Bernard was a countryman. He was ill much of his childhood, so he hardly went to school, but he spent a lot of time with his step-father Charlie, a woodsman, in the forests. And, a child alone at home, his friends and playmates were the draught horses who pulled the plough on the farm next door to his family’s cottage.
Everyone Bernard knew, as a child, worked on farming, gardening, building ~ husbanding animals, creating shelter, caring for the land. As an adult, he himself lived in a tiny Victorian artisan cottage on the fringes of Flatropers Wood in Beckley. When he took it on, it was semi-derelict, overgrown with brambles, last used for housing chickens. A master-builder (and in later years an artist-blacksmith), he made it into a home of beautiful simplicity. Seven years after the death of his beloved wife Anne and a year or so after my first husband found a new life companion, Bernard married me; but he died not much more than a year later, at the very end of August. So this month of August in 2004, I and my daughters spent watching over his last days, caring for him. Especially I remember the nights ~ the huge, bright, silent moon gazing in through the window of the cottage. Listening to the silence. Waiting for his death. A very vivid time. Surrounded by prayer we were, the whole place charged with love. You could feel it.
Bernard was a difficult man ~ impossible might be a better word. Touchy, moody, tender, creative, imaginative, über-honest and direct, funny, generous and kind, incredibly rude if he thought the occasion demanded it, intensely private. Sometimes surpassingly patient, often dismissive and not patient whatsoever. A soul of sensitivity and perception. A man of carefully-thought-through and strongly held views. Distrustful of religion but deeply reverent. What Yorkshire people call “wick” was Bernard ~ fully alive. Laughter in his eyes. Memorable.
And Bernard had a cousin whose name I’ve forgotten ~ apart from his dearly loved son, he thought his family little worth any attention. But he told me one day of a conversation this cousin had with his wife. The cousin had been out working in the garden on a fine summer’s day. Everything had been growing fast – the grass, the hedges, all of it. The man’s objective for the day was to restore order. This involved mowing the lawn, and then the edges of it would have to be trimmed with a spade or an edge-cutter; and also trimming the hedges back into shape.
Though capable and possessed of many useful skills, knowing the ways of birds and plants and animals, these were not polished or highly educated people, and they would have spoken ~ as Bernard did ~ with the distinctive Sussex country accent.
Thus came about the following conversation at the end of a long day’s hard work:
Man: I’ve done the garden.
Wife: Yes. But you ’aven’t trimmed the edges.
Man (indignant): I ’ave trimmed the ’edges!
Wife: No you ’aven’t.
Man: Yes I ’ave! …
Ah, the misunderstandings of language and marriage, the power of a humble H!
Always used to make Bernard smile, that story.