Brian Warken was never going to win a Nobel Prize. He was the sort of guy you watched whenever he did anything just to see how badly it would go wrong. He was, however a very nice guy and a very hard worker so I didn’t mind having him as my driver’s mate when I was driving a delivery van part time in the late 80s. In fact Brian’s unique view of the world and the happenings within it very often provided a great deal of comic relief from the monotony of driving hundreds of miles every day delivering packages. I used to spend hours encouraging him to explain his take on global politics and pretending to learn from, and be impressed by his views. I have never exactly been a keen political analyst myself, but even I had a fairly good idea that most of Brian’s armchair theories were nonsense. For example, I did not believe that Mikhail Gorbachev financed the rigging of the 1988 US presidential election, nor did I believe that he did it to enable George H. W. Bush to oust Ronald Reagan as President of the United States because Nancy Reagan once called Raisa Gorbachev a “Russian slut” at a state banquet – “and anyway, Gorbachev fancies Barbara Bush”. One of his even more outrageous beliefs was that Margaret Thatcher was in reality a man, and that her “so-called” husband Dennis was actually running the country behind the scenes on behalf of a bunch of power-crazed and money-hungry international oil barons bent on world domination. Why Maggie had to be a man for the purposes of this theory I have no idea but it seemed important to Brian. He has probably been promoted to senior driver’s mate by now.
On Monday June 5th 1989 I arrived for work at 5am to start loading my van for the day’s deliveries. Many of my fellow drivers also preferred to load their own vans rather than leave it to a loading dock full of Brian’s because when you know the route well you can load the van in the right order and locate each package much more quickly and easily at each stop. The Brians would simply throw everything into the back of the right van (usually) and leave it at that.
I remember the date so vividly because it was the Monday after the incredible and terrible Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China that made worldwide headlines. Who can forget the iconic image of the young Chinese protester stopping a column of tanks in its tracks by simply standing in front of it? The Chinese government maintains to this day that they never found the young man, but one train of logical thought might suggest that he quickly progressed from hero to martyr. Thousands of others did. It is also possible to envisage that the most glorious commander of the lead tank, who needed the assistance of a civilian on a bicycle to get his heavily armed war machine past the obstacle presented by a man with two plastic shopping bags, may have quickly become a fallen war hero. Or maybe the Chinese government forgave everyone and sent them a nice bunch of flowers each. Could’ve happened.
I finished loading the van just before 7am and I was in the canteen with the other drivers drinking coffee and talking about the awful events that had taken place over the weekend in Tiananmen Square, when I saw Brian drive into the car park in his old but immaculate souped-up Ford Escort Mark III. As he walked into the canteen he heard the tail end of our conversation and, as he poured himself a cup of coffee, he asked a question that caused coffee to come out of my nose. “Are you blokes talking about that Chinamen Square thing?” He then went on to espouse the theory that the whole protest had been engineered by Russian arms manufacturers to convince the Chinese that their tanks were crap and they should buy Russian ones. Classic Brian.