I felt – interpreted, sensed, imagined – a disjuncture, as I recently listened to the cremation service of my mother’s aunt. At one point, biblical references were creatively and affirmatively related to the dead woman always having ensured that the (food) cupboards were well-stocked – something about providing for the family, et cetera, et cetera, and so I’m sitting there knowing that this was a woman who was a generally prolific consumer… often received as communicating pride in her personal appearance, in her home, and in much else that no one (except her) really cared about. I found this vulgar, and dubious, to say the least, in what it and she communicated in terms of the Christian values that were said to underpin the service, throughout which, the speaker – a collared churchwoman – spoke without the merest flicker of embarrassment or irony. And so it goes.
Whilst in the north east (above), it was good to reacquaint with the deceased aunt’s husband, daughters, and their families. I also got to hear my mother and sister discussing various local folk’s trials and tribulations. For much of the time, I was left with the sunken feeling (sinking didn’t last very long) that these locals were the cast of soap operas that were routinely so violent, far-fetched and lacking in basic humanity that no outsider would wish to endure their grim narratives. And so I went. Leaving early, my drive back to the Midlands coincided with quiet roads – good thing, autopilot, quick. Whatever it was that I had on the radio – maybe podcasts, possibly Saturday evening Radio Four, I failed to take in – distracted. Sister’s casual mention of the young woman who’d just skipped out of town with her own sister’s husband, that was nothing – that occupied me as far as the end of my mother’s street. The matter of the house with the big shed changing hands, that was with me through to somewhere in North Yorkshire – say, Leeming Bar. It wasn’t so much the house, but more the previous owner. ‘What happened to him?’, I’d asked. ‘He went to prison, didn’t he. D’ y’ not remember?’, said mother. I didn’t remember, I’d never been told. She explained, sort of - ‘Prison - somethin’ t’ do with his step-daughters… y’ know’. His step-daughters, yes, I remembered them - the ones who my own sister used to play with. But for much of the journey, I was thinking about the old friend who I’d run into at the town’s football club earlier that day. As teenagers, we’d played football and knocked about together. At around 16, maybe 17, we drifted apart. My pathway was study and getting away, his was different. He didn’t have the scar when I knew him. Of course, as we caught up, I didn’t mention the line across his face. We talked jobs, where we now lived, and how our footballing allegiances had shifted over the years. His physique told me that it was a long long time since he’d last played football. As sister and I later departed the football club, she explained the old friend’s changed appearance - ‘It was Lenny Fulton that did it’. The name meant nothing to me. ‘He’d be about 40 now, lived down at the bottom of Chapel Street. They got into an argument one night, Lenny just slashed him.’ As sister sought out her car keys, I asked more – why did Old Friend and Lenny Fulton argue, why the violence, and what happened to knife artist Lenny. She explained, ‘It was nowt – drugs probably… He went to prison for it, though he’s dead now - alcohol.’ All of that, and the perfectly horizontal register of it – from just behind the ear, through the ear, across the left cheek, falling just short of Old Friend’s top lip – consumed me across the M62, to the M6.
In around 1990, maybe ’91, I thought it was cute, the way sister – then aged about five or six - would tackle a minced beef pie, as I watched the town’s football team with pals. She would then go and run up and down the undulating hills that flanked the western side of the football ground – all within my sightlines. We’d later jog back home – a distance which must have felt enormous to her short legs. In the same place, now, she explained to me how one of those pals who’d have been with us happened to look like something from a horror film.
For the final, short rainy stretch of the M6, I wondered about Lenny Fulton, about the final words that would have been conjured by and for his kith and kin, and whether his mother's food cupboards would have been well-stocked. My guess was that they weren't.