Tuesday, 30 May 2006

For Amy Elizabeth Scowcroft (14/12/1920 - 20/05/2006)

Eulogy to be given at her funeral - 30/05/2006.

It is impossible to talk through a rich life of eighty five years so I hope you’ll forgive me if I engage in primarily personal reflections. I thought I’d try to explain how important Nana was in my life but that’s bit of an impossible task as well. As I set about preparing this I realised, more clearly than ever before, the depth of her influence.

And as I can no longer tell her, I’m going to tell you.

It is a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars. And Nana bore a few scars. For most of us here it will be impossible to think of Nana without thinking of her husband as well. That’s just the way it was, even death was unable to separate them.

My grandfather died before my second birthday and I have no memory of him. To be honest, this makes it hard for me to have the emotional attachment others do. But over the last thirty one years, Nana built up a fairly complete mental picture for me. Her devotion to him remained as strong in 2006 as it was on the day they married. It saddened her that she lived 31 years without him but in all that time she remained loyal, faithful and committed to their marriage.

Barely a visit to her house passed without some memory of Pop being mentioned, and mentioned in a touching way. And through her he attained a kind of immortality. The future is always rooted in the past and though Nana is now a part of our past, through us she too will attain immortality.

Nana knew that technology would play an increasingly important role in our lives. And I think that Paul and I helped to complete the circle when, on what turned out to be her deathbed, I was able to play her a film of her first great-grandchild through my laptop, a film that Paul had recorded and sent over from Northern Ireland shortly before.

She was thrilled by the film of little Ben because it made her feel young again and she felt better knowing that the Scowcroft name had moved on another generation. She was also thrilled that we had a firm enough grasp of the various technologies involved to be able to show her the film at all. After all, it was a process she started for us.

Back in 1982 she had bought us our first computer. It was a tool to help us learn and grapple with the technology to come. In truth, we should have spent more time using it to conjugate French verbs or understand Venn diagrams but I hope she understood that these 10 and 12 year old boys were more interested in the exciting world of football and cricket computer games.

And here we are in 2006 and I know that IT is a huge part of my work. Part of the A level course I teach is about technology and its development and thanks to Nana’s foresight I have been able to draw upon many personal experiences in the classroom.

Nana’s influence goes deeper still. In 1979 she promised me half of all her money if Labour won the general election. What prompted such a promise is lost in the midst of time. But try as I might there was only so much influence a child of infant school age can have upon the result of a general election. All I knew was that I didn’t get my money and now I had someone to blame.

This was reinforced the following year when through, and I love using this phrase, her contacts at the Ministry of Defence, she secured some excellent seats for the Trooping the Colour. So good, in fact, were these seats that to get to the right position we had to traipse past various Whitehall seats of power.

And so, aged seven, I was openly encouraged by Nana to engage in an act of terrorism as we walked past the front door of 10 Downing Street. Fortunately for democracy, our bags had already been searched and in the end we agreed that there was little a carton of orange juice and a cheese and pickle sandwich would do to alter the political status quo. In the end we simply booed quietly and strode on.

Once I was old enough to appreciate that no one believes in socialist ideals for the money, we often held lengthy discussions on politics. Although in truth this was mostly a means of winding dad up. The more he rolled his eyes at the mention of Ken Livingstone, the more we mentioned him.

And she also inspired a thirst for travel. She travelled to America long before it became fashionable. She ventured to the Middle East, to Israel and the Lebanon before the region fell apart again and she went to Russia while it was technically still impossible or at least impossible for anyone to travel in the opposite direction. But she went, not to gawp at other cultures but to learn from them.

Travel also made her appreciate her home and she could often be found up a ladder, painting, clearing gutters or felling trees. If a job needed doing she needed to do it herself. Although, in the end, this ruthless streak of independence caught up with her. And woe betide you if you tried to visit her on a Friday. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of her Friday cleaning sessions. Mind you, you were not also not allowed to visit unannounced. You had to phone ahead for an invitation. I used to think I was visiting royalty.

Although her illness caused her pain and sadness, it provided some pleasure too. She was unable to use the tickets to the English National Ballet that I bought for her birthday. And, however much he went under sufferance, I know exactly how proud she was that her son felt it important enough to go in her place.

She was also incredibly proud that both her grandsons have ended up in the public sector as teachers because she was so incredibly proud of her own career in the civil service. There was a time when I thought seriously about following in her footsteps. I wanted to join the Foreign Office but by that stage I was struggling to conjugate verbs for my French A level and as a career it slipped out of view. But the principles of the public sector, the belief that as a family we had been treated well by our country, stayed with us. And so did the belief that those in such a fortunate position could give something back through their labours to help others. Hers was indeed a generous nature in both spirit and deed. And I can only try to live up to it.

I thought it only fair to ask my brother for his memories. He chose to emphasise her sense of humour, often wicked, blunt and honest but always with a touch of warmth. When Paul informed her that she was to be a great-grandmother, Nana replied “Well done, but it’s about time. You two are both Catholics, you should have had seven by now.”

Paul followed this up by writing:

Dear Nana,

Thank you for all that you have done for me. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to see you and say goodbye. I have many memories of being with you:-

The special Christmas cake,
Birthday pictures by the apple tree,
A white Mini,
Welsh Guards uniform,
The view over Croydon,
Making tapes in your living room,
Washing and fixing a blue peddle car,
Crumpets and scrambled eggs,
Pressure cookers,
Reading tea leaves,
Lemon cake,
Telling Dad off again!,
Working at Oxfam,
Your smile on Wednesday 17th at seeing me and the new pictures of Ben.

All of these recollections I will treasure. They will remind me of you and I will tell Ben all about them so that he will know what kind of person his Great Grand Nan was.

Love always.


It isn’t important whether you remember her as a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend or benefactor. Whether she’s mum, Nana, Amy or Joan. A Scowcroft or a Davy. What’s important is that she meant something to us all.

As for me, I’ll remember her at odd times. If you turn right out of what, for me, will always be her house, you will see a wall of trees running up a hill. On the other side of that hill, about a mile away is Selhurst Park. And on alternate Saturdays during football seasons to come when Crystal Palace are underperforming as usual, I’ll look up from my seat and see the hill and I’ll remember the house on the other side. And I’ll remember the wonderful, warm, caring, generous, loyal lady who lived there throughout those crucial years of my life.

And I’ll say thank you.