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Tuesday, 15 December 2020

The late Alan Mckinna



 As most of you will have heard, Alan, such a central figure in our Society, died suddenly on Saturday evening, 12 December. Many members will have memories of Alan that they'd like to share, and the first of these appear below. Please add your own contributions by e-mailing them to Thanks to David Page for the picture above. Others, preferably as .JPG files, would be welcome. Alan's daughter Fiona has asked me to thank the Society's members for their support.

from HilaryRoome:

Always exceptionally kind, generous and supportive, Alan was for many years the President of Literary Society and was an enthusiastic participant.  He will be greatly missed.

from Pam Buxton:

I would just like to add my voice to the tributes to Alan. He was one of the kindest men I have ever met. So thoughtful, so caring and so observant. Winchelsea will be a lonelier place without him

 from Ann Dawson:

There are so many memories of Alan that one could mention but there is one I will never forget.  One evening, when my husband Michael was nearing the end of his long battle with cancer, I had to go out for a short time leaving him in the care of my daughter Caroline.  On my return I was surprised to be greeted by gales of laughter from upstairs where I found Alan, the much respected and eminent consultant from the Marsden Hospital, with his sleeves rolled up struggling, with Caroline, to instal and activate a special mattress, the arrival of which had coincided with Alan’s visit.  Michael was sitting in a chair in fresh pyjamas and Alan insisted on going on to make the bed, departing with a bundle of sheets to put in his washing machine.  A true friend indeed.

from William Doherty:

 Every life has many facets and in most instances we are only familiar with a few, which inevitably gives an incomplete picture in any attempt at memorialising but some people inspire us to try The American poet and writer advised us  

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."   

I believe she had in mind the revelatory slip, (think Boris Johnson’s recent Scottish Devolution’s a disaster and the attempts to row back from it which could most charitably be described as unconvincing).  It was different with Alan who unobtrusively showed us  a succession of admirable qualities; loyalty – to family, church, professional vocation,  community down to clubs and societies; reliability,  an unfailing courtesy, that quiet sense of service which saw him delivering supplementary background information to interested members of his Book Group after he presented his last choice  On Chapel Sands   and the self-effacing generosity that had two bottles of wine appearing  unheralded on the table at our medical lunches 

My younger self would never have imagined me having a role model at my age and stage but Alan provided it – the Christian life, well lived.  

from Howard Norton:

 When I introduced Alan at my ‘With Great Pleasure’ session last Friday, I called him ‘The Grand Old Man’ of the Literary Society.  That description was sincerely meant and so well deserved.  He was a Founder Member of the Society and the most loyal of supporters over many years.  I am not even sure that the Society would have survived, let alone flourished, without his enthusiastic commitment.  I always sensed that, although Alan was involved with almost every aspect of Winchelsea life, the Literary Society was closest to his heart.  As secretary for many years, he was so good at affirming other people’s contributions and modest in downplaying his own.  His financial generosity was proverbial; few people knew that for several years he subsidised the Society by providing our wine. 

 Alan emailed me on Saturday morning to thank me for asking him to read - he was always so gracious in that regard.  (On the rare occasions when he couldn’t attend a meeting he would never fail to send his apologies.)  He went on to say how sorry he was  that a couple, long associated with the society, were not able to join in because they couldn’t Zoom.  How typical of Alan that, in the last hours of his life, he should be concerned for others.

His death leaves a void which can never be filled but also a deep gratitude that we were privileged to share his company for so long.

 from Ann & Jonty Driver:

We were shocked to hear of the death of Alan McKinna, especially so soon after we had heard him reading splendidly from Alan Bennet at our latest Zoomed meeting of Howard Norton's "With Great Pleasure" only a few days ago. We shall miss greatly his generous and wise presence in our meetings and social gatherings. Alan was widely cultured ; this was apparent from his own "WGP" session last year. We remember too his contribution to the discussion of John Davison’s talk about Walter Scott. After that talk, Alan decided he wanted to send John a gift to show his personal appreciation.  This was something he insisted he would do on his own, outside the WLS. It seemed to us typical of the man.

One often hears people saying that a sudden death must be a kind of blessing.  Oddly enough, The Book of Common Prayer specifically prays that one shouldn’t have to suffer a sudden death, we guess so one may have time to confess one’s sins and so go to judgement shriven of sin. Somehow we doubt Alan was much laden with sin;  he always seemed to us the epitome of goodness, not just a clever man, but kindness embodied, caring quietly for Mal and for any others who needed his help. One knew he had faced some immense difficulties in his personal life these last few years;  but he never complained, just got on with caring for other people. We shall miss him but are very glad we knew him.

from Jan Ziff:


I can hardly begin to express the deep sorrow I feel knowing that the wonderful, kind, loving, humorous, warm and always welcoming Alan is no longer among us.



Alan McKinna is a loss.   A force for good and, I believe, distinguished in his calling.

from Richard and Catherine Thomas:

We will always remember Alan as an exceptionally friendly and kind person, and almost alarmingly erudite, as he seemed to have read more or less the whole of English literature, and then, astonishingly, to be able to recall it all.  His devotion to Mal shone through everything that he did in these last few years as her illness deepened.  We often bumped into each other doing our morning shopping, and when I asked how things were going he invariably emphasised the positives – that at least they still had each other and could see the funny side of their situation, and were determined to go on doing so. 

At least for Alan has been spared much of the grimness of old age.  He died on his way to a concert which no doubt he was looking forward to, having spent the previous evening doing one of the things he most enjoyed and did best.

from Ann Rachlin:

 How can I sum up all that Alan McKinna meant to us in a few short sentences?    This was a man whose warmth and friendship beamed out from him like the golden rays of the sun drawn by a child.   Alan greeted everyone, friend, acquaintance and stranger with that lovely smile that put you instantly at ease and a twinkle in his eye that told you that he was a friend.

