We had a disturbed night’s sleep at my father-in-law’s cottage in Cumbria recently. Before the crack of dawn when, he, Jock, my father-in-law, one time desert rat, loving, faithful husband, father, grandfather, hurried us awake because he couldn’t find his trousers. It sounds comical but he’s ninety-six and his short-term memory is not what is was and his carer had put them in the wash basket and his clean ones had fallen off the hanger into the gloom of the wardrobe. He was agitated and Ian and I staggered out of bed to join the hunt and calm was restored.
Jock has lived in this village for 68 of his years, having moved there from a neighbouring village, went to school, was a chorister in the choir, went off to the war and returned to bring up his family and serve the community in the village Cooperative shop, and as a Sub Officer in the Fire Brigade, growing his own vegetables and gardening for others to make ends meet, he buried his father, mother and his beautiful, beloved Noemi, a prize he brought home from the war, and until recently he kept their graves neat and trim with fresh flowers weekly. But whilst he might be able to recognise every stone and lintel, has called it home through the second world war, Suez crisis, Bay of Pigs incident and other world conflicts, joined the coronation celebrations for three monarchs, the shock of an abdication, rock and roll, the death of Churchill, the man on the moon, and 9/11, this village isn’t the place he once knew. The handful of friends who remain are as frail and housebound as himself.
There are a lot more houses now all tastefully built to blend with local sandstone and the existing structures. But they are not the dwellings of the offspring of his past friends and neighbours no, they though born and bred there, are priced out of the village. These ‘little boxes’ are the haunt of incomers who have no loyalty to the village but merely exist in it ignoring local interest and anyone who doesn’t meet their social aspirations.
So the people who walk past his gate day-to-day and if they notice him at all walking up and down his path, the only exercise he can get because he is partially sighted now, rarely stop to say hello or pass the time of day ensuring that he is isolated and alone for many hours of the day gradually loosing touch with even what remains of his old life.
Jock isn’t, despite his physical frailty, lacking in his mental faculties, a little slower perhaps, but he is still astute, never complains and those who do enjoy the pleasure of his company always leave laughing because his jokes, some old I’ll grant you, but more often plucked from the day-to-day are just as sharp as they ever were.
The irony is that the incomers come to the countryside for a quieter life, a slower less stressful pace but they continue to dash off in their four by fours, to the gym, exotic holiday or shopping in the local town and filling their dormitory homes with every new must have object that will along with themselves eventually fade and become living wall paper as invisible as dear Jock.
I don’t want to leave it too late to express my admiration of this dear man, the current trend of the media and the public to lionise and praise those that die, unexpectedly or inevitably, turning them in to plaster saints, deserved or not, it is not my place to judge, is something which always prompts me to wonder if they thanked the deceased or told them what they felt whilst they were still alive.