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Archive for the ‘Heroes’ Category

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.

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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 …

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In 2009 I wrote that In Rainbows was the culmination of everything good about Radiohead’s formidable progress over nearly 20 years. I Reckon was right, at the time.

This year’s release of their 9th studio album A Moon Shaped Pool has forced me to reconsider. This is a very, very good Radiohead album, made even better by Jonny Greenwood’s arrangements and the introduction of intimacy. And it’s this honest human emotion that IMHO lifts it above everything else.

Radiohead have made a career from often unsettling music. In 1989 Thom Yorke responded to friends’ criticism that he only wrote miserable songs with a self-consciously titled Happy Song(!). But these songs feel truly from-the-heart, an opening up, brutally honest and raw. There are more mentions of the words love and heart than on their entire back catalogue combined.

 

Burn the witch…

abandon all reason / avoid all eye contact / do not react
shoot the messengers / burn the witch

This is the exception to that rule. From the sudden, strident opening, with strings playing repeated percussive chords con legno (with the wooden back of the bow), through the chilling message so relevant to the Brexit referendum campaign, this had my attention immediately. After the more electronic feel of The King of Limbs, this felt like a powerful statement. Jonny Greenwood’s film scores and orchestral writing were up front and central, and the relentless momentum of the song made me very excited for the album. Oh, and the video…

 

Daydreaming

Around the time of the album release I read that Thom Yorke had split from his life partner of 23 years. This coloured my reading of the whole album, and I Reckon it’s a serious influence on the musical and lyrical content.

Daydreaming is the first song that alludes to the End of Something, a time when something precious has been lost, and the world must move on.

beyond the point of no return… / …it’s too late / the damage is done

 After Burn the Witch it immediately signals a change of tone and mood that flows through and over the rest of the album. Slow descending piano arpeggios are set against a pulsing bass in a 3-against-2 rhythm that seems to cocoon the listener with its almost hypnotic feel. Thom Yorke’s plaintive vocals feel like mourning, while the fabulous video shot by P T Anderson evokes ceaseless searching for something misplaced, but concluding in a wilderness, retreating into foetal hibernation.

Decks Dark seems to use an alien invasion as a proxy for psychological unease.

In your life, there comes a darkness / there’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky / and there’s nowhere to hide…
…it’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard / in your darkest hour

This feels like the overwhelming threat of depression, the deep guitar and dissonant effects adding to the unease, before it ends in a layer of overlapping sounds and a woeful

          Have you had enough of me?

 

Desert Island Disk seems born of solitude, perhaps not loneliness, but more of acceptance and understanding. It’s lilting and beautiful, but leaves me feeling almost unutterably sad.

The wind rushing round my open heart / an open ravine…
…waking up from shutdown / from 1,000 years of sleep…

Different types of love are possible

 

Ful Stop must be tremendous performed live. A restless, driving track that feels more angry than plaintive.

You really messed up everything
This is a foul tasting medicine / to be trapped in your ful stop…

After a building, almost menacing first couple of minutes, the band bursts into life in a way that reminds me of Arpeggi/Weird Fishes from In Rainbows

          All the good times … / take me back again / won’t you take me back again?

 

Glass Eyes

This is as beautiful a piece of music as I’ve heard in years. Limpid, fluid keyboard figures are distorted like reflections in the ripples of a pool, while aching strings underpin a lyric full of anxiety, fear and resignation: perhaps a farewell message, or a call for help?

Hey it’s me / I just got off the train / a frightening place / faces all concrete grey /
and I’m wondering should I turn around / buy another ticket /
panic is coming on strong / so cold from the inside out

And the path trails off and heads down the mountain / through the dry bush / I don’t know where it leads / I don’t really care

I feel this love turned cold

 

 

Identikit is a great Radiohead song that builds layers of different sounds and moods. Almost indecipherable words at the start break into a chilling

Sweet faced ones with nothing left inside that we all can love
When I see you messing me around I don’t want to know

Broken hearts make it rain

The rolling accompaniment soars into broken jangling chords and a choral refrain that is gradually replaced by terrific guitar work that takes over and builds in a rare solo to an almost ecstatic finish.

