Postcards from the Edge
A seat by the sea dedicated to a deceased loved one makes for a long-lived and emotive memorial, says Mary Kenny
According to a report in the Times, the ‘minimalist’ funeral is gaining popularity – no service, no prayers, no mourners, no frills – just a bare cremation and ashes disposal. Yet I imagine that rituals will always surround departure from this life, and in Deal a local practice of remembering the dead is flourishing.
Overlooking the Channel and its horizon towards the Continent are innumerable promenade benches honouring the dead. On each bench an inscription bears a memory of family and friends. ‘Remembering Ethel Elizabeth Wasketh, my much-loved grandmother, 1906-2004, who will always be in my heart. Keith.’ ‘Remembering Ida Willerton, my much-loved mother, 1917-2004.’ ‘Much-loved’ is often, and touchingly, evoked. ‘Ian Murray 19402000. Best-loved husband, father and true friend. Foreign correspondent who “saw a lot and did a little”.’ Tributes may also recall the departed’s character: ‘In loving memory of Frank Shaw. A rock in the sea of life.’
In our more secular age, religious allusions are infrequent, although the afterlife may be mentioned. ‘Barbara Beth Horn Brazier Paliner: In loving memory of a loving mother/ grandmother, sadly missed RIP. Mum/ Nan – until we meet again.’ Then there’s the drinker’s bench: ‘In loving memory of Harry Croxton – Gone to god’s [sic] bar in the sky – happy hour – all welcome.’ Perhaps Harry will be joined by Ken and Jess Richardson, whose bench proclaims: ‘Don’t drink less with Ken & Jess.’
Just by the library is a bench for Anne Woods Davies, who died in 2017, aged 80. ‘She read and read and read and then she was dead.’ Memorable!
Amid the seagulls, sailing yachts, mums, children, and dogs walking by the shore, the dead still dwell. As it should be.
The Germans have a word for mothers who go out to work, hinting they are neglecting their children: Rabenmutter. ‘Raven mother’ alludes to the traditional belief that the raven bird abandons her chicks.* The Rabenmutter tag is said to have a negative influence on young women who are uncertain about starting a family, and could even be contributing to Germany’s worryingly low fertility rate – and, indeed, disappointment among German oldies that grandchildren aren’t appearing.
So raise a glass to Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defence minister, who is Europe’s only female minister in charge of fighting forces. She tries to make soldiering more attractive to young families by setting up crèches for female and male troops: she is also a mother of seven children herself, and is tipped to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as the head of Nato. Surely, she’s a living rebuttal of the Rabenmutter insult.
*But the raven has been defamed: The Oldie’s James Le Fanu, so knowledgeable about the natural world, tells me the raven feeds and tends her young for six months. The ‘selfish raven’ myth probably derives from the Book of Psalms, where King David describes the raven as an abandoning mother.
A series of royal visits to Ireland – Harry and Meghan were warmly greeted during the summer – has softened the old anglophobia and extreme republicanism. But it never entirely goes away. There has been an outbreak of vandalism against streets called ‘Victoria’ in Dublin’s most salubrious suburb, Dalkey, with the name daubed out.
I disagree with the vandalism, but I do think the name ‘Victoria’ has been overused in the naming of streets. More concerning is the demand by the longestserving Sinn Fein parliamentarian, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Kevin Keelan in English form), to pull down the last remaining royal statue still standing in the Republic of Ireland. The 1871 sculpture of Prince Albert is discreetly hidden behind foliage in the grounds of Leinster House, by Merrion Square.
Strangely, Albert is unnamed, but is surrounded by the symbolic figures of agriculture, the arts, engineering and scientific exploration. It was crafted by the Irish sculptor John Henry Foley, but if Ó Caoláin gets his way, it will be demolished to make way for more car space for members of the Dail.
‘Threading’ is a beauty treatment for shaping eyebrows and removing facial hair (and the horror of becoming a bewhiskered old lady). Such salons thrive in Canterbury, to which I repair for the said ministrations. Canterbury has always attracted French tourists, and many Frenchwomen apparently come for threading treatment. According to my threading therapist, the procedure is banned in France – ‘Because,’ she suggests, ‘it’s not French.’ It is also unavailable in Spain; so there are Spanish clients too.
Threading involves removing facial hair by the agile rolling of a cotton thread over the targeted area. It’s been done for many centuries in India and the Middle East. It would seem silly to ban it.