Good Grief

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I’d like to thank all of you who took time to get in touch, be it here, on Twitter, or via email, to say absolutely lovely things following my recent post about my best mate Llŷr and the loss I feel now he’s no longer around.

Every one of them meant the world to me, and a special thank you needs to be said to those of you who have been kind and generous enough to contribute to Sian’s London Marathon adventure.

So from me, and from Llŷr’s family, a massive thank you. You’re all lovely.

I think I’m still firmly in the grieving process, but things do seem to be getting a little easier, as you may have gathered by the fact I’ve started posting again.

For many years I’d known that, given his condition, there was only one way my story with Llŷr would end. And I thought I had that under control, was ready for whenever that news came.

It turns out, I was wrong.

For prepared as I thought I was, and as I had warned friends to be (I’m the life and soul of parties, me), nothing could prepare me for the finality of his passing.

And then, suddenly, everywhere you look is a reminder.

The thing about grief is that there’s no rules. Time is a great healer, people say, but nobody tells you how long that period of time is.

When you lose someone with whom you associate so much, so many tunes, whenever you hear one of them, it sparks a memory, and the next thing you know you’re in floods because you remember you’ll never share another moment with them.

I should stop writing in the third person. I mean me, obviously.

But I’m getting there. The other day, tonight’s tune came on my iPod and, although it holds no specific memory, I found Llŷr wandering into my thoughts, probably to call me a wuss and suggest something better to post.

But this time, rather than welling up, I found myself smiling at his memory.

Having said that, as I write this I’m filling up a little. Actually, more than a little.

It seems to me that when I’m getting close to the point where I can smile at the memory of Llŷr, rather than cry about his loss – but still feel sad – then I’m almost in the “Good Grief” stage. Almost. But not quite.

Here’s the tune that holds no specific memory, but brought a much needed smile:

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The Stone Roses – Ten Storey Love Song

In case you too wish to donate to the Brain Tumour Charity via Sian’s marathon Marathon efforts, but can’t be arsed with finding the link I posted last time, here it is (it’ll be appearing here quite a lot between here and the end of April):

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?pageId=1001560

More soon.

 

 

 

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Barbarism Begins at Home

When I was fifteen (or maybe sixteen), I made some very dodgy life choices.

I dyed my hair blond, then black, the two dyes mixed, resulting in it going purple.

I bought, and frequently wore of my own volition, a pair of jeans which had a tartan print on them.

I got my ears pierced. Both of them.

I even bought a record by Bruce Willis.

Thankfully the internet didn’t exist, so I didn’t get groomed and persuaded to go off to Syria, live with IS, bear a child. Although given the aforementioned track record I wouldn’t want to rule out the possibility of much of that happening.

If anyone wishes to haul me over the coals, prosecute me for my crimes against fashion, or against the ears, then so be it.

But I would remain a British citizen, a luxury which was ruthlessly stripped from Shamima Begum this week.

Let’s be clear: I am in no way condoning her actions, or her apparent lack of remorse.

But she was just fifteen, young, vulnerable, and ultimately exploited.

So for Home Secretary Sajid Javid to strip her of her British citizenship and try and palm her off on another country, where she has never lived, has no links to, no history with, is outrageous.

It’s the action of a man posturing as a tough guy, positioning himself as a potential leader of the Conservative party.

Shamima was radicalised here, in the UK. In Bethnall Green. London. We should be letting her back in – and of course letting her feel the full force of our justice system for any crimes she may have committed.

And at the very least, maybe we can learn from what happened to her, and try to prevent it happening again.

She’s our problem. She’s our mess to clear up.

I’m sure Morrissey would love the fact I’m posting this in association with the above:

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The Smiths – Barbarism Begins At Home

More soon.

 

 

 

 

The Death of a Party

You may have noticed that it’s quite some time since I wrote a post cheer-leading for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. There’s a reason for that: quite simply, I have absolutely no faith in him whatsoever as either a Leader of the Opposition or as a (potential) Prime Minister.

This shouldn’t be complicated: the current Government is proving to be one of the most unpopular in living memory. They’re making a right pig’s ear out of Brexit negotiations, have introduced PIP and Universal Credit to near-universal derision and outrage, and those on their far-right continue to dictate matters which drive the country to a No Deal scenario which, coincidentally, many of them just happen to have a favourable financial interest in, should it happen, God forbid.

