Today, Sunday 29th September 2019, I’m giving a eulogy for my good friend Dai Barnes, who passed away in early August. For those who can’t attend the memorial service at Oundle School, I’m sharing the text of it here — along with the audio contributions I’m including from the last-ever episode of TIDE.
Thank you to everyone who had a hand in shaping this, and to Dai’s family for allowing me the honour of speaking at his memorial service.
I believe it was the author Terry Pratchett who said that “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” My friend Dai Barnes certainly caused some ripples during the time he spent on this Earth.
Today, almost two months after Dai’s passing, all of us in this room are at different stages in the grieving process. Some of us here knew Dai, or David as he was known by his family, for most of his life. Some of us knew him for some brief parts of it. What we all have in common is a feeling that he went too soon.
Dai was around a decade older than me, but it didn’t feel like that at all. He had such a youthful exuberance about him and I’ve never met anyone who had such an affinity with kids. It really was his mission in life to be the best educator he could possibly be. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot more about that from Bill when he talks about Dai’s professional life.
For me, Dai was one of the most straightforwardly complex people I’ve ever come across. He was a bit of an enigma. At the same time as there being layers and layers to him that you’d peel back as conversations unfolded, he also wore his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never known anyone like him.
Most people here will have known Dai IRL (“in real life”), but I just want to take a moment to talk about the other half of his existence. Dai’s online life was just as important to him as his life offline, and the number of tweets, audio and video recordings, and other messages that have come in since his passing really is testament to the impact he had on other people – even at a distance.
Dai joined a new online service called Twitter in 2007 and, in fact, that’s how we met. In those days we’d also see each other in person at TeachMeets and other events, and that eventually led to us to co-host a Sunday night online meeting for educators called EdTechRoundUp. I just want to play a short audio clip from Mary Cooch, who some of you may know as @moodlefairy on Twitter. She was also part of that group.
EdTechRoundUp was around a decade ago. After that ended, Dai and I maintained contact, and then, back in 2014, we met IRL in a cafe in Newcastle. We talked about how we missed the EdTechRoundUp days and decided to start a new podcast together. We must have talked for about two and a half hours before I noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
Going barefoot was the thing that most people noticed about Dai. He claimed that shoes were the “devil’s work” but, actually, he had a more prosaic reason for unencumbering his feet. He had fallen arches, and so after years of doctors’ advice leading to ineffective insoles and various other attempted solutions, he looked online and found that barefoot running might be the answer.
Dai went without shoes wherever and whenever he could. He even walked barefoot to the top of Dale Head in the Lake District with me once! But he was nevertheless a pragmatist – a point he made in the introduction to a blog post he wrote back in 2016 about his experience of going barefoot in the Samaria Gorge in Crete:
Being barefoot brings burden. You have to set your own rules. Some are die-hard – never a shoe in sight of sole. Never compromise. But that’s not my way. I wear my naked feet when I feel it’s okay. By default my choice is to be shoeless. But some things require footwear: football, cricket, tennis, uniforms. It would be misrepresentative not to expose my wrestle with pushing to be footloose everywhere I go. But there are expectations to meet. I am not the type to live beyond the influence of social expectation.
To be fair, the barefoot approach did fit in well with Dai’s slightly hippie approach to life. His family tell me that, as a child, he claimed that when he grew up he wanted to be a “beach bum”. And then, when he left home, for a few years he had long hair that he didn’t wash very often!
Dai certainly had a unique approach to life. He was reliable yet spontaneous. He was willing to uphold tradition and convention, but wasn’t afraid to jump up on a table during an observed lesson to emphasise a point. His private school students obtained amazing results, yet he sometimes taught them in quite unconventional ways. For example, occasionally, he would allow them to stay in their rooms on a Saturday morning and teach the class virtually using a chat app called Slack.
The other thing that everyone comments on when they remember Dai is THE VOICE. It was my privilege to be able to record that voice for the world to hear through the Today In Digital Education podcast. We recorded 119 episodes of TIDE, as it was known, with the 120th being a memorial episode to celebrate Dai’s life. We’ve already heard Mary’s contribution to that, and now here’s Kevin McLaughlin talking not only about Dai’s voice, but about his sheer gravitas:
There are so many other things I could tell you about Dai. The short amount of time I have here just isn’t enough. I want to talk about his amazing musical ability; he said that “a song is an algorithm for a person”. I want to talk about his generosity, his leadership, how jealous I was that he was better than me at every PlayStation 4 game we played together. Oh, and the time he bought Eylan Ezekiel and me some bamboo underpants that he discovered in India.
