I went to a funeral this morning for someone I'd met just a couple of times: Conrad Price. He was the friend of two friends of mine who are currently in Australia; I attended Conrad's funeral on their behalf.
Conrad lived near King's Cross; he had problems with alcoholism and had been more or less rescued, it seems, from insecure housing where he had sustained a head injury, to go and live with the housing association Family Mosaic. My friends met Conrad when they were working around King's Cross; Conrad used to sell The Big Issue outside Caledonian Road Tesco. They invited him to attend fundraising gigs for the campaign we are all involved in: No Sweat. That's where I met Conrad.
Conrad's funeral was at Islington and Camden Cemetery, a large, tranquil and green cemetery in East Finchley. Conrad's was a "local authority funeral": a funeral whose cost is borne by the local authority, because there is no one else in a position to organise one. These take place first thing in the morning, at 9.30am: the least desired slot for a funeral, it seems.
I wasn't sure who else would be attending, was feeling self-conscious, and throughout the journey half had it in mind to go back home. But when I reached the entrance to the cemetery and read the 'order of the day', with Conrad's funeral at the top, I felt a pang of generational solidarity with the man who has just died: Conrad was just 49. I am 47.
In the event, I'm very glad I went. Four key workers from Family Mosaic attended, including Ramona who knew Conrad best, and there was another friend there from No Sweat who had known Conrad fairly well.
I got to play a role in the proceedings, reading out the remembrances that my friends had sent from Australia, which included stories that Conrad had told them about his life, and that the Family Mosaic people had not known.
The vicar seemed a nice bloke; he was the same age as Conrad and it turned out that he, like Conrad, had been a 'scooter boy' (mod) in his youth. I don't think he was just saying it either: he demonstrated a detailed knowledge of the sort of 'uniform' that scooter boys wore!
The vicar said it was common for there to be no real mourners at a local authority funeral. Often there is just him and the undertaker there, the undertaker sitting in the front row to witness the vicar going through the proper protocol. Today the vicar took the time to say a prayer for the housing workers - they don't have enough appreciation for the sort of work they do, he said.
All in all, I can only describe this morning as a thoroughly humane encounter, the sort of pause in a fairly mad life that just might keep you sane.