I haven't used this blog in a while. A long time, really. But trying to cope with losing one of my closest friends at the start of this year made me wonder if recording my thoughts would be beneficial.
John Slavin first came to my attention early in 2010 as a car enthusiast who appeared in my Twitter timeline. His tweets showed he was intelligent, funny, compassionate and interested in what we automotive writers were saying.
It was obvious from his blog that he had a talent for being expressive and thoughtful. His attitude to work, his appetite for learning and his boldness in trying his luck in contacting the right people to get his work published in those early days marked him out as someone who deserved the right break. I remember seeing one of his first pieces in Car Dealer magazine, as James Baggott had clearly also spotted John's potential. John also had an outlet for some car reviews in a magazine put together by Tim Hutton.
I secured John an invitation to the SMMT Test Day at Millbrook that May – a big day for automotive writers to get access to as many test vehicles as possible in one day, in the same location, with the chance to drive them on varied test routes – which was the first time we met in person.
In August 2010, I offered John four days’ paid work at Fleet News. I was deputy editor there, and it was useful to have someone as keen and capable as him to help keep the website ticking over with news stories during staff holidays and I gave him a feature on fuel that would fill a few pages in the next issue.
During this time I was able to introduce him to the editorial team managing HonestJohn.co.uk – just Dan H and David in those days. A few months later he would apply for a job there and make a success of it.
Later that year, I was invited by Toyota to take part in the RAC Future Car Challenge, and had a seat for a passenger. I thought it might be useful for John to blog about and invited him along. It was a great networking opportunity.
John was always appreciative of any help anyone gave him as he made his way up the ladder in our industry. But it was his own drive to succeed that made the difference.
John and I had a few road trips together. We went to Goodwood Festival of Speed in June 2012, and to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu in January 2013, when the mild weather encouraged me to drag the Bentley out of winter storage.
Another time we spent a morning off-road driving at Mercedes-Benz World, followed by a visit to Brooklands Museum.
There was a good day out at the Classic and Restoration Show at Birmingham NEC in 2015. I also had a couple of long trips to Geneva with John – one in 2012, and another in 2016.
Sometimes, if we knew we were on the same car launch, we'd drive to the airport in the same car, as well as share test cars on the event. John was always great company, and always in demand as the perfect co-driver. He'd always make the day pass more quickly, and, when it was his turn behind the wheel, always drive safely.
When news spread of his death, I had never seen anything like the outpouring of sorrow and condolences on Twitter before, among our close-knit community of automotive writers and PR people.
But no one should have been surprised, because I can honestly say I have never known anyone in my 20 years of mixing with others in this community who was as universally liked. No one ever had a bad word to say about John.
A well as his office colleagues, many journalists and editors from other publications attended his funeral.
The scale of the sunflower growing this year is a testament to how well liked and respected John was. I posted online in April that I was going to grow sunflowers in memory of John, and Adam Binnie, of Parkers, saw an opportunity to turn it into something more significant, where we could all so something every year to remember him and donate to a good cause.
I had been aware of his illness, and I realised how serious it was through his time off work last year. I used to send him a message on WhatsApp sometimes while he was off work to ask how things were. He would always make it seem that things were better than they must have been.
When I found out he was off work in December, we chatted briefly a few times. He told me he didn’t feel as bad as when he was off work in the spring, so I expected to see him in the new year when he had begun to feel better.
I sent John a message on Boxing Day after I’d been to the cinema to see the new Star Wars film because there had been a trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, and I knew he’d have been looking forward to seeing that, and we talked about how great it looked.
I also sent him a message on New Year’s Day because he’d been in my dream the night before. In it, we were snowboarding, or at least attempting to, but were frustrated by rapidly melting snow.
I told him about my dream, and saw that he’d read the message but didn’t think anything of him not replying. Maybe he was busy or not up to talking that day. Just 24 hours later, we received the worst possible news.
We all miss John terribly, and he is in my thoughts every day.