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A tribute to Nigel Buxton

January 3, 2016 · 16 comments

 

My uncle, Nigel Buxton, died on November 30th last year aged 91. Nigel was a journalist and  travel writer, working for the  Sunday Telegraph newspaper between 1961 and 1989 – for much of that time as the editor of its travel section. Here is a link to his obituary

When I was a young child Nigel took my mother, brother and I on several trips abroad that ended up being written about in the Telegraph. He usually found a way to make us earn our keep!  I spent a week with him and Mum on the Canal du Midi acting as cabin boy and winder of the lock-gates. On a camping trip to France, accompanied by a photographer, I remember an afternoon holding up sheets to shade a carefully composed picnic still-life. Once I ended up in the paper myself in a photograph Nigel took of me supposedly camping on a beach and cooking over a camp-fire. He was the source for some of my most treasured childhood experiences.

Nigel loved to walk – a desire to explore the world on foot which my mother, too, shared and which she has passed on to me. He published a book – Walking in Wine Country (Weidenfeld and Nicholson,1993) – which combined walking with one of his other loves. It won the Lanson Prize for the best wine book of the year.

I don’t know if was Nigel that introduced me to the pleasures of the fermented grape but he certainly supported my drinking from an early age. It was a great pleasure to me that when walking and camping – another combination that he enjoyed – were beyond him, he was able to enjoy my own blog posts. When Bob and I completed our 10 day trek on The Way of St James we arrived to dinner at our hotel in Conques to find a fine bottle of wine on our table with a note of congratulation from him for our efforts. Someone quipped at his burial that they hoped there was a decent bottle with him. 

In the last few years of his life, Nigel discovered blogging as way of sharing his own writing.  This is a link to his blog. Reading these posts from his past were also a way that I felt I got to know him better and nurtured my fondness for him. Several of these articles moved me to tears. 

This is one of the last pieces he wrote, which his son, Adam, read, rather beautifully, at his funeral. 

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JOIN ME IN A GREAT ADVENTURE.  On Wednesday I braved the steep track behind my house and walked up onto the Downs.

Early last year, rain or shine, I was walking there almost every day; three miles, five miles, now and then ten or more. Then the implacable forces of Wear and Tear opened hostilities. Little by little the occasional twinges that I had erroneously supposed to be the legacy of old skiing incompetence became my almost constant companions, at first merely unwelcome, then troublesome, intimidating, so that less demanding excursions became my exercise default mode.

Then came the X-ray report: ‘…marked loss of disc height, prominent anterior marginal osteophytes and facet joint sclerosis most severe at the lower three lumbar levels’…. Paget’s syndrome … luceny and coarsening of the trabecular pattern in the right hemipelvis ….thickening of the illiopectal line.

You might be forgiven for thinking that such a diagnosis would be enough not only to stop a man laughing in church but to deter him from ever again so much as twiddling his toes. Here in Sussex we are made of sterner stuff. What it did, nevertheless, was to limit my walks to the Seaford promenade where there are benches which, though not specifically reserved for the victims of prominent anterior osteophytes or thickening of the illiopectal line, might fairly be described as what the doctor ordered, and for dodgy facet joints a comfort beyond price.

All my adult life I have striven to make the most of my modest five feet seven and a half inches (taller than Napoleon and Genghis Khan) and at this advanced stage to suffer a marked loss of disc height was a cruel psychological setback. Facet joint sclerosis at the lumbar levels was nothing short of a blow below the belt. Gritting the teeth, muttering the sort of mantras that made the British Empire great (Bear through life like a torch in flame —Play up! play up! and play the game!), I have risen above the indisputable and carried on. There are countless conditions graver than luceny and coarsening of the trabecular pattern, and millions are obliged to endure them. “The great affair is to move”, said Robert Louis Stevenson, and every day I thank whatever gods there be that move I can. Also, although the Seaford waterfront may offer no competition to your Costa Brava or your Côte d’Azur, to be within a pebble’s throw of the English Channel and the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry is boundlessly uplifting; the lungs filled with the smogless air, the head with wishful fantasies born of Stevenson’s Vagabond and Housman’s blue remembered hills. But I have sorely missed the Downs.

