I must apologise. It is a weird compact, here, on cyberstreet, an understanding, between noms des plumes, anonymati, that there is a continuum of comment, a call and response, as vivid as the slaves' field hollers, gallows humour, as pungent and sorrowful as the Blues; not redemptive, just expressive; here is a rendezvous, at which people vent their spleen, discerning Ruin's impertinent nuances, checking-out the ree-ports, digging-up the dirt. an alternative, outsiders' commentary, as momentous, in its way, as a solemn mass, a dance around the Maypole, a Bar Mitzvah, a daily ritual of non-believers, believing together, briefly, that a steadfast failure to be convinced by Ruin's discordant praise-singers is conviction enough for any decent citizen; a touchstone, quarried from MediaMinsters's putrid canyons of cynicism and self interest, a talisman, clutched-at, as this blitzed nation, CallHimDave's 1940 junior partner, which fought and won the Battle of Britain and thus the world, flushes itself, now, down Consumerism's toilet. These little enclaves in cyberspace, flighty, scornful, exasperated, scatological and irreverent are the home of today's pamphleteers, broadsheeters, samizdatians; individually and collectively - those not sold-out in advance, that is, like Britain's premier blogger, the talking cardigan - hint at the tumult which, if God smiles upon us, we will soon surely hear from the multitude, presently diverted by His Unholiness, Ratzo, the Nonce-Protector General and Vicar of Christ. We are all in this shit together, only not as Cameron and Clegg would have us, beneath their splayed buttocks, shat-upon from the great, ermine-trimmed latrine of state, punished for questioning their expenses thievery, but defiant, resistant, allied, across the ether, if only by nothing more than a refusenikism, and while I wish the consciousness of it were wider, we are all in this together and so I do apologise for the disruption of our ill-tempered but reassuring dialogue and venture, herewith, a brief explanation.
My oldest and dearest friend died suddenly. Okay for him, really, he'd had a few drinks, was well, in himself, as they say, aboard a ferry with his family, bound for his beloved France; just went to bed happy and didn't wake up, one of Death's wee surprises, see? You can go swimming every morning, walking every night, be as fit as a fiddle and still, when you're not looking, when you think it's safe to go to sleep, Whoops, one quick yank, from the Dark One's chill, boney hand and you're over on the other side, one of the tyrannical dead, the ones for whom things are done, because that's what they would have wanted, as though they weren't really dead, just watching us, from the other side of the crematorium, their ashes crinkling in pleasure as the living, for once, are obedient.
Drives me mad, that, that 'swhat he would have wanted shit; doesn't matter a fuck what he would have wanted, he is no more, he has no wants, there is no him, that's why he's dead, that's why we're here, at his fucking funeral, because he is no more, you can play MyWay at a million watts, the bastard's not gonna hear it. Do fucking behave yourselves. The infantilisation even of Death, the failure, the refusal to understand the simplest of Life's truths, it bespeaks Ruin.
Years ago, I walked up to the site of an Iron-Age fort at Presteigne, in the Welsh Marches, with a friend holding the ashes of her late husband. It's what he would have wanted, she said. Yeah, but whaddabout what you want, he's dead, doesn't matter what he woulda wanted. You're right, he is dead, doesn't matter what he woulda wanted, it really doesn't, and it's alright to say that. She cast the ashes up into the hilltop wind and they blew away, dazzling, in the Sun, she did it a few times, and they were gone. I don't know if it was the right thing to say, I think it was, she had been nursing him a long time, her own wants and needs subsumed, she seemed grateful for it, anyway, somebody saying the unsayable, liberated from cliched helpless widowhood. Don't get me wrong, I am quite Oriental about the ancestors and I keep my dead close, within, Oh, they come out in my speech, sometimes, but there is no public performance of their wishes or requirements, that's just stupid.
Shocked as I was by this sudden death, I also thought, Oh, to be so lucky. Not for him the hospital, its smells and pans and masks and blades and tubes and the ghastly, hopeless optimism, the dreadful hospital radio - even among the suffering, the near-dead, there is no escape from the awfulness of Showbiz, it's ageing apprentices, its camp followers, its dreary, name-checking fuckwits - and the ghoulish chaplain and his sickly compassion, hovering, seeking frightened souls to rubber-stamp for God; the terrible, waxen camaraderie of the near-dead, forged in feeble resistance to the doctorbastards and the cheerily impertinent nurses, embellished with catheter and bedpan, a fierce, morbid alliance, yet routinely ruptured with the arrival of visitors. Or not. It's shit, all that, dying in hospital. Best avoided. And hospices, how did that happen? Respite and palliative care, this is a grim, meddler's lexicon, some symbiosis of neglect and hypocrisy, the family role privatesed, incorporated, dying-by-numbers. How did we cope, before these wretched hospicers selflessly invented themselves, built their caring and sensitive and respectful death chambers ? Anyway, none of that for him, no saddle-seat on Death's Carousel, round and round, how are you, a bit better, good, you're looking better, they can do wonderful things these days, a bit tired, it's the medication I expect, they're doing some more tests, you have to try and eat something, keep your strength up. At least he avoided all that.
