CSCC Reports 2005: Tom Beaumont - a tribute to Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson 23/5/71 – 5/12/04

I was privileged to be at the Andy Jackson memorial in his native Scotland over the 1-3/4/05 weekend. Andy, a leading light in British paddling, died aged 33 of pneumonia after several years suffering from brucellosis, probably contracted during kayak expeditions in Asia.

Over the w/e, both at formal and informal events, many people told eloquently and touchingly of Andy Jackson’s infectious love of life. It was a thrilling story of how the world is a better place thanks to Andy Jackson just being himself.

Neil, a Glasgow-based friend of mine, invited me up for the event and borrowed a Wave Sport Big EZ for my use. Knowing very little about Andy Jackson or what was planned, my eyes were opened by the weekend.

The Scottish Canoe Association, in particular their Access Committee, organised the event. The Ben Nevis Hotel, just outside Fort William in the Highlands, hosted a reception on Friday night. The SCA distributed a handsome memorial edition of ‘Scottish Paddler’ Issue 67 - Easter 2005, with a beaming Andy Jackson in his element on a wave pictured on the front cover, courtesy of Canoeist magasine. (The article inside, written by former SCA President Andy England, first appeared in the January 2005 issue of Canoeist magasine and the SCA thanks him and Stuart Fisher for allowing it to be re-printed. I was grateful for the chance to read about Andy’s life and my report draws on the article too.) Display stands in the function room off the bar showed Andy growing up and his eclectic interests. One daring freeze frame sequence, of Andy shooting a fall at the meeting of the 3 waters in Glen Coe, stood out for me as we’d stopped there on the drive up from Glasgow.

About 150 people in the room listened to tributes from a host of people, including Andy’s sister Claire, John Picken, Chair of the SCA Access committee, Andy’s former landlord, his boss and other professional colleagues, a local Councillor and young people from a community centre cum youth club/cyber café. Andy’s partner, Bridget Thomas (an Essex girl who won the Rodeo World championship in Ocoee), sat listening with other members of his family.

Amongst other things Claire talked of Andy being a boy – building dams; climbing trees while she cowered below; making friends; relishing his own imagination. His family was central to his life. He was quite proud when one of his nieces told him he wasn’t normal. Claire read a poem from Andy’s grandmother. The family are obviously so proud of him and have such happy memories of him.

I think it was one of his work colleagues who said that in Andy’s company people felt relaxed, included, enthused. There was something special about him and his smile. His infectious zest for life included “difficult” youngsters, who later told how he literally changed their attitudes and their lives. The Director of education in the region, employing over 6,000 staff, had a photo of Andy in his office. He left his mark on them all. Andy’s old landlord fancied that people, if they had tales, all wagged them enthusiastically when they were with Andy. The landlord found his own tail wagging when Andy took him out paddling very soon after they met.

The impression I got was that, in his youth, Andy was an activist in several areas, including politics and access. In 1994 he, Bridget and Andy England set off on a world tour that inspired others who avidly followed reports of their progress. Andy’s stature – a skinny 6’ 7” – couldn’t help but attract a response, usually a smile, wherever they went, especially in Nepal, which he visited 5 times. More recently Andy worked as the SCA’s paid Access Officer. As a volunteer he co-authored the Scottish rivers guide book, which has set the standard for guide books.

After the reception a lot of talking and drinking continued in the bar till I don’t know what time. The group I was with went back to the house in Roy Bridge where we were crashing. I headed off to my sleeping bag around 3:00 a.m., leaving a good number still up talking.

Saturday saw some 300 people frolicking on the sunny River, beyond Invergarry, in kayaks, rafts and inflatables, thanks to a special dam release organised by the SCA and the hydro authority. Many of you will know of this gem of Grade 2 - 4 white water. There was no feeling of over-crowding and queues for play spots were no worse than you’d expect for any other superb play spot in the UK. Glenmore Lodge provided a shuttle bus, which was a great help. The SCA access committee organised car parking.

People who’d seemed fairly normal up till then became different animals on Saturday evening back at the Ben Nevis hotel. Many of the men looked like they’d washed and shaved and a good few looked formidably smart in kilts. Women who’d been intrepidly shredding waves now looked curvacious. Everyone looked as if they were up for a good night out. Some of the young people who’d spoken the night before were now on the stage playing and singing funky music, white boy. During the night the personnel of the band kept changing! Dancing eventually began and once it started it didn’t stop. The Glenmore lodge driver had shown what an excellent driver he was during the day (I’m always impressed by people who can reverse trailers without any problem) and now danced like John Travolta with Duracell batteries fitted. Someone did some break dancing and Bridget was the undisputed dancing queen all night, responsible for dragging countless members of both sex onto the floor. The do was meant to finish at 1 a.m. but 2 a .m. saw the group’s reprise of The Proclaimers “500 miles” rallying all the troops back onto the floor again. The staff could not have been more helpful and accomodating. They whole-heartedly joined in the spirit of the w/e.

Oh, oh. Videos and drink back at the house. Will I miss my plane on Sunday night? One video was an old one of Shaun Baker, Paul Curran and Andy Jackson running a massive waterfall in Iceland years ago. There were several other manic videos. One that sticks in my mind for sheer inventiveness and audacity was of someone in the USA repeatedly pulling a range of difficult moves with elan and authority on the wave created by two powerful speed boats. They sped forwards on a parallel course some forty feet apart, creating a following V shaped wave, and the paddler sat on the wave. Magic! I’ve never seen anything like it.

3:30 a.m. I left the others to their videos and headed for my bag.

Sunday – yes, surprise, surprise - a late start + faffing inspecting the first drop + faffing between the first and second run on the river of the day, = I missed my plane (the last one to Standsted) by 15 minutes, despite superb driving by Max, who’d taken me under his wing. Luckily for me Andy Jackson must have had a word with Easy Jet. Their staff could not have been more helpful and efficient in booking me on the flight to Luton that left 15 minutes later, at no extra cost.

For Sunday the SCA and the hydro authority had organised a release on the Morriston (Grade 4) beyond Fort Augustus. As we drove North the radio paid tribute to Pope John Paul II, who’d just died – another live wire in his youth. It’s the first time I’ve been on the Morriston. It was a cracking river. I had big problems today deciding what lines to take and making them, hence a lot of rolling and flailing around and feeling scared. I’d love to do it again - in more control.

Everyone was so grateful to the SCA for staging the event. (I also thanked Neil and his friends for all they did for me). The w/e was so well organised and such good paddling and good fun. It was a fitting tribute to Andy Jackson. It would be great if something along the same lines becomes an annual event, as it did with the Dee rally for Mike Jones, another prominent young paddler over 25 years ago. People like Neil, who knew Andy, said he would have loved the weekend.

Thomas Beaumont 13/4/05