No recovery, and certain death: the joyous message of the last Friday in January

One sort of knows the world has gone entirely mad when a bank warns against the consequences of recovery, but that’s what Bank of America did yesterday. Any ‘unexpected growth’ that hadn’t been factored in, said BoA, could very easily cause the bonds market to crash. This would mean most Western sovereigns being left unable to sell debt, and thus being rendered literally bankrupt, as opposed to technically insolvent. It’s the sort of result that makes a debt ceiling academic, because the bailiffs are in da house removing all the furniture, the walls, and the ceiling.

There is no end to the bonkers cart-before-horse illogicality of all this: ‘we mustn’t have any growth because that’ll call in the US debt, remove any chance of future bailouts, make bankers even less willing to lend money, crash the Eurozone, wipe out half of Wall Street, leave no money for business capital, and make a recovery impossible’. Whatever you do, don’t start a recovery, or else recovery will be impossible. This is expansive neocon genius in full bloom. I am awestruck.

Such is the nature of our species now. Everything used to be a matter life or death, but is now become death or death. That’s the thing with laissez-faire economics: it’s all about choice. But for me, most of today was going to be about death anyway. Today was about the ritual of a final goodbye to Dad.

My brother and sister-in-law flew in from San Francisco to meet a blizzard at Birmingham airport, then woke up the next day to find eight inches of snow. I drove up from Devon to find the same thing, only it was turning into ice. All along the M5 and M42, ominous signs forecast ‘Severe weather warning tomorrow’. I wondered what this severe weather warning might be, and why we weren’t allowed to know it today. Perhaps it was another can being kicked down the road, and driving up the M6 the following day we’d read ‘Boils and brimstone, follow diversion signs’.

In the event, the heroes at the Met Office were wrong, yet again. As we got to the funeral home, sure enough flakes of snow were blowing about unenthusiastically and it was close to freezing: but there’s something about such places that engenders a sense of cold anyway. Everything is still, the faces are grave, the voices whisper as if the dead might indeed wake up, and the syntax is unfailingly odd.

“I’m Neil,” said the man in black, “and I’ll be looking after your Dad today”. You’re a bit late chum, he’s been dead three weeks. No, don’t say that Ward, you pillock. I smiled as if reassured, nodded, and then went back to the car to await the hearse.

As we got to the crematorium and the coffin emerged atop four large blokes, I had a pin-sharp painful moment of realising that the cadaver inside used to be my father. The bloke who took me to St Annes beach as a kid, to Old Trafford of a Saturday, to Liverpool for my first term as a student, and to the local car showroom to hammer the car salesman into the ground on the price of my first car – a green 1965 Mark II Mini, BKU 351C. He wanted £275, but Pop did battle royal, and I got it for 240.

Then the small moment and flash of memories were gone, replaced instead by a briefing from Neil, who brought more information about the mechanics of death: the white button at the podium was to close the curtains, the black one to restart the music. We all filed in to the stark secularity of the departure hall, and awkwardly took our seats. Mike my brother and I said a few words, some nervous giggles were raised by tales of my occasionally truculent Dad, and the curtains closed just as the Pastoral Symphony faded up on cue.

There were no clergy present. Our family is so irreligious now, not even humanist ministers (surely an obvious oxymoron) are allowed a look-in. Pop had engaged in so many arguments with the Catholic church over the four decades before he finally gave up on it in frustration, it seemed churlish to incur his posthumous wrath by allowing a priest any say in things at this late stage. Indeed, it is a tribute to my father’s rationalism and mule-like stubbornness that, despite being taught up to the age of eleven by monks to believe in an afterlife even more terrifying than pushing the Sons of Nippon out of Burma, he was willing to cock a snook at Rome (and suffer multiple excommunication) rather than admit his protestant wife would burn a heathen in Hell. “Don’t be such a daft bugger” was his riposte to a Monsignor’s last-ditch attempt to persuade him of this in 1961. Martin Luther had nothing on my Dad.

I was proud of him. We all were. We argued with him, got ticked off for being amoral, drunk, and several other symptoms of growth into maturity, groaned at his corny jokes, fought his fascist tendencies, and hugged him quite a bit as he became more frail. He was – and remained – a man with a waspish tongue and an Irish temper, but the heart of a razor-sharp comic. The saddest feature of his Alzheimers for me was watching him become frightened: there can be little more terrifying for a first class mind than knowing you’re losing it.

