Tag Archives: remembrance

Riding with Gerry

Gerald Manwaring, aka 'Gerry' (1938-2008)

‘We won’t be here forever…’ This was one of my Dad’s favourite sayings. Although I knew this – and found it a little irritating – it came uncannily true sooner than anyone had expected.

Gerald George Manwaring (known as ‘Gerry’ to his mates) died suddenly in early January 2008, aged 69. The family pulled together through this difficult time – my sister and I supporting Mum. I spoke at the funeral service about his life. We planted a tree for him and scattered his ashes over Delapre Abbey, where he loved to walk the dogs. In the summer we held a celebration of his life on what would have been his 70th birthday. When a small payment finally came through from his pension fund, I decided I wanted to buy something large and solid to remember Dad by, for that is how he came across. I wanted something physical to show he had existed. And so I purchased Triumph Legend motorbike – I’d had my eye on a Triumph for sometime, thinking I might get a Bonneville, but this 2001 model seemed apt, since Dad was something of a legend. Whenever I went for a ride on it, it would be a way of remembering him – in a way, going with him on trips to places I wished we had gone while he was alive. He loved his ‘walkabouts’ as he called them – going on random excursions to, say, Scotland, just to check out a few whiskey distilleries. As a child he had travelled wildly with his father, naval-base hopping around the Southern Hemisphere. If Mum was the ‘fixed point’ of my childhood universe – always at home, her ‘realm’ – Dad was the heavenly body, orbiting – always out and about. Mum symbolised the hearth; Dad, the world. Of exotic heritage, (born in Hong Kong, his mother was from Lima, Peru) he was a worldly bloke – and you could sometimes get him to chat about his travels over a pint or two.

And so, with this in mind, I planned a year-long trip around Britain. The best way we can honour the dead is … to live. When a parent dies, it gives one an intense sense of mortality. There’s almost a sense of duty – to savour each sacred moment. To live life ‘for them’ (…well, almost – ultimately, it’s for oneself) and enjoy the years they should have enjoyed, that were stolen from them. You are their DNA, after all – projected into the future. Living beyond their mortal coil. Thus, we continue, in a way (the only way?). How often does an obituary say: ‘he is survived by his wife and two children’? Saying that, I feel more than the sum of my parents… ‘They come through you but not from you’ (Khalil Gibran, The Prophet). Still, I feel obliged to honour their memory. They did give me life after all. Raised me, as best they can. Set me on my way.

And so I rode the roads of Britain in my father’s memory – exploring how we make and mark the ‘turning of the wheel’: seasonal festivals and customs. My Dad loved Christmas, Pancake Day, his birthday – anything that involved food and drink! I didn’t quite feast my way around Britain (though that would be nice!) but wherever I went I partook of a kind of communion – imbibing the atmosphere, the genius loci, for Dad. I opened my senses and relished it all – experiencing fully this thing called being alive. It made the numerous trips more poignant, to say the least. It was as though my father rode pillion. I wish I could have taken him out for a spin – and, in a way, I was.

Sight-seeing with a ghost.

Yet, it wasn’t as macabre as it sounds. Whenever something went wrong – I got lost, broke down, misplaced something – I could imagine my Dad laughing. He was there, reminding me not to take it all too seriously, to lighten up, to enjoy the ‘craic’, this precious gift called life.

And so I did.

I hope you do as well.

The author hits the road with Gerry

Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels by Kevan Manwaring, is published by O Books, 25th November 2011. ISBN: 978-1-84694-766-7

Available from all good bookstores or order direct from: www.o-books.com

Join me on the Turning the Wheel Tour – for dates, visit: www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

White Rainbow

Snow on Bathwick Hill, 5th Jan 09

Snow on Bathwick Hill, 5th Jan 09

5th February

Just walked back from the station through heavy snow – the world turned into a snow-dome.  Heavy snowfall in the Bath area over last couple of  days. The first wave came on Monday and brought the nation to a standstill – a flurry of snow and it all grinds to a halt! We just can’t cope, it seems. I can hear my Icelandic and Finnish friends laughing. But I think it’s more than just Anglo-Saxon ineptitude. I think it’s just a secret excuse to bunk off work and go and have a snow ball fight. Snow brings out the child in all of us (perhaps because, for people my generation, most memories of decent snow are related to childhood, when we used to have ‘proper winters’). Monday saw a wave of ‘mass-skiving’ strike the country – as evidenced by Facebook confessionals, photoes, videos, texting, twittering, etc. A adultlescent dawn chorus. A snowfall seems to turned even the hardest cynic goofy. It was wonderful, going for an amble up the hill this afternoon – usually a quiet loop around the National Trust slopes overlooking the city – to see it populated by a swathe of snow-junkies, young and old, making snowmen, sledding, throwing snowballs, juggling snowballs, rolling about in it giggling – high on snow. Toddlers pulled on tiny sledges by parents. Teenagers on tea-trays. Three men on a binlid. Snowfolk of various sizes and skill. An inevitable snow-penis – like a white May-pole – around which the snow-children played. We are made innocent again. The world is reminted, layered in broken slabs of Kendal mint cake.

Leaving the slope of fun, I headed for virgin fields to leave my Man Friday prints, the compacting snow making a polystyrene sound.  The familiar had become a film set. A special effect. I had to take photoes to remind myself what I was seeing – my neck of the woods, re-rendered as a Brueghel painting. 

I saw other snow art on the way to London later that afternoon. A snow-couple – the snowman and his wife, sitting watching the 15:13 to Paddington. Other spirits of the snow sat stoically considering their inevitable dissolution in backyards and parks. Michelin families rolled up winter into a ball, leaving negative slug-trails of naked grass. In Hyde Park, by the Serpentine Gallery, someone had sculpted an impressive snow-head, like the head of Bran the Blessed, singing still, stopping time – as snow seems to – until the strong door of reality is opened once again. Bran’s head was taken to London by the heart-weary seven who survived and buried beneath the White Mount, where now the Tower of London stands. The ravens (Bran’s bird) there have their wings clipped, because it is prophesied that if they were to ever leave, the country would fall. Bran’s head was buried facing France to protect the land from invaders, like the striking oil refinery workers who wished they could hold back the inevitable tide of market forces. ‘British jobs for British workers’ and yet even Bran’s role as tutelary guardian was usurped by another ‘foreign’ incomer, Arthur, who dug him up. Even magical protectionism can fail. As I passed the statue of Peter Pan, a raven landed nearby and looked at me with its black Odin eye. I doffed my cap to both – the forces of joy and death – and continued onto my evening class at Imperial College, a session on genre-busting with my writing students.

I returned home late. Tired. The night turned into a swirling flurry of TV screen static, stuck between stations, whispering from its glass world.

Exactly a year ago on this day, my Dad was cremated. In the summer, just before what would have been his 70th, my mother, sister and myself took the urn (heavy as mortality) over to one of his favourite haunts – where he used to take us walking the dogs as children. There, on a perfect sunny day we scattered the ashes. They made a summer frost on the green blades. I picked some up and let it run through my fingers, watching the particles dissipate in the light breeze. Then gently, so, so gently, I brushed the dust of my father into the earth, leaving no sign of his passing visible to the world. Only a white absence remained inside of us, as cold and as silent as snow.

Now we have planted a silver birch tree for him there (the first tree to establish itself after the icesheets withdraw) and the whiteness has taken on a new significance – a white of potential, for it is the colour that contains all colours. It is the beginning of the spectrum. A white rainbow.