I've been spending a bit of time thinking about heroes lately - actually, make that Heroes (with a capital 'H' - they deserve it).
As a lad, your most obvious Hero is your Dad, if you're lucky enough to have him around obviously, and thankfully, I was indeed lucky enough to have had (and still have) him around.
Other Heroes might include a sibling, in my case my brother Paul, whom (after what now seems like a long time), I am lucky enough to have back in my life (we didn't speak for years - terribly childish - long story!)
Anyways, I was thinking about my Dad and my brother, then I got to thinking about my Mum who did a terrific job of bringing Paul and I up, at times single-handedly when Dad was living and working abroad, and so she too is justifiably well and truly in one of the medal paying positions of my "Hero Status Rankability", or HSR for short (I just made that up).
I do think, however, that I found Heroes outside my family circle, as I'm sure many young people (boys?) do.
In order to remember who my Heroes were as I was growing up, in my mind I started to roll back the years to see upon whom had I bestowed my Hero worship on.
I have to be honest that it wasn't all that difficult to do - I already knew who that person was.
It was a bloke called Les.
Let me give you a bit of background.
As a 12/13/14 year old lad, knowing Les as I did, having him in my life was the most straightforward thing in the world, namely;
i) he was almost exactly the same age as my Dad
ii) he was best mates with my parents and
iii) he was my brother's Godfather.
In fact, it wasn't until this afternoon that I realised how complicated things actually were. I knew Les had been married before and already had another family before he met Rita (my brother's Godmother), but today, with people from this family and people from that family, all stood round in a very sunny garden in a beautiful little corner of Suffolk, it became apparent that although things had seemed straightforward to my young person's eye, they weren't straightforward at all.
Not that that mattered to me then or today however.
I remember my Mum worked at the same company as Les; AW Hawkins (and did Rita work there too??) and Les would take me to work with him - perhaps it was in the school holidays, and in my eyes, Les was (then and now) über cool. I slept over at their house the night before, came down for breakfast (toast with lashings of melted butter), drove into town with Les, met the guys in the print workshop, used the giant guillotine to cut some business cards down to size before having a cup of tea, a chat, a Mars bar and then off to deliver a van full of letter headed paper and the aforementioned cards.
Around the same time, Les and a mate (whose name escapes me) started Vamphire, a mobile disco service - he was a DJ - which alone catapulted him into automatic Hero Worship status without even trying! Les not only let me go with him to "do" a gig, but he let me set up the records, let me speak to the "clients" when they wanted a request, he let me dig out the record and, and, AND cue it up, trusting me to get it in the right place so that it didn't whirr slowly to life when he hit the ON switch.
I got that wrong several times over the years, trust me!!
To top it all, I got paid for helping him play records all evening, I couldn't believe my luck!
Don't get me wrong though, this is in the very early 80's, long before the likes of Danny Rampling, Frankie Knuckles or Pete Tong (to name but a very few!) came along.
Thinking back again, although Les was more likely to play Boney M, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley than he was Daft Punk, Atlantic or OT Quartet, his ability to get an entire hall full of people jumping up and dancing however, was breathtaking.
I can remember one particular evening (more recently though, the late 90's) when Les, rather the worse for drink, took over from me on the "wheels of steel". Although I'm not entirely sure he could focus properly, without even saying a word, he managed to get people to put down their drinks, stop their chatting and filled the dance floor, all in the space of a record and a half!I said it to him then and I maintain it now, you've either got it or you haven't, and as much as I liked to think I had "it", when I stood myself next to Les, it was pretty obvious that "have it" I did not.
Inevitably, as the crowd reacted to his music choices, so his focus came back to him - I literally stood and watched it happen - his sense of duty flooded back into him, his head cleared and the party thumped on into the small hours of the next morning.
Great to watch a Master at work, astonishing stuff, I'm smiling now as I type!
Yesterday, a lady I did not know said several things about Les which I also did not know, not least his love of cricket.
Where did that come from? Never 'eard of that one!!
She did, however, mention things which I did know, and which also made me smile. She made the briefest mention of Rhodes island, Greece, which I have mentioned before (here) and that got me thinking too.
My brother, Mum, Dad, Rita and Les, all came to see me while I was working on the beautiful island of Rhodes in 1987. The Greek guy I was working for at the time (although literally mental) made a real fuss of them all when they arrived. As Les stood at the bar, I will never, ever forget the look on his face when Nikos (for t'was his name) poured him the strongest Gin and Tonic I had ever seen anyone pour!
Naturally Les drank it (as did my folks drink their respective drinks) and I don't need to tell you how the rest of that evening went, but I can tell you that THAT drink in particular went down as part of our family history, and long may it stay there!
Heh heh ... if Les told you the story about that night right now, he would still grimace at the thought, probably closely followed by a chuckle at the memory.
Actually, if he told you any one of several afternoon/nights out during that holiday, he may well grimace, especially if you mentioned the word "Ouzo" to him (tee hee!!!!)
Apart from his "Angel Blossom" (his grovelly words of choice for Rita - usually when he knew he was in trouble), his music, his family and us too, his friends, the other huge part of his life were his dogs; Les loved, loved, loved his many dogs that owned over the years. Although I can picture lots of them as I close my eyes, I would struggle to remember all their names but I will type a few now (and add to them as they come back to me over the coming weeks);
Kas (or Cass?), Henry, Rebel, (more to follow)
Dog owners often display a devotion towards their pets that I don't entirely understand, perhaps because I've never had one myself, but to see Les around his animals was heart-warming, even if they were bigger than him, even if they did demand a walk on Christmas Day afternoon, following a particularly big lunch, too much port and with the Queen's speech looming - out he would go with them, without fail.