You could talk about anything to Alan and he would listen, comment, sometimes with humour and sometimes with a wry smile that meant he did not totally agree.

He was a man of compassion, always kind, always considerate and understanding.   When he retired as a doctor, he continued healing with his generosity of spirit and unfailing support whenever he could see that we would benefit from his professional knowledge.   He was never too busy to listen and always there, if not in person, at the other end of a phone or email.

Alan had humour in abundance.   Throughout this stressful year, where would we have been without his emails and his links to something funny, something serious but important, always something to warm the heart of his friends?

 When it comes to caring for the frailty of old age, there can be no finer example of “in sickness and in health till death do us part”.   His devotion to Mal, his seemingly inexhaustible patience and his obvious love for his life partner, was typical of his generosity of spirit.  For those of us who know and understand, he is a role model but a hard act to follow.

A stalwart of the Winchelsea community, to say that Alan McKinna will be missed has to be the understatement of the century.  He was always there, supporting in every way possible, all in spite of his own constant pain and fatigue.

Alan, we will miss you.   We think of your gentlemanly greetings at the Church Market.  I see you now with your shopping bag of goodies, never failing to come and greet us at the piano where Iain was playing.   No Jewish religious holiday went by without an appropriate card and greeting from Alan.   A word of support in troubled times - a friendly enquiry and, during this pandemic year, even an offer to do some shopping for us! 

 Oh yes, Iain and I will miss  Alan McKinna for he enriched our lives.   We will remember him forever with love.


from Cheryl and Guy Fraser-Sampson :

 Our earliest memory of Alan was when he visited us after Guy's talk to the Literary Society on golden age crime fiction to thank Guy for an entertaining evening.  As newcomers to Winchelsea, that meant a lot and it was so typical of what a kind and thoughtful human being he was.  We shall miss his gentle humour and friendly face.'.

 from Alfred and Caroline McKenney:

 Alfred: Alan was one of those people who, although an acquaintance felt a friend.  To me this was wonderful. A combination of thoughtfulness and puckish humour led him some years ago to give us an ancient tourist guide he had located called “Here’s England” written by a certain Ruth McKenney. Perhaps he had identified that I might benefit from a few cultural pointers.

Caroline: Alan had a sincerity about him that graced the town. Alan’s enquiring mind would quicken when discussing the natural world; its wonder seemed to increasingly reveal itself to him. A man of much compassion, he will be greatly missed.





A Winter's Day at Westonbirt & other poems, by CJ (Jonty) Driver (reviewed by Gillian Southgate)


The  focus of the title poem in this collection are the trees at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, which is viewed as a microcosm of England in 2020.  The poem contrasts the nineteenth century arboretum with the country as it now stands, poised to undertake new direction and growth, but still subject to political buffeting. Different facets of national identity are reflected in the diversity of the trees; ‘some stubborn, strong and awkward,’, some ‘apt to spiral out of shape.’ Each tree is catalogued, each is compatible in the context of a small English park. Like the country, some trees are vulnerable, but there’s a note of optimism about the future; the oak tree referred to in stanza one is fenced in, ‘as if it knew by now how not to fall’.

The poet encounters on a path a group of children who ‘make no attempt to fraternise’, but the trees go on growing together, indifferent to human insularity. In political terms, ‘we’ve circled round the paths and find ourselves precisely where we were before.’ But these lines are also a metaphor for our never having learned the lessons of mutual dependency, something the trees have long both known and benefited from.

The second stanza begins: ‘So, think about this place in England now’. An England, the poem affirms, ‘hemmed in with silly rules…. but passionately free.’ The final line acknowledges that no-one knows where we are going next. This is true of our personal, as well as our political future. The only certainty, the collection will reveal, is the fact of death, which topples nations, people, even trees in the course of the years.

There are nine more poems in the group. The garden theme continues in ‘Old Oak’ where the last line signals that the tree of life is in time cut down for us all. By contrast, ‘In a French Garden’ life itself is seen as flagrantly alive in the troupe of hoopoes with ‘panaches furled, then flared’. ‘Last Lesson’ is a tender, regretful poem in which the poem’s retired schoolteacher comes to understand the human urge to shape and force into conformity the teeming natural life around us. In old age, her judgements have softened, disappearing ‘like end of season daffodils’ and she laments not having left well alone, and allowed her plants and pupils to flourish.

The rhymed poem ‘Song of the Sparrows’ is elegiac, the writer accepting the threat of death in a plague year, even in the face of sparrows busily occupied in preparing for their next generation. Similarly, the poem ‘In the Lodi Garden’, fixes the readers’ eye on  vibrant images of a public place in New Delhi, but there is a dying fall in the last quatrain, sibilant sounds and the symmetry of organisation expressing the sacred nature of life ‘gathered in a garden.’

The final poem is a haiku.  The poet views, in full summer, a tumbled wisteria wearing the white of snowfall, a reminder of winter, and of the passing of time.

The coherence in the collection is in the themes of nature, enduringly alive, and the mind of man, who knows his days are numbered. From the general we move gradually to the particular, the white wisteria bearing within its blossoms the seeds of death. The poetry is enhanced by Jonty Driver’s delicate paintings employing a tree motif which ages with the seasons. It’s a fine collection, encompassing abundant life, transience, inevitability, and acceptance.


(This poetry pamphlet is, as with Jonty's other recent publications, reviewed below, available through Artwrite in Rye (Website,uk)