Funeral Thoughts

Yesterday, I watched as a line of funeral cars passed slowly over the bridge on Fakenham Road. I stopped walking across with Ollie, and stood respectfully for the thirty seconds or so it took to pass us. That reminded me of funerals in my youth.

Where I lived in the 1950s, in a working-class area south of the Thames in London, the death of a neighbour was a serious event. Even though you might not have known them that well, a local woman would normally offer to attend the house to wash and lay out the body, ready for collection by the undertaker. The rest of the householders in the street would close their curtains, as a mark of respect for the dead person and any bereaved family members. Children were told not to play outside and make a lot of noise, but to go to the park instead, or to a friend’s house in another street.

On the day of the funeral, curtains would be closed again, and when the hearse arrived at the house with the body, anyone on the street would stand still, heads bowed respectfully. Most men at that time wore a hat of some kind, and any men seeing the funeral cars or horse-drawn hearse would remove their hats immediately, until the procession had passed.

Yesterday, someone who had died locally was being taken to their last resting place, whether grave or cremation. I had no idea who that person was, and nobody else passing stopped walking. The cars on the other side didn’t slow down, and no curtains were closed in any house I walked past.

Times change, we all know that. But some traditions are worth keeping.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Births, Marriages, and Deaths.

With a recent birth in the family, followed almost immediately by a death, it is understandable that I woke up thinking about family this morning. I have written before on this blog about how families are spread out further these days, and how that close contact of my youth has come down to emails, text messages, and rare phone calls, in most cases.
So please forgive the familiarity of the theme.

By most standards, England is a small country. Many of my American blogging friends live almost a continent away from close relatives, and are used to travelling great distances to see them, and having to deal with time-zone differences too. But in this country, one hundred miles is considered to be a very long way indeed. Traffic, unreliable public transport, weather difficulties, and the high cost of tickets or fuel can make physical contact a real issue. Decide to move a long way from your family base, as I did, and you have to accept that there will be less contact, few visits, and only occasional meetings. Add to this the fact that most people are still dealing with having to work, or raising young families, and that tight family unit of the past becomes a fond memory, no longer practical to achieve.

But three things still bring that family together. A new baby, a wedding, or a funeral. Meeting children who now look like adults, having to explain who you are, and what your position in the extended family is. Re-telling family stories, recounting memories of old parties, humorous events, trying to keep such recollections alive in the minds of the younger relatives. Sometimes, old photos appear. Faces unknown to some, familiar to others. We are stiff and uncomfortable in our rarely-worn formal suits, and perhaps a little upset that so many there don’t actually know who we are. Introductions complete, identities established, we proceed into whichever of the three ceremonies awaits us, once more a family.

If only for one day.

Black Tie

What do you think of, when you see the words, ‘Black Tie’?

Perhaps a formal dinner, a special occasion, or a well-dressed wedding? When I was younger, I used to dread seeing those words. They meant that I would have to hire a dinner suit, and either struggle with tying a bow tie, or wearing one already attached to a strap. Then finding cufflinks to use with those formal shirts with the pleats and darts, shirts with no other practical use. But that was decades ago, and I have had no need nor reason to wear such things for almost forty years.

But Black Tie has come to mean something else to me. It is the colour of the tie that I wear most frequently these days. In fact, other than a couple of weddings I have attended in the last five years, it is the only colour tie I have occasion to wear. Because I now attend a lot of funerals, so my old tie is getting a lot of use. Use that I wish there was no need for, but at my age, inevitable.

I have attended two funerals already this year. The first was that of my beloved Aunt, on the 19th of January. This was a family affair, and no less sad because she had lived to a great age. Seeing relatives who you hadn’t heard from since the last funeral we all attended. Young children of cousins, now adults, seemingly grown overnight into different people. Older relatives; familiar, looking tired, reflecting your own passing years in their faces like a mirror. Food and drink and catching up, back at the house.

