Glyn died at dawn on April 6th, 2016, at the excellent Rowans hospice, near to Portsmouth. Daniel and Bjorn were with him as he stopped breathing. The last few days were peaceful, surrounded by family, Erika at his bedside much of the time. He spent many hours with the window ajar to his room, so he could hear birdsong from the countryside around, as spring got started. A few days before he died, we parked his bed in the open French doors, half out into the garden, where he lay in the warm sunshine. He had not been awake much in the final days, but in lucid moments he continued to discuss the news, laugh at bad jokes, talk about the forthcoming referendum on Britain and the EU, describe his wishes for a funeral and this memoir, watch and laugh along with episodes of Blackadder, talk about family. We even sang occasionally together as we remembered old songs (“the quartermaster’s stores”) that he, and Sigyn, had sung with us as children on holidays or car journeys.
Visits and video calls from grandchildren really cheered him. He said, again and again, how he was proud and lucky to have such a strong and loving family. A day or so before he died, he woke and praised Jim and Linnea when they showed him willow sticks they had woven into beautiful shapes. After a video call with Magnus and Edvard, from Paris, he offered them a cheery “felicitations!” for reciting a poem and gave them a happy wave. Bjorn, Daniel and Adam took turns sleeping in his room at the hospice, and Erika visited him daily, taking the chance to talk with him, reassure him and to be ready to say goodbye. In the last day or so communication was reduced to small gestures, for example as he ate small slices of watermelon, or helping him to take sips of water until near the end.
Earlier, while spending some weeks at Queen Alexandra hospital in Portsmouth, he had received a steady flow of visitors and calls. Erika and he read aloud together. Ellie, Linnea and Jim came from Chilworth; Anne, Magnus and Edvard came over from Paris and made drawings. At Easter the children had followed trails of wool to find chocolate eggs in the garden in Chilworth—just as Easters were celebrated in Little Anglesey Road–then watched a duck race in a nearby river. Glyn watched videos of these together with them and discussed the events. Lucia also visited and also asked that a favourite painting, which she had given to Glyn and Erika, be brought to his bedside. A steady flow of good friends also made their way to be beside him, or to call him, in his last weeks. He—and they—understood by then that he would not be around for much longer, but remarkably Glyn’s mood was often upbeat and kind to others. Many of those who visited, and who communicated, are those whose names repeated again and again in the pages of his memoir.
It was strange as we spent time with him to see how his physical condition declined fast near the end, and yet how the person within retained his strong sense of humour and energetic wit. A day or so after arriving at the hospice, as a senior doctor explained that Glyn’s body could no longer move as quickly as his brain expected it to do, he said that “well, that’s the end of my bank-robbing days”, and agreed that he should at least ask someone else to drive his get-away car. Just a couple of days before he died, while on the phone to Erika who was briefly away in Newcastle, he joked that he had been up sprinting around the hospice. At moments when he was in pain, he liked to be reminded of moments of intense happiness—descriptions of sailing together on Amity; recollections of adventures together as a family walking in Pralognan or retracing his footsteps as a schoolboy in Weet Ing. He continued to smile when reminded of funny episodes and tricks that we had played on each other, or at least to nod and emphasise that he could listen as we chatted at his beside, even if he joined in the conversations less. All these helped to distract him from pain.
He said he had great satisfaction from working on this book: “It made the last year or two far more interesting”. It was a welcome distraction from his grim fight against cancer, both for him and for others when we chatted about his writing, for example when Goran and Rita visited from Sweden in March. He hoped readers would be inspired and entertained by the stories in it. For a man who always relished having “projects”, big or small, this was his last.
