Tomorrow I leave Lyme Regis and travel to Newport in south Wales, mainly to visit family and friends. That's how it usually is when I pitch the caravan in Newport - I may get a day entirely to myself, but family and friends have priority. And this time, every day is spoken for, because what would have been a free day is now going to be devoted to attending a funeral.
I learned about it when phoning Peg, my very old and frail aunt who lives in Newport, a couple of days back. Mavis had died. She had been in a care home, a pleasant one. And when I saw her there last year she looked fine. But although very comfortable and well looked-after, she had nothing to do, or plan, or think about; and, removed from the everyday business of running her own home, I feared that she might go downhill. Evidently she had.
Peg still lives in her own home, and although in some ways that may be a challenge, she is surrounded by all her own possessions, her own furniture, all the many familiar things, and remains responsible for her own daily routine. I am certain that the mental stimulus this gives is keeping her going in way that sitting around watching television all day, in the anodyne company of other white-haired old ladies, cannot. In fact, if I can possibly manage it, I will do my best to stay at home in my dotage, even if I have to spend a small fortune on helpers. Preliminary figurings suggest that I will have enough money for that. I just need to beat off all the dire diseases that want to spoil my little game. And then, one evening many years from now, it would be nice to simply doze off over the keyboard, never to reawake. I hope I'll have just published the blog post in which I describe a profound insight I've had, a flash of realisation that explains the meaning of life. Let me click on that 'Publish' button before I drift off. It won't matter if I haven't fully corrected the typos!
Back to Mavis. I should mention that this is a lady that I'd met only now and then, mostly before 1980. And, like Peg, she was really an 'honorary aunt', and not a blood relation. But when I was a child, she was indistinguishable from my 'real aunts', just as her husband, Len, was indistinguishable from all the 'real uncles'. At one time, if one had made a list of relatives real and honorary, it would have been a long one. But now, in 2015, very few of Mavis's generation remain. In essence, Peg is, as of now, the sole survivor. You can imagine how she feels about that.
Another thing I should tell you is that back in the 1940s, Mum, Peg, Mavis and a fourth lady called Nesta were all close friends, all of them but Mum aunts to me. And their husbands - Dad, Wilf, Len and Trevor - were, apart from Dad, all uncles. Mum, Peg, Mavis and Nesta were something of a gang. They were in their twenties, and pretty lively. As the decades passed, and their families grew up, they kept in touch, and in their older lives in the 1970s and 1980s went on holiday together. Mum and Nesta both died in 2009. And now Mavis, another member of that Gang of Four, had followed them.
As soon as I heard, I wanted to attend Mavis's funeral. I'm now at that age when a funeral, even a neighbour's funeral, means much. So, for my own sake, the decision was instant. But even if I'd felt reluctant, I would have felt bound to go. This lady had been Mum's lifelong friend. Mum (if still alive) would have said to me, 'I can't make the journey now, but could you go instead?' Of course I could. I'd be there to represent Mum. Pure and simple. And I'd be there with Peg, though not taking her - her son Richard was being her chauffeur.
Why might I be in any way reluctant to go? Well, when I'd seen Mavis (with Peg) at that care home last year she hadn't recognised me. I wasn't embarrassed because it wasn't surprising - it must have been twenty years since our last meeting. I didn't attempt to explain who I was, and let her think that I was perhaps Peg's niece. But that wouldn't do at this upcoming funeral. Her two daughters Carole and Pam (with husbands) would be there, and they'd be wondering who that lady standing with Peg and Richard could be. They too hadn't seen me for twenty years. They too were unlikely to recognise me. They were certain to ask. And how they would react, when I explained who I was, would be anyone's guess. I hoped it would be a good reaction, but I had no idea what might really await me. It's not quite a scary thought, given the constraints of the occasion, but a negative response would be upsetting all round.
At least I will be properly dressed for the occasion. In the the caravan is a very suitable black-and peach dress, and a black jacket and shoes to go with it. I'd had in mind some posh dinner out, and not a funeral, but I certainly have the right kit with me. Nobody will be able to say that I'd come - disrespectfully - in rambling togs or beach gear.
On the whole I am looking forward to this funeral. I'm quite sure Mum would appreciate my going. I will try hard to be a credit to her - as well as providing another arm for Peg to hold onto, as she may find it all rather exhausting.