I can’t recall exactly when I met Eve, it was sometime in the late 1990s and the first words we exchanged were of irritation with each other as I helped a customer carry out her flowers to her car when I worked in New Covent Garden.  Eve was also there buying flowers, I recognised her as a regular to the market but did not know her.

The next time I saw her I made a point of speaking to her to apologise for my tetchiness, she said “I was rude too but you apologised first, so I have won that one, now if you have some peach L.A. lilies on the move we will be friends for ever”. And as it happened, I did, exactly the 60 stems she was looking for and we were friends for life.

image      Longiflorum Asiatic lilies ‘Menorca’ On the move means beginning to open

We shouldn’t have been, we were worlds apart in every respect.  Eve’s birth and marriage were reported in The Times, I came from a council estate.  She was an atheist, I am not.  Her children went to public schools, mine went to the local Catholic primary, followed by a Catholic comprehensive, as did I.  But we clicked, and by the time I had written the ticket for the lilies and she had paid me (I remember the sum was £56.40) we were chums.

Any time Eve arrived on the stand where I worked, to buy flowers, she would put down a cup of tea, catch my eye, point to it and carry on with her buying, the tea was for me, there were no words of greeting, she just got on with it.  Once the work was done, we’d chat and catch up on each others lives.  I introduced her to the joys of the flower market cafe, she would pop over and get me my favoured breakfast of an egg and mushroom toasted sandwich with a milky coffee which she too thoroughly enjoyed.

She had complete respect for my faith when she mixed in circles that included the most well known of atheists (yes, him) and even put herself on a train from Newbury to Thornton Heath on a Friday evening in June 2003 to attend my ordination.  Have I mentioned by now that I am younger than her son?  I don’t think I have.  She would telephone me to place orders in the evening when we were both at home, but she would not chat, I would answer the phone saying

“Hello Eve” to which she would reply                                                      “Tone?”                                                                                                     . I’d say “No, Gary Barlow/The Pope/Shane Richie” or some such celebrity, and she would rattle off her order.  She would not stop to chat as she was aware she might be cutting into ‘homework or bedtime’ as she called the evenings.

I was her window into popular culture, thanks to me she learned of Big Brother, X Factor and Ant and Dec.  Eve had not owned at TV until after her husband died in 1989, by which time all her children had left home.  I was privileged to be a witness to her rather acerbic wit and I once had the privilege (yes privilege) to put my arm round her while she shed tears.  After this event she told me “no one does that unless they have bought me a ring”.  She did not know London terribly well.  The flower market is in Vauxhall, when I said I lived in Croydon she said “oh, local then” she meant it.  I believe she thought Thornton Heathens lived cheek by jowl with those on The Strand.

Eve retired from “doing flowers” in 2006 but we kept in regular touch.  Our conversations would start with her saying “Listen darling, how’s the ministry going?” And I would have to avail her of the names of the babies I had baptised, the dead I had buried the couples I had married and the theme of my latest homily.

In January 2008 I was taken into hospital, I was very seriously ill with an uncommon  strain of bacterial pneumonia.  10 days into my stay in hospital I awoke to find my hand being held by Eve.  (I am typing this with tears in my eyes at the memory, really, I have had to stop and wipe my eyes to see what I am typing)  As I opened my eyes she said “There you are, Darling, really, you look like utter shit”.   I have never held onto a hand as tightly as I held Eve’s that day.  I have no idea how long she was with me.  When she left she said “your London buses are very different to those I remember”. And that was the last time I saw her.

Eve died in the Autumn of 2009, she had battled Leukemia for four years but in true stoic, Eve, fashion had only told her loved ones three months before her death.  This time it was my turn to put myself on a train to Newbury from Thornton Heath and attend her send off.

The crematorium was packed. I had met her son before and was touched that he knew me immediately.  Her son was her pride and joy, she described herself as “having the privilege of being the mother of the nicest, kindest, most gentle gentleman to walk the earth”, and I think she may have been right. His eulogy started “Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you completely broken hearted, which for a man in his 50s at his widowed mother’s funeral is ridiculous”.  Can you think of anything more touching?

Her grandson also spoke, but he lightened the mood.  He relayed some of Eve’s comical, and perhaps not so kind observations of people whom he did not name

“If his face had been a pudding you’d send it back”                                            “She makes me laugh, she doesn’t know it but she makes me laugh”                  “They won’t need to print an order of service for his funeral”                              “One leg shorter than the other, such an advantage in a hill race”                       “She was nowhere near that young when we were at school”                             “He made bad breath honorable”                                                                     “Couldn’t hold down a relationship with some six inch nails and a healthy bit of twobetwo” (ask me about that one if we ever meet)

The tears of joy and sadness mingled together at that funeral, which to my amazement ended with The Lord’s Prayer.

Why am I telling you about Eve?  Last week I received a phone call telling me said grandson wanted to speak to me.  He wanted to know about his grandmother’s view on my faith.  He is now considering a call to Baptist ministry, but wanted to be assured she’d approve.

Well she certainly wouldn’t object.