Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pig's Ear or Silk Purse?

Dear Friends, I face an artistic connundrum. I am unsure where exactly I stand vis-a-vis the mashup. I do admire the bricolage and DIY ethic of the form, but I have endured so many humourless and pained examples that I now approach them with utmost caution. That said, I have come across a few which, to my mind, stitch together the component songs with golden threads of sheer genius. I offer for your consideration:

Go Home Productions - Ray Of Gob (Madonna vs Sex Pistols). Currently unavailable, but allegedly will be re-released by Half-Inch Records soon. In the meantime, do browse GHP's other inspired offerings here.

DJ Tripp - Jumping Someone Else's Freak (Missy Elliott vs The Cure). Hmm, I think I found this originally on Puritan Blister, but the mysterious DJ Tripp's wares can be sampled here.

Silence Experiment - We Will Rock You In Da Club (Queen vs 50 Cent). From Q-Unit: Greatest Hits, a whole concept album of Fiddy vs Freddie (if you can stand it), which can be found here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fear Of The Pollen Count

Oh dear, this does not bode well. Though we here in Vancouver continue to endure overcast, chilly weather that smacks not a whit of an impending summer, today I noticed the air was full of cottonwood fluff. That can only mean one thing: the hay fever season is upon us. I don't want to dwell too long on this topic, Dear Readers, since whenever I whine about my allergic reactions I am reminded of Piggy from Lord of the Flies with his "ass-mar". Suffice to say that if I'm going to be gummed up, I at least want sensuous sunshine and warm sea breezes to go with it. Humph. My kingdom for a Kleenex and a Klaritin.

All of this dovetails much too nicely with the musique I've been listening to lately en voiture, namely The Divine Comedy. Ah, Neil Hannon is the man of my moment. The sweeping, swirling lushness of the arrangements. The poppy catchiness of the tunesmithing. The perfectly measured doses of ironic cheesiness. The cleverly subversive, farcical, yet tender lyrics. Indeed, I declare, as I faint dramatically onto my day bed, that Hannon may well be Noel Coward reincarnated. Only Irish.

Did I hear someone mention cheese? I see the 2006 Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling competition has discharged itself in the traditional manner. As the BBC put it, "Dozens hurt in cheese roll race." Personally I don't see the appeal of running down a steep incline somewhere in deepest, darkest Gloucestershire, chasing a 7 lb round of Double Gloucester. Now a nice truckle of Stilton or a wheel of Stinking Bishop would be well worth the effort, but not a boring, bland Double Gloucester...

The Divine Comedy - The Pop Singer's Fear Of The Pollen Count
The Divine Comedy - National Express
The Divine Comedy - Gin Soaked Boy
The Divine Comedy - Something For The Weekend

Oh, go ahead and cheat - just buy this.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy...

Dear Friends, I've just popped by tonight for a quick chat. You see, my eye was caught by two bits of news on that stirred me sufficiently to put finger to keyboard.

First, ska & reggae stalwart Desmond Dekker died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 64. Dekker's signature hit, "Israelites," was the first reggae single to top the UK charts in 1969. After enjoying raging success in the 1970s ("It Mek," "You Can Get It If You Really Want"), his star waned and in 1984 he was declared bankrupt. Dekker's career was revived by margarine, when "Israelites" was bowdlerized for use in an annoyingly catchy British TV commercial. I had the surreal pleasure of seeing Dekker perform at a Cambridge May Ball, where he wowed the crowd of tuxedoed jeunesse doree in spite of being so herbalized that he came on stage bellowing "Good evenin' Oxford!!" You can read his obituary here and Mark Lamarr's affectionate tribute here. You will probably see "Israelites" popping up all over blogland this weekend, but I offer it to you anyway:

Desmond Dekker - Israelites (buy here)

(EDIT: Dang, how right I was! Magnificent Merz of Mars Needs Guitars pipped me to the post with a pithy, eloquent tributette, and even shares my exquisite taste in graphics. Social death, or wot??)

