I’ve Been To A Marvellous Party…

Enicholls  LNichollsJemmagoodbye2

Actually, it wasn’t a party it was a funeral in celebration and remembrance of the Artist Jemma De Vere Cole aka Jemma Dorella Tetley, an altogether heart achingly beautiful and deeply sad affair which reflected the life of a wonderful, funny, passionate and loving woman whose own life touched the lives of so many and which the packed church stood testament to.

You can view her self portraits and other works here:

http://www.jemmawithaj.com/self-portraits-and-other-works.html

Jemma’s heritage is colourful, old and rich with history as her surname hints at but none of that history, eccentricity or ‘colour’ could hold a candle to the reality of Jemma; she loved, she never judged, she took everyone as she found them without pretension, she waded onwards throughout the tough times and delighted in the good times with a refreshing innocence of purpose. Jemma was not a woman with hidden agenda’s, art was her mistress but not her queen and her feet were very firmly planted in the real world; she was a mother, a sister, a daughter, she worked at the hospital, she was a carer… many things to many people. She moved in many circles but danced always to her own tune.

Her paintings are lovely; vibrant, sensitive, perceptive.  At forty nine years of age Jemma has left the party far too soon. I know her sons, Lucas, Elliot and Jo-Jo will feel the reverberation of that vibrancy and the empty space with the same passion and emotion that Jemma relished on her daily life. I know her family too, will struggle to overcome her absence.

Today we heard from family and friends, who celebrated the essence of Jemma in poetry, music and song, their voices quavering their loss. I loved Lucas’s poem “…Mum, you are fading away… ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, we say and out of the cloying fog of confusion, a brief moment of clarity as you tell us, ‘neither can I….”

I smiled as Dudley Sutton painted his own picture of Jemma in our minds, his broad brush strokes stitching together memories and epitaphs and I wept as Bill Benham (violin) and  David Power (piano) played Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part eloquently mirrored by Canon Jeremy Davies ‘Homily’.

Later, standing in our small town Market Square today, on the steps of our Guildhall raising our glasses and crying out “thank you Jemma!” as the Hearse edged back out into the afternoon traffic I was reminded that life, the flow of the universe – finds the strangest ways to remind us of what matters.

I have a framed newspaper cutting in my loo, a picture of Dee (Jemma’s mother Diana) and my mother dressed as agricultural labourers for a promenade theatre performance of ‘Larkrise to Candleford’ staged at Salisbury Arts Centre (St Edmunds Church as was) along a Yew-lined path in a momentary shaft of golden sunlight, looking like something straight out of the eighteenth century not the 1980s as it was. My mother also died from cancer. But that picture reminds me that no matter what suits we choose to dress ourselves in, we are all the same underneath. Life is theatre, Jemma knew that and rejoiced in both the costumes and the people underneath them. That is what matters. People. Love. Joy.

Post Script

Two things:

It was remiss of me not to also include this link to Salisbury Hospice, whom support people and their families at challenging times in the process of medical intervention http://www.salisburyhospicecharity.org.uk/ the concept of ‘Hospice’ goes back to the fourth century when Christian orders welcomed travellers, pilgrims and those in need. It remains a valued and much needed service in all communities. Every age has had it’s ‘cancer’ – human nature has proved that despite our ability to empower ourselves we will always fail to eradicate ill health throughout the world, through our own greed and weaknesses “Man’s inhumanity to Man”. A place where the weary and terminally ill can seek respite and comfort deserves our support.

Also, I forget that sometimes people I don’t know read my posts – I was thinking about the tendency we have to really ‘beef’ up peoples good traits at funerals – to set them on pedestals which they may not have enjoyed in their daily lives. That is perhaps, part of the point of ‘celebrating’ a persons life, to focus on their best characteristics and achievements. I wasn’t a close friend of Jemma’s, I knew her all too briefly in the greater scheme of things, our lives bumped into one anothers every now and again but she came and went with all the vibrancy and impact I have described in my post. Someone said, during the service that she was always at the centre of any party, that is generally true but not in my experience in any attention seeking way but  through sheer vitality and integrity, with a genuine interest in people and experience.

Addenda

‘Those things which must be added’

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Dene Turner at Salisbury Cathedral, there was not a seat in the entire Cathedral, left empty. We sat in the North Transept amongst a vast swathe of Scout Leaders who had all taken the afternoon off to ‘celebrate’ Dene’s life, his contribution to ‘scouting’ and to mourn his passing, there was even a handful of young cub scouts present.

It was quite a moving sight and having had a big hug from Dene’s dad Graham, and his sister Katie before we went in, on the first rumbling breath of bass organ as it vibrated up through the floor I crumbled, unable to sing as I realised that I really wouldn’t be bumping into Dene again, next time I was in town or in the Cathedral, this was it, the last hello.

It was a beautiful service which perfectly captured the spirit and tone of Dene. The son, brother, husband,  father, friend; the skilled technical facilitator, the man who went the extra mile, the dancer, the singer, the any-chance-to-get-a-‘cossie’-on, man, his life at the heart of the Methodist church community. The man who constantly grew in his knowledge, who loved to share his expertise in his work with young people and through popular courses run at the Cathedral. The man, whom the day before he died had taken an exam so he could shoulder even more responsibility in his work, the quiet, humble man who would have been embarrassed by such praise and recognition and perhaps suprised to reflect on the sum of all his parts and see how rich it all was.

