Friday, 25 January 2008

Some old photos dug out, and fresh hells.

These are a few photos I found while looking through some of my Nan's photos: Scanned and sent to print. You can view the album by clicking here.

It's been a difficult day today, which involved a 999 call to the police, but that's another long story. They say that things can't get any worse, but invariably, they do. I just hope to preserve the memory of my wonderful grandparents despite the events of this evening.

Yesterday. The Day of the Funeral

Thursday, 24 January 2008, 1530hrs

The Day of the Funeral- Ryan’s Memories of the Day
For Betty Brown – “Nanna”

After quite a sleepless night, I woke up at about 6am – bearing in mind that we didn’t all go to bed until about 3am, getting things ready for the post-ceremony refreshments. The day of Nana’s funeral was upon us already.

I heard Jane, my mum getting up at about 9ish, so got up shortly afterwards. To cut a long story short, we all got suited and booted for Nana’s final send-off. The coincidences and oddities (blessings?) started appearing quite quickly. For a start, we all met at my Nan’s house at 12.20pm. My Nan died at 12.20, and I stopped her watch at her bedside when she passed away. The weather forecast was concrete; heavy rain with strong winds. What we actually got was glorious sunny weather, clear blue skies and a crisp cold bite in the air. Almost as if a greater power, or indeed my Nan, had a hand in overseeing the day. Oh, and Nan lived at Number 24; the funeral was on the 24th.

Going back a step… before we left the house as I was getting ready, my middle-brother Paul tore into me with such anger, aggression and venom. All I asked him was if he wanted a linen handkerchief for his breast-pocket. His reply was “before you even start today, I don’t want to hear any of your shit today…” Naturally, I was shocked – physically shocked. I asked Paul what he meant, and he said “you don’t even remember what you said to me at Grampi’s [my grandfather] funeral do you??” I had no idea what he was talking about, but after much finger-pointing, shouting and swearing from Paul, he said “you [that’s me] said at Grampi’s funeral ‘I don’t know what you are crying for.’ I’ve never forgotten that, I will never forgive you.” Naturally, I was horrified. I would never EVER say such a thing, particularly at a funeral, and more over at the funeral of a man I considered to be a second father. Suffice to say, it upset my mother, and left me in a crying heap. I really am at a loss to explain how that happened, or where his paranoia came from. Perhaps it’s the marijuana he’s misused for years... I’ve always tried to be patient with Paul – we all have, but basically, unless he changes his ways and at least tries to amend his past, I wash my hands of him.

Anyway, I’ve had enough of talking about that. Back to Nan!

Tim (my uncle), Matthew (my little 21 year old brother!), Paul and myself, plus two of the funeral directors acted as Bearers. We left my Nan’s house promptly at 1230, where my Nan was waiting for us in the hearse with a beautiful spray of pink carnations over her casket, with cards from her three children (Tim, Jane – my mum, and Maggie), a card from us three brothers, and a card from Zoë and David, my cousins. The service was to be held at St. Anne’s Church, Nantyglo, which was literally a 2 minute walk from my Nan’s house, but protocol took priority, so we drove up to the church behind the hearse. In the car immediately behind the hearse were Tim (my uncle, affectionately eccentric!), Jane and Glyn (my parents), Maggie and Wayne (my Auntie & Uncle) and their children, Zoë and David. In the second car were Paul and Cerys (his girlfriend) and just me and Matthew. Michael and I decided that it would be that fitting for Michael to attend, even though he was most welcome, as he had never met Nan. When we arrived at the Church, the congregation, although slight, were gathered in waiting. We as bearers carried Nan down the steep and twisting path (that’s mountainous Wales for you!) into the church, and to the alter. It’s surprising how cumbersome and heavy the coffin was, particularly when you consider how much weight Nan has lost during her short fight with lung cancer.

The church service, led by the Rev. Clive Morgan went well, and he seemed a lovely man; the perfect image of the perfect vicar, but with a gentle sense of compassion and humanity. Of course, he also had a sprinkle of dither and soft white hair! We sang a rousing hymn – “Sing Hosanna” with the verse “give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” omitted!!! Some felt that with my Nan’s pending cremation that the verse might not be that appropriate, but it made me smile, and I’d like to think that Nana would chuckle too! Much of the service I do not remember, but I do remember one of my Nan’s favourite prayers being read out:

St Ignatius Prayer for Generosity
Teach us, Good LORD
To serve You as You deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not heed the wounds
To toil and not seek for the rest
To labour and not to ask for any reward
Save that of knowing that we do Your will.

