David Garnham 1946-2018

Dad was a remarkable man, clever, technically minded, always cheerful, a man who lived very clearly in the present moment. He cared deeply for us as a family and could only really relax when he knew that everyone around him was happy. It goes without saying that he was admired by everyone who met him, and he enjoyed life.

As a civil servant for most of his life, I would ask Mum what his job was and she would say that he sat in an office all day and drank tea. And I’d think to myself, wow, what an amazing job. His job was actually quite stressful but the legend endured for many years that he was working tirelessly, helping the tea industry. Mum also used to say that he was not allowed to look out of the window in the morning at work, because this would give him nothing to do in the afternoon. But that’s The Muv for you.

Dad’s interests were also my own. Traveling, motor racing, aviation, music. I knew that one of his favourite singers was Bob Dylan, and I often wondered if I was named Robert as a kind of tribute to Bob Dylan. Though thinking about it, at the time I was born, Aunt Kath was working for Roberts Radios. Any trip either of us took was always a footnote to the type of aircraft we’d flown on, and we would talk about its route, the weather during the flight, the places the aircraft flew over, how the landing had gone, what time it had left and how long it has spent taxiing before taking off. It’s engines, it’s wingspan, the noise of its engines, and any turbulence that there might have been. Oh, and sometimes we’d talk about the actual holiday.

For me, though, Dad was a naturally funny man, who introduced me to humour and comedy from a very early age. He loved everything, from Allo Allo to The Simpsons, in which his resemblance to Homer was at times weirdly uncanny. Looking back to the days when there were only three tv channels, I always remember him roaring with laughter at films such as Airplane, Laurel and Hardy, Tom and Jerry, The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, or comedians such as Kenny Everett. He could tell a joke with all the comedy timing of a professional, something that I thought totally normal from an early age. Although for some reason he always repeated the punchline. And when he was a scout leader, I remember someone drawing a pair of tits on the fogged up window and Dad telling them off. No, he said. No. Watch. This is how they actually look.

Funny things would often happen to him and he would delight in telling us about the small things that elevate even the most normal circumstance into the realms of comedy. Like the time he went fishing and his fishing companion, Bert, asked if he’d enjoyed the cream bun. What cream bun?, Dad asked, before he realised that he was sitting on it. Or the time he wanted to show Angela how to roller skate and put on her rollerskates for an expert demonstration, only to start flailing his arms wildly before landing in a heap on the crazy paving. Or the time he went in the loft and then fell between the rafters right over Angela’s bed. Or the time he bought a cd at a car boot sale for 10p and the man running the stall said to him, hey, I don’t know if your interested, but I’m doing five for 50p. Oh good, dad said, and he went back and chose four more.

So dad’s method of dealing with people was simple. Distill a person down to their immediate characteristics, turn them into a character and then deal with them as such. Then everything that they do just adds to the narrative of who they are. In such a way, for example, most of his work colleagues had nicknames that he gave them. Some of these were quite rude, some of them were downright funny. He used to call one of his neighbours Dogs Head Stuck In Gate Woman, because she stopped to chat once and her dog got its head stuck in the gate. Backpack Man, because he wore a backpack. And where we used to live, there was someone he called Isiah. Why do you call her Isiah?, I once asked. He replied, because one eye’s ‘igher than the other. The fun just never ended.

I can’t imagine my Dad ever hating someone, apart from random TV personalities like Roy Castle, for some reason, and Ernie Wise. By turning people into affectionate caricatures, it was impossible to take them seriously enough to hate them. He would describe a person he knew who ran a hotel with an iron fist, who he nicknamed Wiggy, for obvious reasons. And then describe Wiggy’s attempts to put on a community coffee morning, in which people were only allowed a coffee once they had a biscuit, and if you ate your biscuit before the coffee arrived, then you didn’t get a coffee. Only he would tell this story in such a funny way that I’d be laughing about it days afterwards and telling everyone I met. In fact there are so many of these stories, I’ll have to write them down.

We shall all miss him greatly, of course. There’s so much to be thankful to him for, the fact he provided for us, strove to make our lives better, rebuilt our house, taught Angela to drive, took us on amazing journeys to far away places, and moved down to Devon. But most of all it is the humour that I shall miss, the jokes, the one liners, the roaring with laughter at someone falling over on You’ve Been Framed, the sudden bursts of old London music hall songs which I swear he just made up as he went along.

