In this posting...
*Frank Thomas Dodds
Now read on, Macduff...

Right now I have a particularly virulent cold. You know the sort of thing - a nose that seems to be running with the unstoppable and inexplicable volume of High Force, sinuses so blocked that a sink-plunger wouldn’t make the slightest impression on them, a throat so sore you could strike matches in it and a head like Craghead (as my Nana used to say).

It’s at times like this that I’m prone to pathetic and unwholesome feelings of self-pity. Well, to be brutally honest, I’m prone to self-pity at other times, too. Generally, all I have to do is consider the more monstrous and preposterous aspects of existence - why is Jim Davidson permitted to exist? why didn’t I move to somehwere warmer 20 years ago? why are airports (and the people who work in them) so loathsome? why don’t the people of Middlesbrough rise up in rebellion, demolish the place and start all over again? - and I’m plunged into a wallowing morass of barely excusable grumpiness.

And that was exactly my frame of mind when I woke up yesterday morning. I felt drunk. And if you really want to know how that feels, ask a glass of water.

Luckily, I have developed a workable solution to these situations. I have a kind of safety valve. I tell myself that, if life seems to have hit rock bottom for some reason, all I need to do is consider the alternative. So yesterday morning I did what I’ve done several times before - I went out, bought my paper and an apple yum-yum and went to Newcastle Crematorium.

It’s lovely there. The flower-beds are beautifully planted and maintained, the buildings have a solid, peaceful air of eternity about them, the birds are singing - and you’re surrounded by uncountable numbers of departed souls who, given a choice, would much rather be quietly devouring an apple yum-yum than doing whatever it is they are, or are not, doing.

As the minutes passed I found myself watching - at a discreet distance - the preparations for a funeral. A small crowd of people - say, about 40 or so - slowly gathered at the crematorium gates to await the arrival of the hearse and, as I watched, I became increasingly fascinated by them.

Funerals being what they are, you expect the mourners mostly to comprise of older people. Indeed, a ceremony had just finished and, as those who had come to say their goodbyes walked back to their cars, the sea of grey hair and the forest of walking sticks seemed entirely appropriate to the occasion.

But the group gathering by the gate for the next funeral was not like that at all. The age mix was astonishing. There were a few older people but the vast majority of mourners were well under 30. And much of their attire defied funeral tradition, too. One young lad was dressed in white, there were a few jeans and leather jackets. And one man in particular wore an eye-catching and very handsome fedora.

I found myself wondering whose funeral this could be. And the Service Order told me.

Frank Thomas Dodds.

The cortege arrived, Frank’s coffin was duly borne into the chapel and the crocodile of mourners followed it inside. By this time, I was so curious about the man whose funeral could attract such a wildly disparate group of people that I almost followed them inside to find out more about him by listening to the orations.

And now, a day later, I wish I had. Frank Thomas Dodds, whoever he may have been, whatever he may have done and however he may have died, proved to me once again - just as I was in danger of disappearing up my own self-pity - that everyone has a story to tell and that no story is more or less important or interesting than any other.

During his lifetime, Frank was obviously held in high esteem by an amazingly varied and perhaps unexpectedly diverse group of people, many of whom turned out to mourn his death. I hope, in their loss, that those closest to him were able to take comfort from the numbers - and the youth - of those who attended his funeral with them.

Goodbye, Frank Thomas Dodds. Whoever you were.

As I turned away from the chapel, I was reminded of one of the saddest days in my career on the Big Blue Bus.

My first job at BBC Radio Newcastle was to join Paul for the last hour of the Saturday programme he used to do. The theme of the hour was local history and one of our regular, though infrequent, callers was Vivian in Rothbury. Whenever we heard his voice, we smiled at each other and knew we were in for a treat.

He told us early on that he was a retired serviceman, although he didn’t need to. He spoke with that deliciously deep and resonant voice which seems to be reserved for retired Army colonels who are utterly convinced that they know what they’re talking about and that their opinions and views have been gained from years of adventure and active service and ought therefore to be listened to.

In his own case, he was perfectly correct. Our on-air chats with him were invariably informative, saucy and laced with the spice of past glories fondly remembered and humorously recalled.

Time passed. I left Paul’s Saturday show to plough my own furrow as the traffic and travel presenter and then to host my own Roots programme for a while. And then came the Big Blue Bus.

Eventually - after a couple of years - we arranged to broadcast a programme from Rothbury. As soon as the bus was parked up on the green, I made it my business to enquire after the wonderful Vivian. Did anyone know him? Where did he live?

Oh yes, they knew him. A well-loved and well-respected member of the Rothbury community. A real old-fashioned eccentric; a character regarded with affection by everyone in the town.

Vivian - who had died three weeks before I was able to meet him.