This should be an open goal for the Labour party, right? But no, of course not.

For just as Trump’s election and campaign led to the emboldening of the far right in America, and just as Brexit has had a similar effect on this side of the pond, so Corbyn’s utter failure to deal with some of the unpalatable views held by extremists within his own party has led to increased pressure and anti-semitic abuse against several Labour MPs.

For the record, I don’t think Corbyn is an anti-semite. He’s not done much to convince me of this himself, mind. Far from it. In fact, like a bad 70’s sit-com, he does seem to rather make a habit of being caught saying or doing things which would absolutely single him out as one. No, I’m basing this not on anything Corbyn has said or done, but solely on the words of the already much-missed comedian Jeremy Hardy.

Oh Jeremy

On Thursday, the news I think many had been expecting: seven Labour MPs were resigning from the party, and becoming Independent. On Friday, three Tory MPs (including Anna Soubry, one of only two Tory MPs I’ve ever liked or respected – you’re on your own now Ken Clarke!) joined them in the innovatively titled The Independent Group, whilst an eighth Labour MP also left but declined to join the Gang of…erm…*counts on fingers*…Ten.

More will follow, apparently, presumably as long as nobody else gets a bit tired after having worked for the ungodly amount of six hours and blurts out the phrase “funny tinges”.

To compound matters, the Labour Party then decided to let Derek Hatton back in.

Derek fucking Hatton.

I never thought I’d be quoting Neil Kinnock, but I bloody well am:

Sure, they let “Degsy” in again, but suspended him again less than 48 hours later, whilst they investigated some dodgy tweets he may or may not have sent. But that’s not really the point, now is it? Do the checks first, maybe….?

It can’t be that much of a surprise, then, that full-time twat-in-a-hat and professional feline impersonator (will accept bookings for weddings, parties, opening of envelopes but probably not bar mitzvahs) George Galloway is knocking on the door to see whether he can come back in and play again. He’s bought his football an’ all, and his Mum says he can stay out til his tea’s ready.

I hate to say “I told you so”, because I didn’t – in fact back in 2015 when Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party I was a champion of his leftist agenda, although I did say that “…he does have the potential to be the next Michael Foot…” Turns out, from one poll I saw this week, he is viewed even less favourably by the electorate than Foot – and we all know what happened to him (possibly, some of you young ‘uns might not…suffice it to say Foot got battered by Thatcher in the 1983 election, when the Labour Party won its lowest share of the vote since 1918, and the fewest seats since 1945).

See, Brexit voters? I can admit I was wrong. It’s not difficult, just needs a little bit of a reality check, the eating of a bit of humble pie. And just because I was wrong about Corbyn, doesn’t mean you’re not wrong about Brexit. After all, it would seem he agrees with you…

Anyway, since Thursday I’ve had this tune slogging it’s way round my brain, with a degree of sadness on Thursday, but with a slightly more chipper skip in the step since Friday:

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Blur – The Death of a Party

More soon.

Being Around

I went to a gig on Tuesday.

First one since I came out of hospital. Yey! Go me! Look, here’s a photo I took to prove it:

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Knowing that I had missed out on all of the gigs I mentioned here, my lovely work colleagues chipped together (coerced/encouraged no doubt by Kay) and bought me a load of credits on Ticketmaster so I could buy some new tickets to new gigs.

The Lemonheads strolled into London town on Tuesday, playing at the Kentish Town 02 Forum, a band I’ve loved for many a year, so I decided the time was right to go gigging again.

But when I tried to buy a single, solitary ticket, I wasn’t able to. I had to buy two.

Putting aside for a moment the obviously scamming nature of this transaction, suddenly, I found myself with two tickets and with nobody to go with.

And then, I remembered.

Many years ago, before Llŷr got ill (I think – but certainly when we both shared a place in Cardiff) we had bought tickets to see them perform their wonderful It’s a Shame About Ray album at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. We were supposed to be accompanied by a chap I worked with, and had been to a few gigs with, but he had to drop out at the last minute.

“Take my ticket, see if you can get anything for it, but if not, no worries,” he said.

