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Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

Swansong
Hana Walker-Brown

Synopsis
Her heart it played
like well worn strings;
in her eyes
the sadness sings;
of one who was destined
for better things,
Hana Walker-Brown's grandma was kept alive for seven hours in order for her family to
rush to the hospital to say their goodbyes. One moment, alive like few 80 somethings the
next, parked in the one-way ward, a holding bay between this life and the next.
Swansong is a meditation on memory and loss, acceptance and death, with real life
stories, imagined ones and the sounds and silences that weave our worlds together.
As Hana sat with her family waiting for the final moment, grief already upon them, her
grandma lay in her own time and place - memories flooding in and around the reality of her
situation, like a rolodex, flicking through years, moments, experiences in which she'd found
happiness, sadness, weakness and strength. Content with death, after a life well-lived.
Comprising interviews with those who witnessed these final moments and audio captured
by Hana with her grandma over the years, this feature blurs the lines between fact and
fiction to take the listener through the precious final moments- her grandmothers last
party.

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

Robbie
At one stage she realised, because she was an avid radio listener as you know,
and she was listening to a trend that people had got for tattooing do not resuscitateDNR- on their chest. So she was thinking about it but she really hated needles! So
typically, she bailed out of that one! But she did actually ask several people whether
you get indelible ink so that you could paint it on- which would have been hilarious!
I guess what she said, just in case things went wrong, whatever you do, if i cant
decide- then make sure they don't resuscitate me. So her attitude during her last 24
hours was completely unsurprising
SOUNDSCAPE // MUSIC
SFX Rummaging
Robbie
Well the problem is were absolutely crap at filing
Hana
Not like grandma
Robbie
No she was well ordered, she used to hate this sort of- disorganised chaos shed
call it. Ive got cds in bags, in racks, in all sorts of places
Hana
Theres Andy Sheppard and Kathryn Tickle
Robbie
its Kathryn TICK-ELL

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

Hana
Tickle is better
SFX CD BOX OPENING
Robbie
Pop that Cd in there
MUSIC

I am a poet, I am very fond of bananas, I am bananas, I am very


fond of a poet

Robbie
I liked the bananas track, she liked the bananas track it just used to make her grin
like hell! I once caught her singing along to it, I am bananas! and I thought yeah!
not altogether a lack of insight Joan!
SOUNDSCAPE
SFX HOSPITAL
Joan
Now ive got a whole full bottle of Sherry that I havent opened which is unheard of
because wed have probably drunk two by now! I just dont have my Sherrys like i
used to! Any excuse for a glass of Sherry!
SOUNDSCAPE
SFX BREATHING
Robbie
Its really difficult to describe this and i think particularly difficult now because you
have to go back don't you? You have to almost put yourself back in that room.
It was really late and everyone had been sleepless and you get that intensity of
being silent but theres a massive amount of emotion in the room. So you could
kinda cut the silence into blocks and build a castle with it- thats how dense it was.
And although it sounds corny- I think thats as near as you get to the kind of music
that you hear when a group of musicians get together and create something- in
other words its improvised and you get lost in the moment. It could have been five
minutes I that was there it could have been hours and hours I dont know. I
remember the sort of, shape of the room and the technical things in there and the

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

fact it was a i remember the smell of it because its a hospital smell isnt it? But,
you know, what happened in the room was as near to a musical experience- the
only thing I can link it to is when ive either played with other musicians or ive heard
recordings or been in a band at a live gig where suddenly everything fits and youre
kind of not in the same space- youre not in the same place. And that doesnt
happen very often. Its not like being entertained. Its like emotionally and
intellectually youre taken from where you are to somewhere else- and thats how
intense it was.
SFX HOSPITAL // MUSIC
and i think actually thats quite a good way of describing it because Joan would
have been really happy to think that her last moments were a splendid gig
Joan
Well either be saying that was absolutely splendid or probably not going to go there
again!
SFX TRUMPET FADES
Robbie
There was a trumpet player, well there still is, called Arturo Sandoval and at
Grimsby they had an international Jazz festival and its in heyday there was a big
top- a really big tent- and Arturo Sandoval was playing really up tempo stuff, so hed
be playing sort of cuban, almost dance music but with a real jazz twist to it. So a
very loud, in your face- big sound. And the last track he did was just a ballad really,
with some long, peaceful, really high, long notes from the trumpet. And at the
very just as his last note faded, a little bird tweeted in the top of the tent and
everyone collectively sighed. It was like one of those moments really. And in a way,
without getting too romantic about it, thats what it was like being in the room. It was
like a collective musical sigh.
SFX BREATHING
Joan
It was very nice
and things, you know- its no good wondering about what might happen
SOUNDSCAPE // MUSIC
Hana
introduce yourself

