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

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - 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.

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