I woke up to the unhappy news that writer, historian and long time family friend Helen Szamuely has died. Helen was a massively influential part of the early eurosceptic movement long before Ukip became a household name. One of the original Brexiteers. She was a hugely respected thinker on the right and a well known voice in conservative circles.
That though does not even begin to define her. She was so much more. She was many things to many people and her list of accomplishments is rich and varied. Just Google her.
Helen was considered a towering intellect by just about everybody who ever met her. She suffered no fools. If she gave you the time of day you took it as a compliment.
To this day I have yet to meet a more difficult and contrarian woman. I doubt I ever will. There were none more merciless when slapping down stupidity - and it was a joy to watch - except for those times when you were on the receiving end of it - which in my case was pretty often.
Helen was very much a no-nonsense person and at times very difficult to like, but all the same I enjoyed spending time with her. She was great company and I loved her wicked sense of humour. She was hugely influential in my formative years and her blogging on NGO and UN corruption shaped my worldview as it stands today. I considered her a necessary corrective since she was one who never hesitated to challenge me when I got things wrong.
It is through Helen that I have a comprehensive knowledge of London. I would meet her for afternoons out on weekends to go browsing the bookshops and cafes. I can only consider myself even halfway cultured thanks to my introduction to the many museums and art galleries.
Helen was also a great friend to my father and at one time co-editor of Eureferendum. For the most part she was hugely supportive and a very useful contact to have. She knew absolutely everybody in the eurosceptic world.
Helen was a private person who didn't share very much of her past - not with me anyways. I always wanted to know more but considered it impolite to ask. She was all business. She lived by a code of her own and always to her own timetable.
There are few more independent in mind and spirit. She had little time for social climbers or Toryboys and she had no patience whatsoever. I liked that about her. There was no pretentiousness at all. She refined deliberate rudeness to an art form (I learned from the best). I have known her just get up in meetings and walk out without any explanation at all. It never stopped being funny. One of God's own prototypes.
I fell out with Helen a few times. It's been a year since I last spoke to her. Sometimes her discourteous assaults were a little rich even for my blood. I never stopped respecting her though and I do miss her. At every significant crossroads in my life she has been there.
For all that Helen could be lofty she was never dismissive and despite her protestations to the contrary she did care. She did at least listen to you even if she thought you were being stupid. A lot of people in this life are dismissive because they think they are intellectually superior. Helen, though, she just was intellectually superior. It was unarguable. She could have built herself a second home with all the books she owned and I'm pretty sure she'd read all of them.
There are plenty more things one could say about Helen but I'm sure others will say them better than I can. She had as many friends online as in real life. Her blogs have millions of hits and she has influenced thousands of people. It has been a privilege to know her. People like that change the world - and Helen very much did.