Next, it was with a twinge of wistful melancholy that I learned Gorky's Zygotic Mynci have decided to call it a day. Though I would never claim to be a rabid fan of Gorky's, I always found their brand of Welsh indie-psych-folk whimsy most groovily pleasant. Indeed, when perusing my CD collection I was somewhat surprised to realize how much of their work I had in fact accumulated over the years. While Singer Euros Childs and guitarist Richard James are already pursuing solo careers, the first three Gorky's albums are slated for re-release this year - keep your eyes peeled. You can find out more about these druids here or at their official website. And herewith below are a few of the ditties that make me smile:

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Merched yn neud gwallt eu gilydd (buy here). Dearest Wife, who amongst her many talents counts a good knowledge of Welsh, told me a while back this translates along the lines of "Girls combing each other's hair"

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Young Girls & Happy Endings (buy here). "You know young girls like happy endings." Aww, and so do I!

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Iechyd Da (buy here). Means "Good health," apparently.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Sweet Johnny (buy here). Starts sweet, then goes a bit manic, then goes sweet again.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Mow the lawn (buy here). I sing this every time I do.

And so, mes cheries, do enjoy the weekend. We are having a 64th birthday party for my dear mother-in-law in Vancouver General Hospital's Palliative Care Ward lounge, and I must say we all intend to celebrate it both joyfully and fiercely.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Feeling Zombified

Dear Friends, my superpowers are still at a lowish ebb, despite recharging with a pizza dinner and full-on pillowfight avec Les Enfants. Though I can't actually see that cussed Black Dog at the moment, the lingering doggy smell leads me to surmise he is still nigh. My immediate problem is bone-weariness, prevasive fatigue, and brain drain; I feel like a pithed frog, a somnambulist, a zombie.

What to do? In a post yesterday on his fine blog, Coxon Le Woof mentioned en passant his preference for using music to reflect, rather than change, his mood. I decided to take the opposite tack and try to cajole myself out of my daze by overdosing on shiny, happy music. But alas, it was the wrong prescription. So today the car stereo cranked out powerful doses of ye-ye, Celia Cruz, 80s pop, and even Deee-Lite, but alas, my immune system refused to respond. Doctor, doctor, can't you see I'm burning, burning??

This evening I mused that maybe Coxon was right. Indeed, upon further thought I suspected that he might actually be an unwitting bodhisattva. Instead of denying the feelings, I stood still, stepped aside, watched them, and examined them. As it were, I hugged my inner zombie and got mindful. Quel profondeur!! Except that instead of getting all lotus-like and quiet, I did so to a soundtrack that matched my weary, edgy (and I don't mean hip), scratchy, benumbed, nervy mood. OK, not quite how Gautama Buddha would've done it, but it's starting to work for me. I'll be back on my way soon...

Alien Sex Fiend - Now I'm Feeling Zombified (buy here)
Nik Fiend and Mrs Fiend are the Pearly King and Queen of the electro-industrial goth scene. Longtime denizens of London's legendary Batcave club.

Bailterspace - Grader Spader (buy here)
I have no idea what a Grader Spader is, but it rumbles, grumbles, and rocks like a mutha. Hailing from New Zealand, Bailterspace have carved out some arresting soundscapes in their time.

Alternative TV - Life (buy here)
ATV frontman Mark Perry founded the punk ur-fanzine Sniffin' Glue before forming the band in 1976. "Life's about as wonderful as a cold / Life's about as wonderful as growing old." Later dallied with Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV.

Edith Nylon - Tank (when available, buy here)
Blondie meets Gary Numan in some dodgy banlieu of Paris. After two records singer Mylene thought better of it all and retired to Singapore.

Add N To (X) - King Wasp (buy here)
Stomping synth-blues overlaid with the squeals of machinery going horribly wrong. This London art-noize troupe released several records on Mute before imploding in 2003. Challenging stuff.

Fatima Mansions - Blues for Ceaucescu (buy here for only $.0.24!!)
Oh my, spawned by the genius that is Cathal Coughlan. Roars, rants, & raves.

And then there's this little ditty from the quirky, arty indie/new wave/comedy (hey, it says so on their myspace page) Duloks, which I picked up from the marvellous 20 Jazz Funk Greats blog. It's been stuck in my head on auto-rotate, which explains why I've been going around muttering "Red Wizard needs food badly" of late. Remember the Wizard from the video arcade game Gauntlet??

