While she was "rinsing out my dishcloths" I rang David. "Oh God" he breathed at the news that a) his mother was here until Sunday and b) he'd forgotten the anniversary of his father's death. "Cover for me!" he hissed. Really, I'm going to stop him watching The Sopranos. "I suppose you've all forgotten" she went on, shooting me a look as she rummaged through the fridge. She loves a good rummage does Amelia. I lied and said that we were planning to go on Saturday.
"Hm" she said.
An hour later I found myself in Honor Oak Cemetery clutching fifteen quids worth of flowers and making my way perilously through a mishmash of gravestones and crosses. There's something so other-worldly about cemeteries and crematoriums - it's not just the peace or the serenity of the place, I can't explain what it is. All I know is that whenever I'm there I speak in hushed tones and try not to think about all the bodies lying beneath my feet. If that sounds disrespectful, I'm sorry. I was five when my paternal grandfather died - when I found out he was going to be "put in the ground" as my grandmother put it I screamed, cried and didn't sleep for a week....I had visions of them digging him in like you would a spud. When my maternal grandfather died I was seven. My second experience of a funeral went off only slightly better (if that's the word) than my first: when the coffin (at Honor Oak Crem the coffin descends into the ground) started going down I whimpered and buried my face in my mum's stomach and there I stayed until we got back to the cars. She later told me she nearly fell over me twice.
Amelia had bought a rug, a trowel and a wire brush with her and I had left her to her grave tending while I had a wander round. All of my family (with the exception of those who died on foreign soil during either World Wars and those that are still alive natch) were either buried or scattered up here. Skirting the church I headed up the hill to find my paternal great grandparents, two great aunts, paternal grandparents and an aunt who died as a child from pnuemonia. She would have been 65 this year. Finding my grandad's grave I counted three rows up and five headstones along to mark the family plots. A breeze had got up and I spoke to them all as I do, the great grandparents I never knew but have heard loads about, my two great aunts Edie and Evelyn who I knew vaguely when I was younger.....Edie lived in Dulwich in a house with her landlady who had about 15 million cats and Evelyn who lived next door to a transvestite who used to borrow her jewellery. Grandad whose cheese I ate when I was three whilst being transported back from the deli in Rye Lane by my nan. "Give Grandad his cheese" she instructed as I handed over the empty wrapper. I can still see his face.....the Sergeant Major in him making him look angry and irritated but the genuine smile of amusement softening his face. My nan is buried alongside him, she used to hum a tune when she was engrossed in anything....I can still hear it. "Hm hm, hum-hum-hum" My dad's sister is buried in the same plot - Nan had a picture of her wearing a red coat in Trafalgar Square feeding the pigeons, a scene and picture that I replicated aged seven and that provoked tears when she was presented with the photographic proof.
"I'm going now" I said and bade them farewell. It could have just been the trees but I swear I heard laughter as I slithered down the grassy banks, clutching onto trees as I went. Amelia had obviously been crying, I felt a shimmer of sympathy for her. "Are you ready?" I asked. Immediately the shutters came down and she resisted my attempts to help her back to the car. Without saying a word I headed for the Crematorium. Thankfully she didn't say a word, just stared out of the window.
Mum's rose tree had been pruned and, poor woman, had been covered in manure. "Poor mum" I said as I fondled her rose leaves and smiled. My maternal grandmothers tree was obviously destined for the same treatment as a steaming pile of fertiliser hummed away beside her plot. My maternal grandfathers memorial was in need of a good polish but I made do with spitting on a tissue and wiping it, just like he used to do to me with the words "you mucky pup!" ringing in my ears. Other relatives I never met but have heard about it have memorials up here but it would take a full day and a good map to find them all. I passed by those that I knew the location of, touching the cold marble and smiling.
We drove home in companionable silence, stopping off at Ayres. I was feeling well disposed towards my mother in law and suggested that she choose a cake. "Frank loved a good cream cake" she mused as she headed for the mouthwatering display. Feeling ever so slightly chuffed that we'd been in each others company for nearly three hours now with nary a cross word, rebuff or barely hidden insult I suggested we get a strawberry gateau for tea. "He liked a good cream cake my girl but never went to excess!" and off she went, railing about greed and over abundance.
I tell you, she was extremely lucky she went home carrying her eclair - I had a far more inventive suggestion for its transportation.