Archive for February, 2019

The flight of Icarus

The Flight of Icarus

I watched you, my son

Making your wings

Fine and feathery

Large. Then larger

(you must) Watch me fly, dad!

The rhythm of your flight – fast, strong

Then faster, faster

Up, up

High, high, higher

Come back!

Was that my heart or my voice that cried to you?

I watched you………soaring, soar……

The sun…. too close!

Too high

Up there, I watched you go, up there

Oh, my son,

My son – shining……or burning?

Flames, singeing, melting

The wings shrivel, shrink

Flapping wildly, then feebly. Fear.



And when you fell

I watched

My son

Daedalus (6th July 2007)

Written when a young colleague went through a major crisis 

Harold Westwood RIP

My father died on October 5th 2016.

Here is the Eulogy I gave at the funeral.

It is, of course, a privilege to be able to deliver a eulogy on my father, Harold Hughie Westwood Esq – I thought that the word ‘eulogy’ was derived from two Greek words, ‘good’ and ‘word’. But as my father would have told me and my daughter did tell me, the ‘eu’ is a prefix rather than a word. So a eulogy. Not a panegyric (another Greek-derived word) because, wonderful as he was, dad was not perfect and, for the sake of old boys of Plumtree school (known as Old Prunitians or OPs), I must not hold back from pointing out just a few imperfections, as he freely would point out theirs. As Roy Jones, ex-pupil and former colleague, has perceptively pointed out, dad was ‘one-of-a-kind’. Yet I wonder if this son of the English Midlands (or the Black Country as he delighted to call it when living in central Africa), if this Oxford graduate in the Greats ( Latin and Ancient Greek) would have developed this unique set of characteristics if Felix had not dragged him from his native soil and planted at him in the tropical sun she sought, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert – the little town of Plumtree

As I think back to dad’s intellect and cleverness, his ability to absorb facts like a sponge and marshal them into squadrons, I can imagine him as an Oxford don with students around him being challenged, affronted and delighted. What he got under the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean sun forced a different response from him, but it was no less challenging, affronting and (from the many comments from OPs over the years and in the days since he died) delightful to the teenage sons of the central African soil among whom he was transplanted.

This brings me to important aspect of HHW’s nature – a lack of ambition. A quiverful of curiosity, but no driving sense of impetus or direction. Do what you do well, yes, – ambition with a small ‘a’ certainly – but the aim is not to get ahead. Hence the 39 years given to where he landed in 1958, what he found there. Bravo, I say! Turn ambition on its head and we have enviable capacity for contentment.

Of course there is another factor in this ‘one-of-a-kind’ equation and that is Felix. With mum behind him and next to him with her energy, her restless energy, his remarkable gifts – verbal, intellectual, creative, imaginative, – saw expression in the Plumtree milieu – plays at school and with the Plumtree Players, play readings, writing playlets and sketches, articles, clever words; producing dozens of musicals turning boys into maidens, ruffians into love-lorn heroes; and the church, the school as a whole, our home that welcomed everybody – so much was done, given – achieved even, but dad would never have accounted these achievements in a notching up kind of way. That wasn’t his style. Ask him to teach French, History to help out – of course and with aplomb. He even coached waterpolo for a term though he’d never learnt to swim!

Harold and Felix, Felix and Harold – yes!, Remarkable, God-given. Immensely appreciated by so many.

Now I’d like to close the doors and bring your Harold and Felix into the home; father, mother, 4 children. Hush the busyness of school life – the bells, the choir practices, house duties, the societies – out please, it’s just us now. Family time.

Dad is reading Robin Hood to Peter for the Nth time, changing the words to side-splitting effect. An audibly vigorous and typical riff-like pat of Honey, the labrador. Oh, but now it is time for the news on the BBC World Service. Oh no, they’ve got their facts wrong again! Dad rubs his hands together, the manual equivalent of grinding his teeth. There will be a letter to the BBC in consequence. Maybe they’ll read it out on air. Once they phoned dad for his viewpoint. Now dad has made a wonderfully fluffy cheese omelette. Come suppertime there will not be a scrap left on his plate, a wartime habit. Dad enjoyed his food to the days before he died.

Now dad has gone into the garden. He is standing next to his dahlias, as tall and upright as he is. Now the mielies – his ‘corn is as high as an elephant’s eye’, as Matthew Silcock was trained to sing in 1968. Next it is to tend his prolific veggies, and inspect his beloved compost. Contentment again, no hurry, no rush. Now there’s a broken teapot lid to be glued – delight indeed. Next a chair needs repair. Etc etc, to quote Henry Olonga in The King and I.

Shift the focus a bit and Harold’s 4 children are married: he has acquired 4 outlaws, two of whom (fittingly) are OPs. Now, to misquote the Pirates of Penzance, comes a train of little laddies – seven grandsons and three granddaughters. I think dad was a little more comfortable with these young people once they were verbal and able to have conversations than when they were at their vigorous noisy preschool age. A particular delight to him came last year when Sarah and Ursula won scholarships that allowed them to follow him to Oxford University, 70 years on. And then this year in pops the tiny Quinn, Alex’s grandchild. Dementia could not dull dad’s connection with this little bundle.

