Thursday, March 09, 2017

Anyone can write a children's book

I suppose there are worse people to write a book for children than George Galloway. As far as I know Margaret Thatcher never troubled the world with her thinly disguised views on how children should behave. She was too busy explicitly telling grown adults how they should follow the upright path trodden by Alderman Roberts. Of course, there is a revisionist view...

The one time Labour and Respect MP is to write a series of books about an ethical pirate described as a sort of Robin Hood of the high seas. No rum swigging or libidinous behaviour it seems - well, it is for children. Maybe I'm being unfair on Galloway. The old goat has four children under ten, so he's probably already tried out some of his material on them and may be on to a winner.

Mind you, they're not always the best audience. My eldest son used to inveigle me to repeatedly tell a story I made up about a jobsworth parking warden trying to ticket a Martian's flying saucer. He thought it was brilliant. I doubt the rest of the world would have agreed.

Then again, if I had a higher profile, it wouldn't really matter. Do children's publishers fall for the amazingly creative stories that celebrity writers bring to their doors, or simply see them as a more marketable commodity? Whatever else they have, these writers have a level of awareness with the public that will open doors when the book comes out, no matter the quality.

There seems to be a feeling that anybody can write a children's book. Sarah Ferguson, David Walliams, Ricky Gervaise, Russell Brand, Frank Lampard, Katie Price, Madonna, Keith Richards...
actually there are loads of them.

We're all supposed to have a book in us. What convinces so many that it's one for kids? Not all celebrity writers have children of their own and not all of them need the money, although the well off never seem happy with their financial lot. Could it be that it's just a bit easier than writing other books?

I think it is. There are fewer words and more of the heavy lifting is done by talented illustrators who probably don't get a 50:50 split. Thematically and stylistically, it's usually not to difficult to spot an inspiration - a Dahl here, a Dr Seuss there. It's all a bit cosy and obvious. There isn't too much evidence of taking on tough themes or of being especially creative.

"Where's your book, you hater?" I hear you ask. Good question. I have written books, but none for children. I don't think I'm imaginative enough. I could hack out a genre kids' book I'm sure - tales of derring do for boys, whimsical escapism for younger children - but would it be any good? Good enough for home consumption, but for a wider market? Probably not.

Not that it stops the new celeb literati. Do they actually even write them? We know from the examples of Zoella and Naomi Campbell that it ain't necessarily so. It's all about the brand. Never mind the quality, buy the lunch box, T-shirt or action figurine.

Great children's books inevitably achieve an enviable merchandising afterlife these days, but that wasn't the original inspiration for Roald Dahl or Judith Kerr or Eric Carle or Lauren Child. They wrote because they had to - to get something out of themselves or to make a living. It wasn't a nice little extra to add to their portfolio of interests, and they probably didn't expect that they would command an audience by right. That's a difference.

Anyway, good luck with that George!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Sporting life

