To Dolores, From Limerick, With Love

I can’t believe it’s a year since I posted about the sudden death of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries. This first anniversary was marked today by the release of the song All Over Now, which comes from the album In The End, an album for which Dolores had recorded final demo-stage vocals for. The three surviving band members honoured Dolores with the finishing of the album, confirming it will be the group’s final one.

Another honouring was this video that I found online. Dolores was from Limerick, in Ireland, and Limerick artists of every genre came together to record a version of the Cranberries song When You’re Gone. It’s a diverse and moving tribute from her fellow hometown musicians.

The sofa features in the video as a reference to one that appeared on several Cranberries’ album covers.

I decided to also include the original Cranberries video at the bottom of the post, the initial inspiration. It was played at the end of the singer’s funeral last year.

R.I.P Dolores.

Adieu to my Viking sister…

I read this post in shock last night. Poppy, whose blog I follow, posted about the death (and alleged murder) of another, lovely blogger that I followed (and she followed me). It was strange how the death of someone so far away affected me. The words we write, the words you write, matter. Technology allows us to make connections with people we would otherwise never meet. It can bring both joy and sorrow. R.I.P Caroline. Thanks for all of your encouraging words and sentiment.

A Viking Saga

We never know…

This world is beautiful, messy and bloody with no way of avoiding what is coming. We have so little time to take it by the horns and live it with dignity, courage and humour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Caroline Van Ewijk, my friend, my viking sister and an example of just how well life can be lived.

My viking sister, Caroline Van Ewijk was one of those who did, before her life was cruelly taken in the Dutch port of Hoorn, two days ago.

Carro, you welcomed me into your life in that freezing cold Amsterdam winter, where I had no refuge on my old boat with her limited heating. With Swedish hospitality ‘Happy Six’ became almost a second home and you taught me about the Baltic and connected me with your uncle Micke at Borka up in the north of Sweden.  How many bitterly cold winter evenings did you ply me with hot tea…

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On Harper Lee. Vignettes.

I have written about Harper Lee in the past, about my favourite book, about the ‘new’ book. I won’t tread old ground. Here are just a few further thoughts on the day this great author died:


I first encountered To Kill A Mockingbird in high school. It is one of the few things I took  with me from my English Literature days.

When our teacher read from the book, he would pronounce the name of the character ‘Scout’ as ‘Scoot’. One of the more vocal members of the class eventually expressed her irritation at this. The teacher appeared surprised. From that moment, Scout was always Scout.


I understood the reaction towards Go Set A Watchman. But for me, it wasn’t an issue. I treated it as a stand alone novel. As an early draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, it was no way a sequel.

Written before, but set after.

Scout was older. I was older.

I understood the high feelings about Atticus. Maybe it would help to see this Atticus as the melting pot from which the more familiar and beloved Atticus would emerge. Or to draw distinctions of perspective: in To Kill A Mockingbird, he is seen through the innocent, adoring but naive eyes of a young girl. In Watchman, he is judged through the eyes of a grown woman, returning to a small, southern town fresh from her experiences in the Big Smoke.

But, to me, these distinctions weren’t  necessary. I was just thankful for something, anything, new, from Harper Lee.


I have never met anybody who called their son Atticus. But I do have a friend who called his daughter Scout. He is still happy with his choice.


Harper Lee, in a letter to Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine, discussing her love of books:

“[In] an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.
And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up—some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.”


In the post before last, I spoke of an against-the-odds moment of synchronicity when my ordered world was intruded upon by a casual coincidence. This morning, I said to my wife, almost in a throwaway comment: “I think the passing of Harper Lee is imminent. If it happens, I’m going to reread To Kill A Mockingbird, followed by Go Set A Watchman.” 

I’d had no revelation. And, of course, she was of an age.

A few hours later, I finished reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. On Goodreads, I gave it five stars: Brilliant and disturbing. Capote’s masterpiece. Capote never really gave Lee proper credit for the work she did on behalf of that book.

Capote and Lee appear to have been polar opposites. He craved the limelight, she chose to shun it. I have read that Lee’s sister Alice said that his jealousy about his friend winning the Pulitzer Prize was one of the reasons they drifted apart.

After finishing his great novel, my intention was to watch the film Capote, about the two writer’s research on the Clutter murders. Then I heard the news.

My wife and I watched the movie tonight. Philip Seymour Hoffman was great as Capote, but on this poignant night Catherine Keener drew my attention as Lee.  Another casual coincidence: on the day that Harper Lee died, I finished the last of Capote’s work I had yet to read. It was also the last work which had input from Lee.


I have always respected Harper Lee’s decision to walk away after that first book. It also frustrated the hell out of me. There were tantalising glimpses of works that could have been: a novel about someone hunting a deer. An In Cold Blood type account of real life murders, called The Reverend. Go ahead, google them, there are a few crumbs to gather up in speculation.

But Harper eventually said no. Or, as she replied to requests for interviews:

“Hell no!”

