Wednesday, 9 November 2011

RIP: Elizabeth Jepson

Scattered memories of my aunt, Elizabeth Jepson - "Aunty Betty", who has just died.

I often have posted obituaries of the more famous, either locally or nationally, but family and friends are just as important in the grand scheme of things, and death is the great leveler.

No one remembers the wise, and no one remembers fools. In days to come, we will all be forgotten. We must all die---wise and foolish alike. (Ecclesiastes 2:16)

But for now, there are memories..

My earliest memories are when we lived in No 6 Roseville Street, and her family lived up Queen's Road near Mont A L'Abbe School. It was always a treat for my sister and myself to go and visit there, and see my two cousins Derek and Peter. I can't remember a lot of what we did - I remember we played in their garden, which was slightly larger than ours, and we would play board games, or do jigsaws, and read old copies of Look and Learn Magazine.

It is strange how some things vanish from memory, and others are retained. Board games included Ludo, Mousey Mousey, the Haunted Castle one where you made something that marbles went through, and Jacks, which you threw in the air, and always reminded me of the space ships in the TV 21 comic.

I can't remember any of the food we had, but I remember they had HP Sauce, thick brown, and slightly too spicy for me as a young boy, and Chef's Tomato Ketchup, which used to be a very watery and vinegary ketchup compared to Heinz, which we had at home. Nowadays, of course, thickeners are added, but that wasn't the case then. We'd drink orange squash.

But it was a fun time to go there, and my aunt always made us feel welcome, and special. I couldn't understand why my younger cousin Peter decided to run away from home and come to stay with us, because we were always getting into trouble and being scolded by my parents. We were never scolded at my aunt's house. The story reached us, probably because he had gone perhaps 100 yards down Queen's road when he changed his mind, turned round, and went back, saying that he'd go some time after his tea, which of course, he never did. His failed adventure was the subject of some mirth among us all.

Where to go on a rainy day? The cinema, if there was something worth watching, and it would get the children out from under the feet of the parents. I remember my aunt taking us to see two films.

One was 2001, a Space Odyssey (1968), where she asked me at the end, as the obvious junior scientist among myself, my sister and my cousins, what it meant. I babbled something that I thought sounded roughly sensible, about reaching another dimension, but really the end is an incoherent mess, and I didn't understand it at all. Now, I know it is a mess, a kaleidoscope of images that looks wonderful, but has no narrative cohesion at all, and I'm not afraid to say so!

There were two cinemas in those days, both with stalls and circles, and a single screen in each. The other film I remember us going to was at the Odeon, but we nearly didn't see it. On television, one of the most popular sitcoms was "On the Buses" (1971), and there was a movie version made, which came to Jersey. It was at the Forum, and there was a massive queue, and when we finally got close, we were told the only seats were in the front row - with the massively large screen of those cinemas, this would have made viewing very difficult. My aunt must have panicked for a moment, and then she remembered that the Odeon was showing "Carry on Henry" (1971), so off we went to see that, and thoroughly enjoyable it was - one of the great Carry On films.

It is still funny today, and my own sons have enjoyed it, and other "Carry Ons", whereas "On the Buses" now seems a style and tone of comedy from a bygone age, and while there may be laughs, they don't seem nearly as funny as they did back then. After, she asked us if we had enjoyed the film, and I still remember a hint of worry in her voice, as we had all been disappointed at first not to see "On the Buses", but we reassured her that "Carry on Henry" had been a very funny and enjoyable film as well.

I have vague memories of picnics with the cousins, sometimes on the sand-dunes, and another favourite place, La Rocque, where with bucket and shrimping net, there was plenty to occupy us in the rock pools. I also remember the odd picnic at Anne Port, never my favourite bay, it always seemed sunless and chilly.

She emigrated with her husband and my two cousins to Australia, and it was out there that my cousin Kathy was born. We moved to live in St Brelade's Bay, and we didn't see them until after my grandfather died, and they returned to Jersey. They'd rented out their old house in the meantime, and now went back to live there, and converted the attic area into a bedroom for my oldest cousin Derek. I was always slightly envious of him going up to a bedroom via a loft ladder, and being able to pull it up behind him if he wanted. It was a bit like an indoor tree house!

From this time, I remember most clearly Christmas, where during the day, we would be at my mother's, where my father's mother and his sister came to eat with us, along with my grandfather's sister, Aunty Edie. My father would disappear off upstairs, much to the chagrin of my grandmother, who would blame my mother! There would be a Christmas roast, and presents to open.

