Helen Patricia Teresa Malpas nee Towey

She died at 5.30pm on Christmas Day 2016 in an isolated single room in the Women’s Medical Ward of Sligo Hospital.  43 years and 252 days after our “I wills” were said on St Patrick’s Day 1973.  43 years and252 days of hard work, six kids, much happiness, some sadness, a few cross words but a massive amount of love.

We had left her at 2.30pm at her bidding.  “Go home and have your dinner” were the last words to us.  She looked radiant, the best I’d seen her in months.  She had suffered greatly in the preceding while.  Daughter No 4, Son No 2 and I drove a hungry 30 miles back to Boyle.  We ate our prepared Christmas lunch and at 4.30pm she rang.  She had just seen the doctor and they were letting her out on the morrow, St Stephen’s Day.  We celebrated with a glass of wine.  Again at 5.00pm the telephone rang, “Mr Malpas, can you get here quickly, Helen is in cardiac arrest”.  The miles were never devoured as quickly, not a vehicle on the road.  We were met by a Muslim doctor, I suppose the only one willing to work on that Feast Day.  “She died 10 minutes ago, I’m terribly sorry, the resus team did their best.  Just wait here a moment the nurses are just cleaning up the room.”  I signed a proffered form donating her vital organs for research.  Not a word was said.  We waited then went in.  She looked beautiful, if that word could be used in her cadaverous state.  Her forehead still warm to the touch.  On close inspection wounds could be seen on her neck, arms and hand from the work of the resuscitation team.

A long dark journey home, painful calls on landline and mobile, interspersed with mouthfuls of strong liquer.  The next day neighbours called, the undertaker summoned.  The process was put into operation.  A post-mortem was necessary.  She had died in hospital of a condition she was not being treated for.  The pathologist’s report said “Sudden cardiac death due to marked cardiac hypertrophy”.   But they were not treating her heart, she was supposed to have a cystic kidney with sacral metastases.  Who are we to judge, the 99.9% ignoramuses of the population.  We should be left in ignorance whilst the medics weave their web.

In the following days friends, relatives and children gathered.  The autopsy done on 29th December and the body released and we cremated her the next day at Lakelands Crematorium in Cavan town.  He death was not announced but it was heartening to see the large crowd that gathered.  Jungle drums working as they always have.  People had travelled for miles, many hundreds for some.  It was a great delight to see a large contingent from the Dublin stage community as well as acquaintances I never expected to see.

20 or so of us gathered for a few quiet pints in Boyle, the landlady being the sister of the undertaker.  Over the following few days visitors had to return to normality, the kids had their own lives to deal with and by the time I realised that 2017 had been born, I was on my own.  Desolate, scared and lachrymose and for the rest of January and most of February those conditions worsened.

Nobody tells you, nobody and nothing conditions you for the death, for the end of 43 years and 252 days of love and companionship.  I can tell you it is horrible.  You become virtually quadriplegic, in a state of stasis, but you have to eat.  You stumble to the shops.  You meet somebody offering kind condolence.  You flood with tears, looking idiot-like at the till.  You go home and cannot eat that which you bought.  You go to bed but cannot sleep.  You get up, sit in a chair and cry as though tears were going out of fashion.  You doze, the telephone rings and you do not hear it.  The postman calls “Paul, I have only just heard”.  You discourteously close the door in case the next wave of tears washes him away.  Nearly two months of this purgatory makes me wonder now how I survived.  I wanted to write but couldn’t.  I wanted to socialise but couldn’t.  I realised a house without a woman is no longer a home but just a pile of bricks, slates and timber.

Things move on, the undertaker calls with the ashes but no bill.  A cardboard tube with a tasteful brass plaque, her whole reduced to just over a kilogram.  Telephone calls and e-mails to children.  Decisions made.  We would scatter her ashes on my birthday in the tumble down shack she was born in on 18th March 1949.

On the days before the 19th February we gathered, children, spouses, partners, grandchildren and cousins, and on that day, suitably booted, we made our way to Scanlon’s old house in Shaskin, a suburb of Gowlaun, in the metropolis of Rooskey, six miles north of ” Charlestown too, in the County Mayo”.  A stricken, waterlogged place of 11 houses on top of the bog, overlooking Cloontia and the distant Ballaghaderreen.  Families lived here for a 100 years before deciding it was too feral an environment, eventually deserting the place in the early 1950s.  Helen was the last to be born here.  A tumble-down ruin of two rooms which housed nine or ten of family at one time, the stone built out-houses showing that the kept animals had more room than the dominant humans.