But dementia performed the Benjamin Button act on dad – as it progressed his life connections (apart from direct family) moved backwards. In the difficult final months, Cape Town disappeared, Bulawayo faded, Plumtree’s details grew dim. We find ourselves before Oxford in his last weeks, dad riding his bicycle around central England as in his youth – an explanation for the 89 years achieved by largely sedentary adult, perhaps – and at the end he asked Peter when his father (an undertaken by the way) – when his father was coming. Well, dad, I believe you’re now with your two fathers who art in heaven. Happy thought.

As I draw to a close, some apologies & some thanks.

To all the blithering idiots, morons and cretins who seemed to pepper Plumtree school in dad’s time, my apologies. I remonstrated with him after I encountered a flesh and blood cretin at medical school. To those who sometimes couldn’t get a word in edgeways, I sympathise. He met his match in Joan Suttle! To those whose anecdotes I could not include, apologies, but there will be time enough for those many stories from many people.

Our thanks to many, many people, friends, colleagues, pupils. What a rich life you gave to dad. To Rosedale, who gave Felix and Harold a new community after the dislocation of Zimbabwean refugee-hood. To Ward and Sheila Jones who took them in at the start of that traumatic time. To St Thomas’s Church – another home from home provided. Dr Charlie Miller, consummate family practice and personal care – thank you so much. To the staff at Doordrift Lodge – you knew dad in the most difficult two months of his life. Your professionalism and warm care despite his anger and intolerance is so very much appreciated by the family. Special thanks to the old Prunitians who stayed in contact and supported dad and mum over many years, and have said and written such wonderful things about dad in his last days. To Peter and Caroline and what you have done for dad and mum since illness separated them, and long before: you have demonstrated all the fruits of the Spirit, most especially patience and love. Thank you from all of us. To mum – you were the pole star in dad’s life. He could never have been who he was to all of us without you. 61 years of marriage and the time before that is evidence of an exceptional relationship, not always peaceful – you had to harry Harry at times, didn’t you? – but always deeply committed and generous.

The last words, good words, I give to dad:

My favourites among his many rhymes: new words for ‘Rapture, rapture’ from The Yeomen of the Guard for George Meakin and Johnny Silcock to sing to a delighted Beit Hall: ‘Georgie Porgy quite uncivilly kissed the girls and made them snivelly’. Written in the guestbook of my aunt and uncle, Ursula and Frank Allen, who lived in a hamlet in Scotland called Machrihanish: other spots like acne vanish when you’ve been to Machrihanish.

And to be fair to dad’s character as known to many of us, I read in toto (Latin ablative case, but also his nickname from me for a while, forgotten till I came to write this) – I read in toto one of the letters that made him famous (or infamous) in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, and lately in Cape Town. The Bulawayo Chronicle eventually refused to publish HHW so he used pseudonyms (another word derived from ancient Greek) but the style was always recognisable. Behold the man:

Your correspondent asserts that the name Africa isn’t African. The Afri lived in what is now Tunisia and the land was called Africa by the Romans, a name which spread as their knowledge of North African spread, as Libya might have if Alexander the Great had lived. Knowledge of the continent halted at the Sahara for centuries. So Asia was a small kingdom in what is now Turkey (Asia Minor), bequeathed to Rome by its ruler Attilus in 133 BC. Africa only existed when the Cape was circumnavigated by Diaz. It was a close thing; the Arabs coming the other way might have called it Kaffiristan, the land of the unbelievers. The Portuguese and Dutch got the word from them.

Continents are oddly named. Europe is named after a Middle Eastern woman who fled west to escape rape. America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian mapmaker, his name being latinised. Australasia was named the land of the south wind from Auster, the Mediterranean breeze. Antarctica faces the great North Bear. Open bracket – in Greek, arctos – close bracket, full stop.

Harold Westwood

Transposing a tenor part

Last Sunday I stood in for a missing tenor in Jean’s church choir. I had not been able to attend the practice so i was sight-singing the tenor part for the hymns. The Offertory hymn was the glorious Abbot’s Leigh in D major. I had the music inform of me; Jean played the introductory bars on the organ. E flat major I heard. Coming in at the start of the verse, I found that I had to do instant transposition of the tenor part’s D major notes up a semitone in order to sing them. My brain had to reconcile what I was hearing with what I was reading.

My sound world is to a large degree (but not completely) up a semitone these days. I recently attended a concert at Maynardville Open Air Theatre. The orchestra tuned to the oboe’s B flat, it seemed to me. That that seminal A has become a B flat is a measure of the change.

At the piano, all is well. Fingers, music and brain all agree with the key the eyes see. Or the keys the eyes see, when I look down at my fingers.

Holy, Holy, I will bow

Here are some parts for Reuben Morgan’s lovely song whose first line (to distinguish it from others that start with Holy Holy) is ‘Holy, Holy I will bow before my Lord and King’. The key is E major.

If you would like to make a small thank you token, please send it to .

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