There is a place called Cheam, which I think a euphonious name. (The Saxons called it Cagham or Ceiham, probably from ceg, “tree stump,” and ham, “homestead.”) It was once a village in the county of Surrey, and is now among the southern suburbs of London. In it lived a number of the friends of my high-school years. One of them died recently, and I set out on March 20 to his funeral.
I had to put on the few dignified clothes I have, remind myself how to tie a necktie, and take two train journeys and two bus journeys. The day, though the defining day of spring, was a cold windy day to be standing at bus stops. The instant of the equinox, about half past ten, fell during a half-hour wait for one of the buses, which had been delayed by traffic chaos, thus converting my earliness into five-minute-lateness. I came to the door of St. Dunstan’s church in Cheam – and found it locked.
Were five-minute-late-comers excluded? I rapped with the knocker; walked around the church, finding other locked doors; found a hall in which a dozen ladies were holding their Monday Friendly. One of them, the church secretary’s daughter or mother, kindly came with me, opened the church door by means of its code, took me into the office, and searched the files, finding no mention of the funeral. On my iPad I found the phone number of another of the Cheam team of friends, and learned that the funeral was to be on March 30.
I didn’t much mind this wasted journey; during the return part of it I memorized the clues to the route so that I would be able to travel it more smoothly ten days later. But after getting home I discovered that on March 30 I would be on another journey.
Someone else, on hearing the story, said that she too had had to travel to Cheam for funerals – two of them. The first time, she got lost on the way and arrived an hour late, so for the second she allowed too much time and alarmed the family by knocking on their door an hour early. (Not ten days early, though.)
“Cheam, Funeral Capital” – an addition to my catalog of “capitals”? Another, which appeared in the newspaper today, is “London, now seen as one of the money-laundering capitals of the world.”