View from the Pew
BY JAKE THACKRAY S0 MANY PEOPLE die so regularly and me, I do not bat an eyelid, never mind shed a tear. There's so much of it going on I scarcely care.
1 haven't read my day's newspaper yet but it will be full of death. Last week 1 read through the pages doing a body count. I made it 4271 goners that day. Air crash in Malaysia (123), and another one in Canada (115), train smash in Pakistan (65), murders in New York, Marseilles and Stockton-onTees (24), the M25, M6 and MI northbound saw off a fair few, there was a big starvation in Sudan and another flood in Bangladesh.
So many stiffs in one day and this is not counting the natural causes or the suicides or the abortions. And 1 have forgotten all about them by now. I have not got enough grief in me to keep up.
All I can remember about that particular week was a Belgian called M Goosens was apprehended at Heathrow smuggling nine rare parrots in the lining of his macintosh and that a girl in Torquay, I think it was, floated out to sea on an inflatable lobster and was rescued by a man on an inflatable ice-cream "cone. "It happens all the time," said a coastguard.
Nine rare parrots, a lobster inflatable, and a man on an ice cream cone as against 4271 dead people, And which do I remember?
Tomorrow there will probably be an earthquake in Anatolia (2000 dead), tidal wave in the Philippines (say 3000, that's about par for the Philipines), maybe a ferryboat disaster somewhere (500 give or take), 18 killed in a black township. I lick my finger and turn to the next page.
25 Angolans here, 527 Cambodians there. All dead people. Tibet and Nigeria tick over nicely (117 massacred yesterday, or was it the day before? I can never remember) and of course you can always count on Bosnia.
They go down like flies. Although, in my prayers, I think of the dead, I cannot absorb that amount of flies.
A Hillsborough or a Lockerhie will shock me and make me gasp and grieve, but only for a while. Is it the same with you?
On 9 September 1972, a child I loved very much died and on 8 September, every year, I get the sitters about the tomorrow. I know I'm going to start crying. Odd isn't it?
Do you blub?
On the same day in 1087 William the Conqueror died in Rouen when he fell ,off a horse. On this day in 1513 King James the IV of Scotland was killed by a lance at Flodden Field. In 1583 a certain Sir Humphrey Gilbert, explorer, was drowned in the Azores. Toulouse-Lautrec copped it from a stroke brought on by venereal disease (Anno Domini 1901, poor chap). In 1914, 9 September, 2134 British Tommies died at the first Battle of the Marne. 1976, Mao Tse Tung snuffed it. On this day in 1985, massive earthquakes saw off 4,705 poor Mexicans. Also a man called Gareth Richards of Ebbw Vale, with whom I was very pally, Was crushed to death in 1987 by a pit-face roof-fall. September the ninth, what a bloody day.
Next Monday 1 am going to have to heave on the black overcoat and the dark suit and tie and attend the funeral of one Mrs Shirley Jenkinson. I can handle mass deaths in newspapers but I really do not know how I am going to cope with the absence in my life of Big Shin, (cancer, 16 July '95). 1 hope I don't start weeping at the Requiem Mass or the do afterwards. I know that other people will. They've started already.
Jane Austen (died 1871, aged 41) said, in a letter: "For large events we have a small memory It is in small, immediate particulars over which we grieve." Spot on, Miss Austen, as you ever were.
My other source of strength is the fortitude of a fellow parishioner and crony of mine, William Watkins, (died August 1991, aged 87). After his wife Ann conked out in 1981 we drove together after the Requiem Mass and the cremation to the esplanade at Scarborough with what was left of her. Billy's plan was to scatter his darling over the beach. "She always did like Scarborough. Best place for her." What a man! Very Yorkshire, very Catholic.
He opened the box and chucked her out. Then he said: "Jake, old love, I don't think she's landed. This wind is blowing west toward Sheffield. Lets get in t'car. She'll be back home before we are."
"Oh Death where is the sting? 0 grave where is thy victory?" Me, I dtuino.
It is in "small immediate particulars". Like Sheffield, perhaps. t