My aunt and Ben Hur

Early on Monday morning, my aunt died, peacefully by all account, following prayers with the local Chaplain. She was chugging into her mid-90s.

My fondest memory was my brother and I being taken to what (in memory) has become my first real restaurant - an Italian one in Birmingham - where our attempt to order the cheapest items on the menu was firmly (and kindly) reproved by her: that would not be necessary. What I did order I cannot recall but it added to my sense that this particular aunt was exotic. She, also, drank wine (the only person I knew who did so) and lager (that became a drink, a pale substitute for real beer, that I forever associated with women though this association, strangely, did not colour my appreciation of wine)!

As a single woman, with a mysterious white collar job at the strangely named 'Kalamazoo', she travelled to far distant places, even beyond Europe, going to the Seychelles once and excitingly (for me if not for her) found herself briefly stranded on the tarmac in Khartoum on her return journey whilst a coup unfolded or failed to unfold around her.

The other great event of the restaurant day was going to see Ben Hur (that must have been a revival) at a cinema with an exceptionally large screen (probably only the second cinema I had visited) and curiously, like the theatre, this cinema (for this production at least) produced a programme as if for a theatrical production. This I think I still possess and, at the time, I read it over and over. I vividly remember its golden cover and the stills from the earlier (silent) version of the film.

Our first loves leave their mark on us - and this was one. Films came charged with meaning as well as excitement. I was marked by an exciting epic and yet one stalked by an ever present but oblique Christ. The subtitle of Lew Wallace's original novel is 'A Tale of the Christ', so as well as my first restaurant, my aunt's other gift that day (if consciously wholly unintentional) was my first real encounter with the person of Christ in a way that intrigued me, capturing attention.

It is an attention that continues ever fruitfully for which my gratitude to my aunt can only be continuously boundless. May the presence she introduced me to then accompany her now.


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