Fletch's speech from John's 50th birthday at Great Fosters 2011

John Dickenson’s 50th birthday/funeral whichever comes first.
I have been asked to say a few words on this illustrious occasion of John’s 70th birthday just before he moves into the old peoples home.
We first met at school at the age of 14 – John was well known throughout the school mainly because he was an ugly child who could be recognised easily by his enormous nose and from a distance by his distinctive shambling gait that involved him scrapping his knuckles along the ground as he walked. How times have changed, who would recognise him from this description now.
We then both moved on to Exeter University where John quickly established a reputation for great tact and discretion. To give you a couple of examples .
John in his usual fairly jovial mood thought he would cheer up an unhappy looking female student with an upbeat comment of “Try suicide, you’ll never regret it” – to which the response was “I did” – floods of tears and a rapid departure from the room – he was unconcerned as this was common response when he tried to talk to women.
The second story that bears repetition also relates to a rather depressed young lady, I will leave you to your own conclusions on the nature of cause and effect in reference to depression and interactions with John.
Anyhow, within the halls of residence, this young woman had left her clock radio on rather loudly which caused her neighbour to knock on her door early one morning and notice that there was a note on the door saying ‘ I have gone off to kill myself’. This produced the predictable rush of activity in an attempt to track her down, when someone mentioned that someone had seen her the previous evening in the company of John who had been drooling down her cleavage and dry humping her leg, easily recognised as the usual Dickenson seduction technique…. Don’t knock it, as techniques go it was irritatingly very much more effective than my own . This resulted in the hall porter being dispatched to John’s room to see if he could shed any light on the matter. There was knock on the door and John answered:
“Hello John, we are looking for Miss X, have you seen her”
“Do you know where she might be now, only the police have been called and they about to start a search”
“Where is she, has she gone down to beach or up on to the top of a high building”
“Errr…. No”
At this point, the story diverges, according to John – he opened the door to reveal the young lady demurring clutching a sheet around herself – and as he later explained they were only semi clothed because the room was hot and they had spent the night playing scrabble.
According to the hall porter the door opened to reveal the remnants of a bacchanalian orgy – with the room strewn with three rubber nurses uniforms, a bath full of raspberry jelly, a melon and very worried looking goat.
As with all these stories the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
No review of John’s life can possibly be complete without a discussion of John’s legendary drinking prowess, of which he has NONE.
At university he spent most of his waking hours building, organising and running his mobile disco – as a result of which he didn’t drink very often and was therefore very very bad at it.
On one of the few occasions that he wasn’t discoing we went out to a party at a pub, I volunteered to drive. The pub in question was a few miles outside town and evening was going well. John, in unfamiliar territory, decided that this was a chance to let go and downed, in quick succession, THREE pints of shandy. This of course had the effect of making him absolutely dysfunctionally mullered. This resulted in him standing on a table trying to sing ‘Show me the way to go home’ at the top of his voice. Not helped by the fact that he couldn’t remember anything but the first line.
Having fallen off the table and started a fight with a pot plant we decided it was time to get him home. There followed a argument getting into the car as no one wanted to sit in the back with him as he had by this stage turned green.
We drove back into Exeter with John leaning out of back window feeling ill. We were just in home stretch when there was a slightly louder groaning sound and John projectile vomited out of the window. As luck would have it this was at the precise moment that we were driving past the chip shop that had a long line of people queuing outside. I glanced round to see a line or vomit strewn and rather cross looking people. Under the circumstances I did the only morally acceptable thing… I turned the lights off on the car so they couldn’t see the number plate, dropped down a gear and floored it. A discreet look the next day showed that John had peppbledashed 137 yards of roadway and parked cars, which I believe stands as a university record to this day.
We finally got him back to our shared house and, having convinced him that yes we did love him, and we were indeed his best mates – left him to sleep it off in his room.
We were woken about an hour later by a THUMP THUMP THUMP sound and emerged from our rooms to find John sliding, quite serenely, feet first down the stairs with his head thumping on each of the steps as went.
The end to his, frankly pathetic, drinking career actually came a few years later when he and I along with Nikki and my girlfriend went up to Cambridgeshire to the wedding of university friend where we had arranged some local accommodation. The party was going very well when I was approached by a concerned Nikki saying that she couldn’t find John and that he had had four glasses of champagne so she was worried that he might be on the roof pretending to be duck again. I thought he might be regaling the vicar with jokes about nuns the clergy shagging choir boys. So we mounted and a small search party and fortunately we were both wrong, we actually found him face down in a rhododendron bush largely unconscious. I carried him back to the van and we deposited him in bed. He woke up the next morning with a hangover of biblical proportions that lasted for several days. Now many of us have woken up with filthy hangovers and sworn ‘Never again’ but in his case he actually meant it.
So looking back of his illustrious drinking career we are left with only one conclusion ‘What a homo’
We should not leave John’s university years without a brief stroll through his sparkling academic career.
John and myself read Engineering Science for which there were a series of about 6 or 7 exams at the end of each academic year, all of which contributed to your final mark.
There was one particular exam at the end of the first year that we both failed. This wasn’t to much of a problem as they allowed you to resit the exams in the summer. Now the examiners weren’t that bothered with the resits so the exams consisted of a few questions drawn from the last 4 years exam papers and always did. So in order to pass this exam all you needed to do was to learn the answers to about 20 questions by heart and you couldn’t possibly fail it. This exam was so simple that a brain damaged tree frog with a serious cocaine habit could have walked it with ease. John failed it AGAIN.
At the end of the second year a large part of our mark depended on a dissertation that we had to submit. The idea was you did all the practical work during the term and then spent the vacation working it into a carefully crafted literary masterpiece. By the end of term John hadn’t started his. He spent the vacation building a massive circuit board covered in components which was about the size of a single bed. We returned to university with 2 days to go before the submission deadline, with our proofread and neatly bound three copies of our final dissertations, to find that John was just starting to type – remembering this was all before the advent of computers and word processors – he was typing it directly onto a clapped out manual typewriter for submission, unfortunately it lacked the letter t and the number 7 so required some creative writing. The rest of household was kept up late into the night to sounds of furious two fingered typing – clack clack ckack fuck clack clack clack shit arse bollocks. Luckily he was able to take the huge circuit board thingy in and show that it did something useful, I think it made toast or something.
At the end of the third and final year about 6 weeks before the final exams myself and many others woke up to the fact that we had in fact been drunk for the last three years and we might need to actually do some work if we were not going to fail horribly. To this end I, along with everyone else started working furiously. I would work until about 6 in the library, returning to the house to grab something to eat and head back to the library – John would be watching children’s television.
The fact that he managed to scrape through with a third which speaks well, of the kindness of the examiners.
We cannot end a overview of John’s life without a brief mention of John’s photographic prowess, or as it is more commonly know. ‘Christ, here comes bloody Dickenson and his sodding camera again’.
I am sure we all owe a lot over the years to John’s constant recording of events. And, in a way today is a very good example of that. The number of people gathered here today shows just how many photographs John has of people having drunken sex with particularly unconvincing Thai ladyboys.
I understand he also has some pretty embarrassing photos of the men as well.
I would like to end on a slightly more serious note.
Whilst putting this speech together it did cross my mind that I have, perhaps, been less that wholly charitable in the picture that I have presented of John. I seem to have presented him a semi-evolved ape creature with the social skills of a kipper and the brains of a turnip, and whilst this is largely fair, it isn’t the whole story. As we all know he is, very generous with his time and energy for his friends and colleagues and will always pitch in to help whenever it is needed.
What is remarkable about John is that, of all the people I know, were you to lose touch with him for 10 or 20 years and then phone him in the middle of the night saying you needed his help and could be come now, he would immediately be on his way.
This is not in itself remarkable, I would hope that many of us would do that. What is remarkable is that if someone were to say to him at the time “ Hang on – you need to be up early – you’ve got a lot on , perhaps you could phone back and get them to find someone else.” That person would be confronted with a confused look because it would quite literally have not even occurred to him as an option to anything but come to your aid. This is not something you can say of many people
He goes out of his way not to publicise this, but he also does a lot of work for charity. He spends a great deal of time working with his preferred charity which is “The society for the rehabilitation of last breasted prostitutes.” He is so secretive about all the good works he does for them that he didn’t even want me to tell his wife about it!! But I think that kind of public spirit should really reach a wider audience.
Ladies and gentlemen please raise your glasses to the man for whom the phrase “well he can’t really help it but at least his hearts’ in the right place” might have been invented ...
John Dickenson.

