Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Uncle Adrian.

My uncle Adrian passed away last week. He was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas a few weeks before Christmas, and the prognosis was not good from the outset. I suppose it was a mercifully brief illness, but a cruel one nevertheless. I've spent the past week thinking what I knew about him, and the outcome was - remarkably little. This is mainly because he lived in Deepest Essex, along with my aunt Margot (my mum's sister) and my cousins, and we only ever got together at rare family dos.
Adrian was a kindly, quiet figure, who, in my experience at least, had the ability to make himself unobservable - not quite invisible, but rather the capacity to make himself so comfortable in a place that he became part of the furniture, and thus unremarkable.
He suffered from considerable health problems for a  very long time, but I don't intend to go into any detail about that here, as I don't feel it's my place to do so. It's customary to say 'he battled against this or that' or 'she fought bravely with..' at this stage, but I don't think that is the correct vocabulary to use here - rather, his health problems became a part of him, something that had to be lived with, and that is probably a truer description of all those that live with chronic problems.
I only went to their house once: To be honest, I don't think Roald Dahl could have dreamed up such a place. It was a large Victorian house set between farmland, a quarry and a golf course. It had fences thirty feet tall surrounding it, mainly to prevent golf balls from said course smashing the windows. To my eyes, the word 'rambling' could have been invented to apply specifically to the building. I ended up staying there for a week, and it is from that time, thirty years ago now, that this poem below springs. It's a snapshot of one event, and of a man before his health began to fail, whe  he was younger than I am now. I've been fiddling with this poem for a week now, and I'd rather put it up now before I fiddle it to death. I've already shown Aunt Margot, as I felt she should see it before I go displaying it to all and sundry.
Safe Journey, Adrian.
Gun’s back broken, carried and cradled
In one arm with weak Essex sun gleaming
On barrels, on stock, over trigger,
He stopped. His head bobbed, then lips pursed,
Kissing the air, the sound of a frantic dry kiss:
‘That’s the sound a wounded rabbit makes’, he’d said.

I was following him, stepping in his steps
Through broken backs of dry grass, old flowers,
Last summer’s weary remnant, slowly letting Spring
Jostle them aside. The place was full of eyes
And dry sounds scurrying –
Birds, vermin, rabbits, I guessed.

Three days I’d been there, and pestered them
To go out hunting. At last, he said yes, and
We set out early from the house, trudging through
Nearby fields, he with the gun, me and my cousins

An hour passed. We shuffled on, while he
Walked the field – no farmer’s gait, more
The heron’s considered, deliberate stepping –
Stone untouched, stalk unbent.
Silent as boys can be, we were only silenced
By that sudden urgent noise.

The gun’s back straightened and the stock nestled
To his shoulder. A face appeared above some
rotted, mossy stump, called into being
by his dry loud kiss of air:
Feral black beads of eyes, half a
Snarl, sunlight on sleek fur –
A mink!
The air exploded, an acrid bloom rose,
The gun bucking against the man stood firmly.
Too late.
‘Gone’, he said, shrugging,
His face of lean angles unreadable, before
Calmly folding the weapon,
Coddling it in the crook of the arm.

Gone, now, that day,
That day before broken days:
But there he is still,
Younger then than I am here,
Jacket, boots, shotgun slung bravely,
Striding through fields
Filled with Easter sunlight,
Trailed by children, avid to hunt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's just what it's like there, i too was brought up there -in the farmhouse nearby... I moved there aged 11 and am the same age but a few days as Sarah...That's a lovely piece of work.
Can i just add a Thankyou to Adrian- He saved me once- The 19th of June 1985(the day i left school). I had spent my bus fare on mcdonalds which had opened that day in Grays, and had to walk home to Orsett. I had been approached by a man in a car along the A128 who had made it clear what was on his mind and I was very Scared. He'd had to move on as another car came up behind Him and I saw Him pull into the nearby layby. But that other car was Adrian, who kindly offered me a lift home.. I know He saved Me that Day.. Thankyou so much Adrian- I will never forget You for Sure, and God Bless You..Denise Andrews XX