It was five years ago, on March 19, 2008, that we lost Arthur. He had lived a full, highly productive and wonderfully interesting life — over ninety years on this planet he thought should have been called “Ocean”, instead of Earth (more appropriate, he opined, because our planet’s more than 70% covered by water). Arthur had been my favorite writer since I read “2001: A Space Odyssey” decades ago, by far his best known work but just one of many great concepts his fertile mind envisioned. Arthur’s the one who nicknamed me, “Dr. Fumblefinger” after a character by the same name in a short story he wrote (which was never published but which he shared with me — have a signed copy of it somewhere). The story is about a blind neurosurgeon who, “despite a string of failures that would have daunted a less determined man”, kept trying until he finally succeeded. I told Arthur the guy’s sense of determination sounded like….me. Arthur had a good laugh from that comment and from then on I was alternately “Karl” or “Dr. Fumblefinger.
I’ve previously recounted some of my experiences visiting Sir Arthur on this blog which you can read about here if you’re interested. Arthur was always so kind and welcoming when I’d come for a visit. He slid me into the daily activities of his life like I was family and left me with some of my most precious memories.
I’ve been thinking about Arthur and what I might say here, and it dawned on me that I don’t think I’ve ever emphasized how funny he was — a mostly dry British sense of humor that, despite his resolve, often broke into a warm smile and laugh.
Once while driving with Arthur from Colombo to his vacation villa in Hikkaduwa (about 2.5 hours one-way), I was sitting in the back seat chatting with him the entire way while he was sitting in the front passenger seat enjoying the drive. I had a notebook in my lap and wrote down some of what Arthur and I were talking about. It seemed like a good idea at the time and, in retrospect, I’m glad I did it. As we were driving, Arthur pointed out sites like some of his favorite diving spots, a stupa he’d visited in a village, provided historic references, etc. It dawned on me that I was being given a private tour of Sri Lanka by Arthur C. Clarke, my favorite writer! (It was a thrill!!)
Here are some of the pearls of Arthur’s excellent sense of humor from that day, as recorded by your humble narrator:
- “For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.”
- “My favorite Ben Franklin quote — ‘Always make love with an older woman. They’re so appreciative!’ “
- “Any one who goes to a psychiatrist needs to have their head examined.”
- Arthur shared two comments on Hollywood: 1) “So much genius, so little talent”. 2) “When you strip off the false tinsel you find the real tinsel underneath.”
- “When I die I want to go like my father, in his sleep…not kicking and screaming like his passengers”.
- (a true story)”I’ve driven down this road a hundred times and every time these construction guys are widening the shoulder. It just never gets any wider.”
- (another true story )”Gore Vidal and I were driving on this road (to Hikkaduwa). On that hill up there a truck’s axle broke and it’s huge wheel came bouncing down the road at us. Luckily it missed our car….Good thing, too…. it would have been a great loss to literature.”
- (and another true story) When we were parked at a pharmacy in Galle, a group of boys gathered around Arthur’s red Mercedes. They addressed him as “King Arthur”. Arthur smiled at me and said, “just so they don’t call me “Queen Arthur'”.
And a final joke:
- “You really find out who your friends are when you get a snake bite on your penis.”
I’ve missed Arthur a lot these past five years.
Author’s note: In one of these photos you’ll see Neil McAleer, who has written the definitive biography of Sir Arthur’s life story. Neil’s book, “SIR ARTHUR C. CLARKE: Odyssey of a Visionary” is being released as an ebook on April 1, 2013. You can find it at this link after that date.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)