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Depression only hits at home

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The suicide of my best friend Martin Pullinger
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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He was my number one friend at school, really, and then at Oxford. And probably we were very bad for each other. He's called Martin Pullinger, but I call him other things in the book. But that was my first trip around Europe on this big BSA sidecar, and I should have known something was wrong with him. But I did, of course. But the back tyre went. And I expected him to help, and he just lay down on the grass and he went 'Ugh'. Well, that's what he did whenever anything went wrong. So I kind of should have been more sympathetic. But I was, in way. So we were very... I mean, we were great close friends, but probably not a good thing when two depressives get together, because you have... because you're male, and males compete with everything. You have this competition of whether you're more miserable than the other guy, which I can only... which I can see as funny now.

Anyhow, he was the guy who... you were remembering your rides on the BSA, and I'm in the sidecar. Well, I let him ride it once, otherwise he had to sit on the back. But I didn't tell him about this thingy, and we both came off into the ditch. Well, that was fine, because that meant that he couldn't drive it anymore. I was the tough guy. Now, when he got back, he traded in his little James 100cc, kind of a pushbike-y thing, but... for a Vincent. But not just a Vincent, because he'd come into some money, a Vincent. So I think they were 1200cc, or was it a thousand? Anyhow... the big...

[Q] The Black Shadow?

Yes. The biggest thing ever. But he had it... he took it out to Switzerland and it was made into an Egli-Vincent. So aluminium frame, right? Racing bike. The very fastest bink in the world at that time. And he'd arrive on it, and it sounded like a tractor [engine sounds]. And I realised, you know, he's won. That's why he'd got this thing. I couldn't even hold it upright. Yeah, massive. Anyway, so sadly he married a woman who was in love with... well, it doesn't matter, because I can't remember the name. Anyway, in this play, The Other Side of the Underneath, this tremendous lesbian thingy. But that upset him, but of course it wasn't really that... anyway, he took his Egli-Vincent out to Holland Park, and a can of petrol, and he parked the bike and he went up to the little lake on top of Holland Park. Scraped up a pile of leaves, poured the petrol on it, and lay down. And burned himself to death.

Now, the weird thing about it was that it was the time when Buddhist monks were burning themselves in Sri Lanka, I think. And they always moved at the end, they tried to get away. And the poor park warden who'd gone to Holland Park straight from Sri Lanka, Ceylon then, had gone because he couldn't take this anymore. And in his first week, there was Marty Boy burning himself to death. But he said, 'Well, the thing is your friend, he no move. No move'. He hadn't moved. Just lying there. And then, two days after that, his letters started arriving here, post-dated, telling exactly what he was going to do and where to get a trunk of all his possessions. And well, everything. So then I felt well... and it sounds absurd, but this, Fetish Room, you know, everything that really meant a lot to me, all his things and his paintings and his pictures, they're really powerful. I'll show you later.

And I felt that I was two people, that I could write, as it were, mostly for him. And if I manage it, the next book will be dedicated to him. But you know, I think of him every day. So of course, we don't have eternal life, but you can live on. And I'd love to one day publish pics of all his pictures. Anyway, he was, he was at Oxford, at Balliol, reading medicine, too disturbed to do it. I mean, now, it sounds absurd, doesn't it, to have a place at Balliol reading medicine and you're too... now, he'd get help. He really would get help. I mean, to have made it to that absolute top echelon. But I do think he was a genius.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Marlborough school, Oxford University, Europe, Switzerland, The Other Side of the Underneath, Holland Park, Sri Lanka, Ceylon, Balliol College, Martin Pullinger

Duration: 5 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009