Monday, February 26, 2018

Gratitude Monday: ...and rest

I found out on Saturday that my friend David has died, and I’ve spent much of the weekend thinking about how much my connection to him mattered to me. I can’t say that I knew him well, but I truly valued his opinions, both when his perspective aligned with mine, and when it didn’t.

We first “met” on Twitter. Yes, I followed him because he played Detective Sergeant Wield on the BBC’s Dalziel & Pascoe series. Twitter’s the place where you can do that. We had a few exchanges there, and later on connected on Facebook.

I thought his family background was very interesting, although I got the sense that he didn’t find it so. (Fair dues; I wouldn’t say my family is much to write home about, either.) One of his grandfathers was an Irish traveller (the term applied to non-Roma gypsies in Ireland) who went straight from the bogs at age 15 to India with the Connaught Rangers. He spent 24 years there, which must have been quite the culture shock, and I’d have been interested to find out more about that. However, he was a rigid, deep-to-the bone Roman Catholic who refused to speak to his daughter when she married David’s father, a Protestant.

David told me that during World War II, his father was caught stealing chickens and given the choice between six months in prison or joining the commandos, so he “volunteered”. He landed on the Normandy beaches with F Troop of No. 4 Commando on his 21st birthday. I was hoping that someone would have captured his experiences in some kind of oral history project, but David said they hadn’t. I got the impression that his dad didn’t talk about it, and no one wanted to ask.

I’m a little unclear about his early days, which were somewhere around Salford and Blackpool. He worked as a mechanic in a garage following high school, then spent a few years in 129 (Dragon) Battery of the Royal Artillery. (His friends on Facebook called him Gunner, which makes sense, but also Modo. I always meant to ask what the significance of that was, but never remembered when we were writing. Now I can’t.)

Only when he got out of the army did he take up acting, studying at the Drama Centre, London, and graduating in 1993. Many of his Facebook posts were humorous takes on that experience. They made me laugh, and I didn’t even know any of the participants. He got regular work when he was cast as Wieldy in the Dalziel & Pascoe series; he left that in 2002, at the end of Season 7, and had small roles in some movies and TV shows thereafter.

I found David’s Wield a little disconcerting, largely because he wasn’t anywhere near as ugly as the character had been described in Reginald Hill’s novels. But he captured the essence of Wield, so that was okay. (In much the same way that Warren Clarke got Dalziel, even though Hill had said that he didn’t think Clarke was fat enough to pay the part.) I wrote about this; I assume David read that post, because he commented on the post before that, where I lamented the death of Hill and expressed my admiration for his writing. (He said he hadn’t read much of the novels, but that he’d met Hill and he was a good bloke.) He never brought up my comments on his portrayal, and neither did I.

David retired from acting after he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, in 2006. By the time we started talking, he had cycled through various mobility aids and was confined to a wheelchair. He was—and is—one of the main reasons I join the WalkMS events every year. The first time I did it and wrote about it, he read my post, and thanked me. 

By the time we got to email correspondence, he was living in a care facility. This disturbed me more than I can say, because when he played Wield, one of the things that struck me was his walking gait. Such a free movement, long, sure strides, usually with his coat flapping behind him. I tried not to think about it; I cannot imagine how he felt.

At some point in 2013 (I think), David rolled up his Twitter account and moved his online presence to Facebook. Then he closed that down and I was sad. He fired up Pinterest, but I’ve never got the point of that, and it’s certainly not a platform for conversations. But he found me on LinkedIn and connected with me there, so we could continue our exchanges via email. (He said he had only joined LinkedIn because an agent had once told him he should be reachable; thank you, agent.)

Following the Brexit vote, he dug into his Irish connections to ensure his sons could stay connected to the EU by getting dual British-Irish citizenship. (The genealogist he hired came up with a family name of Fahey, and he sent me a photo of the American actor Jeff Fahey alongside one of him, and asked me if I saw a family resemblance. They did look similar, but…) We had several discussions of the lunacy of both Brexit and the GOP platform. As an ex-soldier, he thought the mouth-foaming Second Amendment nutjobs were a menace to everyone else. (And these discussions were before the events of recent months.)

