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I had hoped that I might be brave enough to speak about this or the previous post at my Dad’s funeral (held yesterday, 29th August), but in the end I wasn’t.

At St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury they like to celebrate when children demonstrate the qualities for which they would like the school to be known,

  • Caring
  • Curious
  • Courageous

And over the last few days, as I’ve wondered what to say (if anything) at Dad’s funeral, I thought how these three values represent the best of him, and indeed of all of us.

If I’m honest, the first two of these are easy to talk about.

Dad spent a good deal of his ‘spare’ time getting involved, volunteering and organising events to raise money for deserving causes,, especially through the Lions Club, but also through the annual Stratton Show, volunteering at Cirencester Hospital, and others. In his later years he was also active in U3A, giving talks and sharing his passion for classical music with others. Virtually 100 people came to our memorial gathering yesterday afternoon, from so many different groups, and they were unanimous in their comments…

he was a Minister without Portfolio in our committee, because whenever you needed something doing, he would volunteer…

he didn’t do all these things seeking the limelight…

…you didn’t have to ask him twice… 

I’d always been aware of how much Dad did, both before and during his retirement. But yesterday I got an inkling of how many people his efforts touched, and it made me (even more) proud.

Dad loved learning. I think he prized knowledge for its own sake, and he loved exploring the world in every sense, physically travelling across most continents as well as intellectually – he was often a walking encyclopedia, a search engine before search engines existed. Moreover, he encouraged Mike and I to be curious, in our own studies and travels. Despite being a PhD Chemist himself, he was never anything but supportive as Mike pursued his studies in medieval history and I delved into the murky world of political theories (we’ve subsequently pursued careers in software development and marketing…!)

I spent the best part of two years abroad with a Gap Year in the US and a year studying in France. Mike travelled after university; across Europe, Venezuela, Africa and New Zealand. I skied, Mike discovered diving. Mum & Dad often joked about ‘spending your inheritance’ as they travelled the globe in their retirement, visiting China, New Zealand, The Far & Middle East, Russia…

But when I thought about courageous, I had to pause. I’d never thought of him as a stereotypical hero or a leader. He was self-effacing, not a show-off. He didn’t do a heroic job, saving lives or changing the world. But now I can appreciate his own brand of courage all the more.

Throughout his life he used his curiosity and caring to make a difference for others, on whatever level he could, but not for his own sake or pride; organising community events, researching and giving talks to inspire others about music, giving people lifts to Church.

But on a more personal level, my Dad, like Rachel’s Dad, was a miracle of modern medicine. He fell through a plate-glass door in Czechoslovakia in 1968, cutting his throat and losing far more blood than is good for anyone, especially when the Red Army was on the verge of invasion.
He had heart surgery in the late 1980s and a pacemaker fitted a couple of years ago. Significant and debilitating bladder problems for several years then turned out to be cancer. He had his bladder removed in early 2015, and enjoyed a few months of remission in between rounds of chemotherapy.

Through everything he continued to be positive, cheerful, musical, curious, charming – and all the adjectives his friends used to describe him in their cards of consolation. The consensus that rippled through the room yesterday was of a ‘gentleman’, on every level.

Only when the cancer came back in the lymph nodes and pelvis and spread into his spine did his joie de vivre diminish. Only then did we start to notice that he was no longer doing all the things he had done for years, that he had done seemingly forever.

Only when we took him out to celebrate his 79th birthday at the end of last month did I fully understand the extent to which he had been truly courageous. When the nurse instructed me how much morphine he was ‘allowed’, I realised this dose was more than 4 times he had been living on for the past few months. He’d been ‘grinning and bearing it’, ‘not making a fuss’ for so many days, weeks, months.

So just as Dad was openly and always curious, he was quietly caring, and especially brave. While I shall mourn his passing now and every day forward, I am relieved he no longer has to be so brave.

I will strive to live the best life I can in the same positive, charming and cheerful spirit he did. I hope I can be a gentleman like him.

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much:
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled the niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it;
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had.
Whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
Bessie Stanley – ‘What is success?’

