Terry Pratchett would have loved it!
Well, mostly, you could never entirely predict with him.
Two weeks ago today I was at the Barbican together with over a thousand of Terry’s friends who had travelled from all over the world to attend his memorial.
They came because of the regard we all have for that remarkable man.
They came because of the way that the very magic of his words binds us together.
And, a whole sodding multiverse was there along-side us as we all played our part in the celebration. I can write about it now because it’s taken a while for me to not just sort my thoughts out but also to recover from the excitement. Because really I didn’t think I would be able to make it. Mine own malady was being more than usually troublesome and I was laid up feeling more than a little poo.
But I have a wife who is made of sterner stuff than me and dear friends who are at the peak of physical fitness and as strong as golems who were more than prepared to haul me about should the need arise and, bless them, they all conspired to make it happen. Plus of course the thoughtful Rob Wilkins had organised a low-loader to cart me there and back. My mate, that well known jolly rotter, Pat Harkin and I had been asked to ‘do our bit’ Being the sort of show-off’s we are we didn’t want to let the side down and he and Jan had driven all the way from Leeds to Somerset the week before to go through some ideas.
So I had to be there.
The journey took in parts of London I had not seen for close to fifty years. We drove past pubs where my brother and I had busked and which had been tarted up and renamed, past places where I had walked when the world was young and trousers flared, I must have driven my travelling companions mad with the ‘well I never’ and all the exclamations that an old farty makes when confronted with changed landscapes that fail to conform to memory.
At the Barbican I was decanted into a wheelchair, taken to a place I could smoke and presented with a bloody great G&T down to lay the dust. And then, girls and boys, the Discworld magic started to work. Better than any tonic; even with gin. The joy of meeting friends who had come to be part of this special occasion lifted me up more than any nostrum or prescription drug.
The memorial celebration started with the music of Thomas Tallis and finished with Eric Idle. It was opened by Larry Finlay the top honcho in Transworld and hosted by Rob who did the introductions like a professional, linking everything in seamlessly.
The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork put in a brief appearance; Neil Gaiman and Tony Robinson read tributes and Rhianna spoke about growing up with her Dad. We had songs (including Wintersmith) from Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span and the fond memories of three of Terry’s editors. I have no recollection of what Pat and I said but it must have been reasonably alright for the both of us to be invited back on stage later in the proceedings.
We stood in line with several other folk who had been chosen by Terry to become members of the ‘Venerable Order of the Honeybee’. We have been entrusted to hold Terry’s vision for the future, each in our own way and each with our unique skills. Such an accolade would be enough in itself you would have thought. But Terry had planned even more –the gift of a gold bee pin –created with exquisite ingenuity by master goldsmith Tom Lynall. This is a true honour and a piece of jewellery that I will always cherish along with the memory of receiving it.
And then Rob showed us the future: that this was not the end of the story but a beginning of something new. Terry’s world and vision is being carried on in film and television.
Afterwards as I journeyed home through the night, playing back that wonderful evening in my head, I remembered an occasion some twelve ago when Terry, Rob and I were at the old Bath Postal Museum in Broad Street for the launch of Discworld Stamps. Amongst its collection was a Victorian perforating machine and after much negotiation and Terry promising to help with their publicity we were allowed to use it to perforate the very first stamps. We were in a small basement room, hot and crowded with TV and reporters milling about and getting in the way. Terry in a top hat, dressed for the part and me praying to all the gods that this ancient machine would not jam and tear the stamps to shreds. Terry did his bit, Rob made sure the museum staff were put in front of the cameras and I worried it all through.
Terry asked me if I had ever seen the Bath Lemonade Factory which forms part of a museum called ‘Bath at Work’ full of old machinery including a bottling plant just a short walk away from where we were. He and I left Rob to finish off and wandered into this amazing place. He had used a bit of this building in one of his books and knew it well. Anyway, the sun shone and we meandered around enjoying each other’s company. A funeral cortege drove past and the conversation got on to funerals; ones we had been to, ones we would like to have been to, ones we hoped to go to and what we wanted for ourselves. Not morbid, not maudlin, just chatting. What he did want he told me was a good wake. Then he said to me ‘Bernard if I die first, Lyn will give you the cash and you can organise my wake’
‘But if you die first, I’ll pay for yours’. This was years before his embuggerance and there was an unspoken acceptance that he would outlive me.
We shook hands on it and walked back to collect Rob.
Of course things never turn out to be as simple as that.
The Barbican memorial was not a wake it was a bloody great wave, not of goodbye but of friends across a divide. A divide that will be bridged by the things yet to come, set in motion by those who loved him.
I think he would have liked that, I really do.