In the afternoon, however, my sister and I would go to my aunt's house, where another of my grandfather's sisters, Aunty Winnie, would be. For some reason the two sisters had quarreled in the past, and were no longer on speaking terms, so one would be at my mother's house on Christmas day, the other at my Aunt's. We'd all get together and play card games like Cheat, Five Card Brag, Rummy, Whist or Newmarket. Newmarket would usually have four chocolates as prizes for the lucky winners who could eat them! After a light tea, we'd have smaller presents, watch television, and then go home.

Fast forwarding by five years or so, and my cousins had left their home, and my aunt and uncle had moved to a house in St John. On Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day, there would be an evening with a light buffet, soft or alcoholic drinks, and a lot of my aunt and uncle's friends would turn up. I'd be driving by then, and make my own way there and back; it was a chance to catch up with the cousins before leaving for the midnight service.

She also helped the St Brelade's Bay Resident's Association when Hotel L'Horizon wanted to move a footpath right over to the other side of a property they owned. As she worked in conveyancing at Viberts, she was able to find documentary evidence that the path was a right of way, and indeed, before the German Sea wall had been built, used to see horses and carts coming along it down to the beach to gather wraic. There was a packed Parish Assembly, and along with other speakers, including myself, and she gave her history, translated from the French legal documents. I am sure it helped to tip the balance, and we won our case.

Forward again, and I remember shortly after I was going out with my wife to be, Angela, around 1988, and we went to visit my aunt, who always took a keen interest in anything worth gossiping about, and enjoyed matchmaking, or looking on the sidelines. We went for several meals and, with my aunt and uncle, also went to several of the Jersey Chamber Orchestra events - I can still picture the "Last Night of the Proms" we went to at Fort Regent, and somewhere there is a photo of all four of us with plastic Union Jack hats, and waving plastic Union Jack flags.

It is strange how the mind focuses on some shared activities. I remember after we'd been for a meal, we would often play Trivial Pursuit. Does anyone still play it? It is now, as someone said, "a museum piece, a fond reminder of the frivolities of the 1980", but in the 1980s what was great about it was that it was a shared activity, like so many of those games, when you could talk and joke between questions. I remember my aunt and uncle, and my wife and myself, sitting round a table, sipping sweet hot cups of tea (from a tea pot), nibbling biscuits, and enjoying each other's company. I think that is something that fast electronic games have lost, the enjoyment of games in the slow lane. I also remember being annoyed because one of the questions had the wrong answer, and no one would bother to look it up! It may have been Darwin as the naturalist on the Beagle, which, of course, he wasn't.

When our children were young, we'd occasionally pop by for a chat, and I remember my aunt bringing out kit-kats for us to eat, while we were desperately trying to get our second son, then a toddler, to eat his baby food. He stretched out his hand eagerly for the kit-kat, which she gave to him, and he happily sucked all the chocolate off it before handing it back, a sticky wafer! Obviously chocolate had an appeal that baby food did not! She also got out some old wooden toys, which had been used for several generations, for our children to play with.

Anecdotes about my aunt also came from my mother, who was quite a few years younger. She remembers how my aunt, having left school at sixteen, taunted her about still having to go to school, and how she punched her and knocked one of my aunt's teeth out! Tears all round!

She also remembers how she was being pushed on a swing at a park at the start of the Occupation by my aunt. When a German soldier came in sight, my aunt fled in panic, leaving my mother behind still swinging!

Later years....  from time to time, I'd pop in for a chat, and we had a shared interest in local history. She was also extremely keen on family history, and researching our Le Marquand and Le Cornu lines, and we'd also get out the Jersey Place Names Book, and enjoy just browsing the history of the place names.

Sadly, over the past few years, she began to suffer from lapses in memory, and gradually worsening, and it was clear she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

I hadn't seen her so often, and It was sad to see the sharp, clever, witty person gradually fade away, and at first a more frightened one (scared to make choices from menus which she could no longer read) appear. In the end, she had good days and bad days, and on the bad, she really didn't know anyone anymore. It is a very cruel illness, as it leaves the body more or less intact, but steals away the self. On Tuesday, my mother told me she had died, and is at peace at last.

Our lives are like a tapestry, where we are one thread, interwoven with others with our memories. In the final Harry Potter book, the dying Severus Snape gives a portion of his memories to Harry, so that part of his tale can be put in the Pensieve and retold.

Like that, these memories of my aunt are just glimpses that come and go, snapshots of memory taken in the course of a life. They can't do justice to another person, not in completeness, but they can give a window into that person's world, and I hope that these memories, fragmentary though they are, may do the same for my Aunt's life.

"I saw, also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings." (George Fox)

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