I gave a talk on the history of the place, the kids scattered the ashes in the little back room where she was born, a bottle of donated Hennessey was broached and completed as we drank to her memory.  A very happy/sad cathartic occasion; an occasion necessary for the grieving to heal.  The kids went to their homes gradually and I had a few more sad days.

Trips to Malta, Morocco,France, Italy et al were planned.  Isolation was knocked on the head.  I was desperate for conversation, the grieving was nearly over.  I joined clubs and societies, they helped tremendously.  I am still in the tunnel but I can see the light at its end.  Her wonderful memory remains, wrapping me in a fantastic shroud.

GOOD BYE AND GOD BLESS, HELEN.  I STILL SEE YOU IN EVERY ROOM.

And there are still tears but now happy ones all the way through the writing of this much needed piece.  The box of Kleenex is nearly empty.

Death In The Family

He died on 1st October 2016 exactly 98 years and six months after he was born on 31st March 1918, 10 days after the German Spring Offensive had started on 21st March 1918 and they were hammering at the gates of Amiens demanding to be let in.  Actions on that 31st March could be classed as the catalyst that started the end of the Great War.  The Germans ran out of steam, munitions, fuel, men, aircraft and all the other apparatus that make for a successful military victory.  They made their first backward step and never stop back-pedaling until 32 weeks later and after much unnecessary killing, they signed the Armistice Agreement with the Allied Powers.

I would like to think that my father’s premature appearance into this world, all 2lb 2oz of him, scared the bejasus out of those confident German soldiers and sent them scuttling back from whence they came in relatively quick time.

That was the first time he had put the fear of God into the those Frankish men, the second was 22 years later, fresh out of his electronic engineering apprenticeship at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park in Manchester, where he helped in the development of a radar system used in the home defence of the UK.

In a way I was glad to see him die, his quality of life was non-existent.  For at least three months before his death he could neither see, speak, hear, stand and was incontinent.  He epitomised living death.

Our relationship was never easy.  He came from a generation that had been moulded into privation with the effects of the Great War and the hardships of WW2 and its aftermath.  A whole generation chiselled into conformity, lateral thinking not being part of the equation.  We, the original baby boomers, had not been enchained.  We had obviously been weaned on deprivation in the 1950s but we had been baptised in the “They have never had it so good” 1960s.  We were free spirits not encumbered by class, creed or civic need.  We changed employment on a whim, we travelled, we were never reined in.  My father could not understand my dilletantish outlook on life and I was not willing to be restrained by his conservatism.  What I think we both had  when it came to “Hey lads Hey” was an innate respect for each other.  There are numerous examples throughout our lives but this is not the place for them.

Early on the 17th October I boarded a plane at Dublin Airport;  in England after death, the authorities like to linger over cadavers before allowing release, because it gives work to so many people.  Here in Ireland, as in Jewland and Muslimland, they like to dispose of deadness quickly.  I was picked up by Daughter 3 as rush hour was biting on Princess Parkway and after a much needed breakfast, met my younger brother Michael,  signed my name on some legal documents and spent the next few hours in reflective idleness, thinking of things yet to come.

We arrived at the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home on Plymouth Grove at 4.30pm, the place where my father comfortably spent the last few years of his life, in “his silent period” the priest said in his later panygeric.  I realised the priest did not know him that well, as my father was never one to say too much.  We were there for the simple ceremony of receiving his body into church.  In this case the spacious chapel where the whole panopoly of religious events are displayed  for the aging population of the Home on a daily basis by the three retired clerics who are resident there.  It strikes me that with the withdrawal of religion from most people’s lives, this home as pleasant as it is, is not just in the dying business but is also a dying business structure.  I noticed immediately the name of one of my nemeses on the wall.  The so called Bishop Geoffrey Burke’s name, who it seems opened the chapel in 1997, was displayed on a plaque on the wall at the side of the altar.  What he knew and hid from the people of the Salford Diocese regarding the nefarious practises of  Thomas Duggan of St Bede’s College in Manchester, does not bear thinking about.

