Alex (Peter Alexander)

Chris Baxter writes:

Sadly, Alex (Peter Alexander) died of a heart attack on Sunday March 17th 2002. Sitting with Canadian business colleagues after a go-karting evening he slumped and never recovered consciousness.

Alex caved with LUSS from 1972 to 1978. If not the most active caver, he did manage to be famously trapped by floods in Far Country along with Jack Sheldon and team and he named The Black Hole in la Cueva del Agua.

His last caving trip was probably the 'Kingsdale Master Cave in fancy dress with no lights' trip prior to the 1978 annual dinner.

Alex was thought to be associated with an enigmatic caving group known as the Dalton Karst Research Society. (Other DKRS 'associates' were rumoured to include myself and Bill 'Willy' Jones.) Very little is known of the group's activities - they seemed to exist to avoid caving (apart from decorating airbells) and to poke fun at cavers in general and Howard Jones in particular.

Annual dinner sketches were their speciality, culminating in 1978 with that milestone of cinematic history - 'TOILETS'.

Unusual amongst cavers, Alex possessed a brilliant mind. He had that rare mark of genius - the ability to explain the most complicated science in layman's terms. Relativity, quantum mechanics, super conductors - all were explained over a pint and illustrated on a beer mat.

His intuitive mastery of physics led him to a first class degree (gained with no outward sign of studying) followed by a doctorate in low temperature physics completed in well under three years (in fact he probably did the best part of two doctorates - his own and that of his fellow student and life-long friend Ted Walker).

After post-doctorate research in Florida and Manchester he moved into industry as a research scientist, latterly as a chief scientist with Alcan - one of the world's biggest aluminium producers. (Out of interest:- Ring-pull cans depend on aluminium of very precise thickness. One of Alex's main tasks of recent years was to improve thickness accuracy at Alcan's giant plants in Germany, Canada and Brazil - sounds dull until you consider that a trial improvement could cost millions of pounds.)

Alex was last seen in Lancaster in July 2000 at the University Alumni dinner for 1975 graduates. He and Ted (now the head teacher of a C of E secondary school) went along for the sole purpose of making wicked, irreverent and very drunken fun of the entire proceedings.

Bell ringing is not a boring pastime - or at least it wasn't when Alex was around. For a start it is thirsty work - and the churches of Northamptonshire are all suspiciously close to delightful village pubs. (I personally witnessed Alex and team miraculously descending the spiral stairs without injury at 12.30am, after ringing in the new year, to return to the pub where they had prepared themselves.) And it is an international club - stranded by work but informed by his bell ringers handbook, Alex would simply turn up at churches throughout Europe and North America, join in the peal, and quench his thirst with his new friends afterwards.

Alex's family life was often troubled. He lost both his parents in his early twenties and his beloved elder brother, in horrendous circumstances, a few years later. Alex married Rose Allen (founding member of Ladies Underground and explorer of the Road to Wigan Pier in la Cueva del Agua) in 1976 and they were blessed with two children, Andrew and Heather. But the marriage did not run smoothly and they divorced in the early nineties. Alex was a devoted father and the years following the divorce were very difficult for him. One of the ways he maintained contact was by organising his annual summer expedition - hiring the largest canal boat he could, filling it with Andrew and Heather and all their teenage friends and setting sail for a fortnight's supervision of teenage romance and under-age drinking. But he was determined to maintain a stable home base for them. He drove hundreds of miles to pick them up for weekends and throughout their university years his home was often overflowing with their student friends.

In his determination to provide that base for Andrew and Heather Alex found his own home. In 1998 he moved a few miles to the small village of Newnham near Daventry. It suited him down to the ground. A regular at the village pub, he was a leading light in bell ringing events and belfry restoration projects. He even appeared in the village pantomime.

I last saw Alex one Friday evening in January. I couldn't stay long and had to leave him in the laughter of the Newnham pub. With Andrew and Heather started on their careers, happy in his work, looking forward to his annual holiday with Ted (a tour of USA national parks flying business class - courtesy of Alex's air miles) and sitting in his local being gently ribbed by his bell ringing friends David and Ivy. He was as content as I had seen him in 29 years.

Condolences may be sent to:-

Andrew and Heather Alexander
(address removed)

The funeral was at Newnham church, Daventry, on Monday 25th 3.00pm.

Chris Baxter