We were crashing at Hel’s flat post-gig, so it only seemed right and fair we offered the spare ticket to her first, free of charge. But she declined on the grounds that she didn’t know enough of their songs. Fair enough. It’s not like we thought she’d been a member of The Lemonheads fan club or anything.

By the time we got home post-gig, Hel had realised the error of her ways, and told us she wished she’d come with us.

Well, now’s your chance to make up for that, I thought, and gave her a ring to see if she wanted to come with me.

For Llŷr’s post-memorial service reception, Hel and Sian had compiled a couple of Llŷr-related playlists (more of this later), and Hel told me that she’d loved to come to the gig, as she’d included two songs by The Lemonheads on the playlists. I needed warning, in case she got a bit upset if they played them.

These are the two songs in question:

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The Lemonheads – Into Your Arms

and this:

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The Lemonheads – Confetti

Yeh, chances are they’ll play those, I thought.

I had one in mind too. Every time I had ever been to see The Lemonheads, or Evan Dando on his own, with Llŷr, he had insisted on calling our friend Mikey G when this particular song came on, because he knew it was his favourite:

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The Lemonheads – Rudderless

Hel and I went for some food before the gig, and we agreed we would look out for each other when/if any of those songs got played. Neither of us wanted to be a blubbing mess, but we both knew it was a possibility.

And then, a curve ball. Hel told me that when she went into Llŷr’s room at her parents’ house, the CD on the top of the pile, and therefore probably the last thing he was able to listen to, was a Lemonheads one. Consequently, she had listened to little else since.

And then I’d called, asking if she wanted to go see The Lemonheads.

Life and death are weird, I think we can all agree.

The support band on Tuesday (no idea what they were called, sorry) were very sixth form revolutionary – though we quite liked their last song – and then suddenly Evan was on stage, clutching his acoustic guitar and singing this:

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The Lemonheads – Being Around

Quickly followed by a rendition of Frank Mills and then we’re in, singing along and totally enraptured by Dando and his loveable slacker persona.

Dando loves a cover version, to the point where any gig you go to of his is bound to include more than a smattering; indeed his latest album is a second collection of the such. On the night, he plays some which feature on the new record (John Prine’s Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness) some which don’t but he treats us to anyway, namely Townes Van Zandt’s I’ll Be There in the Morning (I’m delighted at this point that both have previously appeared on this blog and I can show off that I know them) and this, which the crowd (including me) loves, even if it is an Eagles cover:

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The Lemonheads – Take It Easy

There’s even truncated versions of Teenage Fanclub’s It’s All in My Mind and (I think) John Lennon’s Oh Yoko, which neatly segues into this:

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The Lemonheads – The Outdoor Type

Which contains one of my favourite lyrics ever:

“I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend

Oh, and they did their wonderful cover version of this:

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The Lemonheads – Different Drum

And then…and then they played Into Your Arms quickly followed by Rudderless.

We got through them both. Just about.

I didn’t call Mikey G.

We didn’t cry.

We smiled.

More soon.

That Father and Son Union

Unexpected conversation #1:

“Do you know who James are?”

It’s not a question I expected my Dad to posit.

Some background: since he retired, my Dad has not only learnt to play the ukelele, he’s joined a local troupe, who gather together to learn songs and occasionally perform them to an actual audience. Once, they played on the back of a flat-bed lorry as it drove around various towns in their area. Perhaps not the best way to treat pensioners.

“Of course I know who James are,” I replied, wanting to add: ‘I’ve loads of their records and I used to own a long-sleeved white top with the word ‘Sit’ on the front and ‘Down’ on the arse.’

Back in the day, simply everyone owned a James top. If you owned the Come Home one, which had the word ‘Come’ on the front, and ‘Home’ on the back, you would undoubtedly be regaled with gags about how you had ‘Come’ on your shirt.

“So you know Sit Down then?”

I’m a bit confused by this conversation, truth be told. I can count my father’s previous forays into popular culture on approximately one finger. And when I say ‘popular culture’, I of course mean ‘anything from 1960 onwards’.

As it turned out, someone in his ukelele group – all in their 70s, at least – had suggested it as a song which they might perform.

I found this quite astounding, especially as he had previously told me that a group effort to play Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecillia had been blocked by one band member on the grounds that “making love in the afternoon with Cecilia”, only to find that when the singer got up to wash his face and then went back to bed somebody else stole had stolen their place, was obscene.

