Answers, but not Justice.

When we walked into the court’s waiting room for my father’s inquest I was asked if we had a barrister coming? I replied no. I can’t remember the exact response, but it was along the lines of an expensive waste, these things are better settled without them. By the time we left that court I disagreed wholeheartedly with this statement; if you are seeking justice then engage a barrister.

I wasn’t seeking justice, my father’s death, although unexpected, was caused by a combination of factors which weren’t all preventable. My issue was the care he received during his stay in Cheltenham Hospital and their seeming eagerness to despatch him to another hospital over the Christmas period. After his death, I initially said no to involving a coroner, even though I’d expressed concerns about the necessity of transferring him back to Cirencester. I was also concerned about an incident during his recovery which my aunt had witnessed but I couldn’t get any information from the hospital about it. After discussion with my father’s doctor in Cirencester, I agreed to ask for an inquest into the circumstances of my father’s death

Up until now my knowledge of how investigations of death are conducted has been gleaned mainly from various TV programmes. In our case no crime had been committed, there was no indication that medical negligence had occurred during his operation, one nurse had even prevented him being sent home as he had no one to care for him (prior to being hospitalised for a swollen leg he had lived independently). My concern was his aftercare in Cheltenham and the ordeal of enduring an ambulance transfer to Cirencester, only for him to be sent back to Cheltenham who told me there was nothing wrong with my father and insisted he was returned to Cirencester, all within forty-eight hours.

Speaking to the coroner’s clerk I was persistently told that it was not their role to ‘blame’ anyone. They would gather evidence to present to the coroner who would decide if any issues occurred that caused my father additional suffering. This process was expected to take six months. I could also raise a separate complaint with Cheltenham. My father died on January 1st so we were looking at June/July for the inquest.

Reports started to be sent to me, most were handwritten, others were typed statements after the event. Doctors were mainly locums who were no longer working in Cheltenham. Extra statements were requested. Time passed, and nothing appeared to happen. Finally, in October we received the missing statements. The preliminary hearing was set for December.

A couple of weeks before the preliminary hearing I received a response from Cheltenham.  It was not helpful. My query about the incident my aunt had witnessed was dismissed as the doctor I’d named (using reports) was not on duty. My discussion with three nurses was unrecorded, only that I’d agreed to transfer. I had only agreed as I had been told there was no nursing cover in Cheltenham, as the ward was empty, except for one able patient, I felt pressured to allow the transfer.

In December we had the preliminary hearing where a representative from Cheltenham hospital had a vast file with documents we had no access to. There were no records of the ambulance trips. It was agreed a full inquest would be held, calling witnesses, in March, no later than April. As I was on holiday in May I gave dates. Afterwards, I spoke with the lady from Cheltenham who shown me the nurse’s report at the time of the incident, it had a blood sugar level of 24, the highest reading I’d ever seen for Dad. The lady, who said she was a former nurse, was surprised at my reaction. She also told me that the hold-up was not due to Cheltenham, showing me reports sent in April. When I got home I checked and the missing reports from doctors working in Cheltenham were dated September.

When the date came through it wasn’t March or even April, but the day before I was due to go on holiday. Christmas was difficult, as was the anniversary of his death. My father’s birthday was the end of March and the anniversary of my mother’s death, now five years ago, was in April. By now I had the answers to my questions. My father had suffered a diabetic-related seizure which affected his recovery. Instead of being cared for in hospital he was subjected to travelling around Gloucestershire. It seems that the journey back to Cheltenham was late and he spent the night in Gloucester before being transferred to Cheltenham in the morning, hence my being called on Boxing Day morning with the gruff, ‘I was told to call you when he arrived, and he’s just arrived.’ After a brief medical procedure, he was deemed ‘fit’ by a doctor to return to Cirencester.

The court is a proper courtroom, without a jury. The judge sat high above us and it was an intimidating atmosphere. We were limited to the events we could talk about. I should emphasise that I received no support from the court during the procedure and I quickly felt out-of-my-depth.

The doctor from Cheltenham referred to my father as ‘elderly and frail’. I objected to the phrase as I felt it misleading, my father had been living independently and had been recovering prior to the incident, after which he declined rapidly. My objection was overruled, and the doctor continued to use the phrase. His registrar had arranged to send him to Cirencester and had seen him on Boxing Day, he was a young man and very nervous. He mentioned my father’s cancer, which unknown to us had returned, I tried to highlight he had been clear for thirteen years and we were unaware it had returned. He denied noting delirium in my father’s behaviour. He also claimed to have seen that my father had received a fluid drip in A&E but was unsure when. As he’d arrived with a swollen leg due to fluids it was very unlikely they would have pumped more fluids into him.  (Later I would realise he referred to the visit we made in the early part of the year after my father suffered from gastroenteritis, way out of time range).

When it came to explaining the Christmas Day/Boxing Day journey, suddenly the lady from Cheltenham hospital jumped up to show reports she had obtained from ambulance drivers’ records. At no time was I shown these reports. The judge muttered there were in order. It seemed strange that a year after asking these reports they were suddenly available but had not been supplied prior to this hearing.

