Sunday, November 29, 2020

David Fleming 10 Years On

On the 29th of November 2010, my best friend, David Fleming, died.

Today, ten years on, we mark the day. We celebrate his life with a day of discussions, talks, and a showing of the film, The Sequel, which is based on David Fleming's life and his ideas.

Details here at Dark Optimism

The event starts at noon GMT on YouTube. Please join in.

David Fleming's great work, Lean Logic, which speaks directly to our times and the future we face, is now available in its entirety at Lean Logic Online.

In these troubled times Fleming's words are more important than ever. Of course he didn't predict what would happen in 2020 but he did foresee the inevitability of deep change over the coming decades and, in Lean Logic, his deep insights into social history provide us with the tools to help us survive the future.

David died in Amsterdam, his funeral held just a couple of days later. Jean and I went there, travelling on the ferry from Hull, but it was a the day of a big snowfall and airports were closed so. (We've not had such a snowfall since.) Friends and relations who tried to fly, found they couldn't. Only Lawrence Woodward made it from England to join the people David had been staying with and a couple of other Dutch friends. A small but beautiful funeral.

We returned with the memory stick that held the last version of David's life-work, Lean Logic, which, through the unstinting work of Shaun Chamberlin and many others, is now available to billions of people around the planet.

Ten years ago David's enormous an illustrious circle of friends wanted to come together to celebrate his life. A memorial service was held in Hampstead parish church, the building filled, standing room only.

I've dug out the eulogy that I gave to that congregation of lovely people:

A Service of Celebration of the Life of David Fleming.

How was it we became friends?  He looked so out of place, grey suit, tie, cuff-links, short hair, certainly the odd one out at that first Ecology Party conference at Birmingham.

He must have had something worth saying, to take the trouble to say it to the motley bunch that made up his audience.  Yes, here was someone who looked ordinary saying the extraordinary.  I can’t remember just what he said but it made an impression, made good use of words, made sense.  I needed to hear more form this extraordinary man.

But later, when we sat together, he seemed more interested in listening to me, telling me that something I had said was brilliant.  “No, no, that’s all wrong”, I thought.  “You’re the one with brilliant things to say, I’m just chipping in with the odd scrap to keep the conversation going.”  And that’s about how it’s been for over thirty years; David explaining to me a whole philosophy, a complete toolkit for our existence, while I just throw in the odd throwaway line to keep the conversation going.  And then he tells me what a brilliant thing I’ve just said and how he’ll have to re-write the whole of that chapter or some such ridiculous hyperbolic exaggeration.

I’m quite certain he treated everybody like that.  It just came naturally to him to treat others with the most enormous respect and politeness, making them feel important.  Of course, he didn’t let any of that get in the way of promoting his own ideas and dismissing any opposition with arguments of cutting logic and certitude.  Pantone 361 was the colour that had to be used for Ecology Party literature.  David fixed the exact shade of the Green Movement.  Changing the name to Green Party came much later.

What makes a friendship?  We certainly had a lot not in common. Age, appearance, dress sense, his need for blankets, my preference for a duvet, I hate porridge; he made a ritual of porridge, interrupted while he fetched the newspapers, porridge pan wrapped in a tea towel.  He bought the Times and Telegraph but bought me the Guardian, because he was my friend.  Our lives had moved 200 miles apart, a Hampstead flat, a Lincolnshire smallholding.  David read, and wrote, and listened, and talked.  I learnt to milk a cow.  His visits proved his love of gardening.  I gardened; he sat in the garden, reading and writing. In the evenings, we could listen and talk.

I don’t know what makes a friendship but once made it transcends the differences.  He may sometimes have voted Conservative.  Fine, it showed me that even Tories could be good people.  They can be one’s best friend.  Perhaps that gives hope for all relationships.  Differences need not divide if one works on the commonality.

We quietly put differences aside and concentrated on the common themes; a common appreciation of what is valuable in our culture, what is worth cherishing, worth defending; a common appreciation of the threats that must be defended against.  We enjoyed the strategic planning for that defence.  A Common Purpose.

It would start in The Wheatsheaf, a pub half way between the station and our house.  A pint of Tipsy Toad, a pint of tap water and a packet of peanuts and David would be set up for an hour’s discourse on his current theme, with me throwing in the odd line to keep the conversation going.

And, doubtless in common with many in this church today, I would gently chide him about when the book would be published, After Affluence, The Lean Economy, Lean Logic, it gradually morphed and edged towards being secured in reality.  “Good news, the snagging list is down to 98.”  Ah well, back up to 103 by the time the second pint of Tipsey Toad was drained.

But last time, last August, there really was a change in the air.  A scent of the autumn of life, harvest gathered in, job done.  Of course, we all so wish he had lived another 30 years and every year would have been wonderful, but we are where we are.  His funeral in Amsterdam at the Zorgflied Cemetery, a natural oasis in a bustling city, was a beautiful occasion, sad but beautiful, a plain coffin, his cap and glasses, notebook and pencils placed on it, the avenue of trees bending in the snow as he passed from our lives.

Our ferry slipped out of Europort and past the oil refineries.  They have come and will soon be gone, but David has left us with his philosophy, his toolkit for the future and we are grateful for the gift.  We must read it, learn it, understand it, talk about it, use and apply it to keep this beautiful world, precious, as David wanted it to be.  We are the lucky ones, fortunate to have known David.  Now we just have to do our part and ensure that his ideas live on.


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