"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
A week full of fun and sombreness, sometimes both at once. Work took me south, north and east – to That London for a meeting of NPD and BBC bods; to Wilmslow for a workshop; to Derby for a meeting of the Living Derby board.
Staying over with small friends, I made sure they were equipped for Red Nose Day.
Nostalgia, as they say, isn’t what it used to be – but I enjoyed my trip back to Clumber Park, where I used to work as the National Trust’s Regional Archaeologist. This time I was not working out how Roman field systems worked, but how to approach poems about food. Friday morning also took me to old haunts – a quick visit to Birmingham to meet with my new mentee. She’s a lovely poet looking for a bit of support and advice to move on, in what we laughingly call a poetic career. I hope I can be a useful mentor.
At the top end of the mentoring scale was Laurie ‘Grim’ Grimley, who helped many rookie boaters into the cut – sometimes literally. At the boatyard, Laurie was our resident twinkly-eyed curmudgeon. He died last week but it was a triumph that he lasted so long. An early heart transplant patient, he was frankly told in 1983 to expect ‘at most another five years’ from his new heart. He got twenty-six. He was a proper character – sitting like a hobbit in the chandlery, cackling with glee when someone cocked up, but offering real knowledge and support when it was needed. He was a very fine example of courage in the face of constant pain – when you asked how he was he always replied ‘Not too foul.’
So on Friday, as I stood at the boatyard wondering if I could make it through the funeral address I was about to give, I had to grin when the hearse pulled up. In the back was a bright blue, boat-shaped cardboard coffin painted to look like Laurie’s boat, and with the words NOT TOO FOUL painted across it. Someone standing next to me wiped his eyes and said ‘of course, they’ve got the windows all wrong’. I love this community. Laurie entered the crematorium to Another One Bites the Dust, and made his exit to Sailing By – the music that ends the shipping forecast. Then we all got pissed. Laurie’s boat was called Dum Spiro Spero – ‘while I breathe, I hope’, and his extra decades of life and laughter were a gift from his heart donor. If you only do one thing today, visit the NHS Donor Register and sign up.
The Joyce Grenfell poem I read ends, ‘But life goes on – so sing as well’ and life did go on. As a brilliant end to the week, chapel-dwelling friend Kirsty visited. She is learning about clouds at the moment so we went to look at some on a walk around Chrome Hill. There was a splendid lunch in Buxton, some really good conversation and quite a lot of wine. My alcohol-free Lent is not lasting too well, but life really is too short. No-one stands up at your funeral and says, ‘Gosh, she was good at her job – and do you know, she always kept her kitchen spotless!’ What will survive of us, as even Philip Larkin knew, is love.