For my wonderful grandmother, Audrey Fyson, whose funeral took place this morning and where this piece was read.
I remember a Christmas evening when you read aloud to us all from Jerome K Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”. You were a marvellous reader. You were expressive and funny and you had a dry, deadpan delivery that perfectly suited Jerome’s prose. You read us the hamper-packing scene (“if it was broken then it was broken…”) and then the chapter where Harris gets lost in the Hampton Court maze. It’s the first time I can remember laughing until I cried. Whenever I read “Three Men in a Boat”, I think of you, and smile.
I remember the huge pleasure of giving you good news about my achievements, however small. You greeted them all with both pride and confidence – as if you never had any doubt that I would get there, and were pleased to have lived long enough to be proved right. You were always thrilled, never surprised. For nearly forty years I’ve been warmed and cherished by your utter, unshakeable trust in me. Thank you for believing in me so entirely.
I remember your immovable (and entirely wrong) conviction that I didn’t like trifle. This began when I was about three, I think, and turned up my nose at a sherry-laced spoonful. From then on, as far as you were concerned, I Didn’t Like Trifle – in any context. I have Not Liked Trifle at all times and in all seasons. I have Not Liked Trifle at meals where trifle was available, and I have Not Liked Trifle at meals where no trifle was to be seen. I once Didn’t Like Trifle in the middle of a conversation about international travel, when you suddenly enquired about food on aeroplanes. “And do they have puddings?” you asked. “Yes,” I replied. “But of course, you don’t like trifle,” you mused to yourself. At your ninetieth birthday, there was trifle at the buffet, and I had a dilemma. Would it be too much to let you see me, at last, eating trifle? I watched you watching me licking cream off my spoon. I saw you look astounded, before deciding I was eating trifle for some selfless, manners-based reason of my own. Perhaps a waiter had forced it on me. This is about the only thing I ever remember you being wrong about. Trifle, along with many other trifles, always makes me think of you.
I remember the day the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. I was in London, two days away from a business trip to New York. As the news spread through the office, we all stopped what we were doing, and called someone we loved. I called you. I almost didn’t. There was never any chance I’d have been hurt – at worst, I might have been trapped by the airspace shut-down. I even thought it might scare you more to think that I might have been involved, however peripherally. But still there was this unshakeable command – “Call Lala”. You picked up within half a ring; I can still hear the sound of your voice. Just one word – “Yes?” – every part of you braced to hear the worst. You’d known I was due to be in New York some time that week, nothing more. I believed at the time you’d willed me to call – reaching for the invisible thread connecting family members and giving it a firm tug. I still believe this. I also believe that’s why I woke up in the early hours of the morning of your death and said, out loud, “Goodbye.”
I remember riding with you one afternoon in Bestwood. It was an authentically golden day – bright sunshine, perfect temperature – a day so lovely it couldn’t even be marred by the fact that I fell off, in a dramatic and graceless fashion, near the bottom of Karen’s Field. Two nice people with a black Labrador caught Molly the pony for me, while I lay on my back like a stranded beetle and tried to breathe. Afterwards, you begged me “not to tell the riding stables”. I think you felt responsible, as if my falling off was a reflection on your caregiving skills. (I was twenty-eight at the time.) For the record, the falling-off was entirely my fault, for being a crappy rider. But of course I didn’t tell the stables. I didn’t mind falling off either. Who wouldn’t accept bruises across their entire lower back for the pleasure of naughtily conspiring with their grandmother? You’ll be pleased to know that your great-grandchildren are much better riders, and would have coped perfectly with Molly’s strange transitional gait between Canter and Trot.
I remember you being sent by your GP to see a heart specialist. His letter of referral began, “This remarkable lady…” You told us this story in disbelief, and looked baffled when we chorused, “But you are remarkable!”, and looked dismissive when we outlined your remarkableness. You never thought there was anything special about being in your late eighties and regularly riding a large, moody hunter who put his ears back and glowered whenever anyone came near him (but who somehow instantly knew you were in charge). You were remarkable, though you never believed it, and we were proud. We still are.
I remember the last words you said to me when Ian and I saw you in hospital. You said, “The next time you go riding, think of me”. I mean to keep that promise. It’s been a long time since I rode, and I was never all that good to start with, and there’s now simply no question that both my children are better at it than me, but I’ll do it. I’ll sit straight and keep my heels down and try not to fall off. And I’ll think of you. I’ll think of you reading, laughing, riding, cooking, talking, listening, holding babies, playing with cats, living every moment of your long life as well as anyone could.
We’ll miss you very much.