We were sat next to Maria Bota, the Director of Salisbury International Arts Festival. As Facilities manager (amongst many other previous roles at the Cathedral), Dene was the man who made sure festival events at the Cathedral went smoothly and who negotiated the needs of International Art against the needs of an ancient institution. I suspect that when frustrations arose as the two worlds attempted to bridge, Dene’s humour and quiet amusement at the way we over complicate the simple, stamp our feet and make some noise when we dont get our own way was the perfect ‘glue’. Ensuring a level of understanding and agreement was reached. The Dean, June Osborn said as much in her address, referring to occasions when she was having a “hissy fit” over something that hadn’t been done, or had gone wrong, and where Dene’s response was quiet laughter at her histrionics helping her realise that perhaps it wasn’t that important in the grander scheme and to laugh at her own misplaced fury – a brave admission.

It’s been a while, a long while since I’ve sung ‘Kumbayah’ but it made me smile to be singing it in the Cathedral and if I hadn’t been sobbing I would have loved to have sung Ralph Readers’ Scout Hymn as well, although the tune never sticks in my head some of the words always resonate

“Now as I start upon my chosen way, in all I do, my thoughts, my work, my play, grant as I promise, courage new for me to be the best, the best that I can be……open mine eyes to see things as I should, that I may do my daily turn of good, let me be ready, waiting for each need….”

I wish I’d been able to see the guard of honour formed by the Scout Leaders with the Scouting Flags and Pennants to see Dene leave the Cathedral for the last time.

I, like many others present yesterday will be endeavouring to give some thought to what Dene taught me as part of my mourning, and we will all carry the delight of coming together, red eyed and sniffly, over coffee and cake in the Cloisters in the bright spring sunshine (always cake with Salisbury Methodist church) as happens in communities; with old friends from school, youth club, scouting/guiding, church, work and leisure to communally share our memories. Dene spanned all of those parts of my life and he has taught me that whilst I may be an old cynic, disillusioned, prickly and questioning,  that through the appreciation of good in others we can hope to find it in ourselves and that there are some very good people in the reaches of my life.  One has just left the room, I can confidently speak for more than just myself when I say he will be missed.

 

Dene Turner 1961 – 2012

Our man in *Theatre*

I have an old friend who moved to America, married, had a daughter and earns a living as an actor over there (although secretly, he wants to dig old and interesting things out of the earth which is why he was known affectionately as *bones* in his youth). Today I was at the funeral of his Dad, Michael Thomas Honan at our local Crematorium, the services for which are often lacklustre. Todays service was uplifting. It was delivered by Ian Newman a local funeral director and acquaintance/friend of Mr H. who possesses a deep, booming megaphone of a voice and a flair for the theatrical combined with a gift for honest humility and a bit of a twinkle in his eye – we had the full works today.  Mr Honan was from County Claire he came to Salisbury on the advice of a cousin, to look for work and became an auxilliary nurse at the Infirmary here, he signed up for National Service in the fifties and was sent off to Hong Kong, a bit of a sweet gig, when it came to National Service, we were told. In Hong Kong he was invited to attend the Theatre, that’s ‘operating’ theatre not ‘thespian’ theatre, although I’m sure there are plenty of parallels. It was in this arena that Mr Honan gained his skills which set him on a course for a career as a ‘Theatre nurse’ until the day he retired… “hang on – Why!” you hiss from the wings, “are you telling me this?”… 

I have a little ‘phrase’ that motivates me through the bad times ‘the good you get out of life is the good you put into the earth’ which is why I garden when I can and grow things wherever I can and occasionally I too have dug interesting things up like a horse poison bottle, the lid of a victorian butter dish and the occasional bone or three. But I never really thought about who told me this ‘trueism’ which has stayed with me all these years until today. It was Mr Honan via my mate ‘Bones’ who first said it. I didn’t know then but Mr. H was an allotment man, he had a gift for growing things; it was more than a hobby it was a way of life, a passion. He took his responsibilities in ‘theatre; very seriously and was, judging by the fact there was standing room only in the aisle of the Chapel today, respected and well liked but the daily ‘life and death’ drama’s must surely have taken their toll and his allotment was his haven, his respite, his ‘creativity’ and although it was clear his health would no longer permit it, he kept on digging and growing right up to June of this year when he was forced to admit it was too much. Publicly, Mr. H. was a quiet man, I knew about him from tales recanted in the pub after shows by ‘Bones’ singing the song by the Chieftans which I hear in my head when I’m sad sometimes “you’re drunk, you’re drunk you silly auld fool….” a favourite of his, his pride in his son, standing awkwardly in the foyer of the theatre after a show. I am struck by the similarities of the two professions, the two theatres and the distance of the two worlds: one humble, without ego and dedicated to fulfilling the weighty responsibility of work with utmost care, precision, sensitivity – the other, larger than life, glamourous, and yet both dramatic, critical, and risky. I came home and re-potted a plant and sorted my seed box out. That is all.

 

Just keep Dancing


I have been reminded recently of the importance of  *dancing* figuratively, metaphorically, literally any which way you roll.  I was at the funeral of ‘Roz Hope’ the inimitable mother of an old friend and never a more upbeat, positive, moving occasion have I been a part of. The over-riding theme being to live life, it will be full of obstacles, mountains to be overcome, gone around or conquered but LIVE your LIFE don’t wait for it to come to you, get out there meet people, talk to them, befriend them, find out about them and live your life. Whatever is thrown at you, hits you full on in the face, knocks you sideways – try to keep dancing.

To send off Roz we sang ‘One’ from a Chorus Line and ‘Life is a cabaret’ from Cabaret and it was neither embarrassing or trite, it was genuinely happy and comfortable, we laughed and some of us dripped tears and sobbed a little and we all hugged a lot. Hats off to you Roz and welcome to the Rosemary Hope Scholarship to give one young person the opportunity to  realise their dream of becoming a professional performer – so they can blossom for a lifetime.