2012 has finished and good riddance to it. Although many good things happened - Olympics, Manchester City winning the premiership to name but a couple, it has been a sad and miserable year for me. Sadly I will remember the year for the people we lost as much as for the games we played.
In the early years of my life, perhaps the person outside my family who was most important was Gerry Anderson. As a young boy, I was obsessed with Thunderbirds. Can you possibly imagine anything better than living in a Tropical paradise island, with a fleet of high tech machines with which your family regulalry saved the world. Thunderbirds was the ultimate feelgood kids series. There has been nothing like it since. Each episode was an epic. In the days before Jeremy Clarkson took over on Top Gear, it was the only show with a proper nod to boys toys. Who wouldn't want a swimming pool which rolled back to become a rocket launch pad? It was also light years ahead of the field in the area of equality. Lady Penelope, her mansion, her butler and her pink Rolls Royce were surely what every girl aspired to. Especially a butler who could crack the safe of the Bank of England with a hairpin in 30 seconds. When Thunderbirds finished, we had Captain Scarlett. Although I enjoyed it, it never lived up to Thunderbirds. Joe 90 was again not a series which ever really appealed to me. I will never forget my excitement when my sister, who lived in Northampton told me that there was a new Gerry Anderson series on telly. For some strange reason, this was not being shown in London. The series was UFO. As I would stay with my sister in the summer for a couple of weeks, I eventually got to see a few episodes. I was obsessed with the series. As it wasn't shown in London, none of my friends had a clue what I was on about. UFO exemplified all of what Gerry Anderson did well. It was an image of the future which was glamorous and exciting. Eventually the series was shown in London and I was enthralled. sadly only 19 episodes were made. It was replaced by Space 1999, which I never really got in the same way. In UFO there were clear storylines, Space 1999 was never something I got. And sadly that was it. I got into music and Gerry Anderson stopped making TV shows. Sci Fi moved to the big screen. many of Andersons special effects people worked on various blockbusters, such as Star Wars.
I have no doubt that Gerry Anderson defined the way Sci Fi looks. Many of my more bizarre attitudes and opinions are probably routed in episodes of Thunderbirds. I believe technology should be used as a force for good and rich megabillionaires should do their bit and not tax dodge. I've long believed that if we spent one tenth of the money we spend on our armies on having a truly "international rescue" organisation, which could house populations made homeless by earthquakes, feed populations laid to waste by famine and rebuild communities shattered by Tsunami's, we'd have a world where maybe people weren't quite so keen to blow themselves up to further causes fuelled by inequality and injustice. Perhaps the best example of what this country can do if we want, was the Falkland war. If we can do that to rescue a few hundred people from a fascist dictatorship, surely we could do so much more for a famine ravaged country where no one would fire back at us? I believe that view is the product of the work of Gerry Anderson and for that I will be eternally grateful.
The second sad loss this year was my dear friend Paul Hircombe. Paul played bass in my band, The False Dots for 27 years. He died in April of cancer of the Oesophagus. It has been extraordinarily hard for me to come to terms with his death. Paul joined the False Dots when he was 14 years old. I was sixteen when he turned up. He was introduced to the band by our then drummer, Paul Marvin (son of Shadows legend Hank). His mum used to ferry him down in her orange mini. He initially joined as lead guitarist. Paul was the coolest dude you could ever meet. He didn't say much. I knew him for three months before I realised his name was Paul. We simply called him "Urkum". I didn't even know if it was a nickname to start with. Paul was the best musician in the band when he joined. He could play, whilst the rest of us were useless. At the time, the singer/bassplayer was Pete Conway. Pete was a hugely domineering character, who terrified many people. I believe he was also a genuis and we developed a highly interesting set of music, far more mature than the sum of the parts. Paul added a degree of musicality to the proceedings. When Pete Conway left the band in 1980, I simply told Paul that he was now the bassplayer. He bought a bass and that was that. The band deveoped and we played all around London, the South East and did a tour of Scandinavia. In 1983 the band seemed to be on the verge of something. The other guitarist and the lead singer hatched a cunning plan and booted me out. In fairness, I was easily the worst musician in the band. There was a big "meeting" in the pub. They announced their plans and asked who was going along with them. To their amazement, Paul opted to stay with me. At the time I was amazed. I determined to repay his faith and immediately recruited a new drummer, guitarist and singer. With Vanessa Sagoe on vocals, we had perhaps our best ever line up (certainly until Connie Abbe joined). A couple of years ago, I asked Paul why he stuck with me. He replied "There's no way I'd have gone with that lot, you wrote decent songs, they were idiots and it was always a laugh".
And yes, what a laugh it was. We were like the wild bunch. Paul loved to live life on the edge. When he arrived aged 14, he'd already started smoking hashish. I doubt there was anything he didn't try and try to excess at some point. He would drive like a maniac at all times and spend his money as soon as it landed in his hand. As a teenager, women would throw themselves at him. He started a relationship with Christine, a voluptuous French girl, who to some extent kept him on the straight and narrow. Despite his obvious intelligence and capacity for hard work, a conventional career never interested Paul. He worked for many years for his brother at Chalk Farm tyres. This paid his wages and he bought a flat with Christine. They had a mad Jack Russell dog called "Reg". Paul drove a mini. He was the master of one line put down. One time, a friend with a large BMW and a German Sheppard started winding him up about the car and the dog. Paul simply said "Big car, small dick, Big dog small dick". End of conversation. Paul played his last gig with The False Dots in June 2008. We organised a gig for MacMillan Cancer relief and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Lee Thompson from Madness put together a band with iconic guitar legend Chris Spedding to headline. We raised £5,000. Paul was on great form, but sadly his fondness for cocaine had started to take over his life. He'd lost his job at Chalk Farm tyres, lost his flat and lost his way. Although I had an inkling that all was not right, I didn't realise quite how wrong it was. I arranged a job for him at Finchley Nurseries, working with Pond Life, the pond maintenance arm. For a while, Paul did a fine job, but his demons got the better of him.