 

The Numbers starts like a jazz group warming up. Rolling, random piano lines and rustling percussion undercut with birdsong gives way to an insistent, shuffling rhythm and lyrics that depart from the painful intimacy of the previous 4 songs. This feels like a more prophetic take on global ecology and our place in the world. The string arrangements in the second half are astonishingly effective and turn this initially quiet song into something almost epic.

The numbers don’t decide / the system will survive /
the river running dry / the wings of butterflies /
will take back what is ours one day at a time

 

Present Tense is a great track, reminding me of Jigsaw Falling into Place with shuffling rhythms and acoustic guitar figures over layers of vocalising. It’s both a defiant stance against sadness and a recognition of loss. It has a perfect ending.

This dance is like a weapon of self-defence against the present tense…
…As my world comes crashing down I’m dancing, freaking out, deaf dumb and blind…

It’s no one’s business but mine that all this love has been in vain
In you I’m lost

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief…

With the longest title of any song I can recall, this is a hark back to Hail to The Thief, with white noise distortions and echoing vocals that grow with dark bass piano figures and sliding strings. On one level it feels more shapeless or experimental than other songs in the album, but then when I listen to it it feels almost perfectly formed.

 

True Love Waits is a song that had its origins 20 years ago as a B-side to an early single. It’s my favourite final song to a Radiohead album (no small achievement). A love song, a lament, the references to children (Yorke and Rachel Owen have two, similar ages to mine) make me shiver. The unresolved end to the song, to the whole album is breathtaking. I’m struck dumb for moments after.

true love waits in haunted attics / and true love lives on lollipops and crisps
just don’t leave, don’t leave

I Reckon this is my favourite album of all time. In the few months since its release I’ve listened to it straight through in one sitting more than 40 times, and I never get bored. I can’t remember a time when one album commanded my attention so completely for so long. It’s unsettling, challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking, human, breathtaking, accomplished and (occasionally) uplifting. Uniquely, in my experience of Radiohead over 25 years, it’s moving, touching, intimate.

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To bastardise Oscar Wilde, losing one artistic hero is unfortunate, but losing two in the same week is careless. I’m still basking in the warm glow of so much superb music following the death of David Bowie, but now I’m also lamenting the uncannily coincidental passing of Alan Rickman, one of my favourite actors. Both men were 69 years old, both died of cancer. Apparently Stephen Spielberg is 69. I hope he’s not harbouring any secret tumours, I’m not sure I could cope with another icon passing anytime soon.

Alan Rickman is always worth watching: he’s always good, often great. I can’t say he’s good in films that aren’t, because he (a) made really good choices, and (b) he makes a film better by being there. To prove my thesis, let me illustrate

…and that’s the more famous ones. Those alone would be more than enough for most careers, but I will always remember Alan Rickman from his film debut, as the eminently-quotable, always watchable, so-good-you’re-almost-rooting-for-him-so-long-as-Bruce-Willis-gets-his-wife-out-too, European uber-thief Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

Hans Gruber Alan Rickman Die Hard

How good is this character and Rickman’s portrayal? Let me count the ways…

The benefits of a classical education…

Hans Gruber is an intellectual and cultural snob. He berates John McClane as another American who grew up watching too many movies, he (mis)quotes lines about Alexander the Great, recognises great tailoring when he sees it, and gives off a sense of European existential ennui. But always in a good way.

I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative…

Hans isn’t a terrorist (although he’s happy the FBI see him that way). He’s only in it for the money, and enters Nakatomi Plaza like he’s there for a meeting, albeit accompanied by bag-men with automatic weapons. His opening speech to the hostages is delivered while he’s clutching a notebook, like he’s trying to remember the key points in a presentation.

There will not be a four…

But for all his mannered class, he’s not averse to a bit of killing, and getting his hands dirty. And this is key to his villainy. If he were just the cleverest man in the room helped out by burly henchmen with guns, he’d be less formidable. But it’s clear early on that he an immense threat all by himself. He immediately dispatches anyone who is no longer useful (video NOT suitable for children)

You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the F.B.I.

