Another One Bites The Dust

Last Thursday I went to my aunt's funeral. The burial was in Skipton. The cemetery was an open field full of sheep droppings. It was a fascinating day.

Connie , my aunt was the last of my father's siblings. She was the youngest and died mid September at the age of 89. My half brother Mark texted me to say that he was going to see her in Leeds and that she was on the way out. Janet my cousin also texted me to ask if I was going to the funeral and if so would I phone Pippa who was coming up from London.

This threw me as my first wife was called Pippa and we'd been divorced nearly 30 years. I couldn't think why she'd be going to my aunt's funeral. My cousin Nic phoned. He was going to say his last respects to my aunt and if I was going he'd pick me up at Skipton station. The cemetery (aka field) was some way out of town on the edge of the North York Moors. Janet reassured me that this Pippa wasn't that Pippa but the daughter of her brother Michael. I texted Pippa after I'd booked my train and we agreed to meet up.

The burial was at 10:30 am, which meant catching the 6:33 from King's Cross, which involved getting up at 5 am. The people up North have no perception of time or distance. I met Pippa on the train. A lovely young woman with the most blue eyes - a Coidan taint - studying Psychology at University College London. We passed the two and a bit hours to Leeds and thence to Skipton talking about this and that and the family.

My cousin Nic picked us up at Skipton. He had the longest sideburns I've ever seen - he'd been growing them since he'd retired. That's what a superannuated law lecturer does I suppose. Oh, I forgot to mention we were advised to bring wellies - the ground being sodden and  mushy. Except it wasn't.

The cemetery was an open field with a pub near by and a car park. We arrive earlier and got talking to the grave digger. He'd been doing it all over Yorkshire for more than 40 years and his son was carrying on the trade. He told us that he dug over 400 graves a year. My aunt's was the first at this ecological graveyard.

By then the rest of the family had arrived. My cousin Janet and her husband and two children. Her three boy siblings and their families, my half brother Mark and the Methodist priest. We were then herded to the grave side. My aunt's body, in a wicker coffin, was delivered in an e-hearse and carried to the grave side by her sons and Mark. Sheep's droppings were a hazard but the service was dignified, although the music played through a small loudspeaker was lost in the open space.

We all then headed for Headingley. This is where it got interesting. I went with my cousin Nic: he with the Victorian mutton chops. I hadn't seen him since the last funeral - Connie's husband 4 years before and I hadn't had a chance to talk to him then. Previously we'd met at his father's funeral in Cardiff in 2007. That meant we had a lot to catch up on. Which meant Nic wasn't always concentrating on the route we had to take. A journey which the other managed in less than half an hour took us more than an hour. I had an unguided tour of the environs of Skipton visiting the town twice and travelling up and down the road to Headingley before we arrived at the church just in time to hear the eulogies and the blessings.

The "wake" took place in a beautiful community centre- an old school or some sort of Edwardian educational establishment.

I love "wakes". Lots of food: no alcohol this time and so much catching up to do. I hadn't seen any one since the last funeral in Cumbria. I also met a cousin Louise who said alarmingly that she couldn't remember the last time she saw me. Since she was my father's brother's daughter and I hadn't seen him in over 60 years this was quite a feat of memory. There was much talk about my father and the exchanging of stories. I learnt, for the first time, that he was in the Secret Service during the war. When I mentioned I had his discharge papers which clearly stated he was in the Pay Corps for the duration, my cousins said well he would be - that was his cover!

I had to catch the train home. Pippa was staying up the night which was a shame as she was great company and Nic kindly agreed to drop me off at Leeds station. On the way we got into deep conversation again and went round Leeds city centre two if not three times not finding the station. Nic dropped me off somewhere in the centre and I headed hopefully along the main thoroughfare before I hit upon some policemen who pointed me in the direction the station.

And so back to the smoke.

It's different up North. Cities and towns build on great wealth. Even the ordinary houses look grand. The people look different - they're open faced and smiling and the countryside is all around you - even large towns have the wide open spaces in clear view.

I doubt if I'll go north again: it's too alien for this Londoner. It's more comfortable travelling to the large cities of the world than trying to understand what makes the North so unique.


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