Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father of one of my great friends. It was a strange day, to say the least, but aren’t funerals always strange days? It started at 6am, when I dragged myself out of bed after three hours of sleep, organised myself, donned my suit and white trainers for driving (a seriously classy look), and left the house at 7.20.
Strange things were afoot, as for some reason they’ve cut down all the trees which ran by the side of Handcross Hill pour encourager les autres. It used to be like you were being transported into a secret world … ok, it was only the Downs, but there was an annunciative quality about the swishing Z-bends. Now it’s naked, the woodlands slashed and left for dead, the Z-bends turned into a Jacobean long S, the romance revealed as sluttery.
The journey is long and dull and I hit Norwich around 12.20. Simple. Follow the A47 to Yarmouth, and the the signs to Caistor St Edmunds. Simple.
Now, about satnavs. I don’t do satnavs. I find they ruin everything, ignoring the fact that they choose dumb routes. I see people using them for journeys they’ve been making for forty years. Satnavs make us mistrust ourselves, and they kill serendipity. Bastards. I may expound on this later.
But as was later noted ‘they took all the roadsigns down in 1940. And they haven’t put them up again. That is, there were no signs. Naturally, my map was elsewhere. So. What to do?
I asked a man driving a tanker. Well, he wasn’t driving it at the time, he was having his lunch. Resisting the urge to suggest I started from somewhere else, we colluded to work out a rough direction, and I flew off once more. As always, I started to think I ought to be panicking about the time when the one sign appeared … phew!
I arrived at the church with a few minutes to spare, and just as the Green Lincolnshire double decker drew up. 93A. Skegness. The route plied by John in his younger days. A touch typical of this family.
A typically well-organised affair, in a typically bijou Norfolk church, the tribute was given by Ed, and quite reasonably he had some trouble speaking, filling the first few seconds with semi-silence, until his two-year old daughter (who is astonishingly deft on an ipad) piped up: ‘what are you doing, daddy?’
It’s the pent-up propriety of a funeral which is the problem. It’s impossible to know what to say. ‘Thank you so much for coming’, is a common conversation opener. Usually one would reply ‘It’s an absolute pleasure’, or ‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world’, or something similar. And so you do. And then think ‘oh, fucksticks …’
But that first peal of laughter in the church always changes the day, changes the mood from a funeral to a celebration.
I saw people I hadn’t seen for a few years, and was gently chided for not being particularly forthcoming about keeping in touch. My PD was alluded to without ever being brought up, and much cake was consumed. A fine man was remembered. He would have sat, unnoticed, in the corner reading. Perhaps he was.
Promises were made. Some of them may even be kept.
The evening disappeared in a glorious haze of beer and been-here-befores.
Plus ca change.