A memorable figure, all in black. His thick black hair was Brylcreemed to one side, his glasses had thick black frames, his old suit was a black jacket and trousers, his pushbike had a heavy black frame and dynamo-powered lights. Working on a local farm, he was a familiar sight around the village. He seemed of an indeterminate age, if asked, it would have been difficult to guess. It was hard to imagine that he had not always been in the village, that there was not a period during the previous decades when he had not pedalled from the farm to home and from home to the pub. Everyone knew him, a gentle and quiet man. The only clue to the fact that he was not as old as might have been imagined was that his mother was still alive, a quick tempered woman who was easily irritated by small boys.
News of his death must have passed me by. Had I been asked, I would have thought that he must have reached a ripe old age, that his farming days must have come to an end and that he must have reached the days of austere leisure offered by the government old age pension. A tough man, a strong man, a man who never drove, a man for whom a bicycle seemed an extension of himself, his fitness alone must have brought him to the three score years and ten, the par score by which country life was assessed.
Walking along a row of graves in the village cemetery, there seemed a sequence of names for which it was possible to close the eyes and imagine their faces. There was the gently timid man who had been the village shopkeeper and even gentler wife. Nearby there was a farmer renowned for the quality of the vegetables he grew, and the strength of the cider he made, and generously shared with callers. Then there was the grave of the black-suited man on the black bicycle.
Reading the dates inscribed on the headstone of the grave was a surprise, 1934-1986. Surely, that cannot have been correct? Surely, he had been far older? Imagination would have given him at least twenty years more. Dead at fifty-two years of age.
It was strange to imagine that he was six years younger than I am now, strange to imagine that my first memories of him were of a man who in his mid-thirties. Strange to think that he was dead at no age.