Friday, 30 May 2008

from my journal - In Memory of Our Uncle

a small spot of England to which we have a proper connection.

22nd may 2008

While it is fresh, I am sitting in airport lounge, a sort of special ‘free’ one for those who pay lots. Which I did.
The day started at 4.15am, we (bruv, sis in law, me) were all three fairly silent and sleepy. A long way to go.

Think I will stop now knowing how long it takes to power down ..
Quite a day tho.
More later.

27th May 2008
At home; builders are taking down my kitchen ceiling, so I am camping out in my front room. With a pal’s help on Sunday the kitchen is totally clear of anything, and I have a mountain of stuff to go to the dump and another to go to charity shops.

I also have some of my uncle’s photos, diaries, jottings; things to type up that he wrote. And I have a few letters to write telling people abroad about his death. I have had a few replies from people, which have been moving.

(since writing this i have had more and more letters and emails, and feel rather privileged).

Bruv, sis in law and I set off from their house soon after 5 in the morning. Bruv drove, and I suppose about an hour into the journey I suddenly lost my fear of driving (being driven) in England.. irrational, I know, but I do seem to suffer from it. the roads are just mobbed down there, and we saw two near misses on the way.

We arrived and found the church more by vague recollection and one or two signposts than by knowledge. It was as I remembered; lovely old church, on a bit of a hill with views over the Downs, and a slightly overgrown graveyard – peaceful and like an oasis. It was somehow comforting to be back here where we buried both granny and grandpa, and I felt we actually had a link to the land somewhere, which I had not quite taken on board before, and it was very comforting.

All four of us (plus spouses) were there early, about 9.30 I think, as other bruv had insisted he, sis and spouse got there early. I cant remember the last time we four were together, and it was rather a special gift Uncle had inadvertently given us; bringing us together and also in this particular place with its childhood memories and small plot of land marked by our grandparents, and soon to be marked by himself.

There was a bit of banter between the brothers – cars and so on. We had a look inside the church and wondered how many people could be got into it, and then we all piled into cars to a ‘coffee caravan’ in a lay-by they had seen for a coffee. We went on a small detour to Elizabethan Cottage to see how it had changed; it was still thatched, couldn't see grandpa's potting shed tho, and the old pond was gone - all gravelled over; a new cottage had appeared; there had been additions to the actual house. That’s all we could see really. Enough.

We headed back to the church after standing around chatting with much needed coffees. Eventually the hearse came along. It was sobering to see the coffin, and it almost made up for not having seen my uncle, but not quite, though it had to do. We all waited outside. The vicar was getting ready I think. One cousin and spouse had already arrived, he was walking their dog, she was tearful. Another cousin and spouse arrived. Very old pals of Uncle's in Uganda arrived. I think they all went off to look at the graveyard, and then went into church, after talking a bit to sis. An elderly couple walked up; I had written to the woman’s father but he had died, so they had seen the notice in the Telegraph and came along.

It was time to take Uncle into church. The Rev Canon and us 6 followed his coffin up the path and into the church. N, J, C and I sat together, M and S had to get into another pew. The service was very simple, very traditional and – I found – very moving, very stilling, and I could almost feel that Uncle was there with us. There was obviously a bird’s nest in the rafters and the cheep-cheeping from it kept us all company and felt very fitting. The wonderful still quiet of the old country church that seems to fill every corner; I felt I was enclosed in it, wrapped in it, safe, and nothing could have felt more ‘right’ for Uncle.

I managed not to sob and make an exhibition of myself by holding my breath a lot and digging my nails in to my palms.

It was time to take him out to his grave. We all followed him out into the sunlight along the path in the long grass to his spot. And it was all well done and so moving and so final.

We all in turn spoke to the vicar and thanked him and the funeral director. I was last, and it was nice to have a quiet word, and he apologised for not ‘blessing’ me as well in church; I think he probably thought sis and I were the same person, but it really did not matter, tho really sweet of him to say.

So then we siblings, cousins, spouses and old friends stood about for a while talking before heading off to a pub which had been decided on. one bruv and I went in his car with two sets of cousins and the old friends following in theirs. Of course we got lost and went the wrong way and there was no mobile signal at all to phone anyone! Anyway, one of the old pals rescued us – she knew where the pub was. We had a drink and lunch, and I sat mostly with M and S and J and cousin; who we got to know a bit better which was nice. M managed to stay far longer than I would have thought, and seemed to be talking quite a bit to people, and it was just generally a really nice atmosphere – just us few. Bruv and sis in law offered to do the catering for Uncle’s thanksgiving which is fantastic, and it seems we can have it in the church and use the church hall afterwards.

Eventually everyone had to go off on their various ways, with lots of email address exchanges and promises of being in touch and future visits.. it was eventually just sis and spouse and me left. We went off to a nearby garden centre to find some flowers for Granny, and I found some small pots of what i thought was Speedwell, thinking i recognised them because Granny taught me wildflowers when I was small. It was Speedwell, as it turned out, luckily! We drove back to church and we put the pots into the large pot on Granny’s grave, and had another look at Uncle’s which had now been covered over, with all his flowers on top.