To Nelle Harper Lee: for what you did give us, I will always be grateful. R.I.P




For John, From Paul, George And Ringo

I was a John Lennon fan before I knew who John Lennon was.

My earliest recollection of him was unfortunately of the ‘what was you doing when you heard?’ variety.  I was opening my presents on the morning of the 9th of December, which just so happened to be my ninth birthday. I remember seeing a newspaper lying around nearby, headlines screaming of his murder that had taken place the night before. I had no idea who he was, I just had a vague notion that he used to be in a musical group called The Beatles, and seemed pretty well known.

That was about it.

As time went on, and I gradually became familiar with the group whose music seemed to be omnipresent, I just thought of them as a collective, rather than four individuals. I didn’t know who wrote and sang what. But then, in my early teens, as my interest and love of their music deepened, I found that the majority of my favourite Beatles songs were John’s. And of the songs that were bonafide collaborations between John and Paul, my preference was for his parts, for example on We Can Work It Out, and A Day In The Life. Not exclusively, but generally.

From my younger days, every time the festive season transformed the usual fayre of the radio stations, my favourite Christmas song was always Happy Xmas (War Is Over), many years before I discovered that this was in fact a Lennon song.

I was a John Lennon fan, but wasn’t aware of it yet.

But now I am not as ignorant. I  am a fully-fledged Fab Four nerd, and could bore you rigid with tons of throwaway trivia. Relax-I won’t.

On this, the thirty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I will leave it to his friends to make the tribute, as they sought healing through creativity in the aftermath of that December night.

The first video, a montage of photographs, is of the moving song Here Today, released by Paul McCartney on his album Tug Of War, less than two years after the killing of his former songwriting buddy. ‘And if I said I really knew you well what would your answer be?’ ‘Knowing you, you’d probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart.’

The second video, containing photographs and film footage, is of the song All Those Years Ago, by George Harrison. It was released just five months after Lennon’s death, and, with Ringo Starr on drums and Paul McCartney on backing vocals, it was the first time that all three had appeared on the same recording since The Beatles. ‘Living with good and bad, I always looked up to you.’

R.I.P John, from Paul, George and Ringo.

R.I.P Sir Christopher Lee

You guys know that I’m an old Hammer fan, and so  probably won’t need me to tell you how gutted I was to hear the news of his death today. It took me right back to how I felt when I heard about the passing of that other Hammer stalwart, and Lee’s good friend, Peter Cushing.

Lee had spoken in the past of their good friendship, the kind that he said only comes along once in a lifetime. I remember reading somewhere, (I’m not sure whose biography I was actually reading at the time), about how devastated Cushing was when his wife Helen died. He wanted to be with her, and had an unshakeable faith that one day he would be.

One day Lee was talking to that other (non-Hammer) horror actor Vincent Price. I may not recall the conversation word for word, but you will get the gist. Price enquired about Cushing, asking if he still expected to be with his wife when he, too, died.

“Oh very much so. In fact he is looking forward to it.”

Price paused, then said, “And what happens if he goes over and she’s not in?”

Lee recounted this conversation to Cushing later. Cushing was quiet for a moment, then howled laughing. “Only Vincent would say that, and only you would tell me.”

I think that helps illustrate their friendship, and now Lee has joined his friends, the final chapter closing.


Lee was a true great, and, I think, vastly underrated as an actor. I believe in the months and years to come we will realise just what a loss he is to British cinema. He played the bad guy in many films, including James Bond, and both The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars series of films. He sang opera, and even charted in his eighties with a collection of heavy metal numbers!

But I will always love both he and Cushing, (to me they were both synonymous with each other), for the many Hammer roles that this blood thirsty kid lapped up way back when.

Though he may have tired of the role, he will always be the definitive Dracula. Tonight, I will watch the film where the two iconic roles began for both actors: Van Helsing for Cushing, and the undead Count for Lee- the 1958 film Dracula. 

I think you can take next Tuesday’s Hammer Chooseday post as a given.

Thanks for the memories. And the sleepless nights.


R.I.P Alan Henning

So the news broke that everybody had been dreading: Alan Henning had been killed in the most hideous way by his Islamic State extremist captors.

Here in Manchester  we heard the condemnations from an international perspective, and the response from a national perspective, but also we witnessed the local reaction, as Alan came from Manchester, or to be more precise, Salford. Among the many comments that came pouring out, amidst the anger and upset, were the platitudes for a man who died doing what he was most passionate about-helping those in need. In a vigil at the local church, Reverend Cyprian Yobera told the congregation “In one way you could look at it that Alan was taking some light to a dark place….”

Family, friends, colleagues and strangers waxed lyrical in heartfelt tributes to a man who had gone to Syria on an aid mission, a man who was moved to act by the suffering and welfare of others.

But also could be heard, by a smaller minority, the observation that Alan had been warned not to go as he would be in very real danger of being kidnapped or harmed, which is ultimately what happened. Valid perhaps though this view is, I have heard a couple of remarks that Alan Henning died because of arrogance-arrogance that he chose to ignore the warnings given and went ahead on his mission regardless. I think that is going too far-to call a man arrogant because perhaps his courage of compassion far exceeded his fear of personal harm.

