“Fact, fact, fact!”* 52 of them

The-future-of_comics_Fringe_Write_Idea_FestivalI will be 52 in April and am getting used to the idea by saying so now. I was going to write a list of 52 facts about me but think this is better because I can fit more in a short space.

That’s four already … or even five, depending on how personal this week’s Weekly Blog Club theme-setter, lovely Kate Bentham, thinks ‘some facts about yourself’ should be.

I’ve loved comics since I was small and the picture above makes me happy. This is partly because it only shows the back of my head but mainly because I’m listening to a debate on the future of comics as part of November 2013’s Writeidea Festival Fringe.

I was a volunteer on the organising panel and am delighted that I managed to suggest and bring in some brilliant speakers. They included a former executive producer of Eastenders, Diederick Santer, who is the brother of my friend Hen; he debated soaps with an Archers scriptwriter who came to my wedding reception, Mr Keri Davies. There was best-selling historical master of the medieval murder mystery Michael Jecks who I had last spoken to nearly 16 years ago at Lingfield Races.

Among others I asked were Booker nominee Alison Moore and fellow SALT-published novelist Simon Okotie, who made me cry with laughter one morning with two words (‘Hulk, smash’. Spoken by a mild-mannered Buddhist, this was for some reason hysterical.) I also asked one poet –  Maitreyabandhu, another Buddhist – a man I greatly admire for his humour and  work on mindfulness for people with depression.

I approached some people through Twitter: Stella Duffy, genius writer, campaigner and generous woman. Her blog post this week made me cry. I want you to read it and I wish her every positive thought I can offer. Melanie Clegg is wonderful Madame Guillotine, an observant and beautifully-descriptive cultural cockney who rocks blue hair in a way that (colour clash) turns me green with envy.

It made my day to have Robin Ince agree to headline the Saturday and spend time chatting with me and my daughter beforehand. Being good at English when I went to school meant ditching science and I wish with all my heart I had his dedication to educating himself in so many scientific areas.

I went to Robin’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People before Christmas. I think my favourite on stage was hedgehog-loving author and ecologist Hugh Warwick. My first pet was a hedgehog called Murphy, given to me when I was nine by workmen who’d found him. I adored him and was inconsolable when he wandered next door and ate slug poison.

Back to the picture above. The red hair (I wish I had the nerve to dye mine like it) and yellow dress belong to Nat Guest. I think she probably has the best username on Twitter: @unfortunatalie  I first spotted her online because of her invention of the superb Question Time Tweetalong events; I went to one at the Hackney Attic. I’d suggested the festival have a fringe for the first time and asked her if she would curate the two days.

I suspect by the time she’s nearly 52, Nat’ll be Prime Minister. If she wants. She has a network of intelligent, well-connected and creative people that makes me feel out of touch, dull and slack-jawed. She can also drink me under the table.

I’m looking forward to helping out again this year, with Writeidea 2014.

*I bet you knew that was a quote from Dickens’s Hard Times. And that’s 52 facts about me.






The Last Post

Julie_Farrier_Folkestone_Funeral_Director_chihuahuaNo, not my last post ever. Just a final one in the unexpected trilogy this year that have marked my Dad’s illness, death and funeral. And I can never resist a decent pun; Remembrance Day and all that …

I managed a reading in church on Wednesday’s funeral and was neither struck down by lightning or responsible for knocking over the coffin, which I hadn’t realised would be at the end of the pew I needed to exit.

I got through Abide With Me without howling too much and read the standby crematorium poem – Remember, by Christina Rossetti – when my daughter couldn’t face speaking.

She recovered enough to polish off countless scones and sandwiches at a tea organised with kindness and tact at Wards Hotel in Folkestone. The room was packed with people telling me how kind Dad was and how much people liked and respected him.

The printer who produced the order of service recognised Dad’s name and photo, remembering his insistence on a coffee break at 11am and opening of his packed lunch at 12 noon as the immovable rights of a print union member. Mrs Thatcher would have hated my Dad.

There were blue hyacinths and Frank Sinatra and incense that may possibly have been swiped by a priest from a royal building. I couldn’t possibly comment. And just look at the lovely woman who walked in front of the cortege, Julie Farrier. Admittedly the chihuahua had to stay behind in the office but you can’t have everything.






Mrs Malaprop and Mr Waugh

Dad_wedding_Canal_Museum‘But Mr Joyboy, you’ve given him the Radiant Childhood Smile.’

‘Yes, don’t you like it?’

‘Oh, I like it, of course, but his Waiting One did not ask for it.’

‘Miss Thanatogenos, for you the Loved Ones just naturally smile.’

From ‘The Loved One’, by Evelyn Waugh

This afternoon I went to see my Dad, at a funeral directors’ chapel, in the oak mass-produced coffin Mum and I chose. I wanted a wicker one but was over-ruled on the grounds that it looked like a picnic basket.

Mum was also adamant that she did not want a ‘humorous’ funeral (English translation – Humanist.) She’s always been a modern-day Mrs Malaprop and has been telling friends and relatives how Dad slipped away in his sleep last week, despite the doctors’ attempts to resurrect him. No matter how many times I mutter ‘resuscitate’, she’ll carry on.

The last week’s been all phone calls and form-filling, priests and solicitors and sympathy cards. My favourite moment away from it all came when the lady in the cat sanctuary charity shop advised me, “Tell your mum to replace it as soon as she can.” I explained she had possibly misheard ‘Dad’ as ‘cat’. Much as I’d like the gap left by 59 years of being together to be filled by a tabby, I don’t think it works like that.

I’ve sorted flowers, recce’d hotels to arrange a tea for 80, written Orders of Service and discussed Bible readings (as an atheist.) Dad was a devout Catholic for 85 years, apart from a brief lapse during National Service in Egypt, to which his formidable mother put a stop on his return. I don’t know what he got up to and now I never will.

So there have already been requiem and other masses requested by friends, with a full-on service next week. I haven’t had much experience of dead people. I took a defiant glimpse of my grandad, against my parents’ wishes, when I was a teenager and spent several hours a few years ago beside a friend in his coffin at the London Buddhist Centre.

My own views of undertakers were largely informed by Jessica Mitford in The American Way of Death and Evelyn Waugh. I wrote a rubbish thesis on Waugh (rushed so I could spend the summer term watching cricket) and admire his writing beyond telling.

The tear-inducing sight of Dad’s delight in hospital at a priest coming to give him communion – when he no longer really knew who I was – has to be the closest to Lord Marchmain’s Brideshead Revisited death scene that I’ll experience in working class 21st Century Kent.

I’d supposed we would have to deal with someone like Mr Joyboy. I didn’t expect warm, funny, sarky female funeral directors, who have treated us with genuine care and concern.

Mum had dreaded today. Once she saw Dad in his suit, with the lilac shirt and tie that he wore for my wedding three years ago, all that dread went. All she could say was ‘It’s no wonder I fell in love with him.’ Then she hugged the funeral director for cleaning his nails nicely.



My Mum still refers to my ‘coming home’ when I visit. She has spent every day of the past month, including Christmas Day, making a 40 mile plus round trip to see my Dad in hospital, thanks to a rota of friends driving her.

Every day, she’s promised him that he’ll be home soon. Yesterday a doctor and social worker told her he will need full-time residential nursing care. He can’t respond to her at the moment, eat, drink or stand.

So now we need to find a new home for him, a few weeks before their 59th wedding anniversary. And I need to try to help her stop crying and saying she has broken her promise.