I remember a few years ago that my Nan had a few lines of this prayer written on her notepad (she kept records of everything) and she telephoned me one day and asked of I would be able to find the full verse. I did find it, and she said that that was exactly as she remembered, so I’m pleased that it was chosen for her service.

The vicar spoke a little about Betty (my Nan), her life, her work and how she met my grandfather, George. He mentioned the time she worked for the Civil Service in London, and when she later worked for local government for the labour party as the mayor’s secretary (the late Peter Law, made famous for his landslide victory as an independent party leader in Blaenau Gwent) which rocked the labour party! My Nan and Peter Law were very disenchanted with ‘New Labour’ so when Peter Law won such a victory, she was thrilled! At the time (1900303), it was such a significant event that it made the national, and international BBC News. Blaenau Gwent was always such a strong Labour Party strong-hold, so when Peter Law took his followers through to such a landslide independent victory, I remember how thrilled Nan was, even after she was less active in local politics. She was always respected for her intelligent work for local government, some of which entailed contacting high-profile figures for charitable donations. This continued during and after her passing. While she was still with us, she made charitable donations to both The NSPCC and Cancer Research. After her passing, we all decided that is would be an appropriate idea for donations to be made to ‘Ty Hafan – The Children’s Hospice of Wales’ therefore combining her love for children, and her desire to help those suffering with cancer, as she did. Anyway, the vicar also mentioned that Nan would often leave things until the last minute; he mentioned how she would always try and find time to fit in that last cup of coffee before leaving the house for the council offices. If the bus wasn’t there (or she missed it!) she was said to often hitch a lift with a “guller-sucker (a truck which came through the village to clean the gutter and drains along the road)” which involved lifting her skirt to climb in, which although was highly embarrassing at the time, it was better that being late for work. Maybe I do take after my Nan a bit! As a child, I remember her asking me to sit in the front room, and wait to see if the bus was coming. When I raised the alarm that the bus was coming, we would hurry down John Hough’s lane (or just the lane, as I knew it then) and flag down the bus for a few hours shopping in Abertillery!

Anyway, I’m waffling on a bit…

The service continued with a few prayers, and a final hymn – the classic “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” This is sometimes known as BREAD OF HEAVEN (shouted!). The vicar also read a poem called “It’s Dark Outside.” We had an ‘order of service’ to help us (I did the covers front and back!) but the poem wasn’t included. This is it anyway:

”It’s Dark Outside”
poem to follow - I can't find it!

We left the church of St.Anne’s after the final prayers, and we as bearers led Nan out first to the hearse and cortège while the family followed on to greet and thank those who came. A pleasant surprise for all of us was the presence of Trish Law, (MEP, MWA) wife of the late Peter Law (MEP). A very humble thing for her to do, I’m sure, especially when you consider her busy schedule as a high-profile Welsh political figure! For me, there were a few familiar figures, none that I really know by name, but faces I remember from walking with Nan to, for example, the Post Office or Kath’s shop on the many weekends I stayed over.

We left quite quickly with the cortège to the Gwent Crematorium, near Cwmbran. We took a slow procession through New Road (Nantyglo) towards Brynmawr, and took Nan past Rock Villa for the last time. It was great seeing that Nan could hold up traffic for miles behind us on the road to Cwmbran via Abertillery, Crumlin, Hafodyrynys and Pontypool!

It was quite a peaceful and short service at the Crematorium, with only immediate family in attendance, which included Keith Powell (Nan’s Nephew) and his Auntie. The best moment came when one of Nana’s favourite choirs sang. A recording of “I’ll Walk Beside You” by the Morriston Orpheus Choir was played, while we quietly listened and reflected on the wonderful long life Nan had, and the great influence she had on those around her, personally and through her work. It was a shame that the recording skipped a little, but that made me smile too! I did all the crying at the church; I thought that the crematorium service was a little more of an uplifting celebration, even as the curtains closed for the last time; on her life and on her physical body leaving this earth. Our duties as bearers were over, and my only regret of the day was that I could not sit with Jane. I had the next best thing and sat with Matthew, both at the church and at the Crematorium.

