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It’s been over a year since my Dad passed away. It has been the toughest yet conversely, the most life-affirming year of my life. To read the glowing obituary I wrote about him just a few blogs ago you’d think it was all done and dusted. Not so. I have come to a far more profound understanding of the fundamentals of my life. The power of the subconscious; the true nature of grief; the importance of respect for others but ultimately, just how lucky I am in my soul mate.
There were times when I certainly questioned my sanity; I know others did. There were times when the despair and the anger were overwhelming. There was never a time when Jen wasn’t beside me, holding, smiling and reassuring. Slowly gradually helping put me back together, stronger, happier; resolved in myself.
Put quite simply, she was my rock and my saviour. I’ve added diamond number seven to her wedding ring as it will be our seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow. We have given each other tickets to Paul Simon’s Graceland concert in Hyde Park. But I’d also like to give her this; a poem I wrote three weeks ago as I headed to the Alaskan gold fields. We are buying a new house together.
Alaskan Sky (For Jen)
Flying through clouds
Sun glint on fiord and peak
Searching for gold again
My father comfortably in me
I feel the great love
Of my life stronger
In the lonely sky
I fly north
To fly south
Adventure and invent
For a new home
For our hearts
A home for us
A place to be safe
For friends to love
We cross the lucky horizon
Where the sea meets the sky
At home in our
I am sitting on the plane again, heading back to location. On the flight over the North Atlantic, I’ve reviewed two edit scripts, nailed my task list, planned my week (as much as you can on this job) and sorted the overburdened A’s in my Blackberry contacts.
It’s two months since Dad died and I feel now like I’m back in the land of the living. Rest, love and time have no doubt helped me recover but there is also another reason that I’m firing on all cylinders again. For some time, Jen has been evangelising about ‘Getting Things Done‘, a book by David Allen she read that teaches us how to be more productive and less stressed.
For my birthday she bought me a gift that others have said is a strange token of affection. She gave me a day with Curtis from ‘People Who Do‘ who taught her how to ‘get things done’.
As arranged, at precisely 9:30am on Wednesday morning there was a knock on our front door. I greeted the trendily dressed and well groomed Curtis. He carried a small, neat leather school bag. It contained an iPad, and some very thin brown books. In the books were measured words on productivity, beautifully printed by his partner on an antique letterpress. Everything about Curtis looked planned but he appeared to be friendly too. First, he listened to me for possibly longer than he would have liked. At 10:45am he politely suggested it was time to get things done. Over the rest of the day, (with an hour off for lunch) he helped me collect, sort and build a system to deal with the deluge of paper and email that floods our lives.
The basic principle of GTD is that if you don’t have a reliable system of collecting, storing, prioritising and reviewing all the things that assail you then your mind will never be at peace. If you aren’t confident that you can store, retrieve and act on tasks when you need to, you become stressed as the mind tries to keep hold of too much randomly stored and unprioritised actions.
I’ve always been fairly anal, but in the past year especially, it’s been apparent to me that I had to find a new way of working. The three legs to my tripod of work, family/friends and fitness had become skewed. I needed a way of keeping or increasing my productivity at work but also wanted to find time to strengthen the other legs of family and fitness. Curtis held that his system, diligently applied would mend the tripod.
It was both a therapeutic and cathartic experience. When Curtis left at exactly 5:30pm as had been arranged, I was exhausted but exhilarated. It has been only four days since I started the new regime, but I am more in control and more relaxed. Although it does appear that I have shed loads of work, I seem to be able to get through it faster and more effectively.
And so having run out of power on my laptop as I fly over Greenland, I continue my new found efficiency drive by weeding my overblown contacts database on my blackberry. Sorting through the A’s I come across the name, Archie Maynard.
Five weeks ago, just after his funeral I returned to Alaska. An accidental encounter with his contact entry in a jet lag haze was the catalyst for the sudden dreadful realisation that my Dad had actually died. I fell apart.
I’m better now and on a roll but I hesitate as I consider pressing delete. I can never press that button no matter how productive I might be. Why? Because even though he’s not at the other end of the phone, you can never delete your Dad. You just have to pick up the pieces, remember how lucky you are and get on with it.
The funeral of my Dad will be held in the Greenock Crematorium, Thursday April 28th at 11am. All are welcome to celebrate this amazing man’s life.
