I’ve just got back from what was said to be the best wake this side of the Irish Sea. I don’t attend enough to confirm whether this was so, but a quick head count showed at least 20 musicians playing at once in the skittle alley of The Trooper Inn at Stourton Caundle where Nick ran monthly folk music sessions.
I have known Nick since 1974 when, as a cartographic draughtsman, he joined DCC to create the Definitive Map of Rights of Way. Besides being (not very close) colleagues at work, he also kept bees for a while until he moved house and it became impractical. In recent years we met at folk music sessions, usually when he travelled across the county to the monthly sessions at the Chalk & Cheese in my village, Maiden Newton. We always had a natter in the breaks.
I last saw him 3 sessions ago, when he told me that he had been manic for some months (he alternated between mania and depression). 2 sessions ago, it was reported that he was in hospital in Taunton, having suffered a seizure or fit and was likely to be in for a while. Last session, a week ago last Sunday, we were told that he had died the previous day, not from a brain problem but an unsuspected stomach tumour. He was only just 60.
The Funeral Service was in Stalbridge in Barnes’ country in North Dorset, so I took along my, century old, copy of ‘Select Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect’ by William Barnes with the intention, if the opportunity arose at the wake, of reading in my best Darzet, his last poem, written on his deathbed: ‘The Geate a-vallen to’. I was beaten to it! It was read during the service by somebody whose Dorset accent is a bit different to mine. As I discovered as a lad when, on market days, people came from villages all around to Dorchester, each village has its own accent and I learned, once I had got my ear in, to tell within a couple of miles whence people haled.
The Church was very full. I noticed that the darkly suited and black tied (as I was) people lurked at the back, mainly former colleagues, whereas those more interestingly clad, including one chap in a proper smock, and another with a chest-deep plaited beard were nearer the front. A group of musicians, most of whom I know, was playing folky stuff while we waited for the service to begin. Nick was present only in ashen form. During the service, a relative read the story of his life and times and at the end of the service, while people shuffled out or sat and listened, a CD of his music was played.
I got lost on my way to The Trooper, never having been there before, and had to back-track a few miles.The village street near the pub was crammed with parked cars. The music session was just starting and I joined in. There were quite a few former colleagues there, one of whom, rightly, said that I had forgotten him. He hadn’t the only face that I knew but couldn’t name. I’m getting old!
I stayed for, maybe, a couple of hours, playing, nattering, drinking beer and tea and eating sandwiches, sausage rolls and scones with jam and cream. I had intended to go to Weymouth afterwards for a lecture on global warming and climate change put on by their Transition Towns group but saw that I had left it too late.
Instead, I diverted via Shillingstone and knocked on the door of my apprentice, Jane o’Meara, whom I hadn’t seen for months. She greeted me enthusiastically and we had a good old natter. Her garden is being re-arranged so we re-sited her (currently unoccupied) hive.
Her daughter, Eden, is now 15 and has just done her mock exams before going down with a cold, which I hope she hasn’t passed on to me: must eat some propolis. (Chewing it now and washing down with mead). I remember that, when I first introduced Jane to bees almost 5 years ago, I took the first frame from my hive in the woods and showed how to handle it. Jane did the next and then Eden elbowed us aside and, the first time she had ever seen inside a beehive, went through the rest of the brood box competently, bare handed and unstung.
When I got Jane her first bees, a cut-out from a stable, when Jane was busy tying combs into frames, Eden was scooping up handsful of bees and transferring them to their hive, again unstung. That girl’s a natural!