Only the anomaly with his blood sugar remained to be questioned. I took the stand to introduce the subject. Immediately the lady from Cheltenham was on her feet again, she knew exactly what I was referring to and showed records to prove that no such level had been recorded. It was my word, that I was willing to take an oath for, against hers. She was not called on to take an oath. Once again, the judge accepted her report.

Weirdly I felt the judge’s wording of her decision concentrated more on the cause of death, which we were not disputing, then the suffering my father endured. She even repeated the phrase ‘elderly and frail’ to me. In his statement, the doctor from Cirencester had stated that as there was no overnight doctor cover in Cirencester he’d decided not to admit my father but return him to Cheltenham. He mentioned signs of deliria and that he didn’t expect him to return so swiftly. She appeared to ignore the evidence from this Cirencester doctor.

In hindsight, I would use a legal representative if I ever have to go through this process again. However, even though it was not recognised in court I believe I obtained the answers to my questions. I am sorry for any future patients that I fail to change Cheltenham’s policy regarding the clearing of their wards for Christmas and not showing the simple generosity of allowing families to enjoy what may be their loved one’s last Christmas with them.


Recently Doctor Goodall made the news. He was 104 years old, articulate, active and living independently when he had a fall. He was told that from now on he needed care and could no longer live alone. A fiercely independent man who felt he’d had a good life, he was unwilling to submit to his inevitable decline so opted to go to Switzerland and end his own life. I know my father never wanted to go into a home and be dependent on others. Nor would he have been strong enough to survive cancer a third time. Doctor Goodall’s decision has helped me come to terms with my father’s death.


Beauty and the older Woman.  

Aging is a privilege denied to many.

Beauty Aid – Silk Pillowslip


To be honest, I have heard of this latest craze before but, for whatever reason, ignored it. Since the New Year, it has appeared in several beauty columns and I have even seen it recommended for men. In my generation it was hard enough to get men to apply suntan lotion and they still seemed to enter their maturity looking better than the women by their side! However, it transpires the best preserved ones did secretly use moisturizers, hair products, and even hand cream. Nowadays, men’s beauty products are a growth industry. The miraculous product, which everyone is talking about, is the silk pillowslip which they claim to be good for both your hair and your face.

According to ‘experts’, it is less drying than other fabrics and you awake with sleek hair and unwrinkled faces. Pillowslips illustrating these columns tend to be in £60 plus bracket. In fairness, some columnists have stated seeing little or no benefit. Their picture shows a wrinkle-free, barely thirty-year-old, face and sleek hair!

At double that age, with hair that these days seems determined to either frizz or fly away from my face, I decided to invest in a silk pillowcase. After a bit of investigation; Did I need silk from a particular worm? Should it be white? What is the difference between a £20 silk pillowcase and a £80 one? I opted for a £35 John Lewis one in a dusky pink, as I had a voucher I could use to purchase it and I liked the colour.

Immediately I noticed how less frizzy my hair was in the morning. My skin also appears to benefit, although the pillowcase is wrinkled my skin is less so.

I was so impressed I mentioned it to my hairdresser.

He shrugged, ‘Yes I’ve known about that for ages, but then I know a lot about hair.’

Might explain why he’s looking so good for his age as well

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2017

Someone asks me the significance of the image on the scene. A suited businessman is outside a pink framed picture which appears to be stuck on cardboard. It depicts a rural landscape. There is a tunnel-like orb created by golden lines, moving towards it, what I thought were butterflies, are tiny images of people. I knew it must reflect the theme of this year’s festival but at the time failed to recall exactly what it was; something to do with Britain and its future? Checking the programme later I discovered it was ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ with a subtitle of ‘What does being British mean in 2017?’ I’m not sure if the events I attended related to this theme.

Although I booked within hours of the tickets going on public sale I did not get all my wishlist. Tickets are sold to members first and there is a three-tiered membership. I was lucky, a friend, who is a bronze member, had a spare ticket for the Austentatious, but even she couldn’t get tickets for Bill Nighy. I did try for returns but to no avail.

Austentatious was the first event I attend. It wasn’t the usual kind of literature fare as it consisted of a troupe of actors, dressed in Regency costume, who improvise a play based on a title provided by the audience. My ‘Manners maketh a Man’ suggestion was not drawn out of the hat but ‘The Day my hippopotamus went missing’ was.  The premise taken was, one of the young ladies had inherited a zoo and, although her, and her friends, are looking for marriage partners, the local boys fail to make the grade. I particularly liked the part when one man, feeling let down by his friend, begins naming the values he looks for in a friend, his back is to the audience who suddenly realise he’s reading the sponsor’s poster on the left of the stage!

I was late for my next event as it had taken me 45 minutes to find somewhere to park! Rogue’ Gallery: A History of Art and Its Dealers was the usual type of fare whereby Sotheby’s director, Philip Hook, had a book to promote. He had a slide show and had already reached the Impressionists as I entered. He was a competent, relaxed speaker, skipping through slides that he wasn’t covering which gave me the impression this was a reduced presentation to one he’d given elsewhere. His stories were interesting as was his comment that at times of recession the rich put their money into art. Although record prices for paintings sometimes make the news on the whole most people are uninterested in art prices. Although I didn’t buy his book I did come home and search Kindle for them and have downloaded a sample of Breakfast at Sotheby’s to see if his writing style is similar to his speaking style.

