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  • Writer's pictureSumbella

Saying Goodbye to #UncleLen - a Tribute

Well, here we are, Uncle Len. 


I know that if you were here, you’d want this to be a good old chinwag, reminiscing all the adventures, with a strong cup of coffee and a spoonful of brown sugar - which you would check for taste. Then you’d be so bold as to ask the waitress if she'd stirred it with her finger - because “it was that sweet”! I would groan obviously, half laughing. 


As it happens, hardly any of the staff here got the jokes you would launch on them so you got away with a lot of mischief most of the time. 


As I write this, it is May 2021, and I keep looking at the wide brimmed hat I gifted you, which you promptly began to stick real feathers on to, one by one, even looking out for them on the street. As soon as your daughters Linda and Kim saw you wearing a hat with so many feathers, they asked when you’d be taking off?


There is a phrase you’d often say: 


'Once seen, never forgotten’. 


Here in the desert, you were - dare I say, quite a trendsetter. After all, we now attribute the coinage of calling my mum Marge, a name that only came into existence once you decreed it. 


Quickly deciding my own name was rather a mouthful, you decided to call me Jim. Thankfully Jim didn’t stick further than between you and I, but Sunny caught on a little. 

I was privileged to listen to so many of your stories, and as we reflected on your life, there were some words we found that capture the essence of your life as you saw it: 


Challenge,


Humour, 


Nature,


and,


Love. 


As I think of your life, I can see how these words illuminate and were embedded inside all the things you’d do and say in your own unique way. 


Challenge


A regular coffee goer, as soon as we’d get in the car, insisting that you pull the door shut with your walking stick (telling me you are a Boy Scout after all). You’d roll down the window for a moment, sometimes lick your finger and stick it out the window to check the weather, which, you would deem, was usually ‘getting hot’. You’d then settle in and say, "now pick a subject and let’s argue about it Sunny Jim"!


On the way back we would always blast a song or two on loud, and sing your heart out to our best rated tracks from your suite, mostly consisting of the song "Get you on a slow boat to China”, of which “Get me on a slow boat, Sunny” became code for: get me out of here and let’s go for a coffee. 


I’d sometimes even try to play you some “modern" music that I love, and you’d say ‘yuck - it’s something of nothing”, one of your best catch phrases, in my opinion. "Something of nothing." To the point, simple, yet sometimes so brutal, especially as you would often bluntly say the same to me about my hair, my jewellery, or my choice of clothes. What can I say? To be one of the women around you was hard work. Flattery wasn’t your strongest suite but made the compliments all the more sweet when they came.

Can you see the sense of adventure, humour, challenge? 


Nature 


Then, there was the time we took you to deep into the deserts and close to wildlife. We set out early in the morning, you, in true Boy Scout fashion, were ready early, safari hat in hand, Boy Scout trousers on, pocket knife tucked to the ready. Having lived in Dubai for so long, you’d never seen a camel up close, let alone touch one, but within a few moments of entering the female pen they were all eating out of the palm of your hand - typical charmer.

You spent time Gazelle spotting, enjoying the vast views of the desert, and telling stories round the fire… but I can’t let the memories sound so very picturesque can I? You’d been saying how much you’d like to try wing walking, and so we naturally attempted to get you up through the sunroof, hoisting you leg by leg, - (yes, you were 96, and in a moving vehicle while my friend drove), to let you get a taste of ’the wind through your hair’ as you put it. It was rather an effort in contortion that I think we will never forget, mostly because of the laughter it created upon your ceremonious plop back down to the passenger seat just as we finally were getting your head out the top of the roof. The whole time you shouted out "don’t let my daughter know about any of this"! We told her right away, of course. Too funny not to. In true form, you laughed with me til we almost cried a little - and this story reminds me of how you never skipped a moment to have an adventure. 


Another time, lured by the promise of roasting marshmallows round a fire in the desert, we tackled the tricky task of hurdling you over a fence. Yes, there probably was another way in, but… challenge! Boy Scout! Hurrah! I think we overestimated the whole task gravely, but lo and behold, after many logs of wood and building a make-shift set of steps, one leg and then the other over the fence you were in. “Nothing succeeds like success” you announced.

I don’t think I can capture how dangerous it was, in hindsight, but the sharp spokes of that fence, and the sight of you manoeuvring over them - saying repeatedly, again, don’t you tell my daughter we’re doing this’ was enough to capture your sense of rebellious independence, challenge and adventure all at once.


Luckily no bones were broken and we even made it back over said fence, with much wrangling, assistance and ‘heave, hos’. The whole way through, just like right to the end, you insisted you were a boy scout and could do it. 


Humour


You had your regular coffee shops, all of which the staff knew you by face if not by name directly - and I would frequently be laughing out loud at the audacity of your way with staff - on one particular coffee shop, it emerged you’d somehow wrangled a discount that only you could avail - it was no use me paying the bill, as they wouldn’t apply it for me! 


And so I laughed yet when you’d walk up to a counter, brazenly ask for your discount (just for being you, of course), and telling the staff how costly it is to run a house with women in it these days. 


Whether it was the Starbucks staff who would label your coffee mug Sir John, or the ones who would pop out and greet you in the middle of a mall, you truly were a 'once seen never forgotten’ kind of person. 


One day, after racking my brains to try and buy you a useful gift, I bought you a hot water bottle. Being ever truthful as you are, you wrote to me and said: “A dear friend has bought me a hot water bottle… as she knows I live in a hot country, I imagine it was for my inner comfort”. I rather think if I'd bought you a deluxe set of yoo-hoo glue it would have made you more cheerful than that hot water bottle. For there’s nothing that a little yoohoo glue can’t fix, right? I can see you in my mind’s eye, nodding approvingly. 


Love 


It wouldn’t be a tribute to you if I didn’t say what you were most proud of: the thing you would tell me brought you the most sense of fulfilment and joy: your two special daughters and your wife. You always spoke of them with such love and warmth. "My two daughters, and my lovely wife who gave them to me”. 


Though you perhaps didn’t say things to your daughter so directly, I know you would want her to hear what you told me: that you felt a debt of gratitude for all the remarkable things you knew she was doing for you every day, even when you were grouchy and in ’bog off’ mode!


For me, and for so many, you were a portal into a time that's long forgotten - a glimpse into an era where men were born of a steely quiet discipline. As Marge says, you were ‘a magnificent Gentleman'.


To have lived a life where you can reach just shy of 99, and to say with a light heart that you have no regrets, and have no conscience of having deliberately wronged another soul in all your years. 


This is success - and I can hear your voice saying, as you told me so often: 'Nothing succeeds like success’.


Those words capture the essence of you so aptly: and all in all, we celebrate you, we celebrate your life, which was filled with things so true to you: great adventures, bravery in the face of challenge, endless humour, appreciation of nature and sincere love. 

I’ll sign off the way you always would: 


Stay bright eyed and bushy tailed. Keep your feathers trim up there, Uncle Len. 

With love


Sunny Jim





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