Two young boys look ingenuously at the camera. It looks like the 1950s. Perhaps 1955 or 1956?
They are wearing ties. Ties–and jeans, which must have been very new in Britain then. Jeans that they could grow into, as the rolled-up hems suggest.
It must have been a special occasion; otherwise, the ties are inexplicable.
In fact, in those innocent days, having your photo taken was a special occasion. Having access to a camera was reason enough. Perhaps the photographer was an adoring mother or father. Perhaps it was a neighbour.
The boy on the right is the older of the two. Look at his right arm. It is bandaged. That was—presumably—because of his accident falling through the rusted roof of the old air-raid shelters behind where he lived.
The accident reported in the local papers that had his mother frantic with worry. But it could have been much worse: he had a sprained wrist, but no broken bones.
He looks childishly, abashedly smug at his exploit. He was always adventurous and disobedient. And he had his father’s mischievous sense of humour.
He would kick a football around with the other local kids. Go on to do Outward Bound, be an all-round athlete at school, a lightning-fast wing in rugby, and the All England Schools’ Champion in the 880 yards (aka, 800 metres).
His wee brother was happier playing on his own, weaving stories to himself with his toy knights and his toy soldiers. A simple extrovert/introvert contrast.
Slow forward sixty years. The roles are reversed. Younger brother is taller; older brother is slighter. But stature doesn’t matter.
What matters, Rupe, is feeling. Those other pictures I have from our childhood show you holding my hand, looking after me, your daffy younger brother. You were always, and always will be, my big brother.
“You disappeared in the dead of winter.” Pace Auden, the brooks were not frozen. The airports were far from deserted (it being Christmastime, and, despite the devaluation of sterling, those who could afford it were off to their accustomed skiing or sunshine holidays). Therefore, snow did not disfigure the public statues (which, in any case, had mostly been stolen to be melted down for scrap). The mercury probably did not sink in the mouth of the dying day.
But, it was, indeed, your last afternoon as yourself. “An afternoon of nurses and rumours.”
Your wife and children, happily/sadly, were there to ease your passage into eternity.
Et posuit cadaver ejus in sepulchro suo, et planxerunt eum: Heu, heu mi frater!
And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!
(1 Kings, 13:30)
Rupert William Spencer Butterfield: 1 May, 1947—20 December, 2016.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.