Nicci French is the pen name of married couple; Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Their talk, Partners in Crime, was about their working relationship and the release of the seventh book in their Frieda Klein series. Each title contains a day of the week, this being ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’ Both write books under their own names and had discussed writing together. It was always a future project until stories of repressed memories began appearing in the press in the 90s, they both agreed there was a great theme for a novel. Talking together a plot evolved and realising others in the zeitgeist would be working on similar books they decided now was the time. After discussion each worked separately, reading through, amending and then continuing story. They feel ‘Nicci French’ has her own voice and it differs from their own. The original books were one-offs, and both agree that developing a character over a series has been an interesting project.

I had recently read Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, so was interested to see him. I knew he’d had mental health problems but was unsure of their cause. I had also read reviews of How to Stay Alive but not the book itself. Matt is honest about his anxieties and problems. Writing suits his lifestyle as it means he can work from home most of the time. So, although Benedict Cumberbatch has brought the option to film How to Stop Time Matt will not be writing the screenplay. He has previous experience of writing a screenplay and found it wasn’t for him. Matt has quite a back catalogue of work which includes children’s stories.  The girl next to me was here as she’d read ‘The Humans’ which looks at us from an alien dog’s perspective. A comment from his son inspired ‘Father Christmas and me’. Like ‘Nicci French’ he emphasised the importance of his book editor, saying you really want them to come back and say this is the first book in publishing history that requires no corrections, but it never happens.

My last event was where I had that conversation about the image. We were sitting waiting for Harriet Walter On Shakespeare’s Women. Unlike other events Harriet was at a podium reading her prepared lecture. It covered not only Shakespeare but the general history of women actors on English stages. The women’s roles were training for young male actors and, she wondered, if such speeches as Lady Macbeth’s ‘unsex me’ would have been written if women were expected to deliver them. She mentioned that even in Romeo and Juliette, Romeo has more lines than Juliette. Lately women actors have been portraying the male leads in Shakespeare’s plays. Harriet has played King Lear as well as other roles. A couple of the plays she has been in, Julius Cesar and Henry IV, were set in a female prison which gives them a different perspective as these are woman only environments. One woman’s role was not mentioned; Kate in the The Taming of the Shrew which is probably more controversial today due to the treatment of woman in certain countries arranged marriages. I wish I’d asked her about it. However, it was not part of Ms Walters focus whereas the sexual discrimination of woman within the theatre was. The recent pay revelations in the BBC was highlighted as was Peter Hall’s reference to the director as ‘he’ in his books on stagecraft. It seems sad that more than forty years after Sex discrimination and Equal pay Acts women are still having to fight for acceptance not only on the stage but in the production of plays.

Returning to the theme I am still uncertain to its relevance to each of the events I attended. Austentatious was an affectionate parody of Jane’s world. Philip Hook was aware of the greed that exists within his world but also viewed it with affection. Nicci French’s crime novel show a different side of London to the one most of us are acquainted with. Matt Haig’s perspective of life has been coloured by his own problems but it is one many of us relate to. Harriet has allowed Shakespeare inside her head and has viewed his world from a modern woman’s perspective. The festival, like reading, allows us to spend a bit of time outside our normal experience and whatever we are, we are all naturally curious about life.

Bye, Bye, Baby

2013 was a pretty bad year for me, my personal annus horribilus. That October my Monedo was as in as bad a state as I was; its mileage was high and although the engine ‘would go on forever’, to quote my OH, it’s bodywork needed welding and it also needed four new tyres, roughly £1K. I had to drive Kieran to London and pointed these problems out to my OH hoping he’d lend me his car. I still ended up driving it to London but I also ended up in a BMW showroom after declaring ‘no more Fords!’

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting we would actually buy a BMW but we did, or rather my OH did. I was really apprehensive that we were making a mistake. But as he talked about the joy of owning a new car I realised he was trying to make me happy by doing something for me that made him. Over the last four years, I can truly say I have loved driving this car. She has made me feel safe. She is a big, fast, BMW 328i GT. She is an automatic which has been easier on my left shoulder. She has sensors and a little screen which makes parking easier. She lights up at night as I walk towards her, pressing the button, it’s like being greeted by a puppy-dog who’s glad you’re back. But this November the financial agreement is up and decisions have been taken.

In all my years of car-owning, this is the first time I really haven’t wanted to move on to a new car. In fairness, the others have been out of necessity whereas there is nothing wrong with my BMW. I still love driving her, she still looks good but most people would just see a series 3 BMW without realising her power, hence she hasn’t retained her value and isn’t a good investment for the future. One of her selling points for us is she can easily seat our two six-footer sons but nowadays they rarely travel with us. I recently had her serviced and had a courtesy car, ‘it’s the same as yours’ said the girl showing me to a BMW 320d. By the time I’d driven home I phoned my OH to complain about the lack of response and ‘if next car was like this they could keep it!’ He assured me it wouldn’t be.

With my love for my current car, I couldn’t have the ‘same again’ as I would be constantly comparing it so I decided to go for something different. I have always preferred saloon to sports cars so my OH was surprised when I opted for a BMW series 4 coupé, it even has an ‘M sport plus’ package.