Duloks - Red Wizard Needs Food Badly

Oh, dash it! What are you doing here listening to my self-indulgent mewling?? Go have fun with Colleen Crumbcake, the Doyenne of All That Is Delish, over here and make sure you check out the Grand National track. Brush up on your Portuguese at Capas de Culto. Read some inspired creative scribblings and find out all about gay rugby (go on you Knights!!) at Diary of a Contemporary Dandy. You still here?? Go already, go!!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Spiderman vs The Black Dog

Well, I tried not to let it all get on top of me, but I failed. Pretty miserably. Poor show all round. In sharp contrast to Lordi, nul points. The Black Dog came a-visiting, and I let him in.

Sundays are generally not my best days. Regardless of circumstances, I find they hang heavy around my neck and drag, smelling like old dust and sounding like the dry tick-tocks of ancient grandfather clocks. So this past Sunday I busy myself with the mundane but necessary chores of fixing up shelves, unpacking, and the like. But everything seems so frustrating, infuriating, aggravating. Tab "A" does not go into Slot "B," screws break off, tools mysteriously vanish. Dearest Wife comes home from visiting her mother in hospital and says things do not look good. The kids, bored and seeking attention, create a ruckus. I shout at them, which only upsets them and me and Wife. I was planning to settle down and watch a film (Svankmajer's Faust), but by 9:30 PM I feel so exhausted and exasperated that I just take myself to bed. The Black Dog curls up on the floor next to me.

Today, Victoria Day bank holiday Monday, I finally wake, prodded by wife and children, at 8:30 AM. Though I'd slept soundly for eleven hours, I still feel completely drained and irritable. I'm not sure where the morning goes, but go it does, amidst much grousing on my part. Everywhere I go, Black Dog follows. By noon we are on our way to Home Depot. God, how I detest big box shopping. I can never last more than ten minutes in those merchandise mausoleums without feeling queasy and light-headed. I don't know what it is that does it; maybe the flourescent tube glare, perhaps the fume-laden atmosphere, perchance the onslaught of Special Offers ("Dremel MultiPro X-9000! Engraves! Sands! Embosses! Plucks Nose Hair! Tattoos! Only $99.99!!"). We leave after an hour of discomfiture, prizes in hand (curtain rails and a hanging basket, if you must know), and me even grumpier. Even a stop at our favourite local cafe does nothing to lighten my mood. So the rest of the afternoon goes. The kids rambunct around the house, I shout at them again, both they and I get upset - again. After dinner, I swear, apparently for the umpteenth time, while doing the washing up, prompting Dearest Wife to ask gently, yet pointedly: "Is there anything else you'd like to curse at?" The Black Dog stares mournfully.

The other day, Felix and I were talking about superheroes. He's become particularly fond of Spiderman lately, and while watching the Ramones cover of the theme tune he asks me "What does Spideman do, Daddy?" "He fights bad guys" I reply. "What else?" asks Felix. "Well, he makes people safe" I said "and protects them from bad things happening." Pause. "Felix," I ask, "who is your favourite superhero?" He smiles broadly, looks at me, and exclaims, flinging his arms around my neck, "You are, Daddy!!"

Right now I don't feel much of a superhero. Must try harder.

Nick Drake - Black-Eyed Dog (buy here)
Ramones - Spiderman Theme (buy here)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

It’s the Arockalypse!!

"On the day of Rockoning / It’s who dares, wins / You will see the jokers soon’ll be the new kings" - Lordi, Hard Rock Hallelujah

Dear Friends, Lordi have stormed and stomped to comprehensive victory. How splendid!! My faith in Eurovision is reaffirmed. Now I'm off to celebrate with a nice bit of juustoleipa and the following:

Cornershop - Born Disco, Died Heavy Metal (buy here)
Children of Bodom - Oops, I Did It Again (buy here)
Less Than Jake - All My Best Friends Are Metalheads (buy here)
Hellsongs - Run To The Hills (visit here)
Wilco - Heavy Metal Drummer (buy here)
Wolfcry - Enola Gay (buy here)

Oh, alright, here it is again for those too lazy to scroll down to the previous post: Lordi - Hard Rock Hallelujah (buy here)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley & All That...

