Posts Tagged ‘death’

Occasionally, a tweet from somoene I follow will set off a train of thought.

More rarely, it won’t set off a thought, but, well, this’ll happen…

And this tweet was from someone I follow who doesn’t follow me, doesn’t really know who I am, and who will once in a blue moon will respond to a reply. She tweeted something that… hit home.

(The original tweet contained some personal information, so you’ll have to forgive my summarising it rather than reproducing the actual tweet.)

She lost her father a couple of years ago, and mentioned that she’ll still, every so often, miss something he did or said, or hear a piece of music and think that he’d have liked that. And she rhetorically wondered if that would ever end.

Although most responses were of the negative, ‘no that won’t ever end’, they weren’t unkind, but even within that, the immediate reactions fell into three types:

i) The “No, but would you ever want it to? While you remember him, he’s not really gone” reaction

I understand both the intention and sentiment behind such a response; of course they don’t mean that whoever died didn’t really die. But even so, it’s an position that I really have no time for.

And, in some ways, doing the whole ‘they’re not really gone’ can be cruel, Memories inevitably fade, both in strength and in detail: that is the way of memories. And if you do sign up to the whole ‘while you remember them’ thing, then as the memories fade, there’s gonna be some [undeserved, unjustified] guilt. Because some people are going to believe that it’s their responsibility to continue to remember their departed relative or friend, in order to ‘keep them alive’. And that by not being able to remember them quite as clearly, or in such detail, they’re somehow letting the deceased down. But they’re not.

I’m reminded of a rabbi of my acquaintance who – while they struggled with the reasons for this rule ot that law – very much liked the idea of the Jewish stonesetting. When Jewish people are buried, the headstone isn’t erected at the same time. It goes up later, usually around 11 months later but I’ve known shorter and longer periods. My rabbi friend said there was a reason for it, far beyond the strict religious justification; social ‘life goes on’ reason of which he very much approved.

For those who had not moved on, who were still grieving rather than mourning, the stone setting was a concrete (sorry) reminder, a reminder and an admonition to them: they died, you didn’t.

And for those who might have moved on a bit speedily, it was an equally strong reminder, an equally stern admonition: Hey! Someone you cared about died, you know!

I’m not entirely sure I go along with all of that, but I do very much believe that once someone has gone, you need to genuinely accept it, in all the ways that matter, and know that the memories aren’t an unbiased representation of the person who died; not really. Because they couldn’t be. They’re your memories; filtered, sorted, and sometimes censored, but they’re your memories of them, which might not be strictly accurate.And that’s how it should be; they’re what comes next.

ii) The “No, but what triggers it will change over the years” reaction

Oh, I have a lot of time for this one. Very definitely. It only makes sense to me, because as memories fade, they also fade in different ways. I can no longer truly remember how my brother sounded in normal speech. I mean, ok, it’s been 23 years, and I have very little of his recorded voice. I have one snippet, from my wedding, during which he was making a toast, so it’s not exactly his ‘normal speaking voice’.

So the ‘hearing someone that sounds like him’ trigger evaporated long ago,. I have no idea what music he would have liked now, though occasionally I’ll hear music we both liked at the time.

For the first few years after Mike died, it was most often personal news that I wanted to tell him about, jokes I heard that I wanted to tell him, or even jokes I heard that I knew – I absolutely knew – that he’d have told me first.

Now? Well, I’ll get onto that in more detail in a moment, but it’s often stuff about which we wouldn’t have necessarily talked about then but would now…. Confusing, I know, but bear with me.

iii) The “no, it won’t change, but how you react to it will”

And this one hit home.

Harder than I expected it to when I read the comments saying this, and the feeling grew over the rest of the day.

I’m a huge believer in people being the sum of their own experiences, and I guess memories play into that. How I react to something, anything, now isn’t how I’d have reacted a decade ago, or two decades ago… or 23 years ago. Because I’m a different person now. I’ve a decade’s, or two decades’, or 23 years’, worth of experiences and memories that have changed me.

I don’t know what I’d be like had my brother not died in January 1998, but I’m damn sure I would have been… different in some ways, probably in many ways.

