Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Life is a sequence of trivial events

Worrying signs as I got my hair cut on Saturday. It was a barbers, a normal barbers although a hair cut now costs £9 and only a couple of years ago it was around £4-5. Two things I thought were strange. Firstly the barbers asked if he could trim my eyebrows. This I thought was a sure sign of aging. Fair enough, I thought, if I can compare the Arctic Cheeky Monkeys to Ian Dury than I am getting old.
Then the second strange event. He started massaging my scalp. And it went on for about three minutes. He threw lotion on my head and worked it around. It smelt ok, it felt ok. He muttered something about its effects but I was too deeply in shock to pick it up. Only at the till did the whole shebang become clear as he attempted to flog said lotion product on me.
I politely declined and walked away wistfully wondering where the days of cheap haircuts and something for the weekend, the whole wonderfully seedy world of barbers, had gone. And when it had been replaced by this regal refinement?
And since when did I start attempting alliteration?

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

For Amy Elizabeth Scowcroft (14/12/1920 - 20/05/2006)

Eulogy to be given at her funeral - 30/05/2006.

It is impossible to talk through a rich life of eighty five years so I hope you’ll forgive me if I engage in primarily personal reflections. I thought I’d try to explain how important Nana was in my life but that’s bit of an impossible task as well. As I set about preparing this I realised, more clearly than ever before, the depth of her influence.

And as I can no longer tell her, I’m going to tell you.

It is a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars. And Nana bore a few scars. For most of us here it will be impossible to think of Nana without thinking of her husband as well. That’s just the way it was, even death was unable to separate them.

My grandfather died before my second birthday and I have no memory of him. To be honest, this makes it hard for me to have the emotional attachment others do. But over the last thirty one years, Nana built up a fairly complete mental picture for me. Her devotion to him remained as strong in 2006 as it was on the day they married. It saddened her that she lived 31 years without him but in all that time she remained loyal, faithful and committed to their marriage.

Barely a visit to her house passed without some memory of Pop being mentioned, and mentioned in a touching way. And through her he attained a kind of immortality. The future is always rooted in the past and though Nana is now a part of our past, through us she too will attain immortality.

Nana knew that technology would play an increasingly important role in our lives. And I think that Paul and I helped to complete the circle when, on what turned out to be her deathbed, I was able to play her a film of her first great-grandchild through my laptop, a film that Paul had recorded and sent over from Northern Ireland shortly before.

She was thrilled by the film of little Ben because it made her feel young again and she felt better knowing that the Scowcroft name had moved on another generation. She was also thrilled that we had a firm enough grasp of the various technologies involved to be able to show her the film at all. After all, it was a process she started for us.

Back in 1982 she had bought us our first computer. It was a tool to help us learn and grapple with the technology to come. In truth, we should have spent more time using it to conjugate French verbs or understand Venn diagrams but I hope she understood that these 10 and 12 year old boys were more interested in the exciting world of football and cricket computer games.

And here we are in 2006 and I know that IT is a huge part of my work. Part of the A level course I teach is about technology and its development and thanks to Nana’s foresight I have been able to draw upon many personal experiences in the classroom.

Nana’s influence goes deeper still. In 1979 she promised me half of all her money if Labour won the general election. What prompted such a promise is lost in the midst of time. But try as I might there was only so much influence a child of infant school age can have upon the result of a general election. All I knew was that I didn’t get my money and now I had someone to blame.

This was reinforced the following year when through, and I love using this phrase, her contacts at the Ministry of Defence, she secured some excellent seats for the Trooping the Colour. So good, in fact, were these seats that to get to the right position we had to traipse past various Whitehall seats of power.

And so, aged seven, I was openly encouraged by Nana to engage in an act of terrorism as we walked past the front door of 10 Downing Street. Fortunately for democracy, our bags had already been searched and in the end we agreed that there was little a carton of orange juice and a cheese and pickle sandwich would do to alter the political status quo. In the end we simply booed quietly and strode on.

Once I was old enough to appreciate that no one believes in socialist ideals for the money, we often held lengthy discussions on politics. Although in truth this was mostly a means of winding dad up. The more he rolled his eyes at the mention of Ken Livingstone, the more we mentioned him.

And she also inspired a thirst for travel. She travelled to America long before it became fashionable. She ventured to the Middle East, to Israel and the Lebanon before the region fell apart again and she went to Russia while it was technically still impossible or at least impossible for anyone to travel in the opposite direction. But she went, not to gawp at other cultures but to learn from them.

