When I first moved up to London from the countryside, way back in the early 1970s, I became a volunteer helper at one of the first gay counselling groups that sprang up around that time. This was Centre, long since gone, but it was similar to London Friend, which still exists.
At Centre, I met some people who I can still count amongst my friends, nearly forty years on. One of them was Sameer Bowyer, a volunteer like myself, but who took me under his wing to help me learn the ropes. Sameer was an interesting guy, a member of the Royal Zoological Society (he was a herpetologist) and a jeweller (he was making jewellery for an eclectic set of people such as Alvin Stardust, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Toyah, George Melly, Humphrey Littleton, and many other pop and jazz stars of the time). He kept a collection of snakes at his home, and I remember visiting him once at feeding time. I was simultaneously fascinated and somewhat taken aback to find that their diet consisted of live white mice.
However, we had rather lost touch with each other by the end of the 1970s. Centre had closed, and we were both involved in our own lives and in our work. It was through my work that I moved to the Netherlands in 1983. On the occasional trip back to London, I would go to the open-air art market that was held on Sundays along the Bayswater Road, where Sameer used to have a pitch. The first couple of times, the other traders said that they remembered him, but that he hadn’t been there for a long while; later they would simply shake their heads – they didn’t know the name.
And that’s where it stood for many years. Then in 2008, I was idly using Google to search for long-lost friends, and turned up a reference to a Sameer Bowyer. Curious, I followed it up, and thus re-established contact with him after a gap of thirty years. Emails and the occasional telephone call followed to exchange our stories of what had been happening in the intervening period. He’d lived a full and happy life, but recently tragedy had struck – his partner of 34 years had recently died of meningitis. Sameer himself was not in the best of health, although at that point no firm diagnosis had been made.
I had hoped to meet up with him during a brief visit to the UK last year, but he was ill at the time and did not feel up to receiving visitors. So we contented ourselves with exchanging Christmas cards.
This year, I sent him a card as usual. Alas, I received an email yesterday from the husband of his niece to say that Sameer died on the 7th December, and his funeral was on the 15th. Apparently, he came out of hospital a short while ago having being told that his lung cancer (the diagnosis finally came through…) had passed into his lymphatic system and had entered the brain. He spent his last few days in a hospice in Windsor.
I regret that we did not manage to meet up again. However, I am glad that we managed to re-establish contact and exchange tales of what had happened in that thirty year gap. I shall remember Sameer with fondness. A real gent.
Addendum 19 November 2019: I’ve managed to find an old photo taken of us both when we were at Centre – that’s Sameer on the right in his wolfskin coat…