Dead Pool 5th November 2023
Look Who You Could Have Had:
- Trevor Hill, 98, British producer (Children’s Hour, Round Britain Quiz, Sooty), director and writer.
- Jaak Broekx, 109, centenarian, oldest man in Belgium.
- Tyler Christopher, 50, American actor (General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, The Lying Game), cardiac arrest.
- Ken Mattingly, 87, American astronaut (Apollo 16, STS-4, STS-51-C).
- Brian Brain, 83, English cricketer (Worcestershire, Gloucestershire).
- Bobby Welch, 94, British criminal (Great Train Robbery).
- David Berglas, 97, German-born British magician and mentalist.
In Other News
Michael J. Fox has revealed he’s not afraid of death in a candid interview about his health. The Back to the Future star was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, and in a recent interview on Thursday, he has discussed his relationship with death, saying he ‘doesn’t fear it’. Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged. The main symptoms of the condition usually revolve around movement, with the person experiencing tremors in the hand or arm, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness. In his documentary, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, the star recalled the first time he noticed the signs of the disease. He recounted waking up one morning to find his pinky finger twitching uncontrollably, and described the finger as ‘auto-animated.’ However, Fox didn’t open up about his diagnosis until several years later in 1998. In the documentary, he also added that ‘no one outside of the family knew’ about his diagnosis. And now, in an interview with the Flying Monkeys, he’s discussed his ‘complicated’ view of Parkinson’s. He said: “It’s very complicated. I’ve said Parkinson’s is a gift. It’s the gift that keeps on taking, but it has changed my life in so many positive ways.” The 62-year-old previously spoke about how life was ‘getting harder’ since his diagnosis – with him breaking bones in his body and almost losing a finger due to an infection. He’d told us in April that he didn’t think he’d live to be 80. “Its banging on the door. I’m not gonna lie. It’s gettin’ hard, it’s gettin’ harder. It’s gettin’ tougher. Every day it’s tougher. But, that’s the way it is.” he said. Adding: “You don’t die from Parkinson’s. You die with Parkinson’s. So I’ve been thinking about the mortality of it … I’m not gonna be 80. I’m not gonna be 80.” However, it seems that Fox has accepted the possibility of death. “One day I’ll run out of gas,” he said. “One day I’ll just say, ‘It’s not going to happen. I’m not going out today. If that comes, I’ll allow myself that. I’m 62 years old. Certainly, if I were to pass away tomorrow, it would be premature, but it wouldn’t be unheard of. And so, no, I don’t fear that.”
Linda Nolan has bravely opened up about her fear amid living alongside incurable cancer and shared her memory is beginning to deteriorate. The Nolan Sisters singer, 64, was first diagnosed with cancer nearly 20 years ago. She’s had incurable secondary breast cancer since 2017 which has since spread to the brain and caused her to experience hair loss for the fourth time in her life. Writing in her latest column this week, Linda reveals her nephew and his family are moving overseas – something that has proven to be difficult and bittersweet for the singer, as she knows she may never seem them again. “You’re over the moon for them and yet, when I say goodbye, I know I might not see them again,” Linda writes. “That’s the elephant in the room.” Linda continues to share with readers her fears about living alongside her cancer diagnosis, admitting: “I’m not going to panic because, if I panic, cancer wins.” She realises she needs “to be realistic” as “the reality is, my memory seems to be getting worse.” She adds: “My memory has been lapsing for a while. You can imagine the comments about my age… But I didn’t, because deep down it doesn’t feel right. As I said, I won’t panic. My balance is still better than it was, I’m not having headaches. I have some scans arranged and I’ll wait for them. Alone sometimes in my bedroom I’ll just lie there and think I wonder if I’ll be here in a month? Will it all happen very quickly?”
Comedian Mark Steel has shared an update with his followers, sharing that he’s now using a tube to feed himself through his nose. Last month, Mark announced he had been diagnosed with a cancer that “can be got rid of”. At the time of sharing his news, he said he had noticed that his neck was “looking much bigger than normal”. Now, he has shared an update with his online followers regarding his condition. Taking to Instagram, Mark was seen in the kitchen of his home and said: “Now, because of something to do with an epiglottis which has gone wrong during some surgery for the time being, I’ve got to feed myself through this tube, with this peculiar drink.” Demonstrating how the contraption worked, he added: “It goes in there and I’ve learnt how to do it, I have to do it every three hours. “And this is me eating, this is me having a meal. I’ve never felt so English. I’ve had a couple of people come round while I was doing it and I was thinking ‘Oh it’s quite rude not to offer them any, ain’t it.’ All I’ve got to do is fix you up with a tube that goes down through your throat and oesophagus and into your stomach and then get the syringe, you’ve got to flush out the pipes first, lock that off, there’s all techniques to doing it, squirt it out, pump it into your tube and directly into your stomach. It’s no trouble honestly, honestly, there’s plenty to go around, I felt really, I’d had a couple of mates round and I felt really bad, you can’t eat and not offer your guests any food.” Mark added: “They don’t tell you that do they? When they say you’ve got cancer.” His upload which has raked up hundreds of likes was soon flooded with support. Having visited his doctors for an initial check-up, Mark was sent for a biopsy on his ever-growing swelling. Following his biopsy, he was told he would hear back from them within a week. However, there were no updates after almost 14 days and the hospital explained they lost the biopsy in transit. Not long after, he received a phone call about his cancer diagnosis. Mark said: “Then a completely new person called me, and said I had to go in for a repeat biopsy the next day ‘to see what stage of cancer you have’. ‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘No one has said it’s definitely cancer, are you saying it’s definitely cancer?’ She paused. ‘Yes. Had no one told you?'” Despite this, he urged his blog readers to be polite to NHS staff due to their increased workload and “appalling” salaries.
