Sunday, 15 May 2011

Neville Evans

I can’t off the top of my head recall if this anecdote comes from David Niven’s “The Moon’s A Balloon” or his “Bring on The Empty Horses.” However I distinctly remember reading in one of the books that he was once staying with sir Noel Coward in Jamaica, and the two of them were reminiscing. Niven remarked that he was sad because he’d reached that stage of life when more and more of his friends were dying. To which Noel Coward replied “Personally I’m glad if mine make it through lunch.”

I started in my career as a quizzer at the relatively tender age of 23 and a half. This was back in the late 80s, when pub quizzing didn’t really seem as popular amongst twentysomethings as it is now. So it does stand to reason that my oldest quiz friends are literally my oldest friends. Many of my first quiz friends were in their 40 s and 50s then, and this was 23 years ago. It was only in my last post that I mentioned again my old friend Allan Coombs, who passed away a year ago. In one of life’s little ironies I was saddened to hear on Friday that another old friend of mine, Neville Evans, has passed away. Unlike Allan, Neville was not a very serious quizzer, but it was Neville who first made me into one. My wife grew up in the same street where Neville and his family lived. Mary and his daughter Anna became very good friends, and on top of that, Neville taught Rural Science in the school they both attended. So even after Mary’s family moved house, the two families still kept in touch. I can’t say that I felt that I knew Neville that well when he turned up on my doorstep a day or two after the birth of my son Mike, and announced that he was taking me out to wet the baby’s head at the Railway Club. Neville was a regular player in the Thursday night quiz there.

I enjoyed that evening so much that the Thursday quiz in the Railway club became the regular highlight of my week. Within a very short space of time I was in the club’s Port Talbot Quiz League team, and I was hooked. And Neville, for a long time, was my closest friend.

As I said, a serious quizzer he wasn’t , although his general knowledge was more than good enough for him to hold down a place in our league team until the whole thing broke down 3 or 4 years later. But as a man, Neville was remarkable, a genuine original in every way possible. For one thing, once he retired from teaching he began his own business making and selling replica Manx Norton motorcycles in his front room ( he did have a big house). Three days before my driving test, Neville turned up at my house and announced that he was going to take me out for a bit of practice. ‘A bit of practice’ turned out to be a lot of testing the route for the Black Mountain Rally the next weekend. I have been as frightened as I was on that day a few times since, but not many. Yet it must have worked, since I passed my test. Nev must have been a hell of a teacher, since whenever we’d go to quizzes in pubs throughout the length and breadth of Port Talbot men in their twenties, thirties and forties would forever be coming up to him, shaking his hand , and reminiscing about some or other of Neville’s more eccentric lessons. Whenever and wherever you were with Neville it didn't seem to matter. There was always somebody there who knew him. In fact the rest of the league team and I had a theory about what we thought of as ‘the Neville Evans Magnetic Effect’. Neville had been in the RAF in the 50s , in his own words ‘single-handedly holding back the red hordes across the Rhine’ . The rest of the team reckoned that if by some miracle we had been invited to represent Port Talbot in an international competition, held in Ulaan Baatar, for the sake of argument, someone would walk straight up to us on the street , holding out their Mongolian hand, saying the Mongolian equivalent of
“Ah, Neville ! How are you ? How long has it been ?” He simply knew people everywhere.

Well, the team broke up , when Allan became sick, Noel moved away, and the league folded. Though I still saw quite a bit of Neville, we didn’t tend to go to quizzes together any more. I’d go up to his place to watch the 5 Nations matches with him – an interesting experience since Neville, being a true Welshman always supported two teams – Wales, and whoever was playing against England. But we really did lose touch when Anna, his daughter, married and moved away to Gorseinon, and we moved away from one part of Port Talbot to another. We maybe saw each other and spoke to each other two or three times a year for the last two or three years, and I last spoke to him about three weeks ago. It happens. But the memory of those few years in the late 80s and early 90s were amongst the most memorable and happiest times of my quizzing career. Neville, thank you. You were the sort of person who leaves a man richer for having known you. Thanks for being a good mate. Rest in Peace.

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