I’m travelling down to Northampton tomorrow for the funeral of my friend John’s Dad. He was a Mayo man, I believe, and he spent all his working life labouring outdoors. Also, I suppose, like many incoming Irish, his hope was that if he worked hard enough on the buildings, his kids wouldn’t have to. Seems to have worked out OK, too. John has overcome the handicap of a ‘gentleman’s’ degree from UMIST and has had a stellar career in HR (or Personnel as it used to be known) whilst his brother Kez has got his own Electrical Installation company and seems to spend most of his time on the golf course.
John’s Dad would probably have been happy with that; I hadn’t actually seen him over the last 25 years, but John told me of the gradual physical decline of a man who had once been able to lift a sack of cement one-handed. He made it into his 80’s but if his youth and middle age was characterised by strength, his old age was similarly characterised by frailty. So now the whole ritual of death takes over – and it’s something that I think the Irish do so much better than the English. In Ireland, graveyards aren’t depressing overgrown boneyards but amazingly alive with people visiting, cleaning up, placing flowers and so on. Those who have passed on are somehow still a part of everyday life and aren’t forgotten as long as there are others alive that remember them. I’ve no doubt that tomorrow’s funeral will engage with that tradition as well.
My enduring memory of John’s Dad (his name was Vincent, but I just knew him as ‘John’s Dad’ ) was of one night when John & I were about 19 or 20 and we’d been to a party over on John’s side of the town. We were late back to his parents’ house – it must have been at least 4 a.m – and when we got in we were a little over-refreshed and also starving hungry. This had, of course, been a typical ‘teenage’ party; all booze and no food.
We were out in the kitchen and John was marshalling various foodstuffs- cheese, eggs, pickles, butter, bread, bacon and the like, when his Dad suddenly appeared from upstairs with his hair looking like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. We apologised for waking him up, but he was insistent that we hadn’t. Surveying the embryonic feast that John was assembling, he said “Looks like you could do with a nice head of lettuce there, boys” and promptly disappeared out into the garden, returning with a fine-looking home-grown lettuce, which we added to the impromptu breakfast.
I’ve never forgotten this act of kindness – in my house, I’d have been moaned at for coming in late, making too much noise and for messing up the kitchen. Also, we didn’t grow lettuce….