Dear Friends, those of you who know me or who've read some of my earlier posts will know that je suis fanatique of cheese, especially the old and ripe varieties. Indeed, I should also make you aware that I am, in addition, particular to pickled herring, the schmaltzier the better. With all this in mind, it should really therefore come as no surprise to you that I LOOVE the Eurovision Song Contest, which on 20 May will be celebrating its 51st annual outing. "But Fil," I hear you cry, "what about Joey Ramone, Billy Childish, Johnny Rotten, Donita Sparks, Peter Murphy, Lux Interior, and Polly Jean Harvey? Is there really room in your bed alongside them for the likes of Bucks Fizz, Nana Mouskouri, and Baccara?" To which I reply: "My bed is a big one, and there is plenty of space for everyone.* Just bring cheese and/or herring." But soft! Methinks the metaphor police approach...

The Eurovision Song Contest was launched in 1956 by Frenchman (but of course!) Marcel Baison, who thought a songfest was just the ticket to promote unity in a still-fragile, post-war Europe. Rather ironic then that years later the French Minister of Culture called it "a monument to drivel." But then again, Ase Kleveland, who represented Norway in 1966, went on to become his country's Minister of Culture. Ah, the mercurial, mystical nature of it all. The contest even became a beacon of hope during the Cold War for a group of Balts behind the Iron Curtain, desperate for tacky glamour and lucky enough to have a clandestine TV antenna. Indeed, politics have always permeated the contest, with bloc voting rampant. Cyprus and Greece always exchange high marks for each other's entries, while the significant Turkish community in Germany translates into generous Teutonic points for Turkey. Denmark's victory in 2000 was largely due to Nordic votes the "Viking bloc." And don't even ask about the Balkans. What, you doubt me? Let me refer you to the vast quantity of scholarly research on the subject. But, my Dears, politics are sooo boooring, n'est-ce pas? We want music, we want glitz, we want kitsch...

There is something frighteningly grotesque about Eurovision; I find myself drawn to it in a horrifically voyeuristic way, much like I am to Jocelyn "Bride of" Wildenstein's continuing plastic surgery train wreck. There is much that is screamingly awful about the contest, not least the bulk of the songmanship on offer. A much favoured tactic over the years has been to go for the lowest common denominator, in the hopes that bland music and meaningless-yet-catchy lyrics will transcend borders. Your Honours, I submit for your consideration Exhibit A: Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley (Sweden 1984), Yamma Yamma (Finland 1992), and Ding Ding-a-Dong (Netherlands 1975). But what draws me in, apart from the Schadenfreude at the insipidity on offer, is the hope, nay, expectation that among the dross will be moments of genius. And, Dear Friends, I posit that there are such flashes of pop perfection that precisely capture the Zeitgeist. I submit for consideration Exhibit B: Waterloo (Sweden, of course, 1974), Poupee de Cire Poupee de Son (Luxembourg 1965), Dschingis Khan (Germany 1979 - you must must must see them here) and Eurovision (Belgium, 1980). As an aside, I must also mention my soft spot for the ethnics, i.e. those countries which actually bother to submit an entry that reflects some aspect of their heritage. They may ultimately be schlocky but they get my full douze points for effort. My favourite in this category is Moldova's stonking 2005 debut, Boonica Bate Doba ("Grandmamma Beats the Drumma"), which somehow fused Moldovan folk with hip hop in a glorious, tasty hash. Plus they had a granny in national dress on stage sitting in a rocking chair and banging a drum - total class, or wot??

If you put the metaphorical pistol to my head and asked me to choose, I'd say the golden year of Eurovision was 1998. That's when both the competition and my heart were carried off by the glorious, glamourous, brave, transgendered, divine, Israeli siren, Dana International, with her shimmering jewel of a pop song, Viva La Diva. Everything about it and her was just so right. Also appearing that year was Guildo Horn & die Orthopadischen Strumpfe (which translates as "Guildo Horn & the Orthopedic Stockings," if you must know), who crooned his sappy Guildo hat Euch Lieb ("Guildo Loves You") while clad in a bile-green velour suit and clambering around artlessly on the speaker stacks. He single handedly destroyed the myth that the Germans are neither funny nor ironic.

