BEST of luck, best of luck and the best of luck again… Poor old Horace. Or poor old Stanley, it wasn’t ever quite clear what his real name actually was. I just know that calling him Stanley would always trouble Horace, sometimes triggering angry shouting, which was sad because he spent most of his life wishing people good things, wishing people ‘the best of luck’.
As news of his sudden death filters through north London – it is reported that Horace collapsed close to the Whittington Hospital on his way to an appointment on Monday - some people will know him as the guy who did just that. He wished them the ‘best of luck’. Always the best of luck. Everybody and anybody would get wished the best of luck. He must have been wishing the people of Finchley, Barnet, Muswell Hill and Camden Town the best of luck going on for 30 years. No wonder a north London legend grew around him.
He was one of the characters of the streets who help thread together what is really London’s collective patchwork of a story, people who, without ever planning to, become better known than our local politicians and breed warmer familiarity than some of our celebrity neighbours. I might not know you, you might not know me, but chances are we’ve both been wished the best of luck by Horace at some point, whether you remember it or not.
I don’t know much about his life story, his tale is largely rooted in Barnet. I hope he got help where he needed it. I guess everybody liked the idea of somebody devoting their time to wishing complete strangers the best of luck, an upbeat message sometimes whispered, often bellowed. It made us smile, without thinking too deeply about the troubles that a man who stood outside a fast food shop or the post office shouting the best of luck repeatedly could be facing. The saddest thing is that some people didn’t just smile, nor did they stop for a chat. They taunted him. Some people actively tried to trigger his angrier side, calling him Stanley despite his distress. Others tried to goad his catchphrase out of him, behind adolescent cackles. Search his name on YouTube and the footage doesn’t really tell his story.
It’s a curious thing, hard to explain, but it’s only after you read that somebody like Horace has died that you realise how they play, albeit inadvertently, such binding roles in our communities. Somebody on Facebook compared Horace’s ever presence to the ravens at the Tower of London. Here was a man who never seemed to age, never changed his greeting and always seemed to be there as the shops, people and technology around us changed. There is a quality in that which is difficult to define.
There are other people like this, sort of living their lives in public, sometimes without choice due to their housing needs, but becoming part of all of our worlds. We look on, but rarely intervene. The fondness for Horace reminds me of the affection felt for Ushi Bahler, the woman who lived on the doorstep of the home she had been evicted from in West Hampstead for many years, despite her advancing age. The door locked, she lived among her saved possessions in the front yard. You see similar affection too for the shaven haired Big Issue seller who pushes a trolley around Camden Town selling bits and bobs. Unplanned, these people enter our minds and memories in a way that the man in the office suit who gets the same bus as you at the same time every day, sitting in a seat nearby, can’t.
Another example: the Big Issue seller outside Angel who got on with his work with a cat curled up around his shoulders. Every crook of London has people we all recognise collectively without ever really knowing. The Lion of South End Green is another example.
Given this curious neighbourhood fame – Horace has
4,000 6,000 ‘likes on Facebook’ and a petition for a bench marking his memory – maybe we should stop for a chat more often. Maybe at least we should make sure the YouTube footage is kinder.
The best of luck, Horace, the best of luck.