Friday was very odd. In the early hours of the morning I got word my Uncle Ian had died, after a protracted and quietly heroic battle with dialysis and chemotherapy, in Cedars Sinai hospital, LA. In the thirty years I knew him, he was a dear friend.
We had a running joke between us that he was my Uncle and I his Niece, due to his brother Doug being my stepdad, to all intents and purposes, even though my mother and Doug never married. In any case, Ian and I adopted each other as such and that was the official explanation we always gave regarding our relationship. The only time it ran aground was when he invited me to be his ‘date’ at the BAFTA awards in Beverly Hills one year, which he was presenting, and the term niece was met with suggestive and knowing winks. However, Ian belonged to a different generation, one that accepted that a private life of a ‘subversive’ nature stayed firmly in the closet and in all the years I knew him, even though times changed and he was well aware of my tolerance, he never came out to me. If a rare person was in his life, he shied away from being gender specific about them.
He and I shared the bond of being ex-pats in Los Angeles from the obscure and deeply uninviting town of Grays, Essex. It was a small, wryly amusing club, and we welcomed anyone into it who claimed membership. Ian roped in the director Mick Jackson and we had, in his absence, nominated Dave Prowse, the guy who inhabited the Darth Vader costume. When Ian filmed a pilot for a comedy show starring Lee Evans, also from Grays, he invited me to the taping in Burbank. We told Lee that it was our intention to inject a little bit of home onto the set. I’d brought a slim book The History of Grays from my own library, which Lee, delighted, prominently included on a shelf of the mock sitting room used for filming.
Ian had a wicked wit and a knack for the absurd. He could always be counted upon to be the most interesting addition to a dinner party and laced his fabulous stories liberally with celebrity names for extra juiciness. He was a master raconteur. One night, when I lived in a high rise building on Wilshire Boulevard, he’d come round for dinner. There was always a pause between anyone arriving and the time it took visitors to get to the front door, having checked in with the security front desk and negotiated the elevators and long corridors, but Ian had taken an especially long time and I began to fret. When he eventually arrived at the door, he was pale and staggering theatrically. “What happened? Are you OK?” I asked, concerned with his well-being. “Oh my God,” He gasped in horror. “The lighting in that elevator!” In later years, when he knew times were tough for me, I’d have lunch with him on my visits to LA and he’d discreetly slip me a hundred dollar bill as I went on my way. Nobody knew that except me and him. He had an irrational pet hate of what he perceived as family after his money and frequently supposed that his distant relations came to visit him for a free holiday and to tap him for funds – or inveigle their way into his will. Therefore I felt pretty special that he obviously made me an exception in his mind. I had a chuckle when I thought of the reading of the will to come; doubtless he’ll have left it all to some showbusiness charity in a last act of thumbing his nose. I’m counting on it.
Here is his obit in the Hollywood Reporter yesterday:
He would have been satisfied at his headline mention and expected no less.
Not that I couldn’t do with an inheritance right now – been extremely stressed over bills I can’t pay and long ignored council taxes. Sometimes it’s live, or pay them. Not both. I’ve reconciled to the fact that life doesn’t appear to work that way for me. I went to bed around 4am, having grieved for Ian and had some quiet, thoughtful time. The doorbell woke me at nine, usually sleep right through those. I thought it was Sunny returned from a London jaunt, doing the walk of shame, forgotten her keys again. When I looked through the door glass I could see it wasn’t her but by then I’d made myself visible and couldn’t very well decline to open it. Of late I have a policy of not answering the door. My thoughts are that I can’t be served a court summons for unpaid taxes if they can’t get to me. I kicked myself for being half asleep with stupidity when it turned out to be the postman with a registered letter. A summons. In a sleep fog I’d answered the door. I didn’t even manage to speak one word to the postman, I don’t think. I presume etiquette does not require one to thank a summons server, even if it’s not their fault. I signed.
I sat on the stairs and gingerly opened it – yep, printed material, pages of it. Here we go. Heart sinking moment. But then, stapled to the front was a small, handwritten note with terrible handwriting, hard to make out what it said or who from. The return address was in Birmingham, nowhere I was familiar with. What I took to be the word ‘scam’ was on closer inspection, ‘sum’. There was a cheque attached. Made out to me. Since this never happens it took rather a long time to sink in.
The letter was from my father’s brother, my uncle Mel. He explained that an obscure insurance policy had matured and it had taken some time for the company to track him down as the executor of my Dad’s will back in December 2009. He reckons my father forgot he had it, as it was never spoken of. The amount was a third of the sum, split between me and my two siblings. Just enough to cover my unpaid bills with a bit left over for a splurge on groceries. Of course it can’t be accessed for 5 working days, but still. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. How often is life like a game of Monopoly? You have won second prize in a beauty contest. You have inherited the sum of your council tax bill.
I sort of felt two things: That somehow, kind of, Ian had slipped me a little something to get by…and my Dad had helped me out when I needed it most.
Thank you, rare and wonderful guardian angels.