We agreed not to relate tales of family in this article. Why? Not because we are cold & heartless but because they would all three read alike: first born, death of a loved one, etc. We wanted the three entries to be different from each other.
Two sombre tales, one happy ending (eventually)
Being a very emotional chap, my short list was, in fact, not short. At all.
Ones that didn’t make the final cut:
- The building of the Berlin Wall (1961) and its destruction (1989)
- The announcement of massive closures of lines and stations on Britain’s railways (1963)
- The moon landing (1969)
- My football team losing the League Cup Final (1969)
- The release of Nelson Mandela (1990)
- Being on the Jersey Clipper as it won the 35,000 mile round the world ocean race. (2003)
- My farewell concert with a choir I founded, made up of alcoholics, drug users, and people with all sorts of personal problems. (2012).
So my top three most emotional events took some sorting. Eventually, I have come up with these.
1. I remember going home from school back in 1966, and hearing the first reports of the Aberfan
Disaster, where a coal tip slid down a Welsh mountain onto the village below, engulfing the local junior school, and killing 116 children and 28 adults. Apart from being an awful way to perish, in thick mud, sludge and rubble, the fact that so many innocent young people were wiped out had a profound effect on a 14 year-old. I remember visiting the village many years later. It was an eerie experience, with lots of older people, lots of younger children, but very few in between……. a whole generation, missing…..
2. On a similarly sombre note, sorry, visiting Auschwitz, back in 1987. To this day, I cannot get out of my mind the feeling of sheer desolation, of astonishment at how inhuman man can be. I remember a room, and seeing thousands of children’s shoes and glasses stacked up to the ceiling; it was like a sledge-hammer blow emotionally – it was impossible not to weep. And nobody spoke – despite the huge number of visitors, everybody was so choked up at what they were witnessing. We all kept our emotions fully wrapped up inside, in total silence, until we walked out of the place where so much evil still pervaded the atmosphere.
3. Have you ever experienced that moment when, after achieving something against the odds, you suddenly realise “I did it!”?
That happened to me back in 1996 – I had been asked to provide piano and keyboard accompaniment for a Jersey Opera House production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. The run was to last for three weeks. Nothing too dramatic there, you might think.
Just a few weeks before opening night, the director of the show, who also owned the Opera House, rang me to say that he wasn’t able to get the backing tracks, alongside which I was supposed to be performing, and that I would have to sequence myself, in my synthesizer, the entire score. He would, he promised, let me have the various music scores for each instrument. Ah, that’s a lengthy process, but just about do-able.
Then, just two weeks before rehearsals were due to start, and four weeks before opening night, the kindly director informed me that he couldn’t get me the musical scores – he threw me a copy of a CD of the West-End production, and told me I would have to orchestrate it myself. All 24 songs. Then sequence the whole lot into my keyboard. All in two weeks. Or there would be no show. And his beloved Opera House would be in serious financial trouble.
The two weeks were utterly terrifying. Constantly looking at the clock, and the date, I worked non-stop for some 18 hours a day. I eventually completed the recording of the orchestrations, just in time for the start of rehearsals. I was too busy to feel any emotion at all at that stage.
It was just after the opening night, a rip-roaring success with a standing ovation for the cast, that I found myself alone backstage. Everyone else was in the bar having a celebratory drink. I remember phoning Mrs B, who had been such a support over the previous four weeks, to tell her. And I just broke up. I was so glad to be alone, as I sobbed uncontrollably with relief, but the enormity of what I had achieved had finally registered. It was a while before I had composed myself. Then I joined the others.
My most emotional moments
I consider myself an emotional creature but I am having a really hard time to figure out three most emotional events. Though it is easy to spot the #1 thing.
It was August 1999, I was 24 then and wanted to spice up my life somehow. The best thing I could think of was to have a tandem free fall jump. You know, you’re being instructed on the ground, you also sign up a paper that in case of an accident or death you have no one to blame except for yourself. You get on board, then the instructor buckles you up and then you get up to about 4,500 meters high. Finally, you jump out and free fall, then the parachute opens up and you land. Safely. Peanuts.
Basically, it all happened just like I just described. I mean, it all went smoothly. The MI-8 heli took us up in the sky, we did jump out and I even had another guy freefalling just in front of us and filming the whole thing. Cool!
Well, it actually was my second try. The first time I didn’t sleep at all the night before and was seriously thinking that this could have been my last night on Earth. Next morning my friend and I went to the airfield only to realize that because of weather (it was pouring with rain) all the jumps had been cancelled.
We finally did it a week later. It was terrific! Having that training on the ground, signing that paper that nobody is to blame, and getting onboard the MI-8 with a team of skydivers equipped with their skyboards. It was a crowded house inside and looked a bit like riding in a bus, just don’t look out of the windows.