I’ve heard it said that ‘time heals all wounds’. Metaphorically of course, because I can look at my foot with a two-decades’ old three inch scar on it, or my upper chest with a three month old two inch scar on it. They healed over time, of course, but left obvious, blatant, physical marks.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, or at least not without leaving scars, physical or otherwise.

What time does do, I’ve come to realise and appreciate, is that with every passing month, every passing day, rather than healing all wounds, the passing of time merely lessens the temptation to pick at the scab.

Because what happened at some point, and I’m damned if I could identify exactly when, was that my reaction on hearing a joke, or reading a story, or listening to the radio, or watching television, stopped being “Oh, I wish I could tell Mike this…” and instead became, “Oh, Michael would have really liked that…

It happens a lot in Edinburgh (and I think that he’d have really enjoyed me getting up there, would have enjoyed my getting to write with Mitch for the radio and for Edinburgh) but not only then.

It happened a lot during the past 18 months, especially whenever I watched Michael Spicer’s marvellous “The Room Next Door” pieces. Not once was there a “Oh,I wish I could call Mike to tell him about this”; it was always “man, Michael would have loved this…”

It’s happened with tech a few times as well. I’ll think, while being amazed at some piece of tech or another, particularly my iPad, and what it can do, how much Mick would have enjoyed having a play with it.

It happened not that long ago. I was walking back to the flat from Central London. It’s not that long a walk – well under an hour – and if the foot is behaving, and the weather is nice, then sometimes I’ll walk back.

And it happened indirectly because I cleared out a load of stuff I had on my computer. I needed to clear some room on my hard drive and came across a load of ancient radio recordings, some of them from A Week In Westminster, Westminster Hour, and similar type programmes.

I deleted loads, but came across something called “Tales from the Cutting Room” by the journalist Michael Cockerell. I kind of faintly remembered enjoying it, but didn’t recall it clearly.

Now, when I started what I refer to online as the #DailyConstitutional, my daily hour or more’s walk, my rule was: no current affairs, no current news, no recent politics news, for reasons previously mentioned.

But this wasn’t modern, this wasn’t recent. It wasn’t even recent when it was broadcast; Cockerell was talking about his decades’ long career as a political journalist, and interviews he’d conducted, and especially what got cut in the edit. So there were clips from interviews that had never seen the light of day.

This clip was about Jim Callaghan, British Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979, and the only person to have held all four great offices of state: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

As the programme closed, Cockerell related a conversation he’d once had with Roy Jenkins, wherein Jenkins said [about Callaghan, who hadn’t gone to university] that he’d never before come across such a powerful personality linked with such a lack of intellect.

Jenkins, of course, was one of four university educated men that Callaghan had beaten to the Labour Leadership, and to the office of Prime Minister, when he went for it in 1976. When Cockerell then quoted Jenkins to Callaghan, and said that the view was shared by others, Callaghan had laughed, and then he came out with one of the greatest political quotes I’ve ever heard:

“It’s true, although I think I was probably cleverer then they thought I was. Yes, I haven’t got a huge intellect. But then again, I became Prime Minister… and they didn’t.”

And that’s when I laughed and thought… “yeah, Michael would have liked that; he’d really really have liked that”.

I don’t think of my brother every day; I’d be lying if I said I did. But when I think of him, there’s not been a single time I’ve not missed him.

And I kind of think he’d have liked that as well.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Someone asked, on Twitter, the other day which celebrity death had most affected people who read it.

While there were the usual people offered, and as expected, some interpreted ‘celebrity’ to mean ‘anyone famous’ which wasn’t the original intention, I suspect… what struck me was that almost no-one I saw mentioned anyone from this year.

I mean, plenty of famous people have died this year. Just from my own quick trek through the memories of 2019, the following people all died in the past 12 months:

  • Albert Finney
  • Doris Day
  • Mark Hollis
  • Andre Previn
  • Rutger Hauer
  • Toni Morrison
  • Ian Cognito

But even excluding the people who mentioned the half a century departed Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr (yes, I saw a couple of mentions for both), it wasn’t this year that people mentioned.