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R.I.P. Anthony (Tony) Moody – 29/07/1938 – 14/08/2017

The Mr Moodys

 

Of all the kind messages I’ve received since my Dad passed away last week, one text from a friend has enveloped me ever since; sometimes in grief, but also in happiness.

…things may feel tougher and sadder, but remember you are made from him and will hold him with you for ever

It has struck me in these last few days how much I’ve reflected on his life and qualities only after his passing. Of course I wish now that I’d done it more, and sooner, and told him. I suppose I did now and then, and I hope he saw it for himself.

But it’s true that I am made from him, and these are just a few of the ways…

Sand Castles
Building sand castles, and indeed the moats, tunnels and trenches that go with them, is both an art and a science. It requires an understanding of the properties of wet sand, a creative flair to adorn your castle with shells, seaweed, pebbles and rocks. And it requires timing.

According to Dad, sand castles should always be built knowing they will be destroyed by the incoming tide. In fact, you should make every effort to ensure you are present to see this destruction. It’s about learning about loss, or something.

Swimming in the Sea
I was a nervous childhood swimmer, having dreadfully short sight. But I inherited my myopia from Dad, and he was a bold, committed swimmer, seemingly even more so in open water. He’d plunge through the waves and swim straight out to sea, sometimes stopping quite a long way out, before turning and swimming up and down, parallel to the shore. He swam several times a week right up to having his bladder removed a couple of years ago, and even occasionally afterwards.

Earlier this month we had a week’s break in Devon with friends, where we went bodyboarding at the fabulous Sandymouth Beach. I knew he was declining, and all the time I was amongst the waves I was thinking of him and how he would have loved it, and how he had helped me to feel confident there as a child.

“Ooh look! There’s [insert ANY sport] on…”
Dad was a keen rugby player in his younger days and all-round sports fan. He was pleased that rugby seemed to be my best sport at school, but more, I remember enjoying watching sports with him.

Rugby (the 5 Nations) was his favourite, and the 1980 England Grand Slam (capt: Bill Beaumont) a highlight, but we weren’t fussy. Snooker became a fixture of the TV schedules in the 1980s, and it rewards the long-term investment a best-of-35-frames final requires across a whole weekend. Similarly, test cricket unfolds over days, or even weeks in a 5-match series: we watched Botham’s Ashes explode in real-time. We revelled in track & field, we loved the great commentators. Sunday teatime was Ski Sunday and its iconic theme tune, and then there was the Tour de France, which combined his passions for long-form sport and the natural beauty of France…

Exploring the World
I’m not sure that Dad was a fan of going somewhere twice. During my childhood we visited Eurocamp sites in virtually every corner of France from Brittany to Biarritz to Briançon, as well as The Black Forest, the Italian Lakes and Tuscany. He drove us all over the place, including an American road-trip from San Francisco through Yosemite, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, coming back to Los Angeles. I loved it. All the while he was a walking travel guide, talking history, geography, geology, everything.

Curiosity
Dad was a PhD Chemist (polymers, I think), but wore his intellect lightly. He read widely and absorbed facts and information like a sponge. There seemed no limit to his ability to relate one thing to almost any other thing. He sought out knowledge for its own sake, he was interested in learning, all the time.

A Wicked Thing (6)
Related to this, he loved puzzles and quizzes, especially cryptic crosswords. I swear he spent more time with the newspaper (remember them, kids?!) folded to the crossword page, and he carefully explained clue definitions and the wordplay, clues within clues and so on.

Make a difference
Dad got involved. He took part and got off his backside to do something; voluntary work, teaching, participation in community groups, organising events. None of this was to further his own position or recognition, but simply to make sure things happened, to make sure other people could enjoy the event, or benefit from the fundraising. He didn’t set out to change the world, but he did make it better.

A word in your ear, from Father to Son…
I’ve written before about my love of Queen, and it was Dad who got me started. From there I moved into ELO, Rock (both Heavy and Prog), as well as exploring his greater love of orchestral music. He encouraged me to take up the French Horn and hardly missed a concert I’ve played in over more than 20 years.

Father to Son is a Queen song from their 2nd album. I always loved it for its blinding guitar work by Brian May, but also for its message.

