IT is hard to think of an occasion where a large crowd has been so diverse yet so united. Horace White‘s funeral service at the Islington Cemetery in East Finchley today was not just something special for the sheer numbers who turned up to say a final farewell to a man that some knew as a friend, but others knew only as the smiling face repeatedly wishing them the ‘best of luck’ around the shops of Finchley or in the Sainsbury’s in Camden Town.
It was special also because Horace and his catchprase – what could be warmer than wishing every stranger ‘the best of luck’ – had brought diverse communities together in a way that London still does not always witness without gnawing friction.
Shoulder to shoulder: Black. White. Asian. Irish. Italian. Greek. Eastern European. Pensioners. Babies. Teenagers texting. Women painted with fake tan. Men painted with fake tan. Men with unruly beards. Men with sharp suits. Hipsters. Gamers. A man with a can of strong brew. People who could recite the prayers without looking at the order of service. People who had that tell-tale sign of atheism: awkward shoe-gazing when the hymns were sung. It all sounds like a daisy-age love-in, but it was almost as if the ideal of a multicultural, neighbourly capital city was finally showing its real shoots right here, right then.
This may sound like a consumed view to attach to a funeral laced with the emotions of a final goodbye, but it is all part of the curious story of Horace and the amazing affection generated by his ever presence on the fringes of the lives of seemingly everyone in Finchley. From some of the tributes read to the service and piped outside the chapel through a PA system, a martian might have thought they had been reserved for a Godlike character who had saved people from the river or burning homes, invented life-changing medicine, ended poverty. Actually, Horace drew, sang along to Billy Ocean and wished people the best of luck, occasionally losing his temper along the way.
But it’s in this almost unparalleled adulation that the old homespun lesson is digested again, corny but true, that you don’t have to do all those super heroic things to make an indelible mark on the community. Just raising the spirits of the man on his way to buy a Big Mac, whether he’s a city slicker or spliffy student, can do the trick too. True enough, Horace had become a binding ‘Finchley legend’ by the most simple formula of all: Making people smile.