Tuesday, 12 August 2014

August 7th

Disclaimer: There is nothing about Venice, or Italy, in this entry. You may find the contents upsetting, and the last thing I want to do is upset anybody. But, quite simply, this is something I had to write...

The cars have arrived, says Caroline. We won't be leaving for another ten minutes, but maybe we should go outside and take a look. Maybe it'd be less of a shock.

Mum and Dad have already left for the church. I'm glad of this. There will be friends there waiting for them, they'll be looked after.

I go outside. I'm feeling ok, shaky, but in control.

There are floral tributes from the family. A wreath in the shape of the Welsh flag. I spot ours, with our card attached. I'd initially thought of a few lines from John Donne, but Caroline's suggestion was better : they shall have stars at elbow and foot. Dylan Thomas' "And Death shall have no Dominion." And then, the coffin. Covered in a Welsh flag.

My sister.

I go back inside. I'm still ok. Just about. Not much time for more than a few deep breaths, and to splash my face with cold water. Then it's time to go.

The church is lovely. Her husband, somehow, reads the eulogy. More than that, he does it brilliantly. And then it's my turn. Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verses 1:6. To everything there is a season. The verses, so familiar, can easily sound like a banal shopping list of the obvious. I dig deep into the words, trying to wrest the meaning from them. Because they aren't banal at all, but perhaps the most beautifully concise expression of our journey through life ever expressed.

More readings, more poetry, more personal memories. Everywhere I look faces are etched with pain.
The final hymn, "Guide me oh thou Great Redeemer".

Then to the cemetery for the interment. A beautiful spot. In an adjacent field a man is racing a pony and gig. The coffin, still covered in its flag, is lowered in. It looks so small. Surely she was taller than this? I pick up a handful of earth, kiss the back of my hand, and cast it in. I think I say something, but can't remember exactly what. Then brush the dust from my hands and walk away.

The wake is easier. All those friends and relatives to speak to and lots of happy memories. There are people I haven't seen since our wedding. Fourteen years, and it took this to bring us all together again...

I knew her for 45 of my 47 years. There has never been a period in my life in which I was not aware of her being. Yet I have to admit that I did not know her as well as her friends and new family. They knew her better than I ever did. For the last 25 years we had lived hundreds, sometime thousands of miles apart. She knew almost everything of interest about me yet there were sides of her that I knew nothing about. I should have made those calls, written those letters, sent those texts...

I expect the next morning to be easier. Instead I pass an uneasy night; music and words from the funeral echoing through my head all night long. I drive Caroline to Luton airport. I still feel raw, bruised, fragile. I'm going off to meet some old friends in Wales for the weekend, but it doesn't seem right. We should be going home together. She gives me a hug.  You need to do this. This will do you good. Hugs and kisses and I drive off.

I'm tired, so tired, so I take it carefully. Hours of driving along anonymous motorways. I channel surf between Radios 3 and 4, but nothing is really engaging me. And then something wonderful happens. At the precise moment of crossing into Wales, Vaughan Williams' beautiful, spectral Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis begins. The sky clears, and the hilly landscape of Powys unfolds before me. So lovely. Equal to anything back home. I wipe away another tear. In 30 minutes there will be the company of friends and laughter. And at this moment, at this perfect moment, it feels good to be alive.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Tourists behaving badly

I try not to moan about tourists. It's not nice and it can sound snobbish. If someone has come all the way from Japan to spend 36 hours here, is it really so intolerable that they can't speak Italian and don't know that they should keep to the right? We're not tourists any more, but neither are we Venetians. We're in a sort of halfway state of "people who've lived here for a bit". So I try not to give visitors a hard time. We were in their shoes once, and we probably got things wrong and annoyed the locals as well.

Nevertheless, there are those moments when you look at the newspaper and think...what did I just read?

If there is an award for "We're on holiday, we can do what the hell we like" it has to go to the couple who were filmed having sex on the Scalzi bridge. In broad daylight. Behaviour which is (a) undignified, (b) uncomfortable and (c) likely to result (for one party at least)  in a sunburnt bottom. For those of you who don't know, the Scalzi is not hidden away in a romantic, unknown part of town. It's next to the railway station, and one of the busiest parts of town. You might as well whip your trousers off in the middle of St Mark's Basilica.

But pride of place for genuinely stupid (if, it has to be said, amusing) behaviour goes to the Kosovan guy who - upon discovering he'd missed his boat back to the Lido - decided he could make his own way home by stealing a vaporetto from the depot and heading off into uncharted waters. He was stopped before getting too far, but - even though this is obviously reprehensible and anti-social behaviour - part of me almost admires the mad ambition of his slightly-the-worse-for wear mind. Can't get home? Why, I'll just borrow a boat. And not just any boat but one the size of a bus! It's a shame he was stopped before hitting the open seas, sailing into an uncertain future to become the stuff of Darwin Awards and Urban Legends.

As I said, I try not to moan about "those people". But as a wise man (let's call him "Pete") once said..."the trouble with those people...is that once you stop being one them...they become a pain in the neck."