10 March 2011
Today is the day we say goodbye to Little Lou, and the brightest of lives is finally extinguished as she disappears into the ether yet remains with us in our hearts
Louise is IN my mind..
The weather has been lovely until today; the garden is full of primulas and snowdrops and we hope that the overflow as [at the Saturday gathering] before can sit on the small terrace outside. However, it is a blustery grey old day. First disaster – our cleaner who has been so wonderful in the days leading up to the event and who herself had lost her partner in the summer, doesn’t turn up. So 10 minutes before the car to take us up to Golders Green is due we have no-one in the house, no sandwiches and no champagne….aaargh. Anyway, people always say ‘if there’s anything I can do…’ and so we call up a couple of friends nearby who we think might have help available, which indeed they do and who manage to arrive before we leave, along with our poor unfortunate girl, looking very sheepish.
All my clothes are in Geneva, but I have a couple of outfits that I keep in London for my outings as Chairman of Art First; one of these is a gorgeous gold silk brocade traditional Vietnamese robe, to be worn with black trousers (borrowed from a friend) which Louise and I bought together in a tailoring frenzy in Hoi An four years ago (hers was an emerald green silk 40s style ball gown, typical!). New shoes were not a problem. An Accessorize fake coral flower for the hair (Louise often wore one when she was going out) and the look is complete.
Arriving by 11.15 a the crematorium I see lots of familiar faces, everyone wearing their gaudiest and brightest colours; more and more people arrive; all want to hug and to hold. ‘Don’t cry’ I say sternly to everyone – somehow we have to hold it together …but suddenly there is a hush and a big black car draws up…I realise it is the hearse…it is unbearable, one of the worst moments ever, to see the wicker coffin bedecked with strelizia and orchids, tropical leaves, all yellow, gold and green. By chance two very old friends, Denise and Heather, are standing there and each takes a hand as the full impact hits and I collapse…now the undertakers are ushering people into the chapel, Tommy’s mates Will and Johnny are giving out the gorgeous programmes Max and Ed designed, but there are so many people it is already full and the overflow has to go round the back where the celebration is being shown on TV monitors. As the crematorium seats 150 and they are standing in gaggles at the back there must be at least the same again, if not more, outside – quite wonderful to see how loved Little Lou is.
The undertakers hoist the coffin, my father is extricated from a jumble at the back, and Ross, Tommy and I follow our daughter on her last journey, to Janis singing A Piece of my Heart – Louise and I both love Janice and it seems totally appropriate. My father is wheeled up next to me in the front row; the boys have blown up a gorgeous photo of Louise in club attire, beer can in one hand, camera in the other, a cheeky look on her face; it is on an easel, with a pair of her New Look Laboutin-style shoes beside the coffin. The fabulous Jude (who found us on Facebook, and who taught Louise Philosophy and Ethics at Francis Holland, welcomes us with some memories and stories about Louise; then Ross makes a dignified and moving tribute to Louise, not a falter or stutter, how he holds it together I can’t imagine. I haven’t seen or read it in advance so I am deeply moved by his words. Then the hauntingly beautiful I can see clearly now, referencing the reggae that Louise loved, is followed by her two close friends, Lulu and Kylie, who make a moving tribute to Our Friend. Again, I don’t know how they hold it together, so brave. A quiet moment of contemplation listening to Running up that Hill: Placebo is apparently Louise’s favourite band and the music fits the mood perfectly. All the songs have been found on Louise’s Spotify account so we know this is what she would have wanted. Tommy has volunteered to read I am Standing Upon the Seashore, sent to me by my friend Karen in South Africa, and again I am so impressed by his delivery and calm (we had marked up the poem in advance so he would know when to breathe). Especially brilliant is his delivery with the final ‘Here she comes!’ ending on a positive high note.In fact the last line is ‘And that is dying’ and for some reason – a copying mistake on the computer – we missed that line out, and I am glad.
A relative in America had sent me a poem from the Taos Pueblo Indian Nation (which I now carry with my in my handbag everywhere I go):
Hold on to what is good
even if it is a handful of earth,
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is a tree which stands by itself,
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is a long way from here,
Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you.
and somehow I hold that together too. Only appropriate to follow this by Sweet Child of Mine: we had taken Louise to a Roundhouse gala evening and Toyah had sung this – we had agreed at the time that the Guns & Roses version is better – so that’s what we choose.