Please don’t send flowers, instead if you feel so inclined, help preserve his beloved St Kilda by making a donation to the St Kilda Club charity. It is connected to the National Trust for Scotland who look after the World Heritage listed site. Please make any donations payable to St Kilda Club, and post to The National Trust for Scotland, Hermiston Quay, 5 Cultins Rd, Edinburgh, EH11 4DF. Many thanks.
Below is an obituary that I’ve written for my Dad.
My father Archie was born in 1920 in the Scottish shipbuilding town of Renfrew, two years after the Great War ended. When he was young, his father (also Archie) had to travel to the USA for work, and so his early years were spent with his sea captain grandfather John Nicol who doted on him, giving him the nickname of ‘The Little Captain”. Young Archie grew up in the heyday of the Empire playing amongst the big engines and even bigger ships that were being built in the yards that lined the river Clyde.
Life became more regimented when his father returned in 1927 from San Francisco (where he’d been working on the Golden Gate Bridge) to become a shipwright in John Brown & Company. Renowned as a master craftsman, my grandfather fitted out prestige liners such as the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. At 6’3”, his nickname was Big Archie and according to my Dad he had an ego to match, however the real power sat with my grandmother Jean, who was under five foot tall but ruled the roost.
Despite Dad’s yearning for a more academic life (he was offered a sponsored place at medical school which his father turned down as charity), he followed his father’s footsteps into the shipyards, becoming an apprentice patternmaker in 1934. He had uneventful war, spent ‘listening’ to the blitz bombers on a sound detector and peeling spuds. With so many ships being sunk by the U-Boats, his skills as a patternmaker were needed to replace the lost tonnage and build warships and so he was called back to ‘civvy street’. He didn’t escape military service entirely as he had to serve with Dad’s Army in what spare time he had. His long shifts in the yards followed by nightime blackout patrols meant he was so exhausted that he learnt to get by on very little sleep, a habit he kept for the rest of life. A hallucinogenic tale of leaving organ practice with J S Bach ringing in his ears while incendiary bombs flashed and clattered around him on the cobbled street is one of his most filmic tales.
From the end of the war until he met my mother, my Dad tried to forge a new career and take up a profession rather than a craft, however he was thwarted in each attempt. He tried to become a professional photographer, but he didn’t have sufficient capital to make a go of it. He studied organ music at the Royal College of Music and Drama, but ended up fixing the organs instead of playing them. And in 1947 after several years at night class, his qualifications in physiotherapy and chiropody weren’t accepted by the newly created National Health Service. Finally he sat entry exams for teacher training but was defeated by maths. In later years he came to recognise this was a lucky escape for both him and prospective pupils as he didn’t really have the temperament to teach.
When he wasn’t working or studying to try and change his career, Dad spent his twenties and early thirties on the move. He cycled extensively in Scotland and Ireland, and was a keen harrier and climber, spending seasons in the Alps. He thought nothing of jumping on his 200cc motorbike to hare down to London for a frantic cultural weekend, the highlight of which was the Festival of Britain in 1951.
In 1955, Archie met the love of his life, my mum Margaret Fairweather Prophet, and they were married a year later. Mum had the university education my father craved, and her double first class honours degree in English and History from St Andrews University undoubtedly helped inspire my father’s later literary pursuits. Two children followed in quick succession, my sister Lizbeth, known as Liz, and me. I was christened Archibald John, was Johnnie at home, John at school, and gained a college nickname of Sam which stuck.
We moved to Greenock where Dad became foreman patternmaker in Scott’s, the world’s oldest shipyard at the time. He built the components in wood which were then cast in metal to create huge Sulzer engines. Archie held this position for over 30 years until his retirement in 1981, two years before the company closed, ending a 270-year history. Although in later life we became best friends, it is fair to say at times Dad’s frustration with work meant we had a difficult relationship when I was growing up.
My father always said that it would break his heart if he died before he retired. In the end, he spent as long retired as he did in the world of work. As well known and respected as he was in the shipbuilding world, it was his achievements outside of work and in his retirement that gave such breadth and depth to Dad’s character.