I was listening to Katherine Grainger on Desert Island Discs this week. She probably weighs her Olympic and World medals rather than counts them. Not many of us will ever reach those sorts of heights in sport.
However, we all have our own little golden moments. Today, my son had his first when he entered a cyclocross event organised through his school. Cyclocross is a bit like cross country on bikes. I wasn't even aware it was a thing until last summer when I was doing my homework on road bikes and nearly ended up buying one because it looked so lovely, not realising it was configured for a particular kind of cycling.
Mud, sweat and gears
For the uninitiated, like me, the bikes have off road tyres for better grip, wider forks to accommodate these tyres, more clearance for the pedals, and often disc brakes for better braking.
Anyway, the school wanted to put in a team and I volunteered the lad, who has been on a couple of training session over the past couple of weekends. It was just enough to give him an idea of what it would be like racing over rough terrain and to be a bit more prepared.
Today we headed to Haverhill where the event was held at a local school. The venue led me to believe it would be a few laps round a fairly flat field, but it was quite a bit more challenging than that - rather hilly, windy and muddy. A lot more muddy than we'd practised in.
Jamie had a couple of familiarisation laps, which got him blowing hard, especially as he was pedalling a heavy old mountain bike compared to the sleek cyclocross beasts that a lot of the kids had - complete with cleats (gulp).
His year group was first off. It was only 10 minutes, but it was high impact stuff and the kids were really going for it. I thought he'd manage a couple of laps in that time - the course was probably about a kilometre I guess, but a sneaky little km it was - but he managed three, which was a great effort. All of the kids did really well, and looked thoroughly puffed at the end, and pretty filthy.
I was really proud of him because he gave it a good go and never gave up. That's all you can ask really. Of course, I was quite chuffed that he did reasonably well too - not as well as the more experienced kids on better bikes, but probably better than he thought he would do. It was definitely outside of his comfort zone, and according to his mum he was a bit nervous about it beforehand.
I think I'd freaked him out by trying to give him tactical advice over the past few days - like I know anything! He can be a bit of a worrier when it comes to new experiences, and I obviously hadn't helped. This morning I told him that it was no big deal, not to worry and to just enjoy it.
Retire the 12!
He did enjoy it. I think he really enjoyed it, and that was enough for me, to be honest.
We hung around to watch the other races and see who had won, not really expecting anything. His age group was up first, and the announcer went through the medals in reverse order. They didn't get bronze, which I thought might have been as well as they'd do, and obviously didn't get silver. Hey ho.
They only bloody won it! GOLD!
I didn't see that coming. Cue lots of applause, cheesy grins, hugging and celebratory pictures.
Afterwards he said: "That's the first time I've won anything."
That's not strictly true. He's won competitions, school sports races, and has earned badges at Beavers and Cubs. That's not a brag. At this age, there are lots of things that kids can enter and lots of opportunities to earn and win things.
"But this is the first time I've won a medal," he said.
I don't know why that should have surprise me. I've never been especially competitive myself, but remember clearly a couple of times that I had a little success in sport as a child. I was part of our primary school's 4 x 100m relay team that won a regional competition at Carluke Sports Stadium when I was about 12. It was the first time I'd ever run on a proper track. I was the second leg of a team that included John Hamilton, William Whitelaw and somebody else, lost in the annals of South Lanarkshire athletics history
He medalled
We were a very small school, and that was probably my first medal - presented on a podium beside the track. I think the school may have won the overall cup too. I've got a vague memory of our janitor, come trainer Archie McKellar, holding a cup aloft at the end of the day.
Does anybody else remember this? I doubt it. And as for the unexpected inaugural Rigside gala day five a side competition (real Roy of the Rovers stuff from a team stuffed with the 13-year-old equivalents of journeymen, against the village fancy Dans), I doubt anybody else recalls that. I wish I still had the trophy to be sure that my memory isn't playing tricks.

My son has his shiny piece of metal on a ribbon, but he'll also have pictures to remember it, and a Facebook trail of congratulations that is lengthening as I write this.
He'll remember this. I'm sure he will.





Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mamil in training

I am a cliche in many ways - middle-aged dad, wannabe foodie, aspirant craft ale aficionado, ageing rocker... the list goes on. And I can now add another entry to my list of affectations, having recently bought a road bike.
Day rider: Lycra free on Mersea Strood
My last bike prior to moving to Colchester was a drop handle-barred Dawes racer that I got for Christmas when I was about 12 or 13. I can date it to this age because I remember hearing, from my sister, that my dad had ridden it home from one of the town's bike shops about a week before, and hidden it in the garage until the big day.
I didn't have that bike for that long after he died. It went missing during one of the first summer holidays that I ever took on my own. Well, with a mate actually. Tim Higgins and I cycled 40 miles to Billing Aquadrome with rucsacs on our backs and various bits of camping equipment strapped to our frames. It was the summer of Freeez's top smash AEIOU* and we planned a week away from home in a two man tent before cycling home.
It didn't quite work out like that as both of our bikes were nicked by a couple of other lads. A bit of detective work from Tim ensured that they were soon bang to rights, and for the next couple of years I would receive intermittent cheques for a fiver through the post to cover the cost of my bike, which they'd chucked into the nearby river. After that I was bikeless for years.
On moving to Essex, I bought a second hand bike from Re-Cycle which I've used ever since, firstly to tow a child trailer when the kids were younger, and now they're older and can cycle themselves, on excursions around the area.
Pulling wheels: pre-Mamil set up
There are some great bike rides around Colchester, and Essex generally is a great cycling area - lots of country lanes to get lost in, the coast to head out to, and it's relatively flat too. In the past year I've been exploring a bit on my clunky old hybrid, but I've been eyeing up a racer and recently bought one.
So this is what it's all about. It weighs about half as much as my old bike, and its tyres are about a third of the width. Combined with cleats and that childish conviction that you run faster in new shoes, it has been an eye opener how much more performance you get. I think the turning point for me was when I was struggling up a hill during the summer and a portly chap on a racer breezed past me. Now I'm not the fittest person in the world, but I wasn't having it that his less than lithe frame disguised an Olympian only slightly gone to seed. Lance Armstrong might have pointed out that it wasn't all about the bike, but he didn't have to ride my Raleigh Max.
Now there are no excuses, apart from laziness, and the nights drawing in, and the lack of Lycra...
Actually, there's always more gear you could have it seems. I'm not even in the foothills of Mamilia yet. No Garmin, no Go-Pro, no Oakleys, not even much Lycra to be honest. The bulk of my riding kit has come from Aldi's bike week. No Rapha here yet. Oh well, Christmas is around the corner.
I can see how this can become addictive though. I'm looking for excuses to hang out in Halfords to check out what I might need, or just to chat to the guys who work there - I bet they get a lot of bike pests. It's like that stage in a man's life when you suddenly start to find B&Q to be an Aladdin's cave of possibility - there's stuff in there you didn't know existed, let alone desired.
I'm actually a bit guilty about buying the bike from Halfords as there is a great local bike shop where they are unfailingly helpful and polite. It's also very near me. However, I was swayed by an entry level Boardman - local bike shop didn't have a massive range, and I didn't spot anything that attracted me.
To add insult to injury, I took out a three year service plan with the chain - at £40 it was too good an offer to turn down. Please forgive me god of independent traders. I shall bring the kids' bikes to you for service and repair - and my clunker!
I shall try to get over the guilt I feel as I set my eyes on a challenge for next summer - the Dunwich Dynamo. I've been aware of it for about 10 years, although bizarrely I never saw it set off from London Fields despite living there for more than a decade. Next year I'm hoping to be one of the hundreds setting off into the sunset to cover 200 km overnight towards the Suffolk coast. I'm a  long way off that yet, but a few other would-be Mamils have expressed an interest, which should mean that I don't back out. I want to do this. Just need more gear, and possibly a TUE.

* Freeez's video has some great shots of Eighties London inner city cycling culture. No Raleigh Grifter required.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Losing a parent

Prince Harry recently spoke about how he wishes that he'd spoken about the death of his mother, Princess Diana, sooner. 
