In memory of Johnathan Beagley
As we journey through life, we all come across unforgettable characters. People who touch our lives in some way, even if we meet them only in passing.
I met Johnathan twenty years ago, when I was living in Wales and looking to set up business as a storyteller. I needed a bit of business training. I saw the local council was offering free evening classes. I went along and the course tutor was Jonathan.
He was an unlikely tutor. He was a hugely successful businessman, so had no need to be spending one evening a week teaching would-be entrepreneurs for a tiny wage. But he did it with great love. That was Johnathan.
We became great friends, and after I left Wales, we continued to stay in touch with Christmas cards. Ten years went by without me seeing him.
But then I heard through the grapevine he had been seriously ill. He’d been in hospital and had literally half the stuffing taken out of him. So when he was home and recuperating, I decided to visit him.
And so I went to his cottage one afternoon. It was a pretty place, with roses round the door, hidden away down a lane in the Welsh hills.
He came to the door. He looked gaunt.
I hugged him; he felt smaller than I remembered. But he was cheery. We went inside and he made tea.
‘How are you?’ I asked.
‘Oh that’s all behind me now,’ he said. ‘I’m on the road to recovery. And I have been treating myself. I’ve bought myself something I’ve always wanted. Would you like to see it?’
He led the way outside and opened the garage doors. Inside was an immense Rolls Royce. Metallic gold.
‘My kids are furious for spending their inheritance,’ he grinned. ‘Would you like to go for a spin?’
He smiled. ‘Climb in.’
He turned the ignition. The engine came to life with a quiet purr. ‘Off we go,’ he said, and he pulled out of the garage, took us down the lane and onto the main road.
I sat back and enjoyed the luxury. It was a beautiful day, as golden as the Rolls. The countryside rolled by in silence. The Rolls barely made a sound.
‘Have you ever driven a Rolls?’ he asked.
‘No! I’ve never even ridden in one before. I walked to my own wedding!’
‘Would you like to have a go?’
‘Are you serious?’
‘But it’s huge!’
‘It’s easy. It’s automatic. I’ll pull over.’
And that is exactly what he did at the next lay-by. We both got out; I slid into the driver’s seat. I had to begin by turning it, so we could head back. Somehow I managed that. And then we were off, driving down the road. And it was an A road, but a Welsh A road, so it was narrow and winding. And now the first bend was approaching.
‘Don’t brake,’ said Johnathan.
‘Don’t brake. Just ease off the gas and the weight of the car will carry you round.’
‘You are kidding me?’
I had never seen a man looking so relaxed.
‘You’ll be fine,’ he said.
So now we were flying towards a bend, the car was worth £175k and I wasn’t allowed to brake.
And I’ve often said, I want moments that make my heart beat faster, but this wasn’t what I had in mind. All I could think of was the value of the car, and what if I crashed it, and my heart was thumping… But by God, I felt alive. Joyously, wildly alive.
I eased off the gas – and the Rolls took the bend like a flight of starlings in November.
‘Driving a Rolls is about learning to glide,’ he said.
And so we glided all the way back to his cottage. At every bend I eased off the gas and let two tons of metal, glass, leather and electronics hug the road and handle the curve, gloriously, effortlessly while Jonathan sat smiling beside me.
That was the last time I saw him. As I suspected, he hadn’t been honest when he said the illness was behind him. Two months later, he was gone.
But what a gift he gave me that day. When we think of gifts, we so often think of things. But to give someone an experience is priceless.
And right to the end, he was giving me lessons, there in that golden Rolls Royce.
When life starts coming at you too fast, don’t panic. Just ease off the gas and you will handle those bends in the road.