Attending someone’s funeral isn’t usually a good sign if you’re looking to have a perfect day. But this day was the perfect day and the funeral was perfectively part of it.
I walked in the sunshine through the sleepy village of Needham Market to the train station heading for my old friends funeral thinking of him as I walked. On the platform I looked across the countryside while I waited for the train and I knew that Dale was with me, he would stay all day I realised later.
The train pulled in and I scanned the passengers on board, there was a small chance another old friend of mine might have got my message and be on board. I couldn’t see her and so decided to board. As I sat down and wondered whether to check the train properly I felt a tap on the shoulder and there she was, the perfect girl for my perfect day.
We grabbed a taxi at Ipswich station to ensure we would be on time and had fun chatting with our driver who’s broad Suffolk accent was a perfect accompaniment to our journey. He got us where we needed to be and we laughed as we left his company.
Fearing an austere funeral ceremony our fears were allayed immediately and it was clear this would go well and when Effervescing Elephant by Syd Barratt came on we all relaxed. Dale had sent his messenger to ease our fears.
The call came out for people to speak and mistakenly I faltered. Unprepared as I was I did not want to spoil peoples last goodbye. But, I had something to say and here it is. Dale and I discussed many things but we always came back to one thing and that one thing was ‘it’. We couldn’t define ‘it’ and so we called it, ‘it’. We felt that we had ‘it’ and that everyone should strive to achieve ‘it’. Later, I found a better definition of ‘it’ when reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig described it as ‘quality’ and quality defines Dale Mann.
We said our goodbyes, briefly meeting Dale’s son, it was like looking my old friend straight in the eye.
I had planned to walk down the cemetary as we left and this proved a good decision, there was nothing depressing about walking through the cemetary and workers chatting as we went combined with dog walkers and joggers made the walk pleasant. We strayed only slightly before perfectly finding the bottom of the cemetary and so the top of Cemetary Road. A short walk down, passing the place I lived for a short while back in those old days and then we were at the bottom of Hervey Street. My brothers old house where too I had lived in those days. Across Cobbold Street and we were at the bottom of Bolton Lane. I lived on Bolton Lane while I was at art school and so it was nice to see it again.
And so to my goal, Christchurch Park. Tea with the perfect girl, looking across the pond where my old friend Tony and I came to feed the ducks in our first year at art school. Tony too is lost but not forgotten.
My next goal was to walk up the hill to where the childrens playground now exists, it wasn’t there when Dale and I and our other friends used to hang out there. On the crest of the hill there you will see a single large tree, I call it The One Tree. It was our tree, many days spent drinking under it, shading from the sun, talking, always talking. If you go there, you will find Dale and some day me. The perfect girl shed a tear and as usual I didn’t know how to console her, but the tear was perfect and the moment slowly passed. I told her the story I have of Dale and the one tree..
When Dale and I were friends I was like a puppy that gnawed at his ankle to begin with. Slowly he brought me up to speed with George Harrison and others. But in the beginning I was still a schoolboy and so still delighted in school boy jinx. We were hanging about under The One Tree one day and I did something to upset him, I can’t actually remember what it was but he quickly had fire in his eyes and since I’d not seen that before I legged it down the hill heading north across the park. Being tall and in those days young I was confident I could out run him, I was wrong. Dale was lythe and ran fast and so he chased me across the park, I turned this way and that but could not shake him. Eventually I headed back to the hill and The One Tree and an idea came to me. I slowed my pace very slightly and allowed Dale to get as close to me as I dared, as I ran around the hill I suddenly turned to run up the hill, just as Dale was about to bring me down I deliberately fell to the ground and scrunched up like a ball. Because he was so close to me he had no time to adjust his step and so fell over me. I jumped up and ran up the hill to The One Tree. Puppy had triumphed and the old dog had cooled the fire in his eyes, accepting his fate. Because I won the battle that day I never forgot it of course and would give anything to have the fun of Dale chasing me across the park again.
It was time for the perfect girl and I to leave and we walked down the slope musing at how on earth I had managed to run up it once!
We passed through Ipswich and ended up in the Town Hall cafe/gallery. While we had coffee and scones we saw the Jackson Pollocks Paul had spoken about. As we left I saw Mannings on the left and since it was an old haunt of Dale and I we stopped by for a drink. Wonderful to see that it has not changed at all, a very rare thing these days.
And so to the train station for the journey home. It was hard to leave the perfect girl but circumstances meant we had to part quickly and before I knew it I was on my way back to Needham Market.
Goodbye my old friend, our connection was strong and stood the test of time. You held to our pact and sought quality all your life and so shall I.