I was a year older than him when I lost my dad and can empathise with the inability, for a whole host of reasons, not to speak about it. We're really rubbish at it in this country, aren't we?
Anyway, The Guardian had a survey on its website today asking for people's experiences for an article. I suspect that they'll get a lot of responses so doubt they'll be able to use mine. 
Here it is anyway - I found it a useful exercise.

When did you lose a parent and what impact did it have?
I was 13 when my father died. It was relatively sudden - I was away on a Scout camp and when I came back he was in hospital. I managed to see him once before he died, which may have made things worse. Although he looked weak and diminished I didn't doubt he'd pull through - he told me he was fine. What parent wouldn't?
After the initial grief, things got back to normal relatively quickly. My mum wasn't really equipped to deal with the emotional issues, and she was now a single parent with two children reliant on her. As the eldest I think I saw it as my duty to be 'good' and to make things easier for her. She had enough on her plate. I suspect I was a fairly subdued teenager after that. My rebellion, such as it was, probably came in later years when I was at university and didn't feel I had to walk on egg shells around my mum.
After dad died I lost guidance on where my life should go. Although he was from a working class background and had left school at a young age, as you did then, he was more focused on what I could achieve. He was my champion in that respect and somebody I wanted to make proud. It's not that my mum didn't care, but by then she was taking care of day to day issues and her own grief. She never got over losing him and never remarried.
For years I'd think of him every day. I would have loved to have had his assistance and guidance on growing up to become a man - I had to work that out for myself. And of course, I'd have loved him to meet my sons, who I know he'd have absolutely doted on.
What memories do you have of the parent you lost?
Because I was 13, I have very vivid memories of my dad, and count myself lucky in that respect.
All of the usual stuff - holidays, Christmas, visiting relatives, him playing with me and my sister, silly jokes, his spaghetti bolognaise.
I have really good recall of the way he looked, the way he spoke and the things he said, which is also a great comfort. In this respect, there is an element of seeing him as a bit of a guide for adult life - what would he have done in this situation, what would he have said?
We did a lot as a family and they're good memories, which is probably why I've never doubted that I wanted a family, and if possible, would start one.
I sometimes wonder if I romanticise him as my memories are largely good, but I think he just was a decent man who lots of people loved and still miss. More than 30 years later I expect to be buttonholed at any family gathering and brought to tears by somebody telling me a story about him.
He was the eldest son in the family and he left a big hole.
How did you deal with your grief and do you have any regrets?
Neither me, nor my sister, who was 10, had any counselling. I don't think my mum did - she probably just had a chat with her doctor and was given some sleeping pills.
I think we all just buried our grief and we didn't really talk much about dad as it was just too upsetting. That doesn't mean we didn't think about him - we probably thought about him too much.
I don't know much about grief counselling, so don't know how much it would have helped. The fact that we are still processing it so many years later makes me think that it would have been handy. It's easier to talk to strangers, so maybe some sort of help would have been useful.
Years later we do talk about him a lot more. It's not so raw but it is still difficult.
How has it impacted you as an adult?
One impact probably relates to where I am in my working life. I always feel like I sort of frittered away my potential through lack of a guiding hand. Maybe that's an excuse for my perceived lack of progress. I was academically fairly bright, but coasted and could have benefited from a bit more vocational guidance and somebody cracking the whip.
Emotionally it has probably made me more guarded with a tendency to be rather pessimistic. I think I was a lot more outgoing as a younger child than I was thereafter. Maybe I would have ended up where I am now anyway - who knows? I do sometimes feel as if I'm still playing at being an adult, but I think this is fairly common.
I'm probably quite protective as a parent and a bit overly prescriptive at times. I worry about my health - I'm about the same age now as when my dad died - and I worry about how the kids would be if anything happened to me.
What advice would you offer your younger self?
Try and find someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling, but do it in a way and at a pace that is right for you. Don't submerge all of this stuff.
Don't feel embarrassed about what has happened to you - I did and it made me shut things away.

