Sunday, 29 November 2015

Hey, Boo

Geoffrey Brindle, "Bradford Jesus" - photo and portrait by Gary Beck

I just like walking

Earlier this year, Geoffrey Brindle died. Not a famous man outside West Yorkshire, but he was a very distinctive man who invariably smiled, often waved, and when asked “Why do you live the way you do?” (ie walking the streets of Bradford in a cassock), he replied “I just like walking.” Geoffrey died in hospital in August 2015, having fallen at home. He was probably 88 years old. He has been called various names over the years – Bradford Jesus, the Jesus Man, the Mad Monk, the Bradford Monk, the Airedale Monk, the Bradford Hermit, Holy Joe, Moses, Happy Harry – but all the tributes to him in the local newspaper when he died were positive and came from around the world. And came from people of all faiths and from people of no faith.

Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird….

Like Boo Radley in Harper Lee’s wonderful novel, Geoffrey Brindle shied away from the limelight. He was known to run away from journalists seeking interviews. He would never answer questions about himself directly. Rumours remained rumours: rumours about his extended family, rumours that he was escaping from a childhood trauma, or a rumour that shoe companies wanted to sponsor him, or rumours that he had magical healing powers or was a wizard! He remained mysterious because the only encounters anyone had with him involved him smiling warmly, being encouraging, giving time and attention….

Rumour doth double, like the voice and echo….*
(from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two)
Did he meditate in a cave near Settle for 12 days in the 1960s having left his job in a factory? Did he have a wife and children? Was he born in Derbyshire? What were his motivations? There are many testaments to his willingness to talk to people, especially anyone who was upset or in trouble. Social workers in Bradford mention how helpful he was with families in distress. He would sit, drink tea, listen…. Why did he live the way he did?
Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.

Small acts of kindness

My last blog celebrated unhistoric acts – and Geoffrey Brindle seemed to be one of those people. There is talk of naming a new street “Brindle Walk” – a fitting tribute to someone who was forever putting one foot in front of another come rain, come shine, come snow, come fog…. Why did he live a life so unencumbered by material goods? Why was he so generous with his smiles and waves? For at least 50 years in and around Bradford? Why Bradford? Somehow his life gives me hope. Persuades me that life-affirming people will win. Reminds me to keep alive what matters. RIP, Geoffrey. Smile and wave.