Last week saw the departure of one of the most special people I have ever met. Howard Marks was like marmite, you loved him or hated him and during the numerous talks and personal gigs to which I accompanied him, I witnessed numerous people adore him but also a few who abhorred him for his controversial lifestyle and the fact that he continued to make a living talking about it long after he had even served time for it.
Despite his career choices, he was clever, articulate and charismatic beyond words.
We struck a deal very early on and that was that I would try drugs when he had completed his first marathon, that way we were both quietly confident that neither would have to partake in the others preferred recreation. It worked well. There were so many other areas of commonality.
He loved Crickhowell and numerous memorable stories were created during his visits.
Like the time he came to stay for The Green Man Festival at Glanusk. He was due to get into Abergavenny train station early in the evening but got an earlier train and phoned me whilst I was working in Llangynidr to tell me he was at the station. I agreed to leave my brother working in the garden which we were tidying up, and to pop and pick him up. We went straight back to Llangynidr for me to collect the grass clippings for my pet pigs; my brother had also kept all the sheppards purse, chickweed and sow thistles for the pigs too but as I didn’t have room in by truck, he agreed to take them home for me.
On the back road from Llangynidr to Crickhowell the police were stopping cars to carry out random vehicle checks because of the Festival. They stopped us and asked what was in the back of the truck. In his inimitable charismatic way Howard immediately replied, “A load of grass … for the pigs.” Before the policeman could pick his jaw off the floor Howard continued, “And her brother is in the truck behind loaded up with weed.”
He told the story often at his various speaking events.
His biggest grievance was not the justice system or accusatory hecklers but bad grammar. He had a tremendous respect for nature, plants and wildlife and was always fascinated to learn about the behaviour of my bees and the pigs – the fact that the pigs had learned to flip a large stone over onto a low electric fence to earth it delighted him.
And he generously shared an endless stream of knowledge too. He was thrilled to call me late one night to tell me he had just read that when God created animals he gave each one a weapon to defend themselves with. The bee asked for a sting, which would be poisonous enough to kill anyone who was stung, this way they would be able to protect their honey. God agreed to give them a sting but declared it was not the man who was stung that should die but the bee itself. That way the sting would only be used when absolutely necessary.
So very much more than his media persona, Howard was not everyone’s cup of tea but as he would often shrug and say with a grin, “Who wants tea? I’ll have a large glass of red wine please.”
Written for, and published, by the Tindle Group of Newspapers.