Friday, 15 February 2019

Dave Reeder: A tribute


The bemused look on Dave Reeder's face as he poses alongside a permanently preening Paris Hilton epitomises the man. Entirely unimpressed by celebrity for its own sake, he was far happier when interviewing chefs, discussing food and wine, and laughing uproariously with friends.

It came as a shock to wake up this morning to the news that Dave had died. And it was not as if he died in the last day or so - in this online age, we tend to learn about the passing of friends and family quickly. But, in a final tragic irony for a man who was a copious communicator and prolific writer, it turns out that he died last November and the news only filtered through to many of us in the past 24 hours.

In the last couple of years of Dave's life, he was struggling with health issues, with having to put aside plans to retire to France and instead live in his late parents' house in Devon, and with trying to rationalise his possessions which had filled every room, but he was still Dave. Facebook is deviously good at making people feel like they are not alone - for Dave, it was a place for him to update everyone on the minutiae of his life, as well as his thoughts on the state of the world and his strong opinions on food, as he lived alone in a cold house, where mountains of unsorted boxes were preventing him from bleeding the radiators.

But in between massive overshares about his assorted medical conditions (some of us are still recovering from his "arse tags" revelation...), the essential Dave was still there online, reporting from the house in Chagford or the village pub, defending his pescatarianism, expressing his sorrow at the terror attacks in Paris, despairing at the hell of ready-meals and people who can't cook, flying the flag for atheism, reporting on cheese and wine combinations, getting involved in spirited online debates.

And that was Dave at his best - the bemused raconteur with plenty to say. This morning, I thought back to meeting him for the first time. We were both working in Dubai and, over much wine, we debated the ethics of eating meat, agreeing to always disagree when I said that I had no moral issue with eating animals. 

Then I remembered when I last saw Dave in person - we met at a pub in London a few years back and I turned up with my dress tucked into my tights - a faux pas I only realised when I took my coat off before going to the bar - and walked across the pub with my bum on display. I can still hear him roaring with laughter. I chose the restaurant for dinner poorly - Maggie Jones is one of my favourite places in all of London but it slipped my mind that it is a terrible restaurant for anyone who doesn't eat meat. He pulled a face similar to the one in the photo with Paris Hilton as he perused the menu for a dish that would not offend his sensibilities, finally ordering the standard option offered by a chef who can't be arsed with vegetarians, a beetroot and goat's cheese tart. I, meanwhile, had the venison and he rolled his eyes and laughed loudly again. It is a restaurant where they charge for fine French wine by the inch from jeroboams - this amused him and all was well with the world again.

And since then, we communicated via Facebook. Quite a few of us became increasingly worried about him as he was slowly swallowed whole by boxes that needed to be unpacked, and by a collection of vintage horror books and magazines that he wanted to catalogue for sale to shore up his retirement fund. Tough love Facebook interventions were held, urging him to make a start, little by little, on the boxes, to accept the local offers of help, sharing links to vintage book dealers in the county who might be able to value his collection and maybe take the tomes off his hands. Dave became a frustrating, frustrated version of himself as he was increasingly overwhelmed by the house, his health issues and his disappointment about not being able to easily retire to his beloved France.

He last posted on Facebook on November 23 and it was a microcosm of his life towards the end - it appears that he had started cooking the formerly derided ready-meals instead of making dishes from scratch and sharing his tips on his page, but he was still dripping with his trademark sardonic tone: "Tesco is really losing the plot. A search for Thai ready-meals throws up ''Tesco Mushroom Stroganoff With Wild Rice' as its top suggestion. Such a well-known Thai dish..."

His birthday was on February 7. We all posted the obligatory Facebook birthday greetings, inquired about his wellbeing and wondered why he had been so uncharacteristically quiet. But it was a birthday he never quite got around to, all of us blissfully unaware that he had not been with us for a while. The sense that you are not alone with Facebook is merely illusory. A friend and I had talked about driving a van down to Chagford, turning up on his doorstep and blitzing the boxes. Maybe we should have set aside a weekend to do just that. Maybe we all could have done more. We will never quite know. 

The loose ends death almost always leave behind remain unbearably frayed, a ragged edge with which we must make peace.

What we do know is that a funny, smart, sometimes infuriating presence has gone from our lives. But he leaves behind a great legacy as a journalist and editor, as a mentor to many a young hack, as a staunch defender of print journalism. He would send me copies of the last magazine he edited before he retired, asking for my opinion on the contents and covers - for all his eagerness to be the first to share his views on everything from Bram Stoker to Brexit, Dave still sought out the honest opinions of people he respected. It was a privilege to be respected by Dave.

Despite living the latter years of his life largely online, Dave was always an entertaining presence in the real world. We should remember him with joy, with wine, and with opinionated but friendly debates, ideally over the dinner table with fine cheese to finish.





















7 comments:

  1. Oh Georgia, like you I didn't know, but was puzzled by his increasing lack of presence on the web. I didn't even know he was ill.

    Dave I met in the 19th Hole at the Montgomery Golf Club, his choice of venue for a job interview. We recognised kindred spirits, and from that day onward I loosely worked with or for him on a variety of projects. He certainly made me a better magazine editor.

    That he is no longer with us is a great loss. He had a wealth of stories about computer magazines and the vicissitudes of publishing in London in a changing media world, he was a friend and confidante of very many chefs in Dubai and further afield and his culinary knowledge was encyclopeadic. Mine will be one of a multitude of glasses raised in his memory.

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  2. I couldn't believe it when you messaged me this morning ... We had only joked a few days before .. 'where is the silly bugger?' it haunts me he died alone...

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  3. Thank you for this post. It sums him up perfectly. I feel terrible for not doing something about finding out more when he disappeared from FB

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  4. I can't beleive he has passed. Thank you Georgia for such a beautiful piece, so representative of him...

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  5. Link to this post now widely shared, by me and on the FictionMags Yahoo Group, by others.

    It sounds like he was overwhelmed by his possessions and didn't know quite where to start in coping—a common event for so many of us.

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  6. Very sorry to hear of his passing. He was a frequent commentator on my posts to Facebook and in a small but dedicated group of comics enthusiasts on Yahoo. He will be much missed.

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  7. You utter, utter bastard. That was beautiful. I can only hope to have such a beautiful obituary. #damnonionninjas

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