Pierre was what any generation would call a Character and a world-class raconteur. He was what my grandfather’s generation would have called a pen pal and mine calls an Internet friend–someone I knew semi-intimately through their writing first on USENET and then later, on a private mailing list. I knew him for close to thirty years but only met him one time on a group video call.
The first adventure of his I recall reading about was his participation in a North African car rally. My faulty memory wants to believe it was the Dakar Rally and that he was engaged as a photographer, which was another one of his creative outlets. His dispatches then and until the end of his life had a Hunter S. Thompson-esque flavor and I recall his hilarious narration of mechanical breakdowns and the trials and tribulations of journeying in a desert where you don’t speak the language.
At one point he included a selfie shot of him and the driver in the desert. His thin frame looked dusty and dirty. His curly hair was an unruly windswept nest atop his head. Underneath his bushy moustache was the smile of a person who looked like they were having the time of their life. I’m certain he was.
Pierre lived in the UK and was a keen observer of regional and cultural dialects and class distinctions as he travelled across the country for work. He had a knack for meeting or observing interesting people and I always envied his characterizations and ability to transcribe their patois. His missives through the years were a delight to read. A more memorable story of his from a 1994 trip to Brighton recounted witnessing some London businessmen out to dinner with sex workers:
They were loud, and brash, and drunk, and they were loaded – and wanted everyone to know it. … Sleazebag was trying very hard to look like John Travolta in his cream linen suit and dark open-necked shirt. His gleaming pate and greased-back remains of dandruff-encrusted hair spoilt the effect a bit, though. Both were dripping with ugly, chunky jewelry. … My main course, and a carafe of wine, arrived, and I got stuck in. I could still hear them though, singing and shouting and giving the restaurant staff hell. “Oy, Angelo! Gessanuvva bottla wine! An’ none of that fuckin’ Shyanti crap like before. Gessa bottla Valpollywotsit, pronto!”
The story unfolds in a way that would make Guy Ritchie blush and concludes with his vicious hangover the next morning.
Many of his stories orbited around alcohol-fueled behavior, either his own or others’. His last home was in a live-aboard in a marina surrounded by a cast of other characters who lived there and in the local pub. He recounted plumbing problems, bodies alive or otherwise in the water, motorcycle crashes, dating adventures, mentally ill neighbors, and the drama that would spill from the pub and end up on his boat and vice versa.
There’s no sugarcoating that his final years were rough, physically and mentally. It was distressing to watch from afar. He lost his high-tech career and worked a variety of odd jobs. He suffered from a number of physical ailments that caused him great pain at times and limited his mobility. The UK’s medical system has been trending towards the US’s for over a decade, and he was chronically under-treated.
His stories, which used to be torrents with hundreds or thousands of words, shrunk to a few sentences of tantalizing vignettes or cryptic hints of more to come that never came. When he was finally diagnosed with cancer and ended up in hospital, that trickle of words turned to drops until his tap ran dry.
One happy constant in his restless and unpredictable life was his love for his boys. He was very proud of the men they had become and it came through whenever he wrote about them. I send my heartfelt condolences to them.
Pierre’s is a peculiar grief to me. I have lost a favorite author and I grieve not only the loss of his life but the loss of his words. As much as watching him from afar could be maddening when he made sub-optimal decisions, I will miss the unbridled joy and piercing insight about people he shared through his stories, like when he was hired to photograph Grace Jones at a club and described her and her entourage in devastating detail or detailed the eccentricities and travails of local village inhabitants.
Farewell, Prophet, you mad motherfucker. Send a letter from the beyond, willya?