Thursday, 21 April 2016

Goodbye Arnold

We're currently walking along the seafront in Hove. The sky is a dark shade of lavender and the sea is indigo fading into black. There are one or two little lights twinkling on the horizon: boats some way out to sea.

We've just sat on the beach eating chips as a tribute to Arnold Wesker. His play Chips With Everything is perhaps his most famous work, and we were a little disappointed that chips hadn't been served with the sandwiches at his wake this evening!

I drove down to Hove first thing and immediately got stuck in a dreadful traffic jam on the north circular with no petrol in the engine and no hope of finding a garage. That was a somewhat scary half an hour, let me tell you...

The rest of the journey was fairly smooth but for missing the turn off for the M23. I don't know if it's badly signposted, but I often seem to miss that junction when I'm driving down to East Sussex. I listened to Women's Hour on the radio, and all the tributes to Victoria Wood, whose death has shocked and saddened so many. I have always thought of her as the greatest ever British comic. She was a truly remarkable woman.

I reached Hove and had a delicious lunch with Fiona at her flat before walking along the seafront, marvelling at the chimney-like stick they've erected by the old pier which will one day become the mother of all viewing platforms. I shan't say what I suspect the platform will look like slowly moving up and down the pole, but I suspect I just have! Moving swiftly on...

We picked Nathan up from the train station in Brighton. He'd been working in the morning, so needed to join us a little later.

The crematorium in Brighton is one of the most charming that I've ever seen. Much of it seems to be cut into a hillside, and it was covered in yellow flowers. There were many dandelions and daffodils but the primroses were the most stunning. In many places they looked like carpets of the most delicate yellow cloth.

The funeral was wonderful. Lots of people spoke articulately and movingly about Arnold, no more so than his son, Lindsay, who said he was determined to make the event a true celebration because his dad would have wanted it that way. I was utterly thrilled to catch up with a few old friends, most notably Vera, with whom I spent almost every weekend in the late 90s and early naughties. Vera and her husband Bob lived (and still live) on the Hampstead side of the Heath, and used to hold the most tremendous parties and Sunday lunches. The great and the good of Hampstead's literary circle used to attend. Sandy Lean (widow of David), Billie Whitelaw, writers, painters, philosophers, theatre directors. We'd sit on Vera's camomile lawn eating kedgeree and drinking wine. You can imagine how exciting all of that was for a 22-year old! Seeing her again brought all those memories back and made me feel terrible for losing touch for so long. I will remedy that.

The wake was at a hotel on the London Road. We had a little moment when people took it in turns to say what Arnold had meant to them and to share memories and stories. Nathan encouraged me to stand and to tell the room about the way Arnold had mentored me. As we left, I spoke to his wife Dusty and said how important he was in my life, "you were very important in his as well," she said. My heart burst with pride.

As we sat at the wake, news came through of the death of the pop artist Prince, who was very much Fiona's pin up. She's always been a huge Prince fan. She was devastated.

The entertainment world has taken such a shocking hit this year. Bowie. Wesker. Rickman. Wood. Who's next? And why are they all checking out? What do they know? And yet the Queen goes on... Which song is worse? The National Anthem or Happy Birthday to You?

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