Death in the afternoon… and in the morning

Death in the afternoon… and in the morning

Paul Whitelock was thinking about death the other day. On 4 May 2021 his dad would have been 104. Then he bumped into someone he knew later that same day and learned that a good “friend” had died two months ago – from Covid-19 – at a similar age to his father. Paul’s day went downhill after that, as memories of other deceased relatives, friends and acquaintances all came back to him.

Tuesday 4 May 2021

My dad, John Albert Whitelock, known to family and friends as Jack, would have reached the ripe old age of 104 today. Alas, he died aged 68, of a massive heart attack. That’s a whole generation ago – 36 years!

The only existing photo of all 12 in the Whitelock family from Cilfrew, near Neath. John Albert Whitelock is on the extreme right in the rather Mafia-like white suit

I think about him every year on his birthday (and at other times too, of course!), and I feel sad that he knew nothing about how my later life developed. He would have loved it.

He knew my daughter Amy briefly as a tiny baby, but not my son Tom. He didn’t know that their mum, Jeryl, and I divorced after 30 years of marriage. He would have regretted that, as he loved my first wife to bits.

He didn’t know that Amy went from a local comprehensive school to Oxford and got a 1st in English and German, is married with two kids, aged four and one, and is the Chief Executive of Birthrights, a UK charity that champions human rights in pregnancy and childbirth.

Nor did he know that Amy became an accomplished amateur oboist who (in non-COVID times!) performs in several orchestras in the London area.

He didn’t know that my son Tom became a fine professional actor and singer. Tom did a singing diploma at LIPA, Paul McCartney’s Fame School in Liverpool, followed by a three-year actor/musician degree at the Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance in Sidcup, Kent.

Tom is not a household name, by any means, but he has performed some significant roles. Probably his most important one to date was as Pete Quaife, the Kinks bass player in the hit musical “Sunny Afternoon”, which had a long run at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End and won the Olivier Award for Best Musical in 2015.

As well as being a good enough bass guitarist to perform live on stage in the West End, Tom is an accomplished saxophonist and mandolin player.

My poor dad missed all this because he died so young.

Tom is also married. To Susannah Austin. Susannah is also a professional singer and actor. They have a one-year-old boy.

As I said before, my dad loved my first wife, Jeryl, to bits. He would also have been proud of her progress after his death in 1985.

After a successful career in the textile industry, she went on to become Professor of International Marketing and Head of Department at the prestigious University of Bradford Business School.

Not bad for the only daughter of working-class parents from Luton in Bedfordshire.

Although we’re no longer together I remain very proud of Jeryl; she was my best friend and she has been a brilliant mother to my kids and a much-loved “nan” to our three grandchildren.

After we divorced, she studied acting at the London Centre for Theatre Studies, took early retirement, became a professional actor and moved to London to be near our children and near to acting work.

John Albert, my dad, would have loved to have been part of all this.

He didn’t know that I stopped teaching after 15 years and became a schools adviser and inspector. He would have been so proud, him the son of a South Wales coal miner, one of a family of 12. I was the first of the children of him and his siblings to go to university.

Others followed in my footsteps, of course, but, he, basically a labourer, who bettered himself through night school classes to become a telephone engineer, was chuffed to have the first of the new generation with aspirations far away from the coalmines of the Swansea valley.

When I got a BSc honours in German and Spanish, followed by a PGCE at Sheffield, and became a teacher, in his eyes a respected profession, he was a very proud “taffy” indeed.

Then suddenly, on the morning of the last Saturday in August 1985, the 31st, death came. Dad died peacefully in one of his favourite spots, in his caravan at Brean Sands in Somerset.

What a shock!

In the afternoon of 4 May 2021, I popped into one of my favourite bars in Montejaque, La Terraza.

Sitting at a table were other “bar / restaurant people” that I knew. It was their day off. Among them was Tania and her husband from Patatín Patatán in Ronda. That was the first Ronda tapas bar Jeryl and I ever visited back in 2000 when we came to Andalucía to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary.

It quickly became our favourite bar. Delicious tapas at good prices, all on display, so you didn’t need to know what they were called to order them – you just pointed.

I asked how Fernando, her Dad, was. He’s the owner and I hadn’t seen him for a while.

“Falleció de Covid hace dos meses”, she said. He died two months ago from Covid. He was 67; a year younger than my dad when he died.

Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that I welled up. Fernando was such a nice man. Ever pleasant, always available for a chat. In our early days of owning a flat in Ronda, Jeryl and I were still working in the UK and could only come sporadically to Ronda. He always remembered us when we went to his bar. I was very sad to hear that news.

Local deaths

Then the group of us started remembering local people who had been snatched away prematurely by this damned Coronavirus.

Carlos, teniente alcalde de Montejaque, who died last month aged 58. He was as fit as a butcher’s dog. He was very well liked in the village, and the shock of his passing was palpable.

Carlos Ernesto Escalante Alza, teniente alcalde de Montejaque

Andrés , owner of Bar Peruco, just off the square in Montejaque, died recently of Covid-19. He opened every day at 7.00 am to provide coffee and chupitos to the workers, to the pensioners who couldn’t sleep and to insomniac me! He was in good health. A nice, gentle man. He was also about the same age as my dad.

His father-in-law had also died of Covid-19 a few weeks before.

Family bereavements

Then I started thinking about Andy Shepherd, the husband of my niece Nicki, who perished in a plane crash in Australia, where they had lived for a number of years. That was just last year, on 17 May, the day before my 70th birthday. He was just 44 years old. He left a widow and two young children.

The first anniversary of his death was this week, 17 May, the day before my 71st birthday. That was a sad day too.

Two things are certain in life: death and taxes.

Taxes always come at the same time – in January in the UK and in June in Spain.

Death can come at any time, however.

Death in the afternoon… and also in the morning.

Paul Whitelock

About Paul Whitelock

Paul Whitelock is a retired former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, who emigrated to the Serranía de Ronda in 2008, where he lives with his second wife, Rita. He spends his time between Montejaque and Ronda doing DIY, gardening and writing.