[written for Victor’s son to read]
Victor was the eldest of three children, born to Frank and Kathleen Walker exactly eighty-one years ago today. His sister Jennifer, and brother Stuart, with their spouses Tom and Catherine, have enabled him in the past few years to fulfil one of his dearest wishes. By their kind and loving support they have made it possible for him to remain in his own home and not go into a home for the elderly.
Vic attended Hymers College in Hull, but he didn’t care much for school. As is often the case in those who don’t like school, he was highly intelligent and he always had a passionate relationship with life.
He loved pranks, bringing in the New Year by climbing onto the school roof and ringing the bell. And this was at a time when it was forbidden to ring bells except to signal that an invasion was occurring! I imagine some of you can recall other pranks Vic pulled.
He liked motor bikes, always having them in pieces in the front garden. He used to take his sister, Jennifer on the back and go bird watching when she was in her early teens.
Vic enjoyed keeping rabbits in the back garden, 50 plus of them at times! He used to keep the local butcher supplied.
And he hung out with his teenage friends, Jeff Perdy, Pete Robinson and John Marsden (known as Marsey), all of whom became friends for life.
Victor began paid employment by doing National Service with the Royal Navy. Following that he studied farming at Askcome Brian Farming College, and it was while he was there that he met Pauline, his first wife and the mother of his children. At Christmas the Farming College sent an invitation to their local hospital asking ten nurses if they’d like to attend their dance, and Pauline was at the Christmas dance. They spent their courting days on the motor bike and at Young Farmers’ dances.
He was passionate about farming. He took a job as Farm Manager in Skipton, Yorkshire. The business man who owned the farm also owned the local pub. There was an expectation that Victor should supply all the food for the pub for free, which didn’t make good business sense and probably led to his losing the job. His wedding was postponed for 12 months whilst he got sorted. He did temporary farming work and looked for a small holding that he could afford. Then, his uncle offered him a job as a salesman at Scottish Brewers.
When Vic and Pauline got married they moved to the Meols on the Wirral and the first of their five children was born. Vic was then a very sociable, friendly, easy-going man. Pauline and he had a lot of fun at local dances. He kept bees and got to know the locals. He also loved dinghy sailing. When Cousin Vera left him some money the family had two lovely holidays in Guernsey.
As happens often in people who are passionate and sensitive gradual changes were taking place in Vic. He started drinking more heavily and staying out longer and later. His sons became older and were developing their own independence and he seemed to need to dominate them. Hair had to be short, clothes he approved of had to be worn. There were a few petrifying incidents with his sons and a lot of ‘big scenes’.
Yet always Vic would be the first to help people. For instance, he would jump out of bed if he heard a neighbour struggling to start their car, even though he never owned a car himself.
After some difficult times Vic and Pauline divorced. Not long later their eldest son, Michael died in a climbing accident in the Antarctic. It was a very painful time for all the family, and one from which Vic at some level never seemed to recover. His home was perishing cold; why should he be warm when Michael had frozen to death? he would say.
Later he met and married Doreen Cawkwell. Their year or so together was marked by a move back to Yorkshire and his being made redundant from Carlsberg where he had worked for a number of years.
Vic returned to Hull and became a tip attendant near the Humber Bridge. He loved his work; he enjoyed being physically tired and filled with fresh air! He was a very practical man, good at fixing things. Perhaps his house overflowing with repaired irons and electric kettles, and innumerable things awaiting repair, is an expression of his anger at the waste of our throw-away world.
Vic was a man of very definite ideas and values; perhaps he saw life very differently from how most of us see it. This can make a man rude, bossy, outspoken, critical, and highly embarrassing! When a man lives with this kind or inner turmoil and frustration it is always those closest to him, his family, who bear the biggest brunt.
Here is a man full of seeming contradictions: he could weep at music and make others weep with his bruising remarks; he ran truant from school yet loved to read the paper, especially the financial pages; he was sociable and friendly yet seemed to enjoy finding the worst in people; he was reclusive in later years and yet known by everyone in his village of Barton.
It would have been easy to make a eulogy of dishonest praise for my father, but my mother always told me that honesty was the best policy.
My father was certainly a true character if not a little challenging and I can’t presume to understand what he believed in.
He was happiest with an audience. Happiest being the centre of attention and he was certainly noticed wherever he went.
As I stand here at his funeral I am not miserable, just a little sad… and confused as to why it seemed such a struggle for him to find peace and happiness when he was amongst us.
He’s dead now, we’ll never see him again, but he made an impression, he touched our lives and lives on in our hearts.
I would love to have known Diane, but I didn’t. I have just come to know her through her son, Phil, and one or two of her friends.
If I had known Diane in person I think I’d have enjoyed two things in particular. The first would be sitting very quietly with her, watching with delight all the wonders of God’s creation; the deer, the cows, the birds.
The other would be attending one of her many parties, meeting interesting people and feasting on her glorious cooking; two very different sides of one woman; a picture of how complex and wondrously individual we all are.
Diane’s mother’s family were farmers in Kent. The boys of the family continued on the farm and the girls went into service, so Diane’s mother was in service in a big house in Kent. Soon after the First World War she met her husband, a second generation Catholic Irish immigrant (though Diane’s mother preferred to hide that fact). So that gives us a glimpse of the family Diane was born into on the 28th of April, 1921. Diane was born and brought up in the Fulham/Hammersmith area of London. She was an only child.
