My Wonderful Uncle Willie. (20 June 1941 – 23 November 2017)


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Kathryn, Kenneth, Willie, Anne, Andrew, Susan and Julie.  All the family.

Although my Uncle Willie passed away on 23rd November we had to wait rather a long time to say our final farewells.  The reason being that he had died from complications as a result of contracting Mesothelioma, a truly horrendous disease caused by inhalation of Asbestos during his time working as an electrician in the construction of his beloved Cockenzie Power Station, which, like him, has been laid to rest.

Although many tears were shed at his funeral mass and then again during a rendition of Annie’s song by John Denver, yesterday was a joyous occasion.   (Amusingly, his granddaughter Lucille told me it was the only song he knew, but it was to open the floodgates yesterday at 12:05; my cousin Georgia and sister Jane somehow managed to sing along through their veil of tears.  Me? I was a goner.)

The family will be taking up the fight against this evil disease, but I can only thank the stars that Willie did not succumb to quite the depths of cruelty it can unleash.

But the fact is, Willie’s no longer with us.  So I’d like to thank him for what he was.  A huge, gentle, giant of a man with a heart of platinum (gold is too cheap an element to use in describing this great man).

His smile, I will never forget it.  It was beatific, almost saintly, it emanated a warmth like no other I have ever seen.  Although, my daughter Ria has ‘inherited’ some of it I have to say.)  And that was, for me, his trademark.

As Ken so beautifully said in his wonderful eulogy, and echoed by the lovable Father Basil, Willie would help ANYONE, do ANYTHING, although his biggest strength was electrics – so many a fridge, theatre power source and bit of wiring was carried out in our house, at Forth Children’s Theatre and at the homes of ALL of his huge wonderful family, his Church family and his youth theatre family.

After the tears though, came the incredible love and happiness that only a great family can bring to your heart.

The wake was a wonderful celebration of his life with more greeting (the letter from his beloved grand-duaughter Madeleine, whose hair he used to prepare for school, was a highlight, although again the tears came – what a beautiful and loving tribute to her Grandad, but also with equal measure to her Grannie,  my wonderful Auntie Anne.)

Perhaps the best was saved for last, at the ‘after wake’, with a smaller almost completely family group we swapped stories, reminiscences and updates of our marvellously varied lives.  You certainly couldn’t accuse us of conforming to a ‘type’ as a family.  A ‘look’, yes, as my brother in law Nik commented, almost open jawed.

And we ran out of whisky, so someone was despatched to raid Willie’s drinks cabinet. A bottle of Glenlivet marvellously appeared and lasted only minutes but that meant we’d had a dram on Willie.  A touching gesture.

Willie, this is not goodbye (as CS Lewis said) it’s au revoir.

 

 

H is for Hawk. Book review


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H is for Help.

H is for Haunting.

Either could have been the title, but the fundamental of this book is the hawk that occupies it’s central plot.

Mabel is a young goshawk bought by Helen MacDonald in the wake of her father’s death.  She sets herself a distraction from her profound grief to train this wild beast to the exclusion of everything else in her life.

It’s a return to her childhood where she had a fascination for hawking, partly fuelled by a 1950’s treatise on the subject written by closet homosexual T.H. White and author of what became both Camelot and The Sword in the Stone.  It’s a book she disliked intensely at the time but that she has come around to as she sets out to make Mabel a controllable accomplice (she’ll never be a pet).

I’ve never read a book even remotely like this.  Macdonald is a poet and that certainly comes through in some of the long descriptive chapters that capture her state of mind (not healthy) and the world she is drawn into.

Rarely can anyone have written such a loving description of the English countryside with its unwritten rules, its foibles and its power.

In fact rarely can a book like this have been written.

It operates on three levels.  An unburdening of Macdonald’s grief for the death of her beloved father.  An unsympathetic biography of T.H. White and a rip-roaring coaching manual on goshawk rearing.

It’s not an easy read but it’s a profound one and it threatens to become a modern classic in a category all of its own.

I would highly recommend it.

Dreams of a Life


Carol Morley has come up with a really interesting idea.

She’s written and directed a documentary about the mysterious death of a beautiful West Indian 39 year old girl (Joyce Vincent) who was a major hit with the lads “People said she was as good looking as Whitney Houston; I thought she was more attractive than that.” and had hundreds of friends and admirers and a huge family to boot; four sisters.

