Robert Baird - R.I.P.
We called him 'Bimbo' when he was a kid. Whether he was nicknamed after the Jim Reeves song or the nursery comic for children, well - if anyone ever asked him its origin, I never got to hear about it. He was in my primary school class (though not secondary as I went a year ahead of him), and was also my next door neighbour from 1965 until 1972 when I moved to another part of town. I occasionally saw him around our secondary school (which I yet attended even after vacating the area), but couldn't say with any precision when sight of him ceased. It was many years later that I learned he and his family had moved to England not long* after we'd flitted, and I'm told he eventually did very well for himself in a high-level position at BP.
(*Update: A friend of his says that he moved to Essex in 1976, though I'm unsure whether that was straight from Scotland or from somewhere else down south. I'll have to check.)
A few months back, he joined a Facebook group for our old school and we exchanged a few friendly messages. I was surprised that he remembered me to be honest, and he even recalled my brother's name. He didn't remain a member for long (couple of days maybe), due to some others complaining about photographs of our old primary school building being posted, though the group's founder didn't mind as it as it increased participation among the members. What was their gripe? That it was a site for former pupils of that particular secondary school, not a primary one, even though many of the pupils had come from the same primary. Robert didn't like the pettiness, so he quit.
So it had been at least 44 or 45 years since I'd last seen Robert before we exchanged comments on that FB group, and because I was informed today by a former mutual neighbour that Robert died on January 2nd from Covid-19 after being diagnosed in early December, I'm so glad we were able to reconnect - even if it was only for a handful of messages and for such a short time. My memories of when I lived next to him are uppermost in my mind at the moment, and as I last saw him when he was yet a young teenager, that's how I remember him. He did return on visits from time-to-time as he had relatives and friends here, but if I ever saw him as an adult - possibly while walking past one another in the local shopping centre - I never recognised him.
And now I want to tell you a story. I can no longer say with certainty whether it was at the tail-end of my primary school years or at the beginning of my secondary ones (I suspect the latter), but Robert and his sister Elaine had a Santa Claus cake-topper, which I instantly coveted on sight when I was in their house one night on the run-up to Christmas. They were resistant to the idea of parting with it, but I said I'd give them a selection box in exchange and they said they'd think it over. About 10 minutes later, said Santa was pushed through my letterbox wrapped in a bit of Christmas paper. Unfortunately, not being hopeful of them accepting my offer, my brother and myself had already started work on the selection box's contents.
Oo-er, what was I to do? I chapped their door and gave them a surviving Bounty bar (and possibly another choccy bar, a Milky Way maybe), explaining what had happened and promising to make it up to them later. What's that they say about good intentions? Somehow I never managed to get around to it before we flitted, but for years now, I've been planning to find out his address and post a selection box to him with a little note saying 'debt paid'. Alas, now I never will, as that damned Covid-19 has taken him from his family and friends (and former neighbours) much too soon.
Y'know, for years after flitting from our old neighbourhood, I assumed he was still living there, because, as I said earlier, I didn't know he'd moved until many years later. Below is a photo of him as he looked when I last saw him, taken from a school 'wallet' of classmates given to me by a friend to copy a good number of years ago. The photo which heads the post is from Robert's own Facebook page (hope his family won't mind me borrowing it), and I note with interest that his last entry to it was made on the 14th June 2020. I find that strangely significant in some indefinable way, because we moved from our old neighbourhood on 14th June 1972, exactly 48 years before his final FB contribution.
It would've been good to see and speak to him again at some point, and, if there's an afterlife, maybe it'll happen when I depart this vale of mortal tears. In the meantime, Robert, hope you're at peace, and don't forget - I still owe you a Christmas selection box. Hard to believe you're no longer around, except in my memories and a couple of photographs in my possession. Rest in peace, wee Bimbo, and condolences to all those you loved and who loved you back.
Isn't it strange how people from so far back in your childhood who you haven't seen or spoken to in decades still resonate down through the years and can affect you when you learn they're gone?