I received word recently that my old friend Jock had died - in fact I hadn't had any contact with him for nearly 20 years, but that just means that the version of Jock I have lost is forever a younger, healthier version.
Jock was a very amusing man - a natural extrovert, without the grating excesses which are common to such people. I admired him a lot. He had a hideous-sounding job - he worked as a general trouble-shooter with the social work department of the local authority in Edinburgh. His patch was the roughest, nastiest council tenement block in the city - a place whose name was well-known for the amount of crime and drug addiction. Jock spent his working day - and many of his nights - helping some of the most wretched people in the city, making sure they got their benefit money, met their parole officers, ate some actual food - he worked tremendously hard, he loved his job, and he did work which really made a difference. And, of course, he didn't get paid very much himself. He admired me, I think, because I had some knowledge of science and mathematics - things that fascinated him, though his level of understanding was roughly what you might get from the Daily Express or the backs of cereal packets. He used to watch a lot of science programmes on TV, though he admitted he mostly didn't make much of the detail.
One evening, long ago, over a beer in the Canny Man's in Morningside, Jock and I were discussing the National Lottery, in which he was a big investor - he was constantly on the lookout for some magical "mathematical" system which would land him a jackpot. I was a big disappointment to him; I had no systems, I didn't even have any belief. I told him that I didn't gamble, especially on no-hope projects like the Lottery. I related to him the tale of some of the actuarial students at my work, who had calculated that a man aged 30, a British citizen in average health, who buys a Lottery ticket on a Monday has more chance of being dead by the Saturday than he has of winning a big prize.
Jock was very impressed by this - and he asked me a few more questions about it, and he even (I think) wrote a few notes in his Filofax (remember them?).
I didn't see him for a while afterwards. Eventually I bumped into his wife in the local supermarket. We exchanged greetings, and I asked after her husband. She told me he was well, but very busy, and then she asked me what had I said to him about the Lottery? I had no idea what she was talking about, but then remembered, and said that I'd simply mentioned how small the chances of winning were. She told me that Jock had been very thoughtful about this, though he had admitted that he didn't really understand it, but since then he had started buying his weekly ticket late on a Friday - just to be on the safe side.
I still treasure that - a worthy memorial for my old friend, I think.