It's okay to feel sad, but try to find things that make you happy and make time for those too.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Divided

It was a gloriously sunny day yesterday - 23 June 2016. Today, at just before noon, it has started hosing it down again, which seems more appropriate to my mood.
On the night of the referendum vote I went to bed at about 11.30, fairly certain that we'd dodged a bullet. There was no exit poll from the Beeb, but signs seemed to be that at the last minute the electorate had swerved towards voting to remain in the EU.
I won't say that they belatedly saw sense, because that would be insulting to those who voted leave - I'll get on to that.
Anyway, ragged reports were coming in that Farage had already conceded defeat and that a poll taken during the day had remain ahead by 52:48. Well, at least the figures were right this time, albeit the wrong way round.
Ian Duncan Smith was being interviewed by Dimbleby and had the look of a man who had given it his best shot but suspected that the gig was up. At least that's how I read his Cheshire cat grin. To me, he appeared demob happy, preparing to return to the Tory fold with a sense of "Yikes, that was a jolly jape. What larks!" to share battle stories with those on the In side with whom he had previously violently disagreed. It was quite unseemly actually.
There was even a story that Boris Johnson had confessed to a fellow Tube traveller on Thursday night that the leavers had lost.
So, I went to bed ready to sleep a good night's sleep, untroubled by my fears of what could lie ahead.
What a chump!
I'm glad I got that night's sleep in though. I'm not sure it will come so easily over the next few weeks and months.
Hearing that the leavers had won the next morning was stunning. I can only compare it to the feeling I had a few seconds after 10pm on election night last year, when Dimbleby announced the scale of Labour's defeat and predicted a Tory majority.
Nobody saw that coming. A defeat yes, but not on that crushing scale. Cameron, fearing another coalition at best, had his resignation speech ready to deliver on the morning of 8 May 2015, so he probably only had to make a few amends for yesterday's announcement. It was dignified and polished as you expect from him, but didn't really hide the fact that he had put a gun in his own mouth and dared people "don't make me do it".
If that election result made me reassess the area where I live, then yesterday made me feel like I'd woken up in a different country.
Last May, like many on the left I was angry at the Labour leadership for being so timid and presenting nothing - they hoped the Tories would simply keel over and gift them a hung parliament which they'd control with SNP and possibly Lid Dem allies.
But I was angry at the electorate too who were happy to vote for austerity, and happy to be re-fed the pat "if it's not hurting, it's not working" philosophies of the Thatcher years. However, I sort of understand that attitude. Thatcher's homespun tactics continue to serve the Tories well more than 30 years later. It's easy to blame fecklessness and laziness for more complex socio-economic issues. Work hard, save more, obey the rules, and everything will be okay.
Except things aren't always okay. The world keeps crashing in on us and ruining our sturdy attempts to do the right thing.
This referendum was different. I couldn't really accept any of the three main arguments to leave:
- economically, we'll be better off. Oh, grow up! We're hindering access to our main market. If Britain has great products that the world wants, they're already buying them. There will be no revival of the UK car or steel industry. We won't produce a rival to Apple overnight.
- sovereignty and bringing back control. Frankly, I don't want to give any more control to a bunch of ideological right wing coneheads who are are already hell bent on wrecking our health and education systems, and who have little regard for more local democracy or electoral reform. This is a smokescreen - it's not the 17th century.
- migration will be controlled. Will it really? Half of our migrants come from outside the EU - I suppose we'll get to them later. We will have to allow freedom of movement to remain in the single market. Illegal immigration will probably continue at similar levels, unless the UK economy starts to tank. Most illegals come here to work in the black economy. By definition they can't claim benefits.
So, I don't buy it, but many people do. It's hard for me not to walk around mentally labelling people who I suspect voted to leave. Does that mean we can't get along? In many cases, absolutely!
For my sins, I'm of the never forgive, never forget school. It will always be a way for me to define you, just as I mentally register people's politics. It doesn't always affect my behaviour, but it probably does affect how I think of you and how I analyse what you say and do. I'm not particularly proud of that, but I'm trying to be honest.
And I think it's how the rest of the world is looking at Britain, or more accurately England, now. It's not a country full of small-minded, insular, xenophobes, but it has definite traits in those areas, and those are what we showed yesterday. More than one person I know has remarked on their 'shame' at the vote to leave and even of being British.
Last night, I went to see Essex play 20:20 cricket in Chelmsford. It's an annual outing with the guys from my book group - how wishy-washy liberal does that sound - but I wasn't looking forward to it this year. From past experience, when T20 Essex comes out to play it is a bit like Brexit on tour - white, male, lager-fuelled, shaven-headed (and that's just me). Having read of the chants of England football fans in Marseilles recently, I wouldn't have been surprised to have heard enthusiastic cheers for Farage, Brexit and Boris.
As it was, people seemed as stunned as I felt. Was I imagining slightly embarrassed looks on the faces of people from a county that voted strongly for leave? The kind of look after a party where things got a bit out of hand and you want to keep a low profile for a while.
It probably was just me projecting, although the term Regrexit has already been termed for just those people. I've also heard the more scatalogical Brexshit and Brexcrement to describe the merde we may soon be in.
Or will we?
The fact is, as was spelled out regularly during the campaign, not least by those damned experts so loathed by Gove, nobody really knows what happens now. We have a good idea of what would have happened had we stayed - not quite business as usual, and possibly the start of a new, tweaked relationship with the EU that Europhobes would have hated, but that would have been reassuring to Joe Public, business, and the rest of the world.
But that didn't happen. Things are more uncertain, and more scary than they were two days ago, and they'll probably stay that way for some time. I didn't see much bunting being strung up yesterday.
On a day of high emotion yesterday, the thing that got me most was an instant message from a friend in Scotland. In an exchange about what was happening I joked about strapping a mattress to the car and heading up the M74.
Her reply, "Come home," just about broke me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Damn you Colin

I was in Glasgow at the weekend for a wedding. On Sunday we had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport for the flight home. Walking down the street we were handed a flyer for a craft market in a nearby venue. After looking at some shops, my wife and I decided to go there as she was on the lookout for some Christmas gifts for friends.
The entrance to the venue, a restaurant/bar, had some stalls that she was attracted by. After a quick look, I decided to check out the inside.
As I entered the building it was quite dark and an unusual venue at that. Prior to entering I did not realise that it was a bar - it looked like an old hall of some sort. Inside, it had a high vaulted ceiling and lots of banquette tables. It was not entirely clear where the craft stalls were.
I was looking around and getting my bearings when a lady at a table looked at me hopefully and asked: "Are you Colin?"
Rather too hastily I said that I wasn't and walked past her. Almost immediately it struck me that she was waiting for some sort of date, and that my response could be taken for the brush off. I'd arrived like a sneaky snake, caught a glimpse of her and thought she wasn't to my taste - too old, not pretty enough, boring looking. These weren't my thoughts about her, but they were now what I was thinking she was thinking.
I suppose I could have gone back and explained that I really wasn't Colin and that I was here with my wife (to my shame, I did actually make a bit of a show of her being with me when she eventually came into the building), but that would have been about making myself feel better.
I could have started talking to her and gave a better impression of myself. Even if I wasn't Colin, I was the sort of person who would speak to somebody on their own, nursing a coffee on a grey, rainy Sunday in Glasgow.
Instead, I probably made her feel worse about being on her own.
As we went to the balcony area where the craft stalls were, I noticed that she was shuttling out of the building on her own.
I don't know why I'm feeling guilty about this. It was Colin who was the no show.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Uncle Drew

