Our memories of a dear friend: written for Richard’s 50th birthday in 2009 by Adam, James & Jackie

Created by Jackie 4 months ago
(1959 -       )
Richard Szydlo (alias Rysiek Szydlo, alias Ryszard Szydlo, alias Sherpa Szydlo) known universally as a polyglot, a polymath, and all round good egg.  Few sports and hobbies remain unsampled – which is what the next 50 years are for (and we’re not doing the tandem triathlon for that one…)

Rysiek was born in London on the 1st July 1959.  There were no meteors that day and little to foretell the impact he and his laugh would have on the world’s ears.  

Even from a young age it was clear that here was a leader among men. Generally tall for his age, his early years saw him leading many an expedition of the Polish cubs through darkest Shepherds Bush, past the doldrums of leafy Chiswick, and on to the secret mushroom fields of Virginia Water. This is where he honed his ability of lighting a camp fire with a single match.
Once he joined the Polish Boy Scouts there was no stopping him. He sped through the ranks, leading his scout troop to many a victory in the rugged guerrilla night manoeuvres that were to become his trademark.  However, the experience, of not uttering a word for 24 hours, not eating anything for 24 hours, and hiding from civilisation for 24 hours, was to leave an indelible mark. Little did anyone know then that this day and night spent in the darkest woods, with nothing to do but watch and record the behaviour of ants, was but the start of what was to be a notorious career in pesticides and insect control.  

Of course, the Venture Scouts promotion was a mere formality and before long not only the 'camp fire' epaulet adorned his uniform, but also the gold pine cone woggle was there for everyone to admire. Here, as elsewhere, his light was to shine through and he led his men through more adventures than most of us have had hot dinners.
So it was, in the early evening one Christmas, that he and his fellow venture scouts set off down the high street, as they had in previous years, for a spot of caroling amongst the local Polish community. They had with them the usual accouterments of fancy dress, musical instruments, and a large spinning fibre-glass star.  Then it happened. QPR were playing at home. Throngs of supporters were marching down the road in boisterous mood. Realising the imminent danger he knew he had to act fast. Before anyone knew what was going on, he pushed all of his friends across the road, without the ‘star carrier’ noticing.  But he had to make sure. “What you got there mate?” he shouted pointing at our friend with the star. Heads turned and the rest, as they say, is history. Surely, if not for his quick thinking, and his readiness to make the ultimate sacrifice of a dearly remembered colleague, how many more of us might not be here to tell the tale?
Secondary education was a breeze for the Big R, and his feats of memory and tactical skills are still talked about at the bridge club of the Latymer Upper School for Boys. One particular friend, who prefers to remain anonymous recalls, “He always used to pretend he didn't want to partner me and claimed I was no good at bridge. Falsely creating such a reputation meant no one else would partner me either and so we usually ended up paired anyway.   All those expletives when I put my hand down as dummy were just his form of showmanship. Somehow we always won the hands we bid. How we used to laugh about it afterwards. Really, I taught him everything he knows.”

Polish school, on the other hand, is somewhat of a mystery to the uninitiated. Try imagining what it must be like to wake up, Saturday after Saturday, only to be suddenly reminded that, whilst everyone else in the country has a day off, you have to go to school! Of course this is what sorts out the men from the boys. 

His interest in insects began in earnest when he went to Portsmouth Polytechnic, the renowned seat of learning on the South Coast of England.  To the shock of everyone and despite spending most of his time playing rugby he managed scrape through with sufficient aplomb to undertake a PHD in beetle killing.

All this insect experimentation had earned him a ruthless reputation among his fellow zoologists. There were rumours that he headed the notorious locust import business, supplying live fodder for the burgeoning exotic animal trade but none of it could be made to stick. Some people believe departmental jealousies were the cause of these accusations. 

After an initial stay in halls of residence, Rich had accumulated so much assorted junk that he had no option but to move into a 3 story house at 10A, Queens Road. 
He soon made it home with a “living carpet” in the bay window, home brew in the kitchen and a “state of the art” darkroom (or airing cupboard as some people like to call it). He soon transformed any vehicle he acquired into an eco-system-on-wheels.  Several new varieties of mushroom were discovered growing out of the dashboard of one ford escort.