Dion and Daisy have composed poems in Louise’s honour – in their own ways they express their deep feelings of love; poor Daisy finds it tough but Jude helps her deliver it. The Cure’s Just like Heaven seems a good link to the really hard part of saying the final goodbye. Jude says some beautiful words, not religious but deeply spiritual. Then probably the most poignant words I will ever hear:
Louise will not grow old as we who are left grow old, age shall not weary her. Nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we shall remember her.
…and then terrible yet glorious, never thinking I would hear this haunting music in relation to our own darling daughter, Dan and Rainbow play the Last Post. It is heartbreaking; sobs wrack the gathering, as Oleta Adams softly sings Louise’s favourite song Get Here and the coffin glides soundlessly away – and I know its a cliché – to eternity.
Although I say it myself, my master-stroke in all this planning is to insist that, in tribute to Louise’s love of karaoke, we all have to sing along to Cabaret…and so we do at the tops of our voices, to take the pain away and to try and end the short celebration of her huge life in the fashion she would have wanted; even my father remembers the words and joins in the chorus:
Come to the Cabaret old chum
Life is a cabaret…..
Outside I am overwhelmed by the crowds, so many people known and unknown – folks she worked with at New Look and Inca; her headmistress and teachers from FHS; her first nanny Nicki has made it after we finally tracked her down; many of our friends I simply had not expected to see but, above all, the crowds of beautifully garlanded and attired young, peacock-like in their feathers, scarves and hats, marvellous make up, glittery and shiny. It is the biggest, warmest embrace imaginable and truly moving. It is as if a huge firework had been set off and we are revelling in an explosion of colours, sparks and extraterrestrial light. We are stardust…
* * *
Back at the house there are hundreds of people; the champagne runs out within an hour: Darren and Betty are despatched to Majestic; dear Eddie C to Diamond stores for plastic glasses. Chuck and Judy’s prawnography is an edifice of grandeur, smothered in flowers and greenery, with silly green frogs peeping through the foliage. My father is carried down into the kitchen and enjoys the camaraderie of people he has not seen for a long time: Denise our next door neighbour from Dar es Salaam; Ross’s parents, Bill and Pat , and Ann; friends of ours like John and Hilary, Fi come and talk to him. The people still keep coming, there is no room to breathe, let alone move, but it is wondrous. Relatives have come from Scotland, Belgium and Switzerland . But it’s all a blur of hugs and tears until my mind is rudely awoken by the appearance of a stranger on the doorstep: ‘Are you Mrs Cattell?’ ‘Yes – why?’ ‘ I’m from the Daily Mail’, she begins; we ask her to leave but not before telling her that the Mail is the last paper I would ever talk to, we have an exclusive in the Observer, and that we know she is only doing her job but how dare she intrude at this moment. ‘Oh we only want to put your side of the story’. Three or four times she has to be asked to leave, finally the collective shouting sets her on her way. But then I think, suppose she goes to the pub? So we send a runner round there to warn them not to talk to her; meanwhile a game of Chinese Whispers is taking place downstairs: Robin Denselow, veteran Newsnight reporter and Guardian writer rushes out the kitchen door and sees two spivvy-looking fellows smoking at the bottom of the steps and starts yelling obscenities at them. Oh no, it is Chuck and Baz, two of our oldest friends having a quick chat over a ciggie. It brings a moment of pure humour into the day.
The young begin to congregate back in the Steeles; eventually the last relative has gone and we join them. Louise’s magic has begun to work: J only just divorced from Ross’s sister and estranged from the rest of the family, buys me a G & T. Steve B suddenly appears with boxes of fish and chips and I realise I am starving; I sit down and tear away at the white-fleshed fish and succulent batter, and my energy levels are restored. We even find the condolence book that had been whisked off to be signed in the pub. So many people are there, more and more familiar faces; more time to have a conversation though by this time everyone is pleasantly pissed. Upstairs Kylie puts on one of the Pure Filth play lists and people are dancing; the crowd then begins to go on to other haunts – The Wheelbarrow, Tommy Flynns, and at about 8.30 before the party is over we go home. Mandy, Iniga, Judy, Diego and Christine are there so we have a quiet cheese and biscuits. I slip away to bed, but at around midnight am aroused by the boys’ return and guess who is still with them, dear old Steve who has already fallen asleep in our bathroom, missed his stop on two consecutive nights and ended up in Banbury. The boys found him asleep in the pub, scooped him up. Now he is wide wake and has us rolling about in stitches before finally being bedded down on the sofa.. Ha!
Exhausted by the mixture of emotions, ranging from despair to hilarity, from loneliness to comfort, from anger to love, we soon follow suit.
Goodnight LouLou. x