Larger than life with a generous portion of intelligence and a sharp wit, a zest for travel, adventure and fun. Derek was also a loyal and generous friend. He was as robust and tough as Yorkshire grit; as hard and valuable as a diamond could be. If this sounds even a little overstated, there is without doubt one quality that stands out above all else. Much of his conversation was imbued with an abundance of humour, sometimes, it has to be said, rather wicked or even wacky!
Derek and his humour were the glue that brought and held people together. In truth it was Derek, who made the extra yards in the early years of our friendship with him and Sue. Always turning up on the doorstep at short notice, to share some news on interests we shared together, be they music or people and places, in all of which we found mutual enjoyment. He would unexpectedly bring presents round for our children, who were, even in the early days, growing to love him, and eventually grandchildren’s birthdays, and even, occasionally, for us, often for no apparent reason. We would enjoy a soirée, each in turn at the others’ home for food, music and a chat ... sometimes till very late.
He was an adventurer. His always busy head dreaming up the next adventure, ideas for which he and Sue would often share with us. And if we’d decide to say “not this time”, it would still take a while before he would give up trying to persuade us! His adventures varied from local gigs to globe trotting. As for the latter, I had spent several years travelling the World for my work and had sated any possible remaining travel lust. Barbara simply didn’t enjoy leaving home in an aeroplane any more. But there was never a dull moment with Derek around.
Our initiation into the world of Spedding adventures was a trip to Disney World in Florida twenty-two years ago. Our sons, the two Davids, were competitive swimmers, who met in the pool after they raced against each other, coming first and second in a very close race. It seems they fairly quickly developed a mutual respect for each other. Derek and Sue had told their Dave, who was known as ’Sped’ or, ironically, ‘Little Sped’ (when he and his dad were to be mentioned in the same sentence) that he could invite one friend to go to Florida with them. So he chose to ask our Dave. They’ve been best mates ever since. Of course we couldn’t let our girls be deprived of this chance, so we decided to push the boat out and we all went together. A balanced party of eight: Derek and Sue, Barbara and me, two boys and two girls, off to say hello to Micky Mouse.
A few years later, we made a very long trip to Shetland by car, to visit ‘Little’ Sped, who was posted to the RAF station on the northernmost island of Unst. This turned out to be another very memorable highlight; an experience never to forget. And in between, quite a few concerts and evenings spent in their company, occasionally with another ‘swimming’ family, their close friends, John and Linda Owen.
A shared love of folk music also brought us together. Our first of two trips to the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow one weekend was noted for our tripping the light (absolutely) fantastic, getting to bed at 5 in the morning and (me), after a mere two hours sleep, having to drive 250 miles home in the morning. Exhausting, but we’d do it all again if we could. Then, for a change, we discovered a new adventure, a lot closer to home. We introduced Derek and Sue to the Rusby family’s newly conceived festival, Underneath The Stars, which was on our doorstep at Canon Hall Farm. We had been volunteering as stewards from the very first festival in 2014, Sue and Derek came along to the second one a year later. However, by now they were globe trotting, planning adventures abroad well ahead in the calendar. Perhaps Canon Hall Farm didn’t quite live up to the now elevated “adventurous” category. But they enjoyed sharing with us the photographic results of their journeys.
Then there were those regular moments, when Barbara and I would be relaxing watching TV in the evening. A text message or the occasional phone call from Derek would inform us of an upcoming programme on one of our favourite characters or places that could be folk music, or Amanda Owen, the famous Dales Shepherdess (who once fed us with tea and scones), anything to do with Shetland - usually wildlife, or something that invoked a memory of Disney World. We would often reciprocate.
Derek also had some strident views about life and politics. We didn’t always agree, but then what two people ever do? Then again, what does it matter when life presents us with its inevitable conclusions. If it is a good life well lived, filled with lasting friendships, that must make those outcomes easier to bear ... mustn’t it?
Sometimes, I guess because we are often so busy ‘leading’ our lives, raising our families, pursuing our careers, we don’t always show enough appreciation for what we have ... until we lose it.
In pride, prejudice and profit ... there will always be lies, deceit and, ultimately, unhappiness. But there are a few circumstances, in which we can expect to find the truth. It will usually be found in poverty and poetry, but at no more prominent a point than in the passing of human life. I believe Derek had found his truth. To us it was evident that he’d discovered it long ago. He was true to his own convictions, even though there were occasions when I might have disagreed with him, but I have never had any doubt that he was a true friend.
All of us have the chance to find our truth. Perhaps we should use this moment, and all too many opportunities like it, to seek that truth; to find what is important to us; to discover our strongest skills, stick to our guns and try to play our part, as far as it’s within our capacity, to make the world a better place.
The World, from the perspectives of many, who knew him, was a better place because of Derek, because he dressed it with humour and, despite the exterior veneer of hard as diamond Yorkshire grit, he could barely conceal from us what underpinned it all … a place in his heart where there was no shortage of the capacity that lies deep in the wellspring of humanity, which is love.
Was it something we said made you yawn and tell us you’re bored?
a twinkle in the eye and recesses of a deadpan face,
like you’d read the Teach Yourself How to Avoid Social Grace
said it wasn’t the company you kept made you head for the door.
It was simply your way, and you’d always work hard to coax us
to embark upon journeys to visit our cultural heroes
or to see a substation, a distant in miles with some zeroes
the thought of them tiring, but always inspiring, make no fuss.
There were always those plans to conquer the Earth in a day
To sail the high seas to an isle on the edge of the World
trick the night to believing the sun hadn’t set and unfold
a belief that those fiddlers would never cease in their play.
Some journeys are harder than they were intended to be
especially the last few miles before the peak
the pinnacle of the truth that we all seek
beyond reach, somewhere out there in eternity.
Was it something we said that made you respond in this way?
In the deepest recesses of a life-lorn deadpan face,
a twinkle you could read like a book of adventures in space
said it wasn’t the fare that we served made you call it a day.
© 2020 John Anstie