On August 31st, I drive my car for the last time to the dealership and, just after midnight I drive home in its replacement. In the last four years so much has changed maybe I’m ready for something different, not quite so safe and with just a touch of wildness to it.


She was washed and polished after servicing, but weather recently meant wet, dirty puddles!

Opening my make-up bag!

Beauty and the older woman.

Aging is a privilege denied to many.

Recently a lot of ‘aging’ celebrities have been opening their bathroom cabinets and showing us their beauty products. Most of these ladies seem to be in their forties or fifties and can afford products which cost more than then the entire contents of my make-up bag! Okay, maybe a slight extravagation on that last statement but whilst I look with interest at Crème de la Mer’s counter, with its beautiful tropical fish, I see little point in trying their products. Not because I do not believe the claims, but because I can’t justify the expense of buying them. Once, or twice, I have been tempted to ‘treat myself’ but if I then discovered its brilliance I would have to continue buying, or feel guilty that I’m depriving my skin of something so beneficial. On the occasions  I want to treat myself  I feel my money is better spent on a visit to a spa for some special, indulgence treatment.

So why would you want to see my beauty products? Well I’ve just turned sixty last October, I rarely tell people my age, but if I do I can see that they didn’t expect reply to be 60. My mother always cared for her skin, and wore make-up, so I learnt to care for my hands, neck and eye area from an early age.  A few years ago I was tested for aging signs in my face. I was mainly way below my chronological age, exception being my eye area. I have similar problems to my grandmother so despite creams I haven’t overcome genetics, but maybe I have slowed process down as I didn’t register as being older than I was.

I discovered I have sensitive skin when I first started applying make-up and had to wash it off quickly as it stung! I had greasy skin as a teenager along with zits, hormonal skin problems over the years, then developed rosacea in my fifties. A friend recently commented, ‘You’re lucky you have good skin.’ I don’t, but I have tried to look after it.

For years, most of my facial skincare was Clinque products, but when I encountered problems in my fifties I had to find a new routine. I ended up looking at French products.

I don’t have a bathroom cabinet as my morning routine was to vacate the bathroom to allow others to use. Instead I have cluttered bedside surface and full make-up bag.


These are from my bedside (the clutter includes books, jewellery and CDs as well as bottled water).  They are there so I can find them in the dark if necessary as they’re part of my usual night-time routine, after cleaning my teeth. By the way, teeth really give away your age. I recently started using Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening in the hope of stopping the thinning of my enamel, only time will tell if it works.

Hand cream is Nivea Age Defying which I have been using since it came on the market. I also have a tube in my car and downstairs.

Eye cream is a sample of Clinque’s All about Eyes. I have used various eye creams over the years.

Neck cream is Formula biotech firming  neck and jaw cream (from Marks and Spencer). I used to use Body Shop but it’s no longer available. I also need the extra ingredient to firm my jaw line. I think it has made a difference.

I use La Roche-Posey Rosaliac purifying  cleansing gel, available from Boots, to remove make-up. I don’t wash my face and even use this on the rare days I don’t wear make-up. I also use in morning. I just wipe it off with cotton pads.

I then use La Roche-Posey efaclar toner, again Boots. Usually just over my nose and chin area.

Finally, Clinque’s All about lips. I am sure my lips are disappearing! This moisturises them and is supposed to keep them plump.

I don’t use a night-cream as part of my routine. Dry skin is not one of my problems, but I have used Clinque’s Moisture Surge occasionally.

These are the contents of my make-up bag.


Normal routine, after cleaning, is application of eye cream, currently I’m trialling Formula Bio tech Eye Cream (Marks and Spencer) as I was impressed with it’s neck cream). I then apply  La Roche-Posey Rosaliac UV light moisturiser, it is brilliant and also has SPV 15 included. I am still unsure about primer, is it a necessity or a con? At present I’m using a Clinque sample (little white tube, centre bottom), when I remember. I’m not sure if there is a difference. I have been using Clinque’s Beyond Perfecting  since its launch, which coincided with my visit to House of Frazer to buy more foundation. It is light and covers easily. I have two shades; Ivory for winter and Breeze for summer, although it does attune to your skin I was originally sold the darker shade as, at the time, my skin had a slight tan. As we progressed into winter I felt tangoed. I still use Clinque’s Blending face powder (invisible) to set my make-up. I prefer the loose powder. The brush was brought years ago I’ve forgotten its origins.

I have two pencils both Clinque’s quickliner; intense plum for evening and violet for day. I’m with Lesley Joseph who told Trinny and Susannah that as you age you need a little help to make your eyes stand-out. Wearing glasses I am aware I need to make my eyes noticeable. I like to use a base for my eye make-up. Clinque keep discontinuing products I use, at present I’m using their Lid Smoothie in Bit O’ Honey, it claims to nourish and protect my lid as well as smooth out fine lines.  I then cover it with a powder base colour from whichever palette of eye colour I’m using. At present, it’s the All about Shadoe duo Jammin’ for day or Black Roses (no longer available) for night. I like the violet shades and hope that next time I purchase I can find something similar. My three brushes are; a thick one for overall base powder, then slimmer, square-headed for lid and finally fan brush to blend.  I finish my eyes with black mascara, both shown here are samples from Clinque.

