And Now He's Gone Aloft

  We saw off Tom on Monday morning and very lovely it was too, from the cardboard and rope coffin in dark racing green to Geoffrey Burgon’s setting of the Nunc Dimittis. Sandwiched between the eulogy and St John 11:17  a tenor sang Tom Bowling, a song that would be my undoing on the happiest of occasions.

St James’s, Paddington is Victorian Gothic, full of surprising light and warmth. Oscar Wilde was married there in 1884. They have his marriage lines on display. Sometimes I’m filled with nostalgia for my Anglican roots. Then Rowan Williams opens his mouth and I remember why I left.

Tom was more my mother’s friend than mine and a strange pair they made too: she, as fine a specimen of no nonsense eeh-by-goomery as you could ever wish to meet, he, terribly well connected and lightly camp. On the subject of his sexual preferences she took the line usual to her generation. ‘He never married’. Quite so.  But there was an ocasion at Treviso Airport  when a solicitous security guard told her she was welcome to accompany her ‘husband’ and his wheelchair through Fast Track and my mother felt impelled to put the record straight.

What did they ever find to talk about? The war, the Navy. Tom was a naval surgeon, my Dad was a CPO and my Mum followed him to his new billet whenever she could. Chatham, Dunoon, Falmouth, where I was conceived. 

Anyway, we toasted Tom with a glass of fizz, then went to the National Gallery to see the Jan Gossaert show which left me flat. Too much champagne? Or has Giovanni Bellini ruined me for anyone else’s Madonna and Child? 

What I did like though, when I eventually found it, tucked away in Room 1, was the exhibit of George Bellows and the Ashcan painters. But by then our dogs were well and truly barking. We needed tea. We needed comfy chairs and silence. A little of London goes a long way for us these days.

Leave a Comment