Assembled outside the entrance to the Home were old friends and not so friendly people, relatives I had not seen in ages and immediate family, some not looking their best, trying to ignore me in their own special and inimitable way.  There were also faces I could not put a name to but faces none the less.  I was a nominated pallbearer along with my brother Michael, a cousin, two nephews and an old work mate I’d known for 65 years, who stepped in when my other brother declined because of his declining physical state.  I was surprised how light the coffin and its contents were but I had seen my father’s emaciated state only weeks before and should have realised.

We delivered the coffin to the altar and went through the rigmarole of the Catholic service delivered by a decent,  if physically senile priest who looked as though he had just returned from a few weeks in a very warm climate.  The service was followed by unfathomable incantations from the in-house nunnery which lasted far longer than was decent.  It was over for the day and we stepped out into sunshine and I noticed how the assembled I knew were stepping over each other to remain at least arm’s length away to avoid shaking hands.  Myself and daughter 3 skedaddled back to her house and had a glass or two of wine to contemplate on proceedings and prepare ourselves for the ordeal of the morrow.

Up early and a delicious Jewish breakfast of eggs, vegetables and spices cooked by the master of the house and we were back at the chapel at 10.30am with the same people sitting outside on the same benches, smoking away, slowly killing themselves and looking for all the world as though they had performed the vigil from the night before.

The Requiem Mass followed at 11.00am and it left me amazed.  I had been 10 years away from this scene, 10 years away from the man-made construct which is the Catholic Church.  In that time we have all been made aware of the disgraceful behaviour of some of the men of God, priests of the Church.  We have all been faced with the consumate disregard successive Popes and bishops have for the Catholic population in their charge.  Yet the present Catholics ie those that were there that morning have ignored all the evidence put in front of them and still join in and mumble, meaningless to them, the prayers ordered by their priests.  Holding them in awe as of previous years, dipping their fingers in so called holy water at the numerous fonts, standing, sitting and kneeling at the drop of a hat to rituals done out of habit because that is how the Church has taught them.  Do as I say and do not think is the mantra from the clerics as they persist in this holier than thou nonsense.  It horrifies me to think I was of a mind with them once but I am glad I am where I am and not where they are, automatons going through motions as though hypnotised.  At least I have seen through the scam.

The same six lifted the coffin and delivered it to the hearse and off for one more ritual at Moston Cemetery in North Manchester.  The north inner city of Manchester took the brunt of the immigrant detrita washed up on English shores in the 19th century.  Driving past thousands of graves, all with Irish names, you could believe you were in any cemetery in the island of Ireland.  There were also enclaves of other immigrants that hit Manchester in that century, Italians in the latter stages of the century and Slavs disrupted by genocide in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, being buried in the same ghettos as which they lived.  However the vast majority were Irish who started to escape the deprivation of their own land after the Famine, to live and work in the deprivation of North Manchester and breed a generation or two of which I am proud to be a part.

Michael, my younger brother, who bore the brunt of my father’s last days and organised the whole of the ceremonies we had attended and weaved his way through the political and legal minefield that is finding an appropriate grave in an overcrowded necropolis, had done a great job.  My father was put in a grave with my mother who had been killed in 1988 along with a child of my uncle’s second wife and my mother’s twin sister who had died young of illness in 1961.  My father was that close to the surface that if his nose was as long as Pinocchio’s, visitors would have used it as a flower pot.

There were 50 or so mourners at the graveside all again doing their best in pretending that I did not exist but going about their religious rituals with all that their Christian bodies could give.  The old priest did his best on that wind-swept hillside but I think frailty overcame ritual as I threw a sod at the coffin and they drenched the casket in waters holy, so they say, and the cleric scurried off to his warm but hired hearse.

I was on a plane that afternoon, glad to be away, back to my wife in Sligo Hospital who was due to be released the following day.  A plate of dim sum beckoned from our favourite Chinese restaurant as the rest made their way to the local pub to continue the ritual that Christians have.  I was back home in the West of Ireland as the mourning party finished its duties in the pub.