It was 2016, particularly the early part of it when it seemed like every other day bought the news of someone famous dying, that brought forth the most common responses I saw. (Which might, I’ll admit, say more about who I follow on Twitter than anything else.)

Because the same two names kept coming up:

David Bowie

and

Prince

Bowie died in January 2016, and Prince three months later.

Now I was upset when Bowie died, mainly but not exclusively because his music had always been a part of my life. But I wasn’t devastated.

I’d always been aware of Bowie’s music and – with rare exceptions – I’d always liked it. but it was never the most important music in my life, nor even a very important part of it. But it was there. And I enjoyed watching him perform. Never saw him live, but always liked his stage performances that I saw on tv, and I’d watch if I noticed a show was on while channel flipping.

Prince, on the other hand? Well, I’d liked some of what he’d done, but not that much. I liked some of his music, but I wasn’t a fan of his work in any way. The occasional song, yes. But not much more than that.

But between them, the day before Prince died, that was the celebrity death that affected me the most. And still does when I think of it.

Because the day before Prince died… Victoria Wood died, and that one hurt. That one hurt so bloody much.

That death broke me. Far more than Bowie’s. Far more than Prince’s. Far more than Robin Williams’ did eighteen months earlier.

I utterly and unreservedly loved Victoria Wood’s work. Not only her musical comedy – though I’ll acknowledge that was the primary source of my enjoyment. But her standup, her writing, her sketch shows with Julie Walters, with Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie and Susie Blake. Damn she was talented, and funny, and clever as hell.

Yeah, that one still hurts.

I’ve no idea whether or not she was on social media, but I don’t think she wasn’t aware of how many people enjoyed her work. Y’see, one of the consequences of social media recording and of distributing public eulogies and thoughts on the departed is the often stated common phrases

“I hope they knew how much they were loved”

and

“I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

Some of this is self-deluding; I don’t for a moment believe that big stars, very famous people, are unaware how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told as much by many. Not these days. (Whether they believe it is an entirely different mater, but they have been told.)

Because famous people are told that. (As much as they’re – unfortunately – faced with the trolls, the bastards and the shit-stirrers that they’re horrible people.)

There are other deaths that hurt even more, of course: family, friends, family friends. One day they’re there, then suddenly, shockingly suddenly sometimes, they’re not.

And they often don’t know how much they matter, how much they matter to you.

So take a good look at the people you like, the people you love, the people you admire.

In years to come, some of them won’t be there. Some of them, it’s true, will still be around, or at least alive, but you’ll no longer like, love nor admire them; they won’t be part of your life any more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes the best thing for all concerned is to walk away, with as little bitterness, as little anger, as little regret, as possible. But to walk away.

But some of them? Some of them will have died. Some will have died from old age (unless you’re very uncommon, some of the people you like, love and admire are getting on in years…); some will have fatal accidents, some from illness, some from choice. (And when I say ‘choice’, I’m a firm believer that voluntary euthanasia will be made legal in many countries in the next decade or so; whether you support it or not, what illnesses it includes or not; I think it’s coming.)

And while telling someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you is often as much for your sake as it is for theirs, so what? Tell them anyway; in the same way as the old line about “no one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is at least in part true, no one should ever die thinking thinking that they didn’t matter: family, friends, people who liked them, people who loved them, admirers alike.

Tell them.

Something else tomorrow; maybe another Ten Things.

We’re going to start today with a meme, talk about the young, then the dead.

So that’ll be fun.

Every so often, something will do the rounds of Twitter and other social media, ostensibly just a ‘huh, kids, eh?’ But something that strikes me – on the umpteenth repetition, anyways – as something a bit… snotty. A bit condescending and inherently unpleasant.

It’ll be something like: Our children will never know the connection between these two things!

The answer, of course is usually in the replies, sometimes blatant, sometimes allowing onlookers [‘the kids’] to have an ‘ohhhhhh’ moment as the penny drops.

I’m not entirely sure when these kind of digs – for that’s how I take them – at those younger started to really bug me; I only know that they did.

