It has been a sad, sad week around Cow Central, good Acowlytes. This end part of February, being the anniversary of the death of my much loved Kate, is always melancholy for me, but this year it has been even more so. My great friend Simon – who you all know better as hewhohears – has been extremely ill in recent months, and late in the evening on Wednesday, the disease that he had fought for so many years overwhelmed him at last.

I have so very many memories of Simon – we had been friends for over twenty years. He has been to me a pal, a confidant, a mentor, a partner in plotting & scheming, a drinking buddy, a co-solver of mysteries, a fellow bunny-boomer, a staunch skeptical companion and much more besides. His cancer has been slowly taking him away from me these last few months, and, as he has slipped from my world, the void he has left is profound. He was a big part of my life and my happiness. Even though I moved away from him physically when I came to Melbourne, we still saw each other often, and we were also wired together through the net. A day rarely went by without us talking on the phone or on iChat.

I want to tell a story that I think sums up a lot about Simon’s character; his sense of wonder, his love of science, his sharp mind and his cheeky wit.

We were at the Treehouse in late 1998 – he was a regular visitor, and a fellow researcher in my experiments to uncover the mystery behind accelerated whisky evaporation rates.(i) As the evening drew in, Simon, who had been glancing at his watch for the last thirty minutes, quite excitedly proclaimed:

“I looked online for the orbit times of the International Space Station and it should be coming over us just about now!”

It was so much a part of Simon’s character to proclaim such geeky things that no-one really questioned that he would not only know the timetable of the newly launched ISS, but have worked out roughly where it would appear in the Australian sky. We went out onto the verandah and turned our gaze upward into the clear and spectacularly starry heavens. Almost immediately we picked out a bright light moving purposefully across the Milky Way.

“That could be it!” said I, “But it might be a plane I guess – it’s very bright.”

“Well, we should know pretty soon,” he said.

“How so?”

“Well, if it is the ISS, then it should fade out when it goes into the shadow of the Earth. About… now!” he said, and snapped his fingers.

And just like that, the little bright light winked out of existence.

It was one of the best magic tricks I’d ever seen. I laughed out loud.

“Simon, you would have to be the biggest geek I’ve ever met,” I said, impressed beyond belief.

I imagined him figuring out the height of the orbit and the angle of the sun on the other side of the planet and doing some kind of calculation to work out the arc of the sky where the ISS would no longer catch the light of the sun.

“How the hell did you calculate exactly where the shadow of the Earth would be?”

He looked at me with his cheeky smile and said:

“It was just a lucky guess!”

The humour in the story may not translate if you didn’t know Simon, but you can probably tell that it comes from the fact that it was more likely that he’d worked out the problem than just made a wild guess (Simon was also the person who introduced me to The Bee Joke and I think you can see that two people who find such things humorous share a very special bond indeed)

Tragically, the bright light that was Simon has now been snuffed out far too soon by the Great Shadow that must in time eclipse us all. Farewell my very dear friend. My life was much the richer for your company and is much the poorer for your passing.

Rest in peace.

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Footnotes:

  1. Single malt whisky seems to evaporate faster than any other substance known to humankind. I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of this phenomenon []

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