Today it's been ten years since my dad's funeral.
Well, that was a day to never forget.
At the time I thought I was coping pretty well, but looking back I can see that I was a mess.
Hugely disorganised as always. Beforehand I was racing around to get shaved, washed and changed in time. Apparently, my dad possessed skills of organisation that I had not inherited. He had planned the specifics of his funeral several weeks earlier, indeed so effectively that now he could just lie back and relax while it all happened around him.
Come the hour, as the limo was pulling up outside our house, along with umpteen other friends, neighbours and relatives, inside I was frantically scurrying around trying to figure out how to audio-record the service. Apparently some short ceremony was performed in front of the coffin outside by a man from the undertaker's, but I missed it.
Eventually one of the funeral team came into my bedroom to see if he could assist me. He wound up carrying out in front of everyone my enormous battered 1980s ghetto-blaster and putting it into one of the vehicles. I got in the limo with a great amount of other audio kit, batteries, leads and microphones, and spent pretty well the entire journey trying to work out a way in which they could be plugged into each other to record the service. And I wasn't even sure if I would afterwards really want to retain a recording of such an event.
Pulling up to the crematorium, I could see a huge crowd of people waiting outside for us. Somewhere among them were my best friend, and my oldest friend. I had actually wanted there to be three of my friends in attendance. I think it's perfectly normal in such a circumstance to suppose that the deceased might in some ethereal way be invisibly in attendance, and if so I wanted Father to see that I had friends who he recognised, and that I would therefore be okay.
For some reason I scoured the group for a specific third friend, who I hadn't seen for a few years. I don't know why, but a part of me had hoped that he would have somehow heard about Father, and come along for my sake. I couldn't see him. Well, two friends was good too.
Heading into the chapel first had its advantages. I got straight to the front and immediately sussed out where to hide my two tape-recorders (one was a back-up) and be reasonably sure of getting good sound. Once they and their associated leads and microphones were recording, I entered the front pew, and my only father's funeral began.
Our vicar - a cheery vicar-type vicar if ever there was one - led it, and within minutes we were singing the first hymn. After this I was supposed to be doing a reading. However I couldn't. I hadn't rehearsed it, and was paranoid that I would somehow stand up and read the wrong passage. Or collapse in floods of tears or something. Not that I felt like doing that, but I was very conscious indeed of how emotionally out of my depth I was. Forever. No problem, I thought, I'll just catch the vicar's eye and indicate that I need him to read it instead. He'll understand that.
Although he was standing barely a yard in front of me, at no point during any verse did the clergyman's gaze ever fall in our direction. Perhaps this was intentional - giving the departed's immediate family some privacy. All the same, as the hymn continued, in my edgy state I found that I was now attempting to do three things at once:
1. Sing the song.
2. Catch the vicar's eye.
3. Rehearse the reading. Yes, while singing the song and looking at the vicar.
In the midst of this uncharacteristic multi-tasking, I could also tell that I was missing out on the experience of my father's funeral. I'm sure that for some this would be an experience that they would like to disconnect from, but for me it was a part of my relationship with Father.
Anyway, the hymn ended, and I now had to leave the pew to do the reading.
I quietly began to walk up towards the lectern, Bible in hand. Behind my back I perceived a disquieted silence among the congregation. I felt as though they were muttering to each other "That's the son," and shamefully gulping back all their positive-mindedness in fear at how a man surely as devastated as I must be might hit back at it.
"So do not worry, my people Israel, for here are detailed instructions for the ritual cleaning of lepers..."
Well, no, I didn't really say that. I'm afraid I did the correct reading instead. In fact I may well have done two, I can't remember now. I could stop typing to go and check the tape back, but it doesn't matter. As I made my way down again afterwards, just as I was about to turn back into the front pew, the very last thing that I glimpsed was the third friend who I had looked for outside the front earlier. He had heard. He had come. He was sitting at the back. I won't pretend that that meant more to me than it really did, but it was a source of encouragement.
Presently I also returned to the stand to deliver the remembrance of my dad that I had written, and I'm not ashamed to say that my piece about him deliberately went for getting some laughs. Afterwards I heard that one person had been upset by it. Oh well, my dad had had a sense of humour, and looking back I don't know how I never really noticed it until after he had gone.
For the second half of the service, the pressure of performing was off, and I was able to start experiencing this once in a lifetime service. Nowhere near as much has remained in my memory from the second half.
Afterwards there was milling around among so many people outside. I hope to never forget the sight of one of my cousins standing in the sunshine with an enormous smile on his face. That's my family - what else are you gonna do but choose to focus on the pleasant? A year later I was to find our positions reversed at his father's funeral. Today was, therefore, also the last time that I saw AuntieJoanandUncleEric together.
I wanted to take photos of everyone - something my dad used to do at funerals - but I was afraid of intruding on people's feelings, so didn't. I regret that - present were relatives from both sides of the family, who thanks to distant English geography I had never before witnessed meeting each other.
That afternoon there was a reception at the theatre where Father had worked. Initially I hung around with my friends, but presently had to excuse myself, explaining that I didn't want to miss the experience of attending my father's funeral reception.
So then it was time to circulate the room, meeting so many new people who had known my dad in different contexts. I met my cousin on my mum's side for the first time - Father would have been pleased about that. I also met one of Dad's colleagues from when he had worked at Hampton Court.
At most of the funerals that I have attended there has been an open friendliness among those present, and this was no exception.
It was hard to believe that we had all got together in honour of this man, and tragically missed his also being able to attend by a mere couple of weeks. Such lousy timing.
It was also hard to believe that, given the importance that we all placed upon him, we would never again gather together in respect of our common association with him.
As I said at the start, that day was ten years ago today. I am blessed that life has not only continued, but also not changed very much. For a couple of years I thought about my dad a lot. Then for a couple for years I thought about him very little. Now I seem to have levelled out. I don't miss him, but my thoughts probably touch on him at some point most days. Of course they do - he remains a big influence on my life.
But for me, the feeling of that day ten years ago is summed up by a mental picture.
It's a picture of a relaxed crowd of friendly people standing in a country lane, with a beautiful distant mountain range visible beyond the horizon. They're all saying good bye to each other, shaking hands, and slowly dispersing. They are all heading for the same destination - those beautiful mountains in the very far distance - but naturally choosing differing routes. Some will take the roads, others are climbing over the kissing-gate to cut across a field, and I guess others will find other means, like following streams on horseback. Some will remain together, others will walk alone. Some will get lifts part of the way. Sometimes their paths will happily cross. And we'll all arrive at different times.
But one day, we will all be together again, reunited with the guy we all knew who has been airlifted ahead of us, to beyond the mountains.