Posts Tagged ‘Death’

We’ve just witnessed a seismic event in our national history; I’m fairly certain of that. The Grenfell Tower disaster will be talked about for weeks, and written about for decades. The working classes, who have generally been patronised, written off and demonised by the media and establishment since Thatcher’s day, have a voice again, but only in the aftermath of a delirious nightmare come true.


You cannot listen to any of the residents’ stories without welling up with grief or fury at the injustice of this catastrophe. Mothers throwing children from high-rise windows; frantic narrow escapes involving vaulting over piles of corpses; trapped people screaming in desperation as death enveloped them. This must have been as close to a manifestation of Hell as the human mind could conceive.


Safe in my family postwar council home, I got up and watched the news footage in genuine astonishment. My first thought, other than horror at the people caught in the nightmare, was the intensity and scale of the inferno. How could a modern building be so consumed so quickly? Even my modest knowledge of fire prevention told me that fires do not spread like that unless there is an accelerant involved; certainly not if there are sprinklers or fire retardant material on every floor. The reports confirm the first response team arrived a mere six minutes after the alarm was raised, and yet the building was absolutely engulfed from the fourth to top floors as it was still being battled, and took hours to bring under control.


People disparaging any mention of political decisions (and ideologies) in the context of this horror are disrespecting every victim of this utterly avoidable tragedy. A few things swirled around my mind when the wretched scene had sunk in; was this another case of neglect from private companies cutting corners on safety in tower blocks not meant for affluent residents? Subsequent reports heavily imply that recent refurbishment seemed to concentrate more on making the outside of the building more pleasing to the eye of the wealthy denizens across the way, than ensuring every floor had basic fire prevention and safety measures implemented. It was also revealed that a resident group’s previous warnings were ignored. Perhaps some zealous ministers will think twice about using their favoured “bonfire of red tape” idiom from now on, for this is ‘deregulation culture’ writ large.


The disgusting irony of that phrase in this context also brings to mind former London Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to close numerous London fire stations, as well as telling a critic of this policy to “get stuffed” in his own trademark infantile manner. Boris himself is of course renowned for blowing over £320k on water cannons that were later declared illegal and had to be sold unused; the notion that water jets should be used to protect citizens from the worst effects of devastating conflagrations apparently less desirable than using them to potentially blind protestors to the corpulent gibbon.


Neoliberalism should have been laid to rest in 2008, when the inevitable culmination of its ideology in the finance sector saw it bring the world economy to its knees. But then Cameron and his coalition of chaos decided to apply defibrillation, and its zombie version rose to begin cannibalising the few aspects of the system that could be seen as remotely positive. Jeremy Corbyn’s success in the snap election has cast a shadow over its immediate future, but this disaster should be the last rites for this sickening cult of individualism, corporate greed and abdication of state responsibility to its people.


Ten years ago today I woke up to an unsettling series of noises. Sometimes one can be roused entirely discombobulated and take many seconds to acquaint themselves with realities like their day and location, but I almost felt like a spy woken from his refuge in the cargo hold of a particularly dodgy vessel by the sound of approaching enemy footsteps. Instinct immediately told me something was disastrously wrong, and I blundered out of my bedroom to confirm my worst fears.

Before my eyes, my mother was dying. Not in the fairytale ‘went to sleep and never woke up’, nor in the familiar heavily-tranquillised decline surrounded by tubes and machines in a hospital or care home bed. She was dying on her feet, in the kind of anguish I would have suffered any torture to avoid being inflicted upon her. Her eyes wore the dazed and haunted expression of a deer staggering away from being smashed into by a Land Rover. I was seized by blind panic. I knew what was coming, even if I didn’t want to accept it.

I don’t remember much else besides that last, horrible eye contact, until the ambulance arrived. Wishing beyond hope the emergency services could work some magic, I could see the ambulance shaking outside and understood the gravity of the situation. By the time we had followed the ambulance to its destination, the words you can’t ever imagining reacting to were uttered to me, and I remember not being able to control my emotions for a long time.

I remember reading a common quote from people who had lost their matriarch, comparing it to a light going out, and it’s strange how well that fits. It’s as if the previously dazzling sunshine is now perennially overcast. I remember being a little more fearless in my pursuits for at least a few months after the event, as I figured I had seen my worst nightmare and nothing could possibly feel worse, but then this alien future became the new cold, hostile present.

Even a decade on, having accomplished a lot more in this period than at any point while she was here, the world still has a gloom that won’t lift. High points still don’t mean as much or last as long. Wondering how that person would react to your triumphs, or see you through your disasters torments you. Meeting other people’s mothers makes you a little resentful.

There are a few positives, if I could call them positive. I’m glad she didn’t see what the world is descending into, or lose her marbles or worse.

There is a school of thought that suggests that time heals all wounds, and when somebody brings up your parents and you mention one is deceased, they are sombre but not nearly as apologetic as if it had happened the day before. In my experience, there is a raw grieving process which means that you are an entirely different person between the day after to a year after the event, but to my mind the further you then get away in time, the worse it gets. Worse because people forget the details. Worse because new characters that aren’t that person attempt to fill the void. Worse because life does continue ceaselessly without respect.

