Grey Day In Putney

 

AS the  Mandela typhoon started to whip up a storm we dozen or so gathered at Putney Vale to cremate Hans. The light was just beginning to fade as the pretentious undertaker in his top hat and oh so solemn crew carried the coffin into the chapel.

Before us ,in the adjoining chapel,  a much larger congregation were doing the same for Tony Russell, 56 from Battersea. I talked to some of the other congregation before our  event and couldn’t  work out whether he had been a gangster, publican or just a good ol’ boy. Whatever, he was mighty popular ,when I asked if he had been a smoker and drinker like  most of his pals,my new friend gave me an old fashioned look and  said in deep Glasgow, Nay more than the rest o’ us.

And so we said good bye to Hans. This family  gathered one more time. Jon presided, Vivien read a poem, I said a few words, Anna sang, Jane wept and we listed to Dietrich sing “Lily Marlene.” It went well. Most came back for some bubbly, tea and cake and that also went better than expected. This was a family  with very low expectations.

But of course we weren’t just saying goodbye to Hans  but to the Golden Generation. The generation which was brought up in the depression, fought and  won the war,  and built   a world of relative peace and security in which we have prospered. So I remembered my various  “fathers”.

Dick Thompson. My legal father. Brought up in a modest Brixton terrace. His father a book keeper who played the piano for silent movies. Remarkably he and his three siblings all went to university before the war. Oxford was where he met my mother. During the war having failed  to become a pilot he was  a major in the Royal Signals. He then became a serious member of the legal establishment being awarded a CBE for his work as Registrar of the Court of Criminal Appeal. He always felt he was cheated of a knighthood by the humiliation the Birmingham  Seven meted out on the legal system. His second marriage was not happy.

Karel Bala. My biological  father. His family were successful printers and property owners.A  Czech Jew who  because of his political affiliations left Prague and his family before the Nazis invaded.. They perished in the Holocaust. He had an honourable war being awarded a medal for valour. After serving in the Czech embassy in Ottowa he not only successfully  remarried but  became a vice president of Alcan and a mainstay of the Czech community in Canada.

Mike Knowland. My father in law. The youngest of six  brothers he took over the family wine and pub business. During the war he was  major in the Royal Artillery and was one of the first Britons to reach the Death Camps.  He ran the business until the seventies when it was sold.  A scratch golfer,a gentleman and one of the last people I knew who had special gloves for driving.

And Hans,my stepfather whose story I have told before. I only wept for Dick. I had been drinking but long before I  found out about Karel, his indifference to my children suggested there was no blood connection.

By brooks too wide for leaping/The light footed lads are laid/The  rose lipped maids lie sleeping/In fields where roses fade.

We’re next.

 

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2 Responses to Grey Day In Putney

  1. Anthony Browell says:

    Hi there again Hugh, I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your recent posts, Thank you.. Anthony.

    From: itwonthurt Reply-To: itwonthurt Date: Tuesday, 10 December 2013 6:46 PM To: Anthony Browell Subject: [New post] Grey Day In Putney

    WordPress.com itwonthurt posted: ” AS the Mandela typhoon started to whip up a storm we dozen or so gathered at Putney Vale to cremate Hans. The light was just beginning to fade as the pretentious undertaker in his top hat and oh so solemn crew carried the coffin into the chapel.Before u”

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