Travel also made her appreciate her home and she could often be found up a ladder, painting, clearing gutters or felling trees. If a job needed doing she needed to do it herself. Although, in the end, this ruthless streak of independence caught up with her. And woe betide you if you tried to visit her on a Friday. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of her Friday cleaning sessions. Mind you, you were not also not allowed to visit unannounced. You had to phone ahead for an invitation. I used to think I was visiting royalty.

Although her illness caused her pain and sadness, it provided some pleasure too. She was unable to use the tickets to the English National Ballet that I bought for her birthday. And, however much he went under sufferance, I know exactly how proud she was that her son felt it important enough to go in her place.

She was also incredibly proud that both her grandsons have ended up in the public sector as teachers because she was so incredibly proud of her own career in the civil service. There was a time when I thought seriously about following in her footsteps. I wanted to join the Foreign Office but by that stage I was struggling to conjugate verbs for my French A level and as a career it slipped out of view. But the principles of the public sector, the belief that as a family we had been treated well by our country, stayed with us. And so did the belief that those in such a fortunate position could give something back through their labours to help others. Hers was indeed a generous nature in both spirit and deed. And I can only try to live up to it.

I thought it only fair to ask my brother for his memories. He chose to emphasise her sense of humour, often wicked, blunt and honest but always with a touch of warmth. When Paul informed her that she was to be a great-grandmother, Nana replied “Well done, but it’s about time. You two are both Catholics, you should have had seven by now.”

Paul followed this up by writing:

Dear Nana,

Thank you for all that you have done for me. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to see you and say goodbye. I have many memories of being with you:-

The special Christmas cake,
Birthday pictures by the apple tree,
A white Mini,
Welsh Guards uniform,
The view over Croydon,
Making tapes in your living room,
Washing and fixing a blue peddle car,
Crumpets and scrambled eggs,
Pressure cookers,
Reading tea leaves,
Lemon cake,
Telling Dad off again!,
Working at Oxfam,
Your smile on Wednesday 17th at seeing me and the new pictures of Ben.

All of these recollections I will treasure. They will remind me of you and I will tell Ben all about them so that he will know what kind of person his Great Grand Nan was.

Love always.


It isn’t important whether you remember her as a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend or benefactor. Whether she’s mum, Nana, Amy or Joan. A Scowcroft or a Davy. What’s important is that she meant something to us all.

As for me, I’ll remember her at odd times. If you turn right out of what, for me, will always be her house, you will see a wall of trees running up a hill. On the other side of that hill, about a mile away is Selhurst Park. And on alternate Saturdays during football seasons to come when Crystal Palace are underperforming as usual, I’ll look up from my seat and see the hill and I’ll remember the house on the other side. And I’ll remember the wonderful, warm, caring, generous, loyal lady who lived there throughout those crucial years of my life.

And I’ll say thank you.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

No. No it isn't.

Bet you didn't see that coming.
Well it is a beautiful day and all the previous comments apply. Add to that the impending issue of Smoke (see links on the right hand side) which includes only my second published piece since various University pieces in a friend attempt at a lit. mag (I don't think I was listening to what he wanted to do and just wrote loads of really juvenille pieces including a series about a man who by day was a stupid, mild mannered Tory MP but by night was a stupid superhero called Parliament Man. Anyway, Smoke, it's really good. No actually it is.
But it's been a hectic week. Even if you take out the Dowie and AJ news (which to be honest, isn't really that important anyway) it's still be a push and a rush. My nephew has finally made it out of hospital! He's home which is fantastic news. But I'm still not up to the trip from London to Armagh to see him. Even with half-term approaching, the journey is too much for me in my current state. So it will have to wait until the summer.
My last remaining grandparent is no longer remaining and the cremation is on Tuesday, so | wouldn't have been able to go over anyway. It turns out that she had primary lung cancer and secondary bone cancer. She was quite literally falling apart. No wonder she wanted to die.
But in death comes hope. For in death she has enabled me to make some serious decisions about my own life. You know, the hardest part of visiting her in hospital was having a dying lady seem more concerned about my health than her own. And so I have to take her views into account and my inability to drag myself into work recently has proved that heart failure and large, unruly inner London secondary schools do not mix and as of 01/09/06 they will not mix. Thanks to my nan (once the will is sorted out) I will be able to take a year or two out and finish my MA. Thanks to my nan I will be able to have another go at living. Thanks to my nan I will hopefully be able to reasses and reorganise my life. Thanks to my nan I have got my life back, at least for a short while.
May she rest in peace.