A word in your ear, from father to son: hear the word that I say.
I fought with you, fought on your side long before you were born…

…Take this letter that I give you. Take it sonny, hold it high.
You won’t understand a word that’s in it but you’ll write it all again before you die.

A word in your ear, from father to son: funny, you don’t hear a single word I say,
But my letter to you will stay by your side through the years till the loneliness is gone.
Sing if you will – but the air you breathe I live to give you.

I am proud to be made from my Dad, and I hope to keep writing the letter he gave me.

Sticks and stones I can cope with, but the past couple of years has thrown up an almost relentless series of words and sentences that I’d never heard before.

Individually they’re unpleasant.

Cumulatively they’ve been as draining as anything I can remember, and their impact has been much deeper and persistent than any bruise or broken bone.

 

Aggressive T2 tumour in the bladder… radical cystectomy…

We think you should involve the police… “I just want it to stop“… 

Congestive heart failure… passed away peacefully on 14th September

masses in the lymph nodes and pelvis… chemotherapy… inoperable… balancing quality vs quantity of life…

the diagnosis of Dementia is confirmed – Alzheimer’s/Vascular mix… unable to live independently at home… had another fall last night…

Anxiety attacks… learning support… there was an incident… not engaging in class… found crying in the toilets… didn’t turn up…

Significant degradation in the visual fields tests… low-pressure glaucoma… repeat these tests every 6 months… if it affects the other eye you will have to inform the DVLA…

‘Concrete thinking’… sensory overload… problems with language processing… gender dysphoria… meltdowns… 

…confirm the diagnosis of Autism – Asperger’s Type… Cognitive Behavioural Therapy… 

 

I know that everyone goes through this sort of stuff. I know that many, many people have it much worse.

I know I am blessed with loved ones, family and friends.

I know I have much to look forward to, much to be thankful for.

I know that diagnosis is a starting point, an opportunity to shape a new normal.

But right now I’d take a beating to not have heard some of these words, or to not hear them again.

 

Theresa May is the British Prime Minister. She was appointed 6 months ago after becoming leader of the Conservative Party by the votes of just 199 MPs. Barely 6 weeks before that she had unsuccessfully campaigned for her country to Remain in the European Union. In October 2016 she spoke at the Conservative Party Conference and proclaimed

…if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.

I could launch into dictionary definitions and how her blinkered ‘vision’ is inadequate for the complexity and interdependence of the world in 1917, let alone 2017…

…but instead, here are three reasons why I believe in my heart and soul that she is wrong and why, despite all the Brexit sound and ‘America First’ fury raging against me, I’m proud to think of myself as a citizen of the world and a citizen of my country. Indeed, I can only think of myself in that way.

Eurocamp

For virtually all of my childhood that I can remember, I enjoyed family holidays in France, Germany and Italy, usually staying in Eurocamp tents on sites from Brittany to Tuscany, from The Dordogne to the Black Forest. I learned how to ask for baguettes and croissants, understand different road-signs, convert kilometres to miles. I discovered the joy of Orangina in funny-shaped bottles. Europe wasn’t something to be feared or resented, it was full of people quite a lot like us, with fabulous countryside and terrific summer weather. I’ve tried to pass on these attitudes to my children.

orangina

Put the Zep on…that snowpile is dead.

Between school and university, I went to the US for 6 months on an English-Speaking Union exchange to a High School in Princeton, and this boy from the Cotswolds discovered the world…

I found I could escape my (self-imposed) teenage persona of clever but never ‘cool’, often painfully awkward. On the very first morning, I was invited to skip class by other guys in the Senior Year, and we went out to get ice cream (it was January and about 5 degrees below zero), before one of them drove his car around the icy carpark, spinning and wheeling in all directions, ultimately ploughing into a snowbank. This seemed a long way from Gloucestershire.

I played baritone sax in a jazz band, played alto sax in a student rock band, started to write a screenplay, skied in Colorado. I travelled alone from New York to Seattle and San Francisco and back again. I was refused re-entry to the US at Niagara Falls. I gambled in casinos in Reno. I thought I was Don Johnson on top of the World Trade Centre…

world trade center

I grew up and grew out of myself in America. I couldn’t understand it in this way at the time, but travelling and living in another place made me appreciate my home all the more, while respecting and loving the differences.

