I first met Andy Brain in 1996. We were instructors at the Supply Training Squadron at RAF Halton. He was a Corporal and I was a civilian (or ex-serviceman, if you like). We got on with each other immediately, sharing the same strange and oddball humour, and we taught many courses together. We never failed to make each other laugh. Andy was the calmest man I ever knew, nothing phased him, and he treated every situation, no matter how dire it seemed, with the same laid-back attitude he was famous for. His telling of the story of when one of his son’s, during his wayward phase, set fire to a bus shelter on the married patch where he and his family lived, and his subsequent one-way conversation with the Station Commander, who ordered him to vacate his married quarter and find alternative accommodation, was particularly hilarious. Fortunately he had a house that was rented out that they could move into. But then, Andy saw the funny side of everything.
Classroom 14 was our sanctuary, where we would come up with ideas and write and draw our in-house comic Swizz, in which we sent up every member of the squadron. It started as a Christmas special and when the first proper issue came out members of the squadron were worried that they would be featured in it. By the time of our final massive Star Wars special people were offended if they weren’t in it. When we weren’t training we spent our hours in Classroom 14, laughing until we cried as we put our ideas down on paper. We would watch and listen to people throughout the day and as soon as one of us saw or heard someone do or say something stupid we couldn’t wait to tell the other and incorporate it into the latest issue.
The news that Andy passed away on 13th November came as a shock, even though Andy knew he didn’t have much time left. It was a shock because Andy was a fighter – he’d already gone way past the time the doctors had given him. It was difficult – nigh-on impossible for us to get together – as we both lived at different ends of the country, but we spoke at length on the phone, with him telling me how far the cancer had spread and that his condition was terminal. As he spoke about his terrible illness he never once lost his innate sense of humour and even joked about it to me.
We decided to begin work on a “Where Are They Now” Special Edition of Swizz and several pages of it – in full colour – had been completed on his untimely death. Andy gave me some ideas and I developed them into the completed pages and sent them to him via email. We spent a lot of time laughing like we used to over the things we came up with. I know you shouldn’t laugh at your own jokes, but Andy’s optimism and good nature was infectious. We planned to get together for his Wedding Anniversary earlier this year but circumstances made it impossible as he had to go back into hospital for a further operation.
I never did see him again.
He was taken away far too early, a young man by today’s standards. But, to steal a line from my favourite film, “He who shines twice as bright burns half as long.” And Andy was a bright light indeed. He lit up a room whenever he walked into it. He was a great friend and, with no exceptions, was liked by everyone who knew him.
It saddens me that such a good man should have his life cut short, but I would also like to celebrate his life and remember him for the man we all loved and the joy he brought to those lucky enough to be around him.
I raise my glass to you, Andy. You were a star. You are a star.
Shine brightly, my friend.