Ed Lines

NOT long ago I wrote a few paragraphs about an old rugby pal, Jim Brook, having a drinks get-together at the Flatt Top in Thornhill.

I said Jim had been ill which, as anyone aware of his actual circumstances knew, was something of an understatement. He passed away this week.

Over in Batley, the rugby fraternity was also grieving with the loss of Bulldogs diehard fan Gary Coyle after a short illness. Gary, a keen photographer who did work for us over the years, could only have been in his mid-50s. Too soon lads, too soon.

In Jim Brook’s case, that coded invitation for old mates to come have a last drink with him, was exactly that – Jim’s wake. Even in his final weeks and in the grip of cancer, Jim was laughing in its face. He wanted to see who’d turn up and raise a glass, while he was still on this side of the coffin.

His marvellous wife Lorraine managed to get him up to the Flatt Top for an hour, and a good number turned out. There will be a lot more at Jim’s actual funeral on Tuesday September 13 (1.45pm) at Thornhill Parish Church.

I doubt that he was aware of it, but that living wake was the subject of much merriment down in London at The Castle pub in Islington last Friday afternoon. Jim Brook’s idea could catch on.

It was the vaunted Wembley weekend, and the crusading carousers of the Woodman Inn in Batley Carr (liberally sprinkled with Jimmy’s old rugby mates) were in reflective, if high-spirited mood, not least because a couple had just celebrated their 64th birthdays.

As the boom-box of one of the birthday boys, Tommy Burgess, suddenly blasted out The Beatles’ classic ‘When I’m 64’ you could see the pub manager’s heart sink to his boots. Not this crew again...

A selection of Rogers and Hammerstein classics would inexorably echo across the capital’s rooftops before management called time on the lads’ fun … which they duly did. But by then the seed of a genius idea had been sown.

I’m not sure whose initial eureka-moment it was, but germination was swift:

“A living wake – we should all have one. It could be a regular event … it’s the only time you get to see your old mates these days...”

“What if no one’s dying..?”

“Who said anyone had to be dying? None of us are getting any younger… so-and-so over there looks a bit off colour, wouldn’t you say?”

“Well, he has drunk a full crate of Webster’s Green Label on the trip down....”

“Think of it, it would be a lot more fun if you were well enough to enjoy your wake … in fact we could do a couple of people at a time, every few months…”

“Good idea. And everyone who comes would get five minutes to say what they really think about the bloke whose wake it is…”

(The potential for a respectful wake to dissolve into either hilarity or out and out violence was not lost on the Woodman debaters).

“A coffin … there’d have to be a coffin and whoever’s wake it was would have to get in it while people were talking about them...”

It doesn’t take long, does it, for a simple spark to start a forest fire?

The only question remaining to be settled was the identities of the ideal subjects to kick the living wakes off.

As if by common acclaim, two names rang across the roof terrace of The Castle pub – “Waggy and Webbo!”

Steve ‘Waggy’ Watkins, Dewsbury’s answer to Brad Pitt (he’s actually got a face like Shaw Cross pit) and Colin ‘Mr Happy’ Webber, the greatest natural talent the British diplomatic service failed to recruit; two of the town’s more colourful – ahem – characters. Perfect.

Waggy wasn’t on the Wembley trip this year – a thumb problem ruled him out apparently – but that didn’t prevent his nomination. Getting Colin to lay in a coffin might be problematic however. There could be a rush of people wanting to nail it down, possibly led by his wife Kath.

Will it happen? Who knows, but I’m sure Jim Brook would have been cheered at the happy diversion his idea provided for a bunch of old pals.

Leaving a smile on people’s faces isn’t a bad legacy.

I WONDER how history will remember the wildfire explosion of social media – as a boon to global mass communication, or a brainwashing infection that reduced a generation of young people to pallid, armchair-bound slobs.

I confess to having found Facebook excellent for keeping in touch with distant friends particularly, although twice I’ve pretty much ‘lost’ them all having had my account hacked and cloned.

I do however worry about young people glued to their smartphones 24/7. Maybe they’ll grow out of it, like Xboxes and Playstations. Hopefully.

The world beyond our innocent, everyday technology use is a worry. Just this week one of our work computers was attacked by a virus that encrypted all the files on it and apparently we would need to pay a ransom via the dark web to get them back.

Needless to say I won’t, although I’d love to know why these crimes don’t seem to be taken seriously. Probably because the authorities consider them ‘victimless’.

As for the dark web? Isn’t that a teenager looking at cheeky photos with the bedroom lights out? I guess not.

Twitter can be useful in business – between my (rugby-oriented) personal and business accounts we have about 18,000 followers, which is useful from a marketing perspective. I suspect I’m missing most of social media’s potential, but then again there are only so many hours in a day.

But the business networking site, LinkedIn, which Microsoft recently bought for a staggering $26billion? That beats me, even though I have an account. I couldn’t tell you what on earth its benefits are or how you get your money back on owning it, but I can tell you that for $26 billion Bill Gates could probably have bought Greece. I could think of lots of ways to make money out of owning Greece (starting with baling out of the EU/Eurozone which they will eventually have to).

If you don’t know LinkedIn – as far as I understand it – it’s essentially your work CV, online. And so, for instance, I can tell you that Kirklees Council leader Coun David Sheard (Lab, Heckmondwike) has been in charge of the authority since May 1982 – yes really. And you thought Fidel Castro had longevity (with whom beardy Sheardy shares a political doctrine by the way)?

That may come as a surprise to John Harman, Kath Pinnock, Robert Light and Mehboob Khan, but it’s right there on Linky Dinky – “Leader, Kirklees Council, 34 years and five months” so it must be right.

And while Heckmondwike Grammar School might be rightly chuffed at the bright young things it sends into the world after every exam results day, it’s not a patch on the establishment Sheardy attended.

GCSEs? A levels? Pah! david sheard (sic – you don’t need to care for details like capital letters when you’ve run Kirklees since Martyn Bolt was in short trousers) got a BA in Business Studies when he was at Hecky Grammar!

According to his profile, the Glorious Leader is an ‘Independent Government Administration Professional’ (whatever one of those is when it’s at home).

Looking at his LinkedIn page, I can only conclude it’s someone who can’t count, write or remember properly.

Mind you, he is about the same age as Fidel Castro...

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