Ashes

Mum and my brother, Ray, both born in South Shields, by the North Sea. How Mum loved that sea. Born into a family of six girls and two boys, it was she who rowed the boat of her father, a Tyne Pilot, when he went out fishing. When we visited Shields in the summer, my aunts and cousins would say, “Where’s Vinny?” and the answer would invariably be, “Och, she’s walking the pier, breathing in the North Sea air with the wind blowing her cares away.” She used to attend the Methodist Church in the main square of South Shields where the preacher would loudly question their ways, “What are ye here for: to worship, to pray or to pass the time of day?”

Little Raymond too had fond memories of his grandmother Athey, a master bakeress, who had a light hand when it came to making tea cakes baked on her large black kitchen range and she would send the canny lad off through the cobbled streets to the steelworks with a lunch tin for his granda. There the boy’s eyes would glow in the fiery light from the engines and the hot iron: perhaps it was as early as those years when was born his love for motor bikes and all kinds of machines and mechanical things.

I was born in London when he was five and a half and he was quite thrilled to have a little sister; she’s not quite so little these days! Times were hard after the depression. Work couldn’t be had up north. Dad worked in the engine room of a tin lizzie boat sailing in the China Seas. Mum scrubbed floors to earn a halfpenny to buy a bottle of milk for her children.

Hard work and generous parents bought a new home in south east London, followed quickly by the Second World War. I used to meet Mum at the main gates of Woolwich Arsenal where she was a forewoman of a large group of women who cleaned out the big oily guns with paraffin and made gunpowder bags on their sewing machines. She was a gifted and skilled social person, a gift her son inherited or learnt or both. With a cheerful smile and considerable charm, with the gift to tell a funny story and keep the party going, both of them would keep people happy and entertained.

The walls of the dining and sitting rooms in our new home were adorned with model aeroplanes created, not from ready-made kits, but each tiny piece carefully cut out by hand direct from large blue charts and diagrams, glued together patiently with powerful smelling glue, wings and fuselage delicately covered with coloured tissue paper, made shiny and stiff when painted with banana oil, a stuff that smelled like nail varnish. Ray used to cycle with his creations accompanied by many friends to Epsom Downs and let them fly into the sky and glide away. One time he received a letter from Croydon Hospital asking him to come and collect his three foot span Beau glider from their roof.

Then one day he brought home a girl for us to meet, a blue-eyed elegant blonde, her hair in a page boy style, not a hair out of place, wearing incredibly high high-heeled shoes: a City of London secretary, and boy, could they jive! They used to dance those evenings away to the sound of the big swing bands and would make the floor rock at Eltham Baths and the dance hall above Burton’s in the High Street.

It is fitting then (that the ashes of Lavinia and Raymond) mother and son, born on the edge of the North Sea should have their ashes cast into those same waters here in the south of England.

We give their ashes to the sea to be cleansed and renewed in another stream of life; errors forgiven by God’s merciful hand through the mediation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Ezekiel 18:32 – – – Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” declares the Lord God, “so turn and live.”

Genesis 18:27 – – – Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking, will you destroy the whole city for the lack of five?” And He (the Lord) said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there … for the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way … and Abraham returned to his place.

11.10.14