Like his father before him, and me after, Dad had a passion for photography and the Scottish landscape. As a family, our holidays were spent travelling from one area of Scotland to another, as he “did” Orkney, Ardnamurchan, Skye and all points in between. My sister and I both remember many rainy days, sitting in the car as Dad jumped a fence to ‘get a shot’ of some wet moor or mountain. He built a unique photographic archive of Scotland with no people in it. He turned these into photographic slide shows, which were much in demand. It was a special event when the lights were dimmed in our living room crammed with friends and family who had come to see ‘Archie’s latest slide show’. I can still smell the projector.
In 1970 whilst giving a slide show on a National Trust cruise he met Alan Aitken, a man who would ignite Dad’s childhood fascination for St Kilda. He was 10 when St Kilda was evacuated, an event which was widely covered in the national press. Dad discovered that Alan ran working parties out to the island and from then on, he was hooked. In winter he spent hours working with all the other passionate devotees of St Kilda, planning how best to restore the schoolhouse and the church on the island. His tales of scrounging materials from local shipyards, schools and businesses to make the restoration as authentic as possible are legendary. For many years, especially during the 1980s, his summer holidays were spent in Village Bay deep in wood shavings, pews and pulpits, at last finding a real reward for his woodworking career. It is here he made many good friends for life.
He would light up when he told tales of stormy nights at sea, scrambling on the towering cliffs and the beloved church bell that he had proudly blagged. His work there lead to him being elected to the National Trust for Scotland Council and ultimately being invited to the ceremony to turn St Kilda into a World Heritage Site in 1986. As tolerant as my Mum was of his obsession, sometimes it did wear even her down. In a wheelchair in later life, she once declaimed, “If you mention St Kilda once more, I swear I will walk again, and then I will kill you!”
He grew up with strong Presbyterian influences from his mother and father, who were both active in Christian mission and the temperance league which promoted complete abstience from alcohol (this is one thing Dad never understood). My father’s parents slept with a long bolster pillow between them, and he always said he and his sister Kate were the second and third cases of Immaculate Conception. Despite this somewhat strict religious upbringing, Dad was a devoted adherent to the Church of Scotland. He was an elder in Trinity Church, Renfrew and Union Church, Greenock where he served in the presbytery. After encouragement from his dear friend and former minister Professor William Barclay, Dad studied for seven years to become a lay preacher at Trinity College Glasgow, although he never preached. It was these years of study combined with regular encouragement from Willie and my mother that finally gave him the confidence to start writing.
During the 1970s he wrote regular articles for Scotland’s Magazine on industrial archaeology and at the age of 84, he published his first book, a biography of William Barclay. His archaeology writings and lecturing led him to be made a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in the late 1970s. Dad also paid back his love of organ music through many years of service on the committee of the Renfrewshire Musical Festival. He sang in many choirs, most notably the Greenock Philharmonic Society.
In later years, my Dad and I often took holidays together which became known as the Maynard and Maynard Grand Tours. We made a voyage to St Kilda in 1999. Although we’d both visited St Kilda separately on many occasions, this was the only time we visited together. What I remember most from that trip was how he captivated the others on the boat. Dad was many things, but most of all he was great storyteller. Give him a dram, an audience and the slightest hint of an opportunity to enthrall and you could be there all night.
It’s been just over a week since he died. I’ve found writing about him has helped me understand more about my father, myself and my family. I have never felt or seen his influence so strongly in me and the generations that have followed as I do now. While he may not have achieved the potential he felt he had I am truly proud of what he made of his life. It is his perseverance, sense of adventure and spirit that stands out the most. As we prepare for the funeral and let folk know of his passing, we’ve been overwhelmed with the response from others. He’s touched many people in his 91 years, and left a legacy of great love and respect.
My Mum Margaret died in 1992, and Dad is survived by me, his daughter Liz, grandchildren Duncan, Laura, Liam, Douglas and Ross, and three great grandchildren Tiree, Drew and Jack.
I always thought I was the risk taker in the family. I had a telephone in my tree house. The doctor in casualty told my Dad that I was “a very good customer”. Throughout my life this taste for adventure has taken me far and wide.
I was in the States last week when I called my Dad and got no reply. Nothing unusual there. His hearing was getting bad. It could take a few days to raise him. He lived alone. We asked him to think about moving to sheltered accommodation. We took him to see homes; he would have none of it. The people in these places “are old and past it” he said.
