My pal Pete Greening wrote this I had to republish as it was a great tribute to Alec “Jock” Pirrie.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of my great friend, Alex ‘Jock’ Pirrie. Jock was one of life’s great characters and it has been a privilege to have known him and to call him my friend. I was lucky enough to climb and surf with him on many occasions, most notably on a week long trip to the hebridean island of Pabbay, and on a trip to the Cirque of the Unclimbables, Canada, in ’97, where his friendship, humour and drive was paramount to our successful ascent of the Lotus Flower Tower.
Yesterday, a heavy swell broke on the shores of Cornwall and a handful of Jock’s friends met to surf in celebration of the Big Man. We aren’t as young and fit as we used to be 10 years ago, so one of us sat out (due to recovering from breaking their tibula and fibula), another got washed back to shore on the initial paddle out and took 45 minutes to eventually make it out back, while I mistimed a duck-dive of a set wave, got sucked over the falls, then got held under while being keelhauled up the beach. How Jock would have laughed at our antics, while he would have sensibly sat on the shore, supping an early morning beer.
His big pal, John Hubbard, summed up him perfectly when he delivered the eulogy at Jock’s funeral:
Back in 83, when we had to make a 200 foot abseil to get off Ben Nevis I should have known that being a friend of Jock was gonna be demanding. We both cheated death on that day. I got a fright but to Jock it was just a normal day. As a climber he is a legend. From Cummingston to Canada, from Norway to Pabbay, from Anglesey to Arrochar.
But he was a pretty decent basketball player too, until he played against his brother. A biathlete for the RAF, a triathlete just for fun, a great golfer and one time Junior Convener at Hopeman. He was an excellent swimmer, nordic skier, snowboarder, and all round mountain man. And when he’d finished risking his own skin, he’d be saving someone else’s when on the Mountain Rescue Teams of Valley and Kinloss.
A fit guy was our Jock – to the amazement of Hopeman football team one summer evening 2 years ago when we were playing at Rothes. Jock arrived on his bike, stayed to watch the second half and still beat us back home.
Here was a man whose lust for life took him to the four corners of the world. He got more than enough working trips to satisfy any normal person, but was forever planning expeditions and holidays. He came home with football shirts for my Nathan from dozens of obscure places, Laura has necklaces from half the tribes in Africa and Indonesia and our house has the best collection of souvenirs on the planet. He looked after my family so well I sometimes wondered just whose wife and kids they were.
Jock was the most generous and caring man I ever met – surfers hate missing waves but he spent countless hours teaching me to stand on a board, and then just gave me the board and the wetsuit for free.
For years he has been a regular supporter of Oxfam and similar Third World agencies. Even up to Christmas Jock was working away on his English teaching course so that when he left the RAF he and the new Mrs Pirrie could spend part of their time abroad in the service of others. Oh, and he’d catch the odd wave into the bargain and probably give his t-shirt to the locals too.
I can’t remember a time when he didn’t call the bar when he walked into the Braemou inn. Jock lived life to the max – I pleaded with him to slow down because, once in our 40s we couldn’t drink so much Guinness anymore – but he had only one speed, full speed, and we didn’t make it to last orders very often.
He did slow down a bit though, after his bike accident – yet another near death experience. But he came through it and was proud of his scar, which he often passed off as a shark bite – a real conversation piece in impressionable company. He almost had to learn to surf again because the muscle memory in his leg was gone – just another challenge which he met by getting a bigger board and was soon getting just as many waves as before – and always more than me.
But just to give himself an extra little target he also took up scuba diving – and within a year got his instructors certificate.
I know that he felt cheated though – whilst I was happy that he wasn’t fit to serve in some of the worlds war zones, he felt he was letting his boys down.
His childlike glee was infectious when, after watching a cup game at Hampden, we walked back through the Glasgow streets he grew up in, and he remembered every detail like it was yesterday – especially his home at number 32 Daisy Street – and on the way we had a pint in every pub. The cheek of it – an Englishman and a Blue Nose and every bar full of shamrocks and Celtic fans. But he loved his football, an avid Rangers fan, Scotland fan, Elgin City and Hopeman FC – and ya don’t hear those 4 teams often in the same breath.
Surfing was his great love though, in France, Spain, South Africa, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Hopeman’s West Beach. How pleased was he that he got mistaken for Colin McPhillips in Biarritz, and how important was Bonga’s handshake when recovering from the accident.
How ironic too, that in a fishing village – when the weather gets too rough and the fishermen tie their boats up, Jock waxes up his 9 footer and jumps off the pier.
But there was no better feeling than that of being called onto a double overhead wave, holding a high line, and looking back to see my best pal smiling up at me from 6ft below on the same wave – special, special times that I will never forget.
He was a hard man – balls of steel – if you’ll pardon the expression – dignified to the end, uncomplaining mental toughness whilst he endured pain for all of us. The end was peaceful though, by his new wife’s side week after their wedding.
Family and friends of Jock Pirrie across the world: we’ve lost a big, big person – I’m just so glad that I knew him and could call him my mate.
Jock, my life is better for having known you and I am honoured and humbled saluting you now.
Surfers say “Leave only footprints and take only memories”.
Buddy, bro, best mate, you left a massive footprint and enough memories to fill ten volumes – I’m missing you already and I look forward to seeing you waiting for me out in the glassy swells beyond this rough white water that is our turbulent lives. But not yet a while.
Friends, the Hawaiians have a word which is special because it has so many meanings :
• And farewell :
By Pete Greening his mate. Thanks again.