We belatedly catch up with the death of Brian Wolstenhome, born 1929, (pictured centre, below) who departed from Blackpool, in the northwest of England, from where, in the resort’s heyday, he ran a fleet of coaches. After National Service he worked as a bus mechanic before setting up in business running a small fleet of limousines for weddings and funerals. He then branched out into coaches, doing trips, mystery tours, holidays and school runs. For fun he sailed his boat on the Lancaster canal. He leaves behind his widow Marjorie and a host of children, grand children and great grand-children.
In December the Reaper decided it was high time he knocked off an array of men who liked to wear dresses and wear funny hats. The number of Roman Catholic bishops who sniffed their last frankincense and fumbled their last choirboy was truly remarkable. And Paddy Pantsdown bit the dust too, ushered into the afterlife on a veritable tidal wave of oleaginous praise for not being an out-and-out bastard, like the majority of politicians. We’ll come back to him but first – the bishops.
By our count – and we may have missed a few – at least 12 Roman Catholic former or current bishops and auxiliary bishops met their maker (or not) in December, popping off at regular intervals like pre-programmed Roman candles, although with less spectacular offstage oohs and aahs.
The number of Roman Catholic bishops who sniffed their last frankincense and fumbled their last choirboy was truly remarkable
That’s quite a list and – given the recent murky history of the Catholic church – one might feel justified in wondering how many dark secrets have gone with them to the grave.
Someone who did his best to preserve a dark secret was Jeremy John Durham Ashdown (pictured, above), better known as “Paddy”
Pantsdown Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, leader of the Liberal Democrats for the years of 1988 to 1999, and who died on 22 December aged 77 from bladder cancer. Always “Paddy” – a nickname gained at his English prep school for his northern Irish background – Ashdown acquired a genial, hail-fellow-well-met reputation, despite having led a life of state-sanctified violence for much of his adulthood. Many will remember him for his work in charge of the UK’s third and most risible political party before it became an out-and-out joke. Some will recall him as the European Union’s ‘High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina’, a title that sniffs more of Ruritania than anything else. It’s remarkable how an ex-Royal Marine who spent a while as a spy and never went to university (nor even completed his A levels) could have climbed the greasy pole with such success. Only in England.
Once the story broke, the Marine ‘facing them down’ hoisted the white flag and Patricia Howard was, in Wilson’s words, “thrown to the dogs”
Selma Engel-Wijnberg went to her grave in the US aged 96 on 4 December. Engel-Wijnberg was one of some 600 prisoners who on 14 October 1943 managed to break out of the Sobibór extermination camp established by the Nazis in the far east of Poland. She escaped with her future husband, Chaim Engel, a Polish jew, and were sheltered by a Polish couple whom they paid for hiding them. The couple married and they travelled through Poland, the Ukraine, and thence by ship for Marseille, France, and then north by train to Zwolle and returned to Selma’s parents’ home, Hotel Wijnberg, in the Netherlands. Because she had married a Pole the Dutch authorities said she had rescinded her citizenship – an act for which she never forgave the Dutch authorities, despite their belated apology to her in 2010.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro in 2012 he said: “To write grotesque things is my way of laughing at death.”
Until early February – keep the scarf and gloves handy.
Picture source: Marjorie Wolstenhome, James Gifford-Mead, Georges Seguin