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MONTHLY BLOG 131, REMEMBERING ADRIAN AGAIN

If citing, please kindly acknowledge copyright © Penelope J. Corfield (2021)

Adrian Corfield,
on the South Coast seafront,
not long before his death from lymphoma at the age of forty-four.

Thinking about ‘Being Penelope’ (BLOG/130 October 2021) got me remembering – again – my next brother Adrian (1946-90). We were the oldest two of a close-knit tribe of six siblings. I’ve web-posted my obituary of him already.1 So I am not planning to repeat myself. Instead I am just distilling my thoughts on how bereavement feels, thirty-one years later.

Thoughts of Adrian are woven into my life. They don’t need to come at special moments. He was a happy person, one might say happy-go-lucky. So my memories are usually joyous ones. His smiling face is like a benison.

One fun thing, when we were kids, was our laughing game. It was an enjoyable way of passing the time, if we were confined to home by bad weather (say) on a dank November afternoon. One sibling would be selected to start laughing. The rest were enjoined to keep their faces straight. The test was to see how long the non-laughers could resist. Adrian was especially good at giving a contagious chuckle and making funny faces. Soon we would all be laughing uncontrollably. And if a parent popped in to ask: ‘What’s the joke, kids?’ our glee was redoubled. It was not a game which we played all the time. But it was a great reserve for raising everyone’s spirits on a gloomy afternoon. And shared laughter is very bonding.

Remembering an emotionally close sibling also reminds me of the almost instinctive bonds between children brought up together from the earliest age. There are many people in life to whom I feel warm links. Yet those are all, to a greater or lesser extent, chosen and cultivated during my lifetime. My bond with Adrian was not something that I chose. It just happened, because we were very close in age within an emotionally tightly-knit household. I would not say that I understood all of Adrian’s thoughts, especially as we got older and our daily lives diverged. Yet, when young, I effortlessly understood his emotions, moods and reactions, just as he understood mine. Quite probably twins who are close and are brought up together feel this form of identification even more strongly.

Consequently, when Adrian died, I felt that an entire branch of my specialist knowledge was nullified.  It was a bit like losing an arm or a leg. It’s a shock that always remains a shock. Plenty of other people know me tolerably well, as I know them tolerably well. But no-one now understands my reactions in the instinctive way that Adrian did. It’s not a matter that I go round bewailing. In some ways, it’s quite nice to maintain my adult mystery. Yet it’s still a startling experience, to lose someone who was so close. (And talking with others who have lost siblings, I know that shocked feeling is quite common).

Lastly, as life continues, I am increasingly conscious of one big issue which concerned Adrian greatly. He was a biologist; and, in the 1980s, was already lecturing his friends and family on the importance of maintaining global biodiversity. How right he was; and is!

Today, he would be beside himself with anxiety about climate change. As the urgency of the issue escalates, he would be one of the very many calling for immediate action to halt the process or at least to coordinate global attempts at alleviation. Adrian was not a political joiner. So he never became a member of the Greens, though that was the logic of his position. Today, I am sure that he would be marching with the recent crowds of protestors in London (as in many other international capitals) against the role of the big banks in funding fossil fuel extractions.

Would the failure of the world’s political leaders to undertake serious action during the last thirty years alarm him? Greatly. Would it dent his chronic optimism? Perhaps somewhat, though he would doubtless rally to say that the global emergency will finally force everyone, not least political leaders, to take urgent action. `

And what else? He would echo the brilliantly succinct warning from Greta Thunberg: ‘There is no planet-B’.

ENDNOTES:

1 PJC, ‘Remembering Adrian Corfield (1946-90)’, in https://www.penelopejcorfield.com/PDFs/7.4.3-Corfield-Adrian-Memories.pdf. With my siblings, we organise an annual walk in his honour on the majestic outcrop of Beachy Head, near Eastbourne: views are magnificent and larks sing high above.

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MEMORIES – ADRIAN CORFIELD (1946-1990)

[Having been prompted to pen a brief account of Adrian’s life

by one of his old College friends,

I found that the memories just flowed.

So I’ve decided to web-publish this account in honour of Adrian

and his two grand-daughters, the second of whom was born yesterday.

