Chris Nicholls

1938 - 2003

Spoken at the Memorial Service by his daughter Cathy
A bit later on you will hear some words from some of Chris' friends but first I'd like to read something about how he was as a father. And this was written with the help of my brothers and sisters.
There were three distinct parts to Chris's life: his childhood, the years spent with our mother Gill and then his time with Heather, mother to Julian and Cheska. He had six children altogether, starting at the age of 24 when I was born, and was still very much a father to Cheska when he died at 65 just a few days before her 18th birthday. In fact, some years ago, a family friend complained to him that it was becoming more difficult to meet girls in Market Drayton that he wasn't the father of.

He was a handsome father. It may have mattered a little bit less to Maxim and Julian but to us, his daughters, it was very important to have such an attractive father. When we were young, Dasha, Ana and I even managed to convince ourselves that he was the young Paul McCartney. As he belonged entirely to us, it never occurred to me back then that anyone outside the family might like him too, but Ana does remember a teenage friend saying "Hey, I fancy your brother".

His popularity as a young English teacher was such that on announcing that he was leaving the post he had held for two years in the Bulgarian town of Varna, a petition was drawn up by the local communist party and school to persuade us not to leave. It attracted over a thousand signatures. This is hardly surprising. If you had wanted to learn a language or had newly arrived in a foreign place who could possibly be a better, kinder teacher? At home we learned a lot from him too. How many people are aware that cucumber is actually poisonous without salt? And bizzarely, a fact that he got from his brother Colin, that plain chocolate contains more milk than milk chocolate does.

He was an affectionate, jolly father with an unusual amount of the patience needed for young children. Ana, having recently found herself mother to a baby with an appetite for entertainment, has been able to fall back on the many silly games he played to make us giggle when we were young. The linguist in him was fascinated by the emergence of our language and he endlessly remebered our early sayings and quoted them back to us, keeping them alive to the extent that even my own children are often called in the morning for 'breaksunce tide' where they eat 'siryoos and toost' with 'raffy dam'. Ana still celebrates 'rip-bag' every December.

He was a dedicated father. And when he did something, he did it properly. His sporting life tended toward the gentlemanly: rowing, walking and cycling, but when he became a father to Julian he had to diversify. And Julian was impressed to note one summer that he had reached a level of frisbee skills whereby he was able to catch the thing on one finger, whirl it round and send it flying back. He remembers him in Crete, defying not only his own nature, but nature itself, jumping off high rocks into unknown depths below.

He was a cultured father. Anyone who knew his parents Molly and Gordon will understand where that came from. Music was a huge part of his life and he made sure it was part of ours too, encouraging those of us who wanted to, to enjoy being shameless amateurs. His tastes covered a vast range from early music to Eminem. Recently he even talked wistfully about going to a rave, though those who saw him dance may be relieved to know it was only talk.

What with his writing, his teaching, his music and his websites, anyone phoning him up and asking how he was would often be told: "Absolutely frantic". And Cheska was sometimes told this at home, that he had no time to do anything at all, due to franticness. But she remembers with affection that if, on accepting this, she moved towards the piano, he would follow her immediately, and suddenly he had all the time in the world. Maxim recalls going through that difficult time in every teenager's life of trying to decide what to do and what to study. In his case the choice was Architecture or Medicine. Luckily his father was on hand to offer advice: "Look, I don't mind what you do," he said, "but if you write a song, make sure it has a middle 8 section."

He was a principled father. Although more political than religious, he had a set of morals worthy of any parish priest, though these conflicted with one another at times. As a rebelious teenage smoker I was told to nick cigarettes from his packet rather than buy my own. His complexity is illustrated further by the anti-authoritarian stance he took on occasions. When Dasha brought home her first report from Uppingham school, this proud father was forced to read the words: 'Dasha is not behaving in the manner expected from a scholar...' He turned to her: "Yes and if you ever do" he said, "I shall have to take you out of there!" And it's thanks to him that Dasha always shares food out in exactly equal parts.

When I was in my early twenties he wrote me a letter: "I hope you don't fall for this old-fashioned stuff that Artists are somehow special people who are above the ordinary side of life. I have always taken pleasure from the fact that T.S. Elliot's bank manager said he would have made a very good bank manager..." and so on. He was lecturing himself as much as me. "I'm not a lazy person," he confessed around the same time, "but I am hopelessly unconfident, which amounts to the same thing." He was referring then to the frustration of his early writing career. But it was only a short time later he wrote again. "I'm not usually one to blow my own trumpet..." and this time enclosed a copy of the glowing review that his first book had received. With the love and support of Heather, he went on to write and enjoy the writing of many more books and scripts, some published, some not. And just as he was so proud of us for every small thing we achieved as children, we are endlessly proud of him as a father and as a man.


Funeral Oration
These are just a few words from four of Chris' close friends: John and James Rogers, his colleagues at Severnvale Language School, Steve Crouch, a good friend for over 27 years, and John Smith, his partner in Chorus Rehearsal. We won't identify who has said what, because our feelings and experiences are so similar.
If you asked any of Chris' friends what they loved about him, they'd say many different things. But if you asked them 'was he funny, was he kind, was he generous, was he intelligent, warm and thoughtful', they'd all say that he certainly was. They'd say he was all those things and a lot more.

