Posts Tagged ‘Death’

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It was something I just had to do!

The Senna movie, something that had been heralded for quite some time, was showing at my local cinema and I just happened to have the day off work.  The temptation and opportunity were all to compelling to ignore; no nattering children; a screening time when most people would still be at work, all resulting in an empty theatre and a viewing experience I did not have to share with anyone else.

Well, no-one else other than the other guy, sat two rows back, who unfortunately had the same idea as I did.

So there I sat, huge back of sweets on my lap; the kind that cost a small fortune, with my smartphone close at hand – WordPress App open, ready to record my every thought, my every emotion. It is important to note that using a phone whilst at the cinema is a major no-no – it is poor etiquette, the kind of activity that is likely to irritate anyone sat behind you – as their gaze will constantly be drawn away from the screen towards that irritating glow.

However, with only me and sweet chomping guy there, I had no-one to annoy.

I had no expectations of the film, save the obvious wish to know more about what happened on that fatal weekend at Imola. I remembered the race weekend as though it were yesterday; the terrifying accident of Rubens Barrichello, the tragic sequence of events that lead to the first death in Formula One in over a decade, a death that shattered the belief that F1 had become safe, instead of just ‘safer’.  A death that wrenched the heart of any and everyone associated with the sport; competitors, teams, media and fans alike.

And just as the world of motor sport reeled at the death of Roland Ratzenberger, someone constantly acknowledged as one of the nicest guys in the paddock, we had the start-line accident that ultimately ended the Formula One career of JJ Lehto and hurled an errant wheel into a horrified crowd.  And after this, after we thought we had endured the absolute worst weekend in recent Formula One history, the weekend blackened even further with the tragic death of Ayrton Senna ; compounding the hurt, the anger and the futile sense of loss.

I wasn’t a fan of Senna’s, as he was the nemesis to my childhood hero, Nigel Mansell, but I was abundantly aware of the enigmatic impact he had on the sport – it would have been impossible not to have understood that effect.  His death left a vacuum in people’s hearts; regardless of their opinion on him as a man, they all knew, we all knew he was one of the most talented individuals to ever grace the sport – someone whose impact, accolades and achievements you believed were very unlikely to be superseded by anyone for quite some time to come.

And so I sat, awaiting the emotional roller-coaster that would attempt to remind me and sweet chomping guy of the precocious talent we had lost; the controversial character he had been and the levels others would have to reach to truly rest from him his crown.  When it came to being reminded of key protagonists to Senna I recalled just how much I had despised Senna’s rival, Alain Prost.  No matter how much I disliked Mansell losing out on a duel to the mercurial Brazilian, I was even more enraged when I considered how he was undermined by the Frenchman when they shared a garage when they both drove for the prancing horse.

The 1980’s, politics ruled the sport then, just as much, if not much more than it does now.  Watching the Senna movie brought the memories flooding back; Mansell versus Piquet at Williams; Senna versus Prost at McLaren, Jean-Marie Balestre seemingly conspiring against them all.

Watching also reinforced, for me at least, the similarities that so many observers and followers of the sport see between the character that was Ayrton Senna and the man who idolised him as a young boy, the potentially equally talented and oft-times sensational Lewis Hamilton.  Just like Senna in his day, Lewis divides opinion amongst the fans; those who love him and those who don’t.

What they can all, mostly all, agree upon, as with Senna, is that Hamilton is one of the most outstanding and naturally talented, some would say gifted, drivers to ever grace the sport.

I have deliberately avoided detailing the movie in any depth, as I feel it is something you should experience for yourself and I do not wish to provide any spoilers,  but I will say that it left me with a feeling of immense loss.  Not just the loss of Senna and Ratzenberger, but the loss of an era in the sport when the drivers spoke their minds, regardless of the name of the sponsor emblazoned across their shirts.

If you get the chance, if the moment should present itself to you – I wholeheartedly recommend that you take the time out of your day to remember one of the most defining characters in the entire history of Formula One.