I cannot help but retain a sense of resentment that such a fine brain was denied a full education on the grounds of poverty and social class. There is a destructive shower in our Establishment today well on the way to restoring those obstacles – thanks to an injudicious oil-and-water dressing of cod Labour equality and bigoted Tory elitism. Equality of opportunity and equality before the law are being lost, and I’m relieved that my father’s cognition dimmed before that became clear.

After the final curtain had closed, we went back to Dad’s last home, a private care establishment in Blackpool, for chilli, rice and other goodies put out by his carer Beth. Beth works her backside off ensuring her charges live and die with dignity. Her husband runs the financial and marketing side of the business, but still manages to be a fireman as well. He is, literally, covered in burns from dicing with death over the years. When bankers burn their fingers, there are no scars – but they still get that bonus. With firemen, it’s the other way round. For those who don’t accept that our current model of capitalism is obscenely barking, that’s the most mordant critique I can offer you.

So we drove away from the North West, and into the driving rain of a steady thaw that the previous evening had been billed as an arctic white-out. This may well be the last time I pass this way, because all the Walls and Wards that began life in 1910 are now no more. I’m loathe to admit it, but the dominant emotion was relief: not at their passing, but at never again having to look upon what the Lancashire of my childhood has become.

Blackpool people are as warm, friendly and funny as they ever were. So are Liverpudlians and the vast majority of Mancunians. But their cities, towns and neighbourhoods look like war zones these days. Four decades of social bollocks, educational drivel and economic selfishness have replaced individual depth with mass trivia, justified reward with cynical beads, and real communities with Facebook facility. I know how easily Southerners slip into It’s grim oop North parodies, but they wear thin as things go from daft to tragic. It is an obvious truism I know, but were Parliament based in Preston rather than Westminster, t’would not be thus.

It’s time we had more than a choice between different forms of extinction. And the time is coming when the decent but distracted Brits will at last begin to grasp this.

Earlier at The Slog: A War of Words

 

30 thoughts on “No recovery, and certain death: the joyous message of the last Friday in January

  1. Thank you, John.

    It’s less to do with longevity than how much we cram into our allotted span. And I rather suspect that your father lived life to the full.

    My dearest chum of these last fifty years is currently fighting for his life in a hospital having lost everything in a house fire. I am sadder than I can say because the omens are not good, but by heaven, he has lived the lives of three others … and I rather suspect that he will be regaling me with a vastly embellished version of this latest brush with the grim reaper over a tincture or two in a few months. Bloody hope so.

  2. it is a shame you feel the way you do about Lancashire,because the decline of Lancashire & the North in general runs parallel with the decline of Britain ,Your father stood fast when he felt he was right,he must surely have been proud of you & your brother

  3. I am sorry to read about your sad loss. Although they are old and ill but it is still a loss when they die and death is never acceptable.

    The message from BoA is incredible especially since David Cameron is privatising the Royal Mail and called in the BoA. What are they thinking of?

  4. Eat, drink and be merry, for there has never been a reason not to do so, more than ever now. The lunatics are taking it to the wire, they have nothing to lose any more. We, on the other hand, have more to lose, do they care? Not a jot.

  5. My condolences. I understand very well, having been through the same experience. Whatever one’s belief in the afterlife, the biological reality is your father lives on in you as you will in your children. The point of our struggle is to live up to what our father gave us, and transmit to our children the strength and courage to do the same. I am sure your father would have been very proud of your blog, your views, and your articulate defiance. Keep your chin up and keep up the good work.

  6. John,
    I never realised how much we had in common. My father was also an Irish Catholic who married a protestant but has been dead over 30 years. I grew up in Lytham St-Annes (Ansdell) and still have a home there in South Shore. I wonder if it was near your father?

    We share a lot on this wonderful site but I can’t claim to know how you feel. The pain of deceased loved ones never goes away but it starts to hurt less.

    About all we can hope for in these times.

  7. Condolences on your loss. When a loved one has suffered such a decline, it is often a relief in the end; there’s no shame in that.

  8. I think the saddest thing about parents passing away is the realisation we are no longer somebody’s child.
    Hopefully the best part of our parents lives on through us. Either by following their example or avoiding their mistakes.

    • It is a really big deal when you become an orphan -at any age.
      A lot of folks get derailed when you lose that notional bulwark of your folks always being there to look after you, forgive you, or love you for all your faults.

  9. Please accept my heartfelt condolences JW. You were lucky, if I may say so, to have him around so long. I lost both of mine when barely 30, & miss them still.
    As for your last sentence, I do fervently hope that you are right, it’s been a long time coming, but that won’t matter so long as it arrives.

  10. Condolences for the loss of your father but remember this is the generation that did it all and the way they are treated is the biggest stain on our country in my opinion.

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