The at times seemingly ever-present ‘our experiences meant more’ digs, the ‘kids have it easier these days’ nonsense, the ‘we had [xxxx], kids have [yyyy] and [xxxx] is inherently better/more valid because we had it’ rubbish. But it’s replicated in everything from politicians with their ‘we survived the war, we can survive Brexit’ bullshit, to sidebars and cheap gags at their expense online.

As for when it did start to bug me, I suspect it was after listening to a topical comedy show wherein a couple of comedians were discussing a newspaper piece about how ‘kids today’ don’t understand pre-decimalisation currency, or something similar.

The comedians made the valid point ‘why the hell should they?’

I mean, ok, if the younger read novels set in, or non-fiction about, time periods before 1971, then it might help to appreciate the terms used for the British currency of the time.

But any author now writing about that period knows most people won’t have strong memories, beyond the very personal, of pounds, shillings and pence, and will account for that. And any books of the time are… of the time. They were written during that time. And there are more than a few things that’ve changed since the 19th century; currency is one of the lesser ones.

And of course, occasionally, authors will sometimes acknowledge that readers might not be familiar with pre-decimalisation and provide… help.

(The above from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)

In one of the later Letters from America, Alistair Cooke mentioned that it came as quite a surprise – a much needed corrective, he acknowledged – when some friends of his grandchildren didn’t know the details of Watergate. He then realised that it fell, for them, into that period of time between

  • what you live(d) through, and
  • what’s in the history books.

I was born in 1964. My first memories start in the very late 1960s, early 1970s. The history books I read at school pretty much stopped at the end of the Second World War, perhaps a couple of years later.

Anything that occurred from, say 1950 through 1968… well, that falls into that gap identified by Cooke. Much as the Boer war fell into that gap for him. He was born in 1908. The Boer War ended in 1902. It was current memory for adults when he was born, but not yet into the history books for the children as he grew older.

For me? Well… even if American history was in my school history books (I honestly don’t know) I certainly don’t recall reading anything in detail about McCarthyism until I’d left school and was actually studying US politics.

I remember reading about President Roosevelt and his successor, President Truman… but not about Eisenhower. And all I knew about JFK was that he’d been shot by someone who shared my first name, spelled the same way as well! (When I was growing up, my first name was as often spelled – for boys and girls – ‘Leigh’ as it was ‘Lee’.)

Sorry, this has drifted a bit.

But why should kids know that a pencil and a cassette tape should provoke memories of inserting the pencil, rotating it, correcting the twisted magnetic tape…? It’s not in their personal experience.

Any more than it’s in mine how to powder a wig. Or to make a crystal radio set (my dad did it when he was a kid) Or how to jive? (My mum used to dance when she was younger… a lot.) Or how to balance a budget with a ration card – my grandparents, during and after WWII. None in my personal experience. And something that was in previous generations’.

But if there’s anything that truly – to me – does raise the ‘they do it different these days’ in a way that doesn’t piss me off, but does make me wonder what the future brings… it’s people, contact with them, how they’re regarded by others, and how they’re appreciated… while they’re alive, and after they’ve died.

Or not, as the case may be.

I’m unconvinced that any generation views other people, and especially the departed, in the same way as either the previous generation or the next generation does.

A couple of generations before mine… adults were fighting in wars, different cultures, different backgrounds, different experiences, thrown together in military service. I’m certainly not suggesting it as a objectively ‘good’ thing – as a general rule of thumb, I’m against war – but it unquestionably changed how those in the forces regarded those they’d never have come into contact with otherwise. And how they regarded death at a young age.

Let’s leave death for a paragraph or two, and just stick to people.

I grew up in the 1970s; playing in the street with other kids, cycling off to the woods and hills near Luton, playing with kids you’d just met… and if you were an hour or two late back, and they couldn’t contact you – no mobile phones – the main consequence was that your mum gave you a telling off and punished you. It wasn’t called ‘grounding’ in the UK, but that was the usual punishment.

The idea that you might have gone missing if you were an hour or more late back was just never A Thing. That I’d not called them was just… naughty. But wasn’t expected, not really. And, I mean, still before the days of mobile phones, but when I went to uni, I called my parents once or twice a week.