He also despised the God Squad—any flavor of God Squad. (I can just imagine what he’d say about those who do nothing about shooting deaths beyond sending “thoughts and prayers”.) I don’t know whether the narrow-minded intransigence of his Irish grandfather was a factor; certainly not directly as the old guy died either before David was born or early in his childhood. But he expressed his contempt for religion on all the social media platforms that I saw, and was a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens (although he didn’t understand what he saw as Hitchens’ post-9/11 American jingoism), Richard Dawkins and other prominent athiests.

We both loathed zoos and held similar views on horse racing. (I can tolerate flat track racing, but I think steeplechase is criminal. As I told David, the rider can make an informed decision about whether or not to take a gate, the horse can’t. And I’ve seen too many of them fall on muddy courses.)

He introduced me to Hitchens, “The Flight of the Conchords” and Northern Soul. We talked about red hair and he sent me this:

He was a fan of boxing, which I am not. So I sent him a picture once of a boxer. Dog. I also sent him Billy Crystal’s amazing eulogy for his friend Muhammad Ali in 2016, which he truly appreciated.

As an actor David held many opinions on theatre and films. He once told me that you don't need to have a huge intellect to be an actor, but you do need to be aware. You have to know your vulnerabilities and let them work for you. I thought about that a lot, because it ties into what some people call intuition—being attuned to the things that run deeply through you and allowing yourself to be guided by that inner truth. 

I’d occasionally send him bits and bobs, like Robert De Niro’s address at the Tisch School’s commencement in 2015, in which he famously said, “Yeah, you’re all fucked.” David enjoyed it, although is was disappointed that De Niro relied on a teleprompter. (This was a sore point for him. He had the same complaint when Tim Minchin read his commencement address at the University of Western Australia.) He liked Tarantino and Gene Hackman, but I let that slide.

One of his biggest gifts to me was Wes Anderson—it started with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I adored, and then moved on to Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I shared them with my BFF, who overcame her aversion to animated movies to enjoy Fantastic (it was Bill Murray as Mr. Badger that did it). In turn I introduced him to Libeled Lady and the comic genius of Jean Harlow, who held her own against William Powell and Spencer Tracy when she was just 25 years old. David thought she was grand.

For a long time he was a fairly regular reader of this blog. In fact, one of his earliest tweets to me was a compliment that inspired me to this effort on Facebook for Tanka Saturday:

Better even than
“Will you marry me?” The best
Four words in English
Are “I like your blog”. From a
Stranger. Unsolicited.

And he sent me this PM on Facebook, which meant so much to me: “Keep going with your blog. It’s interesting, and you observe well and write well.” I’d forgot about that—I only came across it when I was dredging through our correspondence this weekend. But it reminded me how unbelievably chuffed I was when he said it.  

Our last exchange was in September. Then I got wound up in stuff at work. I sent him one of my silly things in November, but there was no reply. That sometimes happened, and it wasn’t unusual for a couple of months to go by without contact. But this past week I noticed a flurry of visits here, to the pages where I posted about the D&P show. And Saturday I finally saw a search term about David’s death. So I searched, found and then started crying.

David got 12 years after his MS diagnosis, but his life should have been longer, and it pisses me off that he died so young. He'd probably mock me for praying for the repose of a soul that he didn't believe exists. Nonetheless, I do. He leaves his partner Rachel, and his sons Bert, 9, and Gus, 6. And a lot of friends, some of whom he never actually met. 

On this Gratitude Monday, I'm grateful for my friendship with David, even as I am filled with sadness that it's been cut so short; around four years. I’ve been treating my sorrow with music this weekend. This is one I keep coming back to, even though David had no connection to the Scots that I know of. It's a lament, and it suits me right now.

David J. Royle, 16 June 1961 – 22 December 2017


anonymous 3 said...

A beautifully written rememberence. So great that you reached out, he answered and many intelligent, thoughtful, fun ideas and experiences were shared.

anonymous 3 said...

I know you. Never met David. Thank you for your words and the videos. Laughter and tears.