A grief observed

In a week when the world has mourned the loss of two great stars in the form of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about death and how we respond to it. That’s partly thanks to having an evening of curate training at a funeral directors, and a death in the parish, as well as my own response to the celebrity deaths.

Bowie’s death was (obviously) unexpected and a shock, but I’m really the wrong generation for true Bowie affection. However, I was rather surprised by my reaction – a need to listen to his music and hear as much as I could about him – which resulted in listening to BBC 6 Music’s fantastic response en route to work. Bowie was a phenomenal talent and most people expected it to last forever. Like a few other friends, I felt like I needed to learn more about the man, his music and other creative outlets, having previously always known he was there in the background. Now he wasn’t, there was a lifetime of work to catch up on. [Apart from the obvious: Labyrinth and pretty much most of his greatest hits.]

Interestingly, the overwhelming public response to this untimely death resulted in something of a backlash against such shows of grief. Camilla Long [The Times’ journalist that my friend Rich considers to be my doppelgänger] suggested that such displays of grief on social media were insincere and that those involved should “man up”. But why? Don’t we (particularly the British population) already have a reputation of stifling emotions in an unhealthy way?

Bowie grief brixtonThe display of mourning in Brixton. (Credit)

In actual fact, up to a certain point, such displays of grief isn’t just natural, it’s beneficial. On the one hand, it’s completely justifiable to be grief-stricken for someone you never met or knew personally. When someone touches our lives through art, music, acting or writing, we feel a loss when it’s no longer there. In losing a person from this earth, we have genuinely lost something from our lives. Another facet of this grief is almost a kind of practice run for when grief hits us hard in the future. That’s not to say that the grief for a celebrity is a lesser grief, it’s just that it enables people to feel and experience emotions that they may not have felt before, and means that when a family-member or someone similarly close to them dies, they have a reference point for some of what they are feeling. Finally, it can act as a reminder of previous losses, triggering elements of the grieving process again. This is not a bad thing either. No matter how long has passed, moments of grief are still completely natural and even necessary. It’s bottling up those emotions that can lead to trouble…

These were thoughts I was composing in my head en route to a curate study day yesterday. In fact, I even thought that I might get chance to jot them down during the seminar – which I did not, because it turned out to be very interesting and useful! The last 15 minutes of the session were obliterated however, when this flashed up on my phone:

The bad news

My gasp may have been audible. There was eye contact with a fellow curate as I tried to convey the terrible news. Tweets were tweeted, a Facebook post composed, all in a sense of utter disbelief. I had not loved Bowie, but I had loved Rickman. I know exactly when it began – with this Texas video from 2000 – specifically, the moment when Spiteri and Rickman tango across the forecourt of a petrol station. Yes, by this point I would have already seen Sense & Sensibility, but this was what launched Alan Rickman into being one of my all-time favourite leading men. [I went into my favourite Rickman moments in this post from back in 2010 – which in the comments sparked a little debate regarding his allure. The refusenik was wrong!!]

Texas – In Demand. (Once seen it has to be repeated – according to those who saw it for the first time yesterday courtesy of my sharing!)

I don’t need to tell you how amazing Rickman was. I know I’m not alone in having sobbed my way through Truly, Madly, Deeply (I can vividly remember watching it for the first time and my father declaring it a soppy mess). The discerning Harry Potter fan knows that Rickman as Snape brought more to the role that could ever have been imagined – largely thanks to JK Rowling’s insight into who Snape really was. His humour. His presence. His voice. Oh, his voice! As I write, I’m watching Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and with a mournful sigh, I noted that this voice appears for the first time at exactly 15:06 minutes in. That voice.


Yesterday, I was grieved that I would never see Rickman perform live. I would never hear that sonorous voice in the flesh. I would never get to have a conversation with him. (I know the latter is a far-fetched notion, but I have friends who have!) There are only a few unseen films left to watch before there are no more of them. The thought is a hard one to comprehend.

Chatting with a one-time classmate (and fellow Wittertainee) after our training, I found myself nearly bursting into tears at the emotion of it all – and he felt the same. I walked my favourite walk back from college, through Green Park and sat on a bench and let the tears flow. It wasn’t entirely Rickman grief, I know that, it was a heady combo of emotion; tiredness from a very busy, over-full ‘part-time’ week at work; pent up emotions about other things that needed letting out; and, interestingly, a recurrence of mourning someone else.

alan-rickman-dead-emma-thompsonYesterday, I also made the mistake of reading Emma Thompson’s goodbye to Rickman while I was on the tube. There’s nothing like tube tears for a very public display of emotion!!