Originally he had hoped that this book would be interesting for Linnea, Jim, Edvard and Magnus, and others yet to come in the family, to know more about the stories, and some of the lively spirit and inventiveness, of the Roberts family of the past century or so. Gradually he widened his planned readership, asking old family friends to look it over and correct the odd exaggeration or slip. He decided to print several dozen copies for friends, and asked that we put a version online. He also asked me—and Bjorn and Daniel–to add where necessary, and to edit where the manuscript was a little rough or incomplete. As it is foremost of his memories, his research and writing, we have changed little, other than tidying up typos or correcting dates and other details which were obviously mistakes.
Glyn cared a great deal about language and writing, and understood the strength of a well-crafted sentence, as he showed in “Sailing in a Sieve”, “Questioning Development” and his other published writing, but also in his many letters, emails, his hand-drawn birthday cards to us even into adulthood and to his grandchildren. He also showed it in the care with which he helped to improve others’ work, including help with Robert Roberts’ books. In his final few months he took delight in rattling off clever verses—then set to the ukulele—he had composed and then recorded on his phone, to be emailed and played for the lucky recipient on his birthday. I, Adam, have strong memories from throughout my life of how he loved working carefully with words, discussing the meaning or etymology of interesting ones, helping me to craft an application to study at Oxford and urging me to read books that he had loved. I remember how he read books to the three of us as children, in particular Treasure Island, one rainy holiday at a youth hostel in southern England. When he visited us in India, or in Paris, he passed much time reading to, or being read to by, Magnus and Edvard. As is clear throughout his memoir, he spent much time, deeply satisfied, immersed in words—those he put together himself, or others’—as well as in drawing, sculpture and music. Remarkably, in his final weeks, he sat in bed in hospital and wrote a series of farewell cards to good friends around the world, his handwriting becoming more spidery and shaky as the days passed, but his kind intentions, and his wish to make one last connection, evident throughout. He asked us to wait to post these cards until after he had died.
In 2016 there were moments of real pleasure. Family gatherings were important, so we made sure to have many in Portsmouth at the welcoming home that he shared with Erika. Bjorn and family, and Daniel and Lucia, were frequent visitors to Glyn and Erika. Bjorn stayed most weeks on Wednesday nights and visited at the weekends. Adam and family, living in Paris, made regular trips by ferry from Caen to Portsmouth at weekends, or by train via London, and then grandpa helped children with French homework or told stories, sang songs or watched old episodes of comedy shows together. Erika played the piano and presided over feasts of cake and biscuits. Goran and Rita visited in March 2016, when everyone gathered for dinners, Glyn strummed on the ukulele and we sang along. Glyn managed a short walk beside the harbour. We all went for a night at the theatre, to see a production of Gilbert and Sullivan, followed by drinks at a nearby hotel. It was a typical example of energy from Glyn, barely 24 hours before he was rushed, for the last time, to hospital.
Talking to him in his last weeks and days, he was pragmatic about the end of life. He made clear that he did not expect to suddenly find a religious epiphany, or hope for reincarnation or some sort of existence to follow death. He mostly had hoped to live longer, and he had fought hard and intelligently to make that happen. He was—another form of generosity—anxious to leave his affairs in good order, and to make sure we understood how to deal with things practically. And he knew he had packed in many enriching, satisfying and meaningful experiences into his life, often inspiring and entertaining others. He knew he had lived well and been loved by many. In one conversation with him, by phone, when he believed the end was imminent we agreed not to be too remorseful: who could have regrets who had enjoyed so much fun?
We held a service at Portchester crematorium, with a small gathering of family, on April 20th. Arthur Gillette sent a message to be read out, mentioning how his and Glyn’s lives had intertwined so closely. He died in Paris a little more than a month later, also from cancer. On June 4th friends and family met on the Isle of Wight to fix a plaque on a sculpture, in Binstead, that Glyn had made. An afternoon of food, drink and celebration followed. The next day, at Netley Marsh, around 100 people met, in hot spring weather, to celebrate his life with stories and short speeches, as well as songs and videos. Late in August, another celebration would be held in Sweden with friends and relatives there. Glyn had lived an inspiring and happy life.