I was ten when the man we knew as Uncle Fred Jones came courting my mother. His wife, Aunt Constance, was hardly cold in her grave before his car, panting with love, chugged up the hill to our house.
At first my mother thought he wanted tea and sympathy. Gradually she realized he wanted her to change him from widower to bridegroom. She was horrified. Unfortunately she was too timid to tell him so. Her solution was to lock herself in her bedroom when he came and make us say she was ill.
He must have been accustomed to women being ill because it took him a long time to get the message. We got into the habit of keeping watch for him while we played in the garden. The first glimpse and we’d dash into the house with, ”Mummy, Uncle Fred’s here!” and she’d dash upstairs and bolt the door, leaving us to ‘entertain’ him.
For what seemed like hours Uncle Fred would lecture us about how as young ladies we should behave, then (perhaps to prove to my incarcerated mother what a good father he’d make) chase us up and down the stairs, sometimes with the lid of the coal scuttle on his head, bellowing like a bull and frightening us to death. Having never known a father, we weren’t used to men.
He was a nagger; he was fat; he could snap like a bad-tempered dog; he was, we agreed, an old goat. So we re-named him Naggy-Fatso-Doberman-Jonesie the goat-(Doberman for short). We would take delight in warning my mother of his imminent arrival bycalling out the whole name, including the bit in brackets. We would mutter it to one another and get a fit of the giggles while he preached at us.
Poor Uncle Fred. I know that he was lonely and I’m sure he meant well. But one day he stopped coming and none of us ever saw him again. I suppose he’s dead now – reunited with Aunt Constance at last.
It’s three years since I first saw a red kite and a crow flying together. Crows are often seen chasing kites away from their nests but these two were almost dancing with one another in the sky, swirling off and coming together again in a joyful aerial friendship, moving to watch. On many occasions, especially in the spring, I’ve see them in the distance, calmly inseparable. Apparently they were famous in the surrounding villages – people came from quite a distance in the hope of catching a glimpse of them.
This spring I haven’t seen them. But this evening I saw a lone red kite drifting over the fields with that mewling, desolate cry. Probably it was hungry. Still, I couldn’t help wondering if that cry was prompted by a hunger for more than food. Was it THE kite, no longer with the crow?
Perhaps some people will say self-interest was their motivation for staying together – that their different methods of finding food meant they got more to eat. I think the rareness of such pairings gives the lie to that. Their flight together was so full of joy, I don’t like to think about their grief at being parted. I want them to die together. I know, however, that it’s unlikely.
Robert of Normandy was the eldest son of William the Conqueror, imprisoned till death by his younger brother, intent on usurping the English crown. His grave, topped by an effigy carved from a single piece of bog oak, is in Gloucester cathedral. (In the background to the right is the tomb of Edward II, who met an even more gruesome death in the dungeon of Berkeley castle.)
I think there’s something very moving about Robert’s tomb. From the position of the right leg and arm it looks as if he’s stirring in his sleep and is about to wake. Yet he’s been dead nearly a thousand years. It makes all life seem insignificant, even our own.