It was standing room only by the time we made it inside the crematorium chapel. We arrived quite early, there were just a few of us. Then more and more people began to arrive. There were hugs as we met old friends. So great to see Fred and Albert, who retired some years ago, Kevin, John, Marcio who I still work with regularly. The sun shone. Could it have been a more beautiful day?
But a day that was going to be hard for Paul, Ernie’s partner of nearly 60 years. When you think what attitudes to gay people were like when they met, you have to wonder what they went through. Paul is Irish and Catholic (that maybe was, as the service was led by an Anglican member of the clergy, a woman who knew both of them). Although the Irish Republic is today showing a more enlightened attitude to sexuality, so much so that Graham Norton, probably the Republic’s most famous gay export, has wondered if had the current climate prevailed when he was younger might he have stayed in his home country, traditionally homosexuality has been a particularly big taboo.
It’s weird isn’t it, the way people get so het up about homosexuality. I had a Christian upbringing. The main message was to love one another. I don’t recall sub-clauses about certain sexual orientation meant that edict shouldn’t apply.
Levititcus seems to be the favourite anti-gay quote for some homophobic Christians, but they seem quite able to ignore other instructions from the OT about behaviour.
I’m glad I live in London. Call me part of the metropolitan elite, call me a citizen of nowhere, that’s all nonsense; I am a Londoner, in love with my multicultural city which has taught me so much. My gay friends’ sexual orientation does not threaten mine. Why would it? They are my friends: I love them. I love my heterosexual friends. Simple. So it was great to learn today that Paul and Ernie’s families, one Irish, one East End London, had been warm, accepting, loving, in times when society was often cruel and blinkered.
Ernie’s nephew, who looked much as I imagine Ernie must have looked a few decades ago, spoke of his uncles Paul and Ernie collecting him from school, spoiling him, sticking up for him. He said some children don’t have one father, he felt he had three. His sister spoke about how difficult it had been to complete a shop after Ernie died. Everyone in the supermarket, customers, floor manager, assistants, wanted to express their sorrow, their condolences; the person at the deli counter started to cry. She talked about their great parties, at which point I began to feel a bit jealous that I had never been invited. Her exact words were “They threw a hell of a party”. The nephew had also made mention of the couple’s party spirit on family holidays in Spain. Wine, beer were all bought in quantity for entertaining, but Ernie’s favourite tipple was gin and tonic, something that was commemorated in this floral tribute.
I don’t think I shall ever drink another G&T and not remember Ernie.
We sang, we prayed, we cried.
Paul looked dapper but much frailer than when I last saw him. He still has a twinkle in his eye. It was lovely to see him; lovely to see the friends, the family members, the colleagues who were there. I’m glad he has so much support, so much love to help him through Ernie’s death. But I am more glad that he and Ernie enjoyed fifty-eight years together, from their teens to their seventies. The minister talked about God being love. I’m not a believer in God, but I do believe in love, and Ernie and Paul knew, understood, and lived love. I think that’s pretty godly.
Farewell Ernie. I feel privileged to have known you, privileged that you called me mate. But if there is an afterlife, I really hope I’m going to be invited to one of your parties.