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Michael Knocker 1922 – 2015 R.I.P.

May 26, 2016

MK 1Last October, a relatively unknown man died and only 3 people came to his funeral. His next of kin forgot to tell me – had I known, I’d have offered to take his funeral or, at least, to have given a eulogy. There doesn’t seem to be any funeral notice or obituary anywhere so I am writing and posting this on the off-chance that someone might see and read it, thereby conferring some sort of immortality on someone who was an ‘unimportant person’. None of us is unimportant. All of us are made in God’s image and cherished by him.

Michael’s mother died when he was a little boy so he was looked after by my grandmother in Streatham. My mother treated him like her little brother so he was an uncle to me, though I am not sure if their any blood ties that would have made me his second cousin.

BarkstonWhen he left home, he lived in a series of bedsits in South Kensington and Earls Court. One, in Barkston Gardens, was so small that there wasn’t enough room for his wardrobe so it was outside his room, on the landing, padlocked, as it was a house of multiple occupation. He later moved to Bramham Gardens. He could never understand why I, as a single man, could have a three-bedroomed flat with a mortgage. What was wrong with renting?

bramhamPGHe used to visit our family by the seaside and always took me out for walks along the seaside and gave me sweets and ice creams. When I was a teenager and became interested in church, he used to bring me Pitkin Guides to cathedrals and Wren churches. Over the years I built up a collection amounting, probably, to the complete series.

He was a dapper man who used to dart about London on the underground until his last years when he was so crippled by arthritis that he was bent double on a wheeled Zimmer frame and took about an hour simply to get from his bedsit to Earls Court Road.

MaletHe worked as a librarian at University College, Malet Street and always had his meals MandSout because he never learned to cook. Whenever I was in London and suggested we meet for dinner, he took me to one of his regular haunts, which were cheap, greasy spoon affairs. In later years, he opted to spend part of his care budget on take-aways from Subway – which always smelt vile. He had a microwave and never learned how to use it – yet there was a very good Marks & Spencer’s food hall at the end of his road which sold ready meals.

He never owned a television. Radio 4 was his constant companion. He only had a phone for a short period in his life and he never got the hang of ansaphone messages so he’d leave me a long and rambling message which began by asking if whoever could pass on this message to me – I guess he thought the voice on the other end was some sort of personal assistant. If I rang him, it was hard to get through because his answering machine cut in after 4 rings and it would take him several more to get to the phone.

Nor did he understand computers or word processing – he always complimented my letters for being well typed with no mistakes!

If I was in London for a meeting, we’d arrange to meet and he was always about three quarters of an hour early.

He was rarely at home when he was in good health. He was a good correspondent, until the arthritis got to his fingers, and his letters catalogued the various West End shows that he’d seen. He also liked classical music by the likes of Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

He tried too hard to make small talk. I suspect he prepared for it by learning jokes from joke books. After family funerals, he was always giggling. My sister and I thought it irreverent but it was probably nerves.

SAQGAlthough he’d been confirmed, he didn’t like Holy Communion because he felt that the common cup was unhygienic. I discovered this when I took him to a Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary Easter Festival High Mass at St. Augustine’s Queens Gate.

So fastidious was he about hygiene that he used to bring his own toilet paper to line a toilet seat. In this, as in so many other ways, he was very muck like the comedian Kenneth Williams.

He used to like Choral Evensong of the People’s Service at Westminster Abbey though he rightly observed that one of our mutual acquaintances had become remote and unfriendly once he’d become a canon there.

MK 5Despite there being no public transport, he’d manage to get to a Christmas dinner put on by the Salvation Army or at some convent of sisters. He always said that the first course, every year, was ‘Dinosaur Soup’.

It wasn’t until I’d known him for decades that he confided in me that he was homosexual. I doubt he acted on his desires, ever – he once told me, with horror, about as landlord who ‘made advances’ and wanted ‘to interfere with’ him.

In his final years, he moved to a care home of Tooting Bec, just off Streatham High Street. I don’t think this was his wish. More simply, he was beginning to spend a lot of time on the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The borough was, controversially, selling off most or all its care homes because they are on prime sites and worth a fortune. So Tooting Bec was the nearest (a £21 taxi ride away, as I discovered to my cost.)

MK 2He claimed to have many friends, though I suspect that most of these were acquaintances. He sent out hundreds of Christmas cards – these usually arrived on the 30th November.

MK 4He died a week before his 93rd birthday. It was some sort of infection that took him and he died peacefully in his sleep. He’d got a degree of dementia and there were several unopened letters.

MK 3There were only 3 people at his funeral. I’d have been there had I known but his half-sister had mislaid my contact details. It was conducted by an Anglican priest in Ruislip. They played Nimrod and his ashes were scattered, according to his wishes, at Streatham Crematorium – tree 9.

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One Comment
  1. This is the story of your honorary uncle, but it could have been the story of so many people. So many people who die alone in our modern, disjointed society. So many gay men who were (and are) afraid of their sexuality and society’s displeasure. So many people in so many ways. It is a particular story. I respect that. But it is also a universal one – sadly.

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