On This Day
- 1605 – Gunpowder Plot: Guy Fawkes is arrested in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, where he had planted gunpowder in an attempt to blow up the building and kill King James I of England.
- 1925 – Secret agent Sidney Reilly, the first “super-spy” of the 20th century, is executed by the OGPU, the secret police of the Soviet Union.
- 1940 – Franklin D. Roosevelt is the first and only President of the United States to be elected to a third term.
- 1983 – The Byford Dolphin diving bell accident kills five and leaves one severely injured.
- 2006 – Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq, and his co-defendants are sentenced to death.
- 2007 – The Android mobile operating system is unveiled by Google, causing 16 years of frustration.
- 1987 – Eamonn Andrews, Irish radio and television host (b. 1922).
- 1991 – Robert Maxwell, Czech-English captain, publisher, and politician (b. 1923).
- 2020 – Geoffrey Palmer, English actor (b. 1927).
A dinner party for dead guests
I don’t normally feel worried about having my friends over for dinner. Usually, I’ll be covered in splashes of soup and partially dressed when they arrive, but tonight I feel nervous.
Figuring out who to invite was complicated. Not only did they have to be available at short notice, but they had to be up for it, open to something different. Because this evening everyone has been asked to bring a plus-one … someone who has died.
As my living guests begin to arrive, bringing in the dark and subtle nip of the October air, I have the strong sense that they are not alone. I take their coats and ask them for the photo of their guest. Out of their pockets come snapshots. Smiling portraits, a moment of laughter on the stairs, a child on the beach, the ruffled ears of a French bulldog, a matriarch blurred by clouds of cigarette smoke.
In the other room, it’s quiet. The table is laid with candles, autumn leaves from the park and bright flowers, and there are twice as many plates laid at the table as there will be people in the room. I put each photo in its place. Because this is where we will serve food to the dead. We will eat, sometimes in silence, but we’ll talk and remember and, probably, cry. This is a silent supper. A feast for the dead.
It isn’t something I’d even have thought to do if I hadn’t been hanging out with witches for the series Witch for BBC Sounds and Radio 4. I’ve rarely felt comfortable or at ease talking about the dead or talking to someone who’s grieving, but for witches this seems to be different. Over the past year I’ve taken part in seances, been to an ancestor ritual and made an ancestor bottle for the spirit of a loved one. Most witches have regular rituals and altars for their ancestors and, of course, they have a dedicated season for remembrance. Witches believe that on 31 October, or Samhain, the “veil” is thin. It’s a skin between life and death that becomes more porous throughout October until, on this night, life and death can pour into each other – a lot like the world we see around us.
There are twice as many plates at the table as people in the room.
This is the idea we play with at Halloween when ghouls and night terrors come knocking at our door. There’s a playfulness and joy at the idea of the afterlife being present, but in reality it’s so far out of reach. This year, I’ve decided to search for meaningful ways to remember the dead.
I decided that hosting a silent supper – historically known as a “dumb supper” – could be a good start. Eating in silence and feasting for the dead has been part of life for centuries. In England, there used to be a tradition called “chesting”.
Prof Diane Purkiss, author of English Food: A People’s History, explains: “This was even more of an Irish wake than an Irish wake. It involved having a feast that was laid out on the coffin of the deceased person. A massive blowout meal with huge treats and sugary goo. It’s honouring the dead, but it’s also quite visceral because you’re doing it on the coffin and it almost brings them physically into the feast.”
A silent supper is one step further. “What you’re describing is a ritual around the scariest and most taboo thing, which is the dead,” she says, “and this is because witches have a very special relationship with them. I define a witch as someone who doesn’t see the dead the way other people do.”
That’s certainly true. Last year my friend, colleague and witch Tatum Swithenbank reached the age at which a much loved and needed auntie had died. So their coven held a silent supper. “Sometimes we just want a space to talk about the people who have passed and there’s not really any great comfort you can give in words,” they told me. “What’s better than listening in a neutral space? That was the power of it. I don’t think you have to be a witch or be practising to do that.” They ate cheese, skull-shaped pizzas and a pumpkin pie.
