Cysgu’n dda Dai Bach
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
“All flair and no substance” – that’s what he always said, lamentingly but with a slight twinkle in the eye, about himself.
When I got the news that David Sutherland Barnes, known the world over simply by his “it’s Welsh – not an instruction” name, Dai, had died suddenly in his sleep my mind first went to what he’d always expected of his future. He had a pact, he said, with a few of his 20+ treasured cousins, that they’d end up living their last days in Thailand just in case they were all still single by retirement. He’d “fantimagined” at one point about leaving his teaching career and getting into the “glamping” industry, with thematic tents (I’ll let you imagine what those could be). He also spoke about settling in the countryside of England, owning a farm or whatnot and chopping wood for the fireplace – he even went so far as to save real estate info about potential cottages.
He talked about what a grand affair his 50th birthday party would be (March 1, 2021)…and what it might be like to run a business or write a book (I WISH that had come true, and I will always recall him encouraging/taunting me in my book-writing process….”Get to work, Pet….the words aren’t going to write themselves”).
But these things will never be. He has become stardust again, but his light lingers.
The way I knew him was different than most, so it’s been more of an impressionistic flooding of memories that ofttimes counter what the general public (those who worked with him, listened to his podcast, or followed him on social media), emphasizes. There’s a lot of talk of his enchanting voice, his cavalier confidence, and of course, his propensity to go barefoot. Whilst all true facets of his unique persona they were just that – a persona.
He did have the power of drawing folks in, of lighting up a room – particularly because he expressed a sense of general interest and attentiveness to others. He truly had a refreshing air of nonchalance which gave others the impression that he cooly “gave zero ***ks”. And then there was his rally against “the devil’s instrument” – shoes. He tried to eschew footwear (unless it was from Vivo Barefoot), running and walking in the strangest of places sans shoes (including London!), dealing with odd looks and comments along the way. Frankly, the day I met him I hadn’t noticed he was au naturel in the foot area, and he always told me he was both amused and grateful for that, as all that drawing attention to this quirk became eventually tedious.
I came to know another side of Dai – one that was more about, what he like to identify as “jagged edges” or “warts and all”. When I first met him in person (on a rainy summer night in Oxford with soul friend Eylan Ezekial in tow), he was just getting into a book recommended by his dearest cousin Susan – The Chimp Paradox. I’m not going to get into what contributed to his unique state of mind at the time, but I will say that he was really drawn to the concepts Dr. Peters highlights and the fact that sometimes your “inner chimp” might be to blame for overthinking, freaking out…you name it. He felt he succumbed to overthinking often – which of course to most of us comes off as being “wise” – a word so many use to describe their experience with Dai.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that there was so much more to him than the barefoot thing or the teacher thing or the tech thing or the troubadour thing or the smoking rolled cigarettes thing. Like all of us, he left various versions of legacy tailored to how each of us knew him. He was like a kaleidoscope I guess…dare I say, “DAIleidoscope”?
I was privileged to talk with Dai for hours on end for over a year and travel with him throughout the UK, in Boston, Maine, and San Francisco. In that time, we became eternally connected, despite what the past would dictate or the future would bring.
“And now listen carefully. You in others-this is your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life-your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you-the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it.” – Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago (my fav film)
Personally, I’ve hesitated to write a blog. My first instinct was, knowing my connections to disparate friend groups he kept separate, to help his family – who have always been lovely to me – in alerting people of the sad news and offering ways they could express their grief – whether it be to write his parents a letter or upload a #barefootfordai video to Flipgrid. Dai would have probably been humbled and even embarrassed at the outpour of love and admiration but I know secretly would have been tickled that his parents and daughter could get a glimpse of the impact he made across the globe.
The way I usually deal with trauma or sadness is through the arts, and in particular, poetry. I’m not a poet by any means- my verse is primarily heartfelt, rough couplets. This is what came to me a few weeks ago after a dream about Dai
No Shoes in Heaven (view on Flipgrid)
There’s no shoes in Heaven, I’m sure you will find
But the folks you will meet are as generous and kind
There’s no guilt in Heaven…no regrets, too
No what ifs or maybes, no what should I do?