I prefer powder blusher and have been using Clinque’s Blushing Blush in Smouldering Plum since I had my wedding make-up consultation thirty years ago! I have tried a few others since but seem to keep coming back to this. The brush is a Clinque one. I used to have an artist brush but when the bristles started coming out I brought this rather than leave the house with a large dark hair on my face.

Lipstick has been a problem over the years. Clinque’s rarely stayed on and trying other brands had me begging assistant for cleanser as my lips started to sting. Recently introduced Clinque’s Pop Lip Colour and Primer has, at last, ended my plight. As name suggests they combine lipstick and primer and are light to wear AND stay on. Just as my lips are disappearing I have at last found a product which give me lips! I currently use Rebel Pop, a lovely dark red, but will be shopping for a more scarlet colour for summer.

In top right hand corner is a sample Moisture Surge CC cream which I use over my normal moisturiser for gym. I need something to even my skin tone, but it’s a waste to go in full make-up. I just add Eye Smoother and mascara. Plus a pale sample Pop lipstick.

Below are tweezers, these are Tweezerman from Boots which are worth paying extra for. Even if tweezing eyebrows is near impossible wearing glasses. Next to these are nail chippers, essential  maintenance. Not shown is my 7xs magnifying mirror which was a fiftieth birthday present from my mum. At the time I hated seeing every line and pore magnified. Since then I have had to resort to, almost, full-time wearing of glasses and in my mid-fifties I lost my mother. For a while my beauty routines seemed pointless. Nowadays, when I pick up the mirror I think of her before hers and smile, after all no one thought she looked her age either.


Skincare is not limited to face of course. I prefer bath to shower. My boys tend to give various bath products to me on birthdays and Christmas. The Molton Brown collection, at back, are a Christmas gift. I loved Waitrose Rose scented product, the Lotus Petal and Jasmine is okay. The brush, at front, is a recent replacement for similar one which was was worn out but difficult to replace. I found this on Gorgeous shop website, bristles are softer than original. Body lotion is Nivea Q10 Body Lotion. I have treated my feet with Body Shop Hemp for feet since it was launched. Although I have hard skin on my soles, I tried removing once and found it painful to walk, I do not have any other problems.

During menopause my underarm skin became very sensitive and I swapped to Clinque’s Roll-on anti-perspirant  deodorant which my mother had used for the same reason. The Forever Aloe Heat lotion was recommended by a friend after I pulled my lower back I honestly wound not have coped in Bruges or the States without it. I have since used on shoulder and knee.

After flying to Spain, and ending up with tree trucks for legs, I looked for something to prevent this type of swelling again. I came across Cowshed’s Udderly Gorgeous leg and Foot Treatment in an article about swelling legs in pregnancy. Symptoms are similar so I thought I’d try it and it worked! It’s a cooling gel and I could feel a slight tingling on application. Reviews spoke of drying effect on skin so I limit use to once a week, except after flying.  I have ankles back and slimmer legs.

Like most people of my generation I hate looking at photos of myself. It is only when I see them ten years later I think, I actually looked okay then. In ten years I hope to remember to revisit this article and see what has changed in my beauty routine and skincare.





Funeral yesterday

On 31st December I made probably the hardest decision of my life. Others supported the decision but it was my agreement that the doctor needed. Just over a week before my father had to sign a consent form for minor surgery in which he had to state ‘next-of-kin’. ‘Who did you put?’ I asked. He looked at me in surprise, ‘You of course.’  I sort of knew it would be me but I had to check just in case. After a week when I had seen my father’s health deteriorate on every visit I was faced with the reality that he wasn’t going to get well; the antibiotics had not done their job and his organs were rapidly failing. The last coherent conversation we had had was on Boxing Day and even that had been at times incomprehensive. Now I barely recognised the man in the bed to be the same one we had brought into hospital following a fall. The decision to withdraw treatment and just administer pain-relief may seem like an obvious one, but it was not an easy one.

No one could tell me how long it would be before he drew his final breathe. I went home to sleep thinking it would be sometime the next day, even the day after. At midnight I was driving home whilst fireworks illuminated the sky in the distance welcoming in the New Year. We were still up when the phone rang around an hour later and my sister told me, ‘He’s gone.’

When we planned the funeral we needed to forget those last weeks and concentrate on his life. Since her death he had greived for my mother and life had been difficult for him. She was the communicator, the organizer, the one who kept contact with the rest of the family. Luckily the family wanted to keep contact with him so that many of us discovered  a side of him we weren’t aware of before. I  helped organise appointments for him, deal with companies over the phone, take him shopping, and listen to his reminiscences, often about mum.   Although not a religious man his belief that he would one day be reunited with her gave him both solace and hope. Now, nearly four years since she died, I hope he has been proved right and she greeted him with, ‘Where have you been?’  RIP

Graham Whale 31st March, 1932 to 1st January 2017.