Not everyone who knew Dai can be here today. As I’ve already mentioned, the number of people who got in touch with Amy, Eylan, and me in the days and weeks after Dai’s passing became almost overwhelming. From those memories that flooded in, I’d like to share just one more. This came from Keith Brown, a former colleague of Dai’s:
Dai and me were the IT department at St Benedict’s for about 7 years from 2006-2013. The funny thing was that he was my boss as Head of Department and I was his boss as Deputy Head of 6th Form as he was one of my pastoral team. We also played in the staff band together. He taught me pretty much everything I know and have traded off since! I left St Benedict’s in 2013 and implemented what I’d learnt from Dai as Deputy Head. I am now doing the same as a Head in Wimbledon. I’ve been able to carve out a career in my latter years based on much of what Dai taught me…. He was a friend, but perhaps more importantly, just a thoroughly good man.
So, in closing, those ripples that Terry Pratchett talked about? The ones that have an effect far beyond the life of an individual? Dai’s ripples are not going to stop for a LONG time yet. So thank you David Sutherland Barnes, it was our absolute privilege to share a part of life’s journey with you. Your impact on us, and on so many others, has helped to shape who we are.
Photos taken from those shared on Twitter using the #RIPDai hashtag.
Striking as part of the Global Climate Strike. We took the kids out of school and through to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to give them their first sense of activism. We made signs and everything. Awesomely, Moodle employees were encouraged to join in the strikes.
Writing an updated version of the eulogy I’m going to give at the memorial for Dai Barnes next weekend. It can never capture all of his different facets, but I hope it gives people there some insight into them.
Continuing leading the work around MoodleNet. Mayel, our technical architect, is on parental leave, but Ivan (designer and front-end developer) is back, and we’re in pretty good shape at the moment. I’ve been talking with Moodle Partners about further development of the Moodle LMS plugin that our team prototyped.
Next week is my last at home before a fair bit of travel between now and the end of November. Some of that is for a Mountain Leader course I’m going on (three weekends in different parts of the country), some for work, and some for what I’d loosely call ‘professional development’ (MozFest!)
Dai Barnes was my partner in crime. We’d posse up, steal some horses, perhaps rob a bank, and then have a dramatic shoot-out with the law. All the while on PS4 voice chat.
Not only would we talk about how much of a great game Red Dead Redemption 2 is, but also life, the world, and everything. Dai would swear like a sailor. We’d laugh. We’d tell each other stuff we probably wouldn’t have shared with other people.
Men don’t really call one another up and just ‘have a chat’, which is one of the reasons why I found recording the TIDE podcast with Dai so amazing. We recorded TIDE for just over four years, from March 2015 until this June. It was just like having a chat with a mate while drinking whisky, that just happened to also be a podcast.
TIDE didn’t come from nowhere. Dai and I met in October 2014 in a Newcastle coffee shop when he was up for an event. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, and had a actually forgotten he went barefoot. We talked about how we missed the good old days of EdTechRoundUp, which was between about 2007 and 2011.
Dai was a bit of an enigma. At the same time as there being layers and layers to him that you’d peel back as conversations unfolded, he also wore his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never known anyone like him. He was fiercely loyal, but (I’ve learned) also kept his friendship groups separate.
He was around a decade older than me, but it didn’t feel like that at all. Dai had such a youthful exuberance about him and I’ve never met anyone who had such an affinity with kids. It really was his mission in life to be the best educator he could possibly be.
If there’s anything that Dai’s taught me over the years, and I feel like he’s taught me a lot, it’s that there’s nothing so important as human relationships. He also taught me a healthy dose of pragmatism gets shit done. And finally, knowing a little of his personal life, he demonstrated how to keep it all together and show courage under fire. What a guy.
I miss him.
Dai Barnes passed away suddenly in his sleep after a camping trip with friends in Idaho, USA on the night of Thursday 1st / Friday 2nd August 2019.
Ways to remember Dai:
Write a blog post (see Christian, Tim, Aaron), compose a poem, record a song, or paint a picture. You could share using the #RIPDai hashtag on Twitter.
A few of us a planning a memorial episode of TIDE for later this month for which we’ll be taking audio contributions. Whether you knew Dai well or fleetingly, please have a think about what you could say, and we’ll feature your contributions.
Finally, I’d like to thank Amy Burvall and Eylan Ezekiel for their love, support, and organisational skills. Also, the edtech community, whose outpouring of affection for Dai has been touching.
