A Tribute to My Dad
Michael Barritt Rose
An approximate transcript of my contribution at his funeral, 2.8.16
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
And you, my father, there on that sad height,
In a minute I want to highlight some of the many ways in which my Dad did not go gentle into his good night, but first I think I should mention the good nights he and Mum gave to my brother and me when we were growing up. Once he came home from his incredibly long and days at work, I felt that the four of us were impregnable to the woes and wickedness of the world, cocooned cosily in our safe as castles homes. There is never anything ever again quite like the snug security, the happily ever after completeness of childhood, a feeling unique and reassuring, but not fully appreciated until the adult world takes it all away, or until you notice it lacking in less fortunate children you work with later in life.
So yes we had many, many good nights (and days). However, what I really want to talk about is how, despite his peaceful death, he spent his later years raging against the dying of the light.
Despite being diagnosed early in life with the illness which would eventually take him, he never gave into despair, succumbed to the limitations imposed by it or wallowed in self pity. On the contrary, he always sought to suck the marrow out of life, like a 50, 60 and 70 something version of the kids in Dead Poets Society (a film he enjoyed) with their motto 'Carpe Deum'. In fact, it was one of Phil's long standing jokes in R*E*P*E*A*T fanzine that it was sometimes impossible to get hold of either of our parents, as they were always out travelling, at concerts, at book groups, reading for the blind, bell ringing, at national conferences, bird watching, playing croquet for Wales, at the theatre, working on local nature reserves, bird watching, at the theatre, walking, or otherwise engaged on a host of creative and worthwhile pursuits. No wonder they had no time for the television, a trait Phil and I have inherited Phil's TV isn't plugged in and I only use mine for Match of the Day! And both Mum and Dad have always encouraged us in our creativity, whether this be in the realms of photography, design, music, writing or anything else.
So, in detailing some of these ways in which he did not go gentle, it would be appropriate to start with his degree in English. I believe that when he left school he was torn between studying medicine and English; being perhaps more sensible than me, he plumped for the one with the better job prospects, but as soon as he retired he made up for this by studying English part time at Swansea University, and there gaining a first (though he'd be too modest to tell you this success, unless you asked!). He was always eager to discuss literature, particularly poetry, 19th century Americana and critical theory. Right up to the end of his life, he could still be animated by writing only recently we had a discussion about the joys of Keats' poem 'On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer', as well as a debate about the veracity of a slogan about poetry I was wearing on my Attila the Stockbroker T shirt (Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people" - Adrian Mitchell).
I think it is testament to his active, intelligent approach to creativity that one of his favourite pieces is 'The Windhover' by Gerard Manley Hopkins', a poem so complex and articulate and articulated and plosive and explosive and twisted and packed with meaning and allusion and tension and doubt, that we thought we should print it for you on the service sheet. If Dad were here, he'd want to take the poem away, re-read it, discuss it, suck out the marrow and wring every ounce of meaning from it we hope some of you may want to do the same, even in his absence. And good luck to my Uncle, Chris Barber, when reading it later in the service!
He also maintained an active interest in the world and the it was being governed and misgoverned right through his life: there are always copies of the periodical 'The Week' strewn around at home. I guess he was part of a generation of consultants who began their careers after the NHS had started to establish and assert itself, and for that reason who valued and promoted the cooperative, selfless teamwork which it depends on. This is no doubt way he was well known for respecting and valuing all members of hospital staff, nurses, junior doctors, cleaners, porters; as Phil has already mentioned, this marked him out as different from many of his older colleagues. And as he grew as a doctor, his belief in the NHS simultaneously grew, as did his disdain for anyone who would seek to dismantle it, sell it off or try to make profit from it (Jeremy Hunt!). One of the last discussions I had with him was about a trip to the refugee camp in Calais I was helping to organise a few weeks ago, and I was very pleased that he thought this was a great thing to do (it's just a pity the French authorities didn't agree). I am very proud that one of the organisations we are collecting for in his memory is Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a group that believes that everyone should be entitled to decent medical care, regardless of which side of an arbitrary line on a map you happen to be living on. A group well worth supporting if you can. http://www.msf.org.uk/
Another active interest of his to keep him from going gentle was his interest in sport. However I am not going to talk about his apparent appearance for the Welsh croquet team, nor his love of Kent County Cricket Club, where I was taken as a baby, with the ball reportedly landing beside me in my carry-cot on one occasion, or the trips he helped organise to test matches in Birmingham. No, I am going to talk about football and the Swans, even though these are rather my passions than his, yet he put himself out for me so that we could share this enthusiasm together. I particularly remember one match on May 3rd 2003, or James Thomas Day as we call it in Swansea. The Swans were at the bottom of the bottom division and had to win the final match of the season against Hull to avoid being relagated out of the Football League, and probably out of existence. It was a filthy Swansea day, wet, windy and wild, yet Dad didn't complain nor did he dispute my desire to go to watch from my usual perch on the North Bank at the Vetch Field. Now for those of you that don't know, the North Bank was sweary and sweaty and swaying, boozy, boisterous, bouncing and belligerent, and on that day it was absolutely packed. It may not have been the place most consultant surgeons would have chosen to watch a game of soccer from, but I am so, so glad we shared that match together, to witness the Swans coming from behind thanks to James Thomas' hat-trick. Don't shoot from there! I remember saying to Dad and the world, seconds before the final, incredible, clinching goal arched in, and we were engulfed by jubilant Jacks. In a fortnight I will be watching the Swans play Hull again, but this time in the Premier League. And then, and whenever I watch the team, whether they be scaling the heights by being in the richest league in the world, or just defying the odds by surviving, I remember that wonderful afternoon with my Dad.
And finally I want to talk about Dad and his love of music. As with literature, his approach to music was highly intelligent, knowledgeable and cerebral. Of course it is a cliché between parents and children to say that 'You don't understand my music, and I don't understand yours', and to a degree that was true between him and me. However he always made an effort (more than I did, I am afraid to admit) to appreciate the music I was enthusing about, to listen to tracks I was releasing and to comment on recordings I was working on. For instance, very recently he listened to and appreciated the recordings on the flexi disc I released. On another occasion, after I'd told him I'd booked a band called The Lovely Eggs for a gig, he very much surprised me by saying how much he liked their track 'Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordion', which he must have taken the effort to hunt down and listen to for himself, just from my one comment. While in New Zealand, he and Mum made what must have been a considerable effort to track down some obscure releases on the local Flying Nun label for me (songs I've been listening to almost non stop in recent days), and did you know that you can hear them both on I-tunes?! A recording by mysterious act 'The Cambridge City All Stars' features hand claps by the two of them, hand claps which only had to be slightly edited to get them in time!
And now to my guitar, which I am just about to play to you. This is my oldest guitar probably not my 'best' one, but no doubt my favourite. It cost £10 when I was about 6; I had to pay half of this and, while at the time it seemed to take me ages to save up that £5, I understand now that by giving me a stake in the buying of the instrument, I consequently had far more commitment to persevering with the learning of it. I am continually grateful to both my parents for allowing me to follow my desire to play the guitar as it now defines so much of who I am and my own raging goodness knows how I'd have turned out if I'd had to learn the harpsichord or the oboe or something more sedate!
So I will now play you a short section of the anonymous Spanish Dance 'Romanza', because last time I was home Dad heard me playing this (along with a snippet of 'This Is Yesterday' by The Manics) and apparently it gave him some pleasure and some comfort then, as I hope it will give you some pleasure and some comfort now, and maybe will for him too, one more time. So this is for you Dad, thanks for everything, and for raging against the dying of the light, not going gentle into that good night...