The “Bells of Peover” pub (pronounced “Peever”) (“Peover”, that is, not “pub”), St. Ostwald’s church and the nearby 18th. century school house are three of the attractive features of this quiet Cheshire village. The order cited will probably vary according to one’s views on Life, the Universe and pretty much everything. I’d opted to go there to attend the funeral of one of our local characters, David Bentley, who died on 5th. March, just short of his 76th. birthday. Read on (apologies if you find it overlong) to find out why.
St. Ostwald’s, Lower Peover: Gently Bentley
I can feel it wriggling to get out
like a ferret in a trussed sack.
Within the ancient timbers of St. Ostwald’s church,
my mind buzzes with half-finished phrases,
little flashbacks of the half dozen times we met
interspersed with odd snatches,
latched on to from the pew behind,
whilst we wait for you and your family to arrive.
The subdued tones of my neighbours match the occasion
(unlike my brown slip-ons) :
“A brisk walk from the Emirates to Euston…”;
“My wife’s having a new knee next Tuesday.”
(just one nudge and that’s a new “me”
from the soccer-indifferent spouse);
“… and we’ve 2 home games coming up…”
On arrival, I’d exchanged friendly nods of recognition
with an ex-colleague. He looked the picture
of sombre propriety in this second career
of pall bearer, whilst I remember him perspiring, in shorts,
fresh from his bike, irrespective of the outside temperature prevailing
or whichever company potentate might be
presiding at the scheduled project meeting.
“We seem to keep bumping into each other,”
my wry comment, our shared mortality being implied
We both smiled.
Strange to feel these waves of emotion welling up.
I’m here neither as family nor strictly speaking friend.
I’m here because I was fond of you,
your gentle demeanour, soft voice, good humour, generosity,
the unfailing offer of coffee as we sweated to fill our sacks
(and boots) with that precious, inodorous, earth-like manure,
bursting with goodness that “follows us all the days of our lives.”
(half an ear bringing the poetry of Psalm 23
to the brink of my subconscious).
I’m not surprised to learn of boyhood escapades,
of a period in Assam where you met and married Sam,
(you may even have been in India when Derek and I
briefly passed that way in ’66 and ’67)
that you’d been a policeman, (I see you, pre-promotion,
as the archetypal bobby on the beat, a Dixon of Dock Green,
never the hard-nosed cop from “The Bill” or “Z-cars”),
a very affable Training Manager as the last
of Macclesfield’s Silk Town days faded away,
You were good with people,
very much in your nature, I would guess,
volunteering post-retirement to teach
budding hippophiles how to master the art
of the horse-drawn carriage on the narrow Cheshire lanes.
That’s where the hat comes in, a must for
the delicate skin of a “coconut head”,
your nickname in Assamese due to that
flamboyant crop of red hair, which I had never even guessed at.
We follow you out into the harsh bite
of a sunny, March midday and slowly gather
to watch the traditional, larger than Life casket
lowered into the ground, a few yards from
a magnificent, flowering cherry, towering in full blossom
above its attendant flock of graves.
Of this and the annual display, very likely
you will be unaware, unless your forward thinking
had included choosing this lovely resting place.
Despite the vicar’s reiteration of assurances
regarding resurrection and the Life to come,
I hope you and Sam had booked ahead.
I shuffled forward and sprinkled
a generous “adios” on the coffin and the hat at your feet.
From your Welsh village to Assam,
to Allostock and the Congleton Road,
handy for the tip and for the “Rising Sun”
and for quiet corners of Gawsworth,
whip and reins in hand, you devised and rode your route.
I grabbed a quick coffee and a handful
of crisps at the Bells of Peover,
communion wine and host, the blood and the body,
before dashing off towards my own destiny
with my fellow passengers around the bridge table
aboard Titanic Earth.