Martin Luther King received constant death threats, but these did not deter him from leading the civil rights movement. His eventual murder did not make him arrogant. Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose to return to his native Germany, less than two years after seeking sanctuary in America, knowing the risks that awaited him there. His execution in 1945 does not make his act one of arrogance. Both of these men knew the risk that they were undertaking, but the strength of their convictions in doing what they perceived to be right caused them to continue.

You, the reader, can no doubt think of countless others who have sacrificed themselves in such a way throughout history. For every one of these noted individuals, there must be thousands of others, maybe known only locally, who so acted in such a similar, selfless manner.

If all altruistic action was abandoned out of fear, where then would we be? What state would humanity find itself in? Although undoubtedly his family and loved ones are hurting, I admire Alan’s actions borne out of a compassion that is far more courageous than my own.

Among the many tributes in my local newspaper, sent in both by people who knew him and by people who had never met him, this one caught my eye:

The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.

My thoughts and prayers are with all other hostages still in captivity throughout the world, and with their families, and also with the brave people who make the choice to continue in trying to make a difference, despite everything.



R.I.P Bob Hoskins

Saddened today to hear of the death of Bob Hoskins, the man who became an actor by accident. He had accompanied a friend to an audition and was mistaken for someone coming to read for a role. Handed a script and told “You’re next” he got the part.

The rest, as they say, is history.

He (along with Michael Caine) was my favourite British actor, and I remember him especially in two films at each end of the movie spectrum: The Long Good Friday and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I especially remember that last movie due to a friend’s throwaway comment about the animated character Jessica Rabbit, that stayed with me:

How can a cartoon rabbit be sexy?

Though she wasn’t exactly a rabbit, but still.

R.I.P to a great British actor.


R.I.P Bert Trautmann OBE

In his time as a City supporter during the fifties,sixties and seventies, my Dad saw two great teams. One was the cup team that made it to the FA Cup Final in the consecutive years of ’55 and ’56. The other was the Mercer-Allison team that won several trophies in the late 60’s and early ’70’s. A team which boasted such great players as Bell, Young, Lee, and Summerbee.

Great though these players were, when pressed he always said that his favourite all time player was Bert Trautmann.


His was a great story both on and off the field. A youngster in the Hitler youth, he went on to become a paratrooper, being sent to fight in Russia in World War Two. He was captured, but managed to escape. Being captured again, and expecting execution, he was, however, greeted by a typical British “Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?”

Held here in Britain as a prisoner of war, he declined to return to his homeland when the war had finished, marrying a local girl. When Manchester City signed him to be their new goalkeeper, there was a lot of animosity directed towards him due to his German roots, the local Jewish community, as well as the general public, angry at his arrival.This was just four years after the war.

Especially at away games he drew a lot of vitriol, but slowly, gradually, he began to win people over with his great, courageous displays. Playing in London for the first time, he received a hostile reception, enduring shouts of ‘Kraut’ and ‘Nazi’. In this match he was particularly brilliant, and when the game ended he received a standing ovation from the crowd, while the players from both teams formed lines to applaud him from the pitch. That slow transformation of how he was perceived by the post-war British public spread.

His most famous moment, which seems to overshadow the rest of his extraordinary life and career, came in the 1956 FA Cup Final at Wembley, when he was injured rushing out to block Birmingham’s Peter Murphy, diving at his feet.

Bert Breaks

After receiving treatment he played on, making further crucial saves despite being dazed and in obvious pain. He helped his teammates win the match and thus lift the trophy. It was three days later that it became apparent that he had played the last seventeen minutes of the match with a broken neck. He had dislocated five vertebrae in his neck, the second being cracked in two. The third wedged against the second, preventing further damage which could have cost the German his life.

Bert after

My Dad was at that game, and often told me the story, of how, unknown to him the extent of his injury, Trautmann risked his life by again diving at the feet of an oncoming attacker. Broken neck and all.

That was probably the final cementing into public affection the figure who had provoked so much anger and hatred at the start of his footballing career in England. Just a few months after this match, Trautmann was to suffer the tragedy of losing his firstborn son in a car accident, aged just five years old.

His role in restoring English and German relations acknowledged, Trautmann was awarded the OBE in 2004.

I am too young to have ever seen him play, but I have been at Manchester City matches when Trautmann has attended and been announced onto the pitch either before the game or at half time, and have witnessed the obvious affection and high esteem in which the supporters, particularly the older supporters, held him. He once said that he was born in Germany, but that in his heart he is British.

A legendary figure both on and off the pitch, I have had his biography for some time but haven’t got around to reading it yet. I think now is the time.

Here is the footage of Trautmann’s finest hour-the 1956 FA Cup Final. See the supporters with their rosettes, rattles and Woodbines. A one-armed referee.

And a legendary performance.