P.J.C. 14 February 2014]

Adrian Corfield, also known to family and old friends as Ady, was a happy person, and he had a happy life, lived exuberantly. It was almost unbelievable that someone of such an unflaggingly cheerful and optimistic personality should die in mid-life of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Before that happened, Adrian had certainly packed a lot into his 44 years. He was the second of six siblings, with loving parents, who brought up the family in simplicity and strong left-wing principles. There were lots of children’s games, books read aloud, cricket on the beach at family seaside holidays, laughter, and singing around the piano. Adrian himself was always the most cheerful and active among the throng. He loved company and he loved competitive sports, in his teens playing rugby (as anything from fly half to inside or outside centre) to almost Kent County standard. His next brother Julian spent hours with him, when they were kids, playing football and cricket in the back garden – and, on one memorable occasion, hurling coals purloined from the outside coal-shed, in a great trajectory over two fences into the next-but-one neighbour’s back-garden.

As a student, Adrian always lived on his wits, being averse to long periods of study. But his wits were good and he did well. He went from Chislehurst & Sidcup Boys County Grammar School (as it then was) to Oriel College Oxford (1965-8) to read Biology; and he got his Second, surprising his tutor in the process – not because Adrian lacked abilities but because he left his revision to the absolute last minute. He had found College life difficult at first, finding many public school Oxonians to be snooty and unapproachable. But, being a gregarious person, he eventually enjoyed the Oxford experience, becoming as much a part of town as of gown. His many friends remember him with great affection. Dave Sherrif (Oriel 1965-8) recalls Adrian as ‘a contemporary hero, athletic, good-looking, clever, full of fun, a bit of a rebel but without an ounce of malice. The rugby field was one of the few places where Adrian seemed to obey the rules’. He always loved parties, at which he would arrive on his motor-bike, accompanied by a beautiful girlfriend. And he was always restlessly active, playing harmless pranks and College rugby with equal enthusiasm. Adrian kept up all his family contacts while he was a student. He often visited our ever-effervescent cousin Jojo at his East Hendred (Oxon) general store and dairy, helping Jojo to repair old cars and to organise the dairy round; and Adrian enjoyed home lunches on Sundays with our uncle Christopher Hill, then Master of Balliol College Oxford, but never one to stand on dignity.

After University, Adrian’s career was highly eclectic. He renovated dilapidated but characterful old properties; he restored an old barge, moored by Oxford’s Port Meadow, on which he lived for a while; he taught at a crammer in Pimlico; he did an MSc in Environmental Sciences at Manchester University; he taught at a secondary school in Telford, whilst co-running a restaurant on a barge moored in Shrewsbury; and, finally two years before his death, he found his ideal job as a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences at Brighton University. His forte there was inducting nervous new recruits into the joys of student life. How Adrian would have coped long-term with the dragooning of academics in the increasingly regimented world of today’s Universities remains a moot point. But he was a pioneer of student-centred learning in its most positive guise; and his collegiality and his capacity to enthuse his students would have stood him in good stead.

In the course of all this, Adrian lived simply, not seeking to make money. He was a ‘Green’ before such issues became fashionable and was an early-warner of the dangers of climate change. He loved intensely, with a string of ardent relationships. He and the Corfield family remained especially friendly with three long-term partners: Wendy Mason (née Crew) who died from a brain tumour in 2000; Claire Grove, the radio drama producer, who has recently died; and Maria Bradshaw, who was with Adrian in hospital when he himself died. It was fitting that such a companionable man was in love and loved at the end. His ashes are scattered at Beachy Head, a beauty spot in which he took great delight. And some members of the Corfields walk on the cliff-tops each June in honour of his memory.

Adrian is survived by his daughter with Wendy, Melissa Hunter (née Corfield), and by his two grand-daughters, Scarlett (b.2012) and Jamie (b.2014). As a man who believed in women as equals, he would today be delighting in the feisty females who are his descendants. Adrian would, however, still be warning us all, ever more urgently, about the challenge of global warning.

Note: Adrian’s parents Alan ‘Tony’ Corfield and Irene Corfield were commemorated in short obituaries by PJC in The Guardian on 2 Sept. 2011 and 18 May 2013 respectively; and these accounts are also available on PJC’s website www.penelopejcorfield.co.uk. An obituary of Claire Grove by Maxine Irving was also published in The Guardian, 5 December 2013.

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