I said to him that as long as he had his marbles then the choice to leave would be his and that I’d never force anything on him. I did get the concession that I could monitor the issue as he headed to a hundred.
So two months ago, on the day of his 91st birthday, I sat with him and a social worker in the living room of his flat. He’d had a couple more falls. One in the living room and a bad one on the escalator in WH Smiths. I asked her if he should stay at home. She asked him a load of questions. He gave a bravura performance of mental and physical agility that made me look stupid.
She can be forgiven for thinking I was trying to offload my Dad into a home. After making some helpful suggestions to aid his independent living, she left stressing that the policy was to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible. He may have been hard of hearing and had a few falls on his ‘creaky knees’, but he was still smug after she’d gone.
We had a heart to heart. I told him I was worried and made him at least promise to hang that bloody bleeper round his neck for him to press in an emergency. He said he would but told me that he knew he was running a risk by staying at home. I pretty much exactly remember what he said: ‘This is my home, I’ve lived here 52 years, I’ve just put in new windows and blinds and damn it, I like it here!” He said he knew he could have an accident, on the stairs, in the house or worse still driving his wee Ford Ka to see Frankie at Arnold Clark’s garage.
I’m just back from seeing Frankie. He and Dad had become good friends over the years. Frankie said “Archie has single handedly recession-proofed Arnold Clark”. Dad couldn’t stand a scratch on his car, and there had been more and more bumps in the last year or so. We all knew it couldn’t go on much longer. None of us wanted to take away his independence.
I told Frankie that Dad had died. He teared up, we all did, it hit me then that my Dad was gone. I’d seen Dad in the morgue this morning but it was telling Frankie that Archie wouldn’t be bringing the car in for repair anymore that really brought it home. No Dad, no best friend, no shadow.
I said to Frankie that Dad had been found dead in the living room by the social workers when his home-help couldn’t get in. That the flat was smoke damaged by a kitchen fire. And that although there would be a post mortem, the best guess right now was that as dad had no burns he’d either had a heart attack or succumbed to fumes at some point on Friday night when his dinner had caught fire.
In the last few years as Dad’s horizon has contracted, I’ve flown further. I’ve lived with cannibals, had an elephant fall on my head and been in an armed stand-off with the Seattle police. But as all this adventuring has been going on, by far the biggest and proudest tale to tell is that of an amazing 91 year old man who had the pride and dignity to face life head on despite the real and lethal risks.
I love you Dad.
My Dad has just died. He was 91. In February I went to Greenock to celebrate his birthday with him in the house where I grew up. The same one he’s just died in.
There had been an ongoing debate in the family about whether he should stay at home or go into sheltered accommodation. The discussion was between everyone else but him. He was having none of it. He was fiercely independent, still driving and just last month he got on a bus and travelled to Inverness to see his close friend Jean.
Everyone I have called is distraught that this good man is gone. I haven’t got a date for the funeral yet but I’ll post more information when I do. It’s hard to come to terms with this. He and I had a rough old time getting used to each other when we were growing up. But as we got older and grew to understand each other we became best friends. Now my best friend is gone and I am in tears. I will write more when I can.
We’ve just returned from an amazing week’s holiday in Cornwall. Jen and I stayed at a place we’ve returned to again and again. Trelowarren is an old estate on the Lizard that rents out lovely cottages deep in a forest. Besides brilliant woodlands to walk away the stresses of work, they also have an excellent restaurant, pool, spa and tennis court. We always go out of season. Then we have the run of the place for walks and snuggling in front of the wood-burning stove while watching endless episodes of The West Wing or The Sopranos.
I’ve spent the last week in edit struggling to tell a complicated story in a simple way. I have a maxim that I try to apply to all my TV work, which is ‘simple stories well told’; it’s difficult to achieve sometimes.
I’d always thought this motto applies more to producing and directing films, because the process of making a coherent, entertaining story that works for a broadcaster’s audience is inherently complex.
But when I looked at the still photograph of Drew and Tiree, I see the maxim at work again. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures that are contre jour. When colour and texture are removed, the essential is isolated without the detail.
