Looking for worthless Premium Bond numbers sets me off thinking about memorials…

John in the US in 1981

SOME memorials are public and others we carry within ourselves. This train of thought began with two public memorials, although another starting point was a hunt for our ancient Premium Bonds.

Inevitably, the bonds turned out to be worthless.

Looking for them unearthed my university friend’s funeral. So long ago already was my first reaction. John died in 1999 and I’ve been without him for as long as we were friends.

We met at Goldsmiths College. He’d dropped out after a year at Leeds University and I’d fluffed my A-levels, so we both rolled to south east London.

John was six ft four and was teased for looking like Clark Kent; I was five foot eight and teased for looking like Leo Sayer.

After university Clark and Leo had an excellent adventure in the US, staying in New York and driving to Los Angeles in a week, then up the coast to San Francisco. I still think of those three weeks.

John was best man at our wedding and did a splendid job. There is more I could recall. That day he spray-painted his Audi and it looked terrible. Or my lasting regret at not seeing him after he said he was ill. He seemed to rally and anyway, no good friend of mine was going to die like that, aged only 43.

Mostly I think of him as he was, tall, faithful, sometimes sardonic, amusing and interested in many things, a good companion for a beer or two. A solid good friend still.

Private memorials allow you to accommodate your own thoughts and feelings. Public memorials are more complex, with so many people to please or appease, or unintentionally to offend.

The Covid-19 wall across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament is an affecting memorial, a white wall filled with red hearts, supposedly one for every victim of Covid-19.

This emotional graffiti is moving in its simplicity. All those hand-drawn hearts have emotional power. There have been calls for this impromptu memorial wall to be made permanent, and that is what should happen.

Discussions about how to honour the lives of those who died in the devastating Grenfell tower fire are long-running, and sometimes contentious. One suggestion is that the tower should be turned into a high-rise garden to remember those who died.

The idea comes from Marcio Gomes and Andreia Perestrelo, who lived on the 21st floor and escaped the fire with their two daughters. Andreia was pregnant and their son, whom they’d already called Logan, was stillborn because of the toxic smoke.

They want the shell of the tower to be restored to its 220ft height and planted with 72 species of plants, forming a high-rise memorial garden to honour the 72 people who died in the fire.

Marcio spoke about his wish in an interview with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. He was inspired by the work of Stefano Boeri, the Italian architect whose forested blocks of flats in Milan sow vertical acres of greenery in an otherwise barren landscape (above).

Whether that’s the right answer for Grenfell is not for someone like me to say. That right belongs to the relatives of those who died and to those who escaped with their lives.

Public memorials must contend with many feelings, in this case not least those survivors who’d rather see the tower removed. Some of those who lost loved ones in the fire have said that the official memorial plans are only adding to their grief. Finding an answer won’t be easy.

As for John V Sheridan (1955-1999), you live on in my heart, old friend. I am so glad I knew you. Sometimes I still talk to you in my head. Sometimes you answer back with a smart reply and that familiar half-grin. That’s the sort of man you were.

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