Apparently it’s 18 months since my last confession. No-one’s noticed, though – no-one’s begging me to get my blog up to date. So why’m I here? Vanity, I suppose, which (let’s face it) lies at the heart of so much I do.
Anyway, what’ve I done, over these past 18 months?
Well, let’s see: I’ve been in a production of Patrick Hamilton’s Rope (and what a load of old rope it is - though artfully edited into a dynamic one-acter for the Brighton Fringe by The Rialto’s Roger Kay); I’ve played Egeon in The Comedy of Errors at the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival (that’s me in the tricorn hat, looking surprisingly untroubled by the thought of having to kick off the play with one of Shakespeare’s longest monologues); I’ve responded to the alarming rise in popular Hebrewphobia by writing and performing a one-man show called Dog’s Chosen, all about my life as an Anglo-Welsh Jewish atheist; and, in my occasional spare moments, I’ve continued to toil over two long-term writing projects – Say What You See, a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Little Things That Keep Us Together, a play inspired by my old prep school art teacher.
All of that, though, pales into insignificance alongside the big news of the last year: I’ve become an orphan. My mum, Meryl Cohen (née Williams) died back in 2010, and I think it’s fair to say that my pa, Peter, devoted the last eight and a half years of his own life to the monumental task of getting used to her absence. He had the support of his three sons - especially my brother Kerry, who continued to live with him at the house in Eastbourne - but, though there were many happy times over the remaining years, and though he never lost his unapologetically unique sense of humour, the sadness was rarely very far from the surface. His late-blossoming interest in gardening was partly in tribute to Mum (every year there were new plantings to mark her birthday and her day of departure), partly just to occupy himself so his mind didn't focus too long on his loss.
Cheerful this, yeah?
Well, it gets better, cos late last year, not long before Christmas, Pop was diagnosed with myeloma, aka cancer of the bone marrow.
Better? How’s that better?
Well, distressing as it was for the rest of us, I think that for Pop it came as something of a delivery, a welcome way out of the melancholy condition that had become his lot in life. Explaining to me his refusal to have any treatment (aside from pain relief), he said, "I get up every morning and I have nothing to look forward to". He’d’ve liked it if the NHS could offer him a simple pill to see him off in one go, but, as yet, our nation withholds from human beings the mercy routinely shown to animals.
(I understand the concerns, of course – you don’t want people bumped off for their money, but there’s a balance to be struck between caution and common sense.)
Pop was lucky, in a way, to get cancer; it got him into the hospice, where, though still denied the one simple pill he desired, he received world-class treatment from a bunch of people peerless in their kindness and devotion. Not to say that everything was right all the time, but shortcomings were never, it seemed to me, the result of people not trying. Everybody cared. Anyway, the folks at St Wilfrids were, in one key area above all, highly efficient: in managing his pain all the way to the end, which came just over a month after his diagnosis. For all that he’d’ve liked it to happen quicker – Pop always valued speed over any other consideration - it was all pretty efficient.
That picture up there; that’s Pop in his room at the hospice. It’s the last one I (or indeed anyone) took of him, and it’s one of my happiest artistic achievements. I’d just arrived, and was sat beside the bed, enjoying a glass of booze (the Quavers were mine, be it noted, but whisky and Coke were definitely among his favourite things, and thus most aptly foregrounded); meanwhile, my big brother Andy was standing behind me, telling some or other anecdote – I don’t recall the specific nature thereof, but I noticed that Pop was smiling, and, with his attention diverted, I wondered if it’d be appropriate to grab a snap - it’d be nice, I thought, to capture such a moment. Appropriate or not, I did it. Now, had I a better camera on me, I’d’ve maybe got him in sharper focus; but then, had I a better camera and the means to focus more effectively, chances are I’d’ve missed the moment altogether.
When Mum died, back in 2010, the funeral was about as minimalistic as such an event could get: a husband, three sons and three grandchildren. The over-riding task was to get Pop through it, and that meant a minimum of people in attendance. It was the right thing to do in the moment, but even so, it was nice, at Pop’s send-off – which took place on an unusually sunny 14th February this year – to redress the balance a bit; thus, my contribution, in addition to Andy’s reading-out of tributes from friends and family, and a hair-raisingly brilliant rendering by Kerry of Dylan Thomas’s And Death Shall Have No Dominion, was an appreciation of "Peter and Meryl”, ie both our parents – and, indeed, that picture there, of the two of them together in happier times, was the one we displayed "downstage" in the chapel. Good, that.
Robert Cohen – a man in showbiz so stepp’d in that, should he wade no more, to go back were as tedious as go o’er. These are among his musings.