John Vane’s London Stories: Sudden death, few mourn

John Vane’s London Stories: Sudden death, few mourn

This is a second hand story from nearly 30 years ago. Can’t guarantee the details. Can’t think why it came to mind.

The man had been found dead in his room in a house in north London. Two people from the council went round, mid-morning. Another resident opened the door. He wore black underpants, black ankle socks and an unbuttoned shirt. That was all. He had a cigarette going and a beer.

The council people went upstairs and let themselves in to where the corpse had been discovered, then removed a few days before. There was untidiness, some clothes, some drink and not much more, though there was a ticket from a football match at Wembley: England versus Hungary, 1953, a day of national shame.

Anything that looked as if it might mean something to someone related to the man was shoved into bin bags and taken away: humane, if brisk. The man had a name, likely a Polish one – let’s call him Tomasz – but no one knew if he had any family, still less how to find them.

A sudden death is what they called it. Today, the word “sudden” seems often replaced by “unexpected” and its meanings, as set out on local authority websites, include causes thought to be suspicious. This didn’t seem to apply to Tomasz. He lived alone, he was quite old, he pegged out and he was gone. That was all.

What brought him to London? When? The football ticket suggested he might have arrived during the war, but that was the sole clue in the room. His funeral took place soon after, at a glum crematorium at taxpayer’s expense. A vicar did his best with the eulogy, mentioning a local pub. Only two other people were there. One was a nosey parker. The other was an official. From the council? From the coroner? Only he and the vicar knew.

So that was the passing of Tomasz, a Londoner, like so many others, who came from somewhere far away, perhaps by accident, perhaps in search of something. Maybe he found it, maybe he didn’t. He is long gone. But at least he’s been remembered now.

John Vane writes word sketches of London and bits about its past. Sometimes he makes things up. Follow John on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

1 Comment

  1. John says:

    Such a sad tale. I remember similar stories from a friend of mine who worked for social services at Carrington House in Deptford (what we used to call a doss house). Residents would die, and there would be lonely funerals – a social worker, a vicar and maybe one or two other residents. One just hopes those poor souls had happier times.

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