Please message Amy, Eylan, or me for Dai’s parents’ address should you wish to send something. I believe they are collecting tweets and other online contributions into a book.
Regular readers will know that I’m trying to complete twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) so I can book myself on a a Mountain Leader course. Every one of these I’ve done so far has been by myself, partly because I enjoy it that way, and partly down to logistics.
After QMDs 13 and 14, my friend (and TIDE podcast co-host) Dai Barnes offered to come with me on my next jaunt. As a result, we spent all day last Friday, and part of Saturday, walking in the Lake District.
The thing you need to know about Dai is that he goes barefoot almost everywhere. So when I jokingly reminded him that he’d need some boots for our walking trip, he replied by saying that he’d tie some to his backpack, but was planning to go barefoot. 😲
Although Dai has helped out with students at his school doing The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, he’s not a regular mountain walker. That’s good, because if he had been, the day wouldn’t have counted towards my QMDs.
I sent him a map of the route I’d planned for our first day, and said that we could plan the second one over dinner afterwards. The map below is our 21.1km actual route, which took us around 8.5 hours — including plenty of stops for food and chat.
We actually recorded an episode of the TIDE podcast while walking, so if you’re interested, you can sample that here.
Meeting at 10:00, we set off from the car park Borrowdale YHA after I’d checked we had the right equipment. We started walking (and recording) but after about 30 minutes I realised we had taken the wrong path. I hadn’t really been paying enough attention!
So we continued around and down towards Seatoller and Honister Hause. We agreed while we were down there that we’d go up towards Great Gable the next day. From Honister we ascended directly up towards Dale Head. That approach is probably the best for someone like Dai who hasn’t been up there before. It’s a magnificent view.
We had a great moment at the top, as Dai had brought his tiny but very powerful speaker up to play one of his stepson’s latest songs.
After something to eat, we walked along Hindscarth Edge and round to Hindscarth itself. We could see the clouds drawing in, which began to obscure our view of Dale Head. We came down via Scope End, which was zig-zaggy in places. All the more annoying as I’d forgotten my walking poles.
Heading across the river at the bottom of the valley, engrossed in conversation, we merrily kept walking into Little Town. Once we realised, we backtracked a little and went around High Crags. It was around 16:00 by this time, so we didn’t fancy going around Cat Bells and Brandelhow. Instead, we aimed for Black Crags.
In an error that I refer to on the podcast as ‘sheepfold shortcut’, we got confused between where we were in relation to two sheepfolds (indicated by the purple arrows on the map above).
That meant we didn’t have much choice but to make an extremely steep ascent up to get along and round to Bull Crag. It wasn’t much fun, but necessary given that it was late afternoon.
From there, we walked along Maiden Moor, Narrow Moor, and then arrived at a misty High Spy. Given that the light was beginning to fade, we attempted to get down Rigghead Quarries as quickly as possible. The fact that Dai did this barefoot quite frankly beggars belief.
By the time we got past the quarries it was dark enough to turn my head torch on. We walked the last section in single file along the river in pitch darkness, being careful where we placed our feet. Dai did put on some very thin sandals for this bit.
After a shower, a change of clothes, and a couple of very well-deserved pints, we plotted our route for the next day over dinner.
Things I learned:
It’s easy to get carried away and not check your map when you’re having an interesting conversation.
Just because something looks like a path, doesn’t mean it is.
Double-check your equipment before leaving the house, and consider having a list (so I don’t forget my poles!)
After a decent night’s sleep and a good breakfast on Saturday morning, we drove over to Honister Hause and started walking a circular route towards Great Gable. However, the wind and the rain was so bad that I had to put on full waterproofs and we sheltered for a while in a bothy near Dubs Quarry.
We started descending, realising we would then have to go up again. So, after three hours, soaking wet, and with plenty of the route left to walk, we decided to call it a day. We’d had such a great time the day before, that spoiling our trip by trudging through inclement conditions on Saturday seemed a bit pointless.
So, after getting back to our cars, getting changed, and saying our goodbyes, we headed back home — Dai back down to Oundle, near Peterborough, and me back to Morpeth, Northumberland.
Thanks to Dai for some of the photos featured in this post!
Tom Barrett (for being a truly inspirational educator and collaborator)
Over and above these I’ll be giving some to members of my family, so I’ll have 2 spare to give away. If you’d like one of these, please leave a comment below explaining why! Thanks to those who requested a copy in the comments below – the two that were up for grabs are going to Daniel Dainty & Julian Wood! :-p