Friday, 3 April 2009

"She could be tricky"

This stained glass portrayal of Chipping Campden church by Henry Payne is a detail in the magnificent East window he made for the church itself 85 years ago. It symbolises Chipping Campden as a focus of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Twelve years earlier, a life commenced which a goodly number came together to celebrate yesterday afternoon in that church: Peggy Nelson had died aged 97.

When someone has attained that age, funereal faces are hardly necessary, and indeed my ears were met by a merry buzz (more like you hear before a wedding) as I entered the church. My task was to represent the family: the Nelsons (who ran Arden House, a prep school near where we lived, in Warwickshire) were old and firm friends of my parents, and Peggy had taught my sisters French at the pre-prep next door, Hurst House, a school I too attended for a year. It astonished me how many Arden House school ties were in evidence yesterday, showing the devotion which Peggy had engendered. Victoria Checksfield, in her address, brought her mother to life with a combination of masterly objectivity and the deepest affection: we all wanted to clap, but that wouldn't have been British.

In the 57 years since I left Hurst House, I don't suppose I had given the three form teachers a second thought. At that age I imagined them to be already old people, yet I learnt yesterday that not only were two of them still alive, but one was there. And so it was that I reminisced with Miss Jones, whose face I recalled clearly as soon as we were introduced, how she took us to look at the bluebells in Mayswood.

Most of those I met up with I shall never see again. None of them learnt anything about me as an adult; nor I hardly a thing about them: they were names and faces, with which I was making a fleeting reconnection. But somehow, the Spring sunshine pouring into St James' Church, it was not inconsequential.

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