David Barnett obituary

Other lives: Former teacher who ran Aardvark Wholefoods in Carmarthen for many years

A former teacher, traveller, poet, bibliophile and enthusiastic dancer, my friend David Barnett, who has died aged 92, was for 15 years the owner of Aardvark Wholefoods in Carmarthen, known to many as “David Aardvark”.

Born in Mitcham, Surrey, David was the son of Joyce, who worked for the Pearl & Dean cinema advertising company, and Bearron Barnett, the manager of a bookmaker’s. During the second world war, David was evacuated to Bedford. Later he attended Dame Alice Owen’s grammar school, in Islington, north London, and subsequently won a scholarship to study modern history at Oxford. Following his graduation in the 1950s he set out alone on a low-budget adventure to the far east, living for a time with tribal people in the forests of Northern Thailand.

Soon after his return, he met Paula Tibble, secretary at an advertising agency. They married in 1959 and immediately embarked on a further, extended, world-tour “honeymoon” adventure lasting three years, taking in India, Australia (where they arrived with only £1), Polynesia, Tahiti and Panama by cargo ship, and Mexico.

Back in London, David spent 10 years teaching disadvantaged children at schools including the Charles Lamb school, Islington, where he became deputy head, a task that he found “exhilarating but ultimately exhausting”.

Then, in 1978, on a visit to Wales, David spotted a wholefood shop for sale. Soon the family, now including three children, Emma, Natasha and Damian, had moved to rural west Wales where they ran Aardvark Wholefoods. David retired in 1993, but Aardvark is still going strong.

For 23 years from 1989, David was a regular participant at the annual Dance Camp Wales event, where he made many enduring friendships and learned to circle-dance. I got to know David while sitting and talking late into the night around campfires there.

He was also a prolific poet whose published collections included Bent in Water (1985), Fretwork (1990) and All the Year Round (1993). In 2005 and 2006, he won the PIP Gertrude Stein award for innovative poetry in English. His poem Wintergreen, written for Paula, includes the lines “Sounder now/ than then, you bring a hamper/to a pond of willows/ with their paddling roots,/ so we can picnic on/ a bed of wintergreen.”

He was an avid reader of good literature, a passionate admirer of Shakespeare (claiming to have seen every play on stage at least once) and a lover of music. Indeed, David truly immersed himself in the best that life had to offer: literature, music, dance, travel, love, laughter, compassion, good company, sunshine, the exuberance of nature – and ice-cream. In 2013 he and Paula moved to Spain.

Emma died in 1992. David is survived by Paula, Natasha and Damian, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Graham Burgess

The GuardianTramp

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