Idle Eye 79 : The Ashes

In the summer of 1992, I wrote a song for a young lady I was rather keen on who had returned to Australia, never to revisit to these shores. I was in my twenties, addicted to the romantic impossibility of the situation and, no doubt, getting off on its Byronic agony. The song was called ‘The Ashes’, and it allowed me the juxtaposition of an obvious cricketing analogy with what it might have been like to scatter the metaphorical chattels of our torn relationship across her homeland. I finished it with this:

Take back the Ashes, Jane
Cup them in your hands
Throw them in the face of my jealousy
and out across your land
And when the dust comes down again
blackened by the English rain
A hundred thousand miles will disappear
I can see it all from here…

I bring this up because yesterday Nibs, myself and my two sisters did the real thing. Not with the subject of the above, I hasten to add: I gather she is alive and well and enjoying life to the hilt. No, this was with the earthly remains of our father, who made it back to his cherished home inside a rather fetching purple box. Together with a neatly typed tag stating the exact moment of his departure: I think he would have approved.

It was one of life’s stranger moments, carrying around what was left of the man responsible for putting us on the planet as if we were sticking him out for the recycling. Which, in a curious way, I suppose we were. And, during the memorial service, the vicar bigged up his love of animals and suggested we scatter his beloved dog, Annie (who was in a carrier bag at the top of the stairs) at the same time. Sort of a BOGOF deal, I guess. So, fuelled by a bottle of 1990 Dom Perignon, we charged a small trinket with bits of dog and bits of Dad and threw them out across the Welsh valley that was the commanding view from his garden. Everyone had a go, said a quick goodbye and then we poured what was left into the brook that ran through it. It felt right and proper, particularly after a few more sherbets.

Now, alcohol and cremated fathers are traditionally not the most comfortable of bedfellows although, God knows, we did our best. Perhaps if we had known there was an incoming wind, we may have chosen our moment more carefully: We did not. Perhaps he was reluctant to leave: We ignored this. Let’s just say that to the outside eye, when the bags were empty and we sat together enjoying fine wine and nibbles, it must have looked like an Egyptologist’s lunch break. So bless you, Dad, you pretty much got what you wanted: 80% back to nature, 20% stubborn stain. Excellent odds, I reckon, and certainly enough to get you through them gates. See you on the flipside xx

Idle Eye 72 : The Next One

Being the offspring of a much-loved actor brings with it its own unique yet contradictory set of rules: You kind of choose the ones which seem to be most appropriate as you go. One minute you’re getting a guilty kick from all the reflected glory, the next you’re on the receiving end of astonishingly articulate and targeted cruelty. But don’t worry, it’s not real. He didn’t mean it. But somewhere along the line you have to second-guess which one is authentic and accept, for good or for bad, that that is the man. Then you try to love him: Not always as easy as it sounds.

You see, the problem with the profession is that in order to be good at it, you have to learn all the little tricks that allow you to successfully transform the nucleus of self into the embryonic form that lies within the script. And when you get better at it, these boundaries get blurred. Indeed, it is widely considered to be at the top echelons of achievement if you can pull this off. Which is fine within these confines, less so when the cameras have stopped rolling and the adulation on tap goes home for the night. Perhaps then, you introduce a little of the artifice into the domestic environment to keep the high going. And if it feels good, you introduce a little more. And slowly, very slowly, you begin to lose the very fabric that constitutes your true original.

For many actors, the above is a conscious choice: The Frankencharacters they create are often preferable to the reality deep within. But somewhere in there, they know what they’re doing and if they’re honest, they don’t much like themselves for it. The ennui this throws up needs an outlet, usually in the form of loved ones inside their immediate orbit as they will inevitably be the most forgiving. However, as any other child or spouse of someone in this process will tell you, it is the glimpse of authenticity we crave, however fleeting. Something concrete. Something honest. Otherwise who (or what) do we mourn when they go?

On Tuesday, we sent my Dad off to the Next One. First, in solemnity, at Mortlake Crematorium, and afterwards with a glass at the Idle Hour which Nibs closed for the wake. And it occurred to me, as I tried to keep a handle on contradictory emotions and maintain the kind of decorum expected of a firstborn, that I may have been doing exactly the same. That I was playing the role (rather well, in fact), instead of actually feeling it. And there was a moment in the garden when I looked around at the assorted guests and realised that the sum of those present did indeed make up the whole of the man: Everyone there represented a small strand, as did I, and that’s exactly how he chose to leave it. But a part of me will always yearn for the core. Even now.