Jimmy's brother Lawrence died a couple of weeks ago; his funeral was on Friday.
In my early days of blogging I used to write freely about family events, including bereavements, but as I became more aware of readership, I became reluctant to write about such things. It doesn't seem right to turn what is very personal into material for a blog which has entertainment as its main reason.
But the funeral was truly remarkable. We went up to the house, seeing dozens of people gathered on the corner of the road. By the time that we passed the shop in the limos, there were many more. Many of them were very familiar faces to me, many more were total strangers. Key Stage 2 children from the local school stood outside, too. There were even a couple of photographers, one a family friend, one rumoured to be from the South London Press.
The chapel at the crematorium was full. Not only with people sitting, but people standing in twos the length of the aisle. The celebrant asked contributors to speak into the microphone for the benefit of those standing outside.
There is a thread in tribute at Urban75. I can work out who one of the contributors is, but do not have a clue as to who the rest are, although I guess I may know some of them. I left the do quite early, having a very strange reaction to my Guinness, which just knocked me out. Jimmy didn't leave until 1 am, and has been suffering since.
The family will never be the same again, nor will our local area. People say there is no such thing as community, but if you had been out on New Park Road on Friday, you would know that community exists.
Suddenly, as if his self-control had finally given way William Westwood yelled "Follow me! We will kill all the " and seizing a hatchet he rushed from the yard, followed by a dozen or so others. "Follow me and you follow to the gallows!" he yelled. Some held back, but a press of others crowded out, grabbing billets of wood, axes, spades and hoes, anything that came to hand. A constable barred their way and Westwood struck him down. Stephen Smith, the overseer, hid behind the cookhouse door but Jacky-Jacky Westwood had seen him, rushed in and with a blow, splattered his brains over wall and floor. "On! On!" he shouted as he reached the gaol gates and sighted a constable's hut with door partially open. Crazy for blood, he split one man's skull, attacked the other still in bed and rained blow after blow, until he, too was dead in a pool of blood.
The upshot was that Stephen's widow (name I don't know) and daughter, Susan, had to travel back from Norfolk Island to Dublin when Susan was just a babe-in-arms. This illustrates my Australian roots... thanks to Pat and David for doing the research!
As sharp eyed- readers will have noticed I have been ordered to do what I was going to do anyway, mention my sister's birthday. I am not allowed to say how old she is but just think Keanu Reeves
Other birthdays today include:
1925 Russ Conway
1937 Derek Fowlds (Bernard in "Yes Minister")
1938 Glyn Worsnip ("That's Life")
1952 Jimmy Connors
1953 Keith Allen (comedian/actor)
1964 Keanu Reeves
1965 Lennnox Lewis
In 1945, Japan signed an unconditional surrender, bringing WW2 to an end. In 1666, the Great Fire of London broke out. In 1752, the UK adopted the Gregorian calendar. In 1870 was the Battle of Sedan and 1898 the Battle of Omdurman
A good while ago, my cousin mentioned to my mother that he would quite like it if he and I could go to an opera together, so Idiscussed this with him. He did say he liked Russian opera, so I suggested he came with me to Eugene Onegin, but he didn't reply to my email, and when I rang him he said he didn't like Eugene Onegin, but suggested Mitridate Re di Ponte at Covent Garden, which, for some reason, he prefers to Mozart's Da Ponte operas. So I got the tickets, and last week when I saw him, we agreed to meet. I rang him yesterday and we confirmed arrangements - the Nag's Head, which is on the left as you come out of the Tube, only you can't come out of Covent Garden tube at the moment because it's closed. I said two o'clock, but I'd be there a bit earlier. Conscious that he doesn't have a mobile phone, and is proud that he doesn't have a mobile phone, and keeps telling us - various people with mobile phones - that he thinks they are unnecessary, I thought I had better get there extra early, because if I'm delayed I can't really contact him.
So, in the end, I get to the Nag's Head at 1.30 and settle down with a very nice pint of McMullen's AK and my Public Finance magazine, including an interesting article on the response to the July 7th bombs.
