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Something big in a small box

Last week I wrote that my friend Frank's wife had died. Over the weekend Frank died too. Official cause of death is still to be determined but we all know he died of a broken heart.

I first met Frank (whose given name was Neil) when he was 16, so I would have been 18-ish. A friend of my little brother Ken, Frank was notable for his fierce intelligence, extraordinary skill with maths, mighty sense of humour, encyclopaedic knowledge of what we would now call indie music, and for having, at 16, a full beard which made him look older than most of his teachers.

When I left University in 1979 I was honoured to join the group of Ken's friends of which Frank was a part. Together the group made regular trips to The Trumpet in Bilston, sought out the weird and wonderful pubs of the Black Country, played hide-and-seek at midnight up the top of Clent and, because Frank was married at 18 and therefore had his own place, had many wonderful parties.

Even now Frank-isms litter my speech. Because of Frank I say 'Cheers Chief' (sometimes abbreviated to 'CC'), and 'awroight maaaaayt' (trans. 'Alright mate') in an exagerated Blackheath accent. Because of Frank I call underwear 'unterwegs', and quote one of the best jokes he, or anyone, ever made: 'Ah, the badger's sett ... but the weasel's still a bit runny'.

He shaped my musical tastes as well. With him I went to see The Fall, and The Residents (speculating in the pub afterwards that under those enormous eyeballs lurked Eric Clapton, George Harrison or other rock legends). He lent me bootlegs Elvis Costello tapes and introduced me to Little Feat. And because of Frank I listened far too many times to a rather odd piece of contemporary clasical music called The Sinking of the Titanic, which he used to play as a way of getting rid of people at the end of a party.

In the early 80s he invited me to sing in The Leisure Pets with him and Paul and the drum machine (called Ronnie) - I was pretty rubbish really but Frank let me keep on singing. So, fragments of his songs are part of my consciousness too: 'son, don't vote - they all make you wear funny coloured shirts'; 'something small in a big box'; 'pointless packaging'; and the drum machine programmed to sound like the steam hammer at Lench's chain works.

So, even though I haven't seen him since we moved north, there he is, fragments of Frank cropping up in everything I do - sadly missed but never forgotten.

Frank Skidmore
Rest in peace, m' dear old thing

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