Ian McMillan: Never leave it too late to say goodbye.

Ian McMillan
Ian McMillan
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I got an email just after Christmas to tell me that my old mate Eddie H had died, and when I got the email I blinked away tears and looked out of the window and remembered a scene in the late 1980s in a long-closed library in Denaby, near Mexborough.

Monday nights was when the Denaby writers group met; it was one of a number of writers’ groups that me and my mate Martyn ran in libraries all across Doncaster, in places like Conisbrough and Woodlands, Armthorpe and Rossington. Indeed, as far as I know the Rossington Writers are still going strong, a quarter of a century on, showing the power of writing and reading and sitting round a table talking and drinking tea and having a biscuit.

I wanted the group to have a go at writing a pantoum. A pantoum is a particular form of poetry with four-line verses where some of the lines repeat.

The Denaby writers had been going for a couple of weeks; there was Frank, and Christine, and David; there was a mixture of poems and stories and ideas for blockbusting television series or science fiction trilogies. And there was tea, of course, and biscuits.

The sessions ran from 7pm to 9pm and I have to admit that about 15 minutes before the allotted finish time I started to wind things up to catch a bus to Wombwell at 9.05pm, and if I missed that I knew I’d have to wait at least another half hour, and then I’d have to get off at the depot and walk home.

Then, one winter’s Monday evening at about 8.30pm, Eddie H appeared; we’d just finished off a discussion about writing your life story and I was just about to start setting the next week’s homework. Eddie came in and sat down. “I just wanted to see what it was all about,” he said.

Eddie was an interesting man; he’d been a Bevin Boy in the war and had spent all his life down the pit. He had lots of interesting tales to tell and I knew he’d be a valuable addition to the group. I also knew that it was almost time for the bus. I set the homework: I wanted the group to have a go at writing a pantoum. A pantoum is a particular form of poetry with four-line verses where some of the lines repeat.

Eddie took to the pantoum straight away, and the next week he came back with 15 of them. “I love them!” he said; “You’ve only got to write half as many lines as you need!” and from then on Eddie was a valued and much loved member of the group, always reliable, always doing his homework, always churning out lovely pantoums like he was being paid by the yard.

And now Eddie isn’t with us anymore; I’d not seen him for years and I could have visited him in his care home, but I thought I was too busy.

But he was never too busy for the Denaby writers all those years ago.

Sorry, Eddie. You were a good man, and a good writer. Have a special cup of tea on me, and a heavenly biscuit. And a pantoum or two.