Life doesn’t really feel better a decade on, it just feels different.

Four legs good, two legs bad

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Personal
Tags: , , , , ,

We lost the family pet just over a week ago, a loveable mutt I had known all of my adult life. He was crumbling with age: his heart, legs, teeth and throat were all sickly, and so he was put to sleep.

When I was half my age I had a pet cat that I had known all my childhood. Eventually, his time also came and he was put to sleep. I was distraught, and I couldn’t express how the death of an animal had cut me so deep. Now that I’m older and a little wiser, I think I can try to articulate why some will mourn the death of a pet more than some other relatives.

Pets are completely dependent on us for food and shelter, and in return are loyalty personified. They follow you around, are hostile to intruders and try to sleep on you or in your sleeping quarters. They whine when you are away and always happy to see you come home.

Pets are subordinate to humans, and yet are not servants. We do not expect them to toil all day for our benefit; on the contrary we spend time and money to ensure their health and comfort.

Most of all, pets are how we wish humans could be sometimes. Uncomplicated and unconditionally devoted.

Pets are a perennial background of our lives for long periods. They do not betray us. They do not get drunk and humiliate us in public. They don’t leave us for a better-looking or exciting owner. They don’t put us down or slap us around. They don’t step on us to beat us to a promotion. They don’t talk down to us, mock us or deride our beliefs. They don’t care what job we have, or if we even have one. They don’t care about our hairstyle, hygiene, weight or height. They pine over our absence and fret over our sickness. They defend us blindly. They are oblivious to the concept of death.

In short, pets do not share any of the shortcomings of people. They merely reciprocate devotion. This is why it never surprises me to see people sometimes more apparently cut up over the death of a pet than a family member. They have my empathy.

I miss you Montague.

I wasn’t present at that momentous time when Death slipped into the room and stole my grandmother’s breath. I was fortunate enough to have had time to speak whatever words I could coherently form, whether she had the strength and resources to hear them or not.

You have a lifetime to speak a million words to someone, but when the final moments arrive, your search for some profound maxim; some statement to convey your utter joy for having known them and grief at their passing; proves futile. No Shakespearean tongue lends itself, no Keats or Byron possesses you in these most significant of hours; you are left with meagre sentences to attempt to articulate a galaxy of feelings and memories.

You want to communicate your loved one’s importance and legacy to you, to surrender your pride and expose your true feelings when there is no chance of awkwardness or humiliation. Is this a weakness within our culture? That people’s pride prevents them from letting someone know exactly how special and influential they are until the sands of time run short? Do we have a sense of shame at revealing too much of ourselves? I feel like I’m guilty of this.

Despite spending many hours beside family members in a vigil around my grandmother’s deathbed, I was not present when she drew her terminal breath, but I was not remorseful. Although I would have felt honoured to have been holding her hand as she slipped into the great beyond, it seemed too important a moment to bestow on myself. I had let her know how grateful and privileged I was to have had her as a grandmother, and had wished her a peaceful passing. I somehow knew that it would be a phone call, rather than the moment, that would draw me in.

Her death was mercifully rapid and predominantly pain-free, though jaundice and organ failure had ravaged and left her as a travesty of the fully functioning person she was mere days earlier. She had clung on two more days than anyone expected, with her courageous heart battling on in the face of organ surrenders all around it. She had recently undergone a successful hip operation on the NHS, only to immediately lose her appetite. When this went on uncomfortably long, a scan revealed cancer in the liver which had spread: her body had started to turn on itself. It is a measure of her benevolent character that her only pragmatic complaint was the money she felt she had wasted allowing the National Health Service to provide her surgery before the discovery.

In the minutes following her departure from this existential plain, the church bells continued to chime. The clouds rushed across the sky obliviously and televisions still flashed in the surrounding windows. In short, life continued regardless. For this is death. Profound perhaps; tragic certainly; but a biological certainty, just as the continuation of adjacent lives will be.

Whether my grandmother is heading for the majesty of Heaven or the infinite tranquillity of nothingness, she has seized her own stake on immortality through the legacy she created being passed down generations, for this is the most preferable, nay the only way, that man (or woman) should seek to live forever.

Ada May Bliss


Rest in everlasting peace.

Ada May Bliss 1924-2010

More zealous than fundamentalists for one.

‘Get those stupid Creationists, they think imaginary friends created the world. HELLO! Have these cretins never heard of Darwin? DUH! I can back up anything I believe because people I’ve never met have researched it thoroughly and produced ground-breaking papers I’ve never read based on empirical evidence that I wouldn’t have the first clue how to gather myself. These religious idiots are just looking for an easy way out. All I need is my family, my job and my self-importance to give my life meaning.’

Atheist at a dinner party:

‘Hey how’s it going? John. Pleased to meet you.’

‘Ah, like the Saint. I’m Jeremy.’ (offers hand)

‘The Saint? I don’t look like Roger Moore do I?’

‘No, no sorry, I meant…I’m a Christian you see, just a little Christian thing.’

