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Diary: Pat Ashworth

10 November 2023


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SEATED in Derby Theatre for Brassed Off, based on Mark Herman’s screenplay about the hardship and divisions surrounding the 1990s pit closures, I’m reflecting for the umpteenth time on just what it is about a brass band which sends the emotions into overdrive.

The scars of that bitter time have visibly healed in this part of the world: the landmark iron headstocks have long vanished, and the spoil heaps have been tamed into grassy mounds in country parks. The new industrial estates hold not a whisper of D. H. Lawrence.

Grimethorpe Colliery Band featured in the original film; here; it’s Derwent Brass. In the darting beams of their miners’ lamps, they invade the auditorium to break into “Danny Boy” for their hospitalised veteran conductor. My eyes fill up. Something in it seems to encapsulate all the loss and longing in the world: every sorrow you’ve ever had, and every emerging from it. It resonates poignantly with Remembrancetide.

Grimethorpe Colliery was demolished in 1994. The actor Pete Postlethwaite, who memorably played the band’s conductor in the film, died in 2011. The band played “Danny Boy” at his memorial service in London: a fusion of fact and fiction which is curiously redemptive.


And some there be

BRASS takes on a more utilitarian face as I don a grubby apron and tackle the brass in church. I took on the job from somebody else, in one of those moments when the question mark is left hanging beseechingly in the silence; and I’ve latterly been smitten by conscience when kneeling at the communion rail and observing at close quarters a distinct lack of burnish.

The altar cross is heavy to handle, the candlesticks and vases are pernickety things to clean, and I’m glad to get on to the two commemorative plaques in the chancel. Here’s a solid expanse to go at, something to initiate the sweeping choreography of the cloth. I pause to read the lettering. I’ve read it countless times before, but today it takes on new resonance in light of the worsening ghastliness of the news from Israel and Gaza.

It is a memorial to Major Harry Winton Holden, and to his son, “Millington Elmhurst (Tony) Holden of Bramcote Hills, who was accidentally killed whilst riding a motorcycle on 29th January 1911 in the 18th year of his age. Educated at Eton College, as was also his father, he had successfully passed the entrance examination for the Royal Military College Sandhurst, a month previous to his death.”

I guess he would have gone on to serve in the First World War. I rub more fiercely as I contemplate the thousands of young lives currently being cut off in the conflict. Who knows what they might have gone on to be? And how will they be immortalised?


Memory lane

MY SISTER is downsizing for one last time. It’s all hands to the pump as we embark on the task of reducing the lifetime contents of her flat to the minimum that she will be able to take to her new accommodation, lovely though it is.

Time is pressing, and we, her family, are there in shifts to help; so WhatsApp messages between us are coming thick and fast. “She says you’ll want the celery jar?” messages a mystified niece. I, who hate celery with a passion unless it’s braised? But then I remember that we always had the jar on the tea table at home, alongside two small cut-glass dishes: one of cucumber in vinegar, and one of beetroot, produce of our allotment. I hesitate. “The fate of the celery jar hangs in the balance,” messages my niece. It’s a tender reminder of our childhood, but I decide I can live without it.

But there are precious things that I didn’t know that my sister had kept. “Is this your wedding-dress pattern?” they hazard. They send a picture. And there it is, the tissue stuffed back into its packet after she had finished the making of it: late-1960s plainness and simplicity encapsulated in broderie anglaise and sewn on a Singer. “Yes!” I message. “Add to box.”


Alter ego

OUR baptismal certificates are a treasure to be retained. We were adults with children of our own before we knew that we had been baptised as Roman Catholics, and, when we sought out the priest who held those records, we were intrigued to find that our names had been Latinised, in the style and strictures of the time.

So, my sister was named as Elizabeta Anna, and I as Patricia Maria, with the “c” pronounced as “tz”. If only I had known. How much more flamboyant might she have been, this Patritzia Maria, flouncing through life with an undoubted toss of the head, and dismissing suitors with an airy movement of her hand. Sublime.


Many waters

OUR county has suffered the worst flooding in the country as a consequence of Storm Babet. Five of us share a lift, and set out in hope for a meeting in Southwell, in rural Nottinghamshire, but we are blocked by floodwater at every turn and have to retreat.

The fields are lakes of brown water, which pours off into the already overflowing ditches, and surges in ragged tides on to the roads. There are diversion signs everywhere. It all adds to the melancholy nature of the season, the cycle of remembering which embraces All Saints and All Souls. Sad memories come unbidden; others spark affection. I think we need them both.


Pat Ashworth is a journalist and playwright.

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