The Andamans (photos)
India and the Andamans with Benen
Travels in Andaman Islands, Thailand and Koh Samui
are so many things I could write about Cyril it's hard to know where to
begin. The 3 qualities that I appreciated the most about him were
his insatiable curiosity for life and adventure, his caring spirit, and
his humble, almost bashful side.
Andaman Islands 2006
I first met Cyril, and his best friend Benen on the Andaman Islands, India in December 2006. I quickly came to think of them as one being - Cyrilandbenen as they were always together hatching plans, going on adventures, falling off their bikes at 03.00 in the morning outside Dive India, laughing like little boys as they tried to get back on without waking the whole place. . .
Cyril had some really awful bites on his feet and legs that he wouldn’t show to anyone as he didn’t want to cause trouble to anyone. I saw him one day and realized that he was in desperate need of medical attention. Poor Cyril had been haphazardly sticking elastoplasts on these open sores, and walking around in sand and dirt and water with his sandals digging into them. He never wanted to make an issue about it, and kept saying they would be fine. I frog-marched him to his room, and spent a while cleaning his feet up, dressing his wounds and bandaging his legs. I gave him strict instructions to keep them clean, dry and elevated. During this process we had a lot of long conversations and this was when Cyril first used the expression I would come to hear from him many times. ‘”Tell me what’s in ‘yer’ brain Lorraine, Id love to know what goes on in there!”
The next morning I was heading to the shower, and I saw Cyril half limp, half scurry past me avoiding eye contact and looking rather sheepish. I looked down at his feet, and saw the same haphazard elastoplasts from the day before with a few unraveled bits of bandage hanging off his ankles. When I asked him what on earth he was doing he explained that he didn’t want to bother me and so had got up, put new dressings on his feet, then remembered he needed to shower and so had walked through the mud into the shower, and then had tried to keep his feet dry. But I could tell that he was genuinely really touched and thankful that I had helped him out. As his feet got better he thanked me again and again and I really knew that he meant it. This was the humble and down to earth almost bashful at times side to Cyril that was so endearing and that made you WANT to help him, and to be his friend.
Thailand March 2007
I had flown to Thailand in March and was meeting Cyril in Bangkok Seeing his cheerful smile and his customary checked shirt, shorts and sandals at the airport immediately made me excited for being in Thailand and for the times that lay ahead. We spent several fun filled days catching up and hanging out, wandering the streets of the Khao San Rd,
getting up to all kinds of mischief, involving deep fried insects, buckets of Thai whisky, and writing/rehearsing his Best Man’s speech for Garmon’s wedding that would take place a few weeks later. I'll never forget the laughs we had as he tried to remember his lines, stumbling over them, forgetting them, changing them and eventually saying ”Oh Jeasus feck it Im just goin to get up there, and sure I'll say whatever comes into me brain”.
A mosquito bite on my leg that I got in India was getting worse by the day. Of course I was ignoring it but eventually one day I woke up and I couldn’t walk. Cyril arrived at the door of my hotel bundled me into a taxi and took me to the hospital, where we spent several hours waiting to be seen. He kept me entertained the whole time with his funny little stories, idiosyncracies, and quick observations. I had to return to the hospital every day for 5 days, and without fail Cyril would show up in the morning, take me to the hospital, wait with me and then take me home again, going as far as to hitch us a ride home one day after I insisted I was fine to walk and then felt really unwell. The wonderful thing about Cyril was that I never even had to tell him that I didn’t feel good. He noticed, without me saying a word, and effortlessly got chatting to a man in a car park and arranged for us to be driven back to my hotel. I will never forget his kindness, compassion and genuine concern for me in that week in Bangkok
Koh Samui April 2007
One night, in fact the night after Garmon’s wedding, me and Cyril decided to go for a bike ride around Koh Samui. I was always so impressed with his ability to jump on his Enfield and take it wherever he wanted to go, and many times he told me about his travels through India and the freedom that it gave you. Being somewhat adventurous I decided that I wanted to learn to ride the bike, and so convinced Cyril to take me to a place where I could try.
The dialogue went something like this,
Me: Cyril I want to learn to go the bike, lets go so I can have a shot of it,
5 minutes later. . .
And so we found ourselves on the edge of a dock on Koh Samui, Cyril standing beside me as I hopped on the bike, and careered off down the pier at what felt like breakneck speed. The last thing I saw and heard was Cyril saying ”Be ccccccarrrrreeeeefullll. . .sloowwwww dddddooownnnnn STTTTOOOPPPPP!!!! Ohhhh Nooooo are ye OK.” . .as I tried to extract myself from under the motorbike and get back on my feet. Of course he was concerned and kept saying he felt bad that he had let me do it, but really we both just laughed at the situation and talked about how you had to try everything once before you die.
We got back on the bike. By this time it was dark and had started to rain, and when it rains in Thailand it's never a short shower, more like a monsoonal downpour. Lightning crashed above our heads as the rain came down in sheets and soaked us to the skin. Cyril maneuvered that bike perfectly through small rivers and massive puddles, shaking the water out of his eyes, as we tried to peer ahead into the blackness , always asking me if I was OK, as we sang random power ballads and laughed along the way. We laughed so much on that bike, even when we were sure we would never make it and were destined to spend the night in the rain, stranded on the back roads of Koh Samui.
This was the side to Cyril that I loved the most. You could be free with him and experience the world in a way that not many people do. He had no fear to enter the unknown, no hesitation to treat everyone as his friend, and an insatiable desire to learn about the world and the people around him, this over-rode any hesitation he may have had about beginning new adventures. Truthfully, I’m not sure that Cyril ever had any hesitation, I think he just wanted to grab life with both hands and soak up as much of it as he could, always with a smile, a hello or a funny line from Squirderley Dirderley, as he liked to call himself
Adventurous, caring and down to earth, with a great understanding for humanity and a huge interest in the world around him, demonstrated in his travel, photography and his rare ability to connect with anyone in any place at any time. These are just some of the qualities that made Cyril such a wonderful person to be around, that made him a kind caring and trusted friend, and that made him such an inspirational person to know, teaching those around him to feel the fear and do it anyway. To get on that bike, to make that trip, to learn that instrument or language.
Even in death, Cyril has taught us a lesson. . . that you have to make the most of life while you have it, because it can be all too short. He will live on within all of us, in the knowledge that he gave us and the experiences we shared and in the things that we do, the places that we go, and the new things that we learn .
© Cyril Duncan
Siam Children's Foundation