Wednesday 10 May 2023

Eulogy - My Ma


It is so wonderful to see all of you here today, you can’t imagine how precious that is to us and would be to mum and thanks to new technology we have friends and relatives from all over the world zooming in to today’s celebration of mums life from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Sri Lanka. New technology was something mum embraced. She always had a great thirst for knowledge. It was thanks to new technology that she linked up again with one of her favourite cousins whom she thought lost forever, Eve in New Zealand and sharing memories about their childhood has brought her great joy in the latter years of her life. When they were young Eve said they dreamed of being the next Margaret Lockwood, who I think was from the same neck of the woods in South London, and going to Hollywood. It was thanks to new technology that through mums efforts we were able to trace my dads great niece Vera in Hawaii. 

But even before new technology it was thanks to mums inquiring mind that we were able to find out so much about my father’s ancestors, the Nicholls of Chester, Ma Hla, our Burmese great grandmother, the Cowells and the Backenburgs in Burma and Madeleine De la Chappell my father’s great greatgrandmother. Her sister, my Aunt Joyce had already set her a good example by finding out so much about their side of the family, the Perretts and the Blessedsetc. Yes we are distantly related to Brian Blessed. No surprise there I hear you say due to the size of our gobs! 

My mother was smart. As with her five brothers and sisters they were all bright but they did not have the benefit of the kind of education we have today. If you wanted to read a book you loaned it from the library. There were no shelves stacked with books at home. These were luxuries. But there was one book which mum did have as a childI think she may have won it as a prize for some work at schoolI don’t know. But it must have been this book that fired her imagination and love of writing stories, poetry and of course bringing characters to life on stage. She kept this book for years. She would read stories from it to us as children in fact it was so well read it began to fall apart and I don’t know what happened to it. But in the last few years mum and I spoke about that book. I said why don’t you see if you can find it on the internet. Indeed she did and here it is! The Young Omnibus with illustrations just as I remembered them. In particular I loved the Snow Queen and the way mum read it to us. In the last few days as I flicked through its pages I realise how much this book contributed to mum’s creative talents. 

Sadlymum was put off school when as a young teenager she entered a poetry competition and the head mistress dismissed it claiming she couldn’t possibly have written it. No one stood up for mum. She would go on to spend her dinner money on a fag and a bun, her words, and left school at 14. She would have loved to have gone to drama school but as she said people from her background just didn’t. However, she may not have followed the likes of Dame Eileen Atkins on to the professional stage, but as we know she went on to bring so much joy for people here through her talents on the local stage. She didn’t make it to Hollywood, although she had the talents and the looks! Instead she ‘made it’ to the Oxmoora world away from the big lights of London Town which she loved so much. She felt like she had been shipwrecked on Robinson Crusoe’s Island, a pantomime she would go on to write, and in the first few years it was difficult but she would fill the hours of home sickness with us her children cutting out and making up scrapbooks, we had children’s encyclopaedias, eye spy books, all sorts to encourage us to read and to inspire and provoke our imaginations. The Oxmoor was what was described then as an overspill estate for people who couldn’t find homes in London. The locals called it The Spill. Mum used to say I haven’t spilt over from anywhere. But mum and Huntingdon grew to love each other over the next 60 years and Mum would ferociously defend the town and was ambitious for its welfare and that of its townsfolk. 

My mother and father created a wonderful home for us, one not blessed with many luxuries but rich in many other ways, and one in which our friends were always made to feel welcome. When she got the opportunity to help out with script writing for a pantomime when I was at Huntingdon County Junior School she jumped at the chance to rekindle her love of performance and with her friend Gladys Meredith another parent she wrote and directed pantos at the school from 1974 to 1987 as well as lots of summer sketch shows raising thousands of pounds for the school, but importantly giving youngsters and families live entertainment that many of them would not have access to otherwise. She went on to grace the boards of Brampton Park Theatre, the Burgess Hall with the Centre Players, Panto 89 at the Commemoration Hall and with Shakespeare at the George. 