Hans Gruber is a very funny guy. He has great lines throughout the film.

I read about them in Time magazine.

Nice suit. John Phillips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.

When they touch down, we’ll blow the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they figure out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent.

I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.

Hans Gruber is an exceptional character, formed from brilliant writing and a terrific performance.

Alan Rickman was an exceptional talent and (by all accounts) human being. He has left us a huge variety of rich pickings to enjoy. He will be missed. My thoughts and best wishes are with his friends and family.

 

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I may be the wrong age to have been a real David Bowie fan. He had his created and killed off Ziggy Stardust before I even understood music, and by the time I was a teenager he was in his Let’s Dance phase, which made him feel to me no different from the rest of the pop charts. Sigh.

Luckily for me I grew out of that feeling, mainly by discovering most of what he did in the 1970s, a decade in which he released 10 albums of original material, a collection of covers and two live recordings. Let’s just say I Reckon he’s about as important as The Beatles or Robert Johnson, that sort of level.

We know Major Tom’s a Junkie…

When Bowie’s first hit Space Oddity was re-released in 1975 this young boy loved the storytelling and the astronaut. He might have missed out on the alienation and tragedy. A few years later he thought he was older and wiser, until he encountered the deranged Pierrot clown walking with some very strange-looking people along a beach, with a bulldozer, in the Ashes to Ashes  video.

David Bowie Ashes to Ashes

Most of the lyrics still made no sense, but

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie

was a hook like no other. The electronic soundscape of the song sounded like it came from the future, and I’m pretty certain my parents didn’t get it. This was the start.

Didn’t know what time it was, the lights were low, I leaned back on my radio…

In the years that followed I learned more about Bowie through late-night radio. Radio Luxembourg on 208AM and John Peel on Radio 1, volume low so as not to alert my mum, cheek pressed against the corner of the radio. Many times I woke up with the radio, now drained of batteries, still pressing into my face.

The intimacy of no distractions helped feed my growing sense of musical snobbery. The arrangements and production in everything Bowie did are amazing. His early work features lush strings and saxophones. The stylophone drone and glissando in Space Oddity makes me smile every time I hear it. The ‘rattlesnake maracas’ in Jean Genie, that Rebel Rebel riff, Robert Fripp’s guitar on Fame and Heroes, it’s almost overwhelming. He wrote great songs but he had a f**king amazing band to deliver the vision. There’s more skill and creativity in one middle-eight section of a Bowie song than in many pop careers.

Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry…?

Not only did Bowie write great songs, he was a bad-ass singer. He could turn himself to almost anything and make it sound perfectly natural. There is no single Bowie sound, but everything he does, from the Philadelphia Soul of Young Americans to the foot-stomping Rebel Rebel  to the pop-tastic Let’s Dance immediately sounds like Bowie.

He has a fabulous rich baritone voice, and a crystalline falsetto. This line from Young Americans is his equivalent of Freddie Mercury at the climax of Somebody to Love: it sends shivers down my spine. But then, so does the high tenor of Heroes, somewhere between ecstasy and anguish. He nails it in any octave you care to mention.

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues…

Noone alive and with access to Radio 1 or Top of the Pops in 1983 could fail to recognise this line, and the iconic video that went with it. I didn’t care for it at the time. WTF is serious moonlight anyway?

david bowie let's dance video

Turn and face the strange…

In recent days I’ve most appreciated the way Bowie reached out to young people in so many of his songs. I was the wrong age to appreciate this at the time, but it’s there in so many songs.

Oh you pretty things, don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane…

And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware what they’re going through.
Changes – Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Changes – Where’s your shame? You’ve left us up to our necks in it…

Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let the children boogie.

Turn on with me, and you’re not alone…

And then there’s the fabulous Rock’n’Roll Suicide. The closing track of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it follows the barnstorming title track, and is at once a searing depiction of alienation and an uplifting message of hope for his fans. I’m pretty certain Pink Floyd’s The Wall used Ziggy as a template.

