Did I ever tell you I used to be …

It’s a year on from the death of my dear friend Dan Oliver. Capturing his singular character in a blog post is quite beyond me, and it’s not really my place even to try. So instead I thought I’d just relate something that conveys some of his spirit and says much about what he leaves behind.

Dan’s humour repertoire was broad. It was strong on wordplay (he roundly ignored the old hack at the BBC’s Three Rules of Comedy: “No puns, no puns … no fucking puns, Danny”) and featured many personal catchphrases, deployed with glee. Our university evenings were often punctuated by surprising utterances from an apparently otherwise comatose Dan, who’d lift his head off the sofa just long enough to croak “I’ll fight anyone for a quid!” or the equally implausible “I’m in charge”.

As a close friend rightly observed at his funeral, this slightly absurdist sensibility fitted him perfectly for parenthood. He would delight his four children with claims about his … career, prior to their arrival, with the preamble “did I ever tell you I used to be …”

In the days between his death and funeral, the kids listed some of these roles. Highlights included:

A scarecrow

A bison

Lord Voldemort

A battleship captain

A crow

A unicorn


An eagle


One Sunday before Christmas last year, they brought that list over, and we had a craft session round the dining table.

Each of the kids made a sketch of their favourite alter ego of their dad’s, then gouged it into lino, which we printed.

Their mum then had the tricky task of combining the four images – all of animals, interestingly – into a Christmas card. I think it turned out beautifully.


Bonus feature: I usually do a Christmas card – also a lino print – based on something significant from our family’s year, like an object we liked on holiday or whatever. This year, at my wife’s suggestion, the card celebrated Dan by way of reference to the poem he had me read at his funeral. The beautiful Japanese Maple by Clive James.


Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.

So slow a fading out brings no real pain.

Breath growing short

Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain

Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see

So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls

On that small tree

And saturates your brick back garden walls,

So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends

This glistening illuminates the air.

It never ends.

Whenever the rain comes it will be there,

Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.

Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.

What I must do

Is live to see that. That will end the game

For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,

A final flood of colours will live on

As my mind dies,

Burned by my vision of a world that shone

So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

A year on, I miss Dan very much. What cheers me is the way his four beautiful, talented, unique and just downright appealing children are growing as people; they have personality to spare, and are gloriously true to themselves. And their mother, in addition to keeping all their lives going with heroic energy and resilience, nurtures their characters in a way which I’m sure would make Dan feel proud, as it always used to.

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