Hoping you’re still alive

This was the subject of the email I sent yesterday to a dear artist friend, Tom Phillips. Today morning, I woke up with an email saying that Tom died and it was his funeral yesterday. I guess we can hope, but death is final.

You know, Tom was old. When I met him he was old still. He was one of those people you meet in life, just a very few times, and they have the power to help you see who you are and what are you really doing. Memories, to which I keep going back. Precious ones, important, prefferably unforgettable.

I met Tom when I was living in London. In Peckham. It was after new years celebration, 3rd of January most probably. I was reading a small book from the Penguin by Orwell. They printed this collection of 24, I think, books from classics, with essays, short but concise and a delight to read. In white and red covers. I loved them. Got three of them as a present from a writer buddy, Kaly Temmink. The thing is, at that New Year celebration, 2013 – 2014, I went out and got spiked. I couldn’t speak but managed somehow to hook up with a guy who ended up staying for the first two days at my place and…creepily…didn’t want to leave. Mainly because his life was shit and he saw me as some kind of an escape or whatever. So I decided, strategically, since he was also a dickhead, to take him out for a coffee at this nice cafe by the University of the Arts. I took the Orwell book with me, because I knew I would get bored and it has been two days after new years and I haven’t done any work.

So, we sit at a table and I open the book and start reading. He is silent and tells me he is going to the loo. Suddenly, I hear this voice, of an old gentleman next to me, Tom:

– You are working.

– I feel as if someone went: busted! How did he know that I wasn’t just reading?

And then I realise that I have been underlining various words, expressions and phrases.

– Your friend looks really sad…

– Yeah, he dreamed of being a football player and ended up being a guitarist, I replied with a real account of my newyears gift of a man.

Tom had this white massive santa beard, and it was colored brown from him smoking…a pipe…I think. Can’t really remember. And he was wearing two scarfs, entagled, which I found to be quite artsy and tasty. The girls working in the cafe were fussing a lot around him so I went

– You must be very important.

– Neah, I’m just old.

I laughed and we agreed to meet for tea one of the next days. At his place. Which was a house within houses, you know…the classical English house mash, and he had the two or three floors as his home and studio. My god, was it crowded with stuff! Plus all the walls and ceilings were drawn with various sketches. The man didn’t care about ups and down.

– Where can I find an ashtray? I asked when I entered while holding a freshly lit cigarette between my frozen glove-fingers.

– Anywhere, he said.

He meant anywhere on the floor. I hoped his cleaning lady was properly paid.

We met three or four times. I moved from London back to Romania and then to Berlin. He always told me to start writing in my own language and to go back to Moldova where I should do the work that had to be done. I knew he was old-school and I appreciated his input.

– English, just like Latin, is going to die, he told me once. When a language becomes lingua franca it’s on its way to disappearance.

Should I have listened? Yes. Did I? No.

Last time we met was on my birthday. I was turning…hmm…29, I think…which would be about 7 years ago. It was one of the most horrific times of my life. I had no money but I wanted to see him. I didn’t tell Tom it was my birthday. I figured it didn’t matter. He took me to a Greek restaurant he really loved. He paid. I still owe you, Tom…a dinner and a ping pong match. Looking forward to our redezvous in the afterlife. RIP my dear friend and thank you for reminding me that we don’t really need ashtrays and that we can do many many many various amazing things with our talents. I wonder what will happen to your collection of Shakespearean hairballs?!

Tom Phillips, photographed in the studio of his south London home by Toby Coulson © Toby Coulson (source: Financial Times)

Read more about Tom and his massive legacy here:

https://www.ft.com/content/02590e62-3962-11e7-ac89-b01cc67cfeec

Tom Phillips’ official website:

https://www.tomphillips.co.uk/

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