We were lucky. It had been rainy and cold all weekend but Tuesday was sunny if a little windy. I had invited family and those who have really been ‘there’ for us to lunch, so that the day was not spent pacing and worrying in anticipation of 5pm. Ross and Tommy were charged with the tech for the day – amps, mics, recording equipment, cds, computers – this all had to be tried and tested at home first before being packed up and ready to go.
As soon as the dining table was clear I put out Louise’s art portfolios that I had found, her GCSE, A Level and LCF work, plus bits and pieces for the family to look at. I also gathered together the last items of clothing and bric a brac to take to Cecil Sharp House (thrilled to find they had coat racks there so we could hang everything up). And darling Max had designed and printed some vibrant ‘service’ sheets, with photos of Lou from baby to Australia, all surrounded by hula hoops. So clever.
People arrived for lunch bearing great plates of food: I had made a ham, Judy a salmon koulliabac (sp??). Lucille brought leaves from her roof terrace and asparagus, Pat a couscous, Ann potato salad, Sarah strawberries and cream and Diego had manfully brought some of my favourite cheese from France – so it was a feast. Dad came in his wheel chair accompanied by Di, Darren and Tina the nurse and everyone spread into the garden and sat on the steps, on chairs, chatting and eating in informal groups. Perfect run up to the big event.
Tommy and Ross left early to set up; Hilary and I followed with the clothes, programmes etc and the others ambled on later or came by cab. The Hall was set out in a semi circle as we had asked, with a stage; the big photo of Lou from the funeral was put up on stage on my mum’s old easel, and Ross had done a slideshow of Louise, literally from cradle to grave – a mixture photos that we had dug out from albums, ones we had been sent and ones I had found when going through her things (I put out the rest of those so that people could take ones of them, I think that was a very popular move as everyone was thrilled to find photos that had been squirreled away by her ladyship). Lulu had complied an upbeat reggae/ska playlist from her spotify again so we foregathered to the strains of Bob Marley, the Specials, My Boy Lollipop, Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker. All my favourites!
People started drifting in, well before 5pm, and it was good to have a little time to chat beforehand. By 5.20 the Hall seemed full (although people kept arriving, delayed by work or whatever all the way through, but it didn’t matter). The wonderful Jude had offered to facilitate again and kicked off; Ross, Tommy and I took the stage with some trepidation, looking out at a sea of expectant and thoughtful faces; my mouth felt dry (probably as a result of several glasses of wine at lunch, not ameliorated by a bottle of water!).
We had scripted a three-hander of our memories of Louise, chronologically, which we wanted to share with people and hopefully jog their memories of some of the things we talked about. The biggest theme to emerge was Lou’s ‘vegetarianism’ – she had me fooled until Christmas when she tucked into roast goose with gusto, but her friends regaled us with tales of bacon butties and chicken nuggets; there were some funny stories too about Lou’s boob popping out at a club night; a chum bumping into her looking outrageous on New Year’s eve in Hackney; testimonies to her kindness and humanity, her friendship and loyalty, her sense of fun and fashion. Some of our friends contributed to memories of Lou as a child, things I had forgotten. One of the funniest moments was when Kerry stood up and confessed how, when she was homeless, she was one of our secret lodgers, and how she and Lou would swap clothes so I could wash them! It was very bittersweet, and many people found it hard to speak; Grandpa Bill and Chloe represented the family: Chloe spoke movingly about how she wishes she had known her wonderful cousin better; she had always been lost in admiration for her coolness.
For me the moment when a lump came into my throat and I could not have spoken was when suddenly everyone rose and gave us, the family, as standing ovation (I heard later it was Penny and Mike who started this). That, and when Sarah Helm said some very touching things about me as a mother and how she felt that the me she knew had contributed hugely to the Louise everyone else knew so well.
Janine’s fiancée Mikey had offered to film the whole event, and later he took one-to-one interviews with people who had been too shy in front of such a large crowd. [The film will be on the website.]
We had anticipated that it might be difficult for people to open up, so had asked various friends to perform: Gaffy, Cara and Nathan started us off with a dance, very much Lou’s thing – Gaffy’s latest ‘do’ a rainbow mixture of pink, orange and lilac topknot on a close shaved blonde base: she looked wonderful! Then Dion read a poem he had made up the night before, Dan and his pal performed Summertime – trumpet and guitar, great sound – which was mellow rather than tear-jerkingly sad; Lulu and the girls (Kendall, Tabs, Rainbow, Shola, Charlie? – I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone!) gave us a hula demonstration to Girls Just Want to Have Fun – very apt. Then Tim Arnold sang Walking Though Walls, to acoustic guitar. He had contacted me a couple of days before which was fantastic as Louise had been mad about him when she was about 14 and had hung out with him big time after he came back from rehab in Thailand. She had helped with fundraising for the monastery and there is touching footage of her (on the film/video tab) leading the cheers on stage at Koko. Finally and appropriately we ended with dear Zak and his song Francesca that begins with the words ‘you were only 15’ and is obviously a great favourite of the Special Needs followers. All that remained was for Ross to apologize for it being too windy for the magic lanterns – I think that perhaps we can let them off on her birthday 7 December, when it will be dark – to thank people and to announce the Koko gig on 9 March. And of course a final rendition of Cabaret….
Then down the stairs into the garden for drinks and mingling; lots of the friends made a beeline for the ephemera and there are some funny shots of people trying on silly hats and clothes, just as it should be.
For me, it was a bit crazy, so many people to see and chat to, none of whom you do justice too, but I am sure they understand. The girls were hula-ing in the garden in the twilight, people started drifting off to the Edinburgh Castle; Primrose Hill suddenly seemed rather long way away and a steep climb; as Zak said ‘Lou would have made for the pub’. I managed to make it there, hot in pursuit of missing hoops; drove the wrong way down a one-way street (that wretched Camden system, hope there were no cameras watching!). The young were in fine form, Tommy at the centre, his loud laugh audible from the moment one walked in! It was great to see people being happy and celebrating the day, the moment, Lou’s life in the spirit she would have wanted.