I think it was without fail anyway, I think!!!
Talking of Christmas, the Big day itself was rotated between my parent's, Rita's or Kim's house, Rita's daughter. Then, Boxing day would be spent at someone else's house and whoever escaped entirely would have the honour of kicking things of the following year.
From what I can remember, for years and years, whenever everyone was at my folks place, Les was given (and he ate) roast turkey, although it turned out he couldn't stand the stuff! I think he might have also eaten sherry trifle year after year which he also despised!
Les was no shrinking violet so maybe I'm remembering things slightly skew-whiff, maybe he never ate any of it and instead voiced his dislike of these foods, but either way, it was another historic footnote in the complicated but at times hilarious, tapestry of our family history.
If Angel Blossom was Les' pet name (in public at least) for Rita, then her's for him on more than one occasion was 'Tart'. To be perfectly honest, Les was an excellent actor when it came to merely banging his elbow, or being tackled on the football pitch (or being thumped on the arm for showing off for something or other by none other than "Angel Blossom") and he was more than capable of over-doing the need for sympathy, which he rarely got from anyone who knew him. We would all be too busy laughing at him, to be fair!
As a result of this terrible acting over the decades, I'm not sure many of us, me included, paid him much attention when he complained of sore ribs, reaching back up around his side, wincing slightly when he tried to get out of his seat.
Even if we had queried it, Rita's stony stare would've snapped us all out of it, realising once again that Les was the habitual joker!
As his discomfort turned to genuine pain however, several hospital trips confirmed the awful news that the pain he was experiencing was due to the fact that he had that most spiteful and virulent of diseases, cancer.
Even hearing this news however, I can remember thinking something I've thought (and written) about other people in the past, namely that they're invincible. So what that they're not well, they will get better, no doubt about it!!
Unfortunately for Les, those relentlessly destructive cells just wouldn't give up on him and treatment after treatment finally wore him down and I'm guessing he decided one afternoon, sat in his favourite armchair, that enough was enough, his days of standing up to something bigger than himself were finally over.
The Les I knew over the years, the persona he allowed everyone to see, know and love, that Les was no quitter. This makes his decision to ask Rita to help him him throw his favourite towel into the ring all the more poignant; it must've been a particularly tough one to make.
Maybe, I dunno, I wasn't there .... but I'm guessing.
I started writing a letter to Les about a fortnight ago and, thinking that he was invincible, I felt I had all the time in the world - seriously, I really did - and in it, I wanted to tell him what I've just told you - that he was my first ever hero ... sorry, Hero, with a capital H, but, as you've probably guessed by now, I never got to send it to him. In fact, I never even got to finish it, let alone send it.
Am I upset that I didn't get it to him in time?
Well yeah, I am, I am upset.
Unbeknownst to me however, Les's health had deteriorated quite drastically following the last time we saw him - I say "we" because thankfully, M, myself, Joseph and Annabel all saw Les several times over the last few months when he still looking good - tired and frail but good.
And I'm glad that that is how my children will remember Les. Although it is good for children to learn and understand about illness and, ultimately, death, I am happy that when I say the name "Les", they will remember him as I'd like them to remember him, as I said above, tired, a bit frail, but sat there, sipping his tea and offering them a bowl of jelly babies (minus the black one's of course - he always ate those himself!).
Although I didn't get to send him my letter which, it turns out, I sat on for far too long, I like to think that he knew he was my Hero many years ago, that he could tell that I already loved him to bits when he let me cue up those records, when we rolled our eyes at each other when someone asked for a tune that "we" considered a bit naff!
Even if he didn't know it back then, I'm pretty sure he could tell when we said goodbye to him for the last time, when I went back across the room to him and hugged him (ever so gently, to avoid hurting him) and kissed him on his balding forehead.
As M and I looked back at him from the front door, we could see he had tears in his eyes, as did we when we drove away.
And that was it.
That was the last time we saw Les.
Such is the awfulness of that disease, his final few weeks were, I'm told, not very pretty and although he was not in the least bit aware of it, Les was extremely lucky that he had those closest to him nearby, making him as comfortable as they were physically able in his own home, as was his wish.
I'm not entirely sure what Les made of faith or religion but apparently, as he felt his strength diminishing, he mentioned several times that he might like to speak to a priest. Although I'm not sure whether or not he managed to have that conversation, one thing's for sure - yesterday, the 19th April, the day we said our final goodbyes to Les, the sun shone in his honour and it shone beautifully, in all it's blinding majesty. The heat made us loosen our black ties ever so slightly, and the faintest breeze blew blossom across the perfectly manicured grounds of the crematorium, giving the wonderful effect of a gentle snow storm as we all stood there, crying, smiling and hugging, sad for ourselves but also happy, as clichéd as it sounds, that Les was finally and undoubtedly free from his pain.
Can you hear me Les?
If God really is a DJ, I sure hope he trusts me with his records the way you did with yours!
Keep a decent pair of headphones for me, won't you?
We'll see you in the not too distant future, trust me.