Not a last blog post...no no no, I am really looking forward to picking up the dovegreyreader reins proper after Easter (the Tinker would have been ninety on Easter Sunday so we will be giving ourselves a special day) and between now and then I have a ton of letters to write. But as a means of creating some sort of closure on here for the events of the last few weeks (though not in life just yet of course) I thought I would share, with those who might like to read it, the Eulogy for the Tinker which the Kayaker and I gave between us.
The service and the day was perhaps the most beautiful we could have ever hoped for. The sun was shining as the Tinker drew up outside his home for one last time, and we were waiting on the lane to meet him. Early on Tuesday morning I had picked armfuls of daffodils from the garden and they looked wonderful sat atop the Union Jack and the between his Arctic Convoy beret and his medals.
I'm not sure how often I may have seen the Parish church at 2pm in the afternoon, but as we walked down the aisle to Rhosymedre, the music that the Tinker had walked me down the aisle to at mine and Bookhound's wedding, the sun was streaming through the stained glass and the atmosphere was perfect.
Does it sound odd to say that we had all wanted to enjoy the day as far as we could, not dread it?
We had given ourselves a long enough gap to prepare and we all hoped for something that would do us all and the Tinker proud and we felt as if we managed that.
All went to plan and I know the sound of the bugles playing Last Post and Reveille will live in my memory for ever. I am more used to hearing them played outside, so the difference in the church quite took me by surprise. Two Royal Marine buglers standing at the back of the church, perfectly in time and the notes just soared up into the nave and wrapped themselves around us so warmly... this after the flags were dipped to the ground and an audible click of heels as the ex and serving Marines in the congregation stood to attention.
We left the church to that most beautiful of piano piece, Farewell to Stromness after which everyone sat and listened to the beginning of The Wind in the Willows, read by Alan Bennett. This was the Tinker's favoured 'Help me Get to Sleep,' audiobook so it seemed right to end with that.
I'm not sure what Eulogies are supposed to say, but I have always known that when the time came this would be my honour and privilege to do, so here is what I had to say about My Dad, and what the Kayaker (Tommy) had to say, on behalf of the grandchildren about the lovely man they all knew as Ganga. The Kayaker was splendid and I held it all together until the very last line...
My lovely, special Dad, where on earth shall I begin?
One thing I know with absolute certainty is that today he would not have wanted me to be maudlin, and he would have absolutely insisted on some laughter… I’ll try my best.
Maybe I’ll begin when my dad was about six years old…
His dad, my grandfather, was a London policeman who regularly did point duty on Tooting Broadway, you might like to imagine that next time you find yourself driving through London. My grandmother would send a 6yr-old Leonard along to the Broadway with his father’s lunch box and a can of tea, and I am guessing, on the assumption that his father was otherwise occupied, my dad would head off to meet his gang for some mischief. I never really heard much about all this mischief but I did hear about the day my dad mysteriously arrived home dragging behind him some really plush, deep pile luxury carpet, just the right size for the hallway. No one seemed to ask the obvious question about where it might have come from, but my grandmother, never one to quibble over free house furnishings, set to and the carpet was laid with great pride along the hallway and there was enough to do the stairs as well.
It was their pride and joy though all became clear when my grandparents pitched up to watch a film at the newly built and fitted out Granada Cinema in Tooting and experienced a remarkable moment of deja vue as they walked up the plush, deep pile, luxury carpeted stairs now bearing an albeit more opulent but nevertheless remarkable similarity to those at 28 Daleside Road. It would seem that as fast as the carpet was going down in the Granada Cinema it was being lifted and finding its way into every home in the neighbourhood.
I’m not sure my dad ever did anything illegal again in his life because anyone that knew him will know he was as honest as the day. It’s easy to say how wonderful someone was after the event…how kind, how generous, how wise, but as a family this was exactly what he was to all of us. Always there, dependable, reliable, and with that eye for the humorous.
Perhaps the greatest blessing for Dave and I and his visiting grandchildren has been to have him living in Tinker’s Cott at one end of our house for the last two years. Having emptied our nest of fledglings we took in a Tinker, as he was known to many. We weren’t sure how it might work out, but as he approached 90 the time seemed right and sensible…we could care for him should the moment come and we quickly realised that this was going to be a time of real joy for all of us. If it moved he ironed it, if it didn’t he’d polish it or give it a coat of paint …he learned how to run a tight ship at the age of 14 and it never left him. He embraced technology in his usual fashion, telling us many years ago he’d be having none of it and then quietly going out one day and buying himself a computer.
‘Hmmmm,’ said I, ‘ switch it on and give me a demo then…’ assuming there might be a bit of a dithering kerfuffle.
Up came his desktop in a flash and there was the symbol for his bank.
‘What’s this?’ I asked with some surprise.
‘Oh, internet banking, it’s so much easier you know.’
When he moved to Tinker’s Cott he would do his shopping online. The Tesco’s chuck wagon would roll up with his supplies and he would set to and cook the most delicious meals in his kitchen. He took his bit of garden in hand too, moving in with things like soil-testing kits and telling us very knowingly that it all needed some ‘beefing up.’ He was a great exponent of something called Zoo Poo and Endsleigh Gardens supplied endless bags of the stuff to the point where we suggested an elephant might be a good investment. We soldiered on with our depleted side of the garden which is why he won the cup for most points in the village show and we did not. Should anyone in future millennia decide to analyse the soil in our garden they might gain a very misleading impression of the animals that roamed the Tamar Valley in the glorious summer of 2014.