Two o'clock comes, and I've finished my pint. It's getting busy and noisy in the pub so I go and stand outside in the seering heat getting increasingly anxious, looking at my watch, looking round. I've checked the live arrival boards at Charing Cross on my phone (everything running more or less on time), I've rung my mother just in case he'd rung her (I expect he knows her number, learnt it at a young age) because I doubt he would have my mobile number. I walk round the Royal Opera House "Ladies and Gentlemen please take your seats in the auditorium this afternnoon's performance of Mitridate Re de Ponte will commence in two minutes". I speak to a woman in the ticket office, I go back to the pub, I speak to the barmaid, I walk round the opera house again, I go back to the pub and have another half (by the way, I don't especially feel comfortable sitting in pubs on my own, so I like to have something to read, but I'd finished my magazine).
Three o'clock I decide to go home.
There are various things I would quite like to have done today - spend time with my partner; Lambeth Country Show; London United Festival in Burgess Park; trip to the seaside or countryside; dinner in a nice air-conditioned restaurant; Fairy Queen at the Proms. Mitridate Re di Ponte was less desirable than any one of those.
Just before four I got home, having sat on hot tubes and even hotter buses, and made a few phone calls, but, of course, everybody was out, and I realise I don't have his brothers' mobile numbers.
Half eight, my delightful cousin phones. He was in the Waggon and Horses, which is nowhere near Covent Garden Tube. Well, it is sort of, the nearest Tube is Covent Garden, but it's the other side of the Piazza, requiring a walk past the Nag's Head. I told him I was bloody furious, accepted his apology, pointed out that it's an easy mistake to make, so most people would use their mobile, don't ever boast again about not having a mobile phone, and, by the way, my mother is now worried, and I left a message with his brother. He said he'd ring his brother. I ring my mother, who wasn't exactly worried, assuming he was on another planet, and of course, she wanted to talk, in the meantime his brother is trying to get through to me desperately worried, I'd deliberately left a bland message which, of course, he'd analysed as being deliberately bland and non-panicking. So I explained everything, saying what I had said "Nag's Head on the left as you come out of the Tube..."
"Covent Garden?" he said "McMullen's pub, can't miss it..."
So I have no opinion to offer on Mitridate Re di Ponte (yes, I know I could have gone into Acts 2 and 3, but that would have meant waiting another hour, and not knowing what was going on and I rather wanted to salvage what I could from the day to spend with my partner).
There I was all settling for a nice quiet blogging at work, when I decided it was time to see if I could produce some white smoke. Despite standing outside the building and drawing frantically on a cigarette, the smoke remained resolutely black.
So I went back inside and caught a glimpse of a TV screen in the lift lobby showing a papal chimney. On my floor I looked at the TV screen, where the smoke billowing looked distinctly white. Then black. Then sort of grey, as the BBC explained it might or might not be white, as in 1978, and we'd know if it was white if bells started peeling.
Well, we hung around, I declared "It's Ratzinger, being so early." They all looked at me, I thought, you know, I could be one of these BBC pundits, money for old rope if you ask me. I had to quickly reassure my colleagues that I didn't have a hotline to the Vatican...
Eventually some stern old bloke came out and began addressing us. I could understand the Latin fine. At least, I think it was Latin, it was some language I could understand fine.
"Oh, he's called Joseph," I thought. "That will please Nephew #1." Then the stern looking bloke and the Beeb said it was Ratzinger, so I stormed off for a much needed pee, exchanging glum regrets with a woman in the lift lobby.
I returned and asked "What's he calling himself?"
"Benedict," they said.
"Oh," I thought, "that will please Nephew #2". And explained to my colleagues that six weeks ago my nephew arrived, called Benedict.
So remember, what my family does today, the Vatican does tomorrow
Let's hope he's not burdened with people's assumptions that he was named in Papal honour. That could be tiresome. And if he goes to a Catholic school he could end up with an overload of similarly named classmates.
Both nephews have William as their second name. William, as in the future King.
Matt has assured me that Benedict I is a stern theologian with a rigid attitude to nappies and cots.
I have been instructed to blog that it's Matthew's birthday today. A minor event considering that last month he got a new son and next month he gets a new house - close to a Steam Preservation Railway!
Not that he reads this - clearly can't understand the links in my email auto-sig...
I can't believe my little brother is 30 today!