I always felt safe and warm sitting next to Chris. Safe - because I knew his intellect and perception would save me from my wildest aberrations and overreactions, and warm because however desperate the situation seemed, I knew it would only take Chris a fleeting moment to help me appreciate the funny side of any predicament.

That was Chris, as loyal a friend as you could possibly hope for, always true to certain old school values about trust, honour and friendship. A man who seemed to know instinctively what was important in life - and high on his list of priorities was laughter, preferably accompanied by a glass of good wine.

In almost 18 years I have not spent half an hour with Chris without a chuckle, helpless giggles, or downright uncontrollable fits of laughter. It is not surprising therefore, that the last time in my life I was physically hurting with laughter was in Chris' company, and what better memory could you ever have of anyone than their gift of laughter.

Of course, there was a serious side to Chris. He understood pain and loss, stress and frustration, and he felt these things keenly. But he saw no need to delve into them or dwell on them unnecessarily. On the contrary, he was always positive and optimistic, and was constantly on the lookout for new challenges. In his last few days, unable to get on with the numerous tasks he always set himself, and pretty much confined to a chair in the garden, he became fascinated by the range and variety of birdsong. He would probably have become an expert if he had had the time. Whatever the problem or task, Chris always approached it with a relish, a patience, and a discipline that I will always envy.

There is no doubt that Chris was very intelligent, and he used all his academic achievements to enrich his own life and the lives of anyone who was lucky enough to have known him. He was proud of his brain, and he didn't hesitate to announce his daughter Ana's observation, after a recent scan on it, that it was extraordinarily large for a man of his age.

Chris loved to play, especially with words, with their meaning, with accents, and in a dazzling array of different languages. He had a magnificent sense of the absurd, and was a master of the caption. He delighted in picking the most abstract or ridiculous cards for an occasion, and writing in them a witty punch line, or a humorous poem, or sometimes just the kindest words of appreciation that could make you feel really special.

As well as language, he loved to play with concepts and ideas, but he was never pretentious, he had no need to be. He could be passionate about current affairs, but you never felt that he was preaching at you, for though he was a great talker, he was an even better listener. It was very rare to feel that Chris didn't understand what you were trying to say, and you always felt that he wanted to hear you. His friends all knew this instinctively, so that if you came across anything interesting or quirky, eccentric or amusing, one of your first thoughts would always be: "I must tell Chris that".

And you were allowed to disagree with Chris. He could be incredibly stubborn sometimes, and would fight for every inch of an argument, and he did like to get his own way when a decision had to be made. But you never felt your friendship was under threat, or even strain, and on those very rare occasions when you were somehow proved to be right, and for once Chris was proved to be wrong, he would always acknowledge it, quickly, graciously and unbegrudgingly.

Chris could take us back in an instant to our most precious moments of youth. He was our best friend sitting next to us at school, giggling hopelessly behind an open desk lid imitating characters from the Fast Show. There are so few people who can make us feel like that, and we loved him dearly for it. We are all proud to have been able to call Chris our mate, our buddy, our pal, our best chum, and we only wish he'd had the foresight to tell us what we were supposed to do without him.

It's genuinely hard to think of Chris without smiling. He was a funny man. Some people are naturally funny, others tell jokes. Chris did both. He could find the humour in anything, including his own illness. He could make you laugh at him and with him, and never failed to send you home feeling happier than when you arrived.

He was a particularly warm and appreciative man. If you were special to him you knew it. He took time and trouble over his friends, he brought people together, he laughed and worked and made music and drank wine with them.

He was extraordinarily thoughtful and considerate. Over the last 8 years or so Chris sang in a small choir. This had started off as a hilariously incompetent barbershop quartet, which soon evolved into a madrigal group (so we could bring in the girls) and ultimately blossomed into quite a proficient chamber choir. Throughout the whole 8 years Chris provided the place for us to meet and sing, made sure there was always new music for us to try, and lots of good wine to drink, plus plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for the non-imbibers.

There was always a list of suggested pieces to sing so we didn't have to waste precious time deciding what to do. He was the one who knew how to keep us singing, for sometimes the fun and hilarity (that was very much of his making) would make us forget why we were there, and it was always in response to a signal from Chris that we would get back to business. He always tried to arrange the next meeting to suit as many of us as possible, and made sure that anybody who had not been present knew what was happening.

If you worked with Chris you knew you could rely on him, completely. He always did the things he said he would. Right up to just a few days before he died, he was still emailing friends and customers, always with humour, even though it could take him 10 minutes to get just one line on to the page. He loved life, and did not want to lose it. But never once did we hear him complain about the struggle he was enduring.

When he first knew that his time was short, he let us all know in a very matter of fact way, and announced his intention to live his life as normally as possible, which meant to the full, and that he would carry on like this for as long as he could. And that is exactly what he did. Our thoughts now are for Chris, and for his family, to whom we offer our deepest condolences. The huge empty space that is left in our lives must be little compared to the loss of such a lovely father, and such a devoted husband. But even now, at such a terribly sad time, we know that Chris would have wanted us to keep on smiling, and to keep on laughing.

And his legacy to those who loved Chris Nicholls is that they'll all appreciate the little acts and comic operas of life a little more for having known him; and for a long time from now, whenever we come across anything interesting or funny, we will all still think to themselves "I must tell Chris that".

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