We didn't realise it, but he'd joined a gang robbing motorway gaming machines. Easy cash. Shortly after the gig, Paul announced he was moving to Portsmouth "for work". I didn't see him again for a while. One day I was checking the blog statistics and I noticed a few hits from people googling "Paul Hircombe". I was intriguied. I did the same thing and found that the serious crime squad were after Paul and his gang. They'd been on crimewatch. I was horrified. Shortly after a member of the Oxfordshire constabulary rang and started to interigate me. They had his phone. I was horrified. I told them I didn't know where he was and hadn't spoken to him for a year or so. They told me that he should get in touch, because if the people who run the gaming machines got hold of him, it would be far worse. As they had his phone, I couldn't if I wanted to. The next I heard was when I received a letter from HMP Bellhaven. Paul had been arrested. He was on remand. What I heard next shocked me. He'd left Christine and had a new girlfriend, Jana. He realised he'd made a big mistake in his life and he was determined to sort it out. He then asked if I could give Jana some money. I reacted badly to this. I've always been honest, so I wrote back and explained why I had no intention at all of giving him or his girlfriend anything, until it was 100% clear he'd turned the corner. I didn't know he'd split with Christine. I felt loyalty to her and outrage at what he'd done. Paul wrote back and apologised. He explained at length how he'd treated Christine appallingly, but he felt the new relationship was "a second chance". He said that he understood if I wouldn't help Jana, but she had nothing. I detected a change. I told Paul I'd give Jana a lift up to his court hearing. I did this on several occasions. I wrote a character reference for Paul. I detailed how he had been a decent guy who'd taken a wrong turn. I listed all the charities he'd helped me organise gigs for, for no payment at all.
Paul got two years. He came out of prison in December 2010. We exchanged a few telephone calls. In April 2011, he rang with some shocking news. He had cancer. He hadn't gone back on the cocaine, he'd been trying to find a job, trying to sort himself out. He'd just secured a job with Wandsworth Council on the parks department, when he found out. The happy ending was not to be. Jana stood by Paul to the end. She cared 24 X 7 for him as he deteriorate into a slobbering incoherent husk. She was there till the end.
Due to his circumstances, Pauls funeral was organised and payed for by his friends. We all chipped in and had the wake at my house. Christine turned up from France, with new boyfriend. It was a difficult and emotional day. Many people who hadn't seen each other for 20 years were there. Some who hadn't talked for 20 years. Girlfriends, wives, ex girlfriends of various people were all brought together. We gave Paul the send off he deserved. Although his musical talent was never properly recognised by the wider world, his friendship was by the people who loved him. For all of us, he made a huge difference.
Which brings us to Bill Kelly, who also passed away. Bill was the father of Sean Kelly, drummer of "The Sway", a band I managed in the mid 1990's. I first got to know Bill when I started managing the band. He was a very supportive Dad to Sean and the rest of his children. Bill had been a swimming coach before he retired. He loved his children and they loved him to bits. He was a fiercely protective Dad and would quiz me about plans for the band and what I was doing to ensure their success. Of all the band, Sean was perhaps the most driven and the most opinionated. He is the one who has posted all of their videos and keeps the bands name alive. I believe he got that tenacity from Bill. When I ceased managing the band, I assumed my relationship (apart from the odd nod of the head in the street) had ended. I was wrong. When Barnet Council started the process of abolishing Sheltered Housing, I attended a rally. I made a short speech to the assembled crowd, when up walked Bill. He'd sold the family house to his son and was now living in sheltered housing. He'd designed a set of posters for the campaign. I hadn't realised he had a creative streak, but his posters were to the point and eye catching. He was a rallying point within his estate for the campaign. He would email me updates and details and would often send me info for the blog. Bill was old school no bullshit. When I heard he'd passed away I was truly upset. Sean now has kids of his own and I'm sure Bill was a proud and loving grandad. With all of the stupid and crass things Barnet Council have done, the sheltered housing fight has almost been forgotten. The last time I saw Bill, we had a conversation about Barnet Council. He told me that he'd never forgive them for what they were trying to do. He also told me he had great faith in me and what I was doing with the blog. He said that he knew I'd stick at it and he said that himself and his friends took great comfort from the way I lay into the council. In his own way, just like Gerry Anderson, Bill was a bit of a hero.
Sadly the passing of Bill, Paul and Gerry has left the world a worse place. I found Paul and Bills obituaries particularly difficult to write, putting it off for several months. Paul's because it is so raw and so personal. In Bills case, because despite all my efforts, I don't necessarily feel I've repaid his faith in me by stopping the idiocy and cruelty of Barnet Council and it's policies. I guess that is a work in progress. I thought long and hard about this and all I can say to Bill, wherever he is, is this "I'll try buddy".
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