“Evening Glow over Minnis Bay”
(Isle of Thanet)
11” x 23½”
I am feeling a bit subdued this week; I received word that one of my good friends passed away last Wednesday morning. There are people who are acquaintances that you know enough to greet on the street and maybe even have a conversation with, about say the weather or some such thing. Then there are those acquaintances who you know well enough to have more consequential conversations with, have a cup of tea with, or have an occasional beer with in the pub, and these people you can call friends. Then there are those friends to whom you gravitate more naturally, and with whom your more consequential conversations may be even deeper, and these people become Friends. Then there are those Friends with whom you can bare your soul to; who don’t judge you, nor you them (but if you do, you accept them, warts and all, for who they are … you give them the benefit of the doubt … and they you, because of shared history); from whom you feel you can ask for a bit of help if necessary, and with whom you might share dinners, a few beers after the pub has closed, perhaps play practical jokes on or with, and at times argue with, with no hard feelings; these Friends become your Mates. Mate … now there’s a word; mate, from matelot (pronunciation: matlˈō, matˈlō), as in shipmate; in Britain (and Australia) this is how you understand the word, and how I have come to understand the word, having lived over there for 34 years (23 in North Cornwall); not as my fellow Yanks, who think of the word as wife & lover. A Brit would say, “I’m goin’ down the pub ta ’ave a few bevies with me mates,” probably to his wife as he headed out the door, whereas a Yank might say (to his mates in the British sense of the word), “I’m going home to my mate (meaning wife or lover); can’t stay with you jokers all night!” except that I’ve rarely heard the word used in America in any sense of the word; two nations divided by a common language; I use the British sense hereafter.
Sharon died last week. She was a mate of mine (in the British sense), and the mate (in both the British & American sense) of my mate Clive; they were together for over 30 good years. I lived in Boscastle, North Cornwall in those days and been there for a couple of years when Sharon moved into the village, and took a job for a time as a barmaid in the Wellington Hotel; I might have seen her there first, but the first time we met was when I came striding swiftly up the hill from the house in the harbour, where I lived at the time, to the Spar grocery shop, passing Sharon on the way. “Oi!” she called out when I was a few yards past, “In that shirt and your hair I thought you were my husband, but you’re too tall.” I was wearing a red and black woolen lumberjack shirt at the time. I’m sure I said something inconsequential and proceeded on to my grocery shopping, as Sharon was new in the village and I had learned by this time not to waste much time with newbies until they had weathered a Cornish Winter, since newbies were wont to disappear back to wherever they had come from within the first few months of their flight to Cornwall. Within a year, however, her husband had returned to London, and Sharon remained, and she and Clive had become an item remaining so to the end.
Sharon became my landlady, when I had to leave the house in the harbour and I moved into the ground floor of her 300 year old slate cottage (with walls a yard thick), after she had been in the village for a year or so, weathering the Cornish Winter just fine, and she needed a paying tenant. By that time she came with Clive & I to her first Padstow May Day (my third), singing old songs in the Red Lion, as we did for 20 more (before I returned to the States); attended Roughtor’s infamous party at his thatched cottage the previous November, where I fell asleep in the huge old fireplace awaking in the morning to discover blood all over my face from a miniscule cut from a tiny glass shard lodged in my forehead (easily removed … those ‘ead wounds don’t ‘alf bleed, Guv’nor); and been to a 21st birthday party at the local
asylum mental institution in Bodmin for one of the male nurses there,
whose sister we had picked up hitch-hiking on the way to Padstow May Day. Sharon always chuckled while telling the
story of how we had arrived back in Boscastle about Noon (after we had
breakfasted and played pool in a trucker’s café after the all night Bodmin
asylum party), whereupon Clive parked next to a stone wall, thus forcing me to
crawl from the passenger side to exit the vehicle through the driver’s door on
my hands and knees. I was weary and the
situation had struck me as ludicrous, just coming back from an all-nighter at
the asylum and all, and so as I crawled out on my hands and knees, I gave my
best Jimmy Saville yodel (the Brits will know what I mean), and cried out, “Wot
a party!” in my best London accent, just as two old dears came walking past from the grocer’s, looking
disgusted. “Oh Steve!” she would say,
“You should have seen their faces!” (One needs to be disgraceful on occasion to
keep a semblance of humility … and humanity).
