Richard of York gained battles in vain. No he didn’t. You’ve got to look at the bigger picture. . . you see, if he hadn’t . . . well, whatever – that’s the way I remember the order of the colours in the rainbow. Mrs. Needham once told me about the magic of the rainbow for her. She had been working in the fields, wearing her old fashioned Lincolnshire sun bonnet (she was at great pains to tell me how her mother used to make them), when they had been forced to take cover by the hedge. It rained hard for a short time and, for some of that time, the sun had been shining. A rainbow was duly spotted, arcing over the fields and hedgerows, and it remained there until work was completed just a little while later. Mrs. Needham, who was not Mrs. Needham at that point, took up her basket and began the long trek homeward. She kept the end of the rainbow in her sights and realised that it was waiting to be found. She had made a decision as to where she believed her pot of gold would be buried, and walked straight into heaven. There, in the corner of the north pasture, was Fred Needham, sitting with his back against an elm tree bole and with a neckerchief spread out between his legs. On the neckerchief were dainties with ginger and crystallised flowers, and in the middle was a little cardboard cube with ribbon around it. Mrs. Needham and her Fred had never once considered that they would not marry each other, but this rainbow-day was the day when Fred actually proposed to his sweetheart. The rest was their own personal history.
For me, though, Richard of York still struts his stuff. I never can remember the order which the colours take unless I think of this lieutenant of Ireland whose pate was somewhat hysterically displayed in York after having been removed from his body on the battlefield in Wakefield.
So much nicer than trying to imagine the demise of poor Richard. He did live, however – a long time ago, but he DID live. He ate and slept and talked and walked as we do yet. The lovely rainbow may be his best obituary. I’m sure it is – what could be lovelier? He gave us two kings – Edward the Fourth who was a good leader but died because of his own excesses, and the infamous Richard the Third. Richard of York was not responsible for the rainbow. Whatever your thoughts on Noah’s Ark, there were rainbows when Richard led men into battle in the fifteenth century and there were many rainbows before and after that. Rainbows have inspired poets, have given hope to travellers and lifted the spirits of the lost. I am an old man now but my special rainbow stays with me always. It is the rainbow which led me to the grave of my son. His mother and I had harnessed our grief, enabling us to make the journey to France. It was to be a turning point for us. We had no idea, however, that we would find such healing there.
The grave was not in an intimate country churchyard. There were so many graves. Line upon line of them. How our hearts sank. The April showers left our clothes clinging to us so that they dragged us down further. A rainbow stretched overhead and in front and the very end of it seemed so far away. We walked and walked and we found our boy – well – not him – but a place where they put his body. As we stood in silence the April sunshine warmed us a little and the wetness gave up a wonderful perfume with the earth. The rainbow, the rain, the sun, the earth – they had all conspired to give us peace. No words have ever matched that peace for us. Nothing anyone has said – no matter how kind – has soothed us like our rainbow-day. It was as if we heard his voice – his laugh, saw his face – his grin. It was as if he were with us again – and would stay with us forever. We had found our pot of gold – our hero – no longer in a foreign land.