Today is my birthday, the 59th to be precise.
Cause for celebration? Perhaps, but more a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for being granted the last year. And a sense of expectation for what lay ahead.
But, for the past seven years, any joy has been tinged with sorrow as my mother died just two days before it. Her last whispered words as I wished her a good night in hospital were “happy birthday, I love you so much”, as if she knew she wouldn’t get the chance to say it again. Thinking no such thing myself, I admonished her, reminding her that my birthday was still a couple of days away and that she could extend her love and best wishes then. But, as always, she knew best.
Yesterday, two fine talents who have also influenced me, though not in as profound a way as my mother, were snatched from us before their time. Graham Dilley, Kent, Worcestershire and England cricketer, passed away after a short illness at the criminally young age of 52, whilst one of the greatest guitarists of the past half century, Bert Jansch, died at the age of 67 after a long battle with cancer.
I will never forget my first sight of “Picca” Dilley on a Kent ground. Aside from his shock of blond hair, and beaming smile, here, at last, was the type of player that the county club had rarely been blessed with – a genuinely quick bowler who could spreadeagle rather than tickle a batsman’s stumps. On his day he was also a glorious stroke player, earning comparison, on one occasion, with the great Frank Woolley. Were it not for injury he would surely have led England’s attack for more than 41 tests.
Jansch was a musician’s musician, who influenced and inspired guitarists who became household names such as Jimmy Page, Paul Simon and Neil Young. I first encountered him playing with the outstanding British folk group, Pentangle, whom he helped to found and collaborated with for many years.
I hadn’t seen Dilley for nearly 20 years, during which time he had become a successful and much loved coach. Nor had I seen Jansch live in that same period, though his music lives on in recorded form. But their passing, whilst diminishing my life now, enriches it too because it reminds me how important to me they have been at times in my life, and that they have played a positive part in making me who I am today. In that sense, they join some distinguished company.
It is against this even sadder than usual backdrop that another birthday has dawned (on a morning that I also hear of the death of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple). Or perhaps birth weekend would be a more appropriate term. Tonight my wife and I will have a meal and stay in Tunbridge Wells, and on Saturday evening we will pay homage to David Crosby and Graham Nash at the Royal Albert Hall, again with a hotel stay in the capital.
My mother would not have wanted it any other way.