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Celebrating those we have known - the ballad of big Jon

When the unexpected occurs and we struggle to make sense of loss, it's a time to truly celebrate a life lived to the full. Whilst the nation mourns the passing of a figurehead, this week also involved the loss of a more personal connection. Jon Carney was an acquaintance and friend with whom I shared the helm at sea from time to time. Larger than life, he was a very funny man with a beautiful singing voice, and a fellow 'disco pirate'! As those who knew him struggle to process his sudden absence, I wanted to pen a eulogy, bringing to mind some amusing stories, and to celebrate life as the antidote to becoming swamped with doom and gloom...R.I.P. Jon, with thoughts to family and friends everywhere!



In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!

“In a week of loss, as the wider nation also mourns the passing of a figurehead, it's important to recall times in which you meet people who leave a distinct impression. For these are the most important connections we make, and of course they can be extinguished in a moment. "

The Disco Pirates Laughter Show


We were somewhere out in the middle of the Irish Sea when the hallucinations took hold. The world was a flat disc, suggestive of a Terry Pratchett seascape. A parade of circus animals tumbled manically across the waves.


I could hear the dulcet tones of Les Dawson telling yet another mother-in-law joke.

I cracked up with mirth. All the stresses of life fell away. It’s good to get away into the wilds and refresh one’s perspective.


Whilst the circus animals were evidently not really there, Les Dawson was very much present. In spirit. A spirit channeled through a new acquaintance named Jon.


Often the most poignant bonds are formed in adversity, on adventures where anything can happen. It’s the people you meet out in the beyond who leave the impression, and who get you through the challenges that invariably arise.


I met Jon three days earlier as I joined a small crew for a formative voyage from the south coast of England to Liverpool over several hundred continuous miles of sailing. We were a motley crew of mostly inexperienced sailors, brought together by skipper James who does this sort of thing all the time.


The sea can provide therapy in abundance, or tough love depending on how you look at it, what you need, and the prevailing conditions. Key in this is camaraderie, working together as a team!


I’d had some emotional turmoils preceding this and it seemed like just the ticket to reboot my mind. I’d semi-expected a bit of a cruise, and had brought some pre-mixed gin (3l of it) to enjoy on the evenings as we moored up in picturesque Cornish coves. In order to get the medicine, you need your expectations sometimes to be blasted out of the water. Hence, soon after boarding the boat I was introduced directly to the helm wheel and told to keep us on course. A few hours later, now ‘experienced’ I was given midnight watch! We didn’t stop for 5 days!


A rather amusing start to the proceedings involved meeting the fellow crew. First contact with Jon stands out in my mind especially. Skipper James had mentioned his son would be joining us. Somewhat fatigued, flustered and dehydrated by an endless series of train connections on a hot bank holiday in May, I stumbled onboard and went down below decks to be familiarised with the vessel. It was at this point, blinking in the gloom after the hot sun above I shook hands with my crewmate.


“Ah, you must be James’ son! He’s told me all about you!”


There were quizzical looks, James wasn’t amused. Jon found it hilarious.


Jon was several years older than James. I realised my error when my eyes became accustomed to the light.


I am talking about Jon because, in a week of unexpected events just now, he passed away very suddenly out of the blue. We had gathered on the current flagship boat in early August to celebrate many months of working on this vessel to get it ready for future adventures. We had convened, as members of that original cadre of so-called ‘Disco Pirates’ (it's funny what happens at sea) to look to the future, and also celebrate the bonds that kept us united these years later.


I hadn’t seen much of Jon in recent times, but this was to be a special gathering, and none of us could have foreseen that he would no longer be with us less than a month later. He was truly the life and soul.


Myself and Jon shared a bunk room on the boat, testing out the sleeping arrangements. No one got a wink of sleep that night. I was ensconced on the precariously secured bunk above; he was rammed in with his portly demeanor wedged to the sides. A symphony of snoring, and other sounds emanated through the night. You'd drift off then another whistling, parping sound would awaken us, and everyone else nearby, and a fit of giggling. Truly hilarious. I half expected the bed to collapse in the night and be deposited on top of ‘Les’ in a compromising position.


It reminded me of that first trip on the vessel ‘Serifos’ where I hallucinated so freely.

Jon could burst into song (he had a set of fine pipes a la Tom Jones) at the drop of a gib. He could also launch into a convoluted but hilarious anecdote with precise comic timing perfected from his time on the cruise ships as lounge entertainer, compere and singer.


On Serifos he occupied the port cabin which abutted the ‘heads’ (toilet). He had somehow acquired a surf board at the start of the trip, for what purposes only he alone would know (certainly wasn’t likely to take up surfing). Because the surfboard was slightly too long for the cabin it jutted out propped up on his bunk and prevented the concertina door to the loo closing. This meant that any visits to the facility in the middle of the night would involve creeping in and maneuvering round the surfboard (and Jon’s head, as he slept with head poking out into the loo area). You had to be delicate not to disturb him, let alone risk baptising him unwittingly like the peacefully slumbering newborn he so didn’t really resemble.