He shares it with:
1648 Grinling Gibbons, sculptor/woodcarver
1928 Maya Angelou
1930 Dave Sexton, former Manchester United manager
1939 Hugh Masekela
1942 Kitty Kelley, author
1946 Sergei Leiferkus, baritone
1963 Graham Norton
1964 Paul Parker, former Manchester United player
We're very cunning at six. We can pretend to be too scared to go to bed without Mummy so that we stay up until nearly midnight - even though we have a very long day ahead of us tomorrow.
We can wear Auntie's glasses to make us look sophisticated.
And then we can get Mummy and Auntie to write prayers. Auntie had the bright idea of writing "Oh Lord have mercy on this poor sinner pleading for your mercy." Mummy also had the right idea "God give me strength."
But Madam trumped it "Help me God Help me God get these people away from me Is this way to Amarillo."
I said I was an atheist. She said "If you don't believe in god, you can leave now..." I don't think atheist is a keyword at KS1.
Nephew has a much better idea. Reject religious hypocrisy but plead to go to Mass when Poverty armbands are being sold.
But could somebody enlighten as to which part of the Catholic Mass involves the mixing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Smarties...?
By special request, the so-called Aquarius Project makes a special Pisces return to celebrate the birthday of my favourite niece, Eleanor Mary born in 1999 (budget day; I went to a pub quiz and saw Screaming Lord Sutch with a budgie on his shoulder)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELEANOR
Celebrity birthdays include:
1454 Amerigo Vespucci. Had some continents named after him (north, Central and South Vespugha)
1829 Modest Mussorgsky, composer and habitual drunkard. Wrote night on a bare mountain and Pictures At An Exhibition
1881 Ernest Bevin, former Foreign Secretary
1890 Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Soviet Foreign Minister. My Soviet and East European lecturer sat in Moscow Central library on the same table as Molotov who was writing his memoirs. When Molotov went off to the Gents, Tony sneaked a look. He said they were very boring...
1892 Vita Sackville-West, novelist and poet. Grandma could tell you things about her. I couldn't.
1910 Samuel Barber, composer - Adagio for Strings. He wrote a nine minute opera called A Hand of Bridge with a character called Geraldine
1934 Yuri Gagarin, Russian cosmonaut, first man in space
1936 Glenda Jackson, great actress, now MP for Hampstead and Highgate
1954, Bobby Sands, IRA hunger striker
1959 oh heck, I don't believe this... Barbie. Doll.
1964 Juliette Binoche, actress
1975 Juan Sebastian Veron, ex-Manchester United player
In an absolutely invalid statistical sample of one ageing-ish parent, I have an observation to make. My mother was middle-aged when she retired at 63. It took her mere weeks to become aged, despite having an active mind occupied by adult education classes, theatre trips, Saga summer schools etc.
And then in another statistically invalid sample of one ageing aunt, 84, but she's still got her marbles. Age hasn't changed her one iota. Apart from a hip problem/replacement that limited her mobility for a time, she's in rude health, and even ruder phone calls. Much pleasure is taken by myself and others in telling her daughters she'll live to a hundred. And they try - one tried to put her on a flight to Tenerife instead of Ireland, and to put all manner of sharp objects and Class A drugs in her luggage. But, nevertheless, she still arrived in Ireland.
Her eldest daughter rang me and reprimanded me for not being in touch "I was wondering, have I said something? Has my mother said something?"
"Your mother has said something, but that wouldn't be held against you!" I exclaimed. We both giggled muchly...
(Mrs and Master G, are you still here reading...?)
Various members of the family have put together a family tree. Looking specifically at the descendants of my great-grandparents, it is quite startling. My ggps had twelve children surviving into adulthood. The information suggests that six of these twelve produced 46 grandchildren between 1947 and 1977 (I am eleventh youngest), and so far at least 44 great-grandchildren, from 1979 to 2003. Of those 44 ggc, 16 are descendants of my grandparents (who also had 16 grandchildren) and 19 from my great aunt who emigrated to the US (who had 11 grandchildren).
If everyone had uniformly produced 2 children, there would be 48 in my generation, and 96 in the next - although that still has plenty of scope for expansion, and, with more than a dozen of them now adults, I would expect a further generation in the not too distant future.
