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Simon Parke: A cold going he had of it

20 January 2010

I RECENTLY attended the funeral of Peter, a former churchwarden at a church where I served as Vicar. I travelled from London to East­bourne on the day when the big freeze up north became the big freeze down south; so I was not ex­pecting an easy journey.

All was not well at Victoria Station. Trains appeared on the in­formation board as “On time”, only moments later to be “Cancelled”. Like agitators under Stalin, they are there one minute and gone the next.

Then, suddenly, the Eastbourne train appeared on the board. It said “Delayed”, but this felt like pro-gress; until my neighbour on the bench pointed out that the East­bourne train for an hour ago was also still “Delayed”. I pondered: when does a delayed train become a cancelled train? If the 9.45 a.m. to Brighton is delayed two hours, can it still meaningfully be called the 9.45?

Eventually, the confusing informa­­tion board drove me to the in­formation desk. The staff advised me to keep a keen eye on the informa­tion board.

And then, suddenly, we were away, pulling out of London amid fresh waves of snow. I took a book, but read not a word for the 90-minute journey, too gripped by cold creation. For what transpired was an endless scroll of masterpieces — frozen studies in grey, white, and black: wintry witch-finger trees, fresh from Narnia; silver brambles spilling; dark-iced water; and a clean white patchwork of fields.

With ice on the windows, we were cheered by the Tannoy announce­ment that a drinks trolley was on its way — with the small caveat that “No hot drinks are available.” In fact, no drinks trolley appeared through­out the journey.

In Eastbourne, the buses could not help me — “No bus can get to the crematorium today, sir.” Instead, I found a taxi driver, who lamented that if things froze overnight he might earn nothing the next day. I was earning nothing that day; so my sympathy was more of an ember than a roaring fire.

But he got me to the crematorium on time, where 12 of us gathered to remember 88-year-old Peter, and say our goodbyes. The Vicar did a fine job in the Arctic conditions, with an informed and kind reflection on Peter’s life. We then sang “The Lord’s my shepherd” — good news for us all as we contemplated dangerous journeys home.

Wonderfully, the Vicar organised the undertakers to return me to the station. There were three of us in the back seat: me, and two boxes of ashes — Jennifer and Henry. I was the more talkative as we drove along the sea front, where I have often swum. Grey waves crashed and ebbed in the whipping snow; and sweet Peter was gone, because time and tide can wait only so long.

Simon Parke is the author of One-Minute Mystic (Hay House, £7.99 (CT Bookshop £7.20); 978-1-848-50177-5).

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