Erasmus

At the end of my 2nd year at university, I signed up for an ERASMUS exchange to study in France, without consulting anyone, let alone my parents. A real snap decision, it was also a brilliant and far-reaching decision, as I got to go skiing in the French Alps A LOT, enjoyed a long weekend on the Mediterranean coast, and a week travelling into Italy to Genoa and Florence. I met and studied with multi-lingual French, Italian, Dutch, German students.

Most far-reaching of all, it was in Chambéry that I studied marketing & market research for the first time, and discovered more human, real-world ways to apply my thinking beyond the abstract, macro-economic aspects of my degree course.

Even more so, if I’d not studied in France I wouldn’t have been at university in Exeter for a 4th year, and almost certainly wouldn’t have met Rachel.

Erasmus

Erasmus. A scholar and citizen of the world.

I once gave a pecha kucha presentation about key moments in my life. Two of those focused on the experiences I had in Princeton and my decision to study in Chambéry: they have been that fundamental to my life since, the way I see myself and the way I see the world. I Reckon it’s simplistic to say the least, and actually insulting to suggest that people who think beyond their own country misunderstand the concept of citizenship.

So I encourage, implore you, dear readers, to think broadly about how we depend on each other, how we are stronger for being part of things that transcend nation-states. Be citizens of the world. The world needs us.

In early 1979 Squeeze were climbing the charts with their breakthrough hit “Cool for Cats”. A somewhat ridiculous lyric, it featured cowboys and indians, the Sweeney and failed “posing down the pub”. My 10-year-old mates and I loved it.

A few months later they produced another 190 seconds of pop perfection with the fabulous “Up the Junction”. It felt like this was in the charts for ages, as it too reached 2, kept off the top spot by Tubeway Army’s seminal ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

I love Up the Junction. I Reckon it’s got one of the best introductions of any pop song, tells an amazing story with a beginning, middle and end, goes from Love’s Young Dream to Growing Up to Losing it All in barely 3 minutes, and has a blinding middle 8, and for the geeky among you, the middle 8 is almost exactly to the second in the middle of the song! It’s true some of the rhymes are a bit tenuous, but Chris Difford has said he harboured ambitions of being the David Bowie of Deptford, and not of all Bowie’s lyrics made complete sense…

 

Up the Junction is one of my all-time favourite songs. I love the kitchen-sink storytelling (he started me on Monday, so I had a bath on Sunday), the loss (the devil came and took me from bar to street to bookie) and the ultimate lack of remorse (I’d beg for some forgiveness but begging’s not my business).  And apparently the video was filmed in John Lennon’s kitchen…

 

Can I say I was there at the start? Like seeing Radiohead when they were still On a Friday, I’ve loved Olivia Colman for, like, ages, since she appeared in sketches for The Mitchell and Webb Show (source of this blog’s title). And now she’s only gone and won a Golden Globe. So allow me to remind or introduce you to her fantastic body of work, enormously varied. Like the best in her profession, she makes great choices, and seems to make anything in which she appears better, however small her role.

The Night Manager was a fantastic BBC mini-series based on a John Le Carré novel, with amazing production values, glorious locations and a stellar cast dressed in beautiful things looking almost impossibly beautiful. Angela Burr was the ordinary person; the zealous, determined, heavily pregnant Government operative working almost entirely behind the scenes, focused on making the world a better place by seeking, finding and bringing down the Bad People. Played by Olivia Colman, she was dignity incarnate while all around her was deception, testosterone and greed.

olivia colman angela burr the night manager

(C) The Ink Factory – Photographer: Des Willie

 

And there was Broadchurch, where she played another decent, strong woman. Ellie Miller is a respected police officer in a small seaside resort, passed over for promotion and having to deal with the apparent suicide of her son’s close friend. In seeking the truth she unravels a very dark underbelly to the town she thought she knew, and faces a shattering revelation.

Olivia Colman Ellie Miller Broadchurch Season 1 final episode

 

Last but by no means least, perhaps her breakout film role as Hannah, yet another decent, Christian charity shop worker in Tyrannosaur. In what is basically a three-hander, she more than stands her ground alongside powerhouse performances by Peter Mullan and Eddie Marsan, both terrifying in their own way. It’s a brutal story and Hannah bears the brunt of it. Colman is mesmerising. I’d watch it again and again if only I had the nerve.

