Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where was I?

Oh yes...

Trying to find my happy place. This hasn't been quite as possible as I'd like it to be because life does keep conspiring against me. Today's part of the conspiracy was to hear the sad news that a much beloved cousin on my mother's side had died. I don't normally go this personal here, but I think she deserves a shout out for being an utterly brilliant human being.

My cousin Angela was like the best of all fun aunties to have (though she wasn't an auntie and we never called her one). She came at Christmas and birthdays providing exciting presents the likes of which we never got anywhere else (being one of eight teaches you to be grateful for what you get quite frankly). She came on holidays with us and was a source of fun and joy, usually conspiring with us the kids against the grown ups. I think everyone deserves at least one adult like that in their lives in childhood.

But the best thing about her was that she had the coolest job of anyone I never knew. Which you can read all about here, namely to find or provide sound effects for films. When I was 12 years old Star Wars came out. Angela had not only worked on the sound effects but get this, she knew Mark Hamill ,who was my pinup then (much prefer Harrison now). Apparently she'd met him once in the bar at Elstree or Pinewood with I think it was an alligator on his lap. Quite why I don't know, but that seemed dead exciting to me at the time. As our Christmas treat that year she took the whole family (all ten of us, immensely generous!) to see Star Wars at the Empire Leicester Square. I'll never forget the impact of those space ships going over my head. Seems so tame now but it was genuinely groundbreaking at the time, and we got to see it before anyone else at school. For a glorious week in January 1978, I was actually cool at school thanks to Angela. Later on she did the same for Superman, which she also took us to see. She also did the soundtrack for The Omen, allegedly recording one sound in the local catholic church which then had to be exorcised. At my sister's wedding she made all the female guests jealous by mentioning she just happened to have met Mel Gibson (this was when he was still a sex symbol and not weird.)

In her private life, though she never married, she spent years involved in local drama projects - much to her elderly mother's (my great Aunt Madge, another awesome character) disgust. "Don't know what she sees in all that drama," Auntie Madge used to sniff, even though it was Angela's raison d'etre. They were devoted to each other, but in the way two women living alone often do, spent most of the time sniping at one another, so it was easy to miss the deep love between them.

When Angela needed people for sound effects, she used to arrange what she termed as "Shouts" getting lots and lots of people together to make the sound she was after. Although we frequently got invited on these occasions, as we lived in North London and she lived in Essex, to my disappointment I never actually made it to one. I'm sure knowing Angela they'd have been a right laugh.

Over recent years I hadn't seen much of her. My family commitments mean I can't often venture into Essex, where most of my mother's family live (sounds pathetic now I write it down, but there really is not time when the kids are at school and the holidays go too fast). Recently though an aunt was over from America and knowing everyone was meeting at my godmother's house I made the effort to get over to see them all. I knew Angela had been ill, and was delighted to hear from my mother that she was out of hospital and would be there. However, when I arrived it transpired that she'd been taken ill again. On the way home my older sister was planning to stop off to see her. I dithered for a minute, knowing I was needed at home, then thought, bugger it, I'm never in this part of the world, who knows what will happen. So I made the effort and went to see her. I'm so glad I did.

Angela was clearly not well, but still cracking jokes as much as ever. She laughed at the miserable old woman in the bed next door who kept saying she wanted to die, and talked longingly about getting well enough to get involved again in her beloved drama. She was delighted to see us, and remembered (as I to my shame had not) that the last time we'd met was at no 3's christening. When we left she got up and walked us to the door. I had a feeling we weren't going to meet again.

She did get out of hospital again, but was admitted last week. Yesterday she spent the afternoon laughing with her cousins (my mother and my aunts). She seemed in such good spirits my mother judged it ok to go back home. Sadly she deteriorated overnight and died at 6.30 am this morning.

I cannot mourn her passing for the fact that her quality of life was so very grim, and she isn't suffering anymore. But I am sorry the world has lost someone with such a joyous sense of fun, who enjoyed the absurdities of life to such a great extent.

I've been thinking about her all day, and the memory that has come back more then most was of a couple of nights before my wedding. She and her mum were staying down the road at a little bungalow, attached to the house of the landlady. She'd put Auntie Madge to bed and come up to us for dinner, but because of Auntie Madge she couldn't stay out late. My dad decided she couldn't go back to the bungalow empty handed so provided some alcohol (beer?) to keep her spirits up. We went clanking down the road with all the bottles, giggling like a bunch of school kids, especially when we went into the bungalow and were trying not to waken the very stern landlady. The harder we tried not to laugh the more we laughed. It was a joyous moment with the two people in my life who've taught me there is always time for giggling and being silly.

So, a sad day today, but I think, thanks to Angela, I've been reminded of the importance of laughter however grim life seems, and I've found my happy place. Or certainly one of them. I hope she has too.