My lad speaks to his mum almost every day; most people, most adults, I know speak to their parents very often. They speak to friends less often, but are in contact much more often, online. By text. On messaging apps.

Despite the stories of ‘everyone knew each other, everyone knew how everyone was’ back in the day, these days, people are in contact in one form or another far more often… with people they care about, and people they want to stay in contact with.

And then there’s what happens when people die.

I remember back when my brother died. After the burial, the shiva… my sister-in-law certainly had people contacting her all the time.

But my late brother himself… I have no idea how often people thought of him. Nor, on the whole, what people thought of him while he was alive. Not truly. I know what people said afterwards but it’s easy to say nice things afterwards.

At least with Mike, there was a book after his death containing tributes, what friends and family thought of him. I’ve genuinely no idea at all whether he knew it, appreciated it, before he died, though. [I’ve no doubt, by the way, that he knew how much I loved him as a brother; I’m fortunate in that at least.]

But a book about a departed one is, was, unusual. Mike’s widow wanted to do it for a specific reason.

These days? There’d be – if the family wanted – a preserved Facebook page, a tribute for people to leave online messages. People would write on their own facebooks, and tumblrs and twitter feeds that they missed him.

(And, yes, idiots would chime in with their own unwanted, unwarranted, idiocy about how they never liked him anyway.)

But that’s something that’s changed, and will change more in the future. Whenever someone dies, people say “I hope they knew how much they were loved” or “I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

(Caveat for famous people, big stars; I don’t believe for a moment that they are – completely at least – unaware of how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told so by many, many people.)

Flip side of all of this – and a nicer consequence of the changing ‘openness’ in society; it’s far easier, far more acceptable, to tell someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you.

Sure, that’s as much for you as it is for them, but I like that people tell them, anyway.

“No one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is a trite remark, and in part – but only in part – true. I’m sure there are people who die regretting that.

But no one should ever die thinking that they didn’t matter. They should know – before they die – that they, that their work, mattered; to family, to friends, to people who liked them, to people who loved them. To admirers and critics alike.

So tell them.

Something else a bit more together, and a whole lot more serious, tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Sixteen years. Over decade and a half. Or to be more precise, sixteen years and two and and a half or so hours since my brother died.

And yes, I rewrite this every year. I stick up something about Mike annually on this day with not a smidgen of guilt nor concern; Michael deserves a public remembrance from me every year.

9th January 1998. I’d gotten into work early and, having dropped my bag at the office, was having a coffee across the road at my then favoured café. Thirty minutes or so after sitting down, around five-past eight, someone else who’d been in early came to get me; a call from Laura. I know, this was long enough ago that I didn’t possess a mobile phone. I went back to the office with a growing sense of dread; a call from my wife, mentioning my brother didn’t sound like good news. It wasn’t; a call to the hospital led to a growing suspicion from the immediately understandable reticence of the doctor to tell me anything over the phone… and then the knowledge – the horrible, horrible knowledge – that my brother had died.

Not a good morning.

Mike was 38 years old, over a decade younger than I am now. And that’s a thing you never get used to – that you’re now older than someone who was older than you. It’s a genuinely strange feeling, realising that; knowing that you’re seeing birthdays that he never reached, experiencing birthdays, anniversaries, life, that he never got to have.

And that’s leaving to one side the fact that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost the chance to see Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know Mike. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

I’ve got friends who I’ve met over the past few years who I absolutely know Michael would have liked to have met, and they’d have liked to have known him. I can easily see Mitch and Clara sharing a laugh with Mike; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow friends and close ones to do that. I can also smile, reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have at various times, cheered him, made him laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation. He was my brother and I loved him – what else would you expect?

Where the hell have those sixteen years gone? Sixteen years… Of course, I know the answer to that: I look at my son, and know the final family photo taken of Mike was with Philip, when the latter was a little over two years old. And Phil’s now eighteen, an adult, and he prefers to spend his time with friends, and college mates, and with girls, far than with any family member. And I can’t – and won’t – blame him for that.

Still and all, where have the years gone?

Sixteen Years.

I’ve said before – and I maintain – that it’s utter nonsense to say that ‘time heals every wound’. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close. What it does do, I’ve discovered – and I rediscover with every passing year – is lessen the temptation to pick at the scab.

