The best of luck, Horace

BEST of luck, best of luck and the best of luck again… Poor old Horace. Or poor old Stanley, it wasn’t ever quite clear what his real name actually was. I just know that calling him Stanley would always trouble Horace, sometimes triggering angry shouting, which was sad because he spent most of his life wishing people good things, wishing people ‘the best of luck’.

As news of his sudden death filters through north London – it is reported that Horace collapsed close to the Whittington Hospital on his way to an appointment on Monday – some people will know him as the guy who did just that. He wished them the ‘best of luck’. Always the best of luck. Everybody and anybody would get wished the best of luck. He must have been wishing the people of Finchley, Barnet, Muswell Hill and Camden Town the best of luck going on for 30 years. No wonder a north London legend grew around him.

He was one of the characters of the streets who help thread together what is really London’s collective patchwork of a story, people who, without ever planning to, become better known than our local politicians and breed warmer familiarity than some of our celebrity neighbours. I might not know you, you might not know me, but chances are we’ve both been wished the best of luck by Horace at some point, whether you remember it or not.

I don’t know much about his life story, his tale is largely rooted in Barnet. I hope he got help where he needed it. I guess everybody liked the idea of somebody devoting their time to wishing complete strangers the best of luck, an upbeat message sometimes whispered, often bellowed. It made us smile, without thinking too deeply about the troubles that a man who stood outside a fast food shop or the post office shouting the best of luck repeatedly could be facing. The saddest thing is that some people didn’t just smile, nor did they stop for a chat. They taunted him. Some people actively tried to trigger his angrier side, calling him Stanley despite his distress. Others tried to goad his catchphrase out of him, behind adolescent cackles. Search his name on YouTube and the footage doesn’t really tell his story.

It’s a curious thing, hard to explain, but it’s only after you read that somebody like Horace has died that you realise how they play, albeit inadvertently, such binding roles in our communities. Somebody on Facebook compared Horace’s ever presence to the ravens at the Tower of London. Here was a man who never seemed to age, never changed his greeting and always seemed to be there as the shops, people and technology around us changed. There is a quality in that which is difficult to define.

There are other people like this, sort of living their lives in public, sometimes without choice due to their housing needs, but becoming part of all of our worlds. We look on, but rarely intervene. The fondness for Horace reminds me of the affection felt for Ushi Bahler, the woman who lived on the doorstep of the home she had been evicted from in West Hampstead for many years, despite her advancing age. The door locked, she lived among her saved possessions in the front yard. You see similar affection too for the shaven haired Big Issue seller who pushes a trolley around Camden Town selling bits and bobs. Unplanned, these people enter our minds and memories in a way that the man in the office suit who gets the same bus as you at the same time every day, sitting in a seat nearby, can’t.

Another example: the Big Issue seller outside Angel who got on with his work with a cat curled up around his shoulders. Every crook of London has people we all recognise collectively without ever really knowing. The Lion of South End Green is another example.

Given this curious neighbourhood fame – Horace has 4,000 6,000 ‘likes on Facebook’ and a petition for a bench marking his memory – maybe we should stop for a chat more often. Maybe at least we should make sure the YouTube footage is kinder.

The best of luck, Horace, the best of luck.

9 Comments on The best of luck, Horace

  1. Just from your tweet referring to this blog “the best of luck”… I knew who you were talking about yet it is more than 15 years since I bumped into him in a supermarket after midnight in Camden Town. I remember the poor woman on the till sitting there waiting for him to make his way down her queue with him uncontrollability bellowing out “the best of luck, the best of luck” over and over again. That’s the only time I ever came across him. But in all the late night grime, people and chaos of Camden Town in the early hours of that morning, it was him that I remembered. And your sweet words about him are appreciated. Wherever you are, Horace, the best of luck.

  2. The woman with a shaved head who goes around Camden with a trolley is called Dot.

  3. Thanks for this. It reminded me so much of several such people in and around Wood Green – the man who shouts at the tinned tuna in Morrisons, and the guy who looks as if he is going to break into ‘I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track’, who I think actually is called Stanley. You’re right, they make up the fabric of the city and get very little thanks for it, indeed, mainly abuse.

  4. theinterruptingsheep // September 26, 2012 at 11:39 am //

    Indeed a lovely post, Richard. I live in East Finchley and he was a regular on the High Street, often popping his head into every shop door on the way up the street to shout ‘the best of luck’ to whomever was in there. Michael Moorcock’s wonderful London novels are peopled with characters like Horace and places that whilst fictional, could well exist.

    I started writing a tune called ‘The Best of Luck’ about these characters a couple of years ago. Think I’ll go and finish it.

  5. I believe his phrase was:
    “The best of luck, the very best of luck”
    Every employee at the camden sainsbury’s found him harmless and an entertainment in an otherwise dull world.

  6. Horace was not homeless ,He had a flat in east finchley . He just liked the outside and meeting people and most people liked him , He will be remembered .xx

  7. I used to live in North Finchley and he would always should ‘best of luck!’ at me when coming in and out of Sainsbury’s. I would always smile say ‘thank you, best of luck to you!’ which a few times resulted in him shouting ‘give us a kiss’ or do you have a boyfriend?’ He was very sweet and if I was really stressed out or down he would brighten up my day because it reminded me to take a breather and enjoy the simple things in life. Now I’m living in Cardiff, I have only just found out about his passing because I googled him, it’s very sad and he will be missed by many people.

    Clare x

  8. Christine okeefe // September 26, 2016 at 12:48 pm //

    Horace lived in a flat on red lion hill estate East Finchley there is a memoral garden there named after him and a chair outside sainsburys north finchley in momory of him

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