Bye Bye Mr Derek

I hope this isn’t going to start being a habit, like in 2016, writing recollections of the good, the great and the memorable. One year like that was enough for a lifetime. But for a second successive night I’m paying tribute to someone we’ve lost.

I go back far enough to remember Derek Fowlds as Mr Derek, yes, on The Basil Brush Show, which memory plants firmly as being on Friday afternoons, the last offering of Children’s television before the adults took over with the news. But I never watched him in Heartbeat, which provided him with a comfortable and stable old age.

No, I will always remember Derek Fowlds as Bernard Woolley, the dry, pedantic Principal Private Secretary on Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister, forever caught between the twin masters Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby, in one of the funniest and most intelligent sitcoms ever to come out of Britain. Now Fowlds is gone, we have lost all three stars of this dryest of witty shows.

Notoriously, actual Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once insisted on playing a political sketch, written by Number 10, not Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, to be read with Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne. It was put out that there simply wasn’t a part from Fowlds, but I am cheered immensely to learn today that the truth was that he would not appear with her.

Good guys always go, though sometimes they stay with us a long, long time: Fowlds was 82. Our only consolation is that, in a primitive way of balancing things out, the other sort eventually go as well. Derek Fowlds lives forever as Bernard Woolley, a good legacy.

As Father, As Son: Christopher Tolkien, R.I.P.

Thiugh his father’s name will always precede him, so long as people read The Lord of the Rings, Christopher (C.J.R.) Tolkien, who has been announced today as having died aged 95, will enjoy reknown for playing a vital and heroic role in expanding the universe of Myth and Philology that grew from an exercise book and a pencil, in the trenches of the Somme over a hundred years ago.

Christopher, like his siblings, grew up on the stories created by his father, not least of which the one that became The Hobbit. He became cloaest to his father in mind about these stories, drawing several of the earliest Maps, being the recipient of Book 4 in chapters sent out to him on National Service in South Africa in the Second World War, his Literary Executor, and not merely Guardian of the Flame but responsible for the expanson of Middle Earth and its vastest histories into the best possible representation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s final thoughts.

All his work, from 1974 onwards, when he began work on producing an acceptable The Silmarillion and then the long decades of The History of Middle Earth, a massive illustration of the evelopment of a writer’s mind, C.J.R. abnegated himself to his father’s creativity, with love, fidelity and a profound respect.

Though not a writer in his own stead, to me he deserves just as much remebrance and thanks for what he did. May he live in Middle-Earth forever.

Down to the Wire

This year and this decade are going down to the wire.

This isn’t going to be a reflection on the events of the past twelve months, nor is it going to be a moan post (the two would probably be next to identical). I’ve had practically the same response to every New Year’s Eve this past ten years, namely ‘fuck off out of it and don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out’, and this year is no exception.

It’s just going to be a mild rumination on the nature of this night, starting with the reflection that, as of midnight, the Sixties, and I mean every last second of them, have been gone for fifty years. People, our every ‘half a century ago’ is going to be the Seventies, and as one who lived through that decade, that’s not a golden prospect.

Does it really matter? Were the Sixties really that important? As one who also lived through them but as a mostly imperceptive kid who hd to learn about it all backwards, the only possible answer is, ‘of course it was, you fucking idiot!’

Like each of the past ten New Year’s Eves, I approaach it in solitude, in thought. That’s been the way of most of my New Year’s Eves, though at earlier times this was by way of choice. Now, though it’s forced on me by circumstance, and time, I don’t complain or begrudge my last night of the year. I grow fonder of my own company, and my ability to go my own way.

Will anything be better when we start a new Roaring Twenties? Let’s not go there, I said this wasn’t going to be a Moan post. But there is one thing, that I tempt fate in even alluding to it in the most allusive of terms, since Fate, when I have been here before, has almost invariably responded to being tempted by giving me a good steel toecap in the gob, but at some point and sooner will be better than later, I will have to summon up the nerve to speak to someone who works in the same building as me. In which case, things will either be potentially more enjoyable or they’ll be not much worse than they are now.

Put like that, the course of action seems obvious but, trust me, nothing round me is ever obvious.

So, with that one caveat in the possibly better column, let’s allow the 2010s to make their own way out the door and then let’s lock, bar and bolt it in case the bloody bastards want to come back in. We don’t want to go through that again.

And in terms of music, let’s honour this post’s title and proffer my last musical choice of 2019, before I have to figure what will do to start 2020, a date that corresponds with the opthalmologists term for clear sight and vision. Here’s hoping, on macro and micro levels.

Pass me another lager…

Neil Innes R.I.P.

I’d hoped we would maybe make it out of this decade without another loss of the stellar kind but no such luck. Farewell Neil Innes at the age of 75. There’s an obvious choice for a song to celebrate what he could do, but I have another from the same period that I hold as a greater favourite, from dozens of Saturday and Sunday mornings on Junior Choice. Farewell, Mr Urban Spaceman, it had to come true one day, thanks for staying in orbit as long as you did.


