On 24th September 2019, long time friend and former colleague of Dad’s Robin Elliott organised a special charity evening at the Grand Opera House ‘Remembering Gerry Anderson‘.
Robin put together a brilliant array of Ireland’s top entertainers that included Brian Kennedy, The Adventures, The Miami Showband, Bronagh Gallagher, Rose-Marie, Malachi Cush, Mirenda Rosenberg, Jim Brown, Muriel Day, Karl McGuckin, Sean Donnelly, JP Mac and Robin Martin & The Outlaws. It was hosted by Robin and Sarah Travers and included special guests Lynda Bryans, Mike Nesbitt, Olivia Nash and Anne Hailes to name a few.
One of the surprise guests was me. As you might expect I prepared a speech and got dressed up for the occasion. And then with wonderful support from Sarah Travers I began my speech. Here it is for you to enjoy:
Dad loved to showcase and support local talent so it is so fitting that we celebrate his memory in this way in the beautiful surroundings of the Grand Opera House – which is supposed to be haunted according to a radio programme he did! So thanks for that Dad – as if I wasn’t nervous enough already!!
But seriously, he had a deep appreciation of the time and effort involved in creative work and also how the creative industry is so important for everyone’s well being in society. I often watched him listening intently to someone perform. He would be fully immersed and would lose himself completely. He could truly enjoy and admire their work. So thank you again for a wonderful evening of memories.
When Robin asked me to speak I sat back and realised that my job was to reveal a little bit of Gerry, as my Dad. As you know already Dad was great craic to be around. He had the sharpest observational skills or ‘people watching’ skills as we called it. He was blessed with brilliant intellect – he could look at a topic or idea from every angle and always come up with something that you hadn’t thought about. He also had the ability to really engage people which came from a love of all human beings whether they be Queen Elizabeth in a side room of Buckingham Palace or sharing the chips his mother had sent him to buy, with ladies of the night in Derry.
In later years, Dad and I were both busy with work during the week, but without fail my phone would ring at 12.01 on a Thursday at lunchtime with Dad fresh off the air thinking about what curry he wanted to get in Belfast that evening. You may not realise that Gerry was a creature of habit – this phone call happened every week at the same time – without fail!
And so I would walk into whatever was his favourite restaurant of that time to see him laughing and joking with all the staff – calling them ‘love’ – asking and getting items that were not on the menu and generally charming the birds down from the trees! It was always a great night’s craic with lots of conversation that went on way too late and we were usually the last to leave.
And so to Friday morning, the day after the night before. Dad would always insist on driving me in to work. But here we get to another big reveal – Gerry had the bad driver Anderson gene. The drive into work was a white knuckle ride with me shouting at Dad to ‘stop at the red light’, ‘avoid the school children crossing the road’ while I hid my face in the passenger seat as he raced up the bus lane. All the while Gerry was oblivious to the near misses and driving offences, chatting away and pointing out if a jogger had a particularly funny run and questioning if they should be running at all.
On Friday after work I would drive down home to Derry. After more conversations and craic, I would get up on a Saturday morning to watch Dad in his element. He would have already spent a good hour going around all the various shops and bakeries getting what he considered to be the best floury baps, the tastiest bacon or the freshest eggs in all of Derry. He would rustle up a fry that was fit for a king with all the crashing of pots and pans that you can imagine. Everything was fried in butter on a frying pan – he had no time for any low fat grilling nonsense. And while I was seated watching him he would occasionally shake a hot fork in my direction to emphasise a point or a punchline. Sometimes it was a series of all his favourite impressions such as ‘she’s a clean wee car’ or ‘it’s absolutely beautiful’……these impressions ranged from things that an Italian tour guide once said to things overheard in shops up the town in Derry.
Either way we loved to laugh and then scold him for being too ‘show bizzy and showing off’! After all the food and the performance he would sink into his favourite armchair under a mound of newspapers. I think this is where his creative process happened, mulling over the latest current affairs and looking for the funny nuggets to use at a later time.
On Saturday evening, he would eventually make it up the stairs to put on some ‘real clothes’. He loved the Italian attitude to going out and enjoying the finer things in life whether it was clothes, wine or food. On holidays he loved evenings when the locals were out and about in their finest clothes. It was hard to replicate this on a cold winter’s evening in Derry but he persevered nonetheless.
After another’s night craic – spot the pattern yet – I would drift off to sleep listening to the sounds of a black and white film that my Dad had found on TV while he wound down with a night cap. We would joke about this the next morning saying that Dad was watching his ‘black and white’ crap at full volume!.
A lazy Sunday rolled around and depending on the time of year we might go for a drive to Inishowen and Shandrum – the 200 year old cottage where my Granny (Dad’s mother) was born and very much a spiritual homeland and the scene of many boyhood memories that Gerry would talk about fondly. Reality would hit us again and Dad who never liked goodbyes would do a wee disappearing act where he would make an excuse that he had something to do. It is only now looking back that I realise there wasn’t really anything to do.
And there isn’t anything else to do except to remember Gerry and keep his memory alive for his grandchildren. And with that in mind I tried to capture his essence in a poem I wrote a year after his death:
Fancy a bite d’eat?
Whenever yer ready love.
Another wee drop of wine.
Black and white crap on the TV.
Half a dozen baps.
Converse, no laces.
Can’t work that phone.
Would you take a wee egg?
A sip of tea?
Need a lift up the town?
He shouldn’t be running.
I need sun.
I need a walk.
Pepper sauce, on the side.
Just give me a wee taste.
I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.
I have thing here.
Look after yourself, see you later.
I have a wee thing to do.