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That’s all, Folks

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There’s something very difficult about having to accept a senseless death. The last few days have been a blur of activity – informing friends, cancelling bank accounts, organising the funeral and coping with the waves of grief that still flood through when reality comes knocking.

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Flowers have continued to arrive at the accident site, and on our many visits we bumped into several people who knew and liked him, wanting to show their respects. The reports in the local papers were surprisingly surreal. The clearing out of his bedroom is a severe hardship – especially as we’ve discovered he’s a very fine hoarder of everything he could get his hands on. Scanning through his digital camera pictures showed his sense of humour and sociable life, with no expectation of it ending so soon. I think many people are still expecting Paul to poke his head around the door and explain that it was his most elaborate practical joke ever – or at the very least spend a few minutes explaining why it happened and say goodbye.
But slowly the realisation sinks in that he will never come, a fact that hit home yesterday afternoon when the funeral took place.

Paul Cooke
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We all tried to keep busy in the morning, but by two o’clock events were becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. By three o’clock we arrived at his house with the rest of the family, and at four o’clock reality dawned. The black parade of hearses arrived outside, and the most difficult of hours had arrived. We travelled behind the black cars, negotiating the frustratingly uncaring cars through to pull away in front and in the middle of us all the way to Guildford Crematorium. On arrival, the sheer amount of people that had turned up stunned us. Over 300 mourners had arrived, and within a few minutes would be trying to squeeze into a room designed for no more than 150. We joined the front of the queue, and at that moment Matthew, Michelle’s brother, decided that he wanted to carry the coffin. We rallied round in support, and so it was that in the midst of all the emotion of the packed room, Matthew, Glyn, Oliver and I paced slowly down the aisle, a wooden coffin baring down on our shoulders and dusting our suits.
For the rest of the service I stared mostly at the floor, trying to ignore the vicar’s words. After twenty long minutes, we wandered out to view the flowers that had been sent – and then,

Paul Cooke
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not wanting to prolong the anguish, we headed for the wake, which was taking place at his local pub. It was probably the best night the pub had ever had – a full pub, enormous rounds of beer and sandwiches being consumed and speeches and stories of Paul, including a rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life which summed him up to a tee. The celebrations died down as the pub started to close its doors – but there was no doubt Paul would have approved. Even the taxi driver knew Paul, remembering the many times he took him from the pub to the local nighlife. “He was full of life, top banana. He’ll be missed.” And don’t we know it.
All this, and I’m not even a member of the family. The things I see, feel and decribe are only a tenth of what his immediate family are going through. So what now for them? Tying up of loose ends,

Paul Cooke
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then getting on with life, I suppose. Now the hustle and bustle of morbid planning is done, maybe the reality will hit in the coming days and weeks. On the other hand, maybe now things are more or less over it will be easier to move on. The most useful part of the whole experience seems to be that it brings life’s troubles into perspective, reminding us to make the most of things while we can. The worst part, for me at any rate, is that he never knew how much his family (and specifically his children) loved him. In fact, *they* never knew how much they loved him. So make sure you appreciate and show your appreciation for your nearest and dearest – before its too late.
(A small photo gallery is available here. If you have any photos to contribute, let me know)

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You may have noticed I’m a slave for technology. The way technology is helping our lives really floats my particular boat. Take my phone, for instance. It’s an XDAII – a phone with a processor inside it more powerful than my mother’s computer, allowing it to become a handheld computer, digital camera, calendar, email client, all sorts of things. It means wherever I am I can check emails, websites, keeping in touch with all the same things I can in the office. I’ve no idea how I coped without it before.
So imagine my delight when I found The Guardian Digital Edition. I’m not a regular Guardian reader, but it’s a nice antidote to the rantings the Daily Mail usually feeds me. The Digital Edition is essentially a newspaper, but online. No trees felled, no newspaper to lose on the underground – just point at an article on a page and click. Why go to the grubby newsagent when you can sit in the comfort of your armchair pointing and clicking? It’s another reason never to live your living room. We’ll all become social recluses – it’s the future, I tell you.

The End Of Sparky

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“Thank you all so, so much. You have made every night I’ve been here a special experience.”
Sparky, closing speech, 6th March 2004
What a splendid morning it is. The birds are singing, the trees are swaying, and my Student Loan Repayment Notification announced itself on
my doormat.
Still, Saturday night, the Last Encore, was a corker. Over the years, the Open Mike night at the Cranley Hotel has evolved into a one-man show, with others filling in admirably when the main man needs a rest. “Sparky” is that main man, and the emotional end last night was a fitting tribute. We’d prepared for the slaughter – Shunta had made special personalised Last Encore t-shirts for the male half of the group, and rooms were booked in the hotel, so at the end of the hazy night all we had to do was climb the stairs to welcoming beds.

Jac, Shaun and others filled in during the night, while the rest of us (Michelle, Alex, Siobhan, Sophie and Debs) found the alcohol slipped down our throats splendidly, in exactly the same way a set of razor blades wouldn’t. By around ten o’clock, Jac and I were muttering bizarre conversations (“My rooms has a four poster bed, without the four posts.” “So it?s a bed then.”) The climax (as it were) came (so to speak) at around 11.30, when Sparky finished off (stop it with the double entendres, will you) with his trademark chest-thumping acapella version of “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz”. It was an amazing moment, caught for posterity by Michelle’s new digital camera (videos and pictures will be up soon).
So that?s it. No more Sparky. What will Cranleighans do now of a Saturday night?
Update: Photos are now online.

M4 Speed Cameras

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From the petrolheads at Max Power, and courtesy of the FHM Newsletter:
“Those new electronic signs on the M4 were switched on last Tuesday. The bad news is that they are rigged with the SPECS speed cameras. SPECS is a computer-camera based system. As you go past the sign a digital camera reads your number plate. When you go past the next sign your number plate is read again. The computer ‘knows’ how far apart the signs are so it can work out your average speed between the two, or three or four. The system is fully automatic and will issue a ticket without any form of human intervention. It does this for every single vehicle that passes. You will not know you’ve been caught as the cameras don’t flash. They work 24/7, 365 days a year, and theoretically, there’s absolutely no limit on the number of tickets that the system can issue. The whole section of the M4 between Theale (J12) and Membury Services (between 14 and 15) is wired, both ways. The system is set to trigger a ticket at 78 mph. Radar detectors will be of no use as SPECS is entirely passive, there is no radar or laser beam to detect. Be warned and spread the news.”
UPDATE: Turns out it’s all a load of tripe – this BBC article reveals its all a hoax. Accelerator down…
UPDATE 12th April 2005: Intriguingly, this hoax has now turned out to be true