An increasing number of us will get to meet our great-grandchildren. I remember one of my great-grandmothers, Nellie Hall. A lovely lady and the very epitome of a Salfordian pub landlady. Imagine Annie Walker of Coronation Street fame and you'll not be far off the mark. Of course, by the time I knew her she'd "retired" to Morecambe where she lived out her days in the big, old, pub that her daughter Dianne and Dianne's husband ran. I remember the pub fondly from my childhood, it always struck me as being a very grand place. I thought about Googling it whilst writing this, it was/is called the Queen's and it was/is on the coast road overlooking the beach, but I decided against it. Pubs aren't what they were and I like the image I carry in my head so, all things considered, I'd rather it remain unspoiled.
But, as ever, I digress.
to the pub we lived in. She would have a little drink and sit happily, for an hour or two, chatting as if she were back in her hay day whilst my father yawned, smiled and longed for his bed. Then she'd retire to the spare room before being returned, safely, the following morning. The Queen of Sheba. Shamefully, sometimes she hadn't even been missed.
Nellie is long dead. My own mother is now the great grandmother of the family and is in fine fettle, well on target to see her granddaughter grow up. She'll be loved and remembered for a good while yet.
But once we're gone time ceases to matter. We were unborn for an eternity and will remain dead for another. We may live to be a hundred years old, maybe meeting our great, great, grandchildren. We may remain in living memory for a couple of hundred years, but as a percentage of eternity those two centuries can reasonably be described as "fuck all" time. Not even the blink of an eye. Once dead the eons will slip by as rapidly as the beat of a blue tit's heart, unnoticed.
These days we have social networking, a digital stamp that remains after death giving people the ability to remember you and to remind others that you lived and were loved. A good friend of mine died, a number of years back, from brain cancer. I still get the odd update from his mother or missus, a little note in the form of a message for him posted to Facebook. The messages aren't intended for his dead eyes. They're there to show the rest of us that he's not been forgotten yet and to remind us he was loved.
Memorial pages such as his may remain online for ever more. In the main they'll eventually become unread, possibly stumbled across occasionally by a school boy doing a history project or a descendant having a go at tracing the family tree and, at some point, they'll be totally forgotten about. Who knows, maybe that won't be for a thousand years but still, as a percentage of eternity, "fuck all" time.
A couple of days ago Patty and myself hopped in the van with our dogs and took a drive up to a place called Rivington Barn. A glorious day, sunny and warm, we set off up the path behind the barn and on to the mountain. It's a beautiful part of the world, full of history and quirks. A man made, Japanese style, lake is situated just below the folly. Caves, ducks, Oriental trees and shrubs and plenty of swimming for two hot, panty, pups after a long walk, we stopped there and let the dogs off their leads so they could be proper dogs for a little while.
There's a bench beneath a tree and facing the pretty lake. From the bench you get a lovely vista. The lake itself, along with it's little, rocky islands and caves on the opposite side, gallivanting dogs and panicking waterfowl dashing hither and thither, we stopped, sat and chatted, just enjoying the unseasonably good weather. We didn't even think to wonder why there was a park bench half way up a mountain, so ideally situated, for us to rest our backsides on.
Eventually I stood up to throw a stick or two for the hounds, whereupon I noticed the little, metal, plate screwed to the back of the bench that I'd been leaning against. "In loving memory of Derek James Jepson, 1949-2006". A simple, concise, elegant inscription dreamt up and paid for by a relative, possibly his newly widowed wife, before being thoughtfully placed in a beautiful setting. Functional, unobtrusive, silent and tasteful. Without the bench we'd have carried on walking, admiring the lake as we passed. We would have found somewhere else to sit and to enjoy wasting a bit of time and neither DickFingers nor myself would have ever have heard of Mr. Derek Jepson. But heard of him we now have, as have you. Some of you may live for another ninety years or more, carrying on the memory of a man you never met (or at least his name, date of birth and date of death) for a little while longer. You may never think of Derek again, but he's in there now. All because another man you've never known sat on a bench once.
I know next to nothing about Derek. I don't know if he was nice or nasty, generous or selfish, kind or spiteful, though if he was anything like the rest of us he'll be a good mix of all six. I built up a picture of him though, sat there while Patty tried in vain to wrestle our German Shepherd off an Irish Wolfhound (which took AGES). In my mind, Derek was :
Not particularly tall, he wore glasses for reading and should have worn them at all times but didn't. His hair was almost completely grey and his balding pate was usually hidden beneath a flat cap in the summer and a woolly hat by the end of October. He had a son and two daughters, each of whom now have children of their own. His eldest daughter's marriage broke down when her son was one year old and Derek became the main male role model in the little boy's life, taking him to watch Bolton Wanderers play occasionally in his last couple of years. His widow is a redhead who laughs like a loon when she's had a little too much to drink. He was a Christian and truly believed he was going to Heaven. After leaving school, aged fifteen, he got a job in a mill. The mill closed in the 70s, after which he joined the police force. He retired just a few years before his death, giving him just enough time to take his wife on a cruise and to buy a little, static, caravan in Rhyl where they spent most weekends. He drove a red Mondeo and his favourite meal was the roast dinner his wife made whenever the kids where visiting. (Except for the mash, she always made it too sloppy, but he never told her.) Derek had a dog, a Shi'tzu, called Bonnie. He pretended it was a gift for his wife and would "complain" that he had been lumbered with walking the "bloody thing", but in actual fact he loved Bonnie and would call her "Bonnie-boo-boo" while making kissy noises whenever they were alone. He was, to most that knew him, a good, honest, hard working man. To some he was a bit of a moaner and to a few he was a right pain in the arse, just like all the rest of us. He was very proud of the fact his son looks like him and he was grateful his daughters took after his wife. Bonnie misses him, she still thinks one day he'll come back.
If any of the previous paragraph is true I'd be very surprised, but I'll never know one way or the other so it doesn't matter. I spent the few minutes before I bothered to go and help DickFingers regain some semblance of control over the giddy dogs just thinking about Derek James Jepson. A bloke long dead before I knew him and now resting in peace, but who had touched someone so much in his allotted years that she/he had taken the time to remember him in such a way. A way that, years later, gave DickFingers and I a place to rest. In peace.
Thank you Derek.
While sat on Derek's bench I was filming the dogs, frolicking and fucking about, in the lake. I thought it'd be nice to share it with you all and so I've edited it together and dedicated it to your friend and mine, the late Mr. Derek James Jepson. We never knew him, but we know he was loved.
Derek James Jepson
Enjoy the little things, folks.