Len was one of the world’s very first science fiction fans – he adored new technology, so I know he’d be tickled pink to see me reading his eulogy from an iPad!
Like Graham Greene, Len described himself as ‘a sort of Catholic’.
Well, I can only aspire to be that sort of Catholic. And this morning I’d like to pick out the highlights of a 98-year journey which ended on the 19th of March – with the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen.
In his own words, ‘At 10.30 in the evening of 12 November 1913 my problematic existence became nine pounds of solid howling fact named Leonard Ernest Scott.’
One of young Len’s first remembered experiences was a visit to the seaside, where he was entranced by the clouds. ‘My immature mind tried to find a name for them. Castles. Castles in the sky. For the first time I knew with total certainty that there was a Far Country, a homeland, my homeland, and that my destiny was to climb to the Sky Castles and remain there for ever.’
After a mind-scarring encounter with the Salesian Brothers’ idea of education, and a two-year course at Pitman’s College, Len started work at the Sporting Life where he remained – with interruptions – until 1977.
It reinforced a lifelong aversion to all forms of sport, which I have inherited – but it also subsidised his passion for music, foreign stamps, travel and the cinema. Here he was entranced by a 17-year-old French actress called Simone Genevois in the role of Joan of Arc and first learned of Joan’s response, at her trial to a very dangerous question – was she in a state of grace? She replied: ‘If I am not, may God bring me to it. If I am, may he keep me in it.’ He treasured that answer – as he treasured Joan herself – all his life. So much so that my mother referred to her as ‘Len’s girlfriend’.
Watching Cecil B DeMille’s silent epic King of Kings Len came to feel that ‘Jesus was a strange person but instinctively I felt that I could trust him in spite of those sudden, frightening outbursts of anger.’ And he was haunted by the beautiful ‘Last Gospel’ which was then read at every Mass – and which we have heard again here today.
In 1933, still pursuing those ‘castles in the sky’ Len faced his first walk in the Dolomites, his mind filled with the music of his beloved Sibelius – and his feet covered in blisters. Two years later he was there again when he encountered an attractive, intelligent and vivacious Dane called Minna Tofte. They would remain lovers, friends and comrades for the next 64 years.
During the war my mother served with the ATS. My father volunteered for the army and, as he put it, ‘fought the war with a typewriter’ in the Pay Corps, first in London and then in Algiers and in Italy.
On his return, Len was appalled to discover Minna had converted to Catholicism – he had long since fallen out with the Church. Even so, and for her sake, he sought reconciliation, and found something close to it at Quarr Abbey with a tiny Maltese monk named Dom Rafael Azzopardi. (My father was 6 foot 2!) After two hours of bitter debate on the doctrine of hell Father Azzopardi remarked: ‘Well, Mr Scott, we have to believe there is a hell. But we don’t have to believe there’s anybody in it!’
My father said all the right words, though he secretly felt that little short of an actual miracle would secure his real belief. In the years that followed, the child my mother had longed for did not appear – and she was finally told she must accept the inevitable.
She didn’t. She was like that. And one day in 1952, in her own words ‘When the priest laid the wafer on my tongue I knew, at once, that I would bear a child. Not perhaps. Certainly!’
After the usual accusations of hysteria, followed by the usual tests, her bemused doctor agreed.
My problematic birth took place during the notorious black smog of 1952, which killed 12,000 Londoners in just four days. No one understood what was happening, but the miraculous child did not thrive. My father guessed the truth – and spent every last penny to secure a house in Woldingham, beyond the reach of the pollution.
If he hadn’t, I would not be standing here today.
Len was a magnificent, loving and unfailingly generous father. He believed, passionately, that he was totally responsible for any child he brought into the world. Even when I told him that at 59 I was probably old enough to look after myself!
Len introduced me to the books, the music, the art, and the places that shaped my life. He encouraged all my interests and all my enthusiasms. And after I left home, he and Minna continued their travels whenever and wherever possible.
In her last years my mother was ever more severely affected by Parkinson’s Disease, and Len nursed her devotedly until her death in 1999.
By then macular degeneration had left him with less than 20% vision – yet he was still working every day on his computer, and responded to his heartbreaking loss with a cascade of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and short stories.
Last December he was finally obliged to enter Pickering House, the care home run by the Journalists’ Charity – but even then his creativity was undiminished thanks, in good measure, to the wonderful and loving care he received there. With the help of his godson, Mark Titmus, he was finishing a novel based on his wartime experience just three days before his death.
Some years before he had written these words: ‘Plato joins Paul in this: ‘Human love is the gateway to all knowledge’ and both are echoed by the Muslim: ‘God shows himself to everyone in the shape of the beloved.’ So God, if God there be, have mercy on both our souls, if souls there be and we can call those improbables ‘our own’.
Yet just a week before his death he insisted that he wished for the last rites of the Church, and a Requiem Mass. It has been my privilege to ensure he received both – and to share the final moments of an intensely self-critical man who was surely one of the most generous spirits I will ever know.
I don’t know what my father saw in those last seconds of consciousness. But from his smile I think it must have been his long-sought ‘castle in the sky’. And I’m certain the welcome he receives there will be warmer and more heartfelt than he ever dared to imagine.
Allan Scott, 29 March 2012