I wrote this post early yesterday morning, in anticipation of the day ahead.

Anthony Christopher Knowles

25 May 1973 – 9 March 2024

Later today, I will help carry the coffin containing our dear friend Ant into the crematorium.

It was approaching 9 pm on Saturday 9 March when Ant’s heart stopped beating without warning. He was 50 years old.

I knew just one corner of Ant’s life, but this is what I knew.

Ant was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever known. As my son Olly said, he was the ‘epitome of loveliness.’

I first met him twenty or more years back at interminably boring Learning & Skills Council meetings he and I both had to attend. He was the only one there who shared my view that we were wasting our time!

He was measured in his approach to life. I remember him saying that he could not see the point of being worried about anything. And I don’t think I ever saw him appear stressed. He embodied hope and optimism.

Ant was thoughtful and helpful. If he could do you a favour, he would. He was utterly reliable. He had genuine integrity. He was never moody. He was never a drain – always the warmest radiator.

Early morning on the three Sundays before he passed, Ant and I played tennis together. They were golden games, bathed in the diffused light of the university indoor courts. He was the same, whether he won or lost at tennis – he just enjoyed playing. His style of play reflected the man – he eschewed brute force, preferring unerring accuracy and deft touch.

He loved life and loved Susie and their children Ellie and James unreservedly. He always saw the good in people. I always looked forward to seeing him – he made you feel good and was forever interested in what you were doing. Ant worked hard. He achieved so much himself but never boasted about achievements he had every right to be proud of. He just got on and made sure he helped other people feel better for having spent time in his orbit.

Ant was cool. He was stylish and cultured. We shared a love of the same music – we saw Fontaines DC together several times – and of course we both loved Manchester United. Hugging him in the Stretford End when we beat Liverpool a couple of seasons ago was joyful!

He was always keen to try new things. He caught a huge carp when we first went fishing together, him sliding around on the damp bank in his work shoes. And this sonnet tells the story of when Ant and I went fishing at dawn on the Saturday morning of the Gentlemen’s Walking Weekend, 2018 at Lealholm in deepest North Yorkshire:

Ironically, 9 March is annual ‘Get Over It Day’. Who knew? And since 9 March, we have all been trying to make sense of Ant’s passing. There have been two profound – and largely unspoken – realisations, one for our group of friends and one for our children. For us, Ant’s peers, his death has, shockingly and unexpectedly, heralded the next phase of our lives. So, this is how it all starts, eh? And for our children, the fact that we won’t always be around for them has been made all too real.

Death is an ever-present in our lives, yet when we confront death it is always on death’s terms, when death chooses. How helpful might it be for us if we accepted death’s inevitability more openly? Oliver Burkeman reflects upon the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, who claimed that, ‘Each time you kiss your child goodnight, you should specifically consider the possibility that she might die tomorrow…the practice will make you love her all the more, while simultaneously reducing the shock should that awful eventuality ever come to pass’.  The terrible, unspoken fear of all parents confronted and, consequently, ameliorated.

The proverbial silver lining which emerged from losing my father when I was only 20 years old was my acceptance that we are here only temporarily, that we have to live life as fully as we can and that nothing should be taken too seriously. As Burkeman points out, ‘the more that you remain aware of life’s finitude, the more you will cherish it, and the less likely you will be to fritter it away on distractions’. 

But Ant’s death has hit me hard. No amount of philosophising mitigates the fact of him not being here. And I don’t know how to live; I am torn, metaphorically, between giving up cheese completely, or eating as much mature cheddar as I can lay my hands on. I want to live forever – as Robert Frost wrote in his poem Birches, ‘Earth’s the right place for love:/ I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.’ – but I know I won’t. And now, I really do know I won’t.

What Ant’s passing has done is make the fact of being alive more intense. As Burkeman points out, ‘our lives, thanks to their finitude, are inevitably full of activities that we’re doing for the very last time… Yet usually there’ll be no way to know, in the moment itself, that you’re doing it for the last time… we should therefore try to treat every experience with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it.’ So, playing tennis yesterday afternoon with Stephen – on the very same court where I played with Ant on those Sundays before he died – moment after moment was quietly cherished; each outright winner, each backhand into the net, held in my mind a little longer and gentler than normal.

And in the future, I will be sure to live by Mark Twain’s maxim, which goes something like this: Never complain about getting old – it’s not a gift bestowed on everyone.

One of the new bands that I was getting into with Ant was Yard Act. Their sublime song ‘100% Endurance’ contains the lines, ‘And when you’re gone/ It brings me peace of mind to know that this will all just carry on/ With someone else/ With something new/ No need to be blue.’ And whilst I’m afraid we will be blue for a long time yet, those lines are true. The point of life is to live it. When we shoulder Ant into his final resting place, I will be celebrating the moments we shared rather than mourning those we’ve been denied. I’m not sure what else there is to do.

3 April 2024, 8.45am

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This post has 4 Comments

4
  1. A beautiful tribute to somebody who sounds like an absolute beauty. The space they leave when they go, such stars, is immense and will never quite be filled, whatever future glories may come – as they will. I hope the farewells have been as golden as he seems to have been. Blessings to you all.

  2. Beautifully written.
    This grief seems to grow when you realise it’s permanent – that you will never get the opportunity, one last time, to speak to Ant, to hear his laugh.

    It’s a lovely tribute to the most gorgeous person, our dear, dear friend.

  3. Lovely, well written insight to a friendship and kudos for taking the time to write.
    Not surprised to hear what a nice person he turned out to be, he was a decent kid at school.
    Liked his football and The Smiths/Joy Division, down side being he liked Man U but nobody’s perfect.

    Here’s to you Chippy 🍻

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