I need to say at the outset that I never really called Graham by his proper name he was always Bodge to me Iıve never been entirely sure how he came by that nickname, or why it stuck, but it seemed to suit him well.
When I arrived in Thame as a newly qualified teacher just over 20 years ago, Bodge was the real first friend that I made in the town. I first met him after a Sunday service here at St Maryıs and got chatting while we queued for coffee. Despite, or maybe even because of the fact that we worked for rival schools we got on well, and the seeds of our friendship were nurtured over impromptu midweek evening pints at the Swan, and then Sundays spent eating copious amounts of lemon marmalade on toast whilst watching the football on the telly round at his atypical bachelor flat.
Because Bodge was always very welcoming and a generous host.
That flat of his on Pym walk was pristine, and Bodgeıs life was organized and well-ordered. Heıd got things sorted. I teased him about being prematurely middle aged, and he took it like he took everything with good grace and in the spirit it was meant. I would never have said this to his face, but I think that we all really looked up to him back then. His was a hugely reassuring friendship - there was a maturity and a stability in him that was impressive and admirable. Iım going to mix my metaphors here, but in terms of our small group of friends at that time Bodge managed to simultaneously be the oil that lubricated those friendships and the mortar that held the group together.
Because Bodge was a superb friend. Constant, reliable, dependable.
So when our son Eddie was born, Bodge seemed like the perfect choice as his godfather. However that was a decision that my wife Sue came to rue, because on Eddieıs birthday, at Christmas, each and every gift-giving opportunity Bodge would turn up bearing the most anti-social and annoying present that he could find, each time handed over with protestations of mock-innocence swiftly followed by a big smug grin. Of course Eddie loved every single one of those gifts they were the sort of presents that every child desires and any responsible parent point-blank refuses to buy for them. The multi-coloured plastic guitar with no volume control that repeatedly played a very limited number of particularly irritating electronic tunes. The noisy remote control Tigger that went off every time your shadow fell across it. And of course the high-calibre double-capacity pump-action super-soaker water gun.
Nobody here today will need reminding that Bodge had a tremendous sense humour, a real sense of fun that made him great to be around. When heıd got one over on you, when heıd pulled off a prank or made a joke at your expense, heıd sit there with that big smug grin, and it was impossible to be upset about it.
Because Bodge loved a practical joke. And he loved it even when he was on the receiving end of it, and for me thatıs a truly remarkable and rare quality.
There are loads of great stories of things we did back then. Many of them are completely inappropriate for this occasion, of course. And thereıll be time enough after this service ends Iım sure for everyone to swap some fondly remembered anecdotes about him.
But hereıs the thing about the Bodge that I knew. It wasnıt so much what we did that was important, but more the time that we spent together doing it. Not the doing, but the being.
Because he was always such good, easy company. Relaxed, funny, and engaging. Time spent with Bodge was never time wasted. When Sue and I have reminisced about him these past few weeks, weıve talked less and less about the events and the places and the things that happened, and more and more about times just sitting around laughing with him. About the qualities that he brought into our lives.
What was so great about Bodge as a friend and as a person, was not what he did but who he was.
He was really laid back. Literally, laid back. When I think of Bodge, heıs sprawled on the bean bag in our old flat, or lounged on his sofa with a steaming mug of tea, or laid out on the floor with his head propped up on his hand. Laid back. Horizontal.
And always with Bodge that big smug, generous grin. That deeply satisfied grunty-sighing noise that he made after taking his first sip of tea or red wine. Mucking about. The jammy way that he won every bet, every sweepstake, every fish-catching contest. The triumph and despair of the 1990 world cup. The own goal he scored in Bristol that I never quite let him forget. Standing on a succession of freezing touchlines on wintry Saturday mornings watching his South Oxon area schools team play. Watching as he laughed so uncontrollably and so hard that he fell off the sofa. Delighting in just having fun. When you were on the receiving end of Bodgeıs mickey-taking it was impossible to take offence because it was done with such charm and generosity of spirit. And he could be quite rude when he chose to be, but it was always in a spirit of such disarming warmth that again, it was impossible to take offence. You just had to laugh. There was a mischevious quality to him when you look at Aila and Leiva you can see that same sense of fun and mischief there in them it lives on.
Thereıs always been something very affirming about Bodgeıs friendship. Something stable and consistent for me itıs been one of those unshakeable bedrock sort of relationships where the roots go deep. And so it was entirely fitting that 14 years after weıd first met, on the night before me, Sue and our boys moved away from Thame to live up in Leeds it was Bodge and Towe who came round with champagne and strawberries to share a farewell-to-Oxfordshire meal with us.
And the friendship easily survived our move up north just this summer we had a great time with Bodge, Towe and the girls when they came up to see us. That weekend Bodge and I chatted about the future, about work and about parenthood; we laughed a lot and grumbled like two old codgers when our spouses dragged us all off on an improbably arduous ramble round Bolton Abbey. And also that weekend our Eddie taught Leiva some new words that Iım not sure Towe was too pleased about. Like godfather, like godson.
For me, and Iım sure many of you here today, one of the hardest things in coming to terms with Bodgeıs death is the incredible sadness we are left truly heartbroken. And yet all of our memories of him are happy ones; so filled with laughter and genuine warmth that itıs even harder to deal with the sorrow that weıre feeling now. It just doesnıt fit somehow, itıs such a stark and terrible contrast.
I donıt want to say too much about his life in recent years, as I know that Chris will be talking about that in a few minutes. But I will say this Towe, you told me one time that Bodge loved you unconditionally, and he did, he really did. And I donıt think that that came as any surprise to those of us privileged enough to have known him well, because his friendship for us was unconditional too there were no strings attached, no hidden agendas, nothing expected or demanded in return. Thatıs just how he was.
So whether youıre here today as a member of Bodgeıs family, a friend, a colleague, an ex-pupil, maybe you played in one of the football teams that he ran [with varying degrees of success] - my guess is that youıve come to pay your respects because in your dealings with him you too experienced some of that same genuine and unconditional friendship, and thatıs why it was such a joy and a tremendous privilege to have known him.
Rest in peace Bodge. Weıll miss you.