Thanks without a doubt are due to Michael, my brother, the maitre d’ of the whole show, who gave a great eulogy at the end of the requiem.  John Heffernan who stepped into the breach when my other brother found himself unable.  A great vote of thanks to the staff of the little sisters who formed the Guard of Honour as we carried my father out of the chapel.  Other thanks are due also to a few fellows I worked with all those years ago, Hughie Cattigan,  Shay Leonard and Sam Murray who turned up when there was no need, who all knew my father from his later years in our office and lastly but not leastly my Daughter 3 and her spouse for transporting me and putting up with my many rants.

Two weeks later on reflexion I am sad to see the deterioration in the health of my other brother.  It is a lesson to be learnt by every male.  Never grow old without a woman beside you, unless you are completely confident of your own abilities.  Kevin obviously isn’t.  And likewise I am still shaking my head at the complete and utter senselessness of the religiosity displayed by supposed intelligent people or am I giving them too much credit.

I am happy in the thought that none of that ilk or that ceremony will be attending my planned simple expiry service up on the Bricklieves and at Eastersnow.  The first in Sligo, the second in Roscommon.

St Bede’s College, Manchester. Crash, Bang, Wallop.

When the new head at St Bede’s College, Mr Richard Robson, took over in January 1915 I vowed to give him time.  Time to sort things out, time to make the school recover from its lowest ebb.  But I fear he took on more than he or any other aspiring head could ever chew.  In the last week three items of news have come to life which seem to render this man’s efforts as falling short of the standards we were hoping to expect.

First came the news last week from the Daily Telegraph’s league tables for Independent School A Level results which placed St Bede’s College at 255th out of 291 Independent Schools.  Improvement after nearly two years does seem to be a negative factor in St Bede’s rush for glory.

And then in last night Manchester Evening News came the story of Mr Niall O’Hagan, a teacher at St Bede’s going on a drinking spree whilst in Lourdes supervising a party of about 20 children, leaving them to fend for themselves in a foreign environment and then turning up for religious events totally out of his head with alcohol.  It is all described here in this link to the article in the said paper.

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/teacher-struck-after-left-pupils-1188605

He was tried by his peers found to be guilty and banned from teaching indefinitely.  The incident if nothing else shows the lack of discipline by staff that still exists at the school.  Mr Robson has made no affect in this very important aspect of school values.

Then to top all this off in the post this morning I received an anonymous letter posted in Manmchester Mail Centre at 6.26pm on 12th September.  The letter was addressed to Mr Paul Malpas, (Campaigner and Blogger), Boyle, County Roscommon, Eire.  It shows how far my fame has come, for the local postman delivered it to King House in Boyle, the place from which I do most of my work.

The anonymous letter , well written, which cannot be said of all in this genre says:-

“As a friend and guardian of the interests of St Bede’s, I hope this might be of some interest to you.

St Bede’s is on the cusp of closure.  I have seen the plans for its demise which have been conceived and drawn up by Des Coffey.  Next academic year it will reopen as the Manchester City Academy 11-16 (St Bede’s Campus) and Coffey has a list of the staff he rates and intends to keep and those who, like Joe Hart, are now under his regime, surplus to requirements.

The area known as Holly Bank has been sold off to pay off loans from the Salford Diocese and the Educational Trust Fund which has kept the College afloat amid a drastically falling role in the spend, spend, spend soon-to-end reign of Mr Robson.  The Regis building and grounds is going to market soon and the funds from its sale will go into the redundancy pot.
The plan is to keep the Prep department open as an independent entity primarily because its current head is the daughter of Brian Kidd and Pep’s children, along with the other MCFC offspring are enrolled.  The new head of the Manchester City Academy from 2017 is Mrs Alex Vyce – the daughter of Des Coffey.  She has been instumental in advising her father on those members of staff who are on board and on those who need to be jettisoned.  Mr Robson has been given 12 months to find a new job.  He has already had two unsuccessful interviews.  His biggest mistakes were to tell his paymasters at the Etihad that he could go it alone and to fall foul of Mrs Hunt, Head of Prep, when she refused to appoint his wife as a teacher.  Robbo withdrew his children in protest.