So with every year that passes, it hurts a little less… most of the time.

Every so often, of course, it bites; it hurts terribly, and I miss him so fucking much; his wry humour, the love of comedy we shared, the cool way he’d examine a problem from every side, then laugh and say “fuck it, go for it…”

Michael Russell Barnett wasn’t perfect, far from it. He loved puns, just didn’t ‘get’ comics at all, had problems carrying a tune in a bucket, and his enthusiasm for playing the guitar wasn’t in any way matched by ability.

Still, as a brother, Mike was as good as they get and if I’d have gone to Brothers ‘R’ Us, I couldn’t have picked better. He taught me so much, and I hope he knew how much I respected him as a person, not just as a brother. I was best man at his wedding to Lynne, and that he trusted me (at the age of 21) with that responsibility honoured me then, and it still does. I’ve still many wonderful memories of Michael, but those few hours on the morning of his wedding when it was just me and him… ah, they’re memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

He died sixteen years ago today and I miss him dreadfully, especially today. I miss him always, but today, it’s a bugger.

Rest easy, brother.


A few years ago, after I posted something similar to the above, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened. Both asked what had happened. Here’s what I put up in response..

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; I’ve linked to it before, but figured it was about time I put it on this blog as well. So, here it is:

Michael Russell Barnett
20th November 1959 to 9th January 1998

 

“On Thursday, Mum took me shopping. It sounds
harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?”

– o –

When I was at Manchester Polytechnic, ostensibly studying for a degree, one of the highlights of my time there was getting a letter from Michael. Full of gentle humour, the letters showed a literary side to Michael that can still reduce me to laughter 15 years later. The above line was written as he was recovering from his first heart operation.

Reading through the letters recently, what surprised me wasn’t so much the realisation that Michael was only 23 or 24 when the letters were written, but how much of my own writings have been influenced by Michael’s style.

Michael taught me so much, from how to play backgammon to the skills necessary to cheat at cards better than our younger brother; from how to scan a line when writing a lyric or poem to the proper glass out of which to drink scotch – “one with a hole at one end and no hole at the other.”

I’ve often said that Mike was my hero. And he was. The courage he showed throughout his illnesses and operations, the way he dealt with people and the way he supported me in all I did was everything I could have wished from a brother. We shared a particularly dry sense of humour and it was rare that a few days went by without one of us calling the other to share a joke or to tell the other a particularly funny story or a funny event that had happened to us.

Yet of all the memories that spring to mind about Michael in the 33 years I was privileged to have him as my ‘big bruvver’, four stand out as clear as day…

– o –

“Dear Lee, How are you? I hope you’re getting down
to it. And getting some studying in as well.”

– o –

August 1983
I’d driven up to Harefield to visit Michael before his first op. He was in the ward and when he saw me, he grabbed his dressing gown and we headed for the café. As we were leaving the ward, a nurse rushed past us and went to the bed next to Michael’s. We didn’t think anything of it until another nurse, then a doctor, then another nurse, pushing a trolley pushed past us. Naturally concerned, we headed back into the ward to see them crowding around the bed next to Mike’s. The curtains were quickly drawn and Michael suggested we leave. At that moment, we realised we’d left Michael’s cassette recorder playing.

In the sort of accident of timing that only happens in real life, Michael reached out to turn the cassette recorder off just as the next track started. The song was by a band called Dollar.

The title of the song? “Give Me Back My Heart”

We barely made it out of the ward before doubling up…

– o –

“I’m looking forward to our engagement party. My only problem
is how to ask Jeff for a day off on a Saturday. I suppose on
my knees with my hands clasped together as if in prayer…”

– o –

Wednesday 9th October 1985
Lynne and Michael’s Wedding Day. As their Best Man, I’m theoretically responsible for getting Michael to the shul shaved, showered and sober. Failing that, it’s my job to just get him there. Anyway, Mike has a few things to sort out at their new home, so I tag along and we spend a few hours together. Precious hours that I wouldn’t swap for anything. We tell jokes and pass the time, two brothers out together letting the rest of the world go by.

