Today I am going to a funeral to say goodbye to a friend that I made when I was the landlady in a pub. He was a lovely, funny, boozy old boy that told me hilarious stories from his travels in the merchant navy. He had been ill for a long time and he had told me that he was ready to go over a year ago, so although it is always sad to say goodbye to someone, I do find it easier when they have lead a rich and full life and they themselves have stated that it is their time.
Challenging parts of today are going to be that I have to go to my ex pub which is my ex home and will have my ex husband in it to say goodbye to my now ex friend. I am trying not to focus too much on this though. I thought instead that I would share with you one of my favourite stories that he told me.
Lenny had been living illegally in New Zealand after a very profitable stint of trips to sea with the merchant navy. He was however caught by immigration and put on a ship that would take between three and four weeks to return him to the UK. He was with another British guy that had also been caught and was being sent home. They, like most men that spend lots of time at sea were both very partial to a cheeky drink and were lamenting the fact that they were going to have a very dull and dry voyage. They were approached by a guy on board the ship who said that he had found some booze which he could bring them every day, but that it didn’t taste that great and they should find something to mix it with. Lenny managed to rustle up some cordial and they merrily mixed this clear, odd tasting, yet potent booze with it daily to while away the long days with nothing to do aboard the ship. They never asked the guy where he was getting it from, just gratefully received it.
The ship docked in Liverpool first, Lenny was being chucked out further down south, so he and his friend watched people getting off the ship and were intrigued by a group of men in bowler hats coming aboard the ship. On the main deck there was a large container that the men had come to collect. The lid was taken off to ensure the contents had survived the journey. Lenny was fascinated. There was a fully grown gorilla that was being preserved in a clear liquid that these men had come to collect, presumably for a museum or something similar. The slow realisation came over Lenny that he had discovered the location of the clear liquid that he and his friend had been drinking every day. Lenny thought that maybe he was jumping to conclusions and should wait to see the guy that brought them their daily dose of fun. However there was no more visits from the man with the mystery drink, he had gotten off the ship in Liverpool as his job of transporting a large container had finished.
Now I don’t know if this is a completely true story, but for me it is and I will never be able to think about Lenny without seeing his eyes sparkle with joy at my reaction to his tale. And I know how far he would go to get a drink that he enjoyed. If he came into the pub and there wasn’t an ale on that he enjoyed, he would ask which barrel had the least in and drink it dry so that I would put on a beer that he did like. There were many occasions that Lenny had to be helped back across the road to his house.
Saying goodbye is always shitty but its through sharing stories and talking about people that they live on for all of us. So please tell people the pickled gorilla story so that Lenny can live on, if you do it with a drink in your hand, which is the best way to tell any story, please raise your glass to him. I certainly will be today.