On the business of dying, and living.
I’m so sad about Victoria Wood’s death. She was one of my idols, and I went to see her perform live three times, the first back in the early eighties when we were both a lot younger, where, from my precious stalls seat, an unbreakable connection was made.
I laughed that night. So much. Till my sides properly ached. And continued to do so, along with millions of others, at – and this is really quite something, when you think about it – everything she subsequently wrote or did. She just drew people in, didn’t she? With her talent. With her person. With some magical quality that is probably impossible to define, yet almost all of us instantly recognise. You saw (you will continue to see) any trailer with Victoria Wood in it, and you were drawn in, like a moth to a flame.
That’s a rare thing. And, God, Sixty two is no age to die, is it? Yet her flame has been snuffed, even so. Along with what feels like a tidal wave of others. It’s been a bad year, this, for death, has it not? Only April yet death is so much on our collective mind. As it would be, because we’ve already lost so many.
I’ve joked on social media. I should really find a new set of friends. Adolescents – no, pubescents, just to extend the safety margin. Just so that slew of depressing posts is no more. Shiny, happy friends, who’d be wide eyed, unlined, and untroubled. Victoria who? Ronnie who? David who? (David WHAT?). Alan who? Sorry – Motorhead? That’s a band, right? Sorry, no.
The future for the living tends to loom in that way. My mum, eighty five, eighty six in a matter of weeks now, goes to funerals as often as I go to Waitrose.
“How’s your day been?”
“Oh, not too bad. Went to art class, then a funeral.” (When she starts going as often as I go to Lidl I’ll be on to the Queen, because she’ll obviously be due her telegram.)
And its not just all the death, it’s all the illness. This creaks and that leaks, and it really presses the point home when my sister, when we’re chatting about a forthcoming holiday, quips, “I’m so excited I’m going to have to find a Tenalady!”
Though, amusingly, my other sister, who lives in California, had to ask what she meant, because she doesn’t even know what a Tenalady is. Mind you, that’s not just about international branding. She’s not had kids. I think kindest to leave her in her ignorance. Or perhaps head to YouTube, where it would doubtless be the work of moments to find some sparkling piece of comedy on precisely that subject by who else but the irreplaceable Victoria Wood?
I hate to bang on, because I don’t want to spoil your breakfast. But sixty two. It keeps haunting me. It’s no age to die, is it? Yet so many, famous or otherwise, all cherished, all missed, are snatched from us before either they or we are ready.
Which is why I’m mindful of my maternal grandfather, who I never met, much less knew, because he died in his forties, just after the end of the war. In his case, via a brain haemorrhage, caused – or so goes the family lore – by hitting his head on a Belisha beacon while walking down the street with my mum, and pointing out that there were oranges in the greengrocers.
My mum was twelve, and she still cries to think of all she missed with him, but, more happily, has spent a lifetime reminding us of his wisdom. One mantra – live for today, and bugger tomorrow – has always been the go-to line in discussions with my bank manager. And though he shouldn’t agree, and has been called upon to help me out of many resultant financial scrapes, I can see in his eyes that he does.
And the other one is my grandad’s version of a poem:
‘I shall pass through this world just once.
Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, let me do it now,
For I shall not pass this way again.’
As a child, I’ll admit, I found those few lines somewhat daunting. Those few lines from a granddad, never known, but much missed. Like Victoria Wood, taken much too soon.
But, sad that death makes me, increasingly I realise that contemplating our own is the only way to truly live.
First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, April 23rd 2016