Is that a rhetorical question?

The sun is shining. I've got the cricket on the radio, England are perofrming superbly as we have come to expect. A long weekend approaches. My weight is at a new record low (still another stone and a half to go before the big reveal though).
What could possibly be wrong on a day like today?

Saturday, 13 May 2006

You can't see the other side, where they live

I thought I wouldn’t be around to watch the FA Cup Final today. I thought it might be the first I’d missed since 1986. But then I couldn’t work out if it was 1986 or 1989. I know I was with my mum sorting through grandma’s flat in Hailsham but 1986 is two years before she died and 1989 is one year after. But I know it was one of the Merseyside finals. One too soon. One too late.
Anyway, that thought reached totally immaterial status once cottoning onto the fact that having attended the 1990 final (and replay, bloody Mark Hughes/Les Sealy/Lee Martin/Allan Gunn etc), I was playing cricket in 1991 and football in 1992 (the Student Union should have known better). In 2001 I was at Lingfield Park and can remember very little about some of the others in between, striving for some form of twenty year significance with my last remaining grandparent struggling with nasty, virulent, terminal cancers.
But then I didn’t watch Wimbledon’s win. Or Coventry’s. And in 1985 I was playing cricket for Croydon Schools (very grand) against Sussex Schools at Sussex University (Mark Butcher was our captain, I opened the batting with him and took twenty minutes to get 0 before being bowled by one that barely skimmed the grass).
I guess it just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not really a day that the neutrals care hugely about. And there’s more live football around the corner. I grew up watching Arsenal’s three straight finals (they lost two, hehehe) but that was when it meant something to watch a live game on television, when you were lucky to even see an England game outside of World Cups and European Championships.
It’s not an event anymore.
Nor is visiting hospital to see relatives in trouble.
I’ve done it too much recently, too many near death experiences (four in the family in just over two years, all different people, no deaths to speak of though). And now the near death experience is a nearly dead experience I find myself empty. Too many close calls and now an actual call. And my reaction? To be an emotional void. Is being practical and logical only possible by being detached?
Should I force myself to be visibly upset? Would that help others? Should you really get ready to grieve for a wonderful 85 year old lady when she has lived a long and fruitful live and now only seeks to die quickly and peacefully? To grieve when death would be a release seems a paradox to me, something designed to make me feel better. But what I want is for her to get what she wants. She wants to die.
It’s her time to go. Why so sad?
And if that's too depressing then here are a couple of pretty boats that went past the flat this week:

Monday, 1 May 2006

The fence is high and wide where we live.

Brief update on life in general.
And the baby is now doing fine. Out of his cot and soon to be in possession of his first two Palace kits (sad uncle thing, had to do it). Little Ben is, after two and a half weeks, out of his incubator and into his cot. Well done little man. And, considering he is one of us, he is a little man. He could make a footballer, hopefully a combative (yet skillful) midfielder. And if he plays in red and blue all the better.
But hey, I'm projecting again.
And my nan is still in hospital and up and down but looks like she'll live. Thought we were doing the one in, one out, thing. Turns out it's everybody still in.
Not sure about me though.
Having sorted out three days a week back at the ranch and been delighted by their attitude, I found I could only do two.
On top of everything else that has happened recently, even after six months on sick leave I am not ready to go back. And I think it is as much to do with where I work as me. I think I know that now.
Although it has taken me four days to get over working two. And I'm not sure it wont take at least another day or two. Which is a pity because those are the two I'm meant to be working.
Anyway, once I find a more interesting way to write all that down, I'll return.
Oh yeah, and (thanks to my decent pay and conditions) I'm now on half-pay (and that was not sarcastic). I appreciate the whole half-pay thing. What I'm not so keen on is having to dash half way across London to collect my half-pay in cash because some inept town clerk forgot to process my pay properly (she admitted it!), although it's hard to dash at that time of day, and then dash to find a bank to pay it into and panic about getting it in on time to pay the mortgage. That was a major load of stress and exertion my old ticker could have done without.
And so the point it, anything that could go wrong, seems to be going wrong for me. But then at least things are getting better elsewhere.
Ah, so conflicted.