WE didn’t do arrangements. Never bothered with phone calls. There was an unspoken agreement of where and when to meet.
Originally on a Saturday with the ink on the Sports Echo marking our fingers, more latterly on a Friday – not necessarily the best idea for those of us working the next day.
There might be the odd confirmation if you bumped in to one of the others in the office, people could bank on us being in The City Arms post work – bar the odd splinter group sparking a change of venue before we reverted to type.
And on Friday, many of us will do it all over again. Just without one of the key figures.
Walking into The City Arms again without Nick Machin will be odd. Walking in there to toast our lost friend will be even stranger. And not a prospect that is easy to come to terms with.
Tried several times to write this piece. But the words didn’t come.
Not for a lack of anything to say – could rattle through enough memories of Nick to fill any number of articles and have been running through many of them over the last couple of weeks. It has been impossible to put everything in some sort of order.
But let’s give it a go.
Nick was many things to me. And to many others. Colleague, news editor, housemate, landlord, tea maker, travelling companion, drummer, Badger, Imp, but above all friend. For the lucky ones, very good friend.
Without him, things would have been very different.
He was the first new face I got to know in a new job, he offered me a roof over my head (and never complained when I broke the bed on the first night) and more than once convinced me one more pint was not a good idea.
He was off home to his pit – via a takeaway. And if I wasn’t working, I could guarantee there’d be a couple of cans of Coke in the fridge the next morning by the time I made it downstairs – he opted against the Saturday lie-in, just in case it had a detrimental impact on his afternoon nap.
He introduced me to fish and chips for Saturday lunch, crab sticks (no thanks), Kenny Thomas, cooking lager, countless games of darts in the kitchen, the comedy potential of a ruler, Midsomer Murders, relaxing under a large poster of Norman Stanley Fletcher, asking for your eggs dippy… and any number of things which I came to take for granted.
We had our moments sharing a house. Sure my more relaxed attitude to housework drove him nuts while he had a reliable ability to be in the bath at the moment you had agreed to be going out the door.
And we had long arguments about what should or should not be included in fish finger sandwiches.
Without him I would not have enjoyed a brief spell as band manager, roadie and sound man fighting to get the band heard over the drummer smacking his kit with abandon. Or slept in my car in a slightly dodgy park in Skegness.
I would not have supported Lincoln City at two play-off finals or melted in the Charleston heat with a horrific hangover on dog-sitting duties at his wedding.
And without Nick this blog would probably never exist. Without him I would probably never have travelled, certainly not to the same extent.
Who knows which baseball team I’d support if Nick had not come from Boston, Lincolnshire. Its namesake seemed as good a place as any to start our US road trip – six weeks in a loop from Boston to New York which means my contribution to wearing a bit of Lincoln red at his funeral will be Sox.
Not sure which one of us first floated quitting our jobs to do a longer overland trip to New York, this one starting in London and heading east rather than a few hours down the coast.
It got kicked around, put to one side, revisited, forgotten and, eventually, raised over a pint and neither of us could find a reason not to go – we’d both learned the hard way that you never quite know what lies around the corner, as we have all been reminded over the last few months.
Sure our boss was delighted when we both walked into his office and handed in our notices on the same morning.
The decision changed both of our lives in so many ways and neither of us regretted it. Without it, I… well what I’ve done since is outlined in this blog. Nick gained something far more special. But we’ll get to that.
Could rattle on with any number of tales from the road on coaches, trains, cruise ship, gers, campsites, national parks and any number of strange, wonderful places large and small.
We spent four nights on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Irkutsk, four blokes sharing a cabin with not a lot of room to spare.
But we invited everybody in to what became known, very quickly, as Nick’s Bar.
Not sure who christened it as we set about tackling the vodka supplies we had loaded up with for the whole four days and lasted a few hours, but it was Nick’s Bar. No dispute. There were four us sharing and more than twice that crammed in at times, but it was Nick’s Bar.
Nick was at the heart of everything. Not the loudest, not the most flamboyant, opinionated or dominant. But Nick was the beating heart of the group. Of the whole trip. Of pretty much whichever group he was in at the time.
And there he sat, the calm centre of apparent chaos. Just like he had in the newsroom. Only with more angry Russians.
One of our travelling companions always described him as totally genuine. A former colleague harkened back with fondness to our days on the South Wales Echo with “Nick at the centre of it”.
Whenever I get in a conversation about travelling, I always get asked about my favourite places. Or experiences. There’s a long and a short answer, but at the heart of both of them is that what matters most is the people. And I was lucky, I took one of the best with me.
All the strong memories of that trip – a minor diplomatic incident in Warsaw, getting lost in Prague and St Petersburg, sweating it out in our Mongolian ger, sliding across frozen Lake Baikal and watching the spectacular sunset from Olkhon Island, the pirate party in the middle of the Pacific, the midnight sun in Alaska, sweltering in San Francisco… the list goes on – are as much about the people as the places.
And Nick was at the heart of it, hosting visitors in Nick’s Bar, turning Roger the Parrot into a minor celebrity or leading a Beijing hostel bar in a version of Wonderwall on the drums.
Used to wind him up that we would meet people along the way, chat to them for an hour or so – if that – and they were his friends on Facebook.
But that was Nick, spend any time chatting to him – however short – and he was your friend. He made you feel that way and, chances are, he was more than happy to help you out as a friend would.
Know my sister, who had met Nick briefly in passing years earlier, was grateful for the welcome he gave to a message out of the blue and his eagerness to help sort some issues with my house in Cardiff while I was battling a dodgy internet connection in Addis Ababa.
We didn’t see as much of each other as I’d have liked in the last few years, travelling, work and life getting in the way for both of us. We caught up when we could and picked up where we left off – cup of tea, cooking lager, brown booze.
We finally got round to sorting out a reunion for some of the London to New York crew last year, a weekend which was pretty special and which will now take on extra resonance.
As we walked through London, the two of us fell to the back of the group comparing middle-aged ailments.
I was hobbling along with what turned out to be bursitis of the hip and sparked a much-needed weight loss. He bemoaned his eyesight worsening with the passing years. We had no way of knowing it was rather more than that.
The news editor in Nick would want me to ensure the facts are included, however difficult. Hope he doesn’t mind too much if for once I ignore his professional opinion.
So let’s look at some other facts, back from days just after that London to New York trip which would end with me sweating and looking after a terrier down the coast in South Carolina.
Of all the experiences we shared on the road, the one which really made an impact on Nick happened after we parted ways in Boston – when we met up again in sweltering Nashville a couple of months later, he kept going on about this woman he had met.
And he pretty much did that every time we met from then on as his relationship with Sufia battled its way through geography, logistics and red tape to forge a couple (well, family once you threw in Ellie the dog) it was hard to imagine had ever been anything else.
Nick was never happier than the last few years with Sufia and it is baffling, infuriating and tragic that they only had four years after that wonderful wedding week in Charleston.
Sufia has been amazing over the last 10 months or so, fighting to get Nick whatever treatment and help could give them a longer future and nursing him through the final weeks.
We’ll raise a glass not just to Nick on Friday but to Sufia, Si and the rest of the family and all his friends. There’s a lot of them out there and it’s a privilege to be one of them.
Miss you mate.
Nick Machin 1969-2018