A very personal tribute to Brian
Ten years ago, Brian and I had long telephone conversations about the Cyprus problem, the destruction of the natural environment, and the greed of the construction industry. I was exploring the possibility of joining the TFR, as I had heard of its reputation in providing thought-provoking and stimulating programmes. In the end, I never did as Brian admitted then that he was finding it hard going and would probably retire from the Chairmanship and our paths didn’t cross again until last year.
When I met him last April, I found a man disintegrating under the effects of his solitary life, vulnerable and shy, yet like many shy people, countering this with self-centred defensiveness and sometimes alienating and abrasive arrogance. Knowing his formidable reputation in the TRNC, I was surprised and moved by his interest in me. It was clear to me that he needed laughter in his life, and I resolved to provide it.
At our age – I am 62 – a new relationship is a daunting thing, accommodating the other’s tastes, opinions, routine, humour. But the miracle for us was that it was almost effortless, and I felt that while his beloved Elke had been his near perfect complement, providing him with the structure he needed for a creative life, we seemed almost like twins! We discovered we had the same books on our shelves, words, language, writing were especially central to us, we liked the same music, we loved good food and cooking it, shared similar political preoccupations, … and had similar distant pasts. These discoveries continued, astonishing us in their number.
He was not easy at first, and from time to time in the early days, he often treated me as an unwelcome critic. But as I learned to navigate the more vulnerable areas of his life with greater delicacy, he began to flower, and I discovered a man of unswerving loyalty and commitment, macho enough to want to prove himself by taking on the challenge of me, and capable of a unusual level of intimacy and tenderness that was hard to resist. We were at our best travelling, whether far away in Berlin or in my Turkish quarter neighbourhood, having what we called ‘adventures’, when we were kindred spirits in curiosity about everything, ready to explore and converse with strangers. We had such fun in this; even when things went wrong, it provided opportunities for interesting encounters, which we would savour afterwards, reliving the experience in all its facets.
But he knew so much more than I did, and one of the things I will miss most, is the deeper, broader knowledge and perspective he brought to my observations, which enabled me to connect more fully with the world. This was the Brian Self I knew and loved: a man of strange paradoxes, so knowledgeable and self-assured on the one hand, and so vulnerable and in need of an anchor of love and affection on the other to give him balance. He loved engaging with people who did their best to live lives of integrity and involvement, he cared passionately about justice and about the whole island of Cyprus. He was rightly proud of his reputation as a man with what the Turkish Cypriots call, ‘a clean heart’.
By Leonie Brittain
To read other tributes to Brian Self, click on the following links:
The Foreign Residents in memory of Brian Self – click here
Brian Self, A tribute at his funeral 17th January 2014 – click here