Thursday, February 05, 2009

Terry Pratchett Living With Alzheimer's.

I once stood in a queue outside Ottakar’s in Chelmsford (now a Waterstone’s) for about half an hour, maybe an hour, to get a book signed by Terry Pratchett, all of whose books I’ve really enjoyed, even the ones you don’t hear so much about – science fiction and not set in the Discworld universe – like The Dark Side of The Sun and Strata. At the time I hadn’t been taken on by Macmillan, but I did have The Engineer and The Parasite published by Tanjen, so I took along a copy of The Engineer to give to him. What he thought of that I don’t know. Now I’m really in the writing world I reckon he probably though me some sort of freeloader trying to get a leg up on his fame, or maybe get a quote out of him. The reality was utter fanboyism, a bit of, “Look Master, see what I’ve done”.

Every year when one of his books comes out (in paperback) I buy it, or more usually Caroline buys it for me, and I read with enjoyment, normally polishing it off in a day. And if he ever appears on television I’m always there watching, since my inner fanboy has never died. I particularly liked the program he did with the orang-utans, which was fascinating and laced all the way through with his humour. In one scene a massive male orang-utan came walking through the jungle, and when it crossed a wooden bridge the heavy sound of its massive weight coming down with every footstep would have been enough to get any sphincter quivering. He noted how those about him were breaking the speed record for the nonchalant walk as they departed the scene.

Last night I watched the first of two episodes of his program Living with Alzheimer’s, which was funny, sad, offered hope and took it away again. Mr Pratchett was very angry upon discovering he had this malady, and you can see his anger and frustration as he fails to knot his tie, or types slowly and makes constant mistakes. And the killer was watching him doing a reading and starting to lose it at the end, audience dead silent and some teary eyed. What a bummer. However, the humour was there right from the start with, “Hello, I’m Terry Pratchett … at least I think I am,” and there later when he wore something on his head that looked like a Dr Who prop. In the end that guy who always speaks in capital letters in hiss books (the Grim Reaper) can be less frightening than those who usher him through the door.

When I first heard the news that Terry Pratchett has got Alzheimer’s, I felt a little sick. It’s the kind of thing that rips up someone’s heart when it’s a family member and, because he is so well known and loved, there are millions who see him as part of their lives, he’s the humorous entertainer with the beard and wide-brimmed black hat, he’s the guy who regularly produces a book they want to read at once and which never disappoints. If you ever do an English course of any substance you learn the true definition of word tragedy – not how it is thoroughly misused by the media. To me the idea that a man who has entertained millions with wit, humour and an incisive intellect, with wisdom even, being gradually destroyed from inside his skull, that’s tragedy.


Bob Lock said...

Hi Neal,

You've mirrored the very feelings I had when hearing this news about Sir Terry. It came at a particularly bad time for my wife and me as her mother had recently died from a dementia-related illness and we can easily imagine what he and his family must be going through.

We recorded the program last night and have set the Sky box to record the second part but we didn't feel ready to watch it. I'm not sure when or if we will be able to, to be honest. Just seeing the video clips advertising it were so sad.

The other worrying thing about Alzheimer's is that where it was originally diagnosed in patients generally over the age of 65 it seems as if this no longer applies as more and more younger people are being seen with the early stages. A news item linked to this was on last night showing a man in his 50s who had been diagnosed as having the early stages 20 years previously. That is really scary!

Anyway, all our best wishes go out to Sir Terry.

re: I reckon he probably though me some sort of freeloader trying to get a leg up on his fame

I've had similar misgivings...


Chris said...

I watched this (mostly) dry-eyed. The one thing that got to me was when Terry was talking to the former Chemistry boffin, whose name - depressingly - escapes me atm.

The sheer perversity of a disease that took his hard-earned attainments (piano playing, writing, research work, etc.) away from him, but left him perfectly coherent and aware of what he'd lost could almost make you believe in an actively malignant god.

Best TV of the year.

In other news; Jade Goody... (*ducks*)

Paul said...

I watched most of the program. I've never actually read any of Pratchett's books but I've always made an effort to watch a program he's in. I always mean to get round to reading some Discworld I've just not got to it.

It's a tragic irony that a man so famous for the output of his mind is suffering from an incurable disease of it.

To compound that tragedy we're on the brink of some effective treatments but they're almost certainly going to come to late for Pratchett.

Kirby Uber said...

i didn't know this. this is sort of fucking terrible. 8(

Afront said...

I've read most of the Discworld books and so watched this last night too. I was shocked at how quickly the degeneration had kicked in, but also relieved to discover that the type of Alzheimer's he has is perhaps the least afflicting for a writer (or at least, a writer with some top-of-the-line technology), since it does not seem to affect his imagination, merely how it might be transfered to a computer. Small comfort perhaps, but at least Sir Terry's tenacity and openness has raised awareness (and hopefully more funding) for this disease.

Respect for that 6 x monitor array behemoth though - impressive.

Chris said...

Missed this, due to working nights... probably download on iPlayer.

What is surprising is how quickly the ailment has struck - it was only last year (?) that pterry announced it, yet already he is suffering.

Did anyone catch a documentary a few years ago which followed Dudley Moore though his particular illness, which resulted in his distress at never being able to play the piano... very sad.

Very glad to hear that pterry still has his sense of humour, though.

Paul said...

He's been knighted

Nice to see someone get a nod who hasn't spent a lifetime licking the arse of a politician.