Flying Away

dancing to blue beat

In these Twittering days of virtual community it’s refreshing from time to time to be reminded of how Simple it all is on one level.

Earlier this week I went to Brum for the memorial service of one of my best friends’ mum. Her body was being flown to Jamaica the next day to be buried beside her siblings.

Mrs G. was born in St Ann in the hills behind Ochi on the North coast in the mid 30s. She came to Britain in the 50s and became a district nurse. From the family stories it’s clear she engaged with enabling technology – she bought a car, passing her test with some trouble, using the machine to get her to family events in Manchester, Aylesbury, Leicester, wherever her family had landed.

I first met her when Nigel and I were at college together, a couple of years apart. The first time he brought me to meet his family Mrs G put on an old style Jamaican spread and I remember how lovely she was when she found out I don’t eat pork, fussing in the most maternal way despite my protestations that it was no problem at all. So my first encounter was all about the tradition and culture of home, caring, sharing food and welcoming friends.

In 1996 I met Mrs G again after she had retired back to Jamaica. She built a beautiful home in Ocho Rios. My strongest memories – the first hummingbird I ever saw (in her garden) and the young cousins razoring their hair in her front room to be cool for Nigel’s wedding. She built that house with her own energies and set off for Jamaica alone while her other half acclimatised himself to the idea back in Yorkshire (re-joining her a while later). So this second landmark in my memory was one of family gathering, coming home and strength of will.

The memorial service brought a big crowd to a declining Victorian church in Perry Bar, outside Birmingham. There were three other white faces in the crowd. So the hymns were lively and the sense of community strong, well turned out representatives of all the generations gathered, from the elderly brother-in-law with the handle-bar moustache to the nine year-old grand-daughter who read a poem with her daddy, my friend, at her shoulder, just as he stood at his younger brother’s shoulder, his arm around him, as his brother spoke eloquently and emotionally of the qualities of his determined, caring, fun-loving mother. (I like to picture her shaking a leg to a blue beat tune at some family gathering she got to in that hard-earned car. I dug out a couple of early 60s Jamaican (or as the sleevenotes say “from the British West Indies” “where the Queen’s English is spoken” – I kid you not) calypso records from my collection and gave them to Nigel as a reminder of his mum’s youth.) At the end of the day there’s no substitute for the real and the slow, the unmediated present and the human warmth, the simple pain and pleasure.

To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away

2 comments so far

  1. Campbell on

    What a cool post! I could see it all just like a movie.Very moving man!

  2. ArkAngel on

    Campbell, you can see everything like a movie! Appreciate the feedback from Someone Who Knows

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