Dear Friends, I hope I have managed, however inarticulately, to explain my love for the Grand Guignol of cultural contradictions that is Eurovision. I understand plans are afoot to introduce a US version with the 50 states compteing, but I can't imagine it coming anywhere near the sublime ridiculousness of the original.

But I end on a note of disappointment, since as far as I can tell Eurovision will not be broadcast in Canada. Sigh. Had I known, I might never have emigrated. Is there no-one out there who could burn it to DVD for me?? I had hoped to cheer on the Finnish entry; for reasons known purely to them, the wise Finns selected Lordi, who are basically the national answer to GWAR, to carry their country's torch. I can only cross my fingers, throw devil horns, and pray that Hard Rock Hallelujah moshes forward to victory. Lordi, Lordi, Lordi, they'd probably eat 1956 Swiss winner Lys Assia for lunch like a piece of young gruyere...

*That is, everyone except Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988. She's not getting anywhere near my bed and if she tries, I'll sic my Gina on her.

Those Eurovision delights yet again:

Herrey - Diggi-loo Diggi-ley
Pave Mayanen - Yamma Yamma
Teach In - Ding Ding-A-Dong
ABBA - Waterlo
France Gall - Poupee de Cire Poupee de Son
Dschingis Khan - Dschingis Kha
Telex - Eurovision
Zdob si Zdub - Boonica Bate Doba
Dana International - Viva La Diva
Guildo Horn & die Orthopadischen Strumpfe - Guildo Hat Euch Lieb
Lordi - Hard Rock Hallelujah
Lys Assia - Refrain

(For a whirlwind intro, buy this and this)

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Solid Bond In Your Heart

Dear Friends, many thanks for your expressions of condolences. Fret not, I won't go all Gwyneth Paltrow on you and rattle off lists of names while crying, even if that's what I really feel like doing. But I really do appreciate what you've done and said. We are trying to stay centred, especially since we have also just received very discouraging health news about my mother-in-law. And so the universe unfolds...

This weekend was, of course, Mother's Day in North America. Dearest Wife was blessed with some wonderful drawings and paintings from our daughter, Ailsa, and we all enjoyed a yummy brekkers (which yours truly cooked, scoff not!) of scrambled eggs and salmon with fresh bagels followed by a surprisingly ripe and tasty papaya. But I daresay that on balance I got the better deal. You see, while Dearest Wife and Daughter spent quality time digging and planting in the garden, Felix and I had a stunning boy's day out. We started off with lunch at Vancouver's legendary Vera's Burger Shack (yes, a three-year-old can in fact eat a whole adult hamburger), then went to enjoy the fantastic sunshine at Spanish Banks beach. Felix insisted on burying my feet in the sand, thus saving me the $35 I'd otherwise have had to spend on an exfoliating foot rub at some chi-chi salon. We wandered the sand flats, watched the kites flying, and marvelled at the wakeboarders skidding across the shallow patches of water. Just to remind us we were in Vancouver, the odd whiff of BC bud wafted by and a bald eagle flew past low overhead. Then we had a spot of soccer on the beach itself before heading off to cap the afternoon at one of our local playgrounds. So there you have it, Felix and I had a marvellous Mother's Day. I did feel somewhat guilty, but gained comfort by telling myself it was karmic prepayment for having to use the Squealing Pigmobile again today.

We are still attempting to bring some semblance of order to our new home, but it is proving to be a mountainous task. Perhaps we are fated to have our clothes draped over the living room sofas and our books piled in precarious cairns for an eternity. But amidst all this chaos, I had a wonderful, wonderful reunion, one that filled my soul with gladness. The other day I was peeling back the packing tape from an otherwise nondescript packing box, when the top burst open and they all started to jump out with squeals of delight. There were hundreds of them, and they frolicked on the carpet, cooing and rubbing themselves lovingly against my ankles. I was speechless, I quivered, scarecly daring to believe it. My CDs! My darling, darling compact discs! "Mes cheries!" I exclaimed, reaching down to caress them. After 10 months in storage, they were finally reunited with their Papa. And they were soooo glad to see me! Well, with a few exceptions. My Joy Division discs moped off under the sideboard and droned morosely for the next several hours. The Wedding Present albums got into one of their "Oh-well-that's-fine-just-shut-us-in-a-warehouse-for-almost-a-year-we-don't-care-if-you- don't-listen-to-us- but-we're-falling-to-pieces" snits. I also had to rescue the dog from my Slayer CDs, as they had trussed her up and were trying to figure out how to draw a pentagram around her on the carpet. And those Pogues discs somehow managed within minutes to find the liquor cabinet, drink it dry, puke up in the kitchen, and pass out. Sigh. But these misbehaviours aside, it was divine to see them all again.

