Alan was a lovely person. He had a happy childhood, always out with his friends having fun – and some mischief – as lads do. His friend Robert was mad on fishing and Alan soon followed in his footsteps, spending his pocket money on fishing gear. They had me dropping them off at different ponds and parts of the canal, then picking them up later.
Alan left school and went to college to do a two year Media course and did Saturdays in our family business – which is a Motor Factors. After one year I think he finally got fed up with having to get up really early to make the long journey to college on two buses. So, Alan came into the family business in our shop.
His duties were serving customers, stocking up and ordering parts. He had a memory like computer so a lot of the time he did not have to refer to the computer as it was all in his head. His friend Robert also came to work for us and the four of us were a good team.
Alan and Robert loved to laugh and joke and they were always taking the mickey out of Alan’s dad, David. He was the ‘old man’ and they were the young ones who ‘knew better’. When it was quiet they stood just outside the open shop door watching the world go by and making daft comments, so there was never a dull moment.
One of Alan’s other friends, Kev, came to work with us for a couple of years; and his girlfriend, Tash, did her Work Experience with us. Alan’s friends would pop in for a natter if they were passing – as I said, never a dull moment.
Alan had a wicked sense of humour. He could see something funny in ordinary / everyday things and he would make up sayings which his friends can still remember. Alan never had a serious girlfriend; he was a bit shy around girls, but never with his mates. He was the comedian, he loved a few drinks and a good laugh and I’ve been told he was a mean dancer!
There was four of us at home – me, David, Alan and Liam, his nephew. Alan was more like his big brother, they were always teasing each other but Alan could be firm with him when he was annoying me. Liam idolised Alan.
For years, Alan had this dream to go to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. He arranged to go away in 2008 and meet up with friends already touring. Then his Dad had a motorbike accident which kept him off work for a while, so Alan decided to put the holiday on hold for a year. He re-booked to go away on November 2nd 2009 and to return in February 2010. David and I were a bit anxious about him going by himself, but what can you do? He’s grown up and wants an adventure. Alan’s easy going so we knew he would make friends along the way.
The excitement built up. A week before Alan was due to go we went to the Trafford Centre because he was going to backpack ‘in style’. He got new clothes, trainers, expensive camera, got his iPod sorted and got state-of-the-art headphones.
The day arrived – Alan was excited but also a bit anxious. Can’t blame him, I couldn’t go to the other side of the world by myself. Liam and I took Alan to the airport and we went to have our tea in the restaurant. Liam got tearful and told Alan not to go and I was feeling a bit the same. We walked to Departures and all hugged and kissed. As Alan walked away he turned and waved and Liam ran after him crying. That was the last time we saw him.
Alan arrived at Bangkok, Thailand, where he planned to stay for a couple of weeks before moving on. He’d only been there the one night when he rang to say Bangkok was horrible and he wanted to come home. I think he got a massive culture shock. Anyway, next day he arranged to move on to Phuket – a seaside resort which he said was a lot better. He was staying at a beachside hotel and got talking to another English boy, so he had company.
A couple of weeks later Alan decided to move to the islands and travelled to Koh Samui, which he liked and rented a beach bungalow. He made friends with a local Thai girl called Phom. She had a scooter so she showed Alan the island and places to go at night. Alan met up with more English lads and also a diving instructor from Sweden called Daniel – they soon became good friends. Daniel was on the island for a few days then going back to Koh Tao where he worked at a diving school, so Alan decided to tag along with him. He stayed at Daniel’s place for a few days and then got himself settled at a hotel in a small seaside village. Alan would ring us from his mobile phone twice a day, every day and we would ring him straight back so he didn’t waste his credit.
Well, he loved Koh Tao – said it was his island paradise like in the film ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo Di Caprio. Alan did a diving course and passed his first stage – he was made up. He loved it there so decided to stay for a while. He said everyone in the village knew him by name just like ‘one of the locals’. Alan hired a motorbike and discovered the island; went to beach parties and generally had a fantastic time.
Christmas came and went and so did New Year. In January, Alan met up with Billy – a lad from Skelmersdale where we live. He was also travelling and his brother had told him that Alan was in Koh Tao, so they met up and spent some time together – Alan showed him the island. Billy told Alan he would be moving on to Cambodia with two German girls so Alan decided to go with them as he had planned to go there but didn’t fancy doing it by himself. They went to a place called Sien Reip. Alan still rang every day – I don’t think he was as impressed with Cambodia.
They’d been there about five days when Billy and the girls asked Alan if he wanted to move on with them to see this village which had been buried by the forest for years. Alan had fallen and hurt his knee the night before and it hurt to walk, but he had got some tablets for the pain so he said he would catch them up the next day.
I spoke to Alan on the Sunday, but on the Monday morning he didn’t ring as he normally did – nor at anytime throughout the day. Tuesday morning I decided to go into work a little late so I could catch up on housework.
