Death log 2015

 

From practicingnormal.com

 

The Troggs may have sung that “Love is all around”, but in 2015 I got the impression that another major component of human existence (or non-existence) was all around.  Death, not love, seemed to be ubiquitous.

 

During the year, so many people I admired were kicking the bucket that this blog was in danger of turning into a full-time obituary column.  While I wrote about a few people whom I was sad to see go – B.B. King, Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and William McIlvanney, for example – I had to exercise real willpower to ignore some of the other deaths of 2015 so that I wouldn’t spend all my time penning tributes to the departed.

 

So here, just before the year’s end, is a quick mention of some other people who went to meet their maker in 2015 and who’ll be missed by Blood and Porridge.

 

Hefty kaftan-wearing Greek crooner Demis Roussos died in January.  Now I certainly wasn’t a fan of Demis’s output (most famously, Forever and Ever in 1973) but I liked how he was the favourite singer of Beverly, the suburban housewife / heroine / monster in Mike Leigh’s masterful satirical play of 1977, Abigail’s Party.  There were many naff musical acts around in the 1970s, but somehow Abigail’s Party wouldn’t have been the same if a singer other than Demis had been warbling in the background at Beverly’s ghastly, chintzy London flat.

 

And actually, there is a Demis Roussos song in my record collection.  He appears on Tales of the Future, the ninth track on the Blade Runner soundtrack album composed by his fellow Greek, Vangelis.  Weird, unsettling and occasionally spine-chilling, Tales of the Future is a million miles removed from Forever and Ever.  It’s surely Demis’s finest hour.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dwbr9EL0UJM

 

February saw the death of Leonard Nimoy, who of course played Mr Spock on Star Trek.  I wasn’t a Star Trek fan either, but I always liked Nimoy.  He was willing to make fun of himself by, for instance, guest-appearing in one of the best episodes of The Simpsons, 1993’s Marge vs. the Monorail.  Also, he managed to spend half-a-century hanging out with the dreadful William Shatner without surrendering to the urge to give him the Vulcan Death Grip, which suggests he was a man of saintly patience.

 

(c) 20th Century Fox

 

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels, died in March at the age of 66.  I’ve never read any of Pratchett’s fiction, which must make me a rarity.  But he always seemed a decent bloke who faced up to the disease that finally killed him, early-onset Alzheimer’s, with admirable courage and good humour.  (He contemptuously referred to his Alzheimer’s as the ‘the embuggerance’.)

 

Another fantasy writer, Tanith Lee, died in May.  I enjoyed her macabre fiction when I was a teenager – I came across short stories of hers like Eustace (in 1968’s Ninth Pan Book of Horror Stories) and A Room with a Vie (in 1980’s New Terrors 1).  In later years, I heard that she had difficulty getting her books into print – though when I looked at her Wikipedia entry after her death, I was surprised at how extensive her published work was.  Presumably, though, the bulk of the titles were put out by small publishers and so had passed below my radar.

 

From lightspeedmagazine.com

 

Charles Kennedy, former MP and the Liberal Democrat Party leader for seven years until 2006, died in June.  In 2003, he was the only major political leader with the gumption to oppose British participation in the disastrous invasion of Iraq.  And in the 2005 general election, his party won 62 seats, its highest total since 1923.  However, the Liberal Democrats dumped him as leader when rumours surfaced about him being overly fond of a drink and he was replaced by Menzies ‘Ming’ Campbell.  Ming was himself dumped a year later because his party feared he was too old to appeal to the voters.

 

The Liberal Democrats finally chose to be led by the young, sober and uncomfortably Blair-esque Nick Clegg.  He formed a coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, ensuring that David Cameron became Prime Minister – and alienating so many of the Liberal Democrats’ previous supporters that they were slaughtered in the 2015 general election and ended up with just eight MPs.  A clear illustration of the old adage about being careful about what you wish for.

 

Charlie Kennedy was affable, amusing and generally in possession of something that most politicians lack, a personality.  I just wish he’d reacted to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (which he wasn’t happy about) by quitting the party and becoming an independent.  If he’d done that, I suspect he’d have had a better chance of hanging onto his constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber, which he lost to the SNP in the 2015 election.

