It is hard to know how to begin talking about my Uncle Valentine, because I was only six years old when he died. He was my father’s youngest brother – half-brother, if we are being particularly pedantic, but such distinctions have never mattered in my family.
He was only nineteen when he died in a swimming accident off the coast of France. It was summer, and he was on holiday, prior to taking up a place at Cambridge University.
As a musician he was, quite simply, superb. The two sounds I remember from the house that my paternal grandmother had when I was very young are the ticking of the clock which hung in the stairwell (a clock which I now own) and of the sound of Valentine’s clarinet wafting down the stairs.
He wasn’t just the (arguably) most talented of four very talented brothers. He was a young man of mixed race at a time when such things were very uncommon in this country. Even at a very young age, I knew that he was different in so many ways.
He was someone I never had the chance to know well and yet whenever I think of him, it is of a kind, gentle and very tall man whose every step was followed by the sound of beautiful music.
Uncle Val’s memory lives on in the form of the Valentine Alcock Scholarship, details of which you can find here: http://valentinealcockscholarship.org.uk/