Today, 9 September 2015, the Queen became the longest serving monarch. She's 89, the same age as my uncle Drew, who passed away on Monday. He was something of a monarchist, so I reckon he'd have raised a large mug of tea - the bigger the better - to her (he didn't really drink).

Here's looking at you kid - Drew and Alex
I last saw him at the start of the summer holidays when we took our two boys on their first trip to Scotland. It was very exciting for them as they were flying for the first time as well, which made it a great adventure.

The news from Scotland over the past few months hadn't been good. Drew had been in hospital for an operation which he was struggling to recover from. My mum went up to see him when went to the funeral of one of her sisters and expressed her shock at how he looked. He hadn't been well enough to attend himself and was upset about that.

Since then, he'd been in hospital and had recently been moved to a smaller, convalescent facility in his home town of Lanark. I knew that if we didn't get up to see him soon there might not be another chance.

He's always been something of a favourite uncle Drew. In some respects he could come across a bit like the boy that never grew up - always joking, creating mischief, and looking to lighten the atmosphere. His entrance into a room would quickly provoke a response, usually from one of the women in there who would inevitably call him an "auld devil" after some cheeky comment or other, provoking a howl of laughter from him.

However he was also a serious man who had seen things in life that I hope I never see. As a teenager, he was in the army in the latter days of the push into Germany. His unit helped liberate the concentration camps. A few years ago he was showing me some pictures from the Eighties of him and his deceased, and much loved wife, my auntie Nancy. They were standing in front of a small mound which it turned out was a mass grave. He volunteered this information in a sombre tone, and I was taken aback by it. I'd never known this, and wish now I'd asked him more about it, but I didn't quite know what to say. Besides which my two young sons were there, and they would quickly have intervened to get his attention.
Drew in the army
To them, he was uncle Drew, and he was very generous to them as I know he was to other children of his nephews and nieces - he didn't have children of his own, having married later in life.

His interest in trains gave him a mainline straight to the interests of small lads. His father, my grandfather had driven steam trains, and had fired up an interest. As soon as he knew my eldest was obsessed with trains, we started to receive pictures of obscure locomotives that he'd snapped on his travels with his steam locomotive enthusiast buddies. Then came the DVDs of G-Scale model railways - another huge enthusiasm. Finally, on a trip to visit my mum, he somehow managed to pack a train set for the boys into his bag and cart it all the way to Buckingham. This thing wasn't at all small, and at this stage he was already well into his eighties with recently diagnosed back problems - not that it seemed to slow him up much.

After that visit a few years ago he was always promising a return, but due to his failing health, it never came about, hence the visit from us.

Despite being warned that he was frail, it was a shock to see him. He seemed much smaller and suddenly a lot older. He'd lost weight and moved slowly as he emerged into the room to meet me. Strangely, when I hugged him, he still seemed to have retained enough upper body strength to return a hearty embrace. Although he was quieter, he also kept up his cheeky rapport with the nurses, who affected to be at their wits end with this old goat, but who seemed to have a great affection for him. He cackled as they replied in kind to his quips. I'm glad that he was there at the end - he felt safe there and was able to see the many friends and family who were concerned about him.

We took him to lunch that day, although he struggled to eat much. Other members of the family arrived too. I got the impression that he was never short of visitors. Apparently it was the first time that he had been out in months. I think he enjoyed it. He reminisced and told some stories about his time as a scout leader, and his brother Joe and nephew John had him cackling with their gags.

As we left, he gave me another great hug and said something to me. I didn't quite catch the words in the car park outside the restaurant, but I got the gist of it. There probably wouldn't be another meeting and he was saying his goodbyes.

When I heard that he'd passed I felt sad of course, but it was a fleeting emotion. I was glad that he was now free of pain and started thinking of the happy times that we'd shared with him, and of a life well lived. He was a soldier, a husband, a postie, a scout master, a train enthusiast, a mischief maker, and much more, and he was my uncle. And now he's at peace.