We get to the shul and get changed into the penguin suits. Flip forward a couple of hours and Lynne and Michael are now married. Mazeltovs still ringing in everyone’s ears, the line-up has ended and we poor fools still in morning suits go to the changing room to, well, to get changed – into evening suit. For whatever reason, Mike and I take the longest to get changed and we’re left alone for five minutes together after everyone else has left.

As a throwaway line, just to ease our nervousness for the forthcoming speeches, I make a comment that I’m sure glad I’ve got everything with me: “Suit, shirt, shoes, speech…” Mike grins and repeats the mantra. “Suit, shirt, shoes…” There’s a horrible pause followed by a word beginning with ‘s’. But it’s not “speech”, it’s a shorter word.

Mike looks at me in horror, and I’m beginning to realise what’s going through his mind. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost your speech,” I tell him.

“I know exactly where it is,” he says, making me very relieved for a moment, before continuing, “it’s in my wardrobe at home.”

After another split-second when we struggled not to crease up at the ridiculousness of the situation, Mike took control in that calm way that he had. He borrowed a pen off of me – the pen that he and Lynne had given me as a thank you for being Best Man – instructed me to get a menu and then stand outside the door and leave him for twenty minutes…

An hour or so later, after I had given my speech, Michael stood up to make his. He started off with a line that fans of Rowan Atkinson would recognise in a moment : “When I left home this morning, I said to myself ‘you know, the very last thing you must do is leave my speech at home’. So sure enough, when I left home this morning, the very last thing I did was… to leave my speech at home.”

As I say, it was a familiar opening to fans of Rowan Atkinson. To everyone else, it was merely a clever start to a speech. To everyone else that is, except our mother. Mum, you see, knew exactly how the speech should have started and there was a classic moment – thankfully caught by the photographer – when she realised that he wasn’t joking – he really had forgotten the speech…

– o –

“Last week I graduated to hair-CUTTING. Next week, if
I’m lucky it’ll be cutting the hair on someone’s head…”

– o –

July 1997
After Mike’s second heart operation, Laura and I took our then 20 month old son to see him. Michael had often told me that being a parent was a mixture of joy and heartache but that he was absolutely revelling in being an uncle. When we got there, he insisted on going outside with us, for Philip’s sake, he said, but I suspect that he wanted to go outside as well, ‘breaking parole’ if you will. He took Philip by the hand and went for a small walk with him.

Looking back, watching Mike and Philip walking together, and a little later, Michael holding Philip on his lap, I remain convinced that it was at that moment that Philip started his adoration of Michael, a feeling that lasted after Michael’s death.

– o –

“Did you go to shul in Manchester. Hmm – is a shul in
Manchester called Manchester United?”

– o –

December 1997
The last big family occasion was on Boxing Day 1997. It had long been a family tradition that the family got together at Lynne and Michael’s on Boxing Day and this year was no different. The last photo I have of my brother is of Michael lifting Philip to the sky, the pair of them laughing out loud.

He looked so well, having regained all the weight that he’d lost through his illness, still with a very slight tan from the holiday he, Lynne and the boys had taken in late 1997.

That’s how I’ll remember my brother, full of life, laughing and surrounded by his family.

Hold the inside page!

Posted: 31 October 2011 in internet, media, world
Tags: , ,

Muammar Gaddafi is dead. So is Phillip Tataglia. Moe Green. Stracci. Cuneo. All the heads of the five families.

Ok, forgive me the misquote from The Godfather, but the fuss/outrage over the choice of newspapers to put pictures of the beaten and bloodied corpse of the first of those listed above on their front pages continues to roll on, and everyone seems to have their opinions.

So I might as well give mine, in a slightly longer format than that allowed by the 140 characters of Twitter.

Everyone has their opinions, and like backsides, although everyone has them, not all are of equal weight, and airing them in public doesn’t necessarily benefit hugely these who own them.

I was about to suggest that it’s become one of those matters where people reach an instant opinion, and then it becomes almost embarrassing to say “you know what? Time and the strength of argument has changed my mind”, but today, I saw the Guardian’s readers editor has indeed changed his opinion. In Roy Greenslade’s column, he reports Chris Elliot as saying:

“On reflection – and having read the complaints – I feel less convinced about the way we used these photographs, although I still feel strongly that they are an important part of this story and should have been used.

