From: "Andrea Susan Wheeler" <laxasw@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2000 12:23:27 +0100
Thanks you for your moving description of Betty's funeral. I cried
with you. I hope you don't mind me sending this to the Heidegger
list it seems a bit quiet at the moment.
I went to a funeral on Tuesday.
Requiem to a Dry Stone Wall.
The motorway unrolls ahead of me like a tapering dirty grey bandage.
Overhead downlike clouds flaunt their backcombed furbelows and drift across
the mountainous backcloth in a lazy slow-motion palais glide.
I drive alone and the wheels thrum regularly on the breaks in the road
surface. Later, descending a meandering road through a pass between two
soaring escarpments, I glance at the drystone walls that snake and bend as
they follow the contours of the hilltops above me. I ponder about the
torturous labour involved in the construction of those demarcations hundreds
of years ago. Sturdy Cumbrian hill-farmers or their labourers dragged
themselves up the steep inclines, pulling the halters of their reluctant
mules, their panniers heavy with cleaved rock. With great skill and infinite
patience the hillmen laid stone upon stone and slowly formed the four-foot
high walls. They used no mortar. Each piece of rock would be deliberately
and carefully chosen, then positioned in place to link into and become an
element of the supportive matrix of this unique form of territorial boundary
and sheep enclosure. The hills of Cumbria and Wales are covered with these
dry masonry walls and they remain as a monument to the doughty men who
I am on route to the funeral of a dead friend, but my mind is on the walls
and the men who built them. The bulwarks have withstood the wild winds of
the harsh northern winters. I think of the long dead hill men with their
callused hands - the hands that built the walls. Those regular piles of rock
are their only memorials. The walls are their labour crystallised and
evident. Marx's dictum was that profit is 'crystallised labour.' Are not
these walls the 'fossilised labour' of those departed ones? Perhaps if Marx
had restricted himself to producing an economic analysis of capitalism
without being prescriptive, he would be held in more regard in this modern
age? However, many other philosophers could not content themselves to stay
clear of political involvement. I think of Plato and his 'Republic,' which
exerted considerable influence for centuries.
I pass the new traffic island at turn off for Lake Windermere - then the
narrow lane on the right that used to lead to the 'Dolly Blue' factory and
speed past the Lakeside Haverthwaite Railway and see the huge black engines
belching grey steam.
I return to my philosophical musings. There was Heidegger, whose
inauguration speech was widely declared an affirmation of Nazism. There was
Bertrand Russell who involved himself in the nuclear disarmament movement
and that dreadful Frenchman, Joseph-Arthur comte de Gobineau, whose theory
of racial determinism had an enormous influence upon the subsequent
development of racist theories and practices in western Europe and many
I reach Greenodd where the route takes me alongside a stretch of water of
the Irish Sea. It is a small arm or inlet of Morecambe Bay. The sun
flickers on the rippled water and white wading birds rootle among the
driftwood for tasteful molluscs. I notice as I approach Ulverston from
Greenodd that the 'pepperpot' seems to sink slowly into the ground on the
road above. It's an optical illusion of course. Entering Ulverston beneath
the towering folly of this pretended lighthouse, I weave my way through the
constrictive streets of Stan Laurel's hometown. Stopping for traffic lights,
I spot the Laurel and Hardy museum and find the road to Barrow in Furness.
Reaching Barrow in Furness, I drive through the dirty beige gates of the
cemetery and proceed slowly to the crematorium. My watch tells me that I am
half an hour early, so I park the car and take a stroll through the rows of
graves that lie in morose rows in the mid August sunshine. There's an
unexpected sprinkle of summer rain. I take cover beneath a gnarled tree.
A lark sings its blithe song as I reluctantly mount the hill back to the
crematorium building. It begins to rain again and I join a small crowd of
disconsolate mourners at the chapel entrance. I chat with those I know. It
is twelve years gone since I last met most of them. My wife Clare used to
live on Earnse Bay Park, (now renamed West Shore Park on Walney Island. I
was the manager there from 1987 - 1990. Clare's husband Stan died of cancer
on the park. He was buried at Barrow cemetery. I sold most of the properties
(up to £32,00 some of them at the time) so I know practically everyone in
the small crowd.
After the arrival of the hearse, we fall in behind Betty's coffin and slowly
walk into the chapel. Sylvia and another lady support Mike. His eighty
years lie heavily upon him and the sudden loss has left him grief-stricken
and physically weakened.
The chapel is barren of ornament other than for a modest wooden crucifix
behind the bier. The minister intones a prayer and follows with a tribute
to Betty's life which is very moving in its simplicity. He talks of her
superior skill as a ballroom dancer, of the time she and her first husband
were the stewards at Barrow's well known Engineer's Club, of her youth as a
millgirl and the cotton dust that gave her the emphysema that brought about
her eventual death.
'I would like to ask Julie to sing for us,' the minister says.
'This is very unexpected,' I say to myself.
A young woman who had previously been pointed out to me as Betty's niece
steps to the altar and stands before the coffin. She is dressed in a
velveteen jacket with padded shoulders and an ankle-length matching skirt.
The organist, a mousy looking woman with huge ornate curly spectacles
roosting on the end of her roseate nose plays a short intermission which is
uncommonly pedestrian, but what follows is truly tremendous. Julie's voice
bursts out and soars up into the roof beams. Her beautiful soprano voice is
finely modulated. It resonates from the bare concrete walls and rings in the
ears with an awe-inspiring intensity. The vocalic phrasing is crisp yet
flowing and her reaching of the high notes is effortless and relaxed. I
recognise the piece as 'In paradisum' from Fauré's Requiem and the hairs on
the back of my neck hike up with the emotional and physical effect of the
beautiful euphony. It was worth driving a hundred miles each way just to
hearken to this. My heart beats out with exultation. Tears of unrestrained
delight stream down my face. I try to wipe them away unobserved.
'Jud was really upset in the chapel wasn't he?' someone says as we file out.
'He was breaking his heart crying.'
'Yes,' answers the other,' I didn't realise he was so fond of Betty.'
'I enjoyed that girl singing the hymn,' says a third.
'Oh yes!' the second replies, 'I forgot to mention to you, Julie sings with
the Royal Covent Garden Opera Company, didn't you know?'
Take care of yourself sweetie!
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