Tribute for Dad

Sonya and I would like to thank everyone for coming here today. When we were planning this funeral we both agreed we wanted it to be a celebration of him and his life. Many of you mentioned your memories of Dad in your kind condolences. Many of you have memories which reach further back than Sonya’s and mine. His life in Arley. His early years with mum. The moving to Cheltenham, leaving the village he continued to refer to as ‘home’ until the later years of his life. Since my mother’s passing he has returned to those memories. Many say it is not good to live in the past, but there are some positives. The argument between a teenage daughter and her father about wearing a bra under a certain blouse may seem trivial now, but through adult eyes the girl can see her father’s love and concern that was not evident in those angry words. We should not dwell in the past but we can find solace in it. The memories of holidays spent together. The times lunching in a country pub where Dad would often order ‘gammon and chips’ and when asked ‘pineapple or egg’ would reply ‘both’. I know many here will never see that item on a menu without thinking of Dad.

His sense of humour was from an era where comedians didn’t swear, at least not on television. He could be dry and flippant. He could be inappropriate. I remember a friend’s wedding where the vicar’s sermon was heavily focused on a third person in their marriage who they would welcome into their home. First we wondered if he knew something we didn’t, but the third person was ‘Jesus who is in all our homes’, to which my Dad exclaimed to us, ‘that’s who keeps leaving all the lights on!’

I hope you like the coffin. Dad was essentially a country boy at heart and, living in a town, fishing became his way of connecting with the countryside. He even gave up smoking branded cigarettes to buy a landing net. His claim that he gave up smoking at this time is undermined by photos of him holding a fish in one hand and a ciggie in the other. He did later give up entirely though. The image of him fishing whilst mum sits nearby reading a book seems so apt for today.

With such a statement coffin we didn’t want to cover it in flowers. Dad preferred flowers growing in the ground anyway. But the woodland basket reminded us both of Arley Woods where Dad spent most of his childhood playing.

Thank you to Richard for the reading, in which St Paul brings together the imagery of care-free childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood, whilst stressing the importance of love. Dad did not express his love verbally. At our wedding I hoped for the usual ‘wonderful daughter’ speech instead, Dad gave the results of a horse race much to the appreciation, and amusement, of his audience. Later I realised that for him to stand up in a roomful of people and give a speech was an act of love in itself, he would rather have left any talking to mum. Just because someone does not show you they love you in ways you expect, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. I know that Dad loved us all in his own way and that his love will stay with us in our memories.

Love, Love, Love

Performance attended 5th November, 2016 in New York

Within a few days of booking my trip to the states I discovered Richard Armitage was to perform in a play off-Broadway. Without even checking out this play I booked tickets. What follows is not a straight review of the play. It is now a week since I attended the performance and I want to record my memories, my reactions and my thoughts about the play, as such it will contain spoilers.

Prior to attending I did do some research. The title is taken from the chorus of the Beatles All you need is love. The play is the work of a British playwright, Mike Bartlett, it has already been performed on the West End (with a different cast) where it was well-received. Reports indicated that it spanned forty years and its main theme was the economic changes of this period. They also indicated play was a dark comedy. I have no disagreement with these reports but I became focused on another change I felt the play highlighted within this era.

I received an e-mail a few days before the performance giving details of how to find theatre and stressing late-arrivers would not be admitted till end of act. Whilst I know this is true of most theatres it stirred my paranoia of being late. We not only checked out location in day-light (heading photo taken then) but ended up arriving nearly an hour early! Staff were warm and welcoming and there was a small bar.

For once I decided to purchase a programme, I don’t know if this is standard in states but they didn’t sell them. Instead a free ‘playbill’ was given to us as we took our seats, this contains details of other plays and lists the sponsors of theatre. There are just half-a-dozen pages on Love, Love, Love with no photos. There is no background on themes of play or notes about the eras or even music credits. I did wonder how Americans relate to the play. The couple we sat next to were American but she had lived near London for eight years and they were frequent visitors to England. They were attracted by positive reviews in New York Times and came from Philadelphia to see play.

Whilst Richard’s name was listed first on cast list at top of stairs and in cast list in playbill, the former was listed alphabetical by surname and the later by appearance on stage. This seemed to indicate an equality of the actors. All their performances were brilliant and equally strong. This may not be apparent in my writing, but I have already expressed my bias.

Pop music from the 60s played whilst audience seated itself. I recognised all the songs from my childhood.

The curtain opened revealing a 60s living room with sofa and a portable TV perched on a truck in front of it, there’s a side table with portable record-player and a formica kitchen table. Kenneth (Richard Armitage) emerges from his bedroom, hair pulled forward, bare-foot, his style icon is more Mick Jagger than Beatles, as he’s wearing jeans and an open dressing gown which reveals his torso.  His movements are quick, restless, as he lights a cigarette and pours a drink from a ships decanter before turning on the telly and flopping onto sofa. His brother, Henry (Alex Hurt) returns home from work and their conversation mixes with their body language to tell us about their relationship. Kenneth is the younger, brighter brother who passed 11+ and is now at Oxford. Henry has moved to London and this is his flat, he works as a bill poster. Whilst Kenneth moves around whilst he talks Henry is static and still. Kenneth has landed himself on his brother rather than return to family home. Henry still resorts to the bullying of their childhood when words fail him, and although Kenneth towers over him his brother he is not yet used to his elongated body and visibly cowers to his threats. Henry wants Kenneth out of the way as he has a girl coming round. Kenneth wants to watch the multi-nation broadcast of Our World. (This took place on 25th June. 1967.)  Henry is bemused by the changes in society whilst idealist Kenneth embraces them, particularly the rise of the working class.