The farm had not worked out for her part of the family, but Diane had many happy childhood memories of farm stays with her aunts and uncles and cousins. She attended the Hammersmith Day Continuation School, and later the Fulham Commercial Institute where she passed her typing and shorthand exams.
The Second World War was both background and foreground of Diane’s life. For the duration of the war she worked for The Canadian Admiralty at Admiralty House, and on top of that worked part-time in the Boomerang Club where the Australian Armed Forces gathered. She also helped out at the Canteen at Saint Martin in-the-Fields. I guess it was a time for keeping busy, and for making a contribution in whatever ways one could.
Diane lost her cousin, Len, in a bombing raid; he was a wireless operator – and she lived right in the location of the London bombings. So it was a traumatic time. Maybe this time was the seedbed for her very active social life. She and her friends went dancing while the raids were on, sometimes until four in the morning. They were really living life, not knowing when it would be snuffed out. Diane used to say it was an exhilarating and very communal time for her and her friends, even though they felt they’d lost the teens-into-twenties period of their lives.
Diane’s next job was as a Music Hall and Variety Artist Booker. She worked for Sidney Jerome at his office in London, arranging rehearsals for artists, being his secretary, and keeping the books up-dated. She clearly had organisational skills alongside her business skills.
It is not difficult to understand Diane’s being drawn to this job. Her father taught her to play the piano and gave her a love of variety-type music. She became so accomplished on the piano that she was for a time a concert pianist and played at The Royal Albert Hall. For some reason she gave up playing a while later; one wonders what sorry arose in her at the piano that it was easier not to bear.
It was when Diane was about 27, a few years after the war, that she met her husband, David. There was perhaps something of her mother’s snobbishness in Diane. David wooed her, and she was very woo-able! He had a very wealthy aunt with various houses in London, houses with butlers, the whole works, so Diane thought she was marrying into aristocracy.
It wasn’t until she was 40 that she had Phil, again an only child, although Diane had had a stillborn child two years earlier. One always wonders at the effect of that, especially in an era when people were expected just to put their grief aside and get on with life. And perhaps this loss also coloured her experience of giving birth to Phil. Diane apparently never forgave David for not being around at the time of the birth. He was at the pub with his parents, and then favoured a meal his mother cooked over visiting Diane and her new baby. Perhaps David, too, had unfinished grief, and could not bear to show up until he was sure this babe would live.
Phil, unusually, remembers falling asleep in the pram, outside in the breeze. He also remembers, when he was older, being taken to the pub and falling asleep under the bar stools.
Phil had quite a free childhood, spending a lot of time outdoors. They lived in Wimbledon at that time. Later Diane and David moved to Dorset and into semi-retirement. It was certainly semi-retirement! David started a business as a textile manufacturers’ agent, and Diane worked with him as company secretary, both of them working at this until they were 75!
Together they shared other interests. Both loved dogs, especially the Shietchiu breed; their last dog died in about 2000. Nature was also a shared delight, particularly birds, and the garden, and growing vegetables. The Lake District, Cornwall, Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset were all places they enjoyed, and they were avid swimmers, especially in the sea, heading to the coast for short breaks and holidays.
And socialising! They were big party people; they loved to entertain and Diane was a fabulous cook. Perhaps I’m the only one here not to have sampled her cooking!
Diane had other hobbies. She was an avid reader, loved the arts, and at about 60 took up yoga and flower arranging at the encouragement of her friend, Marie Menos.
Six years ago, after Diane’s husband died, she moved up her to Scotland to live with Phil and his then wife, Niki, and their girls. She referred to Niki as the daughter she never had. Lia and Freya, her two granddaughters, loved their Grandma dearly, and she adored them.
More recently when Diane had to move into Forres Niki and the girls would go to her on a Saturday night to have dinner and watch a DVD. They were an important means of support for each other. Diane will be sadly missed.
In recent months Diane’s health has not been so good; but she seemed, as often happens, to hang on until after a significant event, and for Diane this was the celebration of her 90th birthday.
Diane saw and felt a lot in life. She lived a full and rich life, participating fully in its ebbs and flows. When it came to loving, like all of us she knew the vulnerability and fear of loss that are the other side of loving with an open heart. There are time she put up defences to protect herself from hurt, but that is merely a measure of the deep bond she felt with her only living child. Perhaps it was a little safer to be open to the love she felt for her daughter-in-law and granddaughters.
There were times when Diane wondered about becoming a Roman Catholic; one imagines here a link with her father. When Phil was born it was in a Roman Catholic hospital as she wanted her child to be brought into the world by nuns.
Diane never did become a Catholic, but there is something of her sense of wonder at the depth of life in her love of nature. I trust we honour the fullness of the woman who was, and always will be, Diane Joan Read, in this her ceremony of remembrance.
A man has died –
and in the telling of his story;
in the listening, reading,
being with his somehow presence,
I am led to wonder
what’s the vow that underpins his life?
His writing is so deep in truth and love;
his children show me who he was
in things as simple yet profound
as how they stand;
his pictures show a warmth and joy,
his face so light-filled
that it lifts above the paper –
I could almost touch his cheek
and feel a blessing.
He knows the freedom of his choices –
neither bound by others nor a doctrine;
and in the end
he makes a brave and quiet choice,
a gentle, peaceful way to leave behind
his failing body
now his earth-bound work is finished.
And I know his vow is love.