Then we did jump out. There was a roaring noise because of the screaming air. We were falling down and I couldn’t breathe because of our speed, around 50 m/s. Breathe, breathe with your nose, not mouth, just like they said during the ground training. It wasn’t frightening because… there was no place for fear, too many things were happening at once! Then the parachute opened and we kind of stuck in the air, almost no motion after the crazy freefall. We still had around 1500 meters to smoothly float down.
I was happy to land. What an experience!! I am a brave man because I was scared to death before the jump! Still, out of this experience I made a very important conclusion: you either practice it on a regular basis or you don’t repeat it at all. Too serious kind of fun. Since then I’ve never tried to repeat it and have no such plans for the future.
Still, emotionally it was the # 1 thing.
My second most emotional event was meeting legendary Russian ballet dancer, Maya Plisetskaya, in 2007. It was an interview for a documentary, at her Moscow apartment on Tverskaya street. After the interview we chatted a bit. She was 81 at the time, still elegant and slim. But I had a feeling that I was talking to somebody of my age, about 30 then. She had a very bright mind, she criticized my 3-day beard but approved my ripped jeans. A wonderful woman, shining like a star. Of course, she was a star. She said: “I don’t like old people. I like young people!”
I think she was probably younger than me in spirit.
My third thing, though I am not so sure, was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2017. When our team made it to Gilman’s Point at about 5,680 meters on the edge of the crater, I felt like I could just turn off at any time. It was a very strange feeling caused by hypoxia. It felt like my head… wasn’t actually my head! Some weird emptiness inside it. I decided to continue going anyway until I fell down or, hopefully, didn’t fall down. I didn’t and made another 200 vertical meters up to the Uhuru peak, Africa’s highest point. I wasn’t really emotional at that moment but I felt like I had crossed some line. So I was comfortable: I knew it wasn’t an easy thing to climb Kili and the odds were against me in the beginning.
Of Nature & Politics
This is not really easy for me and even now, while writing this, I’m not sure what to say. I tend not to become emotional but a couple of events do come to mind. These are in no particular order.
1. Years ago I visited the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC. While there, we went to the most popular museum in the country; Air & Space. As you would expect there are some great exhibits ranging from Apollo to the Wright Brothers Flyer. Some other things you may not expect are also on display, The Soviets and Star Trek are well represented.
While there, we went to see a giant iMax movie. The screen was six stories high and filled your vision. Of course, it was all about space.
One scene just grabbed me by the throat and I was completely taken by surprise and became warped in emotion. We were looking down on Earth. It was huge and it was beautiful. My home… my home. I could feel tears welling up, but we can’t have that. I couldn’t help it, I was shocked by my reaction and it was simply impossible to suppress these feelings. I know exactly how astronauts must feel.
Thinking about these, I’m beginning to see a pattern. This next one came when I was quite young, maybe twelve years old and again I was taken by surprise.
2. We were on a family trip to see the West and went to visit the Grand Canyon. The approach is odd because you can be just steps away and not see it. You walk right up to the edge and suddenly the size of the thing becomes apparent.
On first sight I was disappointed because we were looking down on cloud-tops. The clouds were a couple hundred meters below us and seemed to stretch for miles.
Then I happened, I heard it, but I didn’t know what it was. Whough-whough-whough-whough It went on and on. Then, it happened again. It took a moment for me to understand what I was hearing: It was raining and I was standing above a thunderstorm. The booming was echoing down the canyon and hitting wall after wall. Each time sending yet another eerie echo back. By the time the sound died down, another sonic boom exploded down the canyon. My disappointment turned into awe…….. reverence.
My final entry I have thought about for a day or two. I’ve gone back-and-fourth and still don’t know if I should include this but here it goes.
3. The election of Donald Trump. Never in the past had I felt personally affected by the outcome of that contest: Those guys have nothing to do with me. I hear you but no, this has nothing at all to do with politics. “W” didn’t bother me and this isn’t about that. I was seriously depressed for maybe a day and a half after the election tragedy.
I understood then and remain sure something died that day: Civilized society. This was the passing of decency and respect for others. And it’s not coming back. There is a very real possibility the US could spin apart but the people driving this truly don’t care. Driven by fear and hate they wish to destroy something special.
Most of you hate America every bit as much as these so-called patriots. Even the word Cowboy is used as a slur in Europe.
For all that, the truth is the United States changed the world for the better in the decades after World War II. For years they lead by example, but no more. This past week Amnesty International named Donald Trump as the primary driver of hate on the planet. Let that sink in.
In the days following the Francis Powers, U2 incident, President Eisenhower wasn’t allowed to be seen. No President of the United States could ever utter a lie and the White House needed to lie about what happened. The winner of the Electoral College is not hobbled by such restrictions.
The other sad part of this is that some of his populist ideas in the hands of a human being could actually be good for the US. Who cares?