Two particular incidents stand out. The first, on my second night on watch I had set my alarm to get up at 2am. I was really struggling to sleep/adapt to the watch patterns and didn’t hear the alarm. I rolled over and checked my watch light to see if I had much time left. It read 2.40am!


I bolted upright, the worst thing is to miss your watch changeover which meant your comrade had no way of being relieved. I threw my gear on and burst out onto the deck. Jon was sitting on the wheel gazing into the distance with a beatific look on his face. I apologised profusely but he had no sense of the time and didn’t care anyway. He was truly in his element! He felt that all the weight of life fell away when out at sea and he was never happier than under sail gazing at the horizon!


You can take something from being around people who have that demeanor, drawing strength from the satisfaction of others who have found their purpose!


The next night another incident occurred. I changed over to my watch from skipper James at around 4am. I forgot to mention that the door handle to the heads was playing up. I’d made myself a peanut butter sandwich to give me a treat into the lonely hours ahead. James headed below and paid a visit. I became aware of a strange knocking sound then eventually pinpointed it to a disembodied hand poking out of the tiny window down near my foot.


The logical thing to do, sleep deprived and away with the mixer, was to thrust my spare sandwich into said hand.


It turned out James had become confined to the heads on visiting, prior to heading to bed. He is not a small man, and had discovered that as the door handle had dropped off and disappeared round the back of the toilet he had to find a way to attract my attention. This involved him maneuvering his tall frame over to the tiny window that opened out into the cockpit above.


The trouble is, Jon was in the way, sleeping like a baby, and cuddling his prized surfboard.


James had to effectively clamber into the bunk alongside him, in spooning position, reach up and thrust his hand through the window to wave about until I eventually noticed and presented him with a prized, but largely ineffective sandwich with which to solve his predicament....


In a week of loss, as the wider nation also mourns the passing of a figurehead, it's important to recall times in which you meet people who leave a distinct impression. For these are the most important connections we make, and of course they can be extinguished in a moment.


Jon was a man who made a very strong impression on those around, a fine and generous gentleman who could make people laugh like drains, or touch them with his singing, hearkening back to an earlier age. He was also, incidentally, and in total keeping with his larger-than-life persona, a funeral celebrant, whose mission was to celebrate the lives of others as joyously as possible. All with a wicked and mischievous demeanor.

His passing is, and will continue to be mourned with great sadness, but also apt to bring a smile, laughter into the room remembering funny incidents or comic tales.


To paraphrase the Pythons, Jon is an ex-(disco) pirate. He’s kicked the bucket, pushing up the daisies, shuffled off his mortal coil, and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible (where he’ll no doubt be regaling the angels with his mellifluous voice).


I’m sure he’d chuckle at that.


R.I.P. Jon, enjoy your passage across the sea to the next world. See you down the line for a rum and a shanty!




Post script


I was reminded of a couple more funny things so would like to share. We were testing the zodiac (inflatable semi rigid boat with outboard motor) at the marina when we last convened. It was my task to take it for a spin. So I clambered down into it and was given blow by blow instructions (from Jon) on how to prime the motor and set it running (as have never used one before).


It spluttered into life and I whizzed off, doing donuts up the docks loving every minute, thinking I was Don Johnson in Miami Vice (minus the crocodile). In fact I powered to the far end and picked up a couple of passengers to save them walking back.


As I bounced a small wake wave with my hair sailing in the breeze and the bow alarmingly low in the water due to the weight of passengers, the engine spluttered once more, and died.


No amount of pulling on the cord or bashing the engine would cause it to restart. We slowly drifted forward to within shouting distance. Jon was trying to troubleshoot from the deck of the boat ahead, getting perplexed and why it was not working. Eventually he shouted "has it got any fuel in it?". I didn't have a clue as it's not normally my province to know such things. He instructed me to prise off the top of the engine and check the fuel tank.


"Err..no, there's no fuel left in the tank!"


His response was hilarious and entirely as one might expect from Jon.


"You silly ginger b@#&@£$!"


-----------------------------------


On our last evening together, with everyone in a celebratory mood, having drinks toasting our good fortunes being together, Jon became quite emotional.


Silence descended as he soliloquised about how much this all meant for him, how much he loved being in close proximity to the sea and his dream to own a boat was finally being realised. He expressed his affection and gratitude for each of us in turn being part of this.


He looked at young Alan - "Alan you are a great lad, it's a pleasure to be with you sharing a drink".


"Chris, I only just met you but you strike me as a lovely chap, am glad to be here with you now."


"James you've been a great friend and mentor and I really value having you in my life. You've brought us all together, it means so much to me."


"'Dangerous' [Dave i.e. me]...


...you're a *&#%ing lunatic"


"Lisa, you are wonderful..."


!!


Tough love!!!






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