Talk by MATT HOLLAND
One of the problems I had when thinking what to say about James was how to capture exactly what he was.
If you tried to describe him to someone, where would you start?
How do you describe a buddhist quantum physicist who loved skydiving and motorcycles who could also recite the entire works of Dr Suess? The man who, to relax, would hurl himself down the Cresta Run only to come out the other end talking of black holes and parallel universes. The scuba diving pilot with a passion for ancient Cadillacs. The man who would proudly wear outfits that no sane man would contemplate: polar bear coats and purple camouflage suits are 2 that spring to mind.
Genius and fool, but most of all a great friend.
The problem is that James was all of these things and more and to try to sum up his life in just a few minutes is the hardest of all tasks.
The thing that sticks with me the most is how much he touched the people he came into contact with, no matter how long or short he'd known them. Anyone you speak to who came across James has a favourite Higgo anecdote: something that sticks in their mind as clear as crystal and as sharp as the man himself. You could be fooled into thinking that his seemingly endless list of friends was bluff and show, but having spoken to a great many of them since the day of his death, you realise just how much he meant to every one of them.
He always gave you everything from the pompous to the sincere.
I was lucky. I had known James for many years and had enjoyed introducing both him and Imogen to a new group of friends.
To them, like me, he made a big impression.
James and I first met whilst studying at Edinburgh. I remember meeting this strange looking guy with wild hair and huge sideburns, wearing the most ridiculous clothes. He had on an oversized blazer, his Prince of Wales checked flares flapping over a large pair of shiny black clogs. He had a brick-sized mobile phone sticking out of his back pocket and a pipe in the corner of his mouth. A lasting impression, I'm sure you'll agree.
His fashion sense would challenge the most outrageous stylist, but he always carried it off with style regardless. Never one to follow fads, James would try to create his own. Unfortunately, the rest of the student population at Edinburgh couldn't see the advantage of safari suits in the middle of a Scottish winter.
His plan for us to go on a fishing trip one day does not sound so original except when you consider that we were sitting in his hotel room on 7th avenue in Manhattan at the time. So off we went, headed who knows where, until we arrived at a dock and did indeed set off for a day's fishing.
Much to my surprise, we actually caught some fish. The problem was that when we returned we had no means of getting back to the city. A long hot subway ride with a bag of smelly fish was the only answer. James then proceeded to ask the hotel to cook his catch and was enraged when they refused on health and safety grounds. So off we set looking for a camping stove and a frying pan and sure enough, a few hours later, sat eating our catch on the floor of the hotel room.
He lived his life to the full, no matter where he was, be it in London with his constant socializing or at the cottage with Imogen, thrashing everyone at croquet or indulging his passion for pyromania and fireworks.
It was this constant challenging of himself that drove him on, always seeking the next thrill, always hatching the next plan.
And yet I feel comfortable in the manner in which he died, because he died doing something that he loved. He was always happiest pushing himself to the limit, challenging himself to be the best he could be, something we could all learn for ourselves from his passing in this tragic accident.
Finally, I'd like to read you the following poem by John Gillespie Megee entitled
High Flight (an airman's ecstasy)
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.