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Reform Magazine | December 7, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: ‘I think I must have that song at my funeral’

Sheila Maxey lifts her eyes to the roof

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Our son came to talk through a ‘Respect’ document with us. (It stands for Recommended Summary Plan for Emergency Care and Treatment.) One question was: ‘On the spectrum from “Keep me alive at all costs” to “My main wish is to be comfortable”, where would you place yourself?’

Then our daughter got me to print off the 30-page application form for attendance allowance so I could read it through at my leisure. She promised to help me fill it in.

I notice the church bank account has gone into the red again and the lovely elder who used to manage drawing down funds from our investments has recently died. My pilgrim way is a bit hard-going just now.

But then I lift my eyes – not to the hills – but to the roof of our Victorian house. Shaun and Andy are up there, renewing the roof. We are wrapped in scaffolding. They arrive at 7.30am, trying to climb quietly up the ladder past our bedroom window.

First they meticulously removed all the lovely Welsh slates, carefully keeping about 30% to reuse – ‘Welsh slate costs the earth nowadays’, says Shaun. They took away the old, fairly rotten battens, put in a waterproof membrane and new battens (much sawing and hammering). They then arrived with lots of Spanish slate – ‘Quite nice, more of a heathery colour, but they should look nice mixed in with the Welsh ones,’ says Shaun, as he wanted me to examine and admire. Then, day after day, they carefully placed each slate and hammered it into place. I climbed up to our attic room to look and the mixture of heathery and sheer grey was, indeed, very pleasing.

Every two hours, starting at 9am, I go out and shout ‘Tea?’ and there is always a resounding ‘Yes, please!’ I make it strong and put the two big mugs on the garden table. Andy comes down, collects them and goes back up – no stopping for tea. I am amazed at the way they go up and down the ladders, with a stack of slates on one shoulder or a bucket of rubbish under one arm.

One morning the roof was white with frost – surely they could not work that day? I climbed to the attic room to look and there they were, walking up and down on the frosty roof, crouching to fit a slate, going back down to get more. When Shaun came down, all he said was: ‘It’s a fabulous morning. You should see the view as the sun climbs up the sky.’

I found myself hearing Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice singing ‘It’s a wonderful world’. I think I must have that at my funeral. Will there be a space for that on my Respect form?

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex


This article was published in the March 2022 edition of Reform

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