Before and After

Not sure why I have written this. I think because part of what this is all about was broadcast yesterday.

What is still remembered will sooner or later become a story. This may be too soon. 

After someone dies, there can be a guilty sensation that you are not mourning correctly, that your feelings of loss are not as they should be.
Too Changeable, not heightened and continuous enough.

At the beginning of December, my mother died.

(this will not be an in depth study of the more personal elements, it is not my right to do that, and it’s too early. This post is just about some surrounding oddities. It may therefore be a bit “me me me”, sorry.)

The last few days before it becomes a reality, but as it all becomes an increasing inevitability (though it is never inevitable until death happens, until then, however foolish, there is hope.) are strange times to work. Should you even be working? The moments on stage are easier than the rest, but isn’t that true of the rest of life too?

72 hours before, I was on stage in Folkestone. On the train journey, I worried that there might be some kind of unseemly unraveling on stage.
On arrival, most of it all remained within, but I felt I had to share my worry with one of the organisers, then felt embarrassed and self-indulgent afterwards.

It just seemed that the worry couldn’t be kept inside in its entirety. Weakness?
I still imagined there was longer then there would be.
I was fortunate that the audience were delightful and energetic. I pranced about, did my stupid voices, and nearly fell flat on my face when overly showing off on a rug.
The absurdity hid for 90 minutes.
Towards the conclusion, I had decided I would close on the story of Feynman’s final filmed bongo playing, captured a few days before his death. This came close to showing the fractures of my mind, but the clip of exuberant bongo playing gave me the time to go behind the curtain and breath, and so able to come back out with jazz hand eyes.

During those last few events, I came to know the relief and jeopardy of adrenaline. It drives you on and muffles everything else, but at the first sign that it is no longer required for showing off in front of an audience, it diverts to possible outbursts of emotion. It barely waits long enough for the lights to fade

The penultimate day, though we did not know it would be the penultimate day at the time, was typically cock-eyed.

Brian Cox and I were recording the final part of a Radio 4 documentary on general relativity, as well as a Christmas day special about Doctor Who, and I had a quick dash to the Steve Lamacq show. I stitched together the Monkey cage script on the train in. Turning on the laptop in Broadcasting House, the flashing folder of doom shone out. My laptop had packed up.

About an hour before the recording of that night’s Monkey Cage, my guts experienced the rumblings of an imminent collapse/explosion. By show time, I was in a precarious Immodium controlled state.
I warned the audience they were witnessing an experiment. Unhelpfully, Brian Cox kept noisily uncorking a sherry bottle. My brain seemed to drive through, being as facetious and hyper kinetically mundane as usual. 50 minutes in, a rumble. I asked Fay Dowker an elongated question about our understanding of time over the last century and its possible effect on Doctor Who. I then requested she answer the question for as long as possible, then ran off for three minutes. By the time I returned, The Former Dean of Guildford Cathedral was eulogising Jesus. This is what happens if I leave Brian Cox in charge. The moment it was over, the other reality grabbed me, and I ran to a taxi and my mum and dad’s house. Showbiz was over. The poor driver was informed that I was both ill and must be returned to my mum and dad’s as hastily as possible. I was not the client he wanted. (I presumed it was mild food poisoning, but wonder if the body can deal this out to you in moments of peculiar stress. “I will allow you to maintain control of your mind when necessary, but that will not be without cost”. I think my mother would have found the story entertaining.)

How could I have been so flippant and silly under the gaze of the radio theatre when in another reality, things were so bleak?

My mother died 24 hours later.

Being English, you don’t want to make a show, fearing it is narcissistic to even bring a death up unless entirely necessary. Then, should you talk about it for more than a minute of two, you are fearful of being an arrogant or narcisstic mourner.

I jump cut to the day of the funeral, but again skimp on detail. This was peculiar for another reason.

It clashed with the Rose D’Or awards. As Monkey Cage was nominated for two awards, I was told by my family that I must attend. I argued. No, they really wanted me to go. We had the church service. The eulogy was delivered. We had tea and cake and memories. Then, I went to the Rose d’Or in the same suit and tie.

I was lucky to have my glass constantly filled. I must have had the correct look in my eye,  booze hungry retinas. The collision of occasions was so great that it almost flattened the absurdity. I was pissed off that we didn’t win the first award because because I had something I think I wanted to say.
Luckily, we won the other category. I was getting ready to heckle Jenni Murray and possibly storm the stage.”I’ve come direct from my mum’s funeral for this, and you dare to win with Woman’s Hour..!”

The adrenaline was spiked. A joke about the event, a laugh, a breath, a statement about the peculiarity of the day and the events within, I am not sure if the audience still thought it was leading to a joke, and then a dedication. I was relieved that I could say something about my splendid mum in front of a room of mainly strangers, and I don’t know why that should be. On the way home, I wondered again if I might be a psychopath or show business monster only pretending to cower in a cardigan.

The next night was the first of the Hammersmith Apollo shows. Near the conclusion of the first night, I read the first few paragraphs of Carl Sagan’s The Fine Art of Baloney Detection Kit. I think it was some kind of test of me…or maybe it was because it meant even more at that moment.

It all looks so easy in the movies.

( I was near Exeter when I wrote this, and so this made me think of this rather lovely Rik Mayall speech )

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4 Responses to Before and After

  1. Robin, I’m so sorry about your Mum, but don’t ever apologize for mentioning her or her passing.

    I completely understand your point about wondering if you are being self indulgent, I often thought that as I travelled around with my son’s ashes in a backpack, asking if people minded posing with him. (Did I guilt them into it)? And indeed, am I being self indulgent now, by bringing him up?

    I hope not, because I love to talk about him and I sincerely hope that I don’t make people uncomfortable when I do so. Grieving is a very strange experience, we all do it differently, (you’ve been involved in quite a bit of my own process with Jamie), so don’t worry about being a psychopath, because if you are, it’s the good kind, as this blog post shows.

    As for being self indulgent, you’ll soon discover your real friends, the ones you will indulge you, even if they feel discomfort themselves

    Thank you for indulging me and my thoughts are with you and your family

  2. Pingback: 2015, in bits and pieces | Make a Long Story Short

  3. Sally Harrison says:

    Robin you are far from a showbiz monster. You are one of the most unmonsterish showbiz people there is. That’s a fact. This is a wonderful post. Thank goodness there’s someone like you who can articulate these thoughts and feelings. Your mum must have been very, very proud of you.

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