I met Guillaume online back in the days when dial-up was still a thing. Broadband was still a gleam in the eye of people who
enthusiastically called the internet the ‘Information Superhighway’ or ‘Carol Vorderman’s Evil Interweb’. ‘Surfing’ was still done without a hint of embarrassment.
I was looking up a band I had worked with and managed. I found a few things included a video I had been involved with making. As a video it’s lacking, but the music is still great which is what counts. The song, by the way, was “Godlike” by The Dylans.
Below the video was a stream of comments, one of which said “Great tune, I wonder what happened to them?”
Having worked with them, I knew. I hit reply and gave a rundown of what I knew. He thanked me and we carried on chatting, exchanging emails. I had a whole bunch of demoes and tapes of an unreleased album. Napster was just starting up and the concept of digitising music and sending mp3s was still a year or so of. So I copied a couple of cassettes and posted them off to Guillaume in Paris.
My favourite city!
We kept in touch and as we learned more about each other, it became apparent that we had an awful lot in common. We liked similar music, had a deep mistrust of the music industry and both wrote. We even had the same name . . . well, English and French versions of the same name.
My partner and I started going to Paris a lot. Twice a year was usual and we would always try and arrange to meet up but something almost always got in the way. Either we were busy and out of the city when he was available or he was out doing an interview. At one point, he was in England for almost exactly the same length of time as we were in France.
The more I learned about him, the more I liked him. The more we talked about music and writing, the more I learned. While, technically, I had worked as part of the music industry for longer than he had, he always managed to stagger me with his insight and level-headedness. His warmth and generosity were apparent, even through this cold pixel medium.
He also knew an awful lot about the history of Paris and told me many stories, legends and non-touristy places that made our trips infinitely more enjoyable.
We lost touch for a while. I had become a mature student at Leeds University and was wrapped up in that. I had also lost all of my email by a not-backing-up-contacts faux pas in a disastrous move from Clara.net to plusnet.
Then along came facebook. We friended each other and picked up from where we had left off. Four years had passed, but you wouldn’t know it. He introduced me to some excellent new music, told me of the trials of writing a couple of books and not being paid for them and how excited he was to be working for some good magazines.
Post-university, I did little but fall into depression. Guillaume was always around to make me laugh and often inflicted his wicked humour on me.
Last year, for my birthday, I was taken to Paris. We hadn’t managed to get there while I was at University and money was too tight when I got back, so this was a huge treat.
And amazingly, Guillaume was free for all but one afternoon while we were there. I suggested we meet and have a coffee.
He said we could do better than that and invited me into his home.
I readily accepted although I will admit, there was some apprehension. I had met people I knew from online before and they were almost always not what they appeared to be.
Not so Guillaume. He was amazing. Funny, gentle and everything he was online, but tenfold. He introduced me to his wife and children and we had a perfect evening complete with excellent wine, a killer raclette and an apple tart that he made, proudly announcing that the recipe had been passed to him by his Grandmother.
Despite being one of my closest friends, it was the only time I saw him face to face.
And the only time I would ever see him.
I read about the events at the Bataclan online, a couple of hours before it surfaced on the TV news. I had been appalled at the unfolding story online in much the same way I had been with the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier in the year.
Paris doesn’t know it, but I have adopted this city and take any slight against it quite, quite personally. It didn’t occur to me that someone I knew would be caught up in the horror.
I went to bed.
I was up early on Saturday morning, having been unable to sleep and BBC news was broadcasting a ‘Special Edition’ show about the attacks in Paris. I had had no idea they were so extensive and brutal. I messaged my Parisian friends to find out if they were okay. All but Guillaume got back to me.
No matter, I thought, he’s got kids, he’s a family man, he’s probably busy and not logged on yet, but something was nagging. The gig at the Bataclan was the Eagles of Death Metal, a band I knew that he liked and I was fairly certain he had mentioned interviewing them or reviewing the album. Something like that. I couldn’t quite remember.
I was beginning to get antsy, and went over to his facebook page to find it full of “Where’s Guillaume?” “Is there any news?” “Has he come home yet?” “Is everything okay?”
He had been at the Bataclan.
At that point, I started doing the numbers.
Population of Paris? About two million. Can’t be him.
Capacity of Bataclan? 1500. Can’t be him.
Hundred people dead? 1:15. It won’t be him.
129 dead. Can’t do the maths. maybe 1:12. Can’t be him.
Odds are in his favour.
But the silence continued until I read on his Facebook page.
“It’s not for me to say the outcome, but his wife has received a phone call from the authorities.”
My French is not great. My translation skills are not great. Google translate is known to make some terrible errors.
I tried to convince myself that all these things were working against me; that I had somehow misunderstood. Guillaume would be fine and bounding home soon.
I was wrong.
That such a beautiful man should be separated from his beautiful wife and his beautiful, adorable children in such an ugly, ugly way defies all logic.
I have no answers. I cannot comprehend what went wrong in people’s minds that they consider that series of events to be a rational course of action.
What has been most disturbing, in the aftermath, is that my newsfeed on facebook has been ablaze with stories forwarded by well meaning friends, either as a ‘here’s a solution’ or an ‘oh my god have you seen what they are saying!’ type post.
Interspersed between legitimate news articles, all of which had featured Guillaume’s picture – which is jarring enough – have been stories claiming the attacks were revenge against the Knights Templar, false flag attacks, lizard conspiracies, hate and anti muslim tracts, zionist conspiracies, some even involving Donald Trump, the French, English or American Governments and countless other ridiculous theories.
All saying “I know the truth! I know the truth!”
Well I do know the truth.
The ultimate, absolute truth.
And the whole truth is this: there are 129 families trying to make sense of this and a further 352 injured. 129 families who have lost brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers; there are countless other people – friends, lovers, colleagues who are simply trying to get through the horror and process the emotional deluge cast on them.
You could help.
All of these bullshit theories mean nothing. They do the families and friends no good whatsoever.
If you could just take the tinfoil hat off for few moments, you’d realise that real people need your support; your love; your compassion.
Rest well Guillaume.
My love goes out to you, your family and friends; to the victims and their families; to the people of Paris.
We’ll visit soon. I promise.