Sandra (Amy Ryan) arrives without the food she promised to bring. With her long blonde bob and A-line mini dress she appears to be a typical dolly-bird, but it was Sandra who asked Henry out. Sandra speaks in a neutral English voice which reminded me of my mother-in-law, who is actually Swiss-German but has been in England since 60s, like her there is a precision in her delivery as she declares herself a ‘free spirit’. Her interest in Kenneth is immediate, she stresses their similarities ‘we’re both 19’, ‘we’re both at Oxford’, ‘we both like pop music’ ‘we both smoke pot’. In fact, Sandra declares, she is already high. After Kenneth provides some ‘weed’ they both smoke whilst Henry declines. She despatches Henry to get fish and chips whilst encouraging the entranced Kenneth to find something they can dance to.  Initially attracted to Henry by his leather jacket she now realises he is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, she coolly forecasts her and Kenneth’s future and even Henry’s reaction to their relationship. It is their duty to be happy after all we could die tomorrow she declares. As ‘All you need is love’ plays from the TV they, at last, dance. Henry returns as they kiss only to walk out as Sandra predicted.

Act Two opens with music I have never heard before. Dancing around, bare-foot, in an 80s living room is a teenage schoolboy using a candlestick as a mike. This is Jamie (Ben Rosenfield) Kenneth and Sandra’s son. Kenneth returns with his daughter Rose (Zoe Kazan) who has been playing her violin in her school concert. Kenneth wears a smart suit and his hair is brushed back from his face. (Like many actors in the flesh Richard looks younger than on-screen, here he seemed closer to thirty-five than forty-five.) Rose is annoyed because her mother failed to turn up on time. Kenneth tries to relate to his son as a friend, but seems uncomfortable with his daughter. Although he’s proud of her and tries to be encouraging he forgets it’s her 16th birthday they will be celebrating and refers to her turning 15. Sandra returns wearing a red suit, which was similar to one I wanted around 1987. She is working full-time and was for late for concert, only arriving after being prompted by phone call from Kenneth, she ensures her daughter that she did see her perform and she was wonderful and should continue with music for her A’levels. This further exasperates Rose who declares that they discussed her A’levels two weeks ago! With two successful working parents the children attend public school. Besides the problems in their relationship with their children when alone the problems in their marriage emerge.  Once again it is Sandra who manipulates the conversation so that Kenneth’s accusations of her having an affair turns into a confession of his own affair. A twist underlined by his body and facial contortions as he realises his mistake! Meanwhile Rose is having her own relationship problems after Jamie repeats gossip about goings on at a party involving Rose’s boyfriend with another girl. Alcohol is used to help the adults cope with their problems. When Sandra declares they are not happy Kenneth retorts ‘Of course we’re not happy we live in Reading!’ Seeking normality he gathers the family for birthday cake. Jamie is encouraged to smoke and drink, feeling he is being treated as an adult he indulges. Eventually an unhappy Rose appears having argued with her boyfriend. A drunken Sandra brings in the lighted cake and Rose unable to blow out her candles on first blow is further annoyed as Jamie, childishly, blows them out for her. As Sandra serves the cake she announces her need to be open and honest with them, she declares the marriage unhappy and that they will be divorcing as neither of them wants to be unhappy. After all, she states, we can all die tomorrow! Kenneth looks crestfallen by her revelations, whilst Rose storms off. Jamie has slowly turned green throughout. As his parents rush upstairs to deal with Rose’s crisis Jamie puts the music back on as his face crumples into tears.

Act Three again opens with music I am not familiar with (honestly I have lived through these decades and am aware of most music).  The setting is an expensively furnished sitting room with French windows leading to a garden. Rose enters and wanders around the room continually pulling her sleeves over her hands. She is now a women. Jamie enters playing a hand-held video game. She tries to have a conversation with her brother whose exhibits problems of concentration and social engagement. He is holding down a delivery job whilst living with their father, who he describes as a mate. She is shocked they came to London but did not think to let her know. She has just come from the funeral of their Uncle, an event Jamie didn’t attend. An aged Kenneth slowly walks in, he has recently retired and is enjoying life, he’s carrying a funeral urn and is pleased to see Rose. There is still the distance between him and his daughter. He has little idea of her life and her monetary problems as he tells her about his 80 grand a year income. Sandra arrives a bit drunk, she has remarried but her husband is unwell and didn’t accompany her. She is there at Rose’s request. The crisis at the end of Act Two was Rose’s suicide attempt. Rose  outlines her life as a struggling musician, she is now thirty-eight, her boyfriend has left her for a younger woman who wants children. She accuses her parents of failing to support and guide her and demands they buy her a house. Neither Sandra nor Kenneth see her point-of-view and refuse. Exasperated she leaves to find Jamie. Whilst Kenneth wonders if Rose is right and they should do something Sandra reminisces stating ‘she saw her children standing on their shoulders and going further than them’. Kenneth isn’t listening, he is still attracted to Sandra and suggests they should, at last, travel the world like they wanted to do when they were young, after all they could die tomorrow! Amusingly he still has the old record-player and puts on ‘All you need is love’. Rose returns demanding a lift to the station to find her parents dancing absorbed in each other. Jamie walks in and smiles as he sits watching his reunited parents.

