It has been a time of funerals and non-funerals ; by that I mean the death from cancer at the age of 62 of my friend, comrade , fellow Bluebird and namesake Mike J. Jenkins ( also from Heolgerrig) and that of my father, thirty years older, who never had a funeral at all.

   It's hard to explain to those outside the family, how I felt so much sadness at the death of a friend and so little at that of my father. In fact, I felt guilty at being so empty of emotions and many in my family felt the same.

   Mike died far too young. We used to teach together at Pen-y-dre High School in Merthyr and invented a third 'Mike Jenkins Science', to confound and eventually amuse pupils. As a non-driver, he often gave me a lift home and his company was invariably interesting and hilarious. He had a mind full of anecdotes and I recall how he told me about one teacher who'd lost it. She began to hallucinate one pupil who bugged her,seeing him in every lesson and Mike had once found her standing outside the classroom, staring at a light-bulb, unable to enter!

   At that time ( the 80's) he was prominent in the local Labour Party and ,indeed, ex-MP Ted Rowlands as well as present one Dai Harvard attended his funeral. The former's phone went off in the middle of the Rev. Protheroe's oration and Rowlands took ages frantically pressing buttons to turn it off, as if it were an alien device. Mike would've had a real laugh at that one!

   He was even in a Labour Party political broadcast then and the staff at Pen-y-dre teased him, calling him 'Mr Average'. Mike left the party totally disillusioned with the war in Iraq and Blair's wooing of big business and bankers alike.

   Our political differences had come to the fore in 1979 when, at the school's mock referendum on devolution Mike took a Kinnockite line and led the 'No' campaign. Myself and Peter Griffiths (later to become Head of Llanhari and Rhydfelin) led the 'Yes' campaign.

   Mike's views changed radically over the years and he became a staunch supporter of devolution. In conversation, he also backed those in Plaid Cymru who took a socialist, republican stance. Like me, only later on, he was very active in the anti-opencast movement in our village.

  In recent years I knew him very well from football. He was the kindest person and always offered lifts without wanting any remuneration. He stood to watch Cardiff City on the old Canton and in the new stadium. The fact he liked chanting and often joined in was hard to tally with the Christian soul conjured by the Reverend.

   Yet, there was never a hint of hypocrisy about the man: he was genuine , funny and generous, never pushing his undoubted faith on others. My last memory is his voice on the phone as I walked towards our mutual watering-hole before the Reading game. He was in his hospital bed and sounded perky, saying he was sorry he couldn't be there, but looking forward to the possibility of Wembley.

   If there are still bricks to be bought outside the ground, then we must get one for Mike. I know he'd be proud. 

   My father's rites were very different . He had supposedly left his body to medical science, so there was no funeral. However, it was discovered later that he'd changed his will and wished to be buried in the family plot in Barry. It was too late though, unless the remaining parts can be rounded up!

   He'd also changed his will to leave all his money to the NSPCC and the Alzheimer's Society. To anyone who knew him well, this had a dark irony.

   A serious family incident had caused our separation for over a decade and only my brother kept regular contact. My sister and I had no communication at all, though in recent years I would have met him again if he'd proferred a hand.

   Sadly, I've few positive memories and even these go back to the time when I was very young in Aber and are based on photos I've seen. What stands out from that time and the years following are traumatic occurences, like when he broke up my fishing-rod and threw it into the sea, driving home like a mad man and when he tore off all his clothes, except underpants, and stood on the kitchen table screaming and yelling at my mother.

   Of course, mental illness is extremely problematic. What was him and what was the illness? Certainly, he blamed everything he did on his nervous breakdown (before I was born) and upbringing.

   I wish I could remember him with more affection. Even a holiday together in Ireland when I was a teenager became more and more miserable , as he descended into anger, running out of money and phoning my grandmother to bail him out.

   His propensity for disaster would've made him endearing, had it not been for the maniacal outbursts which sometimes involved wielding a knife. He destroyed three marriages and numerous careers by fighting physically and verbally with bosses. As a Security Guard in Barry he used to sleep during night-shifts and was eventually caught out and dismissed when there was a fire on his watch!

   On this Father's Day I think of others I regard more as true fathers and regret we don't get to choose. I have learnt much from my trying to do the opposite of what he's done! 

                                       LAST  GIFT

My father was never renowned for generosity,
presents he sent included a blank tape,
plastic cheese net, even a rusty can-opener
which had previously belonged to my grandfather.

So, we had enjoyed a family meal together
in the wake of his death at over ninety,
my brother said his legacy would pay
(it was the first and last time he'd treated me).

We didn't toast his memory
after a decade separate and no apologies,
though my brother had visited regularly
but more out of a sense of duty.

'Is this a death meal?' my daughter asked,
as we thought of his final benevolence,
his body donated to medical science,
just as he'd always given blood freely.

It was difficult to connect now
this man being dissected, avowed humanist,
with the father who so often lost his head
and spat out such vile hatred.

If I weren't an equal disbeliever
I'd like to address him in the after-life :
'Look, dad, that was the best gift you ever gave....
your organs.....for research.......wrapped in flesh.'

06/22/2011 14:39

One powerful post!

09/19/2012 09:29

Thanks for a great read.

01/31/2014 03:11

I am so much pleased to get this planning. I am looking ahead to read more about it. This is a very lovely post.


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