My great-great-great grandmother was an Unwed Mother, the daughter of a Dr Murray. She gave birth to my great-great grandmother in 1821 in Co Clare, Ireland. The family had to wait 170 years for another Unwed Mother!
Ooh, good heavens, said great-great-grandmother had my great-grandfather in 1867 - at the age of 46! My granny had my youngest auntie at the age of 43, in 1936. Two aunts had children at 40 and 42, in the 60s, and my mother (no blood relation to all that lot) had my brother at just under 40 in the 70s.
Declining fertility at my age, 36? I don't think so - I have another ten years yet!
This is of course, only a quarter of my family, although the other three quarters are less extensive.
Lisdoonvarna, County Clare and back in 39 hours. A family reunion was organised. The descendants of my great-grandparents, who had thirteen children. I am not sure how many assembled in total - there were probably about 50 for dinner, plus various others who appeared just for pre-dinner drinks and/or for Sunday Mass. I had a sister and nephew; an Aunt, four first cousins, plus son; probably a dozen or more of my father's cousins, including some partners; god knows how many of my second cousins, plus some partners, plus three of their offspring. In addition, a descendant of my great-great-grandparents turned up with his wife for after dinner drinks. And to further complicate matters, the partner of the late cousin of one of my father's cousins came all the way from Australia! Various Australians and Americans sent apologies, as should have a temporary New Zealander. There was a sizeable contingent from Florida, and the Italians included Kevin the youngest of my generation, with his Spanish partner. One of my second cousins is married to a Spaniard and another to an Italian. Of course the majority were Irish or English, including Irish living in England. I think that's the nationalities covered!
In the long drive from Dublin to Lisdoon (thank you George W Bush for the diversion that added two hours to our journey and left us with no time to see the Cliffs of Moher - you have no Irish roots, and we planned our summit photo opportunity long before you did, Bastard. Note to all Irish-Americans - Do Not Vote Bush.), conversation included the "chav" concept. The word - and bling bling - was unfamiliar to Pauline and Joseph, but the concept isn't!
We descended into a mocking discussion of Chav names, which Joseph helpfully supplied from amongst his school mates. (I renamed his school St Richavs). However, the biscuit goes to my niece's two friends from down the road, Tegan and Keana. (Read it and weep!). Imagine our horror when examining the impressive family tree to discover that many of the children of our American third cousins (ie Joseph's fourth cousins) born since the late eighties have really chav names. But are they genuine chav if American? We concluded that at the second cousin stage, there were no chav names, although we are yet undecided about the very youngest member of the family, six-month old Trinity (girl). I think it probably counts as genuine exotic...!
A lot more on the party and on my general impressions of Ireland later.
Today was the funeral of Jimmy's father. There's a do going on down the pub, but I just had one pint and left.
Very impressive turnout - must have been nearly two hundred people there, particularly impressive for someone of 85. In fact, one chap was stopped by a passer-by and asked if it was someone famous. The procession of cars from Faithful Virgin to West Norwood Cemetery brought the whole of Norwood to a standstill. Of course, Jimmy and his sister and brothers and nieces were upset (I'm sure the sons and nephews were, too, but they aren't going to show it).
It was very strange seeing Jimmy's brother, Tony. I hardly know him at all. He turned up late for the Mass, so I didn't see him until on the way out. I had known in advance what would happen, but it was still a shock to see him standing there in the church, each arm handcuffed to a prison warder. Then, I was in John and Jackie's car, waiting for the procession to start off, and the prison officers escorted Tony across the road to the prison van. Needless to say, all the motorists in the opposite direction, and all the people on the bus all gawped. It's the sort of thing you see on the telly but rarely in real life.
At the cemetery, they let Tony be handcuffed just to one prison officer. Terry offered him a cigarette - ever seen anyone try to light a cigarette when handcuffed? And we shook hands, which was strange. After the burial, most people hung around talking for ages, because the longer we lingered, the longer Tony got outside - they weren't letting him go to the pub. There were four officers in all. I was chatting to a couple of them, asking them if do many of these. "No, thank god."