Driving home from work today I heard a news bulletin that spoke of the governments plans to simplify the state pension scheme.  The idea is for there to be one single-tier state pension instead of the complex and somewhat inexplicable version that is currently in place.

As I continued to listen an expert, I can’t remember what she was an expert in, stated that her fear was that the government would back-track at some point and fail to follow through with this new proposal.  I guess she was still reeling from the news that the government had a pause for thought moment on their, again, controversial plans to revamp the NHS.

And it was here, in this world of unease and uncertainty about whether or not this government, or any government for that matter, would stand fast and draw a line in the sand about pensions that made me think, not for the first time, that I, and many others of my generation, face the entirely realistic prospect of having to work until we die.

I’ll say that again – work until we die…

The age of retirement has moved more times in my lifetime than I am comfortable with; each time creeping that little bit closer to the magic life expectancy for a UK male or female.  Whilst I have to admit that I am concerned about the prospect of brain cells dying off if they aren’t to be engaged by the day-to-day grind of going to work, I think I am more disheartened, no – not disheartened, aghast at the thought the age of retirement may well make it to the other side of 80 by the time I am due to retire – if fate should be so kind, or cruel – depending on your outlook on life, to let me live that long.

I mean, what an utterly depressing thought – that you could work your entire life, being the dutiful citizen that we all know you are, whilst continually seeing that dream of retiring to the sun or the coast, country, <insert dream here> become more and more of a pipe-dream because there are not enough funds in the public coffers.

Not enough money in the pension fund…  How many times have we heard that in the past decade or so?  Black-hole in the pension fund being another; whether we are talking about a private fund or the chancellor balancing the books.  So you could be forgiven for asking why you should continue to make contributions if you are merely tipping your hard-earned cash into what might potentially be a monumental money-pit.

In fact, someone did ask me that very thing; someone who had previously asked me why I paid payment protection or bought extended warranty’s, long before all the consumer affairs programmes started to shine the spotlight on those companies that were basically defrauding the public of, again, their hard-earned cash.

This same person asked why they should pay into a pension fund when the government would provide them with one anyway; that the government would look after them when they reached old age – that they may as well put the money they earn into a bank account, as they’ll be means tested at the age of retirement anyway.

It kind of made me wonder then and it continues to make me wonder now – what if they are right?  What if the security of a modern-day pension is in actual fact a fallacy; what if we all face the prospect of having to work until we die?  And if we do, should we not spend our money now – rather than leave it in that fund, only to be swallowed up by that black-hole?




I finally finished reading ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ today and can honestly say that I think I am going soft in my old age – I say old age as though I am approaching my twilight years, when I am in fact a sprightly thirty-six years old.

The thing is, Harper Lee told her tale so convincingly; crafted her characters so well, that I found myself becoming quite emotional as I realised the story was coming to a conclusion, leaving me with a sense that I was going to miss the daily events taking place in Maycomb; in particular, those affecting the Finch household.

In a previous blog I wrote that the threat of censorship of the classic novels from our past meant book readers should seek out To Kill A Mockingbird, before it was adapted to fit into our ever increasingly politically correct world.

However, I now implore book lovers everywhere to indulge in the wonder of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, just because it is a marvellous piece of literature that each and every one of us should take the opportunity to behold.  The lessons it teaches us about tolerance, equality and human rights are much more profound, much more articulate and altogether more wholesomely genuine than you will ever find in a thousand episodes of Jeremy Kyle or Sally Jessy Raphael.

If ever you wish to see the naked truth of a subject, look at it through the eyes of a child. Harper Lee obviously knew this; as the entire account of what happened to the inhabitants of Maycomb are told to readers by the innocent, brutally honest and surprisingly perceptive Jean Louise Finch – affectionately known as Scout.