That last one was a surprise, despite being well aware of the fact that I have long associated Rickman with my one-time landlady Angela – because we both loved him, but she got to meet him (and get a photo with him) at the Love Actually premiere. Every Christmas, when I do my ritual viewing of a film that I love dearly (although I know that view is controversial), I remember Angela. It’s not surprising his death prompted those thoughts, especially as they both – as did Bowie – died from the same disease.

Today, I tramped across the mud of Hampstead Heath, thoughts still very much on a Rickman-grieving plain, sorting out my head and getting some much needed downtime. [Side-note: I was in the area for physio on my special feet, but generally if I make a pilgrimage up to Hampstead, it’s for thinking purposes.] I pondered this question of grief some more…

We, as a nation and as a society, are generally rubbish at grief. It goes hand-in-hand with being a nation known to withhold emotion and affection. Public displays of grief (as long as they don’t get ridiculously out of hand) are a good thing, a healthy thing in fact. We need to have outlets to express our grief and social media is perfect for this – especially as it can be a place for solidarity, of grieving together. On Wednesday, our morning prayer group shared memories and prayers of thanksgiving for the life of the parishioner who had died. On Thursday (and today) I shared memories of favourite Rickman moments on social media. Both are good, healthy and necessary!

Tea making became truly epic when Rickman got involved…

We don’t like to talk about death. It is feared and not understood. Perhaps if we were as honest in our feelings as people have been this week, society would find itself in a much healthier place in its attitudes towards death, grief and loss.

Friday Fun with two of my favourite men

I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, but Josh Groban has to be one of my all-time favourite men. He’s got a beautiful voice, a ridiculously fantastic sense of humour and a Twitter feed to die for. When he writes a tweet that begins with: “On this day, remember it well, the Internet reached it’s peak.” you can be virtually certain that the attached hyperlink contains a gem.

When that sentence is followed by the words “And it starred Alan Rickman.” then quite frankly I couldn’t click on the link fast enough. Alan Rickman is a legend – end of story. And thus, watching eight minutes of Rickman making a cup of tea in slow motion becomes a thing of utter beauty…

Quite frankly, that’s almost too much fun for me on an otherwise quiet Friday, but I do appreciate that some will not be satisfied with it. So, for your fun and amusement, I present you with an educational game that incorporates technology and sex education – can you tell an android phone from a condom?  Yes, I’m serious. Recently, someone created a chart illustrating the similarities in nomenclature between the two products, so it was only really a matter of time before it became a game. Informative, educational and fun – what’s not to like about that?

Wizard Friday Fun

Today is an auspicious day.

Today, the final curtain will fall on a saga that has kept me occupied for a good many hours over the last 11 years. 
Today, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is officially released (henceforth known as HP7b) and I, for once, will see it the very day it opens. 
The media is full of Harry Potter retrospectives at the moment – and with good reason. The final instalment of an eight film franchise is a momentous occasion. Yes, not all the films are superb, but, as a general rule they do the books good service – especially Prisoner of Azkaban (the discerning Potter fan’s favourite book and film). The first film came out during my final year of university and now I’m on the cusp of another big change. To this day, parts of Hogwarts are still the room where I had choir rehearsals as a teenager and I will forever be indebted to Alan Rickman for making Snape a much more bearable character to read as the later books were published. [Coincidentally, right at this moment my parents are on holiday in Alnwick – location of Alnwick Castle, the main set used for Hogwarts. Wonder if they’ve realised?] 
Anyway, for those of you that consider this an important event, I have some fun for you. Those that couldn’t give a toss about Harry Potter can come back next week – I make no apologies for what I like… 
Firstly, a fantastically creative interpretation of all the films, via cartoon. The Summharry parody comic by Lucy Kinisley is utter genius and you’ll have to follow that link to see the full beauty of it. One cartoon for each film now turned into one massive cartoon covering all eight of them. The comedic detail is fabulous! 
Continuing the spoof theme and returning to my favourite blog written by a bookseller, Jen Campbell (of ‘weird things customers say in bookshops’ fame) has written some seriously fabulous spoofs. Yes they’re long, but to anyone who knows the books in a certain amount of detail, they’re hilarious. Books 1-4 have been done so far, and if this extract from the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Cup of Pretty Blue Flames is anything to go by, they’re well worth reading:

Chapter One: Some dude called Frank

JK Rowling: Once upon a time there was an old man who lived in a house…
Readers: WTF Jo, where’s Harry?
JK Rowling: Shut up, I am SETTING the SCENE.
Readers: Oh. Well get on with it then.
Nagini: Hissssssssssss.
Frank: You’re not a pesky kid.
Voldemort: So, David Tennant, what will you bring to the story?
David Tennant: An amazing cool leather jacket.
Voldemort: Fabulous. Fashion is my number one priority right now.
Nagini: Hisssssssssss.
Voldemort: Ooo, Nagini says that lunch is standing just outside the door.
Wormtail: Oh, fabulous, I was getting rather peckish. AVADA KEDAVRA.
Something I didn’t think I’d manage to include in this week’s fun was my traditional standby of comedy a cappella YouTube video, but, remarkably you can get a Harry Potter themed one of those too – superb! This is Overboard Vocals (friends of the ever-wonderful Swingle Singers) performing Hedwig’s Theme, complete with wigs…

Yes, I realise that you’ll now have quite an irritating piece of music going round your head for the rest of the day – but imagine what it’s like working in a bookshop on a Harry Potter release day and hearing nothing but that for many, many hours from very early in the morning. I have no sympathy.

