Saturday, January 16, 2016

An uncensored version of this blog can be found at:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Terry Murray: A Life Well-Lived

June 22nd 1936- December 21st 2014

“Thank you all for coming today. It’s great to see so many people here, but I would have expected nothing less.
Dad was very popular, well-liked and loved in many areas of his life – work, bowls, the Con Club, Speakers and, of course, his family. It’s a great consolation to see representatives from all of these parts of his life here today.
Looking back, I remember the first time that I realised that, one day, my parents would die.
I was about five years old and watching TV in our old house in Partington and something made me realise that these two people – the two people who were my world – would one day be gone.
In some ways, you spend your whole life preparing to lose your parents but, when it happens, you are still never ready.
In the last few months, I think the fear I felt then as a five-year-old returned. I sensed, as did many of us that, for Dad, his time was coming.
As well as the fear of losing him, there was a different fear. There was the fear that, when this time came, I wouldn’t do him justice.
My Dad, as many of you might recall, liked a drink. When we were younger and he’d had a few, as the evening wore on, he would sometimes say: “You kids will never do as well as I’ve done. You’ll never travel as far.”
At the time, we’d raise our eyebrows and think: “Time for bed. The silly old bugger has had enough for tonight.”
When I think about it now, though, I think he was right.
He had a remarkable life.
From a fairly poor background, he travelled the world. He had a great career and a happy marriage. Dad had a very full life.
He also forged a partnership with my mother, a pairing that last more than 60 years.
It has been one of the great double acts. Up there with Morecambe and Wise, Lennon and McCartney and, occasionally, Smith and Wesson.
Dad achieved a lot, but Mum played a huge part in all of it. The best day of Dad’s life was the he met Mum. I think it may have made Mum’s Top 10 too.
One thing he believed in very firmly - a lesson he learnt from his own Father – was the importance of educating your kids.
All three of us – Andrew, Kevin and myself – went to university, something that involved considerable sacrifice from both Mum and Dad.
But, in truth, we still haven’t done as well as he did.
We didn’t have too.
He did all the hard work, all the heavy lifting.
He achieved so much and gave us so much that we didn’t have to travel quite so far. And that is something that we will always be grateful for.
So, I don’t see today as a day of mourning.
Dad wasn’t taken from us before his time and he didn’t suffer. And he didn’t leave much undone.
He saw his children grow up and he got to know and love his grandchildren.
He also enjoyed his retirement.
To the day he died. He was still playing snooker, watching the bowls and the football and enjoying the occasional beer. And the far more occasional cigar.
It was a life well-lived.
Mission accomplished.
A job well done.
We should celebrate his life and not mourn his loss.
For me, he will always be with me. I know I will hear his voice whenever I am on the verge of doing something unwise – as has been known – I’ll hear him say: “Why are you doing that you daft bugger?”
And, hopefully, I’ll listen.
We’ve had a lot of quotations today. From the poem cited by Kevin to the words of comfort from Father Tony.
I’d just like to add one more, from a book I read a long time ago.
For me, it sums up how we handle events like this –
We can’t go on.
We must go on.
We go on.
Let’s go on.
 But, please, let’s not forget him".
Funeral Eulogy, January 2015  

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Gift

A tale of Hong Kong at Christmas

The Boy with the Small Wooden Tree was there again. Watching him. Lurking among the restaurant rubbish that cluttered his cut-through to work.

Olive-skinned, wide and dark-eyed, clutching the uncoloured toy, wearing the same clothes as yesterday. And the day before. Too long jeans and a once-gaudy tee-shirt, pushing a brand unknown locally.

Jason semi-nodded, acknowledging the ritual of their daily passing. Half-hidden by polystyrene debris, the Boy said nothing, his eyes following the man as he picked his way back to the main drag.

The image of the boy lingered in Jason’s mind a little longer every day. This was their fifth encounter? Sixth? Seventh? 

Every day, twice a day, morning and night. Always alone, always silent, his eyes neither reproachful nor alarmed. Waiting.

If he lifted the blind on the 38th floor and looked down, would he be waiting still? Looking up to meet Jason’s eyes?

The next morning, Jason found himself in the Big Breakfast queue. He wasn’t there for himself, he knew that much, but the notion of passing it to The Boy was but dully formed.