 

From ibtimes.co.uk

 

Venerable British character actor Ron Moody died in June at the age of 91.  Moody is best-known for playing Fagin in Oliver! (1968), Sir Carol Reed’s film adaptation of the Lionel Bart musical that itself was an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  I have to say, though, that I find the glorified Cockney singalong that is Oliver! annoying.  Instead, I prefer Moody’s appearances in various low-budget British comedy, crime, horror and children’s films, for example, The Mouse on the Moon (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), Legend of the Werewolf (1975) and the UK Disney movie The Spaceman and King Arthur (1979), in which he played Merlin to Kenneth More’s King Arthur, John Le Mesurier’s Sir Gawain and Jim Dale’s Sir Mordred.

 

Cecil the Lion was slain just outside Hwange National Park in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe at the start of July.  His killer was American dentist and would-be big-game hunter Walter Palmer.  I can only surmise that Palmer carried out this pointlessly cruel deed in the belief that it would increase his penis size.  And maybe it’s worked.  Maybe now Palmer’s penis is no longer two millimetres long.  Maybe now it’s three millimetres long.

 

(c) The Daily Telegraph

 

American wrestler and actor Roddy Piper died in July.  I’ll cherish Piper for his performance in the 1988 science-fiction movie They Live, directed by John Carpenter.  Piper plays a down-at-heels labourer who finds a mysterious pair of glasses that show the world as it really is – run by skull-faced capitalist aliens who, in league with earth’s yuppie classes, are stripping the planet of its resources whilst keeping the general population docile by bombarding them with subliminal messages telling them to consume, watch TV and not ask questions.  Carpenter meant They Live as a satire of Ronald Reagan-era America; but nowadays, in this era of multinationals, oligarchs and law-onto-themselves banks, the film seems ten times more relevant than it was then.

 

July also saw the passing of another British character actor, Aubrey Morris.  Morris popped up in various British horror movies that made an impression on my teenaged self: 1971’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (in which he perishes in a blast of malevolent, ancient-Egyptian psychic energy directed at him by Valerie Leon), 1973’s The Wicker Man (in which he plays an eccentric gravedigger who winds up Edward Woodward) and 1985’s bonkers Lifeforce (in which he, Peter Firth and Frank Finlay try to deal with a brazenly naked space-vampire lady played by Mathilda May).  Morris had a wonderful screen persona – he resembled an even twitchier and more sinister version of Freddie Jones.

 

(c) British Lion Films

 

In August actor George Cole died.  Book-ending Cole’s career were two famous performances as Cockney wheeler-dealers.  In the St Trinian’s film comedies from 1954 to 1966, he played the pencil-moustached spiv Flash Harry who skulks about St Trinian’s School and schemes with its unruly female pupils – bottling the gin they’ve cooked up in the chemistry lab and placing their bets on the horse-races.  Rationing ended in Britain the same year as the first St Trinian’s film; so the spiv, with his black-market connections, was a familiar figure to British cinema audiences at the time.

 

Three decades later Cole played Arthur Daley, used-car salesman, would-be importer / exporter and general dealer in dodgy goods, in the 1980s TV comedy-drama Minder.  This chimed with the times as well – the 1980s being the era that Margaret Thatcher supposedly gave free rein to Britain’s entrepreneurial instincts.  (One Minder episode sees Arthur’s long-suffering sidekick Terry, played by Dennis Waterman, accusing Arthur of fancying Mrs T – his boss has her portrait hanging on his office wall.  Arthur retorts that he admires certain of her ‘womanly attributes’.  Yuck.)

 

August was also the month that American horror-film director Wes Craven died.  I have mixed feelings about Craven’s films and I consider The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and even A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) overrated.  But I loved his Scream movies – the first two of them (1996 and 1997) anyway – and I’m fond of his neglected 1991 film The People under the Stairs which, like They Live, has a few things to say about Ronald Reagan-era America.

 

From bowwowtimes.com

 

And alas, 2015 was when we said goodbye to Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier who stole the show from his human co-stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman in the Oscar-winning 2011 movie The Artist.  Uggie shuffled, or snuffled, off this mortal coil on August 7th.

 

More deaths to follow…

 

Arma-ned-don

 

(c) United Artists

 

I’ve spent the past few hours following Twitter-feeds and live-updates on various newspaper websites as folk report and react to the results of the 2015 UK general election.  In particular, I’ve been following the misfortunes of the Scottish Labour Party’s Members of Parliament.  Or ex-Members of Parliament as they nearly all are now.

