He'd died grim, uncle Gordon and I hadn't been to see him. Didn't have the bottle, but our John went up. He's older than me and a lot harder. Went to the hospital twice in three days. The second time he went, he thought they'd fixed Gordon up and sent him home. Had to ask the nurse if he'd been discharged, because he didn’t recognise the bloke in the bed. She said no, that’s him, he's in the same bed as he's been in since he arrived. John said that when you run a dog for three miles or more, it just pants and fights for breath. Said that's what uncle Gordon looked like. And that’s when he knew he’d had enough.
Outside the crem, I stood with the old man. Saying nothing, while the old lady methodically read every single bloody note on ever single bloody bunch of bloody flowers. Across the car park, a body of men gathered. Huddled together in the cold breeze. Coughing. You'd have called it as a reunion of a disreputable 1970s army unit. Broken noses, brown teeth. Tragically bad mauve shirts and comically wide black ties. One or two I recognised. Bill Foreman, Noel Kennedy, Ernie Rudd. Noel ripping the end off a tipped cigarette and smoking it the other way round. Combovers, grey suits, red blotchy skin.
Then you realise. That if you needed a pipeline welding, or an 18 foot bar top polishing, or someone to fix a 60 ton excavator, or install a boiler in a conference centre, or lay 500 bricks in a day, whistling, this is where you'd find him. I ground my teeth together, nodded at cousin Phil, noted his wife. Looked back at the old man. Still saying nothing.