We followed in her glorious footsteps, Martin to study Drama and acting at Bretton Hall, myself to study Drama and Directing at Homerton, Cambridge, and Tiffany to study at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama; Patrick plays guitar in a band, Joss is expressing his creative talents through the decks, and Rory and Torin, well they are just natural comedians! Because it was of course comedy that mum loved the best. We will remember her Dames, her Lady Bracknell, her Wicked Witches, her Mistress Overdone, and who could forget her in Arsenic and Old Lace. All roles mum played were adored by us all, but none so much as my father, she was on stage as in life, his darling Pamela. 

In the last few weeks you all have described mum to us as warm, funny, intelligent, strong, witty, and with a great zest for life. She had overcome breast cancer, lung cancer and had lived with leukaemia since 2013. Where did that spirit come from? Perhaps it began when as a five year old she ran down a street near her home alongside her Aunt and baby cousin in a pram escaping the machine gun fire from a plane of the Luftwaffe during WW2. The pilot was so close she can remember seeing him clearly and she showed me during a recent visit back to the area, the wall behind which they hid. 38 children playing in the school playground nearby were not so lucky, and were all killed. There is a memorial to them in Hither Green Cemetery, where my grandparents are buried.

When Covid was diagnosed she was scared and frightenedbut she faced it with the same tenacity determined to do her utmost to fight it. She did not want to become a Covid statistic. In the end it was a battle she could not win. We could only hug her through PPE, and face screens meant we could not kiss her. In the last hours of her life we were able to sing to her and play musicbut we were only allowed to be with her two at a time. 

The memories, the photos we now share will help us to move on from the trauma of those last few days. The wonderful life she shared with us all. For me personally as you know she has been my rock since I lost Andrew, not Just for me but for Rory and Tiffany, and I know how proud she was of the caring, committed hard working young people they have become, as their dad would be. When I almost lost my life in 2012, she and dad were there by my side every day. Because I couldn’t eat or drink my skin was like sandpaper and she would moisturise my legs and arms every day as if I was her little girl again. But mums warmth and kindness extended to you, all her old work colleagues Jean, our school friends, the pals she shared the stage with, and relatives, her sister Audrey, Aunty Eileen, Ann, she was not just an aunt to her many nieces and nephews but one who could be counted as a friend and a best one too. 

A friend who now lives in Australia wrote to us“Your mother was a beacon of kindness and good humour, whose affection and great humanity shone through her every interaction with others. As a young man far away from home, as I was when I first had the good fortune to meet her, she was always so kind and understanding. Years later, when I was to return to Cambridgeshire, much had changed, she, thankfully, had not.”

Another said, “I am so glad that the last time I saw Pam I sat next to her on the wall outside our house waiting for you to get the car…we reminisced about the past…I told her she has always been like a surrogate Mum to me…and that I loved her very much and gave her a big hug…had no idea of course that I wouldn’t see her again…but it has made me realise the importance of telling people you love them when you can!!!

My forever friend, “I Have Such Fond & Happy Memories Spending Most Weekends At Yours.YourMum Was Like A Second Mum To Me In My Teenage Years Always So Welcoming, Full of Fun With A Wonderful Energy Bursting Into Song At The Drop of A Hat x She Also Helped Me To Bed On More Than One Occasion !” 

And another, you know who you are. “Your family have always been an extended family to me. Lots of great memories and both your mother and father were always willing to feed a bunch of drunk teenagers after midnight. Your loss is also a loss to many people.” 

The next song “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” was used by mum a number of times in her pantos. You can imagine mum singing it with the same gusto as Bette Midler. With words written by the great Stephen Sondheim I think it encapsulates mums great and everlasting spirit. Please join in if you can. 

This is mums final bow but the show will go on through all of us! 

Curtain up, light the lights

You got nothing to hit, but the heights 

You'll be swell, you'll be great

I can tell, just you wait

The lucky star I talk about is due

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