Ian ‘Jungles’ Jones was a one off. I first got to know him when he over zealously pogoed out of a window to the Skids on the jukebox at the Half Moon Inn in Garnant. He picked himself up and carried on pogoing outside in the beer garden until the song finished. “Into the Valley”, I was impressed.
He was a natural clown, the first you’d call when arranging a night out, assured to be doubled over with laughter. But sadness also followed him around like an evil ginger twin. He ate life messily, with both hands and would be robbed of it at the age of 30.
His bad luck began when he was concussed playing sixth form rugby. This being the early eighties he was sent home on the bus with instructions to rest and take a couple of paracetamol. His parents were out, so he dutifully followed the instructions, took the tablets and slept. Then, in his befuddled state, he did it again. And again. By the time his parents came home he was comatose and was rushed to hospital.
He recovered, but the damage to his liver was done. The doctor told him to never drink alcohol again and, typically, he completely ignored the advice. Instead he reclaimed his position as the life and soul of many parties. Telling tales of drunken rugby or cricket tours he’d been on became a standard - the time he got into the back of a car thinking it was a taxi to the confusion of the elderly couple who’d just stopped at a red light; the time(s) he was ejected for dancing naked on a bar with a cigarette between his bum cheeks and other escapades too salty to repeat. It was all distraction. And not really him.
We spent a fair bit of time together when we both had girlfriends that were sharing a student house in Swansea. He’d calmed down a bit and was doing his best to keep his demanding partner happy, following her around like a little puppy, annoying her more often than not. I used to drag him out for a pint to give her a bit of space before she blew her top.
He was an unusual looking chap and he revelled in it. Every time we went to the gym the receptionist would laugh at the plasticiene face he was pulling in the photo on his membership card. Once, when working at a DSS office in Neath he had a claimant tell him he reminded her of two film stars. Flattered he said, Really, who?
Karl Malden and Dumbo.
Fair play to her, it was pretty accurate. Fair play to him, he never tired of telling people about it.
He got another job as a rent collector in the rougher parts of Swansea. He developed his own system of noting the tenants’ responses — NA (no answer), PIF (paid in full) and so on. This helped him keep track, and worked well, until his rather prim supervisor asked him what TTFO meant.
He was too gentle a soul for that kind of work, as I found when he thoughtfully persuaded me to go on holiday with him for two weeks after I’d broken up with my girlfriend. Single himself by then, (his girlfriend having tired of tripping over him), he said he’d look after me, show me a good time. I might as well have gone with a chimp, it would have been less trouble.
The first night was OK, a civilised souvlaki and a few beers, but on the second night he discovered Ouzo and quickly indoctrinated me too. He had a habit of wandering off when drunk and I lost him in the busy town while distracted by a passing Scots woman. I woke the next day to find he’d not returned to our shared room. I assumed he’d also met someone and went to the beach for the day with my new friend. When I got back in the late afternoon he had still not returned and I started getting concerned.
Finally, around 7.30, just as I was thinking of reporting him missing, he turned up, beetroot, barefoot and bitten to pieces.
Where the hell have you been!
Ahh, Sime, I got a bit carried away. I got arrested for dropping my shorts in Benitses’ high street and they drove me down the coast for an hour, took all my money and my sandals and left me there. It’s taken me all day to walk back!
Why didn’t you go into a hotel or a shop and ring me? I could have got in a taxi to come to get you.
I couldn’t remember the name of our hotel!
I told him to get in the bath and went to buy some bottled water to help him rehydrate. When I got back he was shouting for help in the bathroom. I opened the door to find him sat in the bath with a bar of Lifebuoy soap jammed against his nose amid a sea of sewage that had exploded from the backed up toilet.
I somehow managed to keep him in one piece for the rest of the fortnight and swore quietly to never go on holiday with him again.
On our return to Wales we lost touch for a few months and the next time I heard from him was via an invitation to his wedding. He’d met someone and proposed in short order, almost as if he knew he didn’t have as much time as other people. The most remarkable thing was that she’d said yes. The wedding in Torquay was surprisingly uneventful and again we went our separate ways for a year or so.
I got married myself, he came to the wedding and seemed fine, and then we went travelling. A few months after coming back my wife and I went to an old school friend’s house warming party. Jungles was there, plastered and telling everyone about his divorce. Then he started declaring that he had cancer and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t believe him. It was too bizarre.
Our mutual friend rang me the next week to tell me it was true. We went to see him back at his shipwrecked mother’s house, and it was dreadful. He didn’t last long, dying just a couple of weeks after his father from the same disease.
I often think about him, wonder how he could have been. That bit about they shall never grow old wasn’t meant for the likes of him, but it’s true nonetheless. I am certain that grey hair wouldn’t have suited him, the young Karl Malden was so much more handsome.