He was there. Of course. The littered landscape had changed, but the Boy was the same. Grubbier maybe. The toy still in his hand and his eyes still wide.

Jason slid the tray onto a discarded packaging case, an overnight addition to the cut-through.

“For you,” he said.

The Boy’s gaze switched to the yellow package, a halo of steam hanging over it in the cold morning air. Jason lifted the lid. Egg. Tomato. Bacon. Hash browns.

“For you,” he said again, backing away, heading towards the office.

Glancing back, the boy was still focused on the tray, neither moving forward nor backing away.

That evening, there was no sign of the boy. But the tray was there. Empty, but neatly arranged on the same packing case. It was wet to the touch, washed clean. Jason scooped it up, MTR-bound, smiling slightly to himself. Behind him, he heard the sound of scrabbling, somebody small emerging from cover. He didn’t look back.

Their ritual had moved to the next level. Every day, Jason stopped off for fast food and, every day, the boy was waiting. As the weeks wore on, Jason added to their morning repertoire. A change of tee-shirt. A toothbrush. A picture book.

Sometimes, the offerings were returned. Sometimes, the Boy was there in the evening. Often he just heard him. As the days grew colder, the Boy preyed upon his mind still more. 

For all he really knew, home to the child was one of the older blocks that ringed the area or a back room in one of the less select restaurants. It was more a comfort to him than a hand-on-heart belief.

As November became December and the year prepared to turn, the boy grew thinner, his wide eyes peering out from above a swathe of tee-shirts. Some of them Jason recognized, some of them he didn’t.

Coats, jumpers and a scarf joined the morning offertory, most of them ridiculously big for the child, a couple of them charity shop appropriate. The boy took them all wordlessly. Returning some of them without explanation, while others became an occasional part of his winter collection.

Jason had still mentioned the boy to no-one, whether fearing the obligation to act or relishing their silent exchanges. It was an answer he didn’t know himself. 

As Christmas approached, no amount of oversized clothing was keeping the cold from the boy, even in the mildness of a Hong Kong December. Wherever he was from, it was far warmer than the Fragrant Harbour in winter.

On Christmas Eve morning, the boy was nowhere to be seen. Jason waited, the fast-food breakfast cooling in his hand. He waited, glancing furtively around, no name to call.

Over on the packing case lay the familiar yellow tray, yesterday’s breakfast late returned. Idly, Jason flipped the lid, wondering how his young friend’s cleaning skills were progressing. There, napkin-nestled, was the familiar silhouette of The Boy’s toy, the first time he had ever seen the tiny tree out of the child’s grasp. Scrawled across the wrapping were two words: “For you.”

Jason slipped the tiny wooden present into his pocket. Not wanting to accept, but loathe to reject.

The Boy was still nowhere to be seen when evening fell. The alley was empty, save for providing a refuge for one or two whose festive lunching had been overly ambitious or unwise. Jason waited. As dusk gave way to dark, he spotted the boy, watching him from the heart of the shadows.

He stretched out his hand.

“Jason,” he said.

The Boy watched him. Jason proffered his hand again.

“For you,” he said.

Silently, the Boy slid out of the shadows, a veteran of the covert.

“Karim,” he said. 

And took Jason’s hand.

Few glanced at the odd couple on their MTR trip back – the returning officer worker and the strangely dressed seven-year-old, clearly clad for some classmate’s themed get-together. Once home, however, attention was more difficult to duck.

Cherona peered at the new arrivals from behind a stack of finely-wrapped gift boxes. One, she was fairly sure, was her husband. The other, she was equally sure, wasn’t.

“This is Karim,” said Jason, “he’s come to stay. For Christmas.”

“Oh how lovely,” said Cherona, with way more tact than conviction. “Jason. A word.”

The word ran to a series of sequels. The tact was gone, but the conviction remained.

“Jason, honey, you know I love your little peculiarities, but bringing an urchin home for Christmas is a tad on the presumptuous side, babe. Mother and the girls are here tomorrow and… and…and is he yours? Is there something – clearly a lot – I don’t know. Have you done this for a bet? Out of spite? Did Celia put you up this? Is it one of hers? Is she hiding?”