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Hana Walker-Brown

Joan
my name is Joan
SOUNDSCAPE // MUSIC
Hana
I don't really have any memory of when or how this all started. Ive never made a
documentary on myself before, never felt the need to, but then again, this story is
only partly about me. Something happened a couple of years ago that in an instant
made life at once both deeply unbearable and beautifully profound: big talk for a
someone in their 20s i know- the stuff of quarter life crisis perhaps but not so. It
was a phone call from my dad that suddenly turned my little world upside down and
at the same- a weird alchemy occurred- something good from the bad- magic
happened. And it stirred in me a deep fascination that I just wasnt able to shake off.
Caught between grief and a desire to tell the story. So now Im telling you about it,
or rather, I'm asking my dad to tell you about it- like i said ive never made a
documentary on myself before.
And Ive often found myself wondering. Why am I doing this? What is this impulse
this drive I have to add something to the world? To tell stories. Where does that
come from?
SFX SOUND CHECK
Robbie
So I had an outtake, because I worked in a recording studio for a while and theres
various things that used to trade hands amongst engineers. Back in the 1960s, late
60s it would be, Englebert Humperdinck - a singer- was on a tour and
SFX MUSIC
a young American guitar player called Jimi Hendrix was 6th or 7th on the bill,
something like that. So they did a short tour and the song we got on the outtake
was Hendrix playing an acoustic and Englebert Humperdinck was singing with
Hendrix doing the harmonies. And people forget he was a really good singer and
that just came off the tape- so i had this on a cassettee
SFX Hendrix

no im gonna do it again, can i just do it one more time though?


Can i just do it one more time?

Which you over recorded with your own voice.

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Hana Walker-Brown

SFX GUITAR // CHILD RECORDING


You were basically telling stories, so you were recording yourself telling stories- so I
lost it! But when i think about it, thats probably the earliest sign of you wanting to
put your own voice out on a medium of some sort and it happened to be a cassette
tape. You just came along and pressed record!
Hana
How old was i then?
Robbie
5 4 or 5
Hana
Didnt you and mum divorce around that time?
Robbie
I was annoyed at myself afterwards but I couldnt get cross. It was just kind of just
the way it was!
SFX MUSIC
Hana
He swore a lot on the tape- mostly at the cat but thats off this record.
Would you say I was some kind of weird radio prodigy?
Im joking of course
Robbie
Yeah, you were sound recording at the age of 4 or 5
Hana
Over Jimi Hendrix
Robbie
Yeahtasteless brat.
SFX MUSIC

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Hana Walker-Brown

Joan
Ive been very fortunate in having been very healthy all my life. It is quite tedious
and difficult doing all the exercises and theyre not comfortable to do but youve just
go to make yourself do them because that is the main thing- your health.
SOUNDSCAPE
Robbie
I got a phone call about ooharound about midnight- shed been sick and had
stomach pains and you know grandma she didnt do sick very well. So usually if
she was sick and said she needed help it would be because she was really not very
well. They took her into hospital and she had a blood clot in the bowel and the
bowel had died, so that meant that she had two choices really- one- remove the
bowel, big operation, live with a bag and all the rest of it and she took the decision
not to do that which meant that she would die. Clear cut, straight forward decision
really.
SOUNDSCAPE
Hana
My grandma- the original party girl. One moment, living unlike any 80 something
Ive ever known- the next holed upon the one way ward. A holding bay between this
life and the next.
Robbie
I rang you and then shot down there
Hana
Shell die today my dad said on the phone you need to get down there
Robbie
She knew she was dying and she was ordering things. I mean its like, what sums
up part of Joan other than the party person that we all know, she was a real party
girl, was how well organised she was. And i think that what she was doing in that
room was putting her life in order really. And the things that came out in the
conversation, and lets not exaggerate this because that would be easy to do, but it
was hose snippets of conversation during that whole well it was an afternoon, an
evening and an early morning wasn't it?

