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Date: 07/03/06

Too Many Goodbyes

It's not been a good couple of hours.

I get home after a day spent wrestling with software that won't work because of what I call 'The Curse Of XP', i.e. permissions issues.

I turn the television on while I'm waiting for my chicken chow mein to cook.

The first thing I see on CEEFAX is news of the death of John Junkin.

Photo of John Junkin

The name probably won't mean a lot to youngsters, but in the 1960s and 70s, John Junkin was a regular sight and sound on radio and television, where he was a noted actor and scriptwriter. My own best memories of him come from the 1970s BBC radio sketch show Hello Cheeky, a quick-fire scattergun of mad situations and groanful puns concocted by Junkin, Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke-Taylor and musician Denis King. A couple of favourite moments:

"Home Hints for the Handyman, Number...Please Yourself: How To Entertain A Party Of Forty; buy her two large gins and a packet of crisps."

"Red sky at night, shepherd's delight. Red sky in the morning, Hendon's on fire."


I had no sooner got past this, when I saw another headline marking the passing of Ivor Cutler.

Photo of Ivor Cutler

To describe Ivor Cutler as a poet would be to narrow the man. Of course, to describe him as a 'cult poet' (see link) is merely to insult him, being another way of saying "Who? What? I don't understand". His off-beat songs and monologues (often accompanied by a clanky old harmonium) weren't 'odd'; they were simply the wanderings of a rich imagination, further fuelled by a happy (or, given his often mournful countenance, a lugubrious) knack for a memorable phrase.

An example: in one of the Glasgow Dreamer pieces that he did in session for John Peel, he describes staying with his grandparents when he was about three. Early in the morning, he saw his grandfather walking around their tenement flat naked from the waist down. Ivor describes the old man's "fluted scrotum". Not just a vivid image, this: only last night I recalled this phrase and thought that Fluted Scrotum would make a great name for a band.


Having been brought further down by this, I nearly choked on my noodles when I then read of the death of the great Malian musician Ali Farka Touré.

Photo of Ali Farka Touré

Most people who have heard of him will probably only remember his Talking Timbuktu album, made with Ry Cooder, but my encounter with his music pre-dates that by nearly half a decade.

I'd been listening to John Peel (how often his name crops up still!) for a few years, but had never quite 'got' his enthusiasm for African music. His taste was mostly for southern African music (The Bhundu Boys, for example), but one sticky summer's evening in 1990, he played a track from Touré's latest album The River. I lay there on my bed transfixed as this combination of Malian guitar and jazz saxophone weaved its way around my head. A couple of years later, I went out and bought the album (the first I'd ever bought by an African musician). The track that Peelie played that night, Ai Bine, remains one of my all-time favourites of any genre. You can here an all-too-brief clip from it here.


It must be said in all fairness that Junkin, Cutler and Touré had all reached a ripe old age. The same could hardly be said of the man news of whose death reached me via e-mail from my friend Susan in Minneapolis just an hour or so ago.

Photo of Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett was a legend in modern baseball. A kid from the housing projects of Chicago, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1982, and became a regular in the team within two years. He played for no other team in a twelve-year career which was shortened by becoming blind in one eye through glaucoma in 1996.

During that time, he became one of the greatest ever Twins, and still leads the club for hits, doubles, total bases, at-bats and runs. He helped the Twins to two World Series and they won them both, in 1987 and 1991.

I'd got into baseball in the summer of 1987, through lying awake at night listening to broadcasts of the game via the Armed Forces Network broadcasting out of (West) Germany. After a few weeks of this, which had started out as simply a case of wanting something to listen to at that hour, I became hooked on the game. When I felt that I had to pick a team to follow, because of Susan (although we'd lost touch at that point), it really couldn't be any other than the Twins. Not bad timing, as the Twins went all the way to The Big Show that year, and took the title in a thrilling seven-game series against St.Louis.

Four years later, and there they were again. And there was Kirby Puckett again. In a World Series for the ages against Atlanta, the Twins came into Game 6 trailing. Before the game, Puckett said to his team, "Get on my back - I'll carry you".

In the bottom of the eleventh inning, with the score tied 3-3, Kirby came to the plate. After taking a few pitches (unusual for a man who said of himself, "I never saw a pitch I didn't like"), the Braves' pitcher hung one up. Seconds later, the ball was flying over the wall in left center field. Yes, there would be a Game Seven. In a series for the ages, there would be a game for the ages; a nail-biting, nerve-shredding pitching duel, with Jack Morris pitching ten shut-out innings before Gene Larkin's single to left brought the winning run home. But, as I lay there in my bed, at about 4.30 on a chilly October morning, weeping for joy, I knew it was Kirby who had got them there. And as I sit here now, trying hard not to weep for a different reason (and not entirely succeeding), I recall that it was Kirby Puckett, the enthusiastic, the stylish, the committed, who helped make me a baseball fan.

And I'm grateful, Kirby. Very grateful. Thanks for the good times.