The flowers included a wreath in the shape of an Irish harp, Danny Boy played during Communion, and the final prayer over the coffin was
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Jimmy placed a tricolour in the grave, and the children and grandchildren threw in roses. Seven children - two dead; twelve grandchildren, including two who have come over from Australia; and four great-grandchildren. Some life - from driving De Valera in the 40s, to selling paraffin and ice cream to second hand furniture. Some life.
I've been intending to write this for ages but it was such a full day I never found the energy. It started with my niece's tap and ballet class which was cute to watch. All girls, of course, all in pink...! One of the mums and I were trying to persuade my nephew to join - it's more athletic than football and you wouldn't have to wear a pink leotard. This is the boy who objects to writing a rap poem at school because anything to do with singing is'sissy'. More fun was what was going on outside, which was a procession of 525 scooters and about a dozen police outriders riding along the road. They must have had a right turn further back, because the traffic in the other direction was stationery and backing as far as the eye could see in the other direction.
After dancing class it was a quick dash into Manchester. Niece and I skipped down Oxford Road from Peter Square to the Palace, even though she tried to persuade me to leave the skipping to her.
The purpose was English National Ballet's Swan Lake. It was absolutely gorgeous. I have to say that I don't really follow the story by reading the nuances of the choreography, but it is a sensual delight - the music and the dancing. I thoroughly loved it; so did Eleanor. I think she most loved the visual impact of the lake full of swans, and poor Odette dancing outside the window as Prince Siegfried was beguiled at the ball by Odile. I enjoyed those, too, as well as the athleticism of the male dancers. What was most memorable was the lighting, which may seem a strange thing to say, but it transformed a resonably good performance into a very good one. And the programme was superb, double page after double page of sumptuous colour pictures. Fabulous if you're five. Fabulous if you're *over twenty-one*.
And of course the experience was fun too. There were two intervals, so she had three Colas and two ice creams. I had one ice-cream and three waters. Although, she later told my sister that I had two gins. I suggested that she was a lying cow. I had water. 'Oh yeah I forgot.' And the other day she asked me whether I was drinking gin. Of course I was, I have gin for breakfast, I always drink gin. 'No at Barbie Swan Lake you drank water.' We also had great fun going up and down stairs in the balcony at the Palace which are very very steep, and gave me lactose in my thighs.
And there was the journey home, which took an hour and a quarter, and slightly dampens the magic of the ballet.
After wolfing down a pizza, it was back out to Manchester for the Manc blogmeet. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, meeting Lyle, Sarah, Lori, Chris and Meg. We spent the evening drinking and chatting. Very nice people, and I would love to attend another.
I am currently coaching an A-list blogger for the next decade. Evidence:
a) He kept a photo diary of his holiday to Florida, which was spelt perfectly, and the only grammatical mistakes were using a comma where I would have started a new sentence - I particularly liked the Day 16 headed "STRANDED" as he described how their aeroplane had to turn back to England when it should have been coming to collect them, and they had to queue at the Virgin Airlines desk to receive vouchers for staying two extra nights, paid for by Uncle Richard Branson. And the photos of Joseph and Eleanor relaxing in the pool;
b) He finds me amazing links on the internet - have a look at the medium version and then click on the large version to study the people on the beach;
I don't think my mother gets christmas. You would think, having a younger brother, three children and two grandchildren, with a combined age of 163 years, she might have got it by now.
The pressies are meant to be surprises.
Years ago my sister invented the list. (Amazon copied it). You make out a list of way too many things and it is organised. By my sister of course. The idea is, you're guaranteed to get what you want, but you don't know what or from whom.
A few weeks back I reeled off the list. Far too early, but never mind. Last week Mother phoned to say that she was having trouble getting what I had asked for in HMV in the Trafford Centre 'although they did have the three tenors DVD', and Pauline couldn't find it on Amazon. She said she could go into Manchester and try HMV there, or maybe Forsythes, and I had visions of her trudging down Deansgate on a fools' errand. "Don't worry," I said. "Forget about it - how about something from my Amazon wish list - Pauline can organise it (Pauline's the eldest of us three siblings. I'm not saying she's bossy but...).
On Monday, Mother phoned to say she had got it "And I know you're going to like it, it's very good" (bear in mind she doesn't have a DVD player).
