Monday, 31 October 2011
Letter to a Dead Husband.
I thought of you as I photographed this, and I said to our elder son, 'Dad would have loved this'. He said, 'Yes, he'd probably have fallen out of the cable-car trying to see it better'.
It's the beginning of a new shed, half way up a mountainside in Kazakhstan.
You never went there. You never knew that your son lives there now, although you visited him in Moscow where you were entranced by the drainpipes, great gleaming drainpipes that disgorge snow and slush over the pavements.
You liked drainpipes and sheds and the practicalities of building useful structures.
You would have really enjoyed this one. You'd have been determined to get up the ski-slopes for a proper look, and you would have have wanted to join anyone who was building it, to see how they make the logs interlock securely.
These things mattered to you.
I think you knew that our younger son would become more like you, become something of a Shed Man, an enthusiast of alternative energy sources. We had to dissuade you from attempting to colonise the nearby railway embankment with wind turbines based on old bicycle wheels.
You never knew that this son is married, has been for over a year, and that you have a beautiful daughter-in-law.
You were the ultimate recycler. Your garden structures are still safely here, built of old railway sleepers, recycled carved stone, and a vast range of materials pulled from roadside skips.
Oh, how you embarrassed me with your inability to pass a skip without removing something from it. But your buildings are still here, uniquely so, and, dare I say it, improved by my ministrations? I keep the stained glass windows free of cobwebs, I have stained the insides in subtle National Trust colours, I have put in rattan furniture and cushions and I hold tea- parties in there. You would be rather disapproving I'm afraid. The sheds have lost their masculine edge. Some things have changed because they have to.
Exactly five years ago, almost to the minute as I write this, you died.
It was a morning like this, with hazy sunshine and glorious glowing autumnal colours.
For me I think it felt like the peaceful end of a life richly and unconventionally lived; an appropriate end to a period of confusion and distress. But I am looking back over five years of a different life, and my perspectives have changed. It really may not have felt like that at the time.
For you, as one of the most devout Roman Catholics ever, it was miraculous timing. You would be up there for the greatest annual heavenly celebrations, All Saints on the first of November - the great get-together of those purified and safely arrived.
If, by any chance, you had been delayed there was another celebration on November the second, All Souls, for those on their way, but not yet fully purified.
I have the strongest possible feeling that your time with us would have provided valuable if somewhat unexpected elements of purification. That's what marriage and parenthood do for us all.
As well as our thoughts of you on the mountains, your son and I lit candles for you here:
(Cathedral of the Ascension, Almaty, Kazakhstan)
You would have been totally captivated by this wonderful building. It is made entirely of wood.
You are with us in our thoughts, in places where you have never been as well as in all those you knew and loved so well.