Oooh, which of my rediscovered tunes to share? Letmesee, letmesee, letmesee... So hard to decide, so much music! But, Dear Friends, we do have time. Let me therefore start with a few lovelies that made me swoon upon rediscovery:

Kalyi Jag - O Kamado Brigasa (Sad Lover) (buy here)

Supafunky music from the premier Roma (i.e. "gypsy") group around, Kalyi Jag (Black Fire). Sung in the Roma language and Hungarian, this track prances and skanks - be sure to check out the mos def backing vocals!! And they're on the groovily named Hungaroton label, too. See here for more info.

Kenickie - Punka (buy here)

Oh my, quite possibly one of the most perfect three minutes of pop I've ever heard. "Are you staying true to you??"

Television Personalities - Salvador Dali's Garden Party (buy here)

Everybody was there! Did you know that after several years in the wilderness (including a short spell on a prison boat in Devon), TVP frontman Dan Treacy has reformed his seminal indie band and has been gigging? He even has a blog. As an aside, the fantastic (and late) Armitage Shanks do a storming cover of "14th Floor", Treacy's first ever song.

Prolapse - Autocade (buy here)

Art Skool Dada! One of their more melodic outings. Sadly, Prolapse disbanded around the milennium and lead shouty Glaswegian Mick Derrick (alas, silent on "Autocade") is apparently now digging up bones in the name of archaeology.

Blessed Ethel - Daisy (no idea where you can buy this)

Lifted from one of those nifty Volume CD/booklets that were around in the UK during the 1990s. I don't believe Blessed Ethel had a particularly long or illustrious career, but I always loved the grindy pop guitars and Blondie-esque vocals of this song.

Throwing Muses - Not Too Soon (buy here)

This makes me do a funny little crab dance, plus I love to howl along with Mama Hersh during the growly bits (Erratum: Anonymous [aka "Nonny"] points out that of course I've been howling along with Mama Donelley for all these years).

The Jam - A Solid Bond In Your Heart (buy here)

Gros soupir! Paul Weller, my hero. Well, at least up until and including the first Style Council album. After that it started to go a bit wobbly, and I must admit really lost all interest after he went all fuddy-duddy, just like HIS hero, Pete Townsend. "Wildwood" I find just excruciatingly embarrassing. This treat is the best of all worlds: The Jam doing a demo version of what was to become a Style Council gem.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Father and Son

The call comes on Saturday evening as Dearest Wife, the children, and I dine on pizza among the chaos and boxes of having just that day moved house. Mother tells me Dad had been taken to hospital with severe abdominal pain and the doctors do not think he will last the night. My head swings and swims as I scramble to rearrange the flight to New York I had recently booked for late May. The supremely nice lady at BA asks when do I want to travel. Tomorrow, as soon as possible, please. There, all done, and at no charge. Then on to first finding, then packing, clothes. I'd better take a suit, just in case. And a dark tie. Three hours of sleep, then up. Shower. Another call, 9:20 AM Vancouver time. It's Mum, saying Dad had died twenty minutes earlier with her by his side. His heart just slowed, then slowed some more, then stopped. I was too late.

My father had been diagnosed with cancer in October, since when he had been dutifully and diligently following the experimental chemotherapy regime prescribed by his brilliant, yet frighteningly young oncologist. Dad had immense faith in the medical profession, and it was a great comfort to him that there was A Plan to be followed. Yet his was a particularly virulent form of the disease, and statistics were not on his side. A month or so back I had asked Dr Braniac what the prognosis was. His answer was unexpectedly blunt: 6 to 12 months. I told neither my father nor my mother. I thought I knew time was short, but I was not prepared for how short. All this is overlaid with bitter irony as it is subsequently revealed that his sudden death was probably not even related to the cancer or its treatment. A blessing that saved him from further suffering? Perhaps, but I don't know.