I reserve the right to change my mind, but I Reckon this is my favourite Bowie song. Or possibly Heroes.

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Ohhh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suciide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don’t let the sun blast your shadow
Don’t let the milk float ride your mind
You’re so natural – religiously unkind

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Oh gimme your hands.

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A Life Less Ordinary…

RIP Bernard Kenny; 3rd April 1931 – 14th September 2015

Beloved husband, Father of 4 daughters, Grandfather of 7, eldest of 10 siblings.

His father was a shipbuilder in Birkenhead, like his father before him, whom we’re pretty certain had worked at Harland & Woolf in Belfast while the Titanic was under construction.

Aged just 8, he was evacuated with his younger sister from Birkenhead at the start of WW2, only for his Roman Catholic mother to retrieve him from rural North Wales when it became clear he was attending a non-Conformist Protestant Chapel every Sunday. That would never do.

Still, it became clear that living so close to the shipyards of Birkenhead was no place for a young family in 1940, so he left with his mother and siblings to stay with his paternal Grandparents in Belfast. They were only able to stay there a short while, before having to take lodgings in a Protestant area. While walking to and from the Catholic school he was often stoned by the local Protestant children.

We soon learned to pick the stones up and throw them back…

It was only a matter of months before Belfast became within range of the Luftwaffe, and having fled Birkenhead they then lived through the Belfast Blitz with no air-raid refuge, only a kitchen table to shelter beneath…

A young man in search of a career...

A young man in search of a career…

He met the love of his life, Sheila, when he was 18, in 1949. He was working for a shipping company which meant he had to travel far and wide. After they were engaged in 1953, he left her behind to travel and work in South America for nearly 2 years. After he returned and they married on 1st October 1956, before they both travelled by ship across the Atlantic and up the Amazon to Peru, where they lived in Iquitos, before returning to Manaus for several years.

He served as British consul in Peru, reporting on rebel troop movements and once taking tea with Fidel Castro. In Manaus at that time there was barely 100m of surfaced road and little or no refrigeration, yet they managed to have two daughters there before returning to England.

He continued to work overseas, as he spoke fluent Portuguese and Spanish, and pretty decent French. He was an interpreter during the 1966 World Cup as the North West hosted both Portugal and Brazil, when he met both Eusebio and Pele. He worked extensively in Africa, escaping from Uganda after having his passport confiscated during ‘troubles’ there in the 1970s.

He had high blood pressure practically all his adult life, and had heart bypass surgery in the 1980s. He was a miracle of modern medicine, but medicine complemented by a tremendous human spirit, joie de vivre and optimistic outlook on life.

BernardandSheila

At Eleanor’s 3rd birthday party in 2008

His doted on his grandchildren, and they on him. Our daughters were his youngest (the older ones are in their mid-20s now), and they have such fond memories that illustrate his character.

He always wanted us to bring him a stick of rock from wherever we went on holiday…

he was brilliant at word games, he came up with words no one else had ever heard of, and he was always right…

he liked tripe!

And I need to thank him for my beloved Rachel, whom I first met in 1991. I always felt welcomed into his home and, coming from a small family myself (my parents are both only children), into the wider family. He introduced her to music, which influenced how we met. He introduced me to Laver Bread, now a staple (if occasional) weekend treat. I appreciated and admired (if not entirely shared) his love of opera singers, and his astonishing collection of 78s.

Bernard Kenny

By the end his heart had finally worn itself out. The smallest task was exhausting, and his decline sapped even his reserves of optimism.

At first glance you might have been mistaken that he was just another octogenarian who had lived a long life, and perhaps he was. But behind every octogenarian is a wealth of experiences that we would all do well to absorb and learn from. I am humbled before the things he endured as a child, awed by the fortitude and young courage that took him across the world in a time when that meant weeks and communications were primitive.

But all those achievements would mean less to him than his family, his almost-60-year marriage, his daughters and grandchildren. His attitude to life, his gentleness and his compassion for his fellow human beings will outlive him through his children and grandchildren. We will all miss him, but we will try to be inspired by his example.

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