So I’m going to finish this eulogy with two memories of dad which made everyone laugh. The first being about fifteen years ago, he gave a cd of didgeridoo music to a friend of mum’s, this lady hated didgeridoo music, which for some reason dad would play in his car. Only knowing she wouldn’t accept this gift, he told her that it was Christmas music. This lady worked in a nursing home, and on Christmas Day itself she put the cd on to entertain the residents while she cooked their dinner. Of course she came back later to see all these poor old dears sitting in their party hats, listening to didgeridoo music. Dad got hours of pleasure out of this.

The second memory goes back to when we were kids and dad took us on a day out to Sammy Miller’s motorbike museum. The visitor toilet was in the corner of a warehouse qfull of old motorbikes and the Muv went in and then pulled the flush. Only this toilet had recently been used and the tank took ages to flush. The whole museum could hear mum frantically pulling on this chain, faster and faster in an effort to get it to flush, and dad turned to me and Angela and said, the old chap who runs this place is going to think that someone’s started up one of his bikes.

He exists in memories,
Frozen in so many moments
Of joy
And will continue to do so.

Thank you very much, and here’s to you, Dad.

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Alfred Harley, Regimental number 37601

The whistles blew on 16th August, 1916.
They ran across no man’s land,
These ordinary men,
Thrown headfirst into the darkness
Because of fools in high places,
The stroke of treaty pens and
The senseless oblivion of normality.
There seemed to be no reason.

Alfred Harley, regimental number 37601,
32 years old,
Taken down by machine gun fire and left
For thirty five hours,
His chest wounded, leaking blood,
His hip and thigh torn apart by
Ceaseless bullets, clutching at
Churned earth as the pain takes hold
Amid the thud of bombs and gun fire,
This ordinary man,
A father, a husband.

Rescued by the hands of his enemies,
Patched up and nursed back to life,
Then held as a prisoner in strange territories,
How life itself must have swirled around him
Confusing and cruel.
How many other lovers, mothers,
Sisters and brothers
Should endure a grief so stifling as to smother
For no reason other
Than the decisions of another?

Alfred Harley, regimental number 37601,
Survived,
And returned home fifteen months later,
No longer an ordinary man,
But still a father, a husband,
And more fortunate than so, so many others.
Yet even now, one hundred years on,
He is remembered and honoured,
Alfred Harley, regimental number 37601,
My great grandfather.

What I’ve been up to.

A famous saying on tea towels and greetings cards is that grief is the price we pay for love. As you might be aware my father passed away a few days ago, but mixed in with the inevitable grief was a feeling that a great worry had been lifted, even if in the saddest possible circumstances. Dad was not an old man, he was younger, for example, than the Mael brothers from Sparks. Towards the end, though, he was very poorly.

Naturally my thoughts and preoccupations over the last couple of months have been family oriented, and in spoken word I was operated on remote control, unable to commit to anything and unwilling to start any new projects. My solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, offered a strange solace, as a project that I am very happy and proud of. I had to cancel a few high profile gigs, too, and I was very glad that I did.

Yet this last week I have launched into a seam of creativity the likes of which I cannot remember for a long time. My head is suddenly full of ideas, snippets, phrases, stanzas and ideas for projects. I rediscovered the joy of playing around, just filling my creative spaces with objects, paper, laptops, props and letting my imagination run wild. Nothing seems off limits any more. I find joy in the smallest things, such as a word, or an idea.

One of the things I’ve been doing is to make audio recordings of myself just talking, improvising poems and pieces into the mic, adding music. The quality varies, but the material on the whole is interesting and may form the basis of something new. I’ve been playing around with movement, and not restricting myself to just standing behind a mic. And yes, this even includes dance. I’ve been playing my melodica and, oh dear, even singing.

Now a psychologist might suggest that I’m doing all of this to ignore the inevitable grief, but as I’m going about my daily chores and doing whatever needs to be done, I’m thinking, wow, I’m an artist. And I really want to be the best kind of artist that I can be. Indeed one of the most inspirational things I watched last week was an interview with one of my heroes, Laurie Anderson, and she talked about her creative process of just being loose, not caring about the outcome, just playing around with whatever is at hand, and that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s incredibly rewarding and I’d recommend it to anyone.

So I have one or two new projects to keep me going, which I’m really excited about. And hopefully pretty soon, you will see the fruits of these.