I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations, responses, apologies, and - more recentlyly - learning to sing. I hold posts to 300 words* finding less is better than more. I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

A goodbye and a hug

Yesterday people gathered in Tunbridge Wells to affirm Heidi's life. We were late. We missed the actor reading Manley Hopkins' Pied Beauty, missed Joe's choice of hymn, God Moves In A Mysterious Way (minus the dodgy verse), but  heard Caroline and Jenny Bush celebrate their mother in quiet voices. Ending with four lines from Milton's Lycidas:

And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the western bay:
At last she rose and twitched her mantel blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

As one who regards the possession of a soul as an unlikely luxury, I was comforted by the celebration's general view: that the only permanence is how others remember us. VR had described Heidi as "cheeky" in facing life's difficulties. I remembered Heidi's face challenging me in conversation; best not to be a fool because she didn't suffer fools gladly. A challenge I happily accepted.

Beyond the chapel, Joe emboldened by painkillers against his wretched ailment, wearing a tie, moved down the line of celebrants. I dared myself to hug him - the first time I've ever hugged any man in my life. And he, catching at the awkwardness, drew away afterwards in mock surprise: "Robbie!"

At the house we shared brief memories of Breton holidays with Joe's children, Pippa and Toby, now ridiculously assured adults. But after less than an hour VR and I had to be away. Joe protested, he wanted to talk about "writing". I chided him: now was no time to recreate a Blogger's Retreat dialogue, to exclude his other friends.

But we had another reason for leaving, heavily ironic. To do as much of the return journey in the light. For light had been the curse from Hereford to Kent. For nearly five hours I had driven east, against a capricious low-lying winter sun waiting in ambush round each curve of the road. A glare so intense it was like entering and re-entering the doors of a furnace, blotting out all reference points, my streaming blepharitic right eye trying to cope,  picking out shreds of reflection, a quarter-second view of the kerb.

Made worse by a satnav which took us down short-cuts choked by commuter traffic. On a dual carriageway near Bracknell we entered one of those jams which only south-east England can nourish, a long, long, constipated turd of a jam in which all our marginal time was dissipated. At this rate we would miss everything and we talked of turning back. Suddenly the reason for the jam became apparent, we were through and the satnav - performing heroically - took us round tiny rural roads on TN's outskirts delivering us quarter of a hour late.

The return journey went smoothly, Until, out on the M4, I recognised a legacy of the morning's excesses: milli-second pauses when - at 70 mph - I kept falling asleep at the wheel. Does coffee help or is it a myth? A bowl of Costa Americano, toxic in its strength, worked a miracle.

Changed into my PJs at home I was remarkably relaxed. An ordeal but glad we persisted. I reflected on "ordeal" and noticed it resembled the far more evocative "odyssey". A journey made against difficulties towards a worthwhile and emotional goal. Turning back would have been a weak end to the day. The act of a timorous fool. And fools... As I say, I agree with Heidi.

The above exceeds 300 words. But I'm making an exception here.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. So glad you were there, it was in and out of my thoughts, though I wasn't certain of the day. I'd have asked you to give Joe another from me, but that might have been pushing it!

    And glad you're back safe and sound. Love to you both.

    (First comment deleted owing to annoying typo, otherwise identical.)

  3. Lucy: It is within my power to delete your first comment. But looking back I conclude yesterday was definitely a day when man proposed and God disposed. "pused" sounds like more of the same and I fear it must remain, as a form of propitiation

  4. I deeply appreciated the hug and if I seemed surprised I will make up for it next time with a more enthusiastic one for you and VR. Thank you for your description of the event which is still circulating in our minds. So sorry you couldn't stay longer and thanks for coming all that way. It made a big difference that you both should have been there.

  5. I too am happy to read about your being there to say goodbye to Heidi. We met just that one day when in England and felt like old friends. I hope Joe is doing well, thankfully with family and friends around.

    Glad you made it home safe too. I never did fully trust those satnavs.

  6. A very moving piece Mr RR. More moving than the traffic by the sounds of it. You should do more hugging - I find hugging men very therapeutic!

  7. A tough day, but so important for friends to bolster each other.

  8. Sorry for your loss, Roderick. Though I don't know any of the people mentioned, I appreciate this post for its sincerity and commitment to friends. Being there matters.

  9. Joe: I was all ready this morning to cut this account by two-thirds, worrying that I had distorted what had been a day of emotional extremes, that I'd injected too much ego, that our story was irrelevant compared with yours. That for once I should accept the conventions.

    But anything that involves the two of us inevitably has literary overtones. When it was over I found myself dwelling on Ulysses and its wider base. So pretentious of course but I couldn't rid myself of the truths of a great novel and an occasion which seemed to illustrate those truths. The Odyssey is not of course the arrival but the way the arrival is given extra meaning by what precedes it.

    I hated missing the Hopkins and the hymn and we slid into seats at the back determined - in true Brit fashion - to be inconspicuous. To fit in. But I am, I hope, always open to persuasion. Those quiet voices which I strained, through deafness, to listen to. They were unexpected and they forced me to recognise a different view of Heidi, as was intended. A line jumped out of the native American's prayer ("Think of me sometimes, But not too much."). Hesse reminded me of something both you and I appreciate - that there are languages other than English. And then the Milton - of whom I know nothing - ended with a phrase I knew only too well. Which might in another context have seemed a cliché but given its true context talked tremulously of the future.

    I wanted to stay with you and with Toby and Pippa - both of whom gently indulged me my bombast - but as in the Odyssey there were other forces.

    It means a lot that you were able to respond to my perhaps incoherent account. But I think Lucy has the final word on the matter of hugging.

    M-L: I won't hear a word against the satnav, it merely presented us with options which we were free to accept or reject. When it really mattered, over the infinitely complex final three miles, it led us to our destination like a guardian angel - a very unexpected simile I think you'll agree. Far better on this particular day to have distrusted the sun which tortured both of us exquisitely for well over two hundred miles.

    B2: Given that you cannot know any of the participants I'm particularly pleased you were moved. As to hugging, I can't pretend I'm a convert. Lucy, whom I'm honoured to say I have hugged, has the last word on this.

    RW (zS): A key word! I didn't hug Joe, I bolstered him. I think a new metaphor has entered the thesaurus I share with Joe.

    Natalie: As with B2, I'm pleased you were touched by the play even if the Dramatis Personae were (was?) new to you. Your conclusion is far less wordy than mine, but even truer: being there mattered.

  10. Very sorry for your loss RR, and happy to find the missing been.