I met Bones at a Vike show at Tonbridge Castle in 1991. One thing led another, and in the way of these things, we fell in love. He came to live with me in Norwich, in the days when five of us shared a post-student house on the now-legendary Sigismund Road. Those were heydays: days of Vikings, and role-playing, and battle practices in the park. Days of innocence and wonder and drinking too much cider round campfires in the darkness.
Bones – Sigismind Road, 1991
They were also the days when we made our lifelong friends, those people who, twenty-five years later, are still family.
Bones was a character, a casualty, a joker and gentleman. He’d been a patched member of a local motorcycle club, still had the ‘FTW’ tattooed on his forearm, but had fallen prey to depression and alcohol. His life in Norwich was a new start for him. He did his level best to quit the Special Brew and to ease back on the booze, and certainty, it seemed to be successful.
Occasionally, inevitably, there were flashes of darkness. Bones had five years on the rest of us, and I always got the impression he’d walked places we hadn’t yet discovered – certainly not in our early twenties.
So – Tintagel. May 1992. A long way from Norwich, but the first show Bones’s group, the Northland Mercenaries, had put on in many years. So, of course we went. Loaded into the back of the van, camping kit and all, we drove overnight and we set up tents in the breaking dawn of the Cornish coast. And it was perfect, exactly the kind of community and brotherhood that welcomed and supported us all. That first evening, as the dusk closed in, we walked down the path to Rocky Valley, looking at the old tin mines and the spiral patterns in the stone – it was a magical place, and we sat in wonder on the edges of the Atlantic. Bones wanted to climb around the rocks, and no-one batted an eyelid – that was just the kind of thing he did.
I remember we joked about it: ‘Don’t fall in that, mate, I’m not coming in after you!’
The second night, Monday 2nd May, a date that will remain with me for the rest of my life, we walked down the path, again. We looked at the tin mines and the spiral, again. We sat by the seething ocean, again, and Bones wanted to climb around the rocks, again. The fact that he was wearing a monks’ habit and pair of army boots didn’t really register. We were at a show, and kit was still worn in the evenings.
After a while, we started to wonder where he’d gone. We waited. We waited some more. Then we got up and started to look for him. Cliffs. Campsite, shops, toilets, pub. No Bones. Not anywhere.
And this is point where my memory gets very blurred…
I remember the darkness falling and the whole camp mobilising for a search party. I remember voices in the dark, I remember the police, and the sound of the coastguard helicopter, and the lights. In all the melee, I remember someone – Graham? Jon? – saying to me, very quietly, ‘I think you should know, they’re looking for a body’. I get chills thinking about it, even now. I remember sitting by the fire, numb, disbelieving. I remember the bad taste jokes – because that was how we dealt with it. I remember people sitting with me, and lots and lots more cider. And I remember waking up in the tent Bones and I had shared, all his stuff scattered round me, and knowing, and hoping…
But they hadn’t found him.
They never did.
Bones was never seen again. No body, no explanation, no nothing. Common sense says that climbing round the edges of the Atlantic, half-pissed and wearing a monks’ habit, was not the brightest move in the world, and that he must have drowned. I remember Graham telling me that he probably hit his head as he went in – hence his lungs filled with water and the body sank…
But we will never know.
Bones had his issues. Did he fall – or did he jump? That kind of depression, it’s not impossible. Or is he, even now, serving tea in the Tintagel Tea Rooms somewhere, and riding out with the local Sons of Cornwall?
He left us with a hole. But he also left us with his sense of humour, and his craziness, and a powerful community that’s lasted two and half decades. He left us with a certain dent in the fuel tank of his old Yamaha, and the archetypal bikers’ denim cut-down that I still have in my wardrobe. For those of you that have read Ecko, Lugan was Bones’s CyberPunk character, complete with roll-ups, +5 Pocket of Eternal Dog-Ends, and the FTW tattoo on his forearm.
But most of all, he left us with a question, unanswered and ever unanswerable…
I like to think that, wherever he ended up, he saw the funny side.
Bones – Rocky Valley, Tintagel, 1992.
Picture courtesy of Graham, and taken about 15 minutes before Bones disappeared. And there’s just something about the faraway look…