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

SFX MUSIC
Hana
As we sat, grief already upon us, waiting for the final moment, she lay there in her
own version of it all- memories flooding in and around her own reality.- picking the
years- the moments- the music she had found her happiness in. Ordering, like my
dad said, sorting out the disorganised chaos wed brought in with us and playing it
out in a dream sequence like an old film from her hospital bed.
Joan
My jazz group, I think because its male dominated, the conversations is quite
different to the sort of conversations we have. If its not about jazz even the other
things
SFX FADE
Hana
I mean it was jazz specifically wasnt it? What was it about jazz that she really love?
Robbie
She walked into a village hall and a jazz pianist was playing and thought, now thats
a bloke i wouldnt mind getting to know
SFX MUSIC
Hana
Thats my Granddad, Derek
Robbie
the rest is history really she always liked dancing, youve got to remember this is
post war, you know, a lot of austerity, but what people did was theyd go out and
have a great time. People knew how to party. In live music and the music of the day
for youngsters that really liked to dance was Big Band. That was the rock n roll of
the day and it was challenging stuff. And then along comes Derek and plays some
Jazz piano music in a small trio and she was wooed by the whole thing
SOUNDSCAPE // SFX HOSPITAL
Joan
A huge collection of CDs and absolutely lovely they are! Cause we used to have a
music afternoon and it was a very pleasant afternoon

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Hana Walker-Brown

SFX BREATHING
Robbie
If you think back to the room, then the sounds were all rhythmic, you know,
heartbeat was constant, the life monitoring, the big machinery, you could have put
some music on top of some of the rhythms that were being created in the room and
i think that she was hearing music over that rhythm.
Its quite interesting really because its kind of rhythm of life stuff and some of the
jazz that i liked that she listened to, stuff that was, i dont know, ethereal life
affirming stuff, it was the stuff of the imagination. Its the great thing about jazz being
improvised music, instantly created in the moment.
SFX MUSIC
So yeah, she was beginning to hear various tunes to the extent where she was
saying, do you want to turn that down? and that intense thing which we can all doif you shut your eyes and think of music that you really, really like you can create it
in your own mind and i just think she could hear an entire band. You could see she
was. She was grinning quite a lot and i think she was just enjoying herself, frankly!
Hana
But most of all the music, she was making the music
SFX RUMMAGING
Robbie
(rummaging) Im looking for a CD
Hana
the beeping of the life support suddenly the music of the jazz hall, punctuated by
the bass line of the ticking clock- time has been forgotten- the shuffle of nurses feetthe swing steps of the party girls. Because the very opposite of dying is making isnt
it?
Robbie
(rummaging) and i think it might be on the floor
Hana
and if making is the opposite of dying, what is more opposite than making
something that lives? That carries on to live?

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Hana Walker-Brown

Robbie
So this is a song by Liane Carroll
SFX CD PLAYER
its called Heres to life
SFX CD PLAYER // MUSIC

No complaints and no regrets


i still believe in chasing dreams

Robbie
The song generally is like, well look, lifes great and the only frustration is that I
want do that really good thing again! And that was grandma wasn't it? She really
did, you know, she relived menus!
Joan
I have of wine every night with my meal, one glass, never tempted to have two! I
always pour mine while I'm cooking and have a couple of sips!
Robbie
films! She relived great gigs and she just wanted to go back for more and more and
more!
So its that whole combination really- when i was thinking about songs to play to
sum her life up.
SFX MUSIC

its funny how the time just flies


and love can go

Robbie
I think music has its a form of language, but instead of words its sound and
shape and rhythm. Its like listening to somebody express something they cant do
through their voice.
Hana

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

She was organising the chaos of that roof like bars from a favourite song, breathing
some melody into the life that was left.
Somewhere in that oddity was a desire to tell stories, to make something.
Robbie
Oh you were, you were i mean the fact you have got into producing and making
radio comes as no surprise cause you basically we rented a youth hostel in
Derbyshire one christmas, so theres a whole herd of us and we rented this youth
hostel and I got this video camera which
SFX CAMERA
immediately you saw it, worked out how it worked, and we were busy doing stuff so
we didnt know until after wed been there, it was about three months later, and
youd been shooting a video whilst doing a commentary. So it would go thus, this is
the girls room and you can see its the girls room because its really tidy. And what
have we down this corridor? Oh, the boys room and you can see its the boys room
because its really messy!
SFX Hana on video

ugh! Stinks!

