Laughing At Life: Peter titled his memoirs Sometimes I Forgot To Laugh. But the laughter-loving man I recall - both from his years in Sydney and through his chatty letters from all over the world over several decades - often did remember to chuckle. He sought and thoroughly enjoyed many kinds of humour, from low farce to high wit (though one kind he didn’t enjoy was the smart Alec type, or ridiculing others for no purpose other than to assert clever Dick superiority).
In the world of cricket and beyond, Peter, as far as life and laughter went, particularly warmed to colourfully eccentric characters, people who found themselves surprisingly out of touch with the ways of the world, or in incongruous situations. People whose appearances, behavioural oddities, unexpected interests or unfortunate predicaments always tickled his funny bone.
For some reason Peter thought it was amusing, for example, when he discovered I had actually read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Or that lying on my bookshelf was an unread copy of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. What was funny here? I suppose Peter, knowing who I was, just could not see me in the frame for reading either a trail-blazing feminist tract or a punishingly long work of European literature by an Austrian writer whose attention-grabbing book the author Jane Smiley described as the sort “no one has read but everyone has heard of”. That I should end up working in the world of conservation in Australia, Peter also found worthy of a regular dig. Time and again, he would shoot through cheeky lines such as: ‘Saved any Pygmy Possums lately, Tobes?’
Peter liked to read, write, run, cook, converse and laugh with the best of ‘em.
No writer appealed to his sense of humour more than David Nobbs, especially Nobbs’ fictional anti-hero, Reginald Perrin. Likewise, Tom Sharpe and his fictional anti-hero Henry Wilt always brought endless mayhem and merriment to Peter’s life. It was Peter who urged me to read Sharpe, a recommendation that ought to have come with a health warning. On a plane flight from Perth to Sydney I almost died laughing, in a fit of convulsions, while reading Sharpe’s Vintage Stuff
Thanks for that, Peter. And thanks for your friendship, for creating and sharing so many laughs, and for carrying on the great English and Australian tradition of laughing at life.