Back to dear Alan Rickman. So Snape is perhaps not a role in which I’m able to swoon over him as I would in Truly, Madly, Deeply or that Texas video that I love, but he is utterly fabulous and thank goodness JK Rowling was able to persuade him to take the part. I love him even more ever since I read the letter he wrote to fans, published in Empire Magazine in April:

Finally, just in case you need a reminder of what’s happened in the last films, here’s a handy round-up of all that has gone before:

And with that, I’m off to enjoy a screening of HP7b in a classy cinema (which serves booze), with good company and no children. Awesome!

A little shallow fun

Earlier this morning I had a conversation with a friend in which I mentioned the fact that my mother finds the Bishop of London’s voice rather sexy. [Can I just say, I think that might the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘sexy’ on this blog, it’s an awful word…] The fact that my mother thinks this is deeply disturbing – not least because it proved to be something of a distraction when the Bishop came to preach at my church.

Friend responded with a comment about women finding the bizarrest men sexy. Even as he spoke, my weirdest crush immediately sprang to mind, so it really didn’t surprise me that the example he used was ‘that man who plays Professor Snape’, i.e. the immensely wonderful Alan Rickman.

This inevitably led me to look up this video, which I can pinpoint as the precise moment my crush began:

[Note to potential suitors: I am very easily pleased. All I need is to be engulfed in manly arms, have my hair stroked and spend a re-fuelling the car stop tangoing across a petrol station forecourt.]

The love of Alan Rickman spans the generations. Yes, he is just about old enough to be my grandfather. Yes, women of my mother’s age and beyond also find him hot. Yes, he looks a bit funny (have hope funny looking men!), but he has an amazing voice.

If you’re young and have missed out on this (or older and simply think I’m mental), I provide the following ‘must see’ list for your education and illumination:
Truly Madly Deeply (1991) – you’ll cry buckets and want to play the cello.
Dogma (1999) – he’s the Angel Gabriel and Alanis Morrisette’s God, what’s not to like?
Galaxy Quest (1999) – this is less about the lovely Alan and more about the fact that it’s a hilarious pastiche of the entire sci-fi genre.
Love, Actually (2003) – I don’t need to explain this, surely?
Snow Cake (2006) – it’s bleak and harrowing but an interesting indy film starring Sigourney Weaver as an autistic woman.
Sweeney Todd (2007) – he and Johnny Depp sing. Enough said.

And of course any of the Harry Potter franchise, though I’m particularly looking forward to how they bring Snape out in the final instalments…

Ahhhhh, do excuse me, I’m off to watch the video again and reminisce about the day my one-time landlady met him and taunted me with the photo of the two of them together.

A shallow post

I was browsing some blogs today, and came across one that listed a girl’s top 5 celebrity men “pretty much in order of how long I’d keep them locked up”. Whilst not wanting to go that far, I thought I’d have a shallow day (after all, it is Friday!) and come up with my own top 5 hotties. Unfortunately, cos it’s Friday and my brain’s fried, I can only come up with 4 – so I may have to update this later, when no doubt a 5th comes to mind in the middle of the night!

#1 – Ben Fogle

Yes he’s posh, yes he’s blonde and yes he’s got a black labrador – could we have any more in common?????

Unfortunately I’m not so keen on the adventurous streak he’s got, but no man’s perfect!

#2 – Will Young
So again, posh – but not blonde. Unfortunately he now has no hair, in attempt to battle baldness which is a total travesty. Lovely voice & a bit of a lisp. Fabulous.

And he’s gay.

#3 – Adam Garcia

Most famous for his role in Coyote Ugly, but currently to be found wearing unbelievably tight breeches playing Fiyero in Wicked. Again, fab voice & gorgeous eyes. Unfortunately 8 performances a week seems to be taking its toll & he’s not been looking so hot lately.

#4 – Alan Rickman

Some might think this is a strange choice, but incidentally the blog I stole this idea from listed him too. I have an ongoing argument with a male friend that many women find him hot – including several people I was at school with. It all started when he was in a Texas video and tangoed with Charlene Spiteri on a petrol station forecourt…Has completely changed my perception of Snape in Harry Potter too!%