Through the four years chronicled in To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout takes a voyage of discovery that ultimately teaches her what life is about, but also allows her to teach us what life should be about. I won’t divulge any spoilers, but when Scout realises she has finally met the reclusive Boo (Arthur) Radley for the first time, her greeting “Hey Boo…” literally brought a lump to my throat and immediately made me smile.

You see, it was also at this moment in the book, the final act; when we hear the Sheriff declare his intent to protect Boo Radley’s way of life and Scout’s moment of self-reflection, that my mind wandered as I thought of the observation I hinted at in another blog ‘Square Peg, Round Planet’.

I noted that there would be no such thing as humanity if we were all the same and that being different to everyone else was in fact, alright.  It was therefore quite a surreal moment to finish this book, so soon after posting that blog, and feel that Harper, all those years ago, had penned this novel, with characters who would make such a similar observation – thus allowing me to me happen upon a literary message in a bottle; a virtual lesson left waiting for me in time.

So please, go out and pick up a copy; see what lessons Harper has in store for you – if you find no messages in its pages, fear not – the enjoyment you will get from the experience will mean you will in no way feel it was a waste of your time.

Josie & Beryl – Part II

This is the rest of that chapter…

Part I


“I don’t suppose it would have been easy for you – ‘specially with a father like yours,” said Beryl, helping herself to the last Rich Tea from the plate. Beryl held back a sneeze, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

“I will not have her running around like a little slut, shagging every bleedin’ stray dog she can find!” Said Josie. “That’s what dad screamed at mum when I finally managed to suck up the courage to tell him.” By now Josie was jabbing her finger at Beryl across the table, furrowing her brow in simulated consternation, imitating the expression that had been on her father’s face that day. “No way am I having her bring shame on this house [Josie’s index finger now jabbing the table to punctuate each word] by littering it with a pack of fatherless brats!”

Beryl couldn’t help but sympathise as Josie explained how she had tried to talk to Mick. How she had tried to speak to him before telling her father – and how he had been so cold to her, so callous.

“‘Sweetheart, it ain’t my problem,’ he had said to me,” Josie explained. “I was holding on to his arm, tears running down my face, trying desperately to stop him from walking away from me.” Josie rose from her chair and stood over the kitchen sink, her gaze focused on some distant point outside the window. “Two hours I waited for him outside that pub. I knew that he would be there at some point.”

The memories were flooding Josie’s mind now, unlocked by the brandy that Beryl kept adding to her cup. Josie wasn’t sure if the sensations she was feeling were due to her emotional state or the warm alcohol that was now coursing through her veins. “I asked him why he was treating me that way. I said ‘I thought you loved me, I thought we could talk about it, sort something out.’ How pathetic I must have looked,” Josie said, snorting derisively.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Beryl said, moving from her seat to place a comforting hand on Josie’s shoulder. “You were only a kid at the time. A scared little girl who just found out her knight in shining armour had a bad case of rust.”

“‘Sort it out yourself’, he said.” Josie said, ignoring Beryl’s attempt to bring some humour to the moment. Beryl always thought that you could laugh of any situation – no matter how tense or strained it might be. In fact – Josie was surprised that Beryl hadn’t taken the opportunity to tell jokes at the funeral. She could normally be counted on to do so after her third or fourth drink, what with her inability to hold her liquor.

Beryl had taken up her position in front of the oven again – not wishing to wander too far from its comforting warmth. She was certain that she was coming down with pneumonia. “Got any more fags?” She asked, discarding the empty packet that was lying on the table.

“Uh? Um, yeah,” replied Josie. “I’ve got those knock off ones our Terry gets. Hold on a sec.” Josie stooped to search the back of the cupboard beneath the sink. Moving cleaning fluids, cloths and all sorts, out of the way until she came across the lavishly coloured carton of cigarettes she kept stashed from sight.