That might have been when I knew she was a mate. The next two Christmases I went upstairs for
dinner, along with Smiley Rick, and I believe Roughtor (pronounced: Row [as in ow!] tore) was in attendance for at least one (if not both) of those as
After that Sharon and Clive moved on down to Padstow, first opening up a pottery shop, and two years later changing that into a bistro, at which time Sharon needed to sell her Boscastle cottage to finance the change, and thus no longer was my landlady. I then bought my flat, sadly not in Boscastle, but 4 miles south of Padstow, but I did have those two mates not far away and many more memorable times were to be had over the years. I remember her telling me one day that one of their serving maids at the bistro had addressed her as Shaz (Sharon shortened, much as the name Barry is often shortened to Baz or Bazza). “I was mortified,” she said, “I’m a Sharon, not a Shaz.” “Quite right,” I replied, “You’re not a Shaz; but perhaps Shazza … Shazza … hmmmmmm … perhaps not.” I hear her laughter still.
I last saw them seven years ago in 2008; briefly … 3 hours or so of an evening, my time in Cornwall being limited to just a couple of days. Sharon was studying something or other, she had studied bookkeeping not long before I returned to the States, but I believe this was more like History; I know she was very interested in Egyptian History and had always said she would like to study that more seriously; whether it was that or not I don’t know … I would like to think it was. Sharon had suffered early with arthritis, but she handled it well, so much so we rarely were aware of it. I don’t know how much that might have been a part of her recent infirmities, as what little I know has come to me via me mate Pete up in London, Sharon & Clive not being writers, other than the annual Christmas Card until recently; but mates are mates whether or not you keep in close contact … that’s part of what makes up being a mate … although one would like to hear more about what they are up to, nevertheless when you do meet up again, you easily catch up and continue where you left off … because you’re mates.
Pete said “there was a long litany of problems none of which are relevant now, thank God. She's gone back to being the intelligent woman with a great sense of humour that we know and love.” In that Pete is so right. I could say that the World is now a poorer place with her passing, but the World cares not for any of us; however, for those of us who knew her, and especially her mates, her daughter Morwenna, and family, it is a much poorer place, her wit and her laughter will be sorely missed … that is all that any of us can expect, or hope for … to be remembered by those who cared about us in life. Sharon was too young to leave us, being nine or so years younger than me, but then anytime is too young for the leaving, to someone who once said to friends on the Isle of Skye (I was 22 at the time), “I’m so ornery … I’m going to live forever.” … being older now, perhaps I won’t … I’m still ornery, though, so there is yet hope. The spot where Clive will be placing her ashes is a wonderful place … for myself it is one of the finest views in all of Cornwall, looking from Trevalga Village over the fields and cliffs past the fjord of Boscastle, and on to Lundy Island. Farewell old mate; I will come and visit when I am able.
In the title to this posting I said old friends, and so I shall give a mention to a good friend, Helen, who passed away last November. I only knew her for maybe 12 or 15 years or so; she was partner to my old mate, John, who I have known since my earliest days in Boscastle, and their door was always open to me; she made a mean roast pork or a roast salmon dinner, followed by port and cheese in front of a good fire, of an evening, while it might be storming outside their residence on the edge of Dartmoor (think, Hound of the Baskervilles).
When I returned to from the desert at the beginning of the year (see my recent blog postings), I found an email from Jane, the wife of another good friend Roger; I had written to them last Summer to let them know of the beginnings of this blog, and perchance they had added a computer to their home since I had last seen them in 2007, I believe. They had recently been making plans for their lives now that their two girls had flown the nest and Jane was taking an early retirement. Sadly, not to be for Jane was writing to tell me that he had suffered a massive heart attack two years before, and was no longer with us. Roger was a good friend, and would undoubtedly been a mate, if we had lived in the same village or close by, and thus met up more than the two or three times a year that we did, while I still lived in Cornwall, usually at exhibitions or if I had time to pop in for a cup of tea as I was passing by Bude (their town), delivering paintings to one or other of my galleries. I was always happy to see them, and would have liked to have seen them more often, but 40 miles in Cornwall is long ways. I worked in a gift shop in Boscastle for my first few Summers in Cornwall, and in ’83, the first Summer I had some of my paintings in the shop, they walked in and engaged me in conversation about them; I will always be indebted to Roger and Jane for introducing me to one of my best galleries, Gallerie Marin; I first placed my work there the following year.
I have a cold anger in my heart for the greed on Wall Street that threw the world into the economic crisis back in 2008, and the recession that followed, and which has prevented me from being able to visit old friends and old mates in England ever since. These three I will not see again, but all live on in my heart … Sharon, Helen and Roger … and all as I knew them best … fare thee well.