• THE BURIAL OF BARRY GADSBY

    The hearse arrived early, bumping down the track to the upper car park. The two dark-suited undertakers were friendly and chipper in the fresh, noon January air. The coffin slid easily into the back of the landrover and was gently driven over more bumps to the lower car park. There it was met by one good woman and five good men who carried it down the narrow path to the beat of a rattle and drum. At the graveside it was gently lowered onto three supporting timbers.

    This was the funeral of Barry Gadsby who resided in a caravan at Cae Mabon for seven years from 1993 to 2000. His grave was dug just behind where he used to live. He died on the 10th January, two weeks short of his 75th birthday. Because of his connection with Cae Mabon his sons, Liam and Brian, asked if he could be buried here. As we already have one grave and as it’s legal – providing a couple of technicalities are attended to – I said yes.

    Barry was born and grew up in Doncaster in Yorkshire. In his twenties he worked as a fitter in a car factory. It was precise, technical work that gave him a grounding in fine, skilled manual work. Eventually he couldn’t stomach factory life any more and moved to North Wales in the early seventies. Here it seemed he was intent on getting as far away from the modern industrial world as possible. So he went bush, went native, became… aboriginal.

    Before I met Barry I used to see him walking along the roadside, often barefooted, miles from the nearest town or village. He looked wild, rugged, mysterious… but intriguing. So when he came here one day and we got chatting I was happy to let him bed down in a little green caravan. Turned out we both played didgeridoo.

    He used to help out here. He was working with us when we roofed the first Roundhouse, the one that later burned down. I remember him lashing the hazel spars to the pine rafters, bare feet, and his shirt off, looking very aboriginal in the sun. When we sawed off the legs of the rafters that had been supporting the structure he said: ‘Didn’t drop a thou!’ Meaning the roof had not dropped a thousandth of an inch, a throwback to his days as a fitter.

    Before moving here Barry had been making bows. I was very lucky that he gave me probably his finest creation: a six foot six yew longbow. Years ago I took it to an archery shop in South Wales. When the guy saw it he exclaimed: ‘Who made that?’ He estimated it had a pull weight of 100 lbs. Not many bows ever exceed 60 lbs. It led to one of his nicknames: Barry Bowman.

    After bows Barry made didgeridoos – by sawing a branch in half lengthways, hollowing out the inside with chisels, gluing the two halves back together and then decorating it. He made quite a few lovely didgeridoos that way.

    I remember once talking to him about the book, ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’, by Ursula Le Guin. I think he identified with Ged, the trainee wizard and hero of the story. He liked to think that Ged and Gad, from his name Gadsby, could be one and the same.

    There is a quote I particularly like from that book.

    The Wizard of Earthsea

    You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. (But) the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do...

    Ursula Le Guin

    Toward the end of the ceremony half a dozen people spoke briefly about Barry, acknowledging his rebellious spirit and stubborn determination to be a lone wolf. It was touching that two of his council flat neighbours, where he lived for the last seven years, came with fond remembrances, including how they waited weeks to get him a hospital bed before realising that he didn’t need one as he always slept on the floor!

    Then the coffin was lowered gently into the ground while didgeridoos, a flute and drum made an earthy, drone-like sound. Brian placed one of Barry’s didgeridoos on top of the coffin and crumbled over it a small packet of custard creams. He was a great lover of biscuits and they had been his favourite. Finally I invited the assembled friends to imagine Barry – barefoot, shirtless, silver locks lifting in the breeze, carrying his didgeridoo in one hand – walking off into the sunset.

    After a few shovelfuls of earth were thrown onto the coffin Liam fitted an arrow to Barry’s bow and sent it flying high over the oaks and into the forest beyond. Barry’s spirit was released into the heavens and the ceremony was over.

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