Daniel was one of my best and oldest friends. I clearly remember our first meeting in 1989, during his brief stint at Kenton cheder, a few months before we started secondary school together. We visited each other’s houses – I lived in Kenton and Daniel in neighbouring Kingsbury - and we soon became close friends.
Looking back to those youthful times, I realise that it was early on in our friendship when I picked up on the character traits that made the man and shaped his life. A fairly quiet and shy young man, Daniel was friendly, considerate, loyal and possessed a strong sense of justice. He was also methodical and thoughtful. He had a life-long interest in statistical matters, and this shaped his incredible academic ability as well as his interests.
To combine all these points, Daniel, despite being top of the class in Maths from the outset, was disgusted with the horrifically competitive nature of our school, which encouraged bragging and smugness at one end of the scale, and feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness at the other. Daniel was vehemently against all this, and on the same point was an incredibly modest and down-to-earth person for such a high-flier. Incidentally, I always thought it a big achievement of his in being the first of our group of friends to own their own place, a move that sealed his journey, as he once pointed out to me, from East End Road to West End Lane.
On the statistical and methodical note, I think related to the way Daniel’s mind worked in his favour in academic matters, were his outside interests. I will never forget our successful completion of the task of visiting every station on the London Underground network, at the age of 12. Dan was also a great sports fan, and this interest and passion stretched to many things. He followed Tottenham Hotspur through the highs of the Worthington Cup in 1999 and the lows of the rest of their entire recent history. I was proud to see the Spurs scarf I bought him for one birthday hanging up in his flat whenever I went round to visit. He read sporting biographies, and to continue the statistical theme, would use his mathematical prowess to make complex computer spreadsheets which would generate detailed results of the various football league competitions for years to come. We would watch, on select occasions, football matches in various pubs. Now, I must point out that I am a complete sporting ignoramus myself, and so would almost constantly be asking Dan questions throughout a game. While other friends would be so transfixed on the screen that they could not multi-task to the extent of listening to a single word I might say, Dan was quite possibly unique in that he would helpfully explain points to me, being entirely in keeping with his patient, helpful, and generally friendly nature.
Of course Daniel was a top sportsman himself. He was absolutely dedicated to his long-distance running training, with a schedule he stuck to religiously. He was incredibly persevering and, to continue that old statistical theme once again, maintained a chart which showed his best times compared to world records for various distances. I saw Daniel run four times out of the last six London Marathons in which he competed, raising thousands of pounds for charity. Daniel made it easy for us to spot him amongst the racing hordes and cheer him on, as he was one of the faster runners, his personal best being a staggering 2 hours and 51 minutes in 2004.
A typical evening with Daniel Sacks in Embassy Court, West Hampstead would be preceded with a phone call, if on a Saturday night, the minute Shabbos went out. “Coming round?” would be the simple request. If I invited him along to wherever I’d already planned to go instead, the reply was usually “Coming to West Hampstead instead?”. This was a combination of his eagerness to give his own hospitality, and a stubborn reluctance to leave the flat. If I did say I’d go round there, he would look at his watch and work out exactly what time he’d expect me, to the minute. If I said I would be leaving home in twenty minutes, he would ask me what I was doing in that intervening time, recalculate the length of time said task should actually take, and say something like “Right, so you’ll be here at 7:55 then”. We were thus a strange pairing of friends, because I myself am somewhat chronologically challenged, running on J.M.T. (Jewish Mean Time). And so, following my arrival 15 minutes later than what he had planned, he would thus begin the evening disguising his annoyance at the fact by taking the mickey persistently.
After tripping over the various piles of washing and work files lying around on the floor, a nourishing meal would be served. Pizza would be eaten straight off the tin foil on which it had lain in the oven, to avoid any need for washing up. Pasta would be adorned with cold sauce dumped straight out of the jar. Daniel’s favourite culinary creations were cereal, eaten any time of day, and chocolate, consumed in vast quantities. Between us, Daniel and I could demolish a packet of chocolate biscuits in about ten minutes; however while I have piled on the pounds over the years, Daniel really irritated me by staying as thin as a rake. Yet the only difference between us was something to do with the fact that he ran about twenty miles a week, while I occasionally run a few yards for a bus.
Discussions with Dan involved people we knew, occasionally work, running, football, some random piece of trivia picked up from a tabloid, or him sitting amused while I had a rant about whatever had irritated me that day, the scrapping of the Routemaster bus and the resulting inherent decline of Western civilisation as we know it. And, the other subject about which we were both passionate was pop music. We would have endless discussions of the merits of particular bands, laugh together at ridiculously moronic or drug-casualty pop stars on the television, and listen to selections from his extensive music collection. More statistics: his favourite song was “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, a list of his favourite bands would feature Wham!, Madness, The Beatles, The Stones, Queen, Culture Club, Tears For Fears, Abba, Blur, Supergrass and Oasis. Like me he loved live music too, and we went to gigs together, the last being Lenny Kravitz at Hammersmith in July. His pop trivia knowledge was outstanding, and if he thought he recognised a song by a new band on the television, he would grab his Guinness Book of Hit Singles and confirm his instinct that the “new” song in question had actually originally been a number 29 hit for someone very obscure back in 1976.