Olivia Colman Hannah Tyrannosaur

But before these often dark, definitely layered character roles, she made her name initially in comedy, from sketch shows to award-winning series. Much as I lover her as Sophie in Peep Show and Sally Owen in Twenty Twelve, my favourite performances and characters are contrasting.

Harriet Schulenberg is one of the hospital administrators in the surreal Green Wing. Permanently stressed, late, flustered and seemingly close to breaking point, she’s a small part who steals every scene she’s in.

 

 

In Rev she plays an upstanding vicar’s wife alongside Tom Hollander as her well-meaning husband clinging to his vocation despite the troubles of an impoverished parish in East London. It’s a fabulous series with tremendously human characters and performances, alongside occasional flights of fantasy, like this…

 

And after all that, I just have to mention PC Doris Thatcher from Hot Fuzz, whose unashamed filthy mind and single-entendres spew forth in a fabulous West Country accent…

I quite like a little midnight gobble …

Right now, in the afterglow of 2016, there are a few things I know to be true.

2016 was not the Worst Year Ever

  • To be sure, the ‘important’ celebrity deaths seem on a different level, especially as they now include stars who came to world attention in the broadcast media age. It’s very sad that Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (her Mother) died within hours. But please, it’s only a tragedy for their friends and family. It makes me sad for them, and a bit sad for me as I’ve loved their films, but it’s not life-changing or tragic or unbearable. Really, it’s not.
  • Brexit and Donald Trump have rattled my cage and dented my rose-tinted liberal view of the world, but they’re not massively unsurprising. With a smidgen of hindsight, it’s quite easy to see them as a natural progression of where we’ve been going in recent years, perhaps somewhat extreme, certainly upsetting for me, but actually almost inevitable.
  • Similarly, while stories and images from Syria have been uniformly depressing and the scale of destruction seems more catastrophic, how different are they from Chechnya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and other conflicts of the last 25 years. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is  similarly the natural extension of what’s been building for a long time.

I’m done with thinking of The New Year as Something Transformative…

Just because the year changes on the calendar doesn’t mean I can swivel on a sixpence and turn things around. There are things I can control and things I can’t, things that actually affect me and stuff that simply bothers me. I’m trying to stop caring too much about celebrity deaths, or what Donald Trump has proclaimed about Vladimir Putin, or what kind of Brexit we apparently want today.

But I can’t shrug off or simply change my attitude about a whole shitpile of things that affect me directly and are at least partly beyond my control. I can’t pretend to even consider the sort of upbeat “let’s make 2017 AWESOME” posts that are just about everywhere. Because while I am privileged and lucky to be British, white, born to affluent parents (etc), and we had many fine experiences last year, I can’t hide that, overall, 2016 was bloody hard. And the things that made it hard aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • My Dad still has inoperable cancer and has been increasingly breathless, which unsurprisingly is taking its toll on Mum, so they need our support more than ever, emotionally and physically.
  • Christmas 2016 was the last that Rachel and I will celebrate in either of our childhood homes.
  • We’re still helping Hannah through a protracted process to get her the support she needs to make sense of herself, feel less anxious at school, and to give her a shot at achieving her undoubted potential in an education system that seems to be going back generations in its approach to testing and exams.

Believe in Better

I do believe that it will be all right in the end, but I can’t see the end right now. So please, try not to encourage me to make 2017 amazing or exciting. Please don’t tell me to ‘consume less/create more, frown less/smile more’.

If I’m lucky, stay focused and can stick to my intentions, I’m hopeful I can be enriched in 2017 by

  • moving house (while staying local)
  • helping my parents downsize into a smaller home
  • spending more time writing this than getting annoyed on Twitter
  • continuing my cycling evolution; ride more often (commuting), further (100 mile rides), in new places (Wales, Yorkshire, France?), and more with our children
  • (re)watching Mad Men
  • helping our children to thrive, laugh and be everything they can be
  • the love and support of Rachel, Hannah & Eleanor, as well as my family and friends

Wish me luck…