Who could have foreseen the trajectory from watching a charismatic, Jamaican gentleman talking about important things on the television as a teenager to sitting opposite him as an adult at his kitchen table, really, actually talking to him?
When you only know some things about art, politics, and culture then get the opportunity to work with a man who knows everything about everything how on earth are you going to contribute to the conversation? The first time I worked with Stuart (on the developments of Rivington Place) my hands were shaking. I suffer from performance anxiety, and this made it impossible for me to write coherently. I think it was the word emeritus that I stumbled over. God only knows what Stuart was thinking… But his generosity, sensitivity and humour soon put me at ease, and over time to my surprise and delight we became great friends. We had many a conversation: Rivington Place (of course), art, politics, culture, life, health, soup and other meals; and a favourite – our love of toast and our unwitting roles as the family toast burners! Which always made us laugh.
My Thursdays between 2003 and 2007 had an exquisite rhythm and syncopation: the train from Dalston to West Hampstead, my footsteps up West End Lane, the Ulysses Road doorbell, Stuart’s footsteps across the hallway, our greeting, our footsteps to Stuart’s study, the computer waking up, Stuart’s cadence, our laughter. He left for dialysis at 12.30pm. I stayed until 3.30pm finishing paperwork, pausing now and then to gaze out at the London skyline. I always felt some disappointment and sorrow – that our working day could not be longer, and that he had to go through his regular treatment.
Stuart taught me so much about so much; made me feel a sense of place. He genuinely cared. Once, in 2012 when I went to visit him, he gave me an exceptional and impromptu ‘lecture’ on “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” and rescued me from defeat at a very troubling period in my life.
Every year on the 10th February I make two slices of toast. Each year I have unwittingly burnt them. This has made me cry, and then smile.
I miss him.