Fond reminiscences, followed by fond farewells.

Then yesterday, the funeral of my great friend, Billy. A long drive to another sad day, with mist and rain providing a suitable backdrop. This was a funeral where not only his family and friends gathered, but also many former colleagues. The attendance was the largest I can recall at a funeral, indicating how well Billy was thought of, and how much everyone wanted to be there to say goodbye. A Humanist service, some wonderful music, and the poignant scene of his Boxer dog, Bruno, sitting patiently in the front row. Chatting to people remembered after twenty years or more. Hearing stories of others who had passed away, and hoping to meet some again before too long.

Sadness tinged with happy memories indeed.

On the way home, we were unlucky to get a punctured tyre on a busy motorway. In driving rain, and stopped on the pitch-black hard shoulder, it was too dangerous to investigate. We had to call out the breakdown company, and wait for seventy minutes in this precarious spot. The mechanic told us that the tyre was shredded, and the car had to be loaded onto his truck to be brought home, with us riding inside his vehicle. We got back at 11:30 pm, more than thirteen hours after leaving home that morning.

I put my black tie back on the rack in the wardrobe, hoping never to need it again.

Staying positive, in 2017.

A few bad days

Since last week, I have been a bit fed up. That sort of edginess where everything starts to assume a real importance, and to begin to really get you down. Of course, the funeral for Julie’s Dad did not help matters, although it went off well, despite being a sad day for all concerned. Driving home last Friday, we hit appalling traffic, adding almost two hours to the normal three-hour journey, so I started the weekend feeling tired and low.

Then the weather turned again. Driving rain, sleet, hail, and a cold wind as well. Everywhere was dark and gloomy, and the ground was muddy, and covered in leaves. Taking Ollie for his walk was a real chore, although he didn’t even seem to notice the change. Then the clocks went back an hour, so we got up to what felt like a late start. This ridiculous, uniquely British tradition means that it now begins to get dark at 4pm, making the evenings seem long and dull.

I decided to do some ‘serious’ cleaning, and tackled the double oven. This is only a year old, but the fan assistance, and high running temperatures, seem to make it harder to clean than a ‘normal’ gas oven. As the doors drop down towards you, it is much more difficult to get right inside, to ensure a thorough job. The oven cleaner is like acid, and stripped the skin from two fingers with ease. (I know that you are supposed to wear gloves but I find them too cumbersome.) After two hours on the cooker, I did the rest of the kitchen, and felt stupidly tired afterwards, another sure sign of my advancing years. I then discovered that the cleaning fluid had somehow managed to get inside the seal of the glass doors, and I was left with white streaks between the two sheets of glass, impossible to remove. This made me angry and frustrated, far in excess of what should be expected for an ‘oven mishap’. A sure sign that the accumulation factor was kicking in.

Then the computer started to play up. Every time that it was shut down, it re-appeared with error messages, lost all my photos, and did not recognise me as the administrator. I have had to ‘system restore’ three times in two days. This made me acutely aware of my lack of technical prowess with computers, and electronic items generally. I would happily have thrown the whole thing out the window, then stamped on it for good measure. I still don’t know what the problem is, so have had to resort to standby only, without shutting down. No doubt I will eventually have to get someone in, to patiently point out my schoolboy error, for a large fee. Naturally, Julie wanted to do her Internet shopping for Christmas, so it came at the most inconvenient moment. (What doesn’t?)

The next day, Ollie’s eye seemed to be tearful again. After two operations, and a lot of distress, it seems that they may not have worked fully, so we will soon have to start that process all over again; contacting vets, claiming off the insurers, and making numerous trips to and from Newmarket, at 100 miles a time.

That is why the blog has been quiet. Not many readers recently, and not much input from me either.

I woke up to bright sun today, and have a lot to get done this week. The sun did not really improve my mood though, and I have little enthusiasm for anything, to be honest. Hence, ‘A few bad days’.