David Bowie and Hylda Payne

“Look up here, I’m in heaven…”

It’s Friday 8th January 2016. David Bowie is 69. Hylda Payne is 84. They share a birthday. A few days pass and other common threads reveal themselves.

I wrote this on my Instagram feed the morning I wake to the shock of David Bowie’s death: ‘I think many people believe I possess a questionable sense of humour, at the best of times. But, I don’t know, sometimes my humour can go where even angels fear to tread. And you can find laughter in darkness. I have a family friend who I’ve known for more than 30 years; she’s dying of cancer; initially liver but now significantly metastasized and told last week she might have weeks not months. She was finally at peace with the diagnosis, both relieved at having had a very good reason for feeling so lousy recently but also content that she’s had a good life. 

Hylda Payne : 84th Birthday : The nurses brought in cake!

It was her birthday on Friday [the same as David Bowie!]. There was much fun and laughter on the ward … and many tears; not from her, she kept up the laughter. 

She’s still doing pretty well; the pain is being managed. I glance at my watch as my wife leaves for a visit “Tell her she might not want to hang about. She could be on the same coach as Bowie!”

I last saw Hylda on Friday [15th January] afternoon. She’d been granted her wish a couple of days earlier and been moved to an end-of-life bed in a beautiful care facility run by St Monica Trust.

It was just Hylda and I, revisiting old memories and laying down some new. Her infamous smile, laugh and notoriously expressive face were never more than a moment away. As I went to leave she puckered up. I don’t think I’ve ever kissed an 84-year-old woman on the lips before. “No tongues!” I said sternly. “And I don’t want to hear you’ve been running up and down the ward as soon as I’m gone either.” As last words go they’re not exactly up there with the most memorable, but I’ll cherish that final memory and that look upon her face.

Hylda went downhill surprisingly quickly the following day. And at about 12:40am on Monday 18th January she slipped quietly away surrounded by her daughter, two granddaughters and my wife, Sue. ‘Her skin went pale, like porcelain, and as her final breath rose to her mouth she opened her eyes briefly before gently closing them again … and was gone. It was so peaceful.’

A fittingly beautiful end for a beautiful soul. And typically of Hylda she had captured the hearts of the nursing and care staff at Garden House in just a few days, as she had done from her admission to the Bristol Royal Infirmary on New Years Day. It essentially speaks volumes for the cheeky, warm personality it’s been a pleasure to have known for 34 years.

Hylda Payne 1932-2016 RIP.

It’s been a curious symbiosis, of sorts, living through the infamous Hylda’s passing alongside that of the slightly more famous David Bowie. We are all so human, so fragile. The world keeps spinning and you’re left caught in this limbo state and the sense that our time here on earth is so relatively fleeting; specks of stardust, we come and we go.

I would never have classed myself as a huge Bowie fan – let’s say he didn’t always take me with him. [Although Heroes is one of my absolute favourite songs by anyone.] But as an artist and a creative he’s had nothing but my complete admiration. And witnessing the release of the Lazarus video early last week [and that extraordinarily apt opening line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven…”] … not only will it live in my memory forever as a testament to his genius right until the end, like Hylda, it serves as a reminder to not waste time: the end will come and there will never be enough.

In his passing the Lazarus video is as compelling as it is mesmerising in its potential symbolism. And there’s that moment at about 2’45” …



…where the pace has quickened and he grabs his pen. He begins to write animatedly. Ideas and thoughts begin to pour onto the page … I’ve so much more to say, so much more to do … until the moment is snatched from him by time; the pen trails off and down the face of the desk. And he’s gone. You’re gone.

Perhaps Bowie offered a final salutary warning, a potential gift to those of us left behind. There will never be enough time … get busy with living.

Where are we now?
Where are we now?
The moment you know
You know, you know

As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s me
As long as there’s you

David Bowie. 8th January 1947 – 2016

Hylda Payne. 8th January 1932 – 2016