Not just another news story

Before there was X Factor, there was Karaoke Night (John, far right)

People die all the time. Sometimes they are people we know: family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. Often they are unknown faces who appear on news bulletins: a murder victim, a celebrity, those who had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The former are always remembered, the latter soon forgotten, and we have a different way of compartmentalising grief and sorrow for each. But what about when these two worlds collide?

You’ll no doubt have read or heard about the nine people who died on Mont Maudit near Chamonix on Thursday, after being caught in an avalanche. Yesterday one of them was named as John Taylor, 46, from Upper Poppleton near York. I knew him better as John Taylor, 33, a fellow student on the MBA programme I attended at Cranfield in 1998/99.

I didn’t know about this until another friend from the course alerted me via Facebook last night. A quick look at the relevant BBC News article confirmed in words and pictures that it was the John I spent two years studying alongside.

My initial reaction was one of disbelief. That can’t be the John Taylor I know, surely? People on the news aren’t supposed to be people you know – those two worlds aren’t suppose to interconnect. But connect they did on this occasion. Which led to my second reaction: the feeling that someone had just punched me in the stomach.

How did this feel? It’s hard to isolate individual emotions. Sorrow for his family, obviously. Regret that I hadn’t seen John for at least 10 or 11 years, although he was still close with others from the course. A rush of nostalgia for the two years of shared experiences we had, resulting in a quick dig for old photo albums. A sense that I should make more of an effort to stay in touch with others beyond the odd comment on Facebook or Twitter.

I’m not going to claim that John was my best friend on the course, or even a good friend. But I like to think he was a friend, someone I occasionally shared a relaxed conversation with over a late night drink at the bar. There were many of those during our fortnightly residential weekends, and ‘late night’ was often better described as ‘early morning’ – or indeed just ‘is it time for breakfast yet?’

John was – and I mean this in nothing other than a 100% positive sense – a thoroughly good bloke. I remember him as studious but approachable, quiet yet sociable. Not one of those who clamoured to be the centre of attention, but absolutely not one of those who would bury himself in his room either. Just a smart, regular chap who was good company to be with. His karaoke singing wasn’t great, though, if memory serves.

Before there was X Factor, there was Karaoke Night (John, far right)

An experienced climber, he and eight others of the 28-strong party had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, costing them their lives. That unfortunate confluence of events means that this suddenly became more than just another news story for me. And that’s the thing: every story of this nature is just a statistical footnote to 99.99% of us, but of course it’s also someone else’s tragedy. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that – until the news becomes personal, that is.

John and Steve Barber, also from Upper Poppleton, were making the trip to raise money for St Leonard’s Hospice in York, a charity which cares for people with life-threatening illnesses. Donations can be made via their website here.

John Taylor is survived by his wife Karine and two young daughters, Emma and Louise. RIP John. I hope heaven has a suitable karaoke playlist for you.