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Simon & Garfunkel – Cecillia

All of the other menfolk had shrugged whilst thinking how nice it would be to a) have been making love in the afternoon (or at all), and b) been able to have a nice sit down whilst somebody else had a go.

I may have inaccurately paraphrased their counter argument, there.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that my father can now play this on his ukelele, a song which I used to regularly play when I DJ’d at college, always accompanied by an instruction to kick anyone who sat down on the dancefloor when I played it (as they often did, bloody students). I assume my Dad’s group don’t do the same.

This is the original release – so not the one which was a hit, that took a few goes, much like Cecilia did, it seems – which I bought at the time and stupidly leant to somebody I subsequently haven’t seen for about thirty years:

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James – Sit Down

More soon.

Goodbye To My Little Brother (Part 2)

Llyr

Okay. Deep breaths.

This is the story of me and the dude up there that I have affectionately referred to as ‘my little brother’ for years now. When I finally publish this, I’ll have lost track of how many drafts I’ll have written, hated and discarded.

What I hope is that what follows does my best friend Llŷr justice.

What I know is that I will have been a howling mess of snot and tears on several points through it.

It’s a story that I wish I’d written ages ago, after he gave me his blessing to write about him, and while he was still around to actually read it.

Whilst I’ve mentioned Llŷr many times, until my last post I’d never mentioned his actual illness, because I knew he didn’t want it to define him, and I wanted to respect that.

I want to remember him how he was too, not how he was at the end.

I got his consent two years ago, when we shared a hotel room at a friend’s wedding. He’d want me to tell you it was twin beds, not a double, but it wasn’t. He’d definitely want me to stress there were no shenanigans though, no “those aren’t pillows!” moments:

The wedding just happened to fall on the same weekend as his 40th birthday. Typically Llŷr refused to let us properly celebrate his milestone birthday as he didn’t want to steal the limelight from the happy couple.

But him reaching forty was something to celebrate, more so than anyone else I knew, and so I started writing this post.

But much as I tried to, I couldn’t find the right words.

Nothing seemed appropriate, didn’t do him justice, just didn’t seem right. So I put it on the back burner, resolving to return to it once I’d had chance to mull things over some more.

And now it’s too late for him to read it.

On Friday I went to his memorial service and then the reception. Note: not a wake. As you might expect, there were many tears, hugs and embraces, but also many smiles and laughs amid much swapping of stories and memories; there was singing, there was dancing, there was a lot of drinking, oh-so-many glasses clinked together in his name.

He would have loved it.

*****

So I thought I’d explain how Llŷr and I became such good friends. Truth be told, we were thrown together by circumstance.

I had been living with a bloke I knew from college days, who found he was about to be a father and decided that my bedroom would be much better deployed as a nursery, which definitely did not require a sponging, chain-smoking lodger residing in it.

Hint taken, I promptly moved out, and found myself a flat in the Grangetown area of Cardiff. It was the first time I’d ever lived alone, and I greatly enjoyed being able to eat what I wanted when I wanted without disapproving looks from housemates, or watch whatever I liked on TV. And if I wanted to watch TV in just my underwear, I could, without anyone either judging me or dry-wretching at the sight in the same way as you are at the image now in your mind.

Around the same time, Llŷr found himself in a similar situation; he had been lodging with Richie, a chap who I had worked with years earlier in the video shop, who now worked at the same insurance company as we did, and who also suddenly found fathership was impending. Llŷr moved out and got himself a flat on the same side of the river as me and which just so happened to be about five minutes walk from my flat.

We knew nobody else who lived in this area of Cardiff, and so consequently, united in our ostricisation, we started spending more and more time in each other’s company, usually at his flat, partly because it had central heating (a fact I had failed to consider when moving into mine), partly because Llŷr didn’t live under the permanent shadow of the electricity going off as I did (as I had to pre-pay via a meter which only accepted discontinued fifty pence pieces which I had to purchase from my landlord), but mostly because Llŷr had an absolute treasure trove of a collection of popular culture for us to feast on.

Firstly, a mountain of vinyl, some of the most ludicrous but still somehow cool, records you’ve ever seen. A gatefold Bay City Rollers album, you say? Ordinarily, not fussed. But somehow, imbued with Llŷr’s consent, such things seemed cool.