I came across him sitting in the midst of his flower beds one day and, as we sat for a natter and a cup of tea overlooking the Tamar Valley he said, very quietly,
‘Do you know I couldn’t be happier than I am at this very minute; I am completely content, whatever life holds next I’ve had all this..’
I had always hoped my dad might experience that sense of complete happiness again, and when he declared it on that summer’s day my heart sang for all of us.
My dad’s life had known sadness, particularly when my brother Malcolm was diagnosed with leukaemia three weeks after his marriage to Cherry. Malcolm died 18 months later at the age of 24 in 1975. And when, some years into my dad’s retirement from British Petroleum, and when they had moved to Teignmouth, my mum Vera slipped into a gentle dementia, he cared for her lovingly and patiently for five long years, and was grief-stricken when she died in 1997. They had met at the NAAFI canteen in Liverpool in 1942, my mum had been serving behind the counter and my dad's ship was in port, marrying in 1947 they almost made it to their Golden Wedding anniversary, almost. This celebration today is a celebration of their lives too, and for the time since 1997 that we have had my dad near us here in Tavistock, and being so closely involved in our lives since he was widowed.
He was immensely proud of and interested in the lives of his grandchildren. Christened Gaga by a very tiny Laura he discreetly inserted the ‘n’ and has been Ganga to all of us ever since…
Nanny and Ganga would have the three of us to stay in Teignmouth when Mum and Dad needed some peace. Long days at the beach and pier arcades left us all with wonderful memories of seaside holidays.
As we grew up he was always there; a calm and stable presence.
He shared his love for The Wind in the Willows and the Lord of the Rings…. which he impressively read 20 times_ and inspired us all to have our own adventures.
Laura achieved her degree, travelled the world, and now enjoys her active life in New Zealand. Ganga was regularly updated via his Ipad of each journey.
Robin and Ganga would share fishing expeditions, when Robin decided he wanted to be a game keeper it was Ganga who bought him Barney his first loyal gun dog. How delighted Ganga was on Christmas day when Robin and Lindsey announced their engagement.
Upon returning from my Gap Decade I strolled in to find an 89 year old highly decorated war veteran happily eating cake and reading the cricket subtitles on sky sports in what had previously been MY bachelor pad.
After two years in Australia I was declared feral and dispatched to a bed in the summer house, but how good it was to see and share his enjoyment of life in our family home last summer. The garden had certainly never looked so impressive….and now I know how!
I had the immense honour to be there when he collected his Ushakov Arctic Convoy Medal from the Russians last December. This was a day when I truly understood the importance of recognising wartime courage.
How thrilled Ganga was to see Laura when she arrived home in his final days. It was an incredibly special time for us all to be together as a family.
My Sister, my Brother and I will each hold his strength in our hearts for the rest of our lives.
My dad’s tenacious hold on life, and his zest for it and with so many things left to do, was undimmed even to the end, and as everyone who was involved in his care will vouch, he took that challenge in his stride too, stoical and uncomplaining as ever.
He had grown a beard for only the second time in his life when he came to live with us. The first was on the Arctic Convoys when shaving was forbidden in the perishing cold. When he moved to Tinker’s Cott the cold was slightly less perishing, but there was far too much to do to waste time shaving.
When we finally talked about his last days, about a week before he died, his first comment was..
‘I shall have to shave my beard off…’
Why?’ said I.
‘Because your mum won’t recognise me!’
He lived with the sure and certain knowledge that he would be reunited with my mum and Malcolm after his death, and I certainly can picture it now… a coffee and walnut cake on the table. Malcolm with the Monopoly board ready, hotels on Mayfair and my dad clutching at the Old Kent Road and saying ‘ How did you manage that then?’ and my mum standing by with the razor… ‘You won’t be needing those whiskers here.’
There is sadness to our parting and our farewell, of course there is… we will miss so much…
The daily and hilarious coffee time…
The bottle of wine shared sitting in the garden on a summer’s evening…
The twinkle in his eye…
The straight-faced telling of a joke…
The intellect that knew no bounds…watch a quiz programme with my dad and be astounded…
But we are saying ‘hello’ to new things too, because already we see his footprints around us…
He took up tapestry after my mum died, kept on winning prizes at the village show, and we are surrounded by the most beautiful pieces as a result…
He secretly planted hundreds of bulbs and seeds we knew not where, but slowly we are seeing them appear…
He mistakenly pressed the button twice, when ordering spring polyanthus online…hundreds arrived, we have the national collection currently looking glorious…
He introduced us to Orkney, islands that now hold a special place in our hearts too. My dad was greatly loved and respected there and candles have been lit for him today in the cathedral of St Magnus.
Already we say ‘ I wonder what Ganga would have said about that…’ and we instinctively know…
And we are immensely proud of the legacy of his war service as a Royal Marine boy bugler which you will hear more of from Dr Tom Keene in a moment.
As we took it in turns to be with my dad through those last nights of his life I lay on the floor by his bed and held his hand, and I was reminded of all those nights as a child when I would shriek out the alarming news that there were definitely sharks swimming under my bed. The next morning he would say to my mum ‘Don’t let her watch that Armand and Michaela Dennis programme any more…’ having lain on the floor at 3am holding my hand and fending off the sharks. Suddenly there I was, laying on the floor, holding my dad’s hand and now it was my turn to fend off the sharks for him.
As the dawn rose I read him a poem that he heard at many funerals and particularly wanted read out at his…
Here it is…
Crossing the Bar
By Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home!
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
He has safely crossed the bar now…forever in our hearts.
Night Night Dad x