Saturday, 2 April 2016
Bernard Hendy - A Much Loved Brother
This morning, while I was mindlessly traversing the aisles of our nearest supermarket at an ungodly hour on account of an adjustment in the summer-winter clock, my only sibling, my beloved younger brother, died whilst on holiday in Africa. He suddenly dropped dead it seems from a heart attack whilst I hovered over frozen peas and spinach, deliberated on their individual merits and compared prices. In the very last seconds of his earthly life I was very possibly queuing at the check-out counter, impatiently behind the Indian corner-dairy owners who always shop at hours unearthly despite summer-winter time variations. The news that his life had ended came an hour or so later by email from his son and left me in total disbelief. How could it possibly be that someone so charming and charismatic could simply vanish into the ether? We were brought up as Roman Catholics he and I so surely his existence can’t end just like that? After all, he was once an altar boy; doesn’t that count for something? We had a relationship that was very much based on love-hate and our feelings towards each other were never irrelevant or inconsequential. We could talk for hours and not tire of the fact that a lot of the time our conversation went round in circles. Bernard and I were brought up in abject poverty, the kind of miserable and wretched neediness that doesn’t exist anymore except in the underclasses of developing countries. We inhabited a world that makes Coronation Street look decidedly middle class. Our father died when we were four and eleven and subsequently the privation and distress went to an entirely new level as our uneducated, half literate, well meaning mother went on to do the best she could for us which was not very much. As we grew older my brother was much more forgiving of her than I was. We lived in an area of largely industrialised Thameside where we were surrounded by the Decent Poor. We featured at the very bottom of the social heap because of hints of `Diddicai’ or `Pikey’ family roots and the Decent Poor looked down on us. I can’t say I blame them – when the neighours were beginning to think about installing inside toilets with attached shower facilities, we were still hauling in the zinc bath from its place on the outside wall every Saturday night for one thing. Bernard was convinced he was unpopular with other boys’ families because he smelled bad. With our father gone I became my brother’s bullying older sister who had both loved him dearly and wished him harm from his first intrusion into my life. Left in charge of him whilst our mother worked cleaning other people’s houses, I compelled him to eat slugs, chew marbles, beg in the street for pennies for a non-existent charity, and dress up as a girl called Wendy in a pink crepe paper fairy costume I made specifically for the purpose. At the same time if any other child dared to criticize him I was ferocious in my defense and this merciless aggression on his behalf continued into his early teens when I once famously attacked three of his classmates who had unwisely risked upsetting him, sending the horrified trio bolting for cover. If necessary I would have killed for him. Bernard had a checkered and volatile early life, frequent brushes with The Law and a tendency to stray far from the truth. He was a husband and father by the time he was eighteen and there were times when he could have done better in both these roles. He and I shared a compulsion. As we grew older neither of us could accept the reality of our vastly underprivileged start in life and so invented one substitute family after another, each more implausible than the last. Bernard’s second wife Irene was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. With her he was able to progress some of his dreams and become the person he really wanted to be. It was in some degree due to luck but also to Irene’s hard work and diligence that they together made a great deal of money and his long obsession with the Scottish Highlands was realized when he bought a Victorian mansion at Cape Wrath and turned it into a family home complete with enough power-showered bathrooms to utterly astound our former neighbours. Money changed his basic personality very little. It was true he could now buy whatever he wished – and he did so, but essentially he remained the same. Without money he had always been unerringly generous and with money he simply became more so. He always remained the captivating and magnetic individual who could entertain with stories, many of which were quite untrue, for hour upon hour. He remained the man that he always had been, the best and the worst of brothers. He definitely knew I loved him but he died without knowing how enormously proud of him I was because I never told him so and I think I should have done. Essentially life is short and when Death reaches out the separation and the silence seem so complete that we can never make too much of the ties and relationships we have with the living.