I rang her today and she very nearly blurted out what it was. Okay I vaguely know, but the element of surprise is which one. She finally said "Okay, I won't tell you which one it is but you will like it!".
She has another three weeks not to tell me which one it is. It is so going to kill her. Every birthday and christmas she rings up just before and says "Just to let you know I got you XXXX."
"Mother! It's a christmas present! It's supposed to be a surprise!"
There is little more boring than proud aunties trying to claim that the sayings of their neplings are hilariously funny.
So I will recount a few things said by mine that were just slightly amusing.
Out to dinner with my sister's family, I mentioned that Jimmy and I were debating somewhere to go at Christmas, and we wanted somewhere hot, either Cuba/Mexico/Dominican Republic area or Egypt. Nephew, 8, "Why don't you go to Baghdad, it's hot there..." (In fact, it's London followed by Manchester. Neither hot...).
Niece on being taken to Harrods whilst the boys were plane spotting, "Mummy, why aren't there any proper shops round here, like Asda?"
Nephew at London Transport Museum "Why aren't there any aeroplanes?" (Brother-in-law - "Exactly which part of London Transport is served by aeroplanes?")
Also scary thing. Nephew "Is St George's hospital famous? Was a Norman Wisdom film filmed there?" Aunt in panic mode. Does Norman Wisdom have cult status amongst 8 year-olds? (Fortunately, I later found that a friend of my sister's family hired a cinema for his 40th and invited friends, including children to watch A Stitch In Time)
Matt and Abby's wedding was wonderful. Just about as perfect a wedding as can be imagined. And it has been blogged elsewhere from here!
Once we got out of London (two hours...!) the journey to South Cave was uneventful, except for the pool of water that leaked from our under the car as we took a leak at the Little Chef in Nottinghamshire that had run out of name badges.
An attempt to get tot he petrol station/off licence had us driving instead on the motorway-like A road halfway to Leeds and back before buying a couple of bottles of wine at the pub and heading back to the hotel. We were intercepted in the car park by Charlotte and Chris wondering where we had got them (they went away happy with knowledge) and over to Pauline-and-family's cottage to borrow a corkscrew.
Breakfast and horse feeding was followed by a walk of an hour or so from South Cave to Everthorpe and back, a quick pint, and back to the hotel to change.
We arrived at the church at just the same time as various cousins, and the bridesmaids. Eleanor had clearly found herself a 'new best friend' in Grace, Abby's mate from Uni who had looked after her at the rehearsal and did so during the service.
Matt and Abby seemed quite relaxed as they got married. As they signed the register the North Ferriby Ladies Choir sang the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria and another song about Love is Like a River - not the Stevie Nicks song. Before they started, Joseph, being a little boy turned to me and said "Cover your ears." Afterwards he had to admit they 'weren't bad'. For many adults it was very moving.
Few photos were taken outside the church, but it was a quick rush back to Rudstone Walk for more photo taking.
The weather held off wonderfully - Jimmy and I were amongst the last handful to go into the marquee and we had to stand under the tree to finish our cigarettes.
The speeches came first - from Abby's father Alan, from Matt and from Dan, whose previous outing as best man had seen a 45-minute speech, but he admitted he had received death threats on Friday - he was timed at seven-and-a-half, plus presentations. Alan referred to the fittingness of having the reception in a tent, asking us to leave our sleeping bags at the door.
The food was excellent, it was good to see six cousins (and three partners), an uncle-in-law, father's cousin and her husband, plus various of Matt's friends I had not seen in ages - nice lads, especially the housemates from his second year, Giles, Ed, Tim and Mark.
The evening's festivities featured a big band which seemed to go down with the youngsters as well as the older folk. No one misbehaved, and I only had one argument with one cousin who manages to combine arrogant condescension with woeful ignorance and stupidity, and I have concluded that I was right to dislike him from the age of nine and charitable to make an effort in my twenties. I also received a copy of the Nottingham Evening Post property section, which was good.
We left the reception at about half twelve and crashed back at Pauline's cottage. Joseph was asleep on Pauline's lap - having carefully collated all the Little Chef name badges he had received from various cousins, and Jimmy was nodding off. Pauline said we had better go because Eleanor would never get to sleep until we did!