Cherona glanced around, keen to put her good side and apparent good humour to the fore were she the butt of a little of the gang’s festive ribaldry. With no muffled titters to be had, all dissemblance was promptly dispatched.

“He’s alone,” said Jason. “I found him in an alley near work.”

“Well you can just take him back to an alley near work. Or any alley. You can’t just bring strange kids home. That ought to be a law against it. In fact, I’m sure there is a law against it. At least one.”

“It’s Christmas,” said Jason simply.

“Yes, Jason, it is. It’s Christmas. By far the worse time to bring home strays. He’ll probably murder us in our beds and the whole house will need fumigating when he’s gone…It’s worse than your father being here.”

“He's staying,” Jason said, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder. 

Karim said nothing, open-mouthed with wonder at the spectacle before him, all corsetry, warpaint and wails.

“One night, Jason, one night. And I swear that’s only because I am such a saint. Now, can I borrow your credit card, sweetie? I seem to have broken mine….?”

In a passing “ciao”, Jason and the boy were alone again, the balance of concern forever shifted.

It was 9 O’clock on Christmas Eve and Cherona was festively absent, whereabouts unknown, with even her voicemail sounding a little impatient at Jason’s repeated calls. Karim, meanwhile, had spent his time in wide-eyed wonder at the limited delights of his host’s home, mutely appreciating each appliance in turn, staring almost disapprovingly at the casual decadence of an overly-upholstered throw cushion.

 “Time for bed,” said Jason. Was it? He really had little idea, but felt a gravity well of assumed parenthood pressing down upon him. 

Karim did little to query Jason’s credentials, contentedly traipsing after him to the tiny unloved spare room at the back of the apartment, home to smart TV packaging, resting travel bags and a z-bed that has seen both better days and less garish covers. Even this seemed to impress the boy, as he paused to gawp at the stray instruction booklet for a long-deceased DVD player.

“You’ll be okay in here,” said Jason, himself unsure whether this was a question or not.

Karim looked at the bed, looked at Jason and nodded.

“Right,” said Jason, “give me a shout if you need anything…”

The likelihood of Karim failing to muster a shout even should flames engulf his foldaway bed was not lost on Jason, but it was a script he recalled from his own childhood. And it was all that he had.

The living room was as empty as it had been the previous Christmas. Cherona had made more of an effort on his birthday, putting in a convincing appearance, until the demands of a teary friend had taken her away at almost exactly nine thirty. Jason opened the bottle of wine he’d chilled for the two of them and turned to his smart TV for company. They were old and familiar companions.

The warmth of the room, the TV-induced torpor and the unshared bottle lulled him gently to sleep. In a crowded dream he glimpsed his missing wife laughing with strangers, her painted nails timpaniing on bar room tables, waiting for clandestine meetings to tick round. He called her name and she replied in answerphone tones, thanking him for his interest with a beep and a burr.

He awoke as the night turned bright and loud, the unclosed curtains framing the way as the sky turned theatre. As midnight approached, the city was getting ready to welcome Christmas, with municipal fireworks and the pyrotechnic prowess of the illicit have-a-go locals creating a brilliant patchwork over the high-rises and harbour. It was a spectacle worth sharing.

The spare room was empty, the narrow-z-bed hastily abandoned, covers kicked back. Jason glanced towards the window, half-convinced his guest had taken a 21st floor wander. A fresh aerial onslaught momentarily illuminated the room. And Jason saw him.

Karim was huddled below the bed’s spindly frame, his wide eyes alight with the memories of other nights, nights when other buildings shook to distant bangs and people never came home. Smiling gently, Jason coaxed him out, holding the sobbing child until the night was quiet and then holding him still.

In the end, Charona’s tantrum was briefer than he’d have put money on. Her early morning ”sorry babe” apologies had been stymied by a hall full of hatboxes and black-bagged belongings. She was out of the door again, taxi summoned, before she’d really taken it all in, hungover and mum-bound on a crisp Christmas morning.

That evening, the fireworks were back. Karim and Jason watched them from the wide window of the 21st floor, tails of fire crisscrossing the night as the all too brief a season said its loud farewells.

As the world turned, with misfortune starred for many, in one small corner of Hong Kong, the Christmas was a happy one, full of promise for the New Year to come.

This story was first published in Gafencu Men, December 2015 edition.