There’s no cheese in Heaven – and no cigarettes
But the peace you will find is far better yet
There’s no me in Heaven, and few of your friends
But we promise we’ll get there, and meet in the end
Lately I’ve been thinking of all Dai’s – for want of a better word- quirks. I won’t share them ALL here but just a few….
He had a certain uniform – all white dress shirts, smart waistcoats and tweedy jackets, cuff links of sentimental value, and ties. And always that ubiquitous Pilot ballpoint pen clipped to his lapel. He rolled his jeans. Outside of work he loved to unbutton his shirts as low as they could go for propriety’s sake. He possessed these crazy marigold hiking trousers. He loved one shirt – kind of a pink, washed out “cowboy underwear” henley he called “John Wayne”.
Oh, yeah – he liked to name clothes. There was “Indiana” the hat and “Sherlock” the coat. He depended on his trusty caramel leather satchel and his leather tobacco case.
In general, as with everything, he liked to “buy well and keep forever”. He’d rather spend a crazy amount of money on something and use it for 40 years.
Aside from his mum’s cooking (and boy, can she cook!), he tried to eat “clean” but punctuated that with classic boarding house food and binges on comfort goodies like biscuits and cheese. Speaking of cheese, he was quite the connoisseur…he once told me his ideal job would be running a cheese shop. But he preferred French cheese to English – his favourite was Comte.
And eggs…. The man loved his fresh local eggs from the newspaper shop.
He was quite keen on his spiralizer for “zoodles” and making sweet potato fries. Red wine, Guinness, or IPA. And coffee….lots of coffee. First thing in the morning, whilst washing up.
He liked his name, but said he would change it to “Liv” if he had a choice.
Aside from singing covers (Dylan was a fav) and playing guitar, Dai also wrote songs. He wrote me a few. He wrote one about his nightmares. I helped him pen one about his parents’ for their 50th wedding anniversary – it’s long but fab….and he tried to sing it in a northern accent. He kept lyrics in a big black notebook….lots of crossing out and revising. A fascinating glimpse into the creative process.
He travelled…walked the world…did Duke of Ed…coached…tinkered with tech
“Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.” – Langston Hughes
Everyone knows he liked to run and hike and generally wander through nature….but his real guilty pleasure was the telly. And munching snacks whilst watching the telly. Poldark was a fav. And he dug Tom Hardy. Cryptic crosswords from The TImes were a must-do. He liked to do them with friends and his mum.
He insisted on silk sheets. Due to tinnitus he had to sleep with the radio – mostly classical and mostly Debussy.
He despised seatbelts and was rebellious in not wearing them.
He enjoyed being rebellious for the sake of it, even when it didn’t really make sense.
He hated National Trust -type edifices because he felt things like that were built on the backbone of marginalized folk (I argued with him about this).
He called dinner “tea” and dessert “pud”.
He fancied wordplay – and was quite adept at it.
He loved the sun, and was particularly fond of photographing sunlight streaming through things.
He was reckless and forgetful and it often bit him in the back…like when he left his passport on a remote island in Thailand or when he got to the wrong airport and had to fly through Moscow to get to Thailand.
He HATED midges and was almost put off of going to Scotland because of them.
He wasn’t a fan of planning…lessons or anything else. But made things happen anyway.
He read widely but didn’t really like reading.
He was strangely critical yet accepting, guilt-ridden yet carefree.
He mused, “a song is an algorithm for a person”.
He was incredibly somber and somewhat sad, yet jovial and happy-go-lucky on the outside.
The name “Dai” means “beloved” (“Amy” does, too, btw)….and I think it is perfectly suited.
One thing I learned from Dai…
Own your pain and make it beautiful.
He once took a string of words someone wrote about him – very derogatory…and “owned it” by developing a musical score and singing/recording it. This ownership gave him power.
Transform the hurt into song.
I haven’t yet written a song for my hurt over this loss…someday I might. For now I just wish to pour out all my love to his family: Jan, John, Richard, Drew, Susan, etc. and special friends – particularly Doug Belshaw, Eylan Ezekiel (from the Edtech world). Paul Shillito and Arnold (friends and former colleagues), and Philip Pitcher and Richard and Rebecca Lowdes (from Oundle).
I will miss you forever, Dai. For better and for worse, you were a catalyst in my life. Fly high.