At the end of that service, we left the chapel and reflected at the flowers laid out in the sunshine for Nan, reading cards left by the family and by well-wishers. At a slightly higher speed, we left the Crematorium in the same Limousines we arrived in, and returned to Rock Villa. From there, we came back to Glan-yr-afon (my family home) and ate, drank and chatted. I asked Matthew to drive me over to Rock Villa (my Nan’s house) for me to clean up some beer cans from the lane, and for me to take some outside-photos of the house for Michael. There’s a reason for that…

Lastly, we returned home, chatted some more with my Auntie Maggie et al and I came upstairs with Matthew and David (my cousin, who I haven’t for probably a decade!) where I wrote this. Matthew and David played darts and computer games while I steadily typed away. And this is where I am now.

Hopefully, one day very soon, Rock Villa will be my home too… My ultimate dream.


2115hrs. I thought I had finished writing my diary for today but it would seem that something else surprised us tonight! At about 2110hrs, we had a power-cut – not just our house, but the whole area. What are you up to Nan?!? SO! Jane, Glyn, Paul, Matthew, Maggie, Wayne, Zoë, David and Cerys are all sitting around in the dark, except for a huge array of candles! That certainly made us laugh a lot, just thinking that Nana might still be playing her mischief and having a little joke again. I think it’s been at least 20 years since we had a real power-cut! So we sat until around 10pm, and after much persuasion, Matthew finally and reluctantly decided to play his guitar for us. Talk about hiding his light under a bushel; he’s good! He even got a cheer, a whistle and a standing ovation!

Nan always had a cheeky grin for me and that unforgettable twinkle in her eye… even during her last 48 hours on this mortal coil. Was she responsible for tonight? I think so! Cheers Nan! We’ve had a few whiskey-macs for you tonight… and for you Grampi! See you soon….

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Homeward Bound

Well, it's again been a while since I last wrote here. I'm sitting in my Mum's front room at the moment in Wales, using the new-fangled internet thingy that us (well, those) welsh folk seem so slow to adopt!!!

The purpose of my visit this time is unfortunately due to the passing of my grandmother (Nana Brown) on Monday. She died very peacefully (after a short, but perhaps undiagnosed illness) at about 12:20pm surrounded by her family, including Jane, Maggie, Tim (her children - Jane is my ma!) Matthew, Paul (my brothers) and myself. Generally, the nursing staff were quite good and caring, and when I called in on the Sunday, I asked one of the nurses to consider an diamorphine pump, which would ease her passing and reduce her pain. Despite being an emotional day, much of which was quite surreal, I believe that her passing was a happy day. She died with dignity and peacefully, with those she loved around her, and with minimal interference from the clinical world outside the sideroom door.

Things those few days were, as I said, surreal, and I can only compare it to walking around with my head in a cotton-wool cloud. I telephoned work that same afternoon, to gently ask about extended leave, which was refused and left a bitter feeling behind. So, reluctantly, I returned to work on the Wednesday, cried a little, and emailed the union about how badly I had been treated by a certain person throughout the whole affair. The union guy came down to see me a the following day to say how appalled he felt I was treated, and instructed me that I should complete my shift, and TELL the woman who is supposed to be my manager that I WOULD be returning to wales and WOULD NOT be returning to work until after the funeral and internment!!! Anyway, news got back to the top-dog at the establishment at which I work, who was apparently disgusted, and wishes to conduct an investigation. Anyway, that's for me to worry about later.

I went into Leicester after work (Friday), and with my friend Dee, we chose a nice suit and cuff-links for the funeral. We had some noodles, then went home for a few cuppa's and listened to some funky music, before I put Dee on the bus back home! The following few days were very difficult, and on the Saturday I couldn't get out of bed. I guess it was grief? Anyway, Sunday was out of the question, due to rail cancellations so I came back to Wales yesterday (Monday?). I keep mentioning and questioning days, as everything has amalgamated into a total blur. I slept on the settee, which was a waking nightmare (!) and finally awoke at about 1pm when I heard that the washing machine was on full-throttle!

My Nan's funeral is at 1230 at St. Anne's Church, in the village of Nantyglo, followed by a cremation at the Gwent Crematorium, Cwmbran. After the weekend, there'll be a further service for the internment of her ashes, along with my grandfathers ashes, which have been held at the Funeral Directors establishment for a a staggering 9 years! So, at last, they'll be together again.

I had the privilege of formatting the front and back covers of the "order of service" booklet, which I hope everyone will be happy with. I'm sure I'll have more to tell you in a few days when all this is over... feel free to message me in the meantime.

Ryan x
( &