We saw the bride and groom off to Oban, warning them about the treacherous stairs in the Oban Inn, and then we departed. The journey was wonderful until We crossed the M25, then it was horrible as our hearts sank. A day and a half in a beautiful part of East Yorkshire, and then a return to grotty aggressive London.
My extended family is strange. I used to think it was strange in a weird way, but I now know that it is no stranger than most other families.
My Auntie Olivia was born in 1936, the youngest of five girls and six children (my Granny used to tell my father, 'Blessed Art Thou Amongst Women'). She was the only one of the girls to go to University - this was largely because she had decided to become a nun. Joining an Irish order of nuns she went to University College Cork.
In later years she always seemed very straight-laced, but looking back, this was not really the case.
When I was small she was living and working in Kenya, teaching at a school in Mombassa. I was about five or six when she came to stay a few days with us, bringing photographs, stories and mementoes of a strange exotic place - a wicker basket and this necklace . She taught me some Swahili, which I remembered for some months, or maybe years. She also taught me to carry things on my head - it amuses my African colleagues when I do this to this day.
She later studied in Rome, and on another visit showed us a fascinating slideshow of the fabulous sites, where I memorably said, in disappointment at the Coliseum, "It looks like it's falling down".
The convent sent her to teach in Barry South Wales, and, then, other places in Britain. She became disillusioned, wanting to teach as a missionary, or not at all. So she left the convent and left teaching.
She surprised us all at the age of 53 by announcing that she was getting married, to a man ten years her junior. I didn't go to the wedding: it coincided with me starting my first job after University and I was not sure of timings. Plus, in those pre-Easy Jet days, getting to Northern Ireland was prohibitive, especially for someone in between University and work.
She and John lived in Putney, and when I moved to Streatham and then Brixton, I saw quite a lot of them. She seemed happy. Her work, for a sheltered housing complex was dull, but she had an active social life, meeting with friends to go to concerts and exhibitions, being active in her church, and, together with John, bombarding David Mellor, and then Tony Colman, with letters on a range of social issues (some of which I agreed with, some I didn't).
Four years ago she retired (and John took a 'career break') to move to John's family home in Antrim. This was to look after John's ailing father, who, however, died when the move was in progress.
She was never really happy there. My oldest aunt, Moira, was always muttering about how 'the nun' had made a mistake by moving there. At the wedding of cousin Ginny (fifth child of Auntie Moira) she spent along time telling Jimmy - who has roots in Northern Ireland - how unhappy she was. She made frequent returns to London to meet up with people.
Last year, John phoned Matt to say that Olivia had bowel cancer and secondaries in the liver. Matt's duty was to let the rest of the family know. The surprise was that she lasted so long after the initial diagnosis. The word was that she was depressed and not wanting to talk to people. Auntie Imelda, the second youngest, and a nurse, came over from Florida for some months. A few other people visited - Justin, the oldest son of Auntie Pat (Aunt number 2) - was due to visit last Wednesday.
On Monday night, Trisha, the cousin of my aunts and my father, emailed us to say that the end was near. On Wednesday morning my mother phoned me to say that Justin had phoned her to say that John had phoned him and that Olivia died at midnight on Tuesday/Wednesday.
In Ireland there is an expectation that the funeral will take place within three days. So, thanks to Easy Jet (and, for the Manchester/Nottingham contingent, BMI Baby), we jetted off to Belfast International Airport on Friday.
The weather was bleak. The drizzle was broken up only by heavy showers. A mist hung over the mountains, and Liz and I could not be sure whether or not we had come via the coastal road. Many of our family and Olivia's friends assembled - many could not come because of the short notice. We all commented that it was a good thing it was not happening in Kenya. Many more of John's family also assembled - their cousin, who also lived in the village - had died on Wednesday, from complications of diabetes.
The funeral mass was followed by an interment in the churchyard, and a 'do' at the pub. At other times, large quantities of tea were consumed. It was a thoroughly miserable day to end a thoroughly miserable way to die. It is miserable only to see people at funerals. For the first time I met my father's cousin Barney who had travelled up from Dublin. It is nice to find how easy it is to get on with someone, despite being strangers, despite her being twice my age, despite us being from different countries.
