Although I had ample time to prepare and knew it was a matter of time, I was wretched with grief. My dearest, darling Uncle Arch (of whom I wrote in my very first blog) had popped off in his sleep; so typical of a man who lived his life with fierce dignity and never made a fuss. He had made me promise that I wouldn’t ‘make a scene at the end of the show’, but I wanted to tear my clothes, scream and grunt until I lost consciousness.
This sole-survivor of the adults of my childhood gave me so much that I was unable to imagine who I might have been without his influence. He ‘took me on’ when other babies began arriving and I was no longer the centre of the universe to my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. I don’t remember a time without him, although I know from my mother’s diaries that my parents met him on holiday when I was eighteen months old and that he later bought the house-next-door (Archie’s Bunker).
Grey suited and sober, he went off dutifully to his mundane job every weekday, but the weekend always promised flamboyant entertainments for me. He provided so many firsts for me; the cinema (Gigi), the ballet (Swan Lake) and as a teenager, my first Martini. He was there to mop my tears at my first heartbreak. He was the one we rang at ungodly hours when, at college, we were too drunk to drive. He planted the foolish notion in my head that I should write, introduced me to Quentin Crisp and created my habit of re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray every December holiday. ‘Youth chases the PLOT, my dear, as you age you can better appreciate the CRAFT’.
There was never a hint of scandal about him and, sadly, I don’t think he ever had a long-term love. He certainly indicated this when – back in the 80’s – I asked him about the low incidence of AIDS in his age group and he said that his youth didn’t involve any ‘actual rogering. There was quite a lot of sweaty wrestling and, occasionally, a sweet, stolen, secret kiss’. It is very likely that he lived in mortal fear of going to prison, which was what happened to homosexuals in those days; which he referred to as ‘back when gay meant happy and pansy was a flower’.
He retired at his seaside flat, with a basset hound, Buck and a budgie, Missy. I tried to get down and see him every second week. He was immaculately dressed at 8am every morning; ‘in case of company’ and took tea at 4pm every afternoon at a coffee shop in the harbour, where he could ‘watch the fleet come in’. He refused to embrace technology and dedicated two hours of his morning to ‘receiving and replying to letters’. He walked out in the village with his hound, whom he said helped ‘to initiate conversations with fellow pedestrians and keep muggers at bay’.
In accordance with his wishes and to stop me from ‘buying a new frock, hiring a band and putting on a bloody show’, he took care of his cremation (‘no bloody audience!’) and asked that his ashes were given to me to dispose of where I saw fit (Smitswinkelbaai).
So, there is the story of how I got Buck.
I can just see Uncle Arch laughing at this and mocking me: ‘I was Richard with grief…’