End Of The Season

A friend took this photograph of the last leaf clinging to a tree near his place of work.

He wrote of Autumn, still hanging desperately on at this late hour, before finally conceding to the inevitable winter.

The symbolism is obvious, but to me it reminded me of another liminal point. My Mum, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is nearing the end. She is still hanging on despite a possible chest infection. A stab in the dark Hail Mary, she is receiving antibiotics to counter any such infection, with the hope of an improvement over the next 48 hours (I’m writing this on the Saturday).

If that doesn’t materialise then end of life care will begin.

To be honest, I kind of hope it isn’t a chest infection. What is the point of coming back from the brink for further struggle? A struggle she won’t even be aware that she’s in. A struggle she cannot win.

The irony is that for a while now my wife and I have been administering medication and calorie-providing drinks to prolong what she didn’t want prolonging. To keep her where she didn’t want to be. (Such is the nature of her illness that, even though she is still here, I speak of her wishes in the past tense.)

But it’s not for us to decide the hour. A ‘time for all seasons’ and all that. At least not until we react to her failing heart and begin the end of life care.

Maybe the leaf in the photograph can also stand for one final moment of clarity, glimpsed among the fog of confusion, where those clouded eyes show recognition, and the lips twitch in that old grounded humour.

But I fear that is wishful thinking. The leaf is hanging on but, despite those blue skies, there’s a cold breeze blowing now. The natural order cannot be defeated. One season is giving way to the next.

When A Queen Dies

When the statement was made that the Queen was under medical supervision, with doctors concerned for her health, the gravity of the situation was immediately acknowledged as the Palace don’t normally comment on, or share, private things like that.

And it spoke volumes when we learnt that her family members, independently of each other, were all heading up to Balmoral to be with her.

We knew that she had been working just two days before, appointing Liz Truss as our new Prime Minister. We had seen the photograph commemorating that moment, even though it illustrated as it did an increasingly looking fragility about her. Speculation had also been prompted by the fact that tradition had been broken: Truss travelled up to Balmoral, in Scotland, to be appointed instead of the Queen travelling down to Buckingham Palace where the previous fourteen appointments had been made.

This all pointed to something ominous happening. My wife was out shopping with her Mum, and I text her the news about the ‘medical supervision’. She didn’t have to fall back on her experience working in the funeral business to know what ‘all of her family are travelling to be with her in Scotland’ signified.

As the news rolled on it seemed that every news presenter had unobtrusively slipped into dark clothing.

I missed the announcement.

By this time my wife was back and we were getting ready to leave to take my son and a couple of his friends to their football training. While I was in the kitchen locking the back door I heard the National Anthem begin to be played in the lounge. I walked in to see the confirmation on the screen.

Queen Elizabeth II had passed away that afternoon. I went to the door and shouted to my wife who was stood by the car. “Jen, they’re playing the National Anthem now.”

“She’s died?”

Even though the woman was ninety-six and we always knew it was going to happen sometime, the question was still asked with an element of shock. She had been a constant figure throughout our lives, and quite irrationally we expected her to go on forever.

We drove to the football pitch, the kids asking questions from the back seat. Who will be in charge now? And then who? How will that happen? What will change?

My son mentioned the currency, which hadn’t crossed my mind. How strange it will be to see the image of Charles on our coins, notes and stamps instead of the ubiquitous Elizabeth.

King Charles, no less. The next time we hear the National Anthem, I thought,. every time it will be sang before our international matches , our cup finals. “God save our gracious King . . . Send him victorious . . .”

It will take some getting used to.

Smooth Radio was playing a solemn, classical track that I knew although I couldn’t remember its title. I had it on an old Melancholy CD somewhere.

“Dad, can you put Capital on?” my unappreciative son asked. Capital is the one I normally put on for him and his sister, conceding to their requests with the caveat “Any rapping comes on and it’s straight back over!”

I switched stations and the same music track was playing on that too. Smooth, Capital, BBC.

“It’s going to be this music on every station.”

“All night?”

All night.”

We arrived at the training pitch and parked up. Looking at my phone I saw I had a Facebook notification: a woman who, as a young girl, was my grandparents’ next door neighbour. She had tagged me in a photograph of herself stood with my brother and I, holding Union Jack flags while celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at our street party.

That was back in 1977 when I was six. Queen Elizabeth had reigned for another forty five years after that. That brought it home, the length of time she reigned. The length of time she served. Seventy years in total.

Of course, while the lads trained, the Queen’s death was the topic of all conversation among the adults. Afterwards we called at a local service station for a coffee on the way home. Immediately outside the doors, and inside too, there were reminders of this historic moment everywhere.

In the immediate aftermath there has been talk about sports events being cancelled, of previous funerals and coronations.

The second Elizabethan era is over. We are now in a new period of British history, a period of new beginnings but also, conversely, a period of continuity. For in the following proclamations and fanfares, we have been witnessing events that have never been witnessed before. Modern technology is enabling us to see what in the past has taken place in private.