 

It’s been payback-time for Scottish Labour after last year’s referendum on Scottish independence, when they campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron’s Conservative Party and blustered, threatened, whined and wheedled that it was far better for Scotland to be ruled by a right-wing Cameron government in London than to have a fully-independent parliament in Edinburgh pursuing its own policies that were more palatable to Scotland’s generally left-of-centre sensibilities.  Thanks to their referendum-campaign behaviour, the chancers, troughers, numpties and neds that made up Scottish Labour’s Westminster contingent have now been stuffed by the Scottish National Party.  Stuffed utterly.

 

In fact, this morning, counting those weary old Scottish Labour hacks as, one by one, they’ve been shown the door by their constituents, I’ve sounded a bit like the Count in Sesame Street.

 

“One…  Two….  Three…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Four…  Five…  Six…  Dougie Alexander…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!   Eight…  Nine…  Ten…   Jim Murphy…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Twelve…  Thirteen…  Fourteen…  Ian Davison…   Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Sixteen…  Seventeen…  Eighteen…  Margaret Curran…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Twenty…  Twenty-one…”  And so on and so forth, all the way to 40.

 

(c) Children’s Television Workshop

 

The SNP would’ve probably claimed all 41 of the Scottish Labour MPs’ scalps if it hadn’t been for Ian Murray hanging on in Edinburgh South.  Presumably this was due to a reaction against some ill-advised comments that his SNP opponent, Neil Hay, made on Twitter.  Hay’s comments were reported in a somewhat out-of-context manner by the Unionist-friendly media, but they were still pretty unpleasant and ignorant for an aspiring MP to make.

 

At least Dougie Alexander and Jim Murphy managed to make magnanimous and dignified speeches as they accepted defeat.  If their party had struck a similarly humble and non-belligerent tone at the start of the election campaign – as opposed to peddling their usual sense-of-entitlement / we-have-a-God-given-right-to-rule-Scotland-forever guff – they mightn’t be so deep in the ordure now.

 

Let’s hope this marks the end of the reign of the Scottish Labour leadership’s devious, unscrupulous and unashamedly-Blairite spin doctor, John McTernan.  He seemed to think he could win back Scottish voters by having his party’s MPs associate the SNP with the Tories in every sentence they uttered; and by banging on about lifting the alcohol ban at Scottish football matches; and by making lots of nice-sounding promises that were meaningless because they related to things Westminster no longer has authority over in Scotland – they’ve been devolved to Edinburgh and won’t be relevant until the Scottish election takes place next year.  Actually, McTernan’s strategies were based on the supposition that all Scottish people are as thick as mince.

 

The fact that Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy started the election campaign by claiming a vote for the SNP would allow the Tories back into power, and ended it by begging Tory voters in his constituency to vote Labour in order to keep the SNP out, said it all.

 

Elsewhere, it looks like Cameron will form the next UK government because he’s won enough Westminster seats in England and Wales.  (He’s also won one seat in Scotland because, cringe, horror, his single Scottish MP David Mundell has managed to survive as representative for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale — which, cringe, horror, is where I’m from.)  This will either be a purely Conservative administration or one with the support of some minor and sufficiently right-wing party like the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.  Scottish Labour’s warnings that voting for the SNP rather than for them would allow Cameron back into Number 10 were unfounded.  Cameron would probably have retained power even if Labour had won all 59 constituencies in Scotland.

 

Incidentally, I felt great schadenfreude at the sight of George Galloway, the former Respect MP for Bradford West, losing the constituency by more 10,000 votes.  The photos of George’s face at the count suggested someone had just done a very large shit in his fedora hat, which he hadn’t noticed until he plopped it on over his head.  I once admired Galloway for his principled opposition to Blair, Bush and the Iraq War.  But since then, he’s been such a narcissistic and self-important nincompoop – especially during the Scottish referendum campaign – that I’m delighted to see him collect his P45.

 

And meanwhile, I love the smell of napalmed Liberal Democrat MPs in the morning.  At the moment, with 83 seats still to be declared across the whole of the United Kingdom, they’ve managed to hold on to just eight of them.  Certainly proof of the old saying that “you reap what you sow.”

 

But I was a little sad when old Charlie Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, got pushed out (again by the SNP).  Although he’s had his share of personal problems in recent years, he’s always struck me as being an intelligent and principled sort.  If he’d quit the Liberal Democrats and become an independent in 2010, after the party decided to do their deal with the devil and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives – something Kennedy clearly wasn’t happy about – I suspect he’d still be an MP this morning.