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In February Dad had to go into hospital and he spent some weeks there. Because Mum could not be left at home on her own, my brother and I came to be with them both; one of us at the hospital, the other at home. I’d sit with Dad for about five hours each day. We sat together chatting or in comfortable silence. He would be sitting on the chair next to his bed, the smartest dressed man on the ward as the hospital staff would often comment, and when he became tired he would lean gently forward and close his eyes. Anyone would think he was asleep but for the slight smile I’d see on his lips. What he was doing was listening. Listening to the snatches of conversations between staff and patients, staff with staff, patients with other patients, and patients and their visitors. Not only that, but he’d be listening to every phone ringing, every alarm bleeping, every machine buzzing. The life of the hospital was all there behind his closed eyes.

This was so typical of Dad, a man who was endlessly interested in everything going on around him: in his family, in the communities he belonged to, and in the political and social life of this country and the wider world.

Some years ago, we were having Christmas Day lunch in a restaurant. My partner took a photo on his mobile phone of us all and sent it to a couple of our friends in America whom Mum and Dad had met previously in person when they had visited the UK for a holiday. Minutes later the Americans sent back a photo of themselves. Dad just couldn’t get over the wonder of this, of how technology joins up two sides of the world in an instant. When he had a stent inserted into an artery, he watched his whole operation live on a monitor in the hospital operating theatre. Life has changed so rapidly for us all in the past couple of decades, but Dad always kept himself informed and up-to-date on science and technology even though life changed beyond imagining in his lifetime.

As much as he was fascinated by what mankind has achieved, he never forgot the unsung individuals who created what we have and see around us. One of Mum and Dad’s favourite television programmes was Inspector Montalbano, filmed in Sicily, in towns nestling in mountains dominated by monumental 17th and 18th century buildings. Dad didn’t just marvel at their beauty but wondered about the men who had built the towns, the conditions they had worked in and the tools they had used. Looking at a mobile phone he would wonder about the components it is made of; who had made the individual parts and who had put them all together. His mind was fascinated by all levels of invention and creation.

Dad was an engineer, and I am not. Superficially our interests were very different. I read novels and play the piano and did a degree in Drama, but both Mum and Dad opened the world up to me during my childhood. I play the piano because they bought me a piano, I read novels because they gave me access to Harrogate Library, I work in the theatre because they took me to the Harrogate Theatre. We had holidays in London and I saw many plays and musicals in the West End. We saw Richard Briers in a play, and Mum and Dad took me to the stage door afterwards to see him. He came out long after the rest of the cast, apologising profusely for us having to wait for him, much to Dad’s amusement, We also saw what is now an iconic production of Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre when I was 18. We sat at the side of the Olivier auditorium right behind the band, and Dad was delighted by the bass player who appeared to nod off between musical numbers and then jump to attention the second he had to play. When we were on holiday near Stratford-upon-Avon and they took me to see a Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I remember Dad rocking with uncontrollable laughter. I now realise is was a young Richard Griffiths who made him laugh so much. They took me on holidays all over England, Wales and Scotland visiting castles and large houses, wildlife areas and anything of interest.

Amother way Dad believed in broadening life’s experiences was by changing jobs regularly. He broke away from a potential life down the mines, and later gained a degree in Maths from the Open University. After getting my own degree, they waved goodbye to me as I took up just a month’s job at the Victoria Palace theatre in London operating a followspot, Now, thinking back, I can’t imagine the pulling and pushing emotions they must have felt. I’ve lived in London ever since. When I gave up a later career in teaching and took up a part time job in a West End theatre last year (history repeating itself) I thought he would be disappointed in me. But he wasn’t at all. He could see how tough teaching is and wanted me to leave it. Mum’s hearing declined and I started to write a weekly letter to them both. Dad loved my letters and said they should be published. He has them all filed neatly in a box. He was fascinated by my descriptions of the repeated but ever changing nightly performances, of life backstage and the actors and theatre staff I work with. He became interested in the business of theatre, how it’s run, where the money comes from that sets a production going, and how it then makes money. And he also cared about the people working in it, asking me regularly if the shows had good audiences. He understood both how precarious and how exciting it is..

Dad always said he was lucky in his career, by which he defined his life. He said so often he was in the right place at the right time. In his last month he began telling his life story in terms of his working life. It was his way of telling my brother and me to nurture contacts and connections, to think about the people around us, to keep an eye out for opportunities and take them when they come. I don’t think Dad was lucky. I think he was valued and cared for by the people he met in life. He was given opportunities because he proved himself, he worked hard and diligently, he was kind and respectful. He was always learning, always questioning. He was a true life force: reflective, full of wisdom and advice, and simply one of the funniest people I have known, Dad questioned everything, swam against the tide and was always true to himself.


Dad died this morning and his suffering is over.

He helped build the engine of this plane.


I’ve updated WordPress manually without destroying the laptop or shouting at anyone.

Staying Alive

I’m sharing an edited quote of a letter sent to The Times newspaper. Some of you know what I am going through at the moment. The writer has written the letter after learning that a study is saying that if we give everyone in their later years statins, we could be saving thousands more lives. His next sentences encapsulate my current life experience.

