Thursday, 30 July 2009
Always and Forever, Brother...
My Godfather, J, died of a brutal cancer a week ago tomorrow. It was to be a quick parting. Little did we know it but we had only five weeks from diagnosis to his passing to say goodbye.
J will be much missed. An integral part of all my family's life. A solid fixture in the Hexham way of life. I know now that when I look at the rolling Northumbrian hills - I will think of him.
My parents had known him from school. He was my father's best friend. And as I write this I feel the tears welling up inside me.
This is my father's tribute to him, at his graveside, two days ago:
"I'm going to talk about J and friendship.
He was cheerful, encouraging and appreciative.
He thought well of others; he did not criticise or condemn; he was unselfish to others - happy to praise their good qualities and abilities, and able to enjoy their good fortune if any came their way.
He was big-hearted. His loyalty was unstinting.
He was open-hearted. He was always welcoming.
I used to phone on alternate Sunday mornings to call in for a coffee and a discussion.
"Alright to come along?" I would ask. He always replied, "You're most welcome".
If my wife, or one of my daughters came with me, he would say, "Nice to see you, pet".
It was never just a chat and a gossip with us - after an initial prologue of minor things we got into the state of the nation, educational system, and the world of ideas - heavy stuff.
B, when present in his teenage years, would roll over on the couch, cover his head with a blanket and go to sleep.
J was nobody's fool - with his intellectual ability and clear sightedness he saw through most pretence, prejudice and affectations.
He was his own man with measured thought and measured opinion.
Popular enthusiasms and fancies were not on his road.
Those, who demand others to say and do as they thought proper, were to him - using his phrase - "Liberal Fascists".
That is not to say he was without his foibles. He had lasting enthusiasms - in very active years - golf - with a famous victory at Turnberry - he scooped the sweepstake and wined and dined in the hotel later - on the proceeds; but always horses and betting, films and books and what came most naturally - talking.
One might say, at times, these passions lead to a certain repetitiveness. I have heard some of his stories on more than one occasion.
As regards films he could get carried away. As Secretary to the Film Club in South Shields he produced a showing of the Franz Kafka's "The Trial" - a hard two hours I might say both on the mind and on the backside - most of the audience did not wait that long. J, of course, was unrepentant.
His favourite film directors were Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Kurasawa. His favourite Ford movie was "The Searchers". John Wayne, as Ethan Edwards, spends years searching the Indian lands of the mid-west for his abducted niece. In the final scenes she is returned to her family. John Wayne stands watching from the open doorway with the wide, bare country behind him. He then turns and walks off into the distance - his job done, he has finished what he set out to do.
I'd like to think that of J - he has left with his work and life as a whole.
And again another film he enjoyed was "Some Like It Hot". He smiled delightedly at the final line - when the millionaire multi-married Joe. E. Brown finds his new girl-friend (Jack Lemmon in a frock and a wig) is not a woman and says, "Nobody's perfect".
His progress in life was not without its ups and downs but he carried on with cheerful fortitude. He came from the Stoic school of philsophy learned from his childhood in the less well-off working class areas of South Shields. You just got on with it.
After retiring, he gave much time to the Hexham Music Festival and part time teaching to young children who needed help with their early literacy. He was most affectionate and concerned for them. They were encouraged to call him "J". Each was special for him.
Clever as he was, he was modest and depreciative of his abilities. He admitted he was not the world's best at Do-It-Yourself. I think he only ever used a pen - no hammer or spanner I ever saw. Yet as a student, during the summer holidays, he worked in a shoe-repair factory and dry-cleaning works. His father made anchor chains in the shipyards. His mother made the best mince pie I ever tasted. He never allowed his Oxford education to get in the way of his appreciation of people no matter what their background or abilities.
It's good to say that his last decade with M brought great love and comfort. He was latterly able to enjoy and celebrate J Junior's marriage to E, and B's success in his final exams and his enrolment for a future MA degree course in Music.
In his final days, his sister, G and much-loved niece, C-A, were with him (from Canada).
He was a good man, a gentle man - a special friend.
To finish, I will go back to the years when J and I did Latin verbs together, and I shall borrow from Catullus my parting words -
Semper in perpetuum, frater,
Ave atque vale
Always and forever, brother,
Hail and Farewell "