"Rik Mayall, who the hell is that?"
I was on a train when a news flash from the BBC app on my iPhone came at me like a ton of bricks. It read - 'Comedian Rik Mayall has died at the age of 56, his management have confirmed.'
"You didn't know him. I hate this; when people get upset about somebody they didn't know"
I didn't argue. I couldn't really hear what my friend was saying above the sound of my heart beating. I'd agree with him, usually. It's hard to understand how you could feel such grief for somebody you'd never known... and yet I did. I immediately began searching for the reason I felt such a genuine sense of loss and sadness.
I was brought up on Rik Mayall from the moment I could comprehend words and pictures. I'm not sure if it was a conscious decision by my Mum, but no sooner could I walk and talk than I was eating up The Young Ones, Bottom, The New Statesman, Drop Dead Fred and The Comic Strip Presents like popcorn. They were on loop, day and night. It could have been the mesmerisingly exuberant characters or the generous use of language I'd never heard spoken before, but I was completely and utterly hooked.
It was no doubt controversial for my Mum to allow her child to consume such uninhibited television at a young age, and I imagine it came as a surprise for my Granddad, when asking his 6 year old Grandson what he'd like for dinner, to be met with "stupid b*stard sandwich" as the suggestion. My Mum and I lived alone and Rik Mayall was our thing. From the signed Bottom poster on the wall to the endless VHS boxes all through the house and the hours we spent waiting at the opening of our local cinema for a glimpse of the man himself, the man who danced through the TV and into our lives almost daily. We loved him. And maybe my sadness stems from the loss of something special shared between Mother and son. And while that is indeed a factor, it runs deeper than I'd ever known.
She was the first person I called and our conversation lasted late into the evening. I told her that I was struggling to understand my extreme feeling of grief and what she said next blew me away.
"There was so much chucked into being brought up with Rik" she explained, "the humour, laughter, crazy characters, politics, offbeat language and affiliation to a cultural era of alternative comedy and comic reaction to the brutality of Thatcherism that was chaining us all down. I feel a really strange sense of loss too, not because I knew him but because he gave us all that."
And that's it. That's the reason this seems to hurt so much. He gave my Mum and I more than I was ever aware of. I could never have understood the politics, but now I understand that Rik had taught me how to express myself, to say what I believed and to do it on my terms. He taught me about culture and people. He taught me how to laugh in darkness, and that there was comedy in that itself. Only now, watching the meltdown on social media and the thousands of other people surprised by their own sense of intense sadness at his loss, do I realise that it wasn't just us. It was a whole generation.
It wasn't easy for my Mum and I to make our way in the world. I can see clearly what I hadn't seen before; as I was holding my Mum's hand, Rik was holding hers.