“I’m not too keen on those – but beggars and choosers and all that,” Beryl said – taking the offered packet. As she lit up another cigarette, Beryl, wafting smoke from here eyes, prompted Josie to get back to her tale. Josie didn’t watch much television, even though she had one of the biggest flippin’ sets that Beryl had ever set eyes on, so it meant that Beryl was missing out on her daytime TV. Josie’s story, therefore, was going to have to be her fix for that morning.

“Huh?” Josie asked.

“I said ‘what made him change his mind then?'” Beryl repeated.

“Oh – well I had gone home, wiping the tears away from my eyes, lost and pretty much bewildered. I told mum first – knowing that I would need her onside.”

“Your dad was pretty fierce if I remember right,” Beryl stated – her cigarette perched between her lips and dancing with each word she spoke.

“I had never been as scared as I was that day. At least, not since the day I got sick as a child and mum thought I was going to die.” Josie turned her back to the sink and rested her weight against it. “The look on his face had been one of pure disgust. I honestly thought that he was going to…” Josie’s voiced trailed of as she raised one hand tentatively to her cheek – recalling the smarting blow her father had dealt her with the back of his hand. “The wedding was arranged quick smart. No matter how much bravado Mick had been able to display when speaking to me, a vulnerable 17-year old girl, and I can see now that I had still been a little girl, he had been unable to muster the tiniest iota of courage when dad took me and went looking for him.

Josie unwittingly rubbed the top of her arm as she recalled her father dragging her round to Mick’s. “You’re going to do right by my little girl, so help!” That was all that her father had said. It was all that needed to be said. Mick had seen the barely restrained fury that had been simmering behind her father’s eyes. He had seen the rage and realized that he had better make a wise decision right there and then.

It had been a registry office affair. Josie’s cousins had been drafted in as bridesmaids. Aunts, uncles and family friends were all in attendance. Josie recalled how she had turned to throw the bouquet and had caught a glimpse of Mick appraising one of the bridesmaids with satisfaction. The ink had not yet been dry on the license and Mick Bannister’s eye had already wandered. The bouquet wasn’t caught by anyone that day It fell…unclaimed to the floor – in much the same way as Josie’s hopes and dreams.

“When I gave birth to our little Mickey, I remember hoping that it would rekindle some of Mick’s feelings for me. Instead his birth only seemed to remind Mick of the trap that he said I’d set for him.” Josie went to work using one fingernail to clean out the dirt that was trapped beneath another. “After Mickey, I gave birth to our Terry. Precious little Terry. As you know, complications with the birth caused the poor mite to limp when he finally started walking.” Josie remembered how Mick had seemed to resent the birth of Terry even more than she had expected him to.

“You see! You’re so rotten inside that you can’t even give birth to a normal kid.” Mick had said one night after returning, drunk, from a night out with whoever it was that had entertained him that evening. He had forced himself upon her that night. She remembered how he had stumbled into the bedroom that night, fumbling with his belt buckle – looking at her with disgust and feral lust in equal measures.

Josie remembered how, no matter how much Mick resented being with her, he had been unable to resist the love that grew inside of him for his firstborn son. “I always thought that Mick had seen in Mickey a chance for him to reclaim his life, you know, by making ‘his Mickey’ the best he could possibly be.”

Beryl could see the pang of sadness this thought brought to Josie’s heart – as she knew that Josie had felt isolated and cut out of their lives. Mick had spent all his time with Mickey, as the bond between father and son had grown stronger. That was something everyone had been able to see.

“That’s what made me really want a girl. I wanted a little girl so bad Beryl – so bad.” The tears were welling up again. The alcohol was adding to Josie’s feeling of melancholy, intensifying her emotions. “I would have been able to share things with her – dress her up in pretty clothes and do her hair.” Josie remembered that she had actually started to encourage her husband to sleep with her more often, flattering him whenever she thought he was susceptible, fixing her hair into the style she had worn when he had first taken a fancy to her.

That was how she managed to conceive the baby girl that she would ultimately lose. Josie had never confided in anyone else the feelings that she had endured at that time, not even Beryl. She had lain in her hospital bed thinking that god had taken the baby to punish her for her selfish desires and the measures she had taken to achieve them.

