Tuesday, July 24, 2007

God Speed

Writer Pal had organised a B&B, so I drove us down to Southampton to stay the night and get the ferry in the morning. Initially, we were going to take the car over, but as I hadn’t driven on the island before, didn’t know my way around, and the car ferry takes 55 minutes compared to the passenger-only hydrofoil’s nippy 23 minutes, I made the executive decision to leave the car in Southampton and travel by cabs once we hit the island.

The mighty Hank arrived, on his way back from a family holiday and the three of us boarded the ferry, beginning what was to become a day of often very amusing reminiscing of our times with our now-absent friend, Frank.

I’d never set foot on the Isle of Wight before Monday. Picturesque and hilly, it was unfortunately being drizzled on from the leaden skies, something which never really stopped for the whole day. Didn’t stop it from being a pleasant place, though the cab drivers would have a tough time beating a glacier in a speed trial. After coffees in the terminal area, we schlepped across to the crematorium for the service. Pulling into the car park, I was relieved to see at least one athletically-torsoed young woman with her top off, as a family hastily got dressed into more funereal duds behind a car. If you’re reading, I’m sure a light blue lacy bra was “just what Frank would have wanted”. Ho ho.

Meeting up with Marion, Frank’s ex-wife who’d arranged much of the day, we were introduced in quick succession to a whole host of family and friends who were all doing their best to hold it together before the service kicked off. A lovely little booklet, with a photo of Frank at his dashing best, outlined the non-religious order of things, and it was lovely to see that another mate, though not able to attend, had selected a poem to be read out during the ceremony.

Amy, the celebrant, took us through a wonderfully personal history of Frank. Too many funerals have an impersonal feel, with the speaker obviously not really knowing much about the subject and caring little for the detail of their lives. Not this one. In fact, it was so moving, both in terms of laughter and tears, and evoking so many treasured memories of our boy that I, for one, was glad that there was a Van Morrison tune in the middle.

I can’t stand Van Morrison. Having something else to think about, ie. just what it was that would drive normally sane people to waste perfectly good money on Van bloody Morrison albums, gave me a brief, but desperately welcome respite from knowing that, just over there in that box, my mate was dead. In truth, I’m not exactly dry-eyed as I write this.

After the ceremony, we took another glacial cab to this place - the Spyglass in Ventnor:

In the boathouse at the back, collages of photos and old publicity shots were laid out from Frank’s time as a stunt-man and arranger. There were many shots of him taken at fan conventions and Prisoner-related events down the years, many of which triggered yet more memories amongst us. There was an awful lot of “Do you remember when Frank said...” or “What about that time when Frank...” as the afternoon turned into the evening. A lovely spread of food and wine was descended upon by the assembled horde and many a glass was raised by us all in memory of our very dear friend.

A chap called Dave told us about the time he’d been out walking his dog at the same time Frank had been walking his two. Another dog had created some kind of disturbance, at which Frank’s two dogs had proceeded to run round his legs, tying them together with their leads. Frank had fallen over and this chap Dave had gone to see if he was alright. The first thing out of Frank’s mouth, as he was lying there on the floor, was “Normally, I’d have rolled out of that. I’m a stuntman, you know...”

During the ceremony, Frank’s friend Steve had understatedly described Frank as not exactly a religious man. Though he speculated that, if Frank was to be proved wrong and there was an afterlife, he could just see Frank wandering up to the fella in the throne, asking him what rank he was, and then quietly telling him “You’re in my chair...”.

I chatted briefly with Frank’s daughter who, it turns out, lives not too far away from me with her family - small world, eh? Marion and her new husband Paul were a mine of information about the island and were instructing me on places to see and places to stay when I go back. I will be going back hopefully this year, when there may just be a bit of half-decent weather, on the bike, to do a little bit of a tour of the island at a leisurely pace. Even though it was rainy and overcast, looking out to sea then back up at the small town of Ventnor hugging the small harbour and modest beach, I could definitely see why Frank had decided eventually to go there to live and, eventually, make it the place he would be laid to rest.

Adieu, from all of Frank’s boys.


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