Daniel’s favourite era of pop was the early 1980s with its electro-pop synthesiser sounds. On this note, in music I think he harked back to possibly the happier, early times of his life, and one of his favourite albums was by one by 70s prog band Tangerine Dream, an album which his dad had used to play to him to get him to sleep when he was a toddler.
We would also sit and watch hours of comedy together. Dan loved Blackadder, the Simpsons, the Fast Show, The Office and Harry Enfield and would keep us all entertained with his impressions of Ron Manager or Mr Burns, one which was so spot-on that I will never again be able to watch the Simpsons without thinking of Daniel. And again, his knowledge of all these was incredible.
On this note of trivia, Daniel and I took part in countless pub quizzes together, often successfully. And on the musical note, in later years he would participate in pub karaoke evenings, something which, when considering Dan’s shyness and reluctance to perform back in his schooldays, was really quite an incredible transformation. To hear Daniel sneering away like Sid Vicious, shrieking like a Bee Gee or belting out a tune like Bono was wonderful. He really enjoyed himself there. Incidentally, a night in the pub with Daniel was despite other factors - Daniel almost never drank alcohol, and he never smoked. In the time it took me to get through three pints of Guinness, he would just about have finished his second lemonade; and yet he always put in for more than his fair share of rounds.
Other outings Dan loved were to get his fix of schwarmas. Over the years he worked his way carefully down the kosher establishments on Brent Street in Hendon and those on the Golders Green Road. Sadly, he never quite fulfilled his ambition of going through every single item on the menu of his favourite take-away, Markus’s Kosher Chinese in Temple Fortune. Incidentally, pre-marathon training would include, seriously, consuming the huge quantities of carbohydrates necessary for the big race. And of course, I was always happy to help him in falafel-related training in this way.
But under the surface, who and what was Daniel Sacks?
Daniel had a lot of love in him. He would regularly visit his grandmothers, who he adored. Also, regarding his friends, he always had an ear or two available to listen to the problems we presented him with. If only we could have succeeded in relieving his problems.
Daniel followed his heart. I had a huge amount of respect for him the day he quit KPMG, his employer with whom he had been almost constantly unhappy – to go into sports betting, something he actually loved.
Daniel incorrectly perceived himself to be lacking in social skills. He was quite shy, yet everyone who met him commented on how he was one of the friendliest, loveliest people they had ever met. Daniel really made the effort, and always looked after friends of friends like his own. He was incredibly loyal, and would always stick up for his friends.
Daniel could often be stubborn. If he had made up his mind that he wasn’t going out to be sociable one evening, there was no persuading him. And that is why our last conversation was such a short one.
I phoned Daniel on his mobile at five to seven on the evening of Thursday 3rd of November. I asked him if he wanted to join us for a karaoke session in the pub in Kingsbury – something Daniel had enjoyed on several occasions. I am ashamed to say that at that point in time I hadn’t seen him for 12 days – about the longest I’d gone without seeing him while I’ve been in London.
Dan’s reply was adamantly negative, and from previous experience I knew that there was no point in arguing with him. However - and this is clearly with the benefit of hindsight – I could hear in his voice his depression, which was something I’d heard before, but also, I think, a fair bit of anger, something I don’t recall having experienced from him before.
I don’t know if I was the last person who knew Daniel to speak to him.
Over the last terrible eight days, the worst of my entire life, I have run through a range of reactions and emotions - happy memories, anger, sadness and disbelief. There have actually been some happy times, when reminiscing about Daniel, even some laughter. I appreciated the hospitality of Joanna, Jessica and Dan’s grandmother over Shabbos lunch in Golders Green yesterday, it was a wonderful opportunity for us to ask each other questions and have some group therapy.
For me and for many others, another feeling is of disbelief. Crazy – and clichéd - as it sounds, after all that’s happened, I still can’t actually believe that we will never see Daniel again.
And this leads me on to the overriding reaction I have to his death, which is of course deep, deep sadness. Because of my disbelief, I had to force myself to watch Daniel being buried last Tuesday. It was the singular most upsetting, devastating and horrific moment of my life.
Just before my birthday this year, I sent out an e-mail message inviting some relatives and friends to gather with me for that occasion. It’s always a bit of a task to get people to come out on a work night, to be honest. But this year I saw a good crowd – friends from overseas, friends I hadn’t seen for years. And that was all down to Daniel.
But Daniel never actually got that message. Eerily, it’s still in his inbox. On my birthday this year, I was at Bushey Cemetery, and we were there to bury Daniel.
Daniel told us not to mourn for him. Despite the choice he made, when I make a toast to his life, as it’s Daniel, I’ll raise a glass of lemonade. I loved Daniel very much, it was a privilege to have been his friend, and I will never forget him.
Michael Gould, 13th November 2005