In December, we were all very saddened to hear of the death of Jock Blakey, a long time club member of both MSC London and The London Blues.
I had the good fortune of interviewing Jock at his home in 2021, as part of my research into the history and culture of The London Blues, and he told the story of an incredible life, albeit one where shocking levels of homophobic discrimination were a regular occurrence.
At his funeral on 11th January, his good friend Jerome Farrell offered a eulogy that told an excellent story of Jock’s life and interests, and kindly agreed to have it placed on archive at Bishopsgate, and reproduced here for club members:
“We all remember Jock in our different ways. Capturing someone’s life and character in a few words and a few minutes is a hard task. Pretty impossible, in fact. But this is my stab at it.
I think Jock had a great capacity for forming and sustaining friendships. He once remarked to me, when discussing the growing trend of social media and online contact, that true and deep friendship had to be based on real, shared experiences. He was a steadfast and loyal friend, in it for the long haul, and actively engaged in maintaining a wide circle of friends and companions.
Jock was a clubbable man, in the sense that he joined and contributed to a whole range of groups and organisations. His birthday parties were legendary, and he thrived in company.
He enjoyed structure and comradeship. In his early adulthood he served in the Royal Air Force as a Flight Lieutenant, working as a Navigator on Vulcan Bomber planes, and stationed in Cyprus for a time.
Later he went out to the Far East for three years, to work as an Inspector for the Hong Kong Police – a position of considerable responsibility, where he was the officer in charge of around 60 men. He enjoyed the adventure, and often spoke in later life about his time there.
Though many of us here will not know this, Jock single-handedly saved a man from drowning in the sea off Hong Kong, and received official recognition for this act of bravery.
Jock had a varied subsequent career, with many years teaching A-level mathematics in Portsmouth and then St Albans, before moving to London – and working for the Fire Brigade, and then for Transport for London.
With TfL he became a Station Assistant at the very busy Hammersmith Underground Station. With his lifelong interest in trains, and indeed all forms of transport, this suited him down to the ground. He often told me how satisfying he found the act of helping people, particularly those with disabilities, and from all over the world, who turned up on the platform at Hammersmith, anxious and bewildered.
Jock joined clubs and organisations which chimed with his many and varied enthusiasms, such as motorcycling, pipe smoking, handlebar moustaches, swimming, uniforms, outdoor walking, and Scottish dancing.
He often gave up his free time to do the jobs few others wanted – sitting through countless committee meetings and serving as treasurer, secretary, or chairman.
He did voluntary work with SSAFA, the armed forces charity, helping ex-service personnel facing hardship and trauma, and for a while did some prison visiting, too.
For a number of years he rode his motorbike all over London, to assist with ensuring the success of the annual Open Gardens and Squares event. He played the bagpipes and the organ. In Hong Kong, he even kept English tradition alive – by joining the local Morris Dancing Side.
In the early days of our friendship, I remember being rather surprised to discover that this good natured and affable, but sometimes reserved and diffident, ex-RAF maths teacher, proud of his Yorkshire background and Scottish ancestry, was equally at home on a motorbike or in a concert hall, art gallery or opera house.
He attributed the foundations of his cultural education to the influence of his family, including several aunts and great aunts, of whom he spoke with affection.
Family frequently featured in his conversation and he always looked forward to meeting up with his sister, Mary, and brother-in-law, Tom – and loved being an uncle to Georgie and Alex – and indeed, a Great Uncle, to Kit and Audrey.
Jock rarely complained. He was a stoic, when faced with health problems, and other setbacks.
Statistically – and Jock loved statistics, so I hope I’ve got this right – over 77 per cent of his life was lived when same-sex relationships were either against the law, or had no legal standing or protection, and were widely stigmatised.
He also lived through the long and terrible period when far too many friends and acquaintances fell ill and died, from HIV and AIDS. I recall Jock at this time as being especially diligent in hospital-visiting – normally with the obligatory gift of a bunch of grapes.
I say that Jock rarely complained – but I do remember a period, many years back, when he would say to me that he wished he had a boyfriend. I would make encouraging noises back – but I did wonder whether a man so used to the bachelor life, and rather set in his ways, would find what he desired.
Then came Lewis!
Jock couldn’t believe his good fortune. They clicked, and became soulmates – and that was 17 years ago.
In 2015 they celebrated their Civil Partnership. In perhaps true Jock style – he was often better at the practical than the emotional – Lewis came home one day, to find Jock simply filling in the Partnership application form, without having actually asked Lewis. Perhaps he simply intuited – correctly – Lewis’ feelings on the matter.
The ceremony turned out to be memorable and joyous, with Jock and Lewis both dressed splendidly in kilts for the occasion.
They loved and supported each other through thick and thin. At regular intervals and for many years, they travelled widely across Europe together, mainly by Jock’s – and Lewis’ – preferred means of transport, the train. Lewis stayed at Jock’s side right until the final moment of his life.
Jock was not only stoical in adversity, he was – fundamentally – an optimist. The worst was unlikely to happen; life was good; and he preferred to focus on hope and the positive. He valued the Christian faith in which he was brought up, and which he never abandoned – and believed that, in some way quite beyond our understanding, ultimately all will be well.
Living as he and I did, in different parts of London for the past 30 years, Jock and I would meet up periodically for a chat, to catch up on news and share a couple of pints or, in more recent years, a glass or three of wine.
A convenient central location for this was a well-known pub near Charing Cross called Halfway to Heaven. I sincerely hope that that is where Jock is, now.”
Jerome Farrell – 11th January 2023
Camberwell New Cemetery – Funeral of Jock Blakey (1946-2022)