Tuesday, 21 July 2015

#London Walks Guide Graham: Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen & Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker

The sun’s going down. The embers of July 14, 2015. 

The day of Graham’s funeral. The committal. That was the word they used for the actual cremation.

The committal.

And there was a mute. The OED describes a mute as “a professional attendant at a funeral; a hired mourner.”

Unbidden – where did it come from? – that line in the Hopkins poem, the poem that begins Glory be to God…

The line: “all things counter, original, spare, strange…”

So, yes, a mute. Blonde, pretty, in all that Victorian black. Throwing a red rose on Graham’s coffin.  Needing a handhold I looked the word up – you already know that – when I got home.  In 1762 it – the word, in that sense – breaks the surface of the sea of English. Like a seal’s head.

And now the silent song. The really beautiful one.

After I spoke and after Shaughan read his Ode to Graham, a little girl – a nine-year-old – spoke to the congregation. Spoke beautifully. Bravely. Movingly. She was the daughter of Graham’s carer. A neighbour.

And why was that so special – apart from the conventional sense of it being special?

It was so special because Graham had had a lifetime of steering clear of children, being ill-at-ease with them, etc. In fact, somewhere on www.walks.com we’ve got a page in which we talk about the lengths we go to to get the best possible “fit” between guide and group for a private walk. And Graham was one of the examples that we cited. We said something like: he’s a brilliant guide for adults but Graham and kids are – were – oil and water. He never had children of his own, doesn’t get them, is at sea with them – so we’d never give him a private walk for a scout group, say, or a kid’s birthday party.

And then the miracle of that last year of his life. His carer and her little girl looking after him.  And that child bringing joy and sunshine into his final months. His absolutely doting on her. And delighting in her.  The two of them becoming pals and that friendship brightening the closing of the light.

So moving. Did us all a power of good finding that out, learning about that blessing.

Something else. I’m as agnostic as they come. But on the train down to the crematorium, something I was reading was suddenly right there. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that those two sets of words on the page coming into my life just then, there – that that was just a coincidence.

I knew I was going to give a short talk. Well, I was going to read what I’d written about Graham a few days ago. The piece that Adam ran here, on the London Walks Blog.

I thought what I’d written was complete, finished.

It wasn’t.

There was what I was reading on the train. Like a photographic print coming up in a darkroom. The rightness of it. Then, there. Frisson.

And suddenly I was reading this passage about the Australian poet, Peter Porter.

And if you – as I did – substitute the words “Graham’s guiding” for the word “poetry” – well, there it was, an absolute crystallisation of what I was reaching for when I said Graham was a guide’s guide.

Here’s the passage.

“His poetry, so wonderful when it is really flying, isn’t trying to tell you how much he knows. It’s giving thanks for how much there is to be known.”

And the bit that I scribbled down just before we went in – it also came into view on that train ride. It said, “here I am, I need to go at the very end of your remarks about Graham.”

This is what I wrote, what I scribbled onto the DC post I’d printed out to read out.

“Thought I’d end with a few lines from a fairly recent poem – and with some very old lines. The newish lines are by the American poet Christian Wiman. They just seem right. Here they are:

There comes a time when time is not enough:
a hand takes hold or a hand let’s go; cells swarm,
cease; high and cryless a white bird blazes beyond
itself, to be itself, burning unconsumed.

“The old lines you’ve already heard.

“Ave atque vale”

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