I pondered on the contrasting merits of Putney and Cushendun. Contrast living in a small flat with a gorgeous rambling house. A crowded stressful city or the beauty of the Antrim Glens. Urban architecture or the rolling Sea of Moyle. The peace and tranquillity would be tempting, but for someone who loved culture, to bean hour and a half from Belfast; to have only Ballymena, a one horse town, within easy reach.
One moment of levity - back at the airport I was checking the news headlines on my WAP. The main ones were about terrorist alerts. Liz commented, "Oh well, at least we're not likely to be affected here." I agreed and then we looked at each other. Safe, in Belfast!
You may be wondering why I wrote so much today, a Saturday, when I'm often out and about with Jimmy. He spent most of the afternoon with his father who's in hospital, and he didn't sleep well last night, so has gone off early to bed. After he had been to the hospital he went and had a few too many in the pub and turned up drunk.
Usually when that happens - much less frequently - I get really angry, because I'm on edge, convinced he's spoiling for a fight. It was different today; I know why he got drunk, and I was annoyed at myself for being impatient, intolerant and non-understanding.
He believes his father is dying. He barely eats anything, is as thin as a bone, and lacking in any kind of energy. Jimmy had to spend an hour persuading him to watch the Celtic match the other night. Although he says he's looking a lot better from being overnight in hospital.
I don't know what to do or say. I have to be blunt - I don't like his father. I'm not alone in thinking that he's self-centred, self-serving and manipulative. I have it on good authority that he's always been like that, it's not merely a product of old age.
And he is old - 84. Jimmy is upset that his father is so frail. I can't feel any emotion. I guess I just have to look after Jimmy. And try and make sure he doesn't try drowning his sorrows in whiskey.
We sat up for a while together watching 100 Years, 100 Passions. He was saying how dated some of the old films seem now - although he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of certain films - he claims it was his mother who was the enthusiastic. I suggested that it depends: Casablanca is a classic, but Brief Encounter just looks stilted and irrelevant. Guess what, Brief Encounter is not on the list, but can one really argue with the top three:
Two of my favourites feature lower down: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I cannot remember seeing on terrestrial TV, and the Sound of Music. As one of the talking heads said - that scene in the Gazebo, where they sing "Something Good" -
For here you are standing there loving me, whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good
- is one of the romantic, and whenever I see it I always full momentarily head-over-heels in crush on Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp.
I remembered at the weekend why, until very recently, I was against the idea of getting married. My aunt phoned and left a message, all very nice and how one would expect any normal aunt to react to the news that her youngest niece was engaged. She then said she'd phone my mother. When she did phone my mother she expressed disapproval that it won't be in a Catholic Church or any church for that matter (even my brother is slipping there by having a con-celebrated ecumenical service in an Anglican church). She also made clear her disapproval that Jimmy's divorced.
I don't know what upsets me more: the hypocrisy in being all sweetness on my ansafone and then slagging me off to my mother, or the fact that she thinks she has a right to determine whom and how I should marry. Just because she is a serious Catholic (as is/was my parents) doesn't mean that the Catholic Church has any role to play in my life. And one of the reasons I detest the Catholic Church is because of the sheer bigotry and lack of compassion and realism in the realm of human relations.
I am tempted to ring her up and wait for her to repeat what she said to my mother, then say "Thud! That is the sound of you falling off the guest list." Or to ignore her and let it be known why I am ignoring her.
But I also know that there are plenty of people who share my views about the Catholic church and bigotry (her daughters), or are divorced (my cousin, her niece) or are rational, or don't believe in the extended family (two more cousins) who, nevertheless, would say,
"You know what she's like. She's 82, she's always been like that. Just ignore her, we all do."
Or other people who would think it unbelievably cruel to exclude her from the guest list.
So I guess I shall phone her up and be all gushing and say 'yes," a lot, and if she repeats what she says I shall be firm, but polite and calm, and preface any comments with "With respect...", full in the knowledge that my father always thought her a rather silly woman. Yeah, my father would have expected me to be polite and not temperamental.
I just have to pick my time to ensure that I have an hour to spare and she won't have been drinking (too much).
Mind you, with my sister throwng a tantrum when I said, 'no, I've not made any firm plans but it will be in London', the British Virgin Islands are becoming more attractive.