Robbie
You basically doing this mini documentary! And had you been able to, youd have
probably edited it but it was old fashioned film
Hana
How old was I?
Robbie
Probably, 8 or 9
Hana
Im putting everything in order myself to figure out how we got here and also let go
of it- deal with it. And that morning until midnight id forgotten something, id already
made something that would live
SOUNDSCAPE

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Hana Walker-Brown

Hana
Introduce yourself
Joan
My names Joan
Hana
Can you just tell me about the pantomimes youve done at christmas?
Joan
(laughing with a friend) Well the committee always had to make idiots of themselves
every christmas by doing a very short, very short, shorted the better (scripted)
pantomime! Theyre very disappointed this year because were not doing a
pantomime were being entertained instead!
Hana
So what characters have you played?
Joan (with friend)
(ooh thinks!) Fairy godmother you played, (oh i was fairy godmother) yes you were
werent you, in Cinderella (you?) I was Genie in Aladdin and I was I was an ugly
sister yes thats right!
Hana
Thats harder to do at 79 than say 29?
Joan
No probably not because as you get older you more confident, you couldnt care
less really what people think youve been there, done that sort of thing! You get to
the point where youre not bothered about making an impression or how do I you
just launch yourself out into the world and just talk!
SOUNDSCAPE
Hana
Can you remember what her last words were?

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Hana Walker-Brown

Robbie
No. I think thats because her death was just a natural thing, you know, it was a
conversation until it ceased to be a conversation. In between the fact that the drugs
were making her relaxed lets say! She was basically still Joan, so still my mum,
still joan, still grandma and it was really interesting because I knew she was dying,
she knew she was dying, everyone in the room knew she was dying, all the nursing
staff knew she was gonna die, it was just a question of when. And then it took ever
such a long time, it was a very odd feeling because I held her hand pretty well all
the way through from that moment until she died. What was quite intensive
suddenly became me, a dead person and I guess the hard, clinical environment of
a hospital suddenly came into sharp relief. Cause before it was just like her face
and me and before that it was her being the centre of attention, which youve got to
admit she really loved! Even while she was asleep, there was an intensity about the
fact that she was still in the room. And when she left the room the room changed, it
became a clinical place- a hospital- and that was kind ofthe difficult bit really
just walking away. Well i woke you up and we went didnt we? Emotionally it was
like, I cant believe this! Trying to sleep after that was really, really difficult!
Hana
Didnt we drink a whole bottle of Sherry?
Robbie
I think we did do quite a lot of Sherry actually yeah! I think that as something that
Grandma would have grinned at- the idea of us abusing her Sherry collection!
Joan
An excuse for a glass of Sherry! (quite right too!)
SOUNDSCAPE
Robbie
I remember the last sound- the breathing- that got deeper and more pronounced
but the intervals between breath got longer and longer until, you know, I was sat in
silence. I was probably sat in silence for about five minutes without realising that
she hadnt breathed. Even though the machine had flatlined. And thats always
stuck with me, Ill always remember that sound. And it wasnt a sad sound or a
distressed sound, it was a relaxed and normal, natural sound. And i really like it, it
gave me great comfort
SFX BREATHING

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

SOUNDSCAPE
Hana
It was a song
Robbie
mmmm
Hana
The whole thing I guess, it was all a song
Robbie
Yeah. Somewhere in her own mind, theres this band playing and its improvised
jazz but with rhythm and melody in it. And she got a load of people in the room that
she was surrounded by that she really liked and for her that was just like a party.
Because it was her swan song, it was her last party basically, thats the way ive
thought about it afterwards. And i remember saying, oh its party town! And thats
when she grinned and said, yep, i do like a party on a large scale!
SFX // MUSIC

lifes so cloud
things are cloudy since you went away
been downhearted, since we parted,
I cant go on this way

Joan
and things you know its no good wondering about what might happen, you just
do what you can, when you can
SOUNDSCAPE
Hana
ok i think that everything thanks!
Joan
Pleasure

Swansong

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Hana Walker-Brown

SFX // MUSIC FADES

This programme was produced by Hana Walker-Brown as part of the ke


Blomstrm Award for young feature makers.
It was a Falling Tree Production, broadcast on BBC Radio 4.