One year later: more thoughts about my father

One year ago today, which happened to be Easter Day, my father Clive Brown died aged 82 in the early hours of the morning. I have written about this in three previous blogs – “48 Hours: my father and I“, “48 Hours: postscript” and “That Was The Year That Was“. But, if you will indulge me, I have a few more thoughts to offer on this poignant anniversary.

It is a truism to say that time passes more quickly as one gets older but the past year seems to have raced along. Perhaps it is to do with being “over the hill”, a phrase meaning past one’s best which is not heard so much these days (maybe because I am older people whisper the words out of my earshot). Anyway, if I am “over the hill” and careering out of control down the other side that might explain time rushing by.

In a previous blog – “It wouldn’t be a show without Punch” – I recorded some of my late mother’s expressions but I would also like to recall a few of my father’s favourite sayings.

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One of my favourite photographs of my parents, Mary & Clive Brown

Two of his regulars were “muck or nettles” and “all hair and teeth”. The first means “all or nothing”, though I have no idea why, and the second indicates a particularly lively situation, for example, a frantic and barely-under-control football match.

He also liked to refer to a situation being “a right schmozzle”, meaning chaotic. I understand schmozzle is of Hebrew or Yiddish origin and I once surprised an Israeli work colleague when, without thinking, I used the word. I don’t know where my father got it from, perhaps it was common parlance when he was young or perhaps he picked it up during his National Service in the Army.

When I was a small child my father sang in a male voice choir and he continued to enjoy choral music throughout his life. But his favourite genre was West End, Broadway and film musicals. He loved going to see musicals and I chose the Prologue, or Carousel Waltz, from Carousel, performed by the John Wilson Orchestra, as the music at the end of his funeral service. He also loved watching this orchestra when they appeared on TV from the BBC Proms.

I used to reflect how a few years’ difference in date of birth could have made a big difference to my slightly old-fashioned, though fairly enlightened, father. He was born in August 1933. Less than 18 months later, in January 1935, along came Elvis Presley and just five years or so after that John Lennon was born. They helped pioneer a form of music which largely passed my father by.

But, of course, it is not just when we are born which governs what we like or dislike. The society and family around us, our own peculiar tastes, are probably more important. Being born a few years later would not have made my father a rocker.

He was a big consumer of TV programmes, particularly live football (especially Arsenal) and political programmes.

In terms of reading, it was mostly biographies and autobiographies (of historical, political, newspaper and sporting characters) and railway books – but definitely not fiction. Fiction was something of a blindspot for my father, he could not see the point of reading made-up stories when there were so many real stories to read.

I would like to close with some passages from one of the letters I received after my father died last year. You may know that his last job before retirement was Editor of the Spalding Guardian and of the Lincolnshire Free Press, two local newspapers in Spalding, South Holland (south Lincolnshire) which were effectively operated as a twice-weekly.

The letter I have in mind came from someone who was a journalist in the same company, but not at the same newspaper. She made some fascinating observations in her thoughtful and heartfelt letter.

Not everything she wrote struck me as true but we all have different experiences of people – for example, she felt he was reluctant to allow others “access to his treasure of experience and talent.” I would have thought differently, but I did not work for or with him.

But among her observations which ring true about his approach to journalism and work…

“Clive’s often inscrutable responses were a breath of fresh air when set against sometimes fawning contributions from individuals desperate to succeed in the cut-throat world of print publishing.”

“He did not suffer fools and hilariously described one [company] director, for whom he had no time whatsoever, as ‘Being at the back of the queue when couth was handed out’.”

“He consummately detested all things ‘corporate’…”

“He largely loathed”… “experimental promotional ideas”.

“His talent as a shrewd and eloquent newsman always shone brightly.”

“Unquestionably his own man, he commanded the Spalding Guardian by the shrewd application of qualities that made newspapers successful at the time: honesty, integrity and accuracy delivered with a genuine attempt at social responsibility and true reader value.”

Graham Brown

48 Hours: postscript

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My father Clive Brown when he was Editor of the Lincolnshire Free Press (image: Lincolnshire Free Press)

In my previous post, “48 Hours: my father and I”, I wrote about the unexpected death of my father in hospital on Easter Sunday. I had travelled to Lincolnshire to care for him on his expected release from hospital but that was not how it worked out.This post adds some thoughts on what happened in the following days and weeks.

At times it can seem as if this world is full of bad people doing awful things to each other but this period in my life demonstrated again how people can be wonderful. I was helped by friends, family, neighbours and my father’s South Holland Rotary Club chums. And I received many cards, phone calls and messages with words of love and support.