Coffey’s rationale is pathetically simple and all to do with his standing and status at MCFC.  He had been marginalised and shown the door under the new Spanish regime just as the good times started to roll and, in a desperate attempt to keep his  club suit and season ticket he embarked on his “educational project” to take control and gain greater influence at St Bede’s.  He installed the corpulent and dim-witted Fr Daly as a puppet Chair of Governors and bullied, marginalised, and dismissed governors and staff who had rumbled his ruse.
He must be stopped.  His abuse of staff, parents and children at st Bede’s is the scandal of our times.”

To anybody not in the know the weasel known as Des Coffey was supposedly Manchester City’s Education Officer having arrived in that position after many years struggling in junior education in Manchester’s inner city schools.  After a few years integrating MCFC Junior footballers into a failing St Bede’s College, he was co-opted onto the Board of Governors of the College to give some say to the football club that was throwing thousands at the College.  This fawning approach by the Diocese and the school had plenty of critics, myself included, who could only see the end result and if this letter is correct our prophesised end result has arrived.

As one former pupil said this morning after being shown the letter “To be honest none of it surprises me.  Absolutely appalling.  Private interest, toadying, nepotism, corruption, treachery, mismanagement.  And where are the children in all of this?  And the parents who are scraping the money together each week to pay the enormous fees?  Left hung out to dry.  Eughhh, what a cess pit”

I can certainly associate myself with the latter thought.  There was I 20 to 30 years ago, with four children at the school, busting my gut every week to afford the fees and it has come to this.  But for the Diocese and the Catholic Church it is just one more step on the downward slope.  The two interlinked institutions are bolloxed, never ever to be anything more than the stuff you accidentally step on on the footpath.  The way they dealt with the historic abuse of children at the school has now come home to roost  for the hierarchy of the Diocese and the antiquated clerics who told lies during the legal proceedings.  If we lost that battle on a technicality we, the forgotten, the abused, are definitely winning the war against this sham that is known as the catholic Church.

I would welcome anybody to comment on these ongoing events because if we left it all to the College, the Diocese and the Church we would learn nothing

Father, Dear Father

Last week in accordance with the habit of the Catholic Church, my father, 98 years and four months old, received Extreme Unction or the Last Rites, his supposed last appointment before shuffling off this nonsensical life.  His mother had given birth to a 2lb 2oz runt on 31st March 1918 during the last days of the German Spring offensive, the Kaiserschlacht, the battle where they ran out of weapons, ammunition, food and staying power which marked the end of the war.  For my father it was a beginning after the doctor threw the almost dead foetus to the end of the bed with the words”he’ll not last” ringing in his unformed aural cavities.  He proved the doctor wrong and was now proving the religious wrong.  I made arrangements to visit him if he had time to wait for me..  It was a few days before I eventually mounted the Fly Be steps at Knock Airport and flew to Manchester.

My father has been a resident of The Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home in Longsight in Manchester for the last few years.  He was about 95 when he was inserted and the Little Sisters were most perturbed that in his transition from sheltered housing in Didsbury to their place on Plymouth Grove his medical records had been lost and it was a few days before they accepted that there were no records.  He had never been ill; he had never taken any prescription drugs.  He had escaped the shackles of the horrible Big Pharma.  He came from an era when Big Pharma did not exist.  His hospital visits had only been to visit those less fortunate.  His only complaint was a busted knee that he had hurt playing football 77 years previously and he had learnt to live with that pain.  He was a farmer’s son and had always enjoyed good health and as a young man thought nothing of cycling down to his cousin’s house in Vauxhall in London and spending the weekend with them.  180 miles each way and not a bother on him.  He was a footballer, a cricketer, a fencer, played table tennis to a high standard, had even beaten Victor Barna and ate the best a farmer’s table could give him.

However these times were different, he was getting old and the Little Sisters was the place for him.  A splendid pile of new build on Plymouth Grove in Manchester; my mother had been on the Board of Guardians there 30 years ago, so his credentials were good and as far as I know he enjoyed his life there being coddled by a caring and attentive staff and being wheeled into Mass every day.  He had been born into a relaxed Church of England family in Denton and had turned to the Catholic faith in 1941 in order to marry my mother, part of a determined Irish immigrant family.  This custom of conversion was enforced in those days but not so much today and he became a more sincere and devoted Catholic than most who were born into and admitted that faith.

Our relationship had never been good from my baby boomer teen age days of the 1960s.  My carefree almost feral attitude did not gel with his conditioned pre-war being and my removal to Ireland had not eased the mental distance we had between ourselves, but that story is for another day and might never be told.  Suffice it to say that there was an uneasiness between us and remoteness does not help.