Josie remembered how long it had taken her to recover from that ordeal. How long it had been before she had fallen pregnant again. That time she had not planned it. She hadn’t even known herself. Mick had been furious. She had just thought that she was late because she was run down and had been working extremely hard. It wasn’t until she had collapsed in excruciating pain that she had realized something was wrong.

“I… I’ll go and get a doctor.” Mick had said. Funny – Josie thought – Mick had actually sounded genuinely concerned that day. She must have looked in a bad way if it had resulted in dragging some semblance of concern out of Mick. It hadn’t lasted long though. No… it lasted right up until he found out the cause of her pain. That was when the Mick she had grown accustomed to had come back to the fore.

That was also the time when Josie recalled giving up on life. Nowadays, Josie was sure, she would have been diagnosed as suffering from a nervous breakdown. Either that, or she would have ended up as a guest on one of those useless talk shows Beryl was always bleating on about. “I Remember spending the night in hospital, having surgery, and the next week in a world of my own,” she said. “The doctors told me that it was highly unlikely that I would ever have another kid – not with going through an ectopic pregnancy and all that.”

Beryl looked at her friend, aware that there was probably a lot more pain going on in Josie’s mind than she was telling her, and thanked god for the small mercies she had received. Beryl didn’t have any children of her own – instead she always saw herself as a kind of surrogate aunt to the boys that Josie had raised. “Your Jimmy must have been a blessing,” she said.

“More like a bloody miracle,” said Josie – exhaling a stream of smoke towards Beryl. “A bloody miracle.”

“He always has been a right sensitive kid, Jimmy has,” Beryl said – adding, “always makes time to come see his aunty Beryl.”

“Yeah – he always makes a fuss on mothers day as well, from the time he was old enough to make me a card himself.” Josie still had that first card. She had kept it pressed into the front of her favourite photo album.

“It was a real shame that he hasn’t found himself a nice wench to settle down with – a damned shame. I can’t begin to imagine why he hasn’t been…” Beryl didn’t finish the sentence – noticing that her hand was searching out for biscuits on an empty plate.

“Come on,” Beryl said, jolting Josie from her reverie. Getting up out of her chair, cigarette attached to her lips as though it had taken root, Beryl pushed the chairs under the table and said, “Get your coat, enough of this hanging around maudlin and drinking. Let’s see if we can get lucky on the bingo.”

Josie cleared the table and made her way into the hall. She stopped at the mirror and noticed the state of her make-up. “Josie Bannister,” she said to her reflection, “what do you look like?” Wiping away the smears with the tips of her fingers, grabbing her coat from the rack, she called out to Beryl who was still in the kitchen. “Come on then, what you doing in there?”

“We can’t go without taking a little something with us,” she said – showing Josie the bottle of brandy she had taken from the cupboard. “I’ve got a couple of them plastic cups you had in the cupboard. We can stick them in me bag – no one is going to notice.”

As she closed the door behind her Josie noticed that the rain had temporarily ceased. “Let’s be off then,” she said – leading Beryl to her car.


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I called my grand-mother around August, in 1997. She mentioned that she had found a lump and that she had been in some pain. I told her that it was important that she got checked out by her doctor. I am not too sure that she did.

My aunt called me around November to say that my Grandmother had cancer of the liver. She was outraged to hear of the conversation from August. My grandmother hadn’t told anyone you see. By chance my aunt had forced her to see a doctor because she was in pain.

They gave her 6 months to a year in November 97. This changed to 3-6 months by December 97. She died January 6th 1998:

You really should have told me.
You must have known you could.

Your race against the reaper.
Dark gaze beneath the hood.

His hand upon your shoulder.
Despair at every turn.

I would have tried to help you.
The pain within me burns.

And now you lie defeated.
Too late, your journey ends.

The surgeons couldn’t save you.
Nor I – your only friend.