My father, Clive, was aged 82 and retired. His last job was as Editor of the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian newspapers, which are run as a twice-weekly newspaper. The photograph at the top of this blog was taken, I believe, when he converted the Free Press from broadsheet to tabloid format – how delighted he looks with his work.

One of the first calls I received after my father passed away was from the newspaper, apologising for disturbing me but asking for help in producing a tribute article. The journalist, Lynne Harrison, was patient and sympathetic and did a super job despite clearly having many calls on her time. You can read the online version of her article.

In order to help Lynne I visited the office with a selection of photographs of my father for possible inclusion with the article. I met Denise Vickers, the Editor’s Secretary, who had worked with my father, and we chatted about him while she took copies of the pictures.

While I was there a strange thought came into my mind…

“I have told family, friends and neighbours about my father’s passing, and now I am in the newspaper office helping produce an article about him for everyone to read. But all this is based on what I’ve said after that fateful night in the hospital.. What if I imagined it all, got it wrong somehow, and Dad didn’t pass away…”

There were other unreal events. The funeral directors asked if I wanted to view my father, or, perhaps I should say, my father’s body. I said yes because it seemed the right thing to do. And so, one morning, I went to town to see him.

I was ushered into a private room and there he was in the coffin, in the smart suit, tie and shoes Kathie had found for him to be dressed in. To be truthful, the tie had a food stain on it but it was the tie that matched the suit so my wife Kathie Touin and I had decided it would be ok – the stain would be hidden by his jacket, and my father was known for spilling so it seemed appropriate, a little joke between the three of us.

I think he would also have been amused because people’s appearance does change after death and, although this was clearly my father, he reminded me of an old Soviet leader lying in state.

I thanked him for all that he had done for me, and all that we had done together.

The vicar,  Rev David Sweeting, was brilliant. As so often happens these days, my father was no longer a church-goer and David did not know him. But he spent an afternoon at the house asking questions about my father. And, helped by some articles my father wrote, which Kathie had found, David produced a service and a tribute which captured his spirit really well.

Anyone who has been through a bereavement of a second parent will no doubt say, as I discovered, that it is an incredibly busy time. There were constant decisions to be made, letters and emails to write, phone calls to make, about the funeral, the house, the contents, the bank accounts, insurance policies, pensions, power supplies. It was exhausting.

Kathie was worried that folk would think we were sorting the affairs with undue haste. But living as we do more than 600 miles away, and across the water, we were not in a position to constantly pop back to the house. Besides, I think there is something to be said for sorting affairs promptly and allowing yourself to get on with your life.

It is not as if my father and my mother, Mary, who died in 2001, do not feature in my life here in Orkney. Several times a day I think of funny occasions we shared, or places we went together, or my parents’ sayings and habits.

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McAdie & Reeve’s removals lorry and trailer outside my father’s house (image: Graham Brown)

And Kathie and I sent back to Orkney a collection of paintings and pictures, photographs, books, papers, ornaments, knick-knacks, a Welsh dresser and two large model railway locomotives. Seeing the removal lorry – and trailer – from Orkney which manoeuvred through a housing estate of narrow and curved roads, and parked cars, to my father’s house was impressive.

Incidentally, a word on our removals company, McAdie & Reeve – they seem to have a removals lorry out and about around the UK every week. The driver makes multiple calls and gradually the lorry and trailer are filled up with a staggering variety of goods. On the run to pick up our goods from Lincolnshire he was also collecting, among many other things, specialist cement, a gate and fine art from London.

As it happened the lorry which called at my father’s has a distinctive registration and we were able to identify it as the same vehicle which moved Kathie and I, well, our possessions, from London to Orkney in 2010.

Oh yes, the house. We chose an estate agent while we were still in Lincolnshire and it was sold to the first people to view. The legal side went through relatively quickly to completion – something of a relief in these uncertain economic times. It is strange to think of other people being in the house, but also good to know that someone is caring for the property and making their plans and futures there.

Once I got back to Orkney I was thrown into a busy period – the centenary of the loss of HMS Hampshire and 737 men was approaching and I was a volunteer with the project to create a new memorial wall. For more please see our project blog.

Then after a brief break I was booked to work for a month at the RSPB’s office in Stromness, about nine miles from where I live. It is the longest period I have spent in a formal work situation since leaving the BBC in London in early 2010.

The gardening has suffered this year because I have been away from the house so much but we will catch up later in the year – or, more realistically, next year.

Kathie and I – with our dog Roscoe – have just taken a welcome weekend break which will be the subject of my next blog.

But for now I want to say thank you to everyone for helping at my time of loss – for the letters, cards, emails, telephone calls, kind words, meals, visits, invitations to homes and events, practical help, helping honour my father’s memory, the list goes on.

Thank you.

Graham Brown