Sam from a Mother’s Perspective
Sam arrived into this world two and a half weeks late; unpunctual and idiosyncratic from the start. He was born at home weighing 10 pounds 9 ounces and was over 2 feet long. Graham and I half expected him to get up and walk out of the room.
He was a cherub of a toddler with a mop of golden curls, big ears and that wide engaging smile. He was doted on by his elder siblings.
On his first day at Steep Primary school I discovered he had slipped his joke ice cube into his reading folder. A plastic transparent cube encasing a fake spider. He had already decided that school was a place where you made people laugh. This was to set the tone for the rest of his academic career.
Despite his reluctance to conform in the classroom, by around the age of five he developed his own passion for history. At a relative’s house he surprised us all by pointing to the portrait of an 18th century ringleted dame and asking ‘Is that Queen Anne?’
He was fascinated by the English Civil War and aged six was taken to a re-enactment of the Battle of Torrington. Sam decided he was on the side of the Royalists. By the time he was a late teenager he had made a definite switch to the other camp. In fact his fascination with this period in history was to return recently when he became interested in the 17th century visionary Gerrard Winstanley and the Digger movement. His friend Sara, after cycling the 35 miles from Southampton to visit him, was made to sit and watch the film about his hero through to the bitter end. He had a habit of inflicting his passions on friends and family – now, perhaps we can thank him for that.
I cannot talk about Sam without mentioning his brief career as altar boy at St. Laurence’s Catholic Church. Although later he was to reject my Catholic roots, often vehemently, at the age of eight he took his altar service job extremely seriously. It was probably the white vestments and ribboned gold medallion that appealed – he continued to enjoy dressing up all his life. He also loved being trusted with responsibility and such an opportunity often brought out the best in him. I have a clear memory of tucking a tearful Sam into his top bunk bed one evening. He was insisting on attending Easter Midnight Mass. I argued that it was far too late for someone his age and that two masses in one day was quite enough. “But Father Murtagh needs me there!” he wailed.
At age 11, when Sam showed an interest in fishing, I was overbearingly enthusiastic and very nearly stifled it. This was the perfect hobby – it would get him away from the dreaded computer and TV to the healthy salt air of the Chichester coastline. He spent many happy hours with fishing enthusiast, George, dangling a line at Dell Quay and never catching anything.
This is from a letter to his grandmother at the time:
“I went on my first ever successful fishing trip the other week! Me and two friends went to the beach at Southsea. It was really, really cold! But we stayed there for 5 or 6 hours and were rewarded. I personally didn’t catch anything (surprise, surprise) but my friend did. He caught a small plaice which I went home and ate.”
My heart sank the day he announced he had decided to give up this healthy outdoor pursuit as it involved animal cruelty. He was soon to present the first of his school assemblies on factory farming.
When not on the cricket field, Sam was at his happiest and most fulfilled when acting in school productions. He was lucky to be given the chance to perform a wide range of characters and brought to these parts some of his wry observations of human life.
Over the years Sam and I played out the stereotypical roles of nagging mother and stroppy teenager. We had it down to a fine art, repeating the same dialogue many times over. Areas of contention usually lay around issues of mess, the computer, idleness, unfinished school work and holes in clothing.
We had our treasured moments though: the times he would entrust me with the clippers to shave his hair but under his own serious artistic direction, showing me films and playing me music he thought would do me good, that magical, sunny eighteenth birthday party shared with his friend Josh in Richmond Park. The recent drawing lessons he asked me for and us working through ideas for his sketchbook. The time I came home to find he had made, unprompted, a woven willow fence for our vegetable patch.
As Sam grew into a young man and became more independent we became closer. Having worried about his reluctance to read as a boy he was now passing books my way. I have fond memories of meeting up with him in London, at the Sherlock Holmes Museum where he worked or seeking out a vegan restaurant for a meal. The Museum was like a small extended family for Sam; they took him under their wing as their resident Victorian Policeman and surrogate son. His grubby collars even led to one of the older staff taking it upon herself to wash his shirts. They celebrated his birthday by organising a cricket match in Regent’s Park and presented him with a personalised bat when he left. It was with the saved wages from this job that he was able to embark on his India trip.
I got much pleasure from witnessing Sam’s enjoyment of other people. This crossed all ages. He loved the company of children, both those of family and friends. He was equally happy spending an evening with the elders of the village at the Harrow. I was never prouder of him than when he introduced me to his friend, Charles, at the Holmes museum, about to retire after years of service, and to see the mutual respect and affection between them.
Sam had his own set of firm beliefs and was often found campaigning on environmental or social justice issues around London. When protesting outside Primark against their treatment of workers in the Developing World, he didn’t need a banner; in typical Sam style his hand painted T-shirt boldly delivered the message. His peaceful involvement in the G20 march and the aggressive police action he witnessed that day had a profound effect on him.
Sam was so overjoyed to have been accepted onto a degree course in film making in London. He sent an email from Varanasi which simply read,
“As it happens I’m going to LCC to do film in September, turns out I’m not a complete wastrel after all.”
I replied “Fantastic news! I knew someone would recognise your talents sooner or later.”
He spent the evening that he received the news, celebrating his future with his travelling companions George and Josh. We are so glad he was able to share his elation and his final days with two such wonderful friends.
We should also mention how lucky Sam was to have such a wide and loyal circle of friends, all who brought to his life their own individuality and interests and love. We have also enjoyed their company over the years and hope they stay in touch. In still meeting with them we hope to share in the warmth that sustained Sam through both bad times and good, and together keep his light shining.
Sam was not a saint but what he has left is a big 6 foot 5 inch hole in my life. I shall miss his bear hugs, his grin, the jokes, his strong convictions, the kindness, the self styled T-shirts, the piano playing that filled the house whenever he arrived home, but most of all the big heart. He was a truly lovable rebel.