At Gloria’s funeral, my sisters and I each gave small eulogies.
What you have to know about Mum in order fully to understand her is that she was the product of a broken home. She moved from Glasgow to the Isle of Wight because her Dad had left her Mum, and her Mum thought that maybe if they moved somewhere really nice, he might want to come back.
Her mother, Luisa, – a character, if you can imagine it, just as extraordinary as Mum – always loved this absent man. Luisa would walk with her grandson, Anthony, on the beach at Ryde and imagine her beloved coming back to her, pitching up repentant on the Sealink ferry. He never did. And though she was furious with her Dad, my Mum also would have forgiven him and had him home in a heartbeat.
So what she became was someone who made it her business to see the good in people, to try and see things from their point of view, and above all to believe that in time, things could come romantically right.
The core ingredients of her story were tragedy and faith, literally but also romantically, so that it is no surprise that her own relationship with her husband, our lovely Dad, was one of the most solid examples of love-bird togetherness any of us will ever witness.
She was someone who suffered the ignominy of having nowhere to live after her single-parent Mum ran out of money when she was a little girl in Leeds. They coped, just, in serious poverty in wartime Glasgow, selling what they could, even just peas in vinegar, in a cafe by the docks – right where that tragic helicopter crash happened recently.
The Isle of Wight was a fresh start for them. Mum’s beautiful sisters married and moved away, but Mum loved the Island and was clearly determined to stay and become part of it. She had no intention of marrying an Italian man – as she often reminded us! – and I think that’s because she wanted to be more English than the English. She believed in being part of the community. Belonging, building a safe and permanent home – engaging – that was what mattered to her. She joined the council and served on so many committees none of us could keep count. She gave her time – she gave much of her life, really – to community service, and as much as she sometimes felt over-stretched, she loved it too. She was, I’m sure, secretly as proud to be involved in her charities and associations and committees as those many organisations were to have her.
She was given an Isle of Wight charm in gold, which she wore on a long chain, and when I think of her, it is of Mum with that chain round her neck, belonging to the Island; the Island being part of her. It may as well have been her middle name, and when my brother Anthony famously stood up at the Oscars and said “This is a great day for the Isle of Wight,” he may as well have said, “This is a great day for my Mum.” Which of course it really, really was.
My sister Edana reminded us that as kids we would come home from school and find toys missing. Mum knew other families who needed them more than we did. It wasn’t necessarily as lovely as it sounds, particularly if you were rather attached to that still-new spaceship in the hall.
More than the things, it was sometimes hard for us when she gave her time to others. When we were young our parents worked seven days a week till midnight, taking time out only to serve on their committees.
At work, in our “shop” as we called the cafe, they also provided a social service – anyone with a difficulty would come and talk it through, and they would end up sitting with us at the big table in the back kitchen, with a hot meal and a drink.
Sometimes we wished WE could be the centre of their attention. But they could do that – they could get away with it – because there was never any doubt that we were loved.
And there were benefits. That Big Table was where we all learned to be sensitive to the needs of others and to share what we had. I don’t think there’s much coincidence that that environment produces people who go on to run international aid organisations, or to create soulful tearjerkers like Truly Madly Deeply or the English Patient. We learned from our Mum, from both our parents, at that Big Table, to be sympathetic, to be inclusive… to be big-hearted.
Of course she is a tough, tough act to follow. She was like the imaginary complete person postulated in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”. She really could talk with crowds and walk with Kings. She had the common touch and she travelled effortlessly between the two. She was just as happy prison-visiting as she was charming the pants off Prime Ministers and Hollywood celebrities. She was impressed by society, but she was also a girl who’d known the sharp end of poverty and indignity. So she knew there was decency in everyone and she was happy to be herself with anyone.
Also like Kipling’s ideal person, who could lose everything and “never breathe a word about the loss,” she showed us how to cope when calamity befell us. When Anthony died and some of us fell apart, she remained strong and held herself with astonishing grace. To lose an adored child like that, in his prime, must be a mother’s worst pain, but she preferred to think not of the loss or the pain or the anger, but of how lucky we had been to have him. I still find that remarkable. And helpful.
If you ever talked to Mum, you’ll know how she loved language. She had her own idiosyncratic turns of phrase. She had her own rhythms of speech. She talked like a dancer, two steps forward and one back, drip feeding you the narrative, teasing you with a tidbit – and then charging off on a tangent, keeping you hanging, waiting for the next beat of the story.
She told stories the way professionals do, not just in the linguistic dance but also in, for example, her focus on human detail. She once told me a tragic story, which turned on a father leaving a mug of tea outside his daughter’s bathroom door – a mug of tea which was never drunk.
So if we get our sense of humour from our fabulous Dad, we get our storytelling genes from our Mum. If you look at the work of Anthony, particularly his early plays, or his freer-form works for radio, which are all about dialogue, naturalistic or otherwise – all about words and talking – plays like Cigarettes and Chocolate are explicitly about those things – and if you listen to the voice, the voice that was him, which he once said was fixed in him, was him – he said “it’s something you can’t elect” – then the voice you’ll hear, is also, and originally, Mum’s voice.
So Mum lives on, not just in plays, but in her family and her community here present.
Something Mum and Anthony shared was a genuine love of people and an amazing capacity to remember the lives of others. She remembered everyone, and their stories, and their families and their troubles. It was the kind of skill politicians can only dream of, but it wasn’t an affectation, it was just what she did and who she was – and it showed how genuine was her care for others .
So all of us here, her family and her community will have to reflect that back and carry on her spirit. I’m going to end by teaching you some of her phrases to help us along the way:
If something really isn’t working, you can say It’s neither one thing nor another.
If we’ve tried and failed, then we can say: We can only do our best.
We can only do it One day at a time.
Because We’ve all got our crosses to bear, my darling.
Life’s like that – I’ll tell you something else for nothing: you’ve just go to hang on in there. Because that’s the way the cookie old crumbles.
And my favourite – when you’ve said you’ll attend something and now wish you hadn’t, you’re too tired and you just can’t face it, you must say For two pins, I wouldn’t go.
And then, with good grace, you must go.
We wish she hadn’t gone to her last appointment, but she leaves us big-hearted and well-equipped, to count our blessings and pick ourselves up, and carry on….