My old man and I just had our first ever Skype call on his new birthday laptop. He was completely made up. Now all I have to do is get my remote connection to his desktop working and a whole new world awaits him from the comfort of his armchair. God alone knows where I’m going to find the time to guide him onto the web but it seems a curious and fitting role reversal.
It’s an age that very few people have seen but more will. If you’re turning ninety this year, you were born two years after the first world war ended; were nineteen when the second war started; and were nearly fifty when the first man stood on the moon.
And so it was that my Dad did attain this incredible age on the auspicious date of the 8th of February 2010. I’d been agonising long and hard as to how best to mark the event. At one point I’d seriously considered hiring a helicopter and flying him to his beloved St Kilda. That was until I found out the price tag and that none of the family were mad enough to fly 100 miles out to a rock in the Atlantic.
After much debate I took the sensible, and as it turned out, much more enjoyable option of organising a big birthday bash for him in our hometown of Greenock.
It’s a sad fact but once a person reaches ninety many of their friends and family have long departed this earth. Nonetheless, I sent out 54 invitations and 50 people turned up to celebrate the ‘90 Years of Archie’. It was a wonderful life-affirming event, and incredibly, the first birthday party my Dad ever had.
I put together a book, an exhibition and a slide show of his ninety years. While doing so I discovered a lot about my Dad, myself and the continuity of family across generations. It was a very emotional day, which showed when I came to make my speech.
We gave Dad a laptop and a broadband connection for his present. Yesterday we hooked him up the web. Not many men make their first solo foray onto the internet at ninety. But not many men are like Archie Maynard.
It’s been a month since I wrote my last blog. The time has flown by in a giant jumble of family, friends, travel and DIY. However, all good things must come to an end and in this case they are being replaced a with great new challenge. As of next week I start at Raw TV as an Executive Producer. It’s big job with brilliant people and lots of scope and I’m delighted and daunted in equal measure.
Despite the precarious nature of being a freelance Series Producer, one of the benefits (especially if you have your next contract lined up) is being able to take long breaks. In all I’ve had six weeks off and it’s been utterly memorable. After returning from France in what Jen and I reckon was one of our best ever holidays, I spent just a day to in London before heading north to the Hebrides with my Dad. The Maynard and Maynard tour of the Highlands is becoming something of an annual event. My father is an astounding ninety years old in February so these are precious journeys. Last year we circumnavigated Scotland but this time we concentrated on family and friends in Lewis and Harris.
I detected a positive vibe to the islands that I hadn’t felt for many years. There are some inspiring examples of young people returning to the islands and getting on with plasterboard and projects. Nickolai and Beka Globe have made a fantastic new space for their pottery and photography at their converted Mission House Studio. And my old friend Ruraidh Beaton continues to build the legend of Am Bothan in his magical bunkhouse in Leverburgh. The advent of the long overdue Sunday Ferry and the reduction in ferry fares to the Islands through the Scottish Parliament’s revolutionary Road Equivalent Tarrif (RET) initiative have had an enormous impact on tourism. The roads were busier than I’ve ever seen them, lots of cars with surfboards on the roof and ever more dreaded camper vans in their wake. Ah well progress always comes at a price.
Talking of progress, my last day on the Island was spent at the helm of the Jubilee, sailing out of Loch Stornoway as the new Sunday ferry steamed past…bizarre. The Jubilee is fully restored 80 year old ‘Sgoth’ that I last sailed fifteen years ago. It’s another sign of renaissance in the Islands. The Jubilee, which was one of the island’s last serviceable traditional wooden sailing boats is now one of a fast growing number of this class of boat being built sailed regularly by locals and visitors alike.
Returning to London, I concentrated on getting the new kitchen installed interspersed with lots of catching up with friends in London. Amongst the highlights was the launch of Phil Stebbing’s massively ambitious ‘Lifeline’ project in Hyde Park. Phil is trying raise funds to send three teams of people around the world. Their mission is to meet others who are trying to live sustainably and build a Digital Ark filled with the secrets of sustainability. I did say it was ambitious.
Another memorable event was going to the one day England V Australia cricket match. Even to a relative newcomer to the game it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t a brilliant match, and England got soundly beaten. But nonetheless, great company, good weather and enough beer to last a lifetime more than compensated for the poor performance.
So that’s it. The holidays are over and the work begins. Bring it on.