‘Wait, I thought you were Jeremy.’

‘No I am Jeremy. My name is Jeremy, and I’m a Christian.’

‘You’re…(starts hissing and holding hands in front of face)…noooo! Don’t try and convert me!

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I said get away from me you paedophile! Your ignorance repulses me, and I don’t think I can eat now.’

(John storms off after spitting at Jeremy’s feet)

Atheist, sneaking onto platform at Meeting of Senior Rabbis:

‘You people need to ask yourselves why you’re persecuted! The doctrine of ignorance fans the flames of hate!’

Atheist in a lift with a colleague:

‘Only twenty four more floors to go!’

‘Ha, yeah don’t you just hate the building layout?’

‘Yeah, but do you know what I hate more? Creationists. They are why there’s so much hate in the world right now. Dear God they are dumb. It’s lucky there’s enough of us informed people or the world would go to Hell! I got stuck talking to one the other day and I was like: Do you believe fairy stories are true too? Oh and don’t get me started on dinosaurs…’

(Colleague pushes the ‘door open’ button frantically)


On Free-Market Capitalism’s Secret Service.

Episode 1: The Spectre of Malice.

“Master! master! An intruder has infiltrated the base!”

“How in the Fuhrer’s Hell did he do that?”

“He…ummm…came in through the fire exit.”

“Damn thish Health and Shafety nanny shtate! I oughtta club them and eat their bonesh!”

Igor shrinks and turns to leave, but turns to stone with a raised hand from his Master, who spins his throne around to face him.

“Listen carefully Igor. I want this interminably antagonishtic interlocutor brought to me at oncshe!” He spits, with a comical lisp.

“Yes Master!”

The Master reclines. A malevolent smirk sweeps across his countenance as he gently strokes his white pussy cat.

A series of buttons pushed in the correct order and a tiny screen rises in front of him, broadcasting CCTV footage of the intruder putting up a futile fight against the hunched mutant minions smothering him. Within minutes, the door to the Imperial cave is opened, and his nemesis is seated, bound and beaten.

“Well, Agent Straw, sho good to shee you again. Why came you unbidden to my shubterranean kingdom?”

Bloodied and spiteful, Straw spits vitriol.

“You’ll never get away with this Griffin! You and your motley group of misfits will never infect us with your poison!”

Griffin’s milky eye fixes on his accuser. It sends a shiver down Straw’s spine.

“That’s where you’re wrong my mishinformed friend. You kill me and there’s a thoushand to take my place. Our name ish British Legion, for we are many.”

Straw wipes the spittle off of his face.

“Yesh yesh, I’m like a worm. You cut my head off and I become two. Like a cockroacshh, even a nuclear war can’t finisssh me off!”

Straw looks utterly bemused.

“Am I getting through to you yet? Hmmm? You weedy little milky white liberal surrender monkey??”

Straw struggles for words.

“I…you…wait…milky white? What?”


Igor scuttles in and sticks two fingers up at Master. Griffin shakes his head.

“How many times Igor? You salute with all fingers facing up. Palm down, pointing up.”

“Yes Master.”

“Never mind. Jusht take Agent Shtraw here to the re-education csshentre.”

“Yes master!”

Igor drags a completely bamboozled Straw out of the cave. Griffin cackles slyly to himself, stroking his pussy harder now.

“Are you ready for shome real Britisssh beef Churchill Enoch Powell? Mmm yesh you are. Good men fought and died for this beef.”

Straw is strapped into a cold chair by two disfigured trolls. Despite his struggles, he is subdued, and the two monstrosities leave. Griffin strolls in with the aid of his white cane.

“Good evening Mishter Shtraw.”

“Good God man, who are these fiends you have working for you? What in the world have you done to them?”

“Oh don’t mind thoshe little chaps, they jusht don’t shheee much of the shun. Now. To the real reashon I brought you here.”

“You’ve gone mad Griffin! You’ll never get away with this! We in Britain are tolerant of difference and we will never be too full! You say seventy million? I say: not enough!”

Griffin cackles to himself. After mopping the drool from his shirt, he flicks a switch, prompting a large projection to appear on the wall facing them.

“I think you might find thish enlightening my dear Shtraw. But first…”

Griffin reaches into his pocket and lunges at Agent Straw’s face. After a brief struggle and scream, Griffin backs away, leaving Straw’s eyelids propped open with matchsticks.

“What are you doing? Let me go!”

“It’s been nice knowing you Mishter Shtraw. Sheee you when you come over to the dark side!”

Griffin’s milky eye penetrates deep into Straw’s soul. He presses another button before turning off the lights.


Griffin slips away. The projection flickers to life.

A beautiful woman undresses, and rolls around on white sheets. She hugs a white pillow close to her body.

A man drowns in tar.

Young children in white footsy pyjamas laugh and eat scores of white marshmallows.

A man walks across his kitchen until the lights suddenly go out. Sounds of crashing and cursing are heard.

A beaming bride walks up the aisle in her resplendent dress.

A disconsolate man collapses in tears at a funeral.

Nobody hears Agent Straw’s screams.