Secondly, an absolute wall of video tapes, all crammed with stuff he had taped off the TV. This was manna from heaven for me, and most nights I was there I would just sit back, drink beer and smoke whilst he fast forwarded through another VHS to find the next good bit he had captured.

Now, I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder myself when it comes to popular culture, but my VHS taped-from-TV collection pretty much ends at a load of clips from Top of the Pops or any other music show. Llŷr, however, took it to another level.

I will never forget the night that we drunkenly watched – several times – footage from The Big Breakfast he had taped, where some blokes from shouty-not-very-good-indie band Reef played that game where you place your forehead on a broom, run round it several times then try to run a short obstacle course, inevitably falling over in a dizzy mess. The night ended with both of us taking it in turns to lay on our back in his living room, trying (with an impressive degree of success) to light our own beery farts.

I had just turned thirty and I felt like a teenager again.

Llŷr suggested us sharing a place and initially I was resistant. I was thirty, and had finally got a flat of my own. To start sharing again felt like a step backwards.

And then the bills at my flat started becoming a bit much, and suddenly it felt like a good idea to be splitting them with someone.

We went to visit a couple of female friends of ours, who rented a ground-floor flat back in Cathays, the cooler studenty-area of Cardiff. They just happened to be moving out and were looking for someone to take the flat off their hands. Llŷr floated the idea of us sharing a flat again, and this time I jumped at it.

We became inseparable. On the rare occasions that he went out without me, he would come home telling me everyone had been asking where I was, and I found the reverse to be true. We very briefly discussed that perhaps everyone thought we were “a couple”, dismissed the idea, and decided that we didn’t really care what anyone else thought anyway.

The flat, pristine and beautiful when we moved in, fell into decay because we behaved exactly as you would expect two lazy blokes to behave. Shall we do a bit of housekeeping, or watch some more utter tat on the telly? Telly it is!

I’ll never forget the night a couple of female friends came back to ours for a drink; one went to the bathroom, and when she hadn’t returned some twenty minutes later and we went to check she was okay, we found her scrubbing our bath with bleach because it was so grim. Llŷr’s reaction: “Oh, have we got bleach?”, which pretty much sums up our distant relationship with keeping the flat clean.

Initially we just had the sofa in the living room – part of the features and fittings when we moved in – to sit on, but at some point we added to the furniture by retrieving a knackered old armchair somebody had thrown out onto the street. Under cover of darkness, we dragged it into the flat one night only to find that the springs had all gone; still, stick an upturned washing-up bowl (it wasn’t required for any other purpose in the flat of filth) underneath it and it worked just fine. But Llŷr made it very clear: this had been my idea, so the scuzzy armchair was mine, the sofa was his. Fair enough.

While we lived together, my re-education really began.

It was Llŷr who reminded me, in my early thirties, that it’s absolutely fine to like pop records, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about in doing so.

See that “There’s No Such Thing As A Guilty Pleasure” tagline? It simply wouldn’t be there were it not for Llŷr.

I’ll go further. Without that little seed sown, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. He told me many times that he really loved that I do this, regularly left grateful comments or sent me encouraging messages about something I’d posted, and once told me that he wanted to start writing something himself: you know, like younger brothers often do, to impress their older sibling.

It may seem glib or inappropriate to post tunes now, but everyone who knew him would agree that Llŷr was all about the music. There’s a multitude of songs I could post which will always remind me of him. It’s impossible to choose just one.

OK. Here’s one. To start.

One night in a bar in Cardiff, Llŷr got into an argument with a friend who dared to be dismissive of Kelly Clarkson, of all people. Llŷr wasn’t having that: just because she’d won American Idol did not automatically mean that her songs were awful. He was right, of course. This is a belter:

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Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone

And then there’s the night, in a different bar, when he defended his love for Energy 52‘s ‘Cafe Del Mar‘ to another long-standing friend by pointing out that it really didn’t matter if a tune had no words, as long it sounded great and didn’t sound like whoever the friend’s favourite song was by. If ever there was a tune which makes me think of Llŷr, that’s it – and I know I’m not alone: when I posted that tune back in June 2018, after hearing that Llŷr’s time was limited, I was contacted by our friend Jon, a true friend. He had understood the bat-signal, and wanted to know what was happening.

