RIP December 2018

The Reaper took a well-earned rest over the holiday period, but says it merely meant a lot of overtime when he returned. The final crop of 2018 is here in all its glory...

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.

brian with coach

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

A drop in the ocean for the church, which has more than 5,000 bishops at any one time. First of the defunct God-botherers onstage was Guire Poulard, 76, who had been archbishop of Port-au-Prince during 2011/17. He popped his clogs on 9 December, and was rapidly followed on the 14th by first Salvador Flores Huerta, 84, who had been the bishop of Ciudad Lázaro Cárdenas  between 1993 and 2006, and second Thomas Thennatt, 65, who had been the bishop of Gwalior since 2016. On 17 December the former bishop of Encarnación, Jorge Adolfo Carlos Livieres Banks, 87, died. He was followed by Jacques David, bishop of La Rochelle and Saintes, and Evreux, who made it to 87 and died on 19 December; Robert Kerketta, 86, who had been bishop of Dibrugarh in India for the diocese of 1970-80 and Tezpur from 1980 to 2007; and Gerard Bernacki, who was the auxiliary bishop of Katowice in Poland between  1988 and 2012. On Christmas Eve Rosario Mazzola went aged 94 – he was bishop of Cefalù between 1988 and 2000. The auxiliary bishop of Sosnowiec during 1992-98, Tadeusz Pieronek, reached 84 before dying on 27 December, followed a day later by Santiago Garcia Aracil, 78, who was archbishop of Merida-Badajoz during 2004-15 and, finally, Attila Miklósházy, 87, the bishop of the Hungarian Emigrants 1989-2006.

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”

A married man, Paddy’s later soubriquet derived from the revelation that he’d had an affair with one Patricia Howard – whom Ashdown’s wife cattily, and unwisely, likened to “an old trout” when they finally met – when he acted with Royal Marine decisiveness. Once the affair became known it was a simple step for some clever headline writer in The Sun to christen him ‘Pantsdown’ and the name stuck. According to Des Wilson, the Liberal Party president and the Lib-Dems campaign manager in the 1992 general election, Ashdown had told him prior to the breaking news of Patricia, and in the context of the press coverage of Bill Clinton’s affairs, “It’s time someone stood up to the media’s intrusion into the private lives of public figures. If it ever happened to me, I would take them on. I would face them down.” Red rag to a bull. 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”: “Instead of enjoying running what would be my only General Election campaign I was reduced to skulking in my Cowley Street bunker awaiting the next bit of dirt.” Pantsdown was not the first nor would be the last politician whose trouble stemmed from his dick – and it’s not the dick that’s annoying, but the hypocrisy.

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.”

Eva Tichauer, a medical doctor and long a member of the French communist party, died aged 100 in France, although she had been born in Berlin, the daughter of Jewish parents. She was, like her parents, rounded up and incarcerated, in her case in Ravensbrück. The last surviving Jewish fighter of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Simcha Rotem – also known as Kazik, his nom de guerre –  died in Jerusalem on 22 December at the age of 94. He had as a young man been the head courier for ZOB, the Jewish Fighting Organisation. Another Jewish survivor went in December – Edgar Hilsenrath (pictured, above), aged 92. Hilsenrath was a German novelist whose most well-known book is perhaps The Nazi and The Barber, although his Night and Fuck America are also both worthwhile. He should be much better known than he is outside Germany. Born in Leipzig, his father was a furrier who fled for France before Kristallnacht, and sent his family to live in Romania. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro in 2012 Hilsengrath said: “To write grotesque things is my way of laughing at death.” It’s a view which we heartily endorse.

Until early February – keep the scarf and gloves handy.

Picture source: Marjorie Wolstenhome, James Gifford-Mead, Georges Seguin