This time last year, a good friend of mine passed away unexpectedly. This is just a short post to say that Dai Barnes will not be forgotten, and lives on in the fond memories of friends and family.
I’m not sure what he would have made of 2020, but I miss not having the opportunity to discuss with him this year of all years. He probably would have called it ‘interesting’ which was his euphemism for anything with which he disagreed (or thought was a bit shit).
I think of Dai regularly, and certainly every Sunday night, which was often the time we’d record the TIDE Podcast. Some people have suggested I find a new co-host, but I think listeners will agree he was irreplaceable.
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.