Things in the new home ran admirably.  Rich was “captain sensible” making sure there was an effective meal preparation and food shopping rota which conformed to agreed budgetary constraints and which attempted, wherever possible, to avoid mince.  Adzuki and mung beans adorned with mushroom essence became the order of the day.  Naturally, all this took its toll. It wasn't something that you noticed straight away. Before anyone could realise, however, a major change was to happen in our hero's life; “Yeah, we used to meet up all the time” said an old acquaintance (who also wishes to remain anonymous) “Sometimes it might just be a ham sandwich we shared, whilst other times it might be a massive party with a whole roasted pig. We weren't heavy users, just your everyday ‘run of the mill’ carnivores. Then he started making excuses like he wasn't hungry or that he was busy. I didn't know he was that way inclined. It's not natural is what I say. Not that I've got anything against those sort of people but parading down the street baring your cucumber to the world is not the way we were brought up to behave. Well anyway, I didn't see much of him after that although I do hear he turns up at the chippy from time to time on a Friday night. Maybe he's got special dispensation, maybe he hasn't, but it looks to me like he swings both ways and just doesn't want to admit it.”
Rysiek made solid friendships with the many people who passed through 10A, some staying for years, some only managing a few months.  “It was Fungus and the worms what did it for me” one traumatised ex-resident was heard to say to their psychiatrist.  Rich was part of the decision to adopt Fungus the overly affectionate dribbling cat. None of the animal lovers had anticipated that they would also be playing host to thousands of fleas. Rich managed to procure the right chemicals from the lab “late one night” and they were eradicated.  Other residents were ‘done for’ with a simple introduction to Polish Spirit.
Typically for the philanthropist that he is, R befriended the elderly lady next door but two, Miss Rogers who, after an initial invitation for supper, stayed for eighteen months.
In fact Rysiek was something of a “waif and stray” magnet:  Kids, “youf”, Australians, and assorted hangers-on were frequent visitors – some remain firm friends to this day.

Diligent studies were only interrupted by car boot sales, mushrooming and general foraging, home brewing, volunteering at Hillsea Lines, cycling trips, cooking, bridge, piano-playing, volleyball,  playing pool – in fact anything that kept him from his desk and microscope.
Not content with a mere B.Sc. and Ph.D. Dr. Szydlo added a post-doctoral M.Sc. in Medical Statistics – hey, what are the chances of that?

After more than a decade at 10a (and upon the Landlord discovering that the roots from the pot plants were disturbing the foundations) Richard moved to a pied-a-terre in an exclusive area of town.  The move involved road closures as teetering piles of assorted belongings were transported across town.
The home of his heart, The Smoke, eventually called and R returned to Acton.  His first London House was something of a nature reserve in Greenford but he upgraded some years later as he needed more room to accommodate his growing industrial knitting machine collection.  Richard was determined during this move to clear out some of his accumulated “stuff”, only to be defeated when the Oxfam shop rejected his offerings as being unsaleable in their second hand shop – it had to be a trip to …dare we say it?...the tip.  The main problem was always going to be trying to ensure he didn’t leave with more than he took.

The hobby which really rules his life though is more of a calling.  He has been photographing everything that moves (and lots of things that don’t) since he was a mere boy.  The first darkroom, cobbled together with his brother in the family bathroom inspired him with the joys of image capture.
It is never “art for art’s sake” but a seamless transition between photography and life – seeing, feeling, experiencing, living…
Friends, family, weddings, thunderstorms over Portsdown Hill, mushrooms, food, trees, birds and the “mysticism of places without people” led to photographs being exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions of 2004 & 5.
Then people - their beauty, their stillness, their majesty. And the effect people have on the world – cities, graffiti, pollution, are captured often from a more obtuse angle and with an eye for something special.
His multimedia exhibitions: ‘”A social documentary of the life of institutionalised orphaned mentally handicapped boys”, “You Are’’, and book of Ethiopian images moved his work into a new realm.  As the subjects look out at you and capture your imagination, you experience the privilege of crossing those continents.  You are able to see and share those amazing sights – sometimes poverty, disease, sadness – but always overlaid with Richard’s hope and faith.

In the brief moments available from other activities (expanded now to include singing, dancing, opera going and rock climbing) Rich pops in to Hammersmith Hospital every now and then to do a little work.  Unsurprisingly this has led to a permanent exhibition “Art at Work” in the Department of Haematology.  He has managed to persuade his employers that he is the one who has to attend conferences all over Europe and America allowing him to combine business and pleasure - his academic work featuring as far afield as The New England Journal of Medicine and his photographs in the (snappily titled) British Society of Blood and Marrow Transplant News.
His travels have resulted in a brief sojourn in a maximum security prison in the west of Poland – but after he had finally hung his exhibition to the satisfaction of the Governor he was able to obtain early release.
So Happy Birthday Richard, and congratulations on the first 50 years.  Keep doing it the way you do it, keep on pedalling and keep being you - no one could wish for a better friend…

And then of course, Richard fulfilled his dreams by meeting Blanca and they started his second, most wonderful, life together with Tomek, Robert & Ania