Saturday, 14 February 2015
In Memoriam: Nick Goldberg
One day last year, on the day of the local elections, there was a ring on my doorbell.
I opened the door. Standing on the step, in the rain, was a Labour party canvasser - a man, youngish, sort of, but of indeterminate age, indeterminate partly due to his resplendent greying beard - at that point he was aiming for the full Karl Marx - a broad grin, and a certain glint in his eye. I instantly recognised, from that glint, and that grin, a kindred spirit.
It's ok, I said, trying to stop my cat, wearing a Labour rosette too, from running out of the front door: on balance, I think it's fairly likely we will be voting Labour.
I know, I know, he said: I just wanted to ring your bell, and meet you at last: Mrs Angry!
Yes! Hold on: that beard ... you're Nick Goldberg ...
We had moved in the same circles, and been acquainted online, but never spoken face to face.
I'm canvassing your road, he said, look: with my lovely husband, Romin - pointing across the road, where, in the rain, the steadfast Romin, the great love of his life, was dutifully stuffing newsletters through doors, while Nick chatted away.
From then on, Nick became a friend: a dear friend - a comrade, fellow conspirator, a source of endless fun - and mischief.
No one was as funny as him, in the way he was funny: scurrilous, scathing, outrageous, but his subversive qualities largely hidden behind that devastating grin, mistaken by his enemies for endorsement of their nefarious deeds, unaware they were being sent up, and undermined.
He made the most tedious political meeting bearable, by his presence: his wink across the table; the nudge when he was sitting next to you, the whispered commentary in your ear, or scribbled remarks.
At one meeting once I noticed he was sitting next to me quietly, writing extensive notes, very seriously, listening carefully to a speaker pontificating at great length about something or other, nodding to himself as he wrote.
This act of devotion seemed unlikely, so I peered down at what he was writing. It was a long list of the many absurdly mangled mixed metaphors spouted by the speaker in question, a bingo card of crashing political cliches - and worse - ticked off, and given scores out of ten.
I very nearly had to leave the room, unable to contain myself, sitting there disgracefully, a middle aged woman laughing as helplessly as the schoolgirl I once was, continually in trouble with teachers for similar misbehaviour - he sitting calmly, like an innocent schoolboy, still smiling, but with that familiar gleam of unrepentant naughtiness in his eye.
At another meeting, asked to help out with organising a ballot, he was instructed to tear up pieces of paper, for voting slips, and hand one to each person. They don't trust me with scissors, he announced, to every one of us, as he went around the table, a dangerous smile fixed on his face, like a warning sign - a warning, if you could read the signs.
Not trusted with scissors: selected as a candidate for the elections, but for the most safe Tory seat in the borough, so pointless, and a waste of his abilities.
Inevitably he would have stood somewhere, and been elected, and been a brilliant councillor, or MP. He passionately wanted to make changes, to galvanise the Labour party into a real force for opposition to the causes of social injustice: he glowed with a slow burning fury about the impact of the government's war on the poor, the dispossessed. And he chose to work for a charitable organisation, the Zaccheus Trust , as an advocate for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, struggling with debt: as his employers explain in their tribute to him:
Nick understood that it wasn’t enough just to help the individuals who walk through Z2K’s doors. He would always want to be part of the campaigns against the policies that drive them into poverty and despair, and he had great ideas for how we could do more in future to make the world a better place.
Wanting to make the world a better place, and doing the best he could in his own way, starting with himself, and his wonderful, sweet way of dealing with people, tactful, discreet, yet offering the most gentle, loving support wherever needed, with a judgement that belied his relative youth, and the biggest bear hugs for all his friends, the warmth that spoke of the enormous capacity for love and generosity that he had: the greatest heart - a heart that in the end, was not strong enough for life, and failed him.
It might seem, in retrospect, that he knew, somehow, his time with us was limited: he said the things that we always wish we had said, but too often have not, when someone passes away: and thank God, in his case, the huge affection that he inspired in all his friends meant that everyone told him, all the time, how much they loved him.
As we have been reminded, this week, life is short: if you put off saying those words to someone you love - there might never be another chance.
And here is the lesson for today, the day that celebrates romantic love: the truth is that lovers come and go, or let you down, and family ties are not always the ties that bind: the love of friends, and comrades, is what gets us through life, and maybe brings us the greatest joy, in the end.
One of Nick's favourite stomping grounds, of course, was twitter: when stricken with late night insomnia, more often than not, he would be there, ready to chat. He knew instinctively when you were upset, and would send you a private message, even in the early hours: are you alright? One of his last messages to me, on one of those sort of nights, was typical of his sweetness, to be treasured now, forever:
We and I in particular love you xxx
At other times, he would be off on a flight of brilliant diversion, improvising on a theme: quoting the most obscure passage of Yeats, for example, at the drop of a hat, wearing that as easily as any of his dandyish outfits, all got up in waistcoat and trilby, a roll up in his fingers, cracked up with laughter.
No one's laughing now, Mr Goldberg.
Your leaving us in this way is, without a doubt, the most unfunniest thing you could have done, and look - now we are all in tears.
Yeats sprang to mind, inevitably,then, when I heard he had gone: especially, inescapably, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death - a poem about the death of another young man: a different form of elemental death, by air, not by water: now brought down to earth, as we are, by his loss.
How we will miss him.
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
Nick Goldberg: born London 1981, died Bark Bay, New Zealand, February 10th 2015