Feeling under-qualified to host my own silent supper, I ask for advice. “Making it dark, with only candles, really helps because people feel they are not as exposed,” says Tatum. “And it’s important to say something at the beginning. I acknowledged that grief is messy and complicated.” Another witch who loves a silent supper is Emma Griffin, who shares the ritual with her children. “It’s really nice for them to know their heritage,” she says. “We’ll have supper and talk about death, look through photos and also talk about death bringing changes. This year we are making food that my dad would like – meat and potato pie, mash and gravy.”
She advises me to make the space sacred and gentle. “I suggest giving people a dress code. When they come over your threshold, give them a little tea-light. Remember, it’s a celebration of life. And you want to burn myrrh,” she says, gently but firmly as she talks me through my first ever online myrrh purchase. “It will smoke a lot, so don’t panic.”
The most pressing question of all is what on earth am I going to feed the dead? “Traditionally, the dead seem to want luxury foods,” says Purkiss. “They tend to eat dessert first, you know, life is short, eat dessert first. The dead always feel undervalued and in a way it makes them shirty so you are trying to get them to a position where they feel you value them.”
So, before the event, I threw myself (and my partner) into planning a six-course feast, my guests constantly in mind, especially the dead ones. What would they want? What would we give them if we had the chance again?
I bring Grandma Suzette. The family rarely talks about her
Purkiss approves. “Isn’t that what we all want?” she says. “When someone dies, virtually the first thing you feel is, ‘Oh, if only. If only I’d done this, or if only I’d found the time’. And the whole point of the ceremony is to give yourselves the healing chance to show great aunt Sarah you did really care.”
On the night itself, I choose to bring Grandma Suzette, who I have never met. She died when my dad was a baby. The family rarely talk about her. As my own son turned one, the loss of her for my dad and his siblings, and for me, started to ring loudly in my body. I am desperate to grieve for her.
And that’s what we’re here to do tonight. There’s a lot of normal party noise in the kitchen, but when we enter the dining room, absolutely brimming with myrrh smoke, everything softens. First, we light a candle and welcome our dead guests to the table. It feels a little strange, but maybe it should be normal. After all, eating for – and even with the dead – was once a living tradition, one that’s been purposefully rubbed away.
“There was this way of seeing the dead as beings that you interact with,” says Purkiss, adding that Catholic death rituals, such as kissing ornately decorated bones of saints, or praying in huge ossuaries stacked with bodies, went out during the Reformation. “Protestants threw all of that out, partly because they thought it had become a bit of a scam and it probably had in some cases. But the phrase throwing out the baby with the bathwater comes powerfully to mind.”
And she might be right, because it’s only minutes into the evening when it becomes painfully, joyfully clear that everyone around the table needs this communion with the dead. The phrase “I haven’t allowed myself to grieve” comes up time and again. One friend hasn’t allowed herself to grieve for her mum for 11 years. Another drifted from someone she adored and never felt she had permission to mourn them. A pal describes her love and grief for her dog Buddy as tied up with her longing for a baby. We also share joy and memories. My sister brings my other hilarious, powerful granny. A friend shares the story of a grandad who brought him pure and uncomplicated joy.
The talking is a release, but so is acknowledging the empty places. “People did that a lot after the First World War,” Purkiss says. “They would lay places at Christmas dinner for people who had died. It makes sense.” There are three mini courses that we eat without speaking. We reflect or we write, and then we burn things we wished we could say to them.
As the courses continue to roll out, my guests talk about how much their plus-ones would have loved the feast, the wine. The chance to eat dessert again and again. We make them feel loved through food. Buddy the dog would have had a field day.
We eat too much, raise glasses of sweet mead to everyone, say the names of people out loud many, many times. We look each other straight in the eyes. No one shies away from death. By the end we all stink of myrrh, but it is as though something had shifted, for all of us. For me, I know how to talk about my grandma now, and I cannot wait to keep celebrating the people I miss in my life.
Last Week’s Birthdays
Famke Janssen (59), Tilda Swinton (63), Sam Rockwell (55), Robert Patrick (65), Elke Sommer (83), Armin Shimerman (74), Tamzin Outhwaite (53), Matthew McConaughey (54), Olivia Taylor Dudley (38), Ralph Macchio (62), Dolph Lundgren (66), Kate Capshaw (70), Roseanne Barr (71), Dylan Moran (52), David Schwimmer (57), Stefanie Powers (81), Toni Collette (51), Peter Jackson (62), Stephen Rea (77), Clémence Poésy (41), Fiona Dourif (42), Henry Winkler (78), Juliet Stevenson (67), and Jessica Hynes (51).