Anyway. All of that makes Llŷr sound a right argumentative bugger, but he really wasn’t. Passionate, yes. Persuasive, yes. And generally right.

Llŷr and I lived together for four or five years, and I can only think of one occasion that we argued in all that time. The disputed subject was telling: the BBC had announced the winner of American Idol before ITV had shown the final; he couldn’t believe the Beeb had broken that bond of trust, whilst I couldn’t believe he thought the BBC wouldn’t do whatever it deemed necessary to prevent their audience from watching a rival channel, even if it was only ITV2. I still think I was right, but I wish I hadn’t been.

We were once asked to DJ for an hour or so at a friend’s wedding. Suffering a crisis of confidence, I suggested that he did the actual DJ’ing bit and I’d just pass him the records he wanted. Llŷr was having none of it: he might play the records, but we would jointly decide what was played.

We agreed on this, and the dance floor went wild:

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Girls Aloud – Love Machine

The actual DJ for the night gave us his business card and asked us to call him if we ever wanted any work. We never did. We didn’t need him.

Then there’s the night my parents visited Cardiff, and stayed at our flat. We all went out to eat, came back to the flat, and after my Mum had gone to bed, Llŷr and my Dad bonded over obscure records by none other than (who else?) Edward Woodward. Llŷr had something by him on vinyl. Of course he did.

About a week later, I received a parcel through the post. It was a load of Max Boyce records my Dad owned on vinyl, burnt off onto CDs. The post-it note attached made it very clear that they were not meant for me, but for Llŷr. They’d discussed him at length, apparently.

That was the effect he had on people: they immediately wanted to share things with him and be part of his story.

He was perfectly happy to admit when he liked something that you really wouldn’t have expected him to. The term “eclectic music taste” was probably devised to describe him. Which also meant that if you told him you liked a band that he didn’t like, or knew little about, he would want to understand the appeal, and would go off and investigate for himself.

We never quite saw eye-to-eye on R.E.M., who I love but he was generally indifferent to. They played Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium on their tour to promote their not-very-good Around The Sun album. We went to see them, me as the uber-fan, he as the curious outsider. He’d done his research of the band’s discography in advance, which had led him to one tune by them that he really loved.

Llŷr (at the gig, in between songs): Do you reckon they’ll play it, Jez?

Me: Nah, they won’t play that one. They never do.

Llŷr: Are you sure, Jez?

Me: Yup. Won’t happen.

Llŷr: A tenner says they do.

Me: Deal.

Llŷr: (as the band crashed into the opening chords of the song in question): Shall we stop at a cash machine on the way home?

I later found out that in advance of the gig, he had checked the set-list for all of the gigs the band had already done on the tour, and knew bloody well they’d be playing it.

This one:

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R.E.M. – These Days

(I learned at the memorial service on Friday that he’d played a very similar prank on his younger sister, Sian, when they were kids, this time tricking her out of her pocket-money by getting her to bet on a horse in the Grand National, a race where he miraculously managed to pick the winner. Unbeknownst to Sian, the race had happened hours earlier, he already knew the result, whilst she was betting on the highlights.)

Another case in point: he and Hel (his older sister, also often mentioned on these pages) went to Glastonbury in 2009, a year I didn’t manage to get a ticket for.

2009 just happened to be the year that my much beloved Status Quo played on the Sunday morning. The two of them went to watch them (because they knew I’d be really annoyed with them if they didn’t), and I got a text from Llŷr at some point that day telling me that they’d played Mean Girl, a song that, whilst he wasn’t at all bothered about anything else they’d ever done, he had found for himself and loved.

My response, articulately put and spread over a number of texts, was along the lines of:

“They never play that! They never played that. Did they play that? Tell me you’re joking. No. They didn’t play that.”

Come the edited highlights on BBC4 later that day, I had to eat my proverbial hat.

You think I’d learn, wouldn’t you? Still, at least no money changed hands this time.

He never let me forget that. Ever. You know, like smart ass little brothers don’t let you forget stuff like that.

Sorry, I have to post this while I have a little cry:

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Status Quo – Mean Girl

Just to be clear: I’m not claiming that as a result of knowing me he suddenly loved R.E.M. and Status Quo. Far from it: he saw I loved them, gave them a listen, and decided he liked precisely one song by each.

