Dave Townsend


Dave T: One of the good guys.

I first met Dave just about 27 years ago in Cambridge. We were both training with the British Antarctic Survey in preparation for spending two years in Antarctica.

By October, training completed, we were ready for Antarctica. Actually we weren't ready for Antarctica at all but we were sailing South along with a whole bunch of similarly clueless Antarctica novices or "fidlets". The next two years, three months and fourteen days at Halley Base were genuinely life changing for all of us. It was a wonderful and fantastic time. It was also a bit of a challenge.

A well balanced outlook on life is essential for over-wintering on a small base. Eighteen blokes with just each other for company. Once the ship had left we had virtually no contact with the outside world until the return of the ship about eleven months later. In May the sun sets and doesn't come up again for three months. Temperatures drop below -50C. Storms whip the snow into an impenetrable maelstrom for days on end.

Dave proved to be one of the good guys. One of the steady, stable, friendly reliable guys, that in places like that you can literally trust with your life. Always willing to help; to lend a hand where he could. Always willing to volunteer for less pleasant jobs or difficult jobs or, on occasion, dangerous jobs. We had quite a few of those but then this was a place where sometimes just going outside was not straightforward and could take an hour to prepare for.

In the whole of that time I don't think I ever really saw him lose his temper or badly fall out with anyone. He would occasionally refer to someone as a twat but that is a perfectly wholesome aspect of a well-balanced attitude. He may not have actually originated the unofficial base motto, "If you have not got a sense of humour you should not have joined", but he did embody it. Dave Cruise, another winterer, described him as "the best antidote to bullshit I ever met".

Dave and I became good friends. We would sit up until late drinking port and discussing the nature of life, the endless possibilities of the future, philosophy and women. Not always in that order. I especially remember some trips to the coast. An hour's blast across the shelf ice on ski-doos and then off down exploring the edge of the sea ice, visiting the penguin colony, photographing seals. A ski-doo is the snowy equivalent of a motorbike. A point that Dave, a lifelong biker, had not missed. Our trips occasionally became just a tad competitive. We were once racing, a little bit, and raced side by side out onto a large, smooth section of sea ice the size of a football pitch. It began to gently undulate. To move up and down with our weight. There were ripples in the ice spreading out from us. The ice was thin and fresh and was undulating to indicate that it was not really strong enough to support two ski-doos. In one of those moments of perfect unspoken communication we looked at each other before turning, as one, and without slowing or breaking formation looped straight back round the way we had come and shot off back up the snow slope to safety. That night there was extra port.

Dave enjoyed a reputation as the official Halley Base barber. His repertoire of fashionable styles included the number one and the number two. In fact his whole repertoire was the number one and number two. Andy Tait has lamented that he has not been able to get a haircut quite like that ever since. For my part it was the end of shoulder length hair and, although I now only sport a more modest number four, I still owe it to Dave.

After Antarctica we stayed in touch. Dave didn't want to go back to his old life of repairing and driving trucks so instead he began a career with seismic exploration crews. He travelled round the world with a team of mechanics and geophysicists letting off small explosions and listening for the tell-tale sounds of oil. In West Africa he caught malaria and in the Middle East he could be seen wearing a bullet proof vest. He also met Julia and got married. You will have to ask her as to how she managed to make him stand still long enough for that to happen.

Every few months he'd be back in the UK and we'd catch up. The phone call always began "Hey-up Simes". He is the only person that has ever called me Simes. To this day I am not sure why I let him get away with it. Then it was "let's go skiing" or "how about the Le Mans 24 hour". Last year it was "Goodwood, I've got to go to Goodwood".

Skiing in Bulgaria was a fine example of how Dave could make the best of a situation. We had a cheap ski deal which meant a concrete hotel, shared room, threadbare blankets, grey soap and boiled cabbage. Undaunted, Dave headed into town where we looked at fake Rolex watches, ate chips, had a bottle of wine, each, and then much to his delight still had change from a fiver for a couple of beers in the titty bar that he had found on the way home. Another time, we were high in the French Alps. Staying in a pretty and traditional village of wooden chalets, window boxes and snow covered roofs. It was late, the narrow streets were quiet, snow crunched underfoot and a few stars were out. In the midst of this tranquil setting Dave still managed to unerringly lead us to what was probably the only wet t-shirt competition in the whole of the Haut Dauphine area that month.

We always shared a common interest in the good things in life: women, skiing, motor sports and power tools. On occasion we would meet up at the Donnington race track not far from here and watch the Touring cars, F3 and other events. Julia never came. She doesn't understand Dave would explain. Says it is all just cars going round in circles. I would nod wisely, we'd sip beer, compare notes on chainsaws and watch the cars going round in circles.

Dave really was one of the good guys. In the last week I have received a bunch of messages saying exactly that. I am honoured and proud to have known him. There is much about Dave's life that I don't have time to talk about. Many stories: Off-roading, Dave in a dress, sno-cats, bull dozers, chick-wipes, the rugby match, Lyden Ice Rise.

Dave made a good go of life. He enjoyed himself, he was a pleasure to be with, he visited more countries than most people can point at on a map and he enriched countless lives. In short, he grabbed life by the balls. It was an honour and a privilege to know Dave. I'm going to miss the big man and so are an awful lot of other people.

Simon Salter, 22nd April 2014

3 May 2014

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