And I am surprised at how I’ve been feeling.

When pressed I’ve always said that I’m neither a monarchist nor a republican. I didn’t feel a particular strong connection to either camp, not enough to sway me in any direction. Not exactly apathetic, just a casual acceptance of what has always been.

But I love history, I love these islands.

And what I’m now discovering, with the help of modernity, is a deepening love for our age-old traditions, traditions reinforced by a reminder of this woman’s seven decades-worth of selfless service, service to this land that is in my blood and my children’s blood. Service that began long before any of us were born.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

The Seventies Slip Further Away

I was intending to do a post tonight about the death that I heard about yesterday, of a musical figure from my childhood, when suddenly news broke of yet another such figure.

The first one was Judith Durham. One of my first musical memories is of my Mum singing the song Morningtown Ride by her group (The Seekers) to us when we were children. I’d be coming up to four then, so it would be around 1975.

Decades later I could recall some lines of the song but not its title or its singer, so with the help of Google one day when on a nostalgia trip (I take these trips often, I’m that kinda guy) I typed up the words and was immediately transported back to the house that we lived in until 1977. And that song led to others, each anchoring me further for a while in a place and time now gone.

Isn’t it wonderful how music can do that to you?

R.I.P Judith Durham, 79.

And now there’s more breaking news, but my memories are much clearer this time and so the sadness more acute.

R.I.P Olivia Newton-John, 73.

Olivia Newton-John had passed away this morning. I guess she finally succumbed to her decades-long fight against cancer. I love her Jeff Lynne-penned hit Xanadu but my favourite of hers is Magic. And of course there was Grease when we were kids.

I don’t watch a lot of musicals but I’ve always had time to watch that one during the holidays.

You’re The One That I Want. What a finale.

‘Finale: the close or termination of something.’

That’s what the dictionary tells me. The close or termination of something. Some things survive, though. Somethings can be relived. Music and memories.

Rest easy, Sandy.

Newton-John and Travolta reuniting as Sandy and Danny in 2019, and the original Sandy in 1978.

On The Death Of A Friend

The news came right out of the blue. It says a lot about the world we live in when, on hearing about the death of a middle-aged male, your immediate thoughts turn to mental health and did he take his own life? Even when there was no reason to suspect so.

It seems that those initial fears were well-founded, though. Well-founded regardless of our last spontaneous meeting the week before, unable as I was to see beyond the handshake greeting and the same old laughs. If only our vision could see beyond those superficial things.

It’s a cliché, but the next day, when opening the curtains, the world outside was going on as normal. It was just that he’d fallen away. Fallen from those familiar streets that we’d shared since our childhood of the Seventies. I walked them today, carrying him around with me. Along with his daughter’s words that struck like a dagger on social media:

Dad, I’ll miss you forever. I know we will meet up again someday, just not here

Here. The place of our roots, this housing estate where he was a well-know, popular figure, where we got taller and the world got larger. It’s a poorer place for his absence.

As well as our beginnings I think of our shared interests. He was a huge Lennon/Beatles/Oasis/City fan. Music loomed large in our conversations. He was in a band and I used to listen to his music while he used to read my writing. He once asked me to provide lyrics for something he’d done around a riff he’d come up with. To the best of my knowledge he never got to record it, and the lyrics found a home in my second poetry collection.

On the evening I found out I had a beer in the back garden while listening to his stuff on Soundcloud, along with a couple of demos he’d sent me. They provided the soundtrack while I read through our convos on text and WhatsApp. There was me, informing him of a new John Lennon exhibition in Liverpool. There was he, exhorting me to go to those early Beatle stomping grounds he’d visited in Hamburg.

I live next door to my Mum – my childhood home. I looked to the wall at the rear of the ginnel that we shared. When my son was younger I used to use my friend’s name as a warning for him when he was trying to climb onto it. “There’s a guy called *** *** and in 1982, when he was a kid, he fell off that wall and split his head open!” He’d had a crew cut back then and you could see the blood on his scalp. He still bore the scar in adulthood.

Right up until that middle-age cut off point.

The air began to turn chilly. There’s only seven tracks on his Soundcloud page, the vast majority of his creativity remains uncaptured. I put them on repeat. It’s easier to picture him playing that bass than to think of that room and speculate about his final thoughts.

Wherever he now was, I raised a glass to him.

just not here

I drained my beer as the sun went down on this old town of ours. It will outlive us all.

Notes on The End

Anyone who is up to date with reading The Owl Journal will know that my last entry — The Where and the When — ended with one helluva cliffhanger. …

Notes on The End

I’ve been following Howard’s blog for a while. A musician suffering from ALS he was given six months to live back in July 2020. I saw my Uncle go through the same thing (though here we call it Motor Neurone’s Disease). As usual I began to read this latest post but was knocked for six on learning that it had been posted the day after his passing. We never met, having only spoke through ‘comments’, but what an emotional hit it was. Rest easy, Howard. Thanks for allowing us to journey with you ❤️