Wednesday dawned with only the smoke stack of the eco-friendly Newhaven incinerator belching picturesquely above the mist in the valley. A cloudless sky and a mounting temperature were evidently to come.  Greatly daring, before high noon I had broken the bonds of prudence and Bonningstedt Promenade and was on my way up the hill.

How tentatively I went to begin with; how tenderly testing the anterior osteophytes and the facet joints. Oh, the blessing of my walking poles. But what a reward was there. How reassuring to be able to climb the padlocked 5-bar gate with a hey nonny nonny and scarcely an admonitory twinge. How good to have the old chalk grassland instead of the County Council’s concrete underfoot. How pleasing to rest the hemipelvis upon familiar  stiles and lift ambitious eyes beyond the immediate goal of Page’s New Barn (built in the year that Victoria ascended the throne) to the far ridge overlooking the Weald.

There was no obvious swelling of ash or hawthorn buds, none but winter colour in the landscape, no thickening in the woods; but in the rookery was a noisy congregation of birds at last year’s nests. The hedgerows were still bare except for the bright gold of lichen on the blackthorn, yet wild plum blossom, white as new snow, confirmed beyond a doubt that another spring had arrived.

***************

Cover of The Road To Fleet Street by Nigel Buxton

Cover of the book

Shortly before his death Nigel completed a book of his memoirs and articles which he described as an autobiography – “The Road to Fleet Street.” There was not time to go though the invariably long and often frustrating process of finding a publisher for the book, so with the support of friends and family he published it himself.

Copies can be obtained from me at £25 inclusive of postage in the UK.

Hardback. 431 pages.

 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Steer January 3, 2016 at 8:48 am

He could write – that excerpt is so evocative. Keep walking and writing Charles.

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Charles January 3, 2016 at 10:29 am

Yes, indeed; and continued to write well into his late 80@s. There is hope for us yet.

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Ian Thorpe January 3, 2016 at 10:03 am

What a fascinating life! Very interesting, Charles, to spot family likenesses of appearance and interests. I love the way that late piece of writing takes the mickey out of the medical report and, by implication, death itself.

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Charles January 3, 2016 at 10:32 am

Yes, he travelled the world several times over. I was very jealous that he had flown on Concorde many times. It’s such a good piece, isn’t it? Brought some levity to the service.

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Anne Wareham January 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Only met him once but talked via twitter and blog (hurray for the internet!) and came to feel very fond of Nigel. Seems sweet that he is buried between a yew tree and a tower in a country churchyard. RIP.

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David Marsden January 3, 2016 at 8:02 pm

I was very saddened to hear that Nigel had died, Charles, and didn’t realise you were related. I met him once on the South Downs at Beddingham, recognised him immediately (as BaadDad from the telly) and said hello. Years later, I was ridiculously chuffed, more than any one else, when he followed me on Twitter! Wish he’d been my uncle. But I didn’t know he lived so close to me – what with his descriptions of the Seaford front and the ghastly Newhaven incinerator. When I next see you I should love to hear more about him. My condolences, David

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Charles January 4, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Hiya. Well how about that! What a nice thought that you knew who he was and that you met him. We must have a good list of things to talk about. So we must make a plan to meet up this year. Will it stop raining sometime?

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David Marsden January 5, 2016 at 7:08 am

I should like that. We’re still embroiled in the house move from hell (six months since we sold our house and still no completion date) and so things are all a little uncertain. But yes, hopefully we can arrange a walk for later in the year. As for the rain – er, no.

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Hannah January 11, 2016 at 9:57 am

Hi Charles, would love to order a copy of Nigel’s book from you. How do I go about ordering it?

Thank you,

Hannah

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Paul Steer January 17, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Hi Charles – I would like to buy a copy of his book if you have any left.

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Charles January 17, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Super! Will contact you direct to make arrangements.

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paul January 19, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Details on ordering would be appreciated please.

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Rory Christie August 18, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Hello,

I realise it is probably a long shot, but do you still have any copies of Nigel’s autobiography & writings left? I would be interested in getting my hands on one.

Many thanks,
Rory

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Charles August 19, 2017 at 8:55 am

I think my mother has some. Email me and I’ll find out. Charles@veddw.co.uk

Reply

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Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)