So there he was in comparative comfort, freshly Holy Viaticumised and made ready for the pearly gates and yet he lingered, he waited and wasted.  Why?  There did not seem a point and I got it into my head perhaps one last visit might help.  Oil on troubled waters, make peace with whatever was the niggle we had.  So that was why I landed in Manchester on 28th July 2016, eight days after he was shown the road to his maker.  Problems with our plane delayed my visit by another day and postponed my proposed meeting with my youngest brother, who had been a daily sentinel in this time of need.

By arrangement I stayed at Daughter No. 3’s house who dropped me round at the Nursing Home the following lunchtime where I met my brother Michael who guided me through the labyrinth of corridors and lifts to my father’s room.  He was sat there in an armchair, not comfortable because he was forever moving his upper body in the chair.  Blind, deaf, incontinent, emaciated and not able to walk, a death waiting to happen.  He had last spoken six days previously and although not comatose, he was as good as.  Michael had watched his deterioration over a few years but to me it was a total shock.  His arms no thicker than his wrist, his large claw-like hands shrunk to needle-like digits, his legs no thicker than his stick-like ankles.  A fit strong man reduced to his lowest common denominator.  I understood that he had been on a mouse-like diet for some time.  He had no flesh, just bone and tendon held together by an opaque epidermis.

Every now and then he lifted his head, opened his eyes and looked straight through us, not a flicker of recognition when I introduced myself, not a sign of pleasure or displeasure, just vacant emptiness.  It had been agreed with the medics that there would be no intervention, yet after coughing up blood two weeks previously, he had been shipped next door to the brand new Royal Infirmary and given drugs that had stopped the haemorrhage, so intervention was on the menu and they shipped him back to the Little Sisters after a week.  I was told there was little care at the Infirmary, a type of Liverpool Pathway philosophy until my eldest daughter, a highly qualified nurse, kicked off and put the fear of God into the ward staff which greatly improved the cleanliness of his surroundings.

He did not seem to be in any pain unless he had been dosed to withstand but on his return from hospital he started pissing blood which they had stopped reasonably quickly.  There just did not seem to be any quality to his existence.  He looked uncomfortable but he seemed not part of this world.  He was waiting, waiting, hanging on , for what?.  It was most distressing for me the newcomer, my brother had probably become immune.  I stayed an hour and had to go.  It was like the final flickering of a candle at it’s wick’s end, not giving any light worth having, just showing slight movement.

I returned to my daughter’s house trying to rid myself of the scene and was much relieved when ordered on to baby-sitting duties that evening whilst husband worked and spouse danced.  This at least had a purpose.

Bed at 10.00pm and up at 6.00am and prepared myself for another day, another visit, stupidly persuading myself that there will be improvement.  I was on my own and became alarmed when I walked in the room and found him slumped in the chair with his head between his knees.  I thought he had gone but his hands moved.  I pushed his shoulders back into the chair, my grip felt nothing but bone and his upper-body had no weight.  He must have slumped forward and had not the strength to bring himself upright.  In a more convenient position his demeanour did not change.  No sign of life, no flicker of emotion, no hint of having heard, having seen or having felt, just absolute nothingness.  All there was was a twitch of limb, a drop of head.  It was horrible to see.  The utter sadness of this extended demise made me cry.  Again I stayed an hour and became more and more overcome with misery at his state.  I wiped the tears from my eyes and left.  If only things could have been different.  It is a lesson I have painfully learnt.

Back to my daughter’s house and I just let these words  spill out onto the page.  I was bereft, more so now than I will be at his imminent funeral mass.  I started to consider my own farewell and I hope not to tarry when that day comes.  Johnny Walker, Mr Bell and Mr Jamieson will be on hand to hasten my removal, with the knowledge of having a far easier life than my father.

I am not here to champion the system of assisted death or euthanasia which some countries allow, as I fear malpractice if not securely monitored, but there must be another way.  The Little Sisters said that whilst there is still recognisable life they have to continue giving him drugs but what I saw was not life.  There was nothing happening in his consciousness.  A fly-wheel driven heart acting metronomically not realising when to stop.

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