Today is the fourth anniversary of the passing of Uncle Johnny. As if in awe of this terrible day, the winds have been blowing ferociously for the past twelve hours, literally threatening to raise the roof and keeping us all awake with worry, and the skies are as leaden and unpromising as they have been all week. This is the worst weather we have had up here in the north east since our Johnny died. Moreover, we are promised yet another twelve hours of this frightful gale, which has brought the railways to a halt, closed the A1, raised the waters in creeks and rivers alike, depositing it on the fields and golf courses, and kept the lobsters uncollected in their pots at the bottom of the sea.
The picture above shows clearly how different things were the day Uncle Johnny went from us: here he is on the left, wearing his jaunty but ill-fitting Barbour waterproof, and barking in joy at the blinding December sun which greeted him, Newman and Barnaby on the beach that morning. Despite the pain in his tummy, despite the slowness of his gait, he stretched his neck in joy as he always did and, when he returned home to tell me about his walk – I being then a boy of only a few weeks – the sun shone on me too. After all, he said, he had a couple of Alan’s home-made beef pies to look forward to, and a lovely sleep on the sofa before Lucy the Vet was due to come; so cheer up, everyone, it’s a sunny, wonderful day! Uncle Johnny, like Mr Dick, always set us right. Whatever the weather.
Another member of our family died last week, so another funeral will soon be taking place. No matter what death and the wind are doing, though, we hold firm to the fact that tomorrow is the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, when from the one light many more are generated; it is also the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, on the celebration of whose day many cultures give and receive their seasonal presents in recognition of his generous goodness. We all keep in mind, though it is often hard to do, that though illness, misery, loss, division, cruelty and darkness of all kinds stalk our days, goodness and light endure and increase, and that ever nearer comes that miraculous turning point in the calendar when the sun moves closer to us again: when symbolism and faith are rewarded in actuality. And in our hearts we remember our dear Uncle Johnny, of blessed memory, whose love of shortbread fingers and the day he stole them makes us laugh still, and whose love for us burns as deeply as ever.