The diversionary family chapter came to something of a full stop on 14th March. My father’s ashes were interred at Hughenden church. His joined those of my mother, who died in 1990. We also tucked in the ashes of a much loved labrador, Jinja, who survived him by only a matter of days. On a bright, chilly morning, we placed both boxes into the neat space. As we listened to a stridently positive read of Psalm 139, a Red Kite flew overhead and up towards Hughenden Manor. My father, never particularly ornithological, always remarked upon Red Kites and their return to the Chilterns.
I chatted to the psalm reader, the splendid sacristan Arthur, who is to Hughenden church as ravens to the Tower of London. Dickensian in appearance, he has been there forever, tending to the churchyard and the congregation with deliberation and mischievous wit. He was wistfully lamenting the loss of the two mowers-in-residence, Jacob sheep that used to live in the churchyard. They are now retired. He also pointed to where the oil tank had had to be moved. Burglars backed a truck up to it in its previous position alongside the churchyard wall a year ago and siphoned nearly 500 gallons of the stuff.
In these circumstances, loss couldn’t help but be something of a theme.
One can miss something to the point of great anguish. What we want most is often what we simply can’t have. Loss is an extraordinary force. Deprivation is a powerful weapon. Being denied something – water, money, a comfy place in the hammock – makes it all the more appealing. Desperately, we crave. We long. Mournfully, we ache for hot, buttered toast on cold, miserable touchlines.
Back in my day job, I ran another Writing For Advertising session for British Design and Art Direction in February. I set the 15 attendees a task to try and sell bacon to a public increasingly under siege about its dangers.
As yet another report has highlighted, there are strong links between eating processed meat and the risk of heart attacks, bowel cancer and strokes. “Processed meats, including bacon, sausages, parma ham, cooked ham and salami, have a very high salt content and the act of processing itself is associated with an increase of heart disease, bowel cancer and stroke,” says one Dr Michael Mosley. “One esteemed scientist I know called Dr David Spiegelhalter told me that if you crunch the numbers, every bacon sandwich you eat knocks half an hour off your life.”
The exam question I set the D&AD group was to make people want to eat bacon. They had 25 minutes to develop a campaign. The rules said it had to work in more than one media.
Hands down winner came from a team of three women. Either literally, in an ambient setting like a station concourse, or in a TV spot, mum-like figures would offer passers-by or breakfasting families something from a frying pan. It might be to go between two slices of deliciously hot toast, or to accompany a fried egg. Using tongs, on offer would be celery sticks, lettuce leaves or whole carrots, soggy from the heat. The campaign would be clearly signed off, “It’s not bacon”.
Something about the association of hot, crisp, salted meat with the idea of breakfast and then its absurd absence as star attraction sells it so much more powerfully. It certainly made me want to eat a bit of streaky there and then.
It’s a considerable leap from a graveside to a bacon sandwich. The watchword here is not to appear grotesque. But, as a way of capturing life in the post Richard Awdry era, there was something my dad added to the everyday, a salty vim to how he observed life, commented (incessantly) upon it and made more vividly enjoyable when he was here.
In other words, whatever a day is without Richard Awdry in it, it’s just not bacon.