A little while ago I wrote a post about Neville, a long time member of the canoe club who was one of the people who first taught me to paddle. Unfortunately, last week, Neville lost his long fight with cancer and passed away. I usually hate talking/writing about this stuff, but it seemed wrong not to say anything like it hadn’t happened.
The word that best describes Neville, I think, is enthusiastic. When I was about 12, he was constantly telling me that I was good enough to be at the level I’m at now. Completely unrealistic expectations, but he always believed that I could do better. As children, he would always joke with us and we’d never be quite sure if he was serious or not. At one point he genuinely told us that we should eat banana sandwiches every day to go faster. I still don’t know whether he believed that! Neville also always had it in his head that no-one was ever wearing enough layers. When we’d paddle in the winter, he’d go around everyone telling us all that we should put another 50 layers on, along with hats and gloves.
Last year, at the age of 76, Neville would still enjoy going for a paddle – he just wouldn’t let life get in the way of the things he enjoyed, right till the very end. This passion for life was not only present at the canoe club, but every time I saw him. We often have club barbecues and social events, and you could bet every time that Neville would be there dancing right next to the band. It wouldn’t matter if everyone else was sat down watching, Neville would be there having the time of his life.
The thing that sticks with me most when I think of Neville, actually, is sledging. There were a few families from the canoe club that live/d in my village and every year when it snowed, we’d go sledging on the big hill at the edge of the village. At the bottom of this hill and over the road is where Neville lived, so every year we’d pop in after a morning of sledging to go and say hello. Most of the time, Neville would have dug something out of his vast garage for us to try out as sledges. One year he even organised for us to borrow some lovely, traditional wooden toboggans from his neighbours. They were beautiful, but actually weren’t all that good – slightly hazardous to us and everyone around us! The most impressive thing though, was that most of the time, Neville would come and have a go at sledging himself! 75 years old, undergoing chemotherapy and overtaking most of the ten year olds running up the hill for another turn. One year he even went face first on a plastic sheet that he’d brought with him.
After we’d persuaded Neville that it was probably a bit too dark to be sledging any more, we would head back to his house and drink hot chocolate that his wife, Peggy, had made us and then sit and play card games all evening. I think it made their day each time we went and it showed us that no matter what the situation, no matter how old you are, you can always enjoy life. Nothing should stop you doing the things you want to do.
I know Neville had an impact on a lot of people’s lives at the canoe club – encouragement, advice, a clip round the ear for not putting your boat away – but it was his whole attitude towards everything that had the biggest effect on me.
I think everyone can learn a lot from people like Neville. Just don’t stop doing what you love, no matter what.