As I mentioned all actors are excellent in the play what I found usual though is that the two women’s roles were very strong parts. Another strength was the naturalness of the dialogue, which reminded me of Caryl Churchill’s play Top Girls. Unlike most plays were one actor speaks and another replies as if playing tennis, dialogue here overlaps, it’s interrupted, at times it peters out. Its delivery seems so natural that it is easy to overlook the skill of timing the actors require in order to delivery their lines in the correct place, there are no second chances on a stage.  The effect of this crossover conversations is to increase the awareness that characters, in particular Rose, are not being listened to. It also adds to audience connection, we’ve all been in similar family arguments at some time in our lives, and to the comedy. It may not come through from my above summary but this is a funny play that induces laugh aloud moments.

Although I could see, and appreciate, the social economic theme of the play I was more interested in the feminist aspect the play revealed. Sandra rides the crest of female liberation with ease. At a time when marriage was still the norm she selects a partner who will support her life choices. She puts her needs first, above her marriage and children. Realising she is unhappy she casually tears down the foundations of her life and rebuilds a life with a more suitable partner. (Kenneth has relationships but doesn’t remarry.) Believing herself to be a more liberal parent than her mother she raises her children without barriers whilst failing to meet their needs for security and support. I see echoes of Absolutely Fabulous’s Edina in Sandra; the same self-absorption, the same seeking for personal happiness, the same neglect of her children. Whilst the change in the economy has impacted on the young has the greater impact been the change of women’s position in society? Women not prepared to settle for the lives their mothers lead but follow their dreams and crave out their own careers.  Rose should be an inheritor of all her mother’s generation strove to achieve, instead she has pursued a dream that was unachievable. She has tried to live up to her parents expectations hoping for their approval. It is not only Rose that Sandra has failed. Kenneth wanted to be a travel writer yet his dream was undermined by Sandra. Conversely at the end of the play he is not unhappy with his life, ‘maybe we were lucky’ he mutters, maybe he was, maybe love is all you need, however despite telling their children they loved them their actions did not confirm this love.

Note. I remember watching Kenneth light two cigarettes by placing them in his mouth, lighting both and then passing one to Sandra. It was a common gesture in old movies and hinted at the shared intimacy between a man and a woman. With the demise of smoking I haven’t seen it for a long time. However, I can’t quite remember which Act it occurred in.  Act Two would make it a gesture Sandra ignores, whilst in Three it would reaffirm their relationship. Unfortunately I can’t go back and see play again but I would do as it is a multi-textural piece, with other themes I could explore further.


I had brought a gift from UK for Richard. For some reason I felt something was occurring backstage after the show (it was bonfire night in UK) and I handed it to usher for delivery. On leaving auditorium the combination of the large cranberry juice and the thought of a six block walk delayed our departure, so we were probably the last members of public to leave the theatre. Outside about forty women of various ages waited behind the iron hand rail. We walked pass and then paused. Seeing a waiting car I persuaded my husband to wait awhile. I had heard of ‘meet and greet’ and have met other actors, through usually one-to-one or at book signings, this felt different. Richard emerged wearing a base-ball cap which hid his face, he did not look into crowd. There was no Beatles hysteria or teenage pushing, the waiting crowd was respectful of both each other and Richard.  Richard spoke to a few members at front. I moved forward and did take a couple of photos but darkness of surroundings meant grainy images. The car door was open and I did not feel Richard was entirely comfortable. Maybe I should have brought him one of the new reflective scarves that prevent decent images of stars being captured when they’re out-and-about. I slip-slided away* without meeting him.

Walking back we discussed the various aspects of the play. My husband commented on the last Act when Richard came to the front near us and was staring into the middle distance whilst Sandra mused on the argument behind him, he startled when Sandra spoke directly to him. Recreating an instinctive body movement and making it seem natural can not be easy, it certainly impressed Chris.

Throughout the performance Richard had not just allowed his make-up and costume to convey his age but used his body and gestures to be; a keen, lively, gangly nineteen year old, a confident, successful forty year old and, finally, a greying, slightly stooped sixty year old. He was almost continuously on stage, his delayed entrances probably due to necessities of make-up and wardrobe changes.

A few days later we were in the Washington Museum of Modern Art looking at a picture of the late Marilyn Monroe. This had been taken by the late Richard Avedon, with her permission. She had just come off set from during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, instead of the vibrant Marilyn we are familiar with here she is drained of emotion, she is tired and vulnerable with no persona to hide behind. She has given her all to the take and has nothing left to give at this point.

*Slip sliding away is Paul Simon song released in 1982. It was not used in play.

Note. I am writing this at 4am in the morning as I’m suffering the effects of jet-lag. After all the time changes my body has decided my sleep time is 9am till 3pm, which at this time of year is main daylight time. The whole stateside experience was enjoyable but intense. I am really glad this play was a part of it.