Friday, 29 May 2009

A lovely day for a lovely lady

I was back in the homeland today - yes, Stoke.

Where people say book like it should be said. Where oatcakes are eaten at every meal and where a duck is not only just a water bird or getting out in cricket and not scoring but also a Stoke term of endearment.

It was a glorious day, which I am pleased about because it was the day of Jessie Moston's funeral. My Dad's cousin who died just 30 days shy of her 100th birthday.

I went to the funeral today and decided to go up on the train to Stoke because I just couldn't face the M6 on a Friday. I'm glad I did as I felt more relaxed and as I was due to read a eulogy to Jessie, I wanted to be calm as I always get very emotional at funerals.

It was nice to meet up with Stan's family (Stan was Jessie's companion for 20 years and he sadly died a few years back leaving Jessie on her own). Stan was the love of Jessie's life and at the funeral today, the Minister said that she often used to tell him when he was her Parish Priest, how much she regretted never marrying Stan.

Jessie came to the Church (St. Matthew's, Birches Head) in a beautiful wicker coffin which was draped with flowers, the colour of which took your breath away. I didn't really see much of Jessie after my Dad had died, so I was very pleased to meet Linda Goodwin and her family who were Stan's relatives and who looked after Jessie and her affairs until the day she died.

Linda bought some pictures with her today and asked me if I wanted any of them. I took some that had my Great Grandparents on (my Dad's grand parents) and also my great uncles and aunts. It was nice to have something as I don't have many pictures of my Dad's family and there's no-one left around who can tell me about his family, sadly.

The funeral service was really nice and I managed to keep it together to read the piece I had written about Jessie. I was sitting on the front row on the end and when I was called up, I had to walk up a couple of steps and read at the lectern. I was a bit nervous, but as soon as I got up there, I was surprisingly relaxed and even managed to get people laughing at some of the things I said.

Jessie would have liked the laughter - she had a sense of humour. The one thing I was really scared about, was bumping into the coffin on the way back down the stairs and I did! I slightly touched it with my hip, but thankfully, it didn't knock it over.

We stood outside in the sunshine after the service and a couple of people came up to me to say hello as they remembered me from my presenting days on Radio Stoke and they all said how much they missed hearing me on the radio, which was nice! One of them was a former Lord Mayor of Stoke and his wife.

I was given a lift in one of the big cars with the family; a seven-seater Jaguar no less. It was lovely. I asked the driver how he felt about taking me back to Coventry later!

After the service, we went to the crematorium and then back to The Birches Head Pub (pictured) for sandwiches and tea and that's where I was given the photos.

It was nice to be back home, albeit for a short while but tinged with sadness to say farewell to the last link to my Dad's side of the family. However, if Dad had have been alive, he would have done what I did today and said a few words about Jessie, so in a way, I'm glad it was me that did something on his behalf. I basically used stuff from the blog I did about Jessie when I heard she had died and updated it slightly.

Once I had said my goodbyes, I got a taxi back to the station to get my train to Coventry and while I was waiting at the counter in the shop to buy a bottle of pop, I saw and spoke to Wendy Turner-Webster (Anthea Turner's sister) and we had a chat and she introduced me to her kids. It was nice to see her as I hadn't spoken to her for years and I told her that I was only with her sister a few weeks back! What a small world.

I travelled to Stoke First Class on the train as it was not that much more than standard class and you get a seat and something to eat and drink - I like to do it when I can afford to do it.

Hubby picked me up in the car when I got home to Coventry and for the rest of this evening, I've been quite mellow. I guess funerals do that to you, make you look at your life and compared to what Jessie fitted into her first 46 years, I've done nothing!

I was going to mention something about watching "Britain's Got Talent" tonight, but I won't because I found the whole thing very disturbing.

All I want to say is that it is fine for kids to take part in talent shows, but this was just car crash TV tonight watching the little girl plead for another go because she cocked it up first time and then they put her through to the final!! Gawd knows what she's going to be like tomorrow. I am not going to put myself through the ordeal of watching it live - I'll record it and whizz through the uncomfortable bits, especially if it means witnessing dumpy Divas, groaning Grandads and Crying Kids all over the place.

Britain's got Talent, Britain's Got Schmalent! If Jessie was still alive, she would have auditioned for it playing her recorder!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Farewell Jessie - a grand woman

It is a sombre start to my blog today as I had some sad news. Jessie Moston (right) died peacefully in her sleep on Friday night aged 99 and 335 days old.

So instead of everyone planning for her birthday party, there are now plans for a funeral.

Jessie was part of my extended family. I've known her all my life. Her Mum was married to my Great Uncle, so although she was no blood relative, she had been part of the family ever since she was 14.

Jessie never married. She was an independent woman. Very intelligent and the kind of woman who did not want to be pigeon-holed. She was a Head Teacher in her younger days, she was one of the first women to hold the seat of a Councillor on the city council in Stoke, she was Chair of the Arts Committee and was one of the people instrumental in bringing about the building of the Hanley Museum and Art Gallery which holds one of the best ceramic collections in the world.

Jessie was also an accomplished musician, linguist, raconteur, artist and traveller. She was well travelled and was not afraid to seek out new adventures. She rode camels in Egypt, busked in the street with her recorder (at the age of 95) and defied the constraints of her generation by "living in sin" with Stan, the man she loved until he died.

I have fond memories of Jessie. She used to come to ours with her sister Gladys and when Jessie and my Dad locked horns about politics, Jessie always had the upper hand. Jessie was a Labour supporter and Dad a Conservative.

Jessie and Stan went to America in 1991 to attend my brother's wedding and was such a sprightly 80 something year old, she didn't look her age.

She was a true lady. When Gladys died, she gave me £1,000 which went towards my wedding fund which she said, she wanted to do as she didn't need Gladys' money. The rest, she gave away to charity.

I last saw Jessie in 2008 when I went to visit her at the care home she went to near Longton when she could no longer look after herself. I was shocked to see how frail and little she was and even though her memory was not the best, every-so-often, she'd have a flashback and she remembered that I used to sing and work for a radio station and that she'd been invited to attend my wedding, but was not well enough to travel.

Jessie had a wonderful life, so I'm not going to be sad about what we've lost, but celebrate about what she had. She worked hard all her life and she did things other women of her generation could only have dreamed about.

She was a pioneer in local government, education and culture. She gave so much of her spare time in her younger days to help others and instead of taking a camera with her on her travels, she'd take a sketch book and bring home with her a unique record of her round the world adventures.

When God made Jessie, he built one to last. It's just such a pity she couldn't have lasted a little bit longer so see her 100th birthday, but she made it into her 100th year, which is no mean feat.

Also, when you think of what Jessie has seen in her lifetime, it's quite daunting. Advances in Science and Technology and supersonic travel. The first man on the moon, Two World Wars, the first woman PM in the UK and the first ever Black President of the USA. The bringing down of the Berlin Wall, the death of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. She's lived through 5 reigning Monarchs, been around for at least 17 different Prime Ministers and the one that is most important to Jessie - she was born at a time when women did not have the right to vote, which when you think about how a majority of Jessie's life was centred around politics, was unthinkable!

If Jessie's lifespan were to have been calculated as a whole day - she was born at midnight and died at 23.59 - so near and yet so far.

RIP Jessie. You will be missed.