The scale of the photo on the newspaper front page of 21 October and prominent picture use on the website took us too close to appearing to revel in the killing rather than reporting it.

And that is something that should feature in our deliberations the next time – and there will be a next time – such a situation arises.”

Greenslade, I have to say, hasn’t changed his mind at all. He says

“I didn’t see it that way then, and I don’t now. I remain convinced that it was a valid journalistic response to this most extraordinary of news stories to publish the picture and to publish it big on the front page.

I take on board the worries about revelling in the death (as in The Sun). But it would have been astonishing for newspapers to have failed to carry such a crucial news image.”

And then today, Matt Lucas waded into the argument, posting a blog entry – his first, and I give him full credit for choosing such a topic for his first entry – in which he argues that, simply, news media should not, as a matter of principle, revel in death. If death has occurred, then report it certainly, but not with horrific images repeated again and again on television, not with gruesome images on the front page where people have no choice but to see they as they pass newsagents, or in a supermarket.

Now, while I have some sympathy with the opinion aired, I’m afraid that Lucas, like many of those commentators who have shown disdain to newspapers recently, has entirely missed the central point.

He’s posted a whinge, a oh why isn’t the world like I want it to be? I’ll forgive him his resort to Godwin’s Law in his response to being queried, simply because I can’t believe he could possibly have known about it. However, that central point?

Newspapers are not in the business of not offending. They’re not in the business of being nice. They’re not in the business of caring whether nor caring if someone thinks their front page distasteful.

Newspapers are in the business of making money.

Simple as that. The only reason they stuck that photo on the front page was because they thought they’d make money doing so. Or, given that everyone else was doing it, they thought that their own circulation would go down if they didn’t do it.

I’m not aware of any advertisers pulling their adverts because of that front page. I’d be very surprised if any had. I’m not aware of any successful boycott campaign because of those pictures.

(On that specific area, a friend made the very sensible point that it’s unlikely that where some tabloids were concerned, it’s unlikely either of us would know that many people who bought the paper anyway. To which the only response can’t be, well then, the newspapers concerned wouldn’t give a shit about us anyway, would they?)

To the other argument, that’s it’s amusing that one half of Little Britain and Come Fly With Me is complaining about being offended by something a media organisation has done, I would argue that he would suggest that at least people have the choice whether or not to watch his television programmes; by putting those photos on the front page, the newspapers effectively removed the choice from the public as to whether or not they saw them.

Ok, defence over – I’m sure Lucas wouldn’t give a damn what I thought (it was to me that he said, after all, that my argument was comparable to saying that the Nazis were right because people voted for them.)

However, nowhere have I said that the newspapers were right. As a matter of fact, I think they were morally bankrupt, using those photos on the front page, or at all. Apart from anything else, they’ve left themselves wide open to a charge of hypocrisy the next time they say that seeing violent images causes the young to become more violent. They should be ashamed of themselves. And I’m sure they would be, had they a shred of understanding.

However, they don’t.

Newspapers are, as I said above, solely in the business of selling newspapers, of making revenue.

I would be astonished if for that week, or indeed the weeks following, there was a drop in newspaper revenues (materially beyond that decline affecting all newspapers as the Internet continues to bite into their market).

It’s been said before that a society gets the media that it deserves, and to a point, that’s true.

What’s certainly true is that as long as enough people choose to continue to buy a newspaper, and as long as enough advertisers choose to continue to advertise in that newspaper, the newspaper will receive no message other than “we like what you’re doing – more please!”

The demise of the News Of The World proved that as soon as enough people stop buying the newspaper, as soon as enough advertisers pull their advertising, the newspaper receives another message.

But for as long as the newspapers receive that first message, we’ll continue to see more images like that of Gaddafi on the front page, and that of a dead Michael Jackson on the front page, and horrifically detailed pictures of celebrities in the midst of tragedy on the front page, simply because there’s no financial reason for the newspapers not to put them there.