'I'm not ready for goodbyes when the jokes have run out'
It's ten years since I delivered the most difficult, and probably the best speech of my life. it's also the speech that started this site. RIP Chris Daffey. Remembered always.
I spent the days leading into Christmas writing a eulogy for a best mate. It wasn’t one of my best mates. It was actually for a bloke I’d never met, about another bloke I’d never met. But the eulogist was in a bit of a panic — he was not a confident speaker and the funeral had a thousand attendees, and he’d just lost his best friend of thirty years — and so we worked it out. It made me think that reading so many eulogies over this last decade has given me a sense of shapes and ideas that work, and in the next year or two I’ll do what I should have done a long time ago and write a book about eulogies, or speechwriting generally.
At the moment, my bookstore has books about football and cows tripping over moons, which doesn’t always excite the speechlovers who visit Speakola.
Speakola newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I had nearly a thousand new signups to this newsletter in a few days last year when my Conversations episode with Richard Fidler was re-aired.
I think the part of that chat that connects with people is my memories of my best mate who died by suicide in 2013. Daff was a mercurial person, a man of a million stories, and even a decade on, he shapes my life and my friendship groups, and barely a day passes without me thinking, ‘I wonder what Daff would have said?’
The eulogy is crammed with these stories. The speechwriter in me now wishes I’d left a few of them out, just because it’s unquestionably too long. The speech deliverer in me hears the audio, and wishes I’d memorised more of it, and read less. (Damian Callinan’s episode of the podcast is great on this topic)
But there are things that I really love about the Daff eulogy:
the how we met story
the silliness of his invented games (bonsoir or bonsnub is my favourite);
the fact that it captures some of his excesses and flaws;
the fact it moves from story to story, and isn’t just a list of dates or achievements;
the paragraph about his generosity and kindness — I love that there is an example of thoughtfulness directed at each member of the family;
I’m also really glad I said something about the frustration we felt, and feel, that he never shared his mental health struggles with us. I still feel a lot of frustration about that.
Anyway, it’s ten years today since the funeral. Miss you Daff.
I first met Daff in the Minter Ellison boardroom at Market Street on a hot February day in 1996. We had what I remember as a brief, hilarious chat before the event took a turn when Daff fainted unconscious right in the middle of the party. When his eyes flicked open, there were about fifty people huddled around him and he had about two seconds to think before throwing a hand out from his position lying flat on his back. ‘Chris Daffey,’ he said, without missing a beat.
I knew he was something amazing then and there. I didn’t get to speak to him any more at that function because, in Daff’s words, ‘HR had me in the lifts and out of the building before you could say “public liability insurance”. I later found out that Daff wasn’t as immediately sure about me. Like me, he kept this document with mugshots and profiles of his fellow articled clerks. Unlike me, he pencilled a first impression against each name. ‘R-sole’ [spelled capital R sole] was the designation for future friend James Edwards. I was granted slightly more wiggle room, assessed merely as ‘Possible R-Sole’.
Articles began and so did our friendship. We’d meet at the level one billiards table every day, and spend hours drinking Coke, eating sandwiches and attempting to roll pool balls down the table in such a way that the number would ‘hang’ perfectly still on the side. ‘Ugly’ we’d say when the axis scrambled. ‘Ooooooooh,’ we’d say if we got a perfect release. Whoever got more ‘Ooooohs’ over the lunchtime won. There was always a game with Daff. And always a winner.
It was the early days of email, and god knows how many billable units were wasted as Daff corresponded, not just with me, but with a growing number of Minters colleagues caught in the beam of his charisma. Minters called its email system the ‘Minternet’, and Daff quickly worked out that the template had one important flaw. An unscrupulous sender could just spacebar his own name out of the ‘from’ window, and write the name of any other person he might want to pretend to be.
The result was sheer mayhem. I spent three hours flirting with a girl, thinking I was some chance for a date, without knowing Daff was emailing in falsetto from his cubical on level 8. I then attempted to get Daff back, and indeed had a notable success posing as his then girlfriend Kerry, but I was a man out of my depth. ‘The only thing that mitigates my joy is the knowledge you will get me back,’ I wrote in my moment of triumph, which was exactly the same thing he wrote when the inevitable occurred. Yep, a phone message from my awfulest client wasn’t actually from him. Suspecting nothing, I hastily rang the awfulest client, pleading with him not to take the stupidest course of imaginable. ‘What are you talking about?’ he said to me. ‘What the f*ck are you talking about?’ Yep, Not for the first time, Daff had gone too far.
Amidst all the drudgery of that articles year, we had so much fun. There had been mid-year articled clerk revues before, but Daff turned ours into an extravaganza. In one sketch, he used artfully positioned pot-plants, photocopier lids, chair backs and assorted paraphernalia to film every articled clerk getting about his or her lawyerly tasks, naked. I’ll never forget Ben Liu on his tummy in centrefold pose, his dignity protected by the ‘Hot Stocks’ edition of the BRW. There was the bit in which Daff and I stormed the front foyer of Blakes in chicken suits. There was a sign in the copy room that said ‘Don’t Abuse the Photocopiers’ so Daff thought it would be funny if we found an old one, and filmed ourselves smashing it up with sledge-hammers in the middle of a field, to the Carmina Burana. ‘Twelve Angry Articled Clerks’ we called it. It was such a good time. I sometimes think it was the experience making that mid-year production together that encouraged both of us to pursue creative careers.
Today, I have such conflicted feelings about Daff’s decision to write his novel. It was an agony to watch its progress, not because the output wasn’t terrific, it almost always was, but because the words flowed like treacle. In true Daff style, he kept spreadsheets documenting his daily word count, and the numbers were sometimes in two figures. He’d ring me up, asking for a preference between two words. ‘It doesn’t matter, Daff’ I’d say. ‘Nobody will notice. Just move on.’ But he couldn’t. It had to be perfect. One year became two years, which became three years. He spent one of those at my parents’ holiday place at Red Hill, calling me every night at 5pm when he went outside to watch the rabbits. Daff loved animals. The one member of our family who still doesn’t know he’s gone is his beloved Charley Dog.