We buried Barry Hines’ body and shared memories of the man. His funeral shook me, ambushing me in that way only funerals can.
St Peter’s church, Tankersley, is intimate and old enough to reassure. It was packed with family and friends. Some had been neighbours. Some old teaching colleagues. Some even ex-pupils, now so old you couldn’t picture them as teenagers. I was there, with Ken Loach and his wife Lesley, his old comrades from films.
Barry had not been religious, but he wanted to be buried close to Hoyland Common, where he was born and where he loved to be. The vicar, Keith Hale, welcomed us all, not even turning away non-believers like me, assuming no doubt that we were all sinners.
There’s nothing like an old church for a funeral. Those modern crematoria get the job done, but they’re too coldly functional, somehow. They lack the soul for the job.
It was chilly. We were in Yorkshire, after all. But the sun blazed down and the country, mocking death, was energetically springing to life around us.
There were hymns, of course. “Abide With Me” took me by surprise. I associate it with the Cup Final. Then I smiled. Barry had been a footballer, good enough to play for the English Grammar School team; and, as his brother Richard reminded us, had turned down a trial for Manchester United, preferring to train as a PE teacher.
One by one, people went up to speak. His daughter, Sally, who’s fine life of determined commitment to political causes had filled Barry with pride. She spoke of how he had made her and brother Tom laugh when they were little, a playful side of Barry few knew about.
His younger brother, Richard, spoke of sharing a love of nature with Barry, their pit village having nestled in the middle of fields and woods. He had trained kestrels, no doubt giving Barry an idea for a book, and when Ken and I went up to work on the film, he had found and trained them for us. We learned of Barry the cool teenager, a Grammar School version of the Teddy Boy, the bad boys of his era – and all the girls love a bad boy.
Then Ken offered his tribute, speaking of Barry’s accomplishments as a writer, of his honesty and love of his community; his loyalty to his class, his qualities as a colleague. Towards the end he choked up, caught himself and got through it. I was moved, like everyone else, but confident that it wouldn’t happen to me.
I had shed my tears for Barry. Visiting him in the nursing home with his wife Eleanor had broken me up each time. I saw that the staff in this NHS home were caring for him really well and I was in awe of Eleanor’s daily devotion. But to see this man, who had lived through words, so reduced; to have lost the friend who is sitting before you, oblivious; that had sent me weeping all the way back to London.
I had shed my tears.
So I walked to the lectern, past the coffin, and began, having this time written it out, just to be safe. Read it and then sit down. I was fine. Then I made a mistake. I looked down at the coffin, for a moment imagining Barry’s lifeless body inside. Forever. The finality of it. THE END. I did what I’d determined not to do. I choked up. It nearly undid me. Eventually I managed to struggle through and escape to the privacy of my seat. Ken gave me a sympathetic squeeze of his hand,
I recovered my composure as others threw in memories and made us laugh, the warmth of that community revealing how much respect there was for Barry. Their bard.
We watched as his body was buried, forever now in this corner of South Yorkshire he loved. The pit where his father and grandfather had worked countless shifts far underground is now closed. But the beautiful country had sprung to life all around us, the confident Spring flowers waving in the bright sun.
Ken, Lesley and I went to the wake and chatted and hugged and told stories about Barry. Then we extricated ourselves, not wanting to leave and people not wanting us to leave, but needing to be back in London. On the train we reminisced, of course, about Barry and intimately chatted as only old friends can.
Drained by the day, we went for a meal at the Pavilion, in Poland St, Soho. Appropriate, because when Kes opened at The Academy Cinema round the corner in Oxford St, this restaurant was located there. So the same owners, Vasco and Piero, served us our dinner, the cooking just like Barry’s writing: you know its source, the ingredients are few, it’s unadorned and unpretentious, neither chefy nor writerly, just honest, truthful, warm and nourishing.
Please see Remembering Barry Hines to read my tribute.