The plane lands in New York at 9:15 PM. I have slept, bone-tired and drained, for most of the flight. The airport taxi dispatcher, who looks like a sixteen-year-old 50 Cent, smiles so broadly and beautifully when I thank him that I almost hug him. Warning, emotional dampening field is offline. Direct the cab to my parents' house, my mother's house, my childhood house, the house. Mum opens the door. She's stooped, hollow-eyed, much thinner than I remember her. The physical result of six months having to care for her husband of 47 years as he progressively became less able. We hug, she cries, I choke up. You must eat, she says. I don't want to, but I know I have to. Soup? That sounds nice, Mum. Here you are, she says, your father had some the other day. It tastes delicious, but I can't shake the though that I'm sharing a dead man's meal. I look over to his armchair, padded with pillows, flanked with a now-obsolete arsenal of pill bottles. I still talk to him, Mum says, just like he's still sitting there.

The following week is a blur of arrangements, preparations, and details, details, details. Mum, still suffering from the shock, is finding it hard to focus, so it falls to me, the only child, to handle it all. I hadn't anticipated the sheer volume of minutiae, but in a way I find it oddly comforting, if frequently surreal. Picking up Dad's wedding band from the hospital in a biohazard bag. Sorting through Dad's clothes to decide which ones the funeral home should dress him in. Wandering through the casket display -a cross between a car dealership and Macy's bed department- trying to decide which one Dad would have wanted (definitely not the Reynoldsville Tribune in powder blue). Figuring out how he paid the newspaper subscription. Bumping into a bejewelled Sean Paul and his entourage at JFK Airport while waiting for Roman, my 80-year-old maternal uncle to arrive from Poland. Fielding a neverending stream of phonecalls and e-mails. Gritting my teeth every time a well-wisher says "I'm sorry for your loss" (was a more awkward, anodyne phrase of condolence ever devised??). Tactfully deflecting Mum's attempts to give me large parts of Dad's wardrobe.

Dad's funeral is on a sunny, warm Saturday, a day short of a week after he died. All goes smoothly: the limos and hearse arrive on time, the service at St Luke's Episcopal Church is tasteful and well attended, the last goodbyes at the crematorium are fitting and poignant, the reception at the West Side Tennis Club Dad would have thoroughly enjoyed. I am satisfied with my performance as lector, pallbearer, logistician, host. Yet that evening, with all the ceremony and ritual behind me, my apparent calm and lack of emotion begin to disturb me. I have shed no tears apart from a few upon initially hearing of his death. Am I callous? An ungrateful son? Maybe I have effortlessly achieved acceptance and serenity? Or will it all come out the sides at a later date and plunge me into a breakdown? That night I am confused as I dream of myself weeping inconsolably over Dad, asleep in his bed. Somewhere Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting" is playing and as she sings "I wake up crying," I jolt into consciousness. Lying on my back in the darkness, I listen to my calm, regular breathing. I can feel the hot, damp tracks where tears have streamed out of my eyes and my diaphragm aches as though I have been sobbing for years.

Who was my father? My father was born in 1932 in Huddersfield, England and grew up in Nottingham. After completing his National Service, he embarked on a banking career that took him to Africa, Holland, the US, and Brazil, and which earned him the respect and admiration of many. His hands were enormous. He always did what he thought was right. He held strong traditional values that differed significantly from mine, and this was a source of much mutual disappointment and friction. He enjoyed, as did I, the rare occasions when we could share a pint together, as his father died too young to do the same with him. He loved sailing. He was stubborn, generous, sentimental, tenacious, bull-headed, dutiful, meticulous, and proud. He died on Sunday, 30 April, 2006. He loved me. He was my father. I loved him and I will miss him.

Many thanks to everyone for your support, in all of the wonderful forms it took.

The Smiths - Asleep (buy here)
Daniel Johnston - Funeral Home (buy here)
Sean Paul - Get Busy (buy here)
Billy Bragg - Tank Park Salute (buy here)
Vera Lynn - White Cliffs of Dover (buy here)
Dead Can Dance - The Writing on my Father's Hand (buy here)
Kate Bush - Cloudbusting (buy here)