August 31

The death of Diana: Private tragedy, public grief

It is 20 years since the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The loss of this undoubtedly gifted woman whose ability to connect with ordinary people and whose willingness to engage with unfashionable causes like her support for HIV victims, through her charity work helped to remove so much stigma and who did so much good, shocked the whole world.

But above everything, it was the most terrible and unimaginably awful loss for her sons William and Harry. Diana the mother was the role she cherished more than anything and the one in which she excelled.

However, 20 years on I remain as baffled by the public outpouring of grief for a woman few people really knew, as I did then.

I remember watching television coverage of her body being moved by car on the night before her funeral, accompanied by William and Harry. Vast crowds were there, but as the car continued on its journey, flash bulbs from the cameras not of the press but of mourners filled the dark sky.

Who takes photographs of a car containing a dead body, I remember wondering. If people were there to pay their respects, then show some respect. I felt so sorry for William and Harry. But it was the just the start.

Then there were the flowers piled up outside Buckingham Palace. I did not doubt the motivations of people who placed them there, but it just struck me as such a terrible waste of money. Surely Diana, whose commitment to a huge number of charities was so strong and genuine, would have preferred that people have given money to a charity she supported so that if there was to be anything remotely positive to come from her death it would be through helping those in need.

Most baffling for me was the need for people to go to London to mourn someone they didn’t actually know. This for me was summed up someone who wrote to The Guardian. She had bumped into a friend on the tube who was carrying a bunch of flowers and on her way to leave them at the gates of Kensington Palace. The writer had a lost both her parents a year or so previously in a car accident and the friend had never even mentioned it.

It struck me then, and my view hasn’t changed now, that as the spectacle and the piles of flowers grew people were swept up by their shock and sadness at the death of an iconic public figure. It seemed to me that many people wanted to be in London for the funeral to say they’d been there. It could almost have been any major occasion, I thought, but don’t tell me everyone was there to pay respects.

The day of the funeral itself was worse. As the coffin followed by Prince Charles, The Duke of Edinburgh. Earl Spencer and, so incredibly poignantly, William and Harry, people wailed.

But the very worse scenes for me took place as Diana’s body was taken to Althorp after the funeral. A time for silent reflection? No, people clapped. They actually clapped a coffin. I found that as baffling now as I did then. What happened to bowing of heads, standing in thought?

And the flowers. A carpet of flowers or petals for the car to drive over might have had some merit. But no, cellophane wrapped bunches were thrown at the car in the most undignified way.

I do not question that people were shocked, I do not doubt that people felt sad, but 20 years on I remain as puzzled by the way some people reacted to the death of someone they didn’t actually know, quite, quite bizarre.

The death of any public figure is unsettling for anyone who admires and respects them (I still remember clearly hearing of the sudden and premature death of Labour Leader John Smith, by all accounts a decent man who died just when he seemed likely to reach the pinnacle of his political career), but above all it is a personal tragedy for their loved ones and friends who have lost someone they actually know.

I am no fan of the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip. Indeed I think people should be encouraged to show their feelings but I will never understand people’s need to indulge so publically in “grief” for people they never met and didn’t actually know.

March 31

Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst confirm that Only Fools and Horses will never return

This isn’t really news – as we’ve known there won’t be any more episodes of Only Fools and Horses for a long time. Now, while attending the National Film Awards earlier this week, both Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst both again confirmed this.

Both David and Nick acknowledged that without genius writer John Sullivan, who sadly passed away in 2011, the show could not return.

David talks about it here and Nicholas here.

David had said this before in this article and I’ve previously written about it here and here.


March 23

Talking to children about terrorism

This morning I sat down with my son and told him about yesterday’s terrorist attack in London.

In the past when there have been other attacks in Tunisia, Nice, Paris, Brussels and so on I have tried to shield him. We don’t have television news on anyway during the day but I like to listen to Radio 4’s Today programme but I have always made sure it remained switched off on those days and I also  pick up my newspapers as soon as they are delivered and put them out of sight.

This morning was different. My son is now at primary school and the children there range in age from 7 to 11. I felt there was a high likelihood that yesterday’s attack in Westminster would be discussed in the playground. I didn’t want my son to hear fragments of what had happened and possibly feel even more scared and worried than he would anyway be.

But how do you tell a small child about something so horrendous as yesterday’s murders without making them scared of going about their normal life?

He knows bad things sometimes happen in the world. We have discussed the plight of people in Syria and other war zones and horrendous as that is, I have always been able to say that long way away for us… not this time.

I told him that a very sad thing had happened yesterday in London. That a very bad man who was sick in the head had done some terrible things. That he had deliberately run some people over in the street and that sadly they had died. Then, I said, the man had tried to get into the Houses of Parliament. I said that a very brave policeman had stopped him but that this very courageous policeman had been attacked with a knife by the man and that he too had sadly died. I told him that other brave police officers, doctors and nurses and a member of parliament had tried to save him but that he had been too badly hurt.

I told him that the very bad man had then been shot by other brave police officers and was now dead. This I felt was particularly important for him to know.

I said that although this was a terrible, terrible event, it was fortunately very rare and that our police work very hard to protect us at all times.

We talked about the policeman who had died. I told him that I thought there was no greater sacrifice that a person could give but to give up their life to save the lives of others, just as this brave man had done.

I said that the man who had done the terrible thing was sick in the head. I said that he might have thought he was doing it for his religion but that if he had thought that that he had a wrong and that he had a twisted view of what he thought he believed in. I didn’t mention Islam.

I do not think of myself as politically correct but I genuinely don’t believe that these disgusting, deluded, cowardly terrorists represent anyone other a small sick twisted band of lunatics who may claim they are doing these things for their god but actually represent no one. I do not think they represent other Muslims any more than I think the largely white, “Christians” who have carried out mass shootings in the United States or that Alexandre Bissonnette who is accused of murdering six worshippers at the mosque in Canada in February represent other Christians.

Most people, I told my son, are good and decent people.

Then we talked about why I had told him about yesterday. I told him I didn’t want him to be scared but that other people at school might talk about it.

Then – and this I felt was really important – I told him he should be thoughtful when it came to talking about it with other children. I said he should think about how other children would feel and that perhaps he might want to not bring up the subject, particularly with children younger than himself. I said that their Mums and Dads might not have wanted to talk about it to them or may not have yet had the time to explain what had happened, especially ones with other younger children in their families who were definitely too young to be told what had happened.

I took particular trouble to mention that he should be thoughtful around one of his good friends, who has a parent who is a police officer. I thought it was quite likely that this child would be aware of what happened as they have older siblings and I wanted my son to think carefully about how this child would be feeling if he knew what had happened yesterday or if the subject came up. After all, the children of the PC Keith Palmer would have seen their dad go off to work yesterday and obviously not have expected that he would not come home.

Above all I told my son not to worry. I said that horrible as yesterday events were, they are mercifully rare. I told him that if he wanted to talk about how he felt about what I had told him then he could, at any time – and that I was always there if he wanted to talk about anything. I will tell him that again tonight.