Thursday, 31 December 2009


A restless night, not helped by a chesty cough and in the early hours I have visions of going to the drop-in centre at Grindon and getting diagnosed with pneumonia -again. I get up at  2.00 and go to the toilet. At 3.30 I get up again, let some cats out and take two paracetemol. Eventually I get back to sleep and wake up at 6.45.

By the time Susan and I are ready to leave, snow is starting to fall and it gets heavier and heavier as we head towards Gateshead. We're both feeling stressed. We get there safely enough and in good time with only one spat and the snow begins to ease. We've provided our own wreath which I hand over and then get back in the car and wait for the hearse to move off.

Usually at these things, after the funeral itself people either repair to a booked room in a pub or the bereaved's house or something like that. However, as we expected, there's no-one there we know and only about a dozen -mostly staff from the home or people who were acquaintances who hadn't seen my mother for years- so we didn't bother arranging anything.

We follow the hearse along snow-swept streets built on the long descent of a fell. To our right in the distance are snow covered hill tops. The crematorium is set back against the fellside with many mature trees. As we drive cautiously through the entrance we see three grey squirrels scampering around the base of a tree and the sight lifts our spirits somewhat.

Crematoriums always seem modern impersonal buildings, solemn but somehow soulless. Susan and I sit on the front row in the centre directly in front of the coffin. To one side, the Weslyan (Methodist) minister takes the service. He's very good and talks of compassion and the individuality of a life as he goes through the details I provided of my mother's life. It's simplistic of course but I've still managed give him enough of the good things to speak about. I bow my atheist's head at the prayers and even murmur the Lord's Prayer with everyone else.

I stand at the exit and shake everyone's hand. No-one introduces themself and Susan and I leave shortly after.

The weather has cleared up and the drive back is easy. We call in at the North Hylton Trading Estate with its south-facing view of the river Wear to visit Aldi for cat food and Pets At Home for a large sack of wood-based litter.

After a lunch of fish and chips -just the one lot shared between us, Susan goes off to the shop and I have a nap. I'm woken by the Post Office van man delivering two parcels for me. One is a 7-DVD pack of 50's science fiction movies. The other is a CD -Dion: Son of Skip James. I'm in a pensive and melancholy mood and so I put it on.

This is Dion who had a string of doo-wop hits with Belmonts in the early pre-Beatles 60's. He moved on continuing a sporadic career broken by lulls and periods of intensive activity. He's not someone who ever registered on my musical radar until about 5 years ago when I heard an early song of his on an Ace Records (UK) cheap sampler and his powerful voice just stunned me. I resolved to check him out but never got around to it until I bumped into this record while browsing Amazon and listened to track samples.

This was only recorded a couple of years ago when he was in his late sixties and is an astonishing piece of work. With a basic lineup of guitar and harmonica (played by Dion) plus piano, organ, and percussion, he rolls out a string of blues standardsaltering their traditional arrangements as he transforms them into something you've never heard before, making songs as familiar to me as my cats into something new and reborn. The music does match my downbeat mood but is somehow also uplifting and it makes me smile.

And that's all I have to say. No conclusion or moral homilies. Life goes on. Until it doesn't.

This posting appears in both blogs.

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