So we left for Salisbury airport where they dropped me off for my flight home, on their way to Heathrow for their flight home to the US.

It was a good parting; it had been a very hard time, but in the end – that day – we four had been together and a few misunderstandings had been healed. We four parted knowing that we would be in touch and see each other again, and perhaps for some of us, knowing each other a little better.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

still here

but things change every minute. and instead of being back home, i am still here at brother's. and instead of
funeral being in june, it will be on thrusday. with a thanksgiving in october. it has been a very mamouth task
and stressful for sis because of the amount for her to do which she has to as executor. and i cant be there to
help without spending money i havent got getting there, travel is so expensive in the south.

but here i cant help but put in a few of the strange synchronisities there were.. if i can remember them all -
hopefully sis will correct and add to them..

i booked to come south in january, booked 7th may because it was before some proof reading for festival that
was to be done round about 17th. i booked long enough to visit bro AND uncle, and found sis had also booked
to come back to uk for visit then.

later on sis discovered she couldnt come back then after all. an aunt near uncle i was to visit was going to be
away till later in my visit, so i put off visiting uncle to later in my stay.

but i got here on 7th and was saying to bro on 8th 'must phone uncle tonight'. none of us knew he was in hosp.
but 8th was when he died.

so sis came over when first planned to. the proof reading dates were changed to 9th, 10th, so had to do it
online here anyway. and i missed my uncle.

there were other strange synchronisities but i cant remember them. hope sis can. it was odd.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

a few days in worthing

taken on my mobile - bonfires on the beach (looking down from the road)
Brighton beach at night
It has been a sad, sometimes very difficult, sometimes warm and loving - few days. bewildering standing in uncle's flat wondering where to begin, thoughts about what it all amounts to when you are gone; wishing i had got down earlier; wishing i had managed to come down to record him talking about his life, as he didnt think he could write about it when i asked..
attempting to sort out paperwork in his flat with sisiter and brother in law, because i want to find stuff to be able to write up about his life a bit. and also sister's children need photos to make a collage.. and so on, which i will scan and email.. found lots of notebooks, some of historical notes, especially about the anglo saxons. also quite a lot on Nathanial Parker Forth (Scarlet Pimpernel) our anscestor he was researching. Sister also knows a lot about that. and there are some notes/diaries from Africa days. i am going to type up a couple of things about the Idi Amin era he wrote about to have at the funeral.
we will not be having the funeral until sometime in June. it feels better to wait and do it properly, but it is also because the doctor has ordered a post mortem. he was away when uncle was in hospital, but he is not happy with how he died.
i am back at brother's (and wife, family) now. sis and her husband and i drove back last night and we all sat around after an amazing lasagne (a la brother) and downed a couple of bottles of wine (mostly by me my brother says). my sis says she has never seen me drunk before! and i went and phoned other brother at 12.30 at night which wasnt exactly a good idea. sis back down to worthing to do more of her executor jobs (my wee sis being an executor - doing very well) with bro-in-law, then they fly back to the USA on sat. back to the children who are missing them a lot. they will all four be back for the funeral though. it was a horrible thing to happen, but one cant do death to order unfortunately. but its been brilliant spending a bit of time with my sis. and with bro and his wife mi sis-in-law. so. there it is.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

in norfolk - and some sad news

a Barbara Hepworth in Norwich

duck family

the pond, or Mere with electric fountain

the long awaited time off arrived and i travelled down to brother's, from where i would travel further to uncle's and an aunt's possibly.
fully intended to start blogging again once i started my break. somehow did not start immediately - i think i was just winding down, and then bad news; our uncle who i was about to visit died suddenly.
sister and her husband are now landing in Heathrow from the USA, and in one week we are going to have to arrange a funeral and sort out his flat and notify as many of his friends and Ugandan friends as possible. i have already found one friend on the net by googling the school my uncle used to teach in in Uganda, and sending off an email to him - hoping - and yes, he knew my uncle well, and is passing on my message.
my uncle had a very interesting life, i always tried to persuade him to write it down but he never quite believed he had anything worth writing - but he was pleased that i thought so. i was hoping one day to sit with a recording implement and just record him talking. but we live so far apart.
He taught in Uganda for years, including all through the Idi Amin years. He was a gentle man of the 'old' kind - a person from the past, and i never really felt he was quite at home once he came back to live in England. he was a socialist. my mother often had to go and find him after their father had thrown him out of the house for being a communist when they were all younger. Our mother was always the strong one, the 'sorter-outer' and i think he missed her terribly when she died.
this uncle is my Godfather; he gave me all my ballet lessons at school. he probably has no idea how life saving those ballet lessons were to me. it is too difficult to explain how life saving dance used to be for me, for years.
i hope that soon we may learn more about my uncle's life and doings in Uganda from people we can contact who knew him there. but i do know that he often helped people escape.
on a very mundane note, the weather has gone from depressingly chilly to hot. all in one day. it begun last weekend i think, but because i didnt fully believe in the change to hot, i have not really brought enough cool clothes to wear. i can see i shall have to do a charity shop raid at some point, if it keeps on being hot.