Journalists and presenters have an unduly harsh reputation for being too dispassionate and uncaring about their jobs and the people they come into contact with; their audience. But believe me, I was broken-hearted that morning in Rothbury. Vivian had been amongst the first few listeners I had spoken to in my fledgling career at the BBC and his audio presence had commanded my respect and affection in equal measure. I had always wanted to meet him. Knowing that I would never have that opportunity - and that his death had been so mercilessly recent - felt like a familiar light being extinguished before I could enjoy its warmth and brilliance at first hand.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Sid said...

Sorry to read about your cold Ian, perhaps it was too much fresh air on Wednesday.

Leroy La Strange said...

Yo Ian my Main Man,

I've got a cold very very similar to the one that you describe so well.......... It's a nightmare..

I love Crems and Graveyards, I used to partake in a spot of lunch in Stanley Cemetary on regular basis, I'm an avid headstone reader.
People watching is another pastime I enjoy quite a bit, I love places like railway stations, just sitting watching travelers with a coffee.......... Ya can't beat it


mim said...

Hi Ian,

Same here I have a cold too!

Have you ever been in the cemetery just past the roundabout on Links road in Blyth. I used to live at the Wellesley as my husband was officer in charge there before they pulled it down and I often walked along to the cemetery there with my then Labrador dog, Paddy. There are some amazing headstones many from men lost at sea and i spend ages some days wandering along reading them.I wouldn't dare go in with my dog now, Alf as he's mad. --an Airedale.

I hope you feel better soon.

Love Margaret x

mim said...

Hi, I went to the biscuit factory today what a lovely place and it was made even better by the fact that you can get a lovely coffee or tea and the best cakes I have seen in a very long time. They also do quiche and salads which looked delicious.

I saw lots of things i would love to but had i enough money to spare. In particular a lovely blue glass bowl with what looked like crystals in it.

Love Margaret xx

Sid said...

The Biscuit Factory had me puzzled Mim. I had to Google it to find out what it was. Sounds like a good venue for an AGM.

mim said...

Hi Sid, Yes it would and it would be great in the winter as it's all inside. there is a brasserie and a cafe and both do lovely food.

Love Margaret (mim). x

Hildie said...

Hi there Mim, how are you doing?
You know I was mentioning Truckshunter birthdays last week? Well, I have discovered another one ... it was Ada's birthday last week and - when we were all at Saltwell Park - she was off celebrating her birthday at the Royal Quays.
When's your birthday then, Margaret?
Does anyone fancy an anagram of a north east placename ... just for old times' sake?! Here goes ....
The big clue is that Ada has some relatives who live there!!
If you get the answer right, I could even tell you the meaning of the placename as I have been reading a
most interesting book recently called
"From Abberwick to Yetlington" by some chap called Ian Robinson.

p.s. Where's the biscuit factory?
Ian will want to know!

Hildie said...

Apologies ..... scrap that anagram Truckshunters .....
it should read BEGIN BRICKY LAW
I got my scribblings and workings- out in a muddle.
Hope you will forgive me!
Sid has pointed me in the direction of THE BISCUIT FACTORY, Margaret ..... it does sound good .... and Ian WILL want to know.

Hildie said...

Has anyone noticed that there placename on a signpost that Sid has posted as his profile pic?!

Vivienne ... I have had a look on
and have seen the photos you took at the AGM ..... you got good pictures of the Golden Pheasant we found! And those giggly pictures of us .... anybody know what we were laughing at?

mim said...

Hildie, Thanks for using my proper name--I use Mim on here as there is already a Margaret and my lat name is Murphy so it's very confusing!!
My birthday is on the 6th of february and I was born in '57 that's the year not varieties!!
I can't believe Ian has not been in the Biscuit Factory even if only to sample the cake! Actually I had the best slice of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake in there I have ever had.
I have been busy sorting out the mountain of mum's clothes, I just have her bank accounts to sort now but they are going through probate and all go to my stepdad so I'm hoping it will all go through with no problems.
I am going back to Ulm in november to see my son, Easyjet cancelled our flight so we booked BA and they are threatening strikes!!

Love Margaret x

Hildie said...

Hi again Margaret,
The Biscuit Factory IS the sort of place Ian is likely to know about, it's just that I have never heard him mention it.
I hope you soon get things sorted on behalf of your mum, it's such an awful time, isn't it? And you're not having a lot of luck with aeroplanes, are you?! I'll keep my fingers crossed!
My daughter lives in Manchester ... I had a text message from her yesterday .. all it said was "Veggie black pudding
.... why?"
I wonder how our other Margaret is, we thought she might have got to Saltwell Park. I have heard from Ellie today ... and she says she is going to come to one of the AGMs one of these days ....
and so too is Lawrence .

Ian Robinson said...

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ADA fro me, too :-))