Then there was the time that I won two tickets to go and see Gene play at Clwb Ifor Bach; initially he was dismissive as Sian had been a member of their fan club when she was much younger (so he told me, citation needed) and he had – as older brothers are supposed to – mercilessly ripped the piss out of her for it.

But he came with me anyway, and left the gig buzzing, telling me that his opinion had changed, asking to borrow all of my Gene records, but making me swear I’d never tell Sian, of his conversion. Well, I managed it until now…

There’s one song by Gene the title of which would be sadly, horribly appropriate for me to post here, but I can’t bear to listen to it, so instead a song the opening lines of which we both felt a great affinity with

“Please don’t stop me from drinking, it’s my only joy.

Please don’t stop me from smoking, this my reward.

Folder

Gene – Sick, Sober and Sorry

And then everything changed forever.

One Sunday, when Sian – who had been sofa-surfing at ours for a couple of weeks and, moving into her own flat the next day, had offered to take us out for a Sunday lunch somewhere as a “thank you” for letting her stay – suddenly, scarily, started banging on my bedroom door, imploring that I come help quickly.

Something was happening to Llŷr.

He had gone to the bathroom to clean his teeth, and had started having some kind of fit. I emerged to find him on his back on the bathroom floor, seemingly unconscious, frothing at the mouth.

I sent Sian off to the front of the house, partly so that she didn’t have to see Llŷr like this, partly because the phone reception was better to call an ambulance there.

But now what to do? Having taken control of the situation, I had to do something. Remembering films I’d seen, where this sort of thing happened, I threw water on Llŷr, foolishly thinking that would snap him out of it.

It didn’t, of course, but by the time the paramedics arrived, his fit had ended. They asked why his hair and T-shirt was all wet, a question which Llŷr himself asked as he was lifted into the ambulance.

I looked sheepish. “Threw some water on you. Thought it might work. Sorry.”

I kicked my heels and felt stupid.

I love the NHS. But that Sunday in Cardiff they were completely overwhelmed. We spent hours waiting to be seen and then, when he finally was, as I recall, the seizures having stopped hours earlier, they gave him a quick once over, resolved all was okay, and sent him home with an instruction to take a day or two off work.

Back at the flat, we ordered Chinese food and Llŷr made us both promise not to tell his parents. Neither Sian nor I were happy about it, but we respected his wish. Okay, we can convince ourselves that was a one-off.

I took the next day off work as a precaution too. Llŷr’s dad was due to visit to collect Sian, and since we didn’t want him to know what a shit-hole we lived in, or that Sian had stayed in, we pledged to clean the flat before he arrived.

Llŷr went off to clean the bathroom, and since this was where his last incident had happened, I was wary. Just take it easy, I said, and if you get into difficulties, just holler.

Ten minutes, later there was a crashing noise from the bathroom. I, stupidly, assumed he was having a laugh at my expense.

“Llŷr, are you okay?” I called.

No answer.

“Llŷr..?”

Still nothing.

“Okay, I’m coming, but you’d better be properly ill and not winding me up or I’m going to fucking kill you myself”.

Funny how words said in jest can come back to haunt you.

I found Llŷr laying on his side, having fortuitously landed in something approaching the recovery position, having another fit.

Reassuring words spoken. Ambulance called, again.

And this time, a much-needed stay in hospital.

When he was discharged, I hated leaving him at home alone for fear of anything happening whilst I was out, but he was insistent. Before he became ill, Llŷr and I often went clubbing together, and he was adamant that I should carry on even though he no longer could. Unsaid, I think he wanted to live vicariously through me, for whenever I went out clubbing he would be waiting up when I got home, eager to hear who had been out, and more importantly, what tunes had been played. I could remember the former, rarely the latter.

And so we devised a system that both freed us and kept things in check: if I was out, he just had to text me a code word which he would have saved on his phone, and I would come home.

Fast forward a few weeks. I met some friends in a bar in Cardiff, heading club-wards. They offered me some coke, which I declined. Seconds later my phone rang, and it was Llŷr. I answered, but could just hear a gurgling noise from the other end.

Fuck.

I ran home, passing people I knew through clubbing who were very surprised to see me run, and found Llŷr laying on the living room floor, in the final throes of another fit.