It is, however, not possible to “save 8,000 lives a year”, but only possible to delay the death of 8.000 patients each year, at best. Would I rather die of a heart attack or stroke in my active late 70s or 80s, or have my life prolonged in order to die of cancer or slowly suffer decrepitude in a care home when my other systems are no longer able to sustain an independent life?

My parents are both in their 90s. My mother has 24 hour care (at the moment by my brother and myself far from our home and working lives, but previously by my father) as she dies of nothing but old age. She is almost completely deaf and does not speak. She is isolated in a world of silence. My father is in hospital and I found out this week he has cancer of the mouth. This man has loved to eat and talk all his life and continues to do so.

My heart is in pieces and I am totally powerless to do anything,

Quote (s)

I’ve never yet met a man who could look after me. I don’t need a husband. What I need is a wife.

Joan Collins

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.


Nobody’s Songs

I’ve let this blog slip rather. I’m not sure why. I’ve written two plays – well I am just finishing up a second one. Written straight out of my head onto the page so it’s a bit strange. The other one I completed some time ago is out and about. It’s a waiting game as places that take unsolicited submissions are snowed under, so it usually takes a matter of months to hear back.

That aside I have been keeping a sort of journal for some time now. It’s intended as a spewing forth of whatever comes between brain and pen but inevitably a lot of it is “what I did yesterday.” But that’s a good record, especially at a difficult time. My mind feels like a sieve.

Thirdly the majority of what I have to write about is private. It concerns my parents and I know they would be utterly horrified if I was describing their lives to the world. So it’s hard to know what to write.

I’m working on a great show: Songs For Nobodies. It’s performed by Bernadette Robinson and written by Joanne Murray-Smith (who also wrote Switzerland, a play about Patricia Highsmith I was previously working on). It’s a series of five monologues, by five different fictional ordinary women (the Nobodies of the title) who each briefly (fictionally) encounter five great singers; Garland, Callas, Piaf, Holiday and Cline. Robinson not only acts the monologues, each in a different accent, but then sings in the style of the five singers. It’s an extraordinary performance on so many levels, and she does it night after night after night. Murray-Smith is a writer who looks at the world and its people from a slightly sidelong perspective. I’ve seen three of her plays and and her quiet wisdom in her perception and portrayals of people stay with me. She writes a lot about women and her portrayals are deceptively simple. She writes with warmth and compassion, but she writes about flaws and failings. Her plays aren’t dazzling. They are quiet but they get under the skin of their characters and bring to life humanity on stage.

But added to that are the musical numbers. Robinson has a three piece band behind her, a simple set and no costume change (though lots of lighting changes – I’m busy), and yet with her voice and simple gestures brings the spirit of the five great performers to life on stage. For the minutes of each song she does “become” the performers. And she needs to because this is a play about the extraordinary people who have fame, and of those who don’t, but are still extraordinary. Of how a small act can change a person’s life. Of how we do not know the stories of people we are quick to judge. But for me there is still a lingering air of melancholy about each mould-breaking singer. Each one died too soon. Each one fought physical and mental battles to be who they were in a (man’s) world that is afraid of mould-breakers. It was their unhappiness perhaps that made them great, and then destroyed them.


Copyright MrBert


Firstly to wish you all a healthy and productive year ahead, and thank you for staying along with this ride which has been rather more intermittent than I would like. But I have got a lot of writing done this year: a play (and now onto a second one), handwritten letters home each week to my parents, a Newsletter to the lovely team on Beginning, and a fairly regular handwritten journal/stream of consciousness.

Despite the sadnesses of illness and deaths this year I have one very big celebration. My job on Beginning at the beginning (haha) of 2018. Turned my life around and put me back where I started and where I am at my happiest – the theatre. It was the most beautiful play written by a man of such generosity of spirit and kindness, I am in his debt (and probably owe him a pint). It is a rare thing to work in a team of people so in tune with each other, and indeed generosity and kindness abounded throughout the whole run. And of course it meant I met Wilson.MThen in February my wonderful Mother-In -Law died. I still can’t believe she’s gone. Then my aunt, who was so important to me in my childhood. And now my beloved parents are reaching the end of their lives. Mum is peaceful and happy. My Dad is broken, though a lot because of exhaustion through lack of sleep. I never thought I’d see him like this. His thirst for life, his curiosity, his humour and his love of food are all gone. He has handed over the care of his wife of 70 years to strangers, and his purpose has gone, his home no longer his own. Part of me is angry with him ofr seemingly giving up, but I know gentleness and kindness are needed now.

My family and friends are giving me so much love and support. For all the transience of the theatre I have met people who stay in my heart Kindness abounds around me. I may be living day to day with uncertainty as a hard master, but I have a good life and no regrets. Everything will be all right. And I’ve just thrown my tea all over the train table. Again.

3. Christmas 2018 (Quote)

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?

Bob Hope

2. Christmas 2018