Monday, December 15, 2008

Sad Times

I have blogged before about being the black sheep of my mother’s side of the family. Where others have done balet and tap and gone on to learn modern jazz, singing, art and acting, I ride bikes, fix cars and play in the dirt.

It was the shock of the year – and what a shocking year. My dad phoned to tell me that Uncle Terry had died. Not a gentle, something we’ve been waiting to tell you kind of died but an urgent, breaking news, nothing we can do kind of died. There was nothing to know, no answers, no explanation, no illness or discomfort, just gone.

The story unfolded at some traffic lights in town. The girls in the hairdressers noticed that one of the cars in the line didn’t move. He died somewhere between red and green. A tragedy of seconds. He was 61.

When I was little, Terry used to scare me. You see, contrary to popular belief I was a nervous child who clung to the apron-strings and hid away. Terry was a bouncy and enthusiastic man with a beard who encouraged everyone to do anything. It is possible that my have-a-go attitude today is somewhat down to my first forays onto the stage at Christmas panto to get a sweetie off the Widow Twankey. Yup, that was my Uncle Terry – in drag. The man wore boobs brilliantly.

Aside from his panto hilarity, Terry played many serious roles and was a director of many more plays at the Garrick theatre in Altrincham. He found the patience and professionalism to work with his family, playing alongside his wife (often cast as principal boy) and directing his daughter, my cousin Laura, in starring female roles.

No matter how busy he was with the theatre and his work as a nurse and healthcare professional, Terry always had time to invite visitors into his home and offer them any number of drinks or a simple cup of tea. It is this side of Terry I will remember most as they are my most recent memories and as an adult, those that are my true opinion of this man whose boisterous-ness scared me when so young.

When TSK met Terry last year I think he found it hard to believe that I was related to Terry's wife. Strictly come dancing was being heavily critisiced on TV and we settled into their warm suburban home with our usual glass of something warming for the cockles and talked of impending holidays to America.

Since his death, I have explained why I will hold this man in such high regard and why I hold this side of the family so precious to me. They represent a part of my life that is lost to me. I stopped dancing at around 9 or 10 years of age. Since the age of about 14 I have slightly regretted that decision. Who knows whether I would’ve had the tenacity to stick at it any longer or anywhere different? Nontheless, when I go to see a play, a show, a performance of any kind I find it difficult to control my emotions. Most people are impressed but I feel moved to some greater degree – tear in my eye kind of stuff. Perhaps I’m just soft but I find it inspiring to watch others excel at something I genuinely found difficult to stick to and to master.

So I loved this man and his family for giving me the opportunity to get that little bit closer to that world which is so different from mine. At the same time, I love him for the mutual respect and regard he always held for me. The few times we got together in a year or another year, he would want to know what I’d been up to, where I’d been, what my next project was. Then he’d admit, “ooh bloody hell Andrea, where do you get the energy from? You’re bloody brilliant you know, you’d never catch me on a bike, ooh goodness me.”

I once had a chat with a friend about fear. She admitted to me that she wanted to overcome her fear of height and could not imagine doing the things that I have done when I climb. I concluded that fear is a very personal feeling because in contrast, there is no way I could physically stand on a stage in front of a room of people and sing or, for that matter, talk – never mind remember lines and cues. The reactions of fear for me on the stage are the same as my friend at the top of a mountain – sweaty palms, absence of voice, breathlessness.

So it is Terry’s mutual respect that I will miss along with his enthusiasm for life and interest in others, his support, his banter and his sense of family. Any regrets? I suppose I wish I’d asked Terry more about his work at the theatre but the problem is, he was so damn modest, all he was prepared to tell me is,

“it’s hard work but then, that's showbiz.”

We said our goodbyes to Terry on 15th December at Bowdon Church. The church was filled with colleagues, friends and family and he left the building to a standing ovation. See you later old friend.

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