The film is not so much about how she died but the fact that it took three years for her body to be discovered.  In her flat.  Watching her TV which was still on.

No Electricity company shut her utilities off; the council never chased the rent; no one complained about the smell; none of her friends visited; none of doting ex’s; none of her family.  Nobody.

Carol Morley builds a documentary mixing dramatised re-enactments of her life and “Touching the Void” type real life storytelling to get closer to the truth than the police ever did.

It’s a fascinating idea and in places nicely shot with some interesting music (although hardly a career high for ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson).

Why then is it so unengaging emotionally?  Why do we not really care about poor Joyce Vincent?

I think because the story is dragged 30 – 40 minutes past is tell by date.  It’s just far too long.

It’s a shame because I really wanted to like it and applaud almost everything about it; including the fact that it was funded (in part by the Irish Film Board!?) and the incredible detective work that Carol Morley did to unearth so many of the people in Joyce Vincent’s life when the police found not one of them.

In the end, it just makes the police look ridiculous.

And poor old Martin, the batchelor who lost the love of his life.

Bless him.

I think I would like to take part in this


Zombieism is an art form.

Let’s face it.  Making a zombie movie is so easy on the face of it that you’d die laughing.  Until you try. Then you might DIE.

There is some utter zombie shit out there and the genre needs protection as much as it needs celebration.

So, this initiative, to live the (un)life must be applauded, albeit with hands that break up on contact.

Be there or be alive.

Every One by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company


So much that excites in theatre and cinema is ultimately down to the writing and Mark Thomson has mounted (and brilliantly directed) a show that is, in parts, written with such skill and sophistication, and humour, that it takes the breath away.  However, at others it seems to go AWOL.

The first act of this new play, written by Jo Clifford, is very convincing, moving and utterly absorbing.  It is staged imaginatively and it’s all going in the right direction.  In act 2, however, the show seems to hit choppy creative waters as it steps up its ambition.  But it left me, and my wife, confused.

It’s about death.  Full frontal, no holds barred death.  The great universal.  If we all die let’s not pussyfoot about the issue, let’s just play it straight and that’s exactly how Clifford tackles the subject.

A 50 year old wife and mother suffers a massive stroke and dies soon thereafter.  How it affects her nearest and dearest is one aspect of the show but the greater one (and a less often visited side of the equation) is how it affects the cadaver.  And that makes for great theatre in act one as we build the back story (often hilariously) and reach the momento mori.

The cast is led by the peerless and stunning Kath Howden and ably supported by her “late” husband Jonathon Hackett and death himself in the guise of Liam Brennan.  But they get most of the great lines and all of the power plays.  Less satisfactory for me were the parts for the son and daughter and trickiest of all is the role in the play of the family matriarch, Howden’s mother, who is suffering from senility.  Her part takes us down the most confusing plot alleyways and do not, in my view, always help the narrative.  What I expected was to see Act 2 focus more on grief, instead it becomes more and more obtuse, before coming together in a satisfying climax.

The staging is magnificent.  Philip Pinsky, yet again, pops in with musical magic. ( The point of death being captured in a single electrifying piano chord; once in each act.) And the whole is, overall, very satisfying.  I just wish act 2 had a bit more narrative conviction and storytelling.

Should you go?  You bet.

Kate McGarrigle RIP


I was sorry to hear that Kate McGarrigle, sister of Anna, wife of Loudon Wainwright and mother of Martha and Rufus, passed away at the age of only 63 yesterday.  The family’s Christmas Hour album is a festive cracker and she and her sister brought respectability and beauty to folk music for a very wide audience.

Carol ann duffy poem


I saw this article in the Times today.  It’s a remarkable photo and a remarkable poem.  Carol Ann Duffy was asked to select a photograph from The Barbican’s War show of photos by Robert Capa, and write a poem to capture the ‘capture’.

I love the way the poem interprets the photo in paradox.  It counterpoints the face value interpretation(s) that one might reach with the harsh reality that this is a man captured at his moment of death.

I like the way that it disses the youth culture of today, a culture that is not encouraged to stop and reflect, merely to observe, glance, half consider, dismiss.

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