Nerves calmed – “I’m here, it’s going to be okay” – ambulance called.

Shortly afterwards, Llŷr was diagnosed with a brain tumour which was causing the seizures. He was given medication to stop them happening, but tragically the tumour was inoperable.

And that was fourteen years ago.

Fourteen years. Fourteen years where he has struggled and coped and fought and never once did I ever hear him complain. He knew the cards he had been dealt, accepted it but refused to let it define him, refused to let it stop him from doing whatever he wanted to do for as long as he could. He would still go to gigs, would still go to Glastonbury, and no annoying thing living in his head was going to stop him.

I wish I could say I’d react the same. I can’t say that I would. Who knows. But what I do know is that despite his restricted capabilities, Llŷr carried on regardless. Like he knew his time was limited and he was going to make sure he continued enjoying every second he had left.

Much as I may try here, I can’t properly express my admiration for him and the way he insisted on conducting himself.

And now Llŷr has left us, and there’s a gaping hole in my life where he used to be which nobody can ever fill.

Never again will we go to an indie club and do our little joke to each other where we would sing along to a record but take a swig of our drink when it gets to a lyric we don’t quite know (which we found so much funnier than I just made that sound).

Never again will we get to play “French, or Student?”, a game we devised – and even made up a theme tune to, nicked from Raw Sex’s musical enunciation of French & Saunders. The game was that when out at an indie club, one of us would stand behind someone who was dressed like they could be French or could be a Student, and the other had to guess which they were. Again, you probably had to be there.

Never again will I be able to text him the word “Pennoes!” and know he would be watching the same football match as me.

Never again will I have to worry about him spilling the beans on some of the more embarrassing moments that happened when we lived together. Never again will I be able to buy his silence with the threat of an equally unsavoury  tale.

Never again will we go to a Super Furry Animals gig together, as we did countless times, and laugh with each other as we basked in our self-perceived glory when we air-drummed the fill after the bridge on this tune, which we did every time, without fail, much to the bemusement and confusement of anyone who was with us:

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Super Furry Animals – Slow Life

Never again.

All of these records – and so, so many more – will always make me think of Llŷr.

They are ours.

Not past tense.

Are.

Not were.

For whilst he may be gone, they’re here with me now, as he will be whenever I hear them, for as long as I’m still breathing through these knackered old lungs of mine.

I’ve felt him at my shoulder as I’ve written every word of this: “Oh Jeremy, don’t tell that story…and pick that tune…no, not that one, that one.”

He’s gone, but he’s not, because I, and every person who ever met him, remember him as the most joyous, loveable, force of life you could ever hope to meet.

I’m honoured to have known Llŷr, to be able to call him my friend, my best friend, my little brother, and to know that would be reciprocated.

Dude, I miss you already. I always will.

There’s so many things I feel sad about. Selfishly, that my own recent illness robbed me of a couple of visits to see him, that I didn’t get chance to say goodbye to him properly.

Unselfishly, for you, my friend; for the battle you had, for all of the normal things one expects a life to deliver that you were robbed of, for the opportunities and experiences you’ll never have.

And angry at how terribly, terribly unfair it is that you’ve been taken from us.

Sleep easy, dude, you deserve a rest.

We’ll all love you forever.

We’ll never forget you.

And I will forever try to be the man you should still be.

*****

The final hymn at the memorial service on Friday was this, a song I have heard many times before, usually in the build-up to a Welsh rugby match. It never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But never before had I heard it sung so beautifully, so passionately, as it was on Friday:

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The Treorchy Male Voice Choir – Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah/Bread of Heaven)

I warned you: here come the snot and tears again.

*****

Sian is running the London Marathon this year, raising funds for The Brain Tumor Charity. As I write this, she has smashed her target of £5000.00 – but that’s not a cut-off point. It would please me, and Llŷr’s family and friends, immensely if you could see your way to contributing, no matter how large or small an amount, so that one day, maybe, a family doesn’t have to go through what Llŷr and his family have had to.

If you’ve read this far a) well done, b) thank you, and c) please click the link below and read Sian’s words about Llŷr. They were written before he passed, but she says it way better – and, crucially, more concisely – than I have. But be warned, I’ve just read it again and I’m bawling my eyes out. Again.

 

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=SianWilliams16&pageUrl=3

More soon.

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