A Xmas Memory

One of my friends on a Forum I help to administer, has posted about spending Xmas Day away from home for the first time ever. This has reminded me of my mother’s last Xmas. She had lung cancer and, to relieve her from shopping and cooking, she and I were invited to my sister’s parents-in-law for Xmas day. It was my firxt Xmas not spent with just our family, and the only real thing I remember about it was that the film premiere that night was the first Michael Keaton Batman, the one with Jack Nicholson as The Joker. They were all going to watch it, and I realised, as the comments flowed, that nobody except me had any idea about the film, that they were expecting another Adam West ‘Biff! Bang! Pow!”, and I had a secret glee at watching their faces once it started.

We only watched about fifteen minutes of it. Mam was tired, and I took her home, made sure she was settled, and slipped off home myself.

The following day, she started to be in pain, and she died three days later, with me there to see how peacefully she passed, more or less in her sleep. That was twenty-eight years ago. It’s a memory that’s sad and painful but I thank my friend for recalling it to me today. Tomorrow, I have the Xmas that circumstance has forced on me, yet which I have embraced, namely on my own, happy and free, and only communicating with those of my friends who drop in to that Forum. If I could have a Xmas in company, it would be with people whho are no longer here to share it.

It was all a very long time ago.

Gold and Clay: Bob Willis R.I.P.

Last Wednesday, there were several reported deaths, amongst which that of Clive James stood out as the most monumental for me. Another Wednesday and another name who looms large in my memories has come to the end of his run-up, the former England and Warwickshire fast bowler and Captain, Bob Willis.

Of course the first thought is Headingley, 1981. The match may be inevitably associated with Ian Botham, who won the Man of the Match, but essential though his performance was, it was still, in cricketing terms, the prelude to Willis’s last day bowling, his relentless charging in, very much ‘in the zone’, to take 8 Australian wickets for 42, figures engraved on any English Cricket fan’s heart.

And Willis put so much into his performance, concentrated so hard, that his response to the Press was to attack them for their criticism of England over the first three days of the Test, because what they had actually done did not make itself felt for hours after the match, and he had to pull over whilst driving home, because it had suddenly hit him.

I honour him for that, and always will, but I would be less than honest if I didn’t mention the other things I remember about Bob Willis, the cricketer. One was a Warwickshire – Lancashire County Championship match at Edgbaston, where Lancashire, batting third, had agreed to declare at a specific total, to give the host County a fair total to chase. The game was notable for the debut of Neil Fairbrother and, with the total in sight, Fairbrother was also in sight of a century that would have made him the first Lancashire player to do that since the Nineteenth Century.

With about two overs left before the total would be reached, Willis set a tight field around Fairbrother, denying him any chance of the runs to achieve that feat, and them promptly opened up the field to make it easy for the other Lancy batsman to knock them off. Miserable sod.

And I remember another occasion with Lancashire, a Benson & Hedges Cup Final win in a low-scoring game, in which Man of the Match was awarded to John Abrahams for his captaincy and skilful management of the game, which drew a miserable and bitter response from Willis, live on TV, about how he didn’t know how the Award could go to someone who didn’t bowl and didn’t score any runs. Maybe he was still in his ‘zone’ at that point, but it was an unpleasant display.

Gold and clay: can’t remember one without the other. But he took those wickets, and I will never forget the shock I had when I found out England had won.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

As a former Solicitor, steeped in the Law, I understand only too well the danger of protesting a Jury verdict. No newspaper reports, however comprehensive, can duplicate the evidence that a Jury hears. You cannot second-guess them unless you have yourself sat through every second, listening, assessing, balancing what they hear and see in the same fashion, and even then yu are one mind, not twelve. So if I am to be true to my principles, I cannot raise my voice in protest at the decision to acquit former Superintendant David Duckenfield of 95 charges of Manslaughter by Gross Negligence of Liverpool fans whi=o atended that infamous match at Hillsborough.

But I do. From the day of the game, and that awful fuzzy sound that came out of my car radio, the sound of horror, death and unspeakable disturbance, through thirty years of study, reading and listening, I condemn this man, and I will go on condemning him.

An atheist is not supposed to believe in an afterlife, an existence of a different order than ours, although technically atheism is a lack of belief in God, a God or Gods and, as such, is not logically incompatible with the concept  of another stage of ‘life’. So I say he is only not guilty in life but in what may yet be to come, he has yet to pay, and he will pay, 96 times over, once each for every single person his arrogance, incompetence and stupidity caused to die.

Ninety-six people, former Superintendant David Duckenfield, ninety-six lives. They do not wash away that easily, not even on a Jury’s considered verdict.

Guilty. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.

WSC called it on the spot