He managed a wood, in retirement, and he hoped to live to see great-grandchildren. I entertain no such hopes but had hoped to sit with him in his wood, opposite his front door, urban, large and municipal or in mine, tiny, walled and private, maybe in my late sixties; old friends, sat on their park bench like book-ends, a sharp and cynical dotage, mine, the very antidote to his genuine, Hail, fellow, well met bonhomie. He was much-loved, gracious and polite, warm, a toucher, a clasper, a hugger, almost living every day as though it might be his last, not wishing to leave any sour memories.
Why don't your write a book, he said to me, for forty years. There's enough books, don't need any more fucking books, books're the last thing we need more of. The last time he asked, a couple of years back, I wanted to say Well, in a sense, I have, it's called stanislav, a young Polish plumber, there's at least a bookfull of him, but I didn't. I think stanislav, in toto, was a tad too profane for him, even though some of the bits were written with him in mind, he was the young probation officer, hating the sin but loving the sinner, or even about him, his was the motorhome which irked stanislav so much and I am sure that at some of the commentaries he would have, as did so many, as did I, spit his coffee out over the keyboard. But now I'll never know. It's probably what he would have wanted.
I knew Dick for forty years, that's longer than I have known anyone. He described me as a close personal friend - dinners, theatre, pubs, holidays, weddings, we did all that stuff; he visited here, in the Far North, almost every year and we made trips to the West Midlands; spoke a few times a year on the phone, sat up late, drinkng whiskey, when we were together. I guess that's close personal friendship; easy, no pressure, none of the flirting of new acquantanceship. But there were five hundred close personal friends and colleagues at his funeral. Not close as we were close but determined to claim at least a kinship, seriously warm cvolleagues. And there was a feed, after the funeral, at which hungry current and former probation officers filled their boots. See you at the next probation funeral, said one of them, as though that's all it was, and indeed for many of these close personal friends, that's what it was, a career formality.
It was a hard journey, embarked on at very short notice, broken with an overnight stay in some Godless, heathen bastard, scruffy sonofafuckingbitch couldn't spell hospitality, Scottish Borders hotel and then down the M6, beautiful in Cumbria, Hell's highway by the time you reach the Midlands; a bad enough journey at leisure, murder in a hurry. The death, aboard a Brittany Ferry, occurred, technically, in France, and so the frogs had to do their shit and then the body was returned and the English coroner had to do his and we thought it would be another week but in the end we only had a day or two's notice. When we got there, with the family, there were those spontaneous eruptions of grief on all sides, snot and tears, shaking of heads. I mean, it wasn't like the Arabs do it, shrieking and wailing - odd, that, considering how good Paradise is, for good muslems - and fat women slapping their own faces, having to be held up, nothing like that, we were English, Irish some of us, but even so the stiff upper lip was hard to do, standing in that kitchen, where I had stood countless times, feasting, and drinking, in the early days of cloudy, week-old home-brew, latterly of interesting, brewery-bottled beers and single malts, a place now, forever, of loss. All its walls' memories sicklied o'er.
I could go on and on about this but it would be to no purpose, the gist of it all is that we kinda lost our purpose, for a while, a week or two; there was a big, busy, road-movie journey, bracketed by a sense of shock and bewilderment. This life, here, this old house and the walled garden, the lane, the hedges, the trees, it's a project; it's not a clever, got-it-made, low-maintainance, Country Living, Aga-Saga, des-res, shabby-chic, Barbour Jacket and Land Rover Life. I am not Michael Heseltine. It's all hard work, some of it even is altruistic. I was lying down, last evening, in the wet, planting Hawthorn cuttings through black membrane into a raised bed to maybe, in a couple of years' time, plant another hedge. I'm always doing stuff like that, as though lassooing the future, but my friend's so-sudden death knocked the wind from those sails, as well as arresting whatever it is which usually speeds these posted commentaries and I didn't see any point in writing, buffeted, as I was, this way and that, accosted by Death, nagged-at by Life: Pull yourself together, Ishmael, if you don't do this shit no other bastard will. The longer you leave it, the worse it'll be
While we were away, the gales came and blowtorched nearly everything with saltburn from the shore, but every year we fight back with clever pruning and stakes and fleeces and hope, we are farmers these thousands of years, clever monkeys, fishmen upo the shores of the sea; sometimes we fashion a forest of sections of drainpipe staked over tender trees and shrubs and each Spring it all comes back again. Dick won't be driving down my lane in his much ridiculed camper van, not this coming Spring, not ever again. But there it is, in the midst of life we are in death; never morning wore 'til evening but some poor heart did break. We will ape him in our speech, those little repetitive sayings which we all develop; we will miss him at our table and keep him in our hearts. But he is mourned now, enough, and, as ever, there are knaves to chastise, windy gabshites to mock and governments to bring down. Let the dead bury the dead, I spy motherfuckers.