About 10.30am, David came home. He had found out that Alan had died; and it was awful the way he found out. He had been ringing Alan’s phone regularly since Monday because he had a bad feeling that there was something wrong, as Alan never missed ringing. Tuesday 9am – about 3pm in Cambodia – someone answered Alan’s phone:
David: who are you? Why are you answering my son’s phone? Where is he?
Answer: I am the tourist police, your son is at the police station.
David: Why is he at the police station?
Answer: He died.
David didn’t know what to think. We hadn’t heard from any authorities – had someone stolen Alan’s phone and it was that person who was dead? He just didn’t know what to do. The police man gave David the number for the station, but David couldn’t get much information when he rang as English was not their first language.
David rang the Cambodian Embassy in London, but got little help, so he rang the Foreign Office. They rang him back within ten minutes to confirm that Alan had been found dead on the bathroom floor in his hotel room and the information had been passed on to the Skelmersdale police station for them to send an officer to our house with the news. David told them to stop the police as he was on his way home.
So we are sat in our kitchen. What do we do?
Can’t just go to Cambodia – you need permits which takes time. The Foreign Office were on and off the phone trying to get information. We decided to get in touch with Alan’s holiday insurance company but we didn’t know who he had insured with. He had taken out a cheap one on the Internet and took the policy with him. I remember Alan paying for it with his newly-acquired cash card he’d got for his holiday so we could put money in his account each week. I found the bank statement and it had the name of his insurers so we got the name up on the computer, found a phone number and rang them. David explained the situation and they got Alan’s details up on the screen. They told us they would handle everything – they would get an international undertakers to deal with it; they would liaise with the Foreign Office and keep us informed on a daily basis.
It was about 2pm by that point – friends and family had turned up and everyone was in shock. Liam was coming home from school at 3.15pm – how do I tell him? My sister rang the school and they said it would be best to pick him up early, so Lesley drove me to school to collect him. I have never ever been in such a terrible situation – Liam was absolutely distraught, said he never wanted Alan to go away and we shouldn’t have let him. Liam was so upset that we had to keep him off school next day.
The Foreign Office were back in touch and we informed them that the insurance company had undertakers making arrangements. They said this was good as in Cambodia they can cremate without asking permission. Alan was transferred to Bangkok where he was embalmed and stored there until flight arrangements were made. In all it took three weeks to get him home. The undertakers were absolutely marvellous, they brought Alan right to the chapel of rest in Skelmersdale. I have nothing but praise for their efficiency.
Alan was transferred to hospital for a post mortem, as one had not been carried out in Thailand. The death certificate said ‘syncope’ which means ‘losing consciousness’, which was the conclusion of the police! The coroner gave an open verdict. Because Alan had been embalmed and the time lapse was three weeks, anything that could have been found wasn’t there anymore. The one piece of comfort was that there were no suspicious circumstances.
The funeral was arranged for the following week. Barbara, our vicar, came to ours to find out a little of Alan’s life, so we invited Robert and Suzanne round to help us. The day of the funeral arrived and the crematorium was packed. The music played going in was Alan’s favourites band, The Smashing Pumpkins. When the coffin was set down after being carried by his friends, Liam had a rose so one of Alan’s friends picked him up so he could place it on top of the coffin. Then all Alan’s friends did the same which was very emotional. There were tears but also laughter, as Barbara told everyone about some of the funny and daft things Alan got up to with his friends when we went away on holiday and left him in the house. Two of Alan’s friends and Liam made speeches and I read out a poem. Everyone came back to our local pub and more turned up later. We gave Alan a good send off. I sent a memories book around for his friends to write in, which I find good to read and some bits make me laugh.
Alan never suffered with ill health. The one thing that did bother him was chest pains he would suddenly get, which happened over a few years. Alan was twice sent for blood tests and once for an ECG but they came back clear. When the pains kept occurring Alan would go back to the doctors again but he would be back at the shop within 15 minutes. The doctors couldn’t say what was causing the pains and Alan was advised to cut down on his smoking and drinking. In the end he rang a private health company to arrange a full scan. They had just opened so they took his details and arranged to contact him when they were fully operational. His appointment letter arrived two weeks after his funeral.
This first year has been hard. I was in shock for six months and I found it really hard to cry. It would upset me that other people could cry but I couldn’t. My sister Lesley was my rock – she was always there for me; and Alan’s friends have also been very supportive. On Alan’s birthday in May we all went down to the pub and raised our glasses to Alan, then set off Chinese lanterns. I know Alan was there with us, because he loved a good laugh and a few drinks. This year we are going to do the same and its going to be our first try at fundraising as well.
We all miss Alan – every day I think about him and I know he will be waiting for me at the gates of Heaven, then he can tell me about his adventures in Thailand.
I thought of you with love today
But that is nothing new,
I thought about you yesterday
And days before that too.
I think of you in silence,
I often speak your name
All I have are memories
And your picture in a frame.
Your memory is my keepsake
With which I’ll never part,
God has you in his keeping
I have you in my heart.
Love you Al.