* * * * John's reply and thank you * * * *

Well – just for the record, I’m still in my 40’s (for a few days more anyway)
I know I'm getting older, last week I found I have a grey curly hair “down there” , but I'm ok, it didn’t bother me . . . mind you the other people in the lift weren’t too impressed .
Today nearly didn’t happen, we were at home the other day, and I said “I love you”, Nikki said “that’s the beer talking”, I replied “NO, it was me…. But I was talking to the beer”
First, thanks to you all for coming, and for this surprise, and therefore for lying to me for the past few months… I confess I was a little suspicious last week when all of a sudden Matthew and I both needed a haircut !
I suppose I should reflect on the first 40 or so years…… and say something clever – that’s going to be tricky at my age before anyone else says it.
Pedro ?
So, I’ve made it to my late 40’s (despite my early driving skills and safety based footwear), and what have I achieved ?
Well I’ve managed to stay employed, probably more by luck than judgement, and have a home which for at least some of the time has been free of brick dust. I even now have a car that usually starts - probably because I have no longer have any idea how to open the bonnet..
so what are the highlights so far ?
While at Wellington I met most of my closest friends, then there was Exeter where and met some more wonderful friends and I got a degree (yes, a BSc , which of course stands for Beer and Skittles), and that enabled me to go to the BBC where I met my first wife, sorry, future, wife. I’ve seen bits of America , Africa and Australia, and many other places in between. I guess top of the list is our Wedding in 91 and the joy of my “little” baby boy (who’s so cute) no – just don’t stand up.
Above all, I am indeed a lucky person to have Nikki and Matthew in my life. Nikki who still puts up with me despite my incessant modesty, and Matthew who for some reason is ludicrously tall….. and of whom Nikki and I are immensely proud.
I also owe a huge thank you to Ken, who has been a mentor to me all my life. It is lovely to see him here today, and we are looking forward to celebrating his birthday next week.
At my wedding, yes many years ago, I said “you can judge a man by his friends”, and judging by most of you who are here again, I still reckon I’m doing pretty well ?
So , thank you all again for coming to this bash, and thank you all for making my first half century so enjoyable and thank you especially for all being my friends.
Finally, as a special thank you to She who organised this (as well as everything else in my life) , I propose a toast to Nikki – “to Nikki”
Thank you very much..