Last week I went to a funeral. Or rather, I tried to go to a funeral. My Uncle Mike's to be exact. Or rather, to be even more exact, my Mum's late younger sister's husband's. Mike was a cracking bloke, blessed with a fantastic sense of humour, a love of (at various times and probably sometimes all at once) golf, smoking, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the odd libation (I do believe he ran the bar at Rye House stadium for a while). He always seemed to be around when we were kids and I can remember him being an excellent conjuror, something I'm sure he regretted as we always pestered him to get his tricks out whenever we visited. He was also probably responsible for my interest in the blues as I remember as a young teenager picking up a musical reference book from his shelf that explained the nature of the pentatonic scale and the modulations involved. I was fascinated because for once I'd just about grasped some musical theory (it's about the only theory I've retained). The same day he produced Eric Clapton's "461 Ocean Boulevard", something I thought seemed a bit out of place in an "old" person's record collection. I hadn't seen him since my Grandma's funeral in 1996 but he'd rather kept himself to himself after the death of my aunt in 1985. He was someone of whom I had genuinely fond memories and wanted to pay my respects; I had to go.
The funeral was for 10am in Harlow, which was going to be a bugger from Crewe. I borrowed a Satnav, planned the route and set off at 5.30 am. The satnav said I was going to be there at 9.18. Stacks of time. Then it all went arse over tit, a lorry having a wheel changed on the A14/A1 junction, getting stuck behind a hire van and the final straw with 3 minutes to go, the bloody satnav sending me into the council estate next door to the crematorium (apparently, I wasn't the only one this happened to). I missed the ceremony. If it had been my satnav I would have jumped on it. My cousin, Mike's daughter, had come all the way from Sydney NSW and she made it in time. But the rest of the day was great, I met up with some cousins I hadn't seen for years, had a good laugh with them and it was a seriously fun day, which would have pleased Mike no end. I'll be sticking with maps and the traffic reports.
I spent the next few days at the family seat in Kent. I'd not been back since I returned to Crewe at Easter 2008 so it was good to be there, especially on Father's Day. I don't usually go in for all that sentimental card-shop stuff but it was actually good to do the odd son/dad thing, like take bits of my car apart and problem solve together for a change. There is a poignancy there that I don't wish to dwell on but I do hope that one day I shall experience the same as a senior citizen. Ashford has also changed a lot in the last year. It's now a very modern town but despite all the changes, it still retains a distinct character and doesn't look like a generic off-the-shelf town. I do hope they put the brakes on its growth though before it swamps the local villages.
On Monday on my way back up north, I arranged to meet my dearest and sweetest friend, and, when being particularly blonde, occasional feature of these pages, AJ. I haven't seen her since last century. She is what would probably be termed a force of nature; 100 mph one minute and say "I'm really painfully shy, you know" the next. She's also the only person I know that can disappear to Dubai for ten years and come back looking exactly the same age as she was when she left instead of looking like a baked walnut. She'd tried to prepare me for the shock of seeing her again after so long but she needn't have bothered. It was extraordinary and I felt embarrassed for her, I must have looked like a taxi driver who'd been on shift for 36 hours in comparison. But we had an afternoon and evening of enormous fun. But there was one typical AJ moment. She has always loved chillies; I do too but not to the same extent. We used to occasionally share a jar from Selfridges when we worked together - I would have two, she'd have the other 28, in about 15 minutes. We went for a meal on Monday, to an Italian in Amersham. She'd already polished off a couple of doses of garlic oil and ciabatta and then settled down for a plate of spaghetti carbonara. She asked if she could have chillies on it. The hottest. But it wasn't enough for her so she asked the waitress to bring her a bowl of dried chopped ones. She returned a couple of minutes later with a bowl the size of a teacup, brim-full of chillies. AJ took it from her and promptly tipped the whole lot onto her already heat-laden meal and churned it in. The poor girl's jaw visibly dropped, "I've...never...seen...anyone...do...that...before..." she muttered, quite dumbfounded. "I'm so bloody glad I'm not going home with you tonight," I said loudly and quite non-plussed, having not batted an eyelid during the whole episode. I've known this girl for a quarter of a century, nothing ever surprises me. "I'm even more glad I'm not waking up next to you in the morning."
A couple of minutes later:"Wasn't hot enough. Didn't like that". She didn't even break sweat.