Pete on your side you could do anything. People listened to Pete. They valued his experience and his insight. He drew people to him through his quiet understanding and enthusiasm.
At Pete’s funeral, there were so many people whose lives he had touched that they stood cheek-by-jowl in the aisles and spilled out of the crematorium onto the forecourt. We smiled and cried at his chosen record – not music – but a recording of his beloved bats.
I dreamed of Pete last night. I don’t know what we said or did, but I know he was there. As my very dear friend says, when you talk about people it brings them to life. My friend and I shared a few tears over the unfairness of life and its too early end. And brought Pete to life for an evening talking about bats and birthdays.
I miss you, Pete. Happy Birthday. xx