Too soon after her beloved Fred, we said goodbye to Eirlys Haslam at St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy on Tuesday 3rd December 2019. The church was packed with over 75 friends and family. We sand The Lord’s my shepherd, Praise my soul the King of Heaven, Lord of all Hopefulness and Guide me O thou Great Redeemer. John Purver played the organ. Suzanne Bevis played Harp – Bach prelude in C on a Welsh Harp during the service. We left the church to the sound of Land of my Fathers by Bryn Terfel.
The reading was Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson read by Olivia Bickford-Smith (her granddaughter)
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
Sally Johnstone and Jo Bickford-Smith (her daughters) gave the following tribute to Eirlys:
Jo and I just wanted to begin by thanking you all so very much for giving up your time to come and help us celebrate and remember Mums life. It is astonishingly sad, but perhaps not unexpected that we gather to do this so very soon after many of us gathered to remember our Father Fred (Mum died exactly three months to the day of his funeral). We are very grateful and very much appreciate all your support and kindness to us and to our families during what has been an incredibly sad and difficult year. We also want to say a special thank you to the marvellous team of local ladies for the beautiful flowers here in church today- Mum would have been so very touched and delighted.
Mum was born in Coventry to rather elderly welsh parents, her father, Edward an engineer and her mother, May a businesswoman.
Her first language was welsh; she didn’t speak English until she started school and she blames this bilingual state for her very interesting spelling at times. She had a very loving, happy childhood, she was a lively little girl who loved to sing and dance. Her parent’s kindness was demonstrated by their welcoming of a child of the kinder transport into their family. Peter, a Jewish refugee from Danzig, came to live with them in 1937 and stayed with them for the duration of the war.
Mum used to tell us many tales of her life during the war, mostly involving Harriet their formidable housekeeper. She was a Jehovah’s Witness who would sit under the stairs in her kimono whilst the bombs fell, reading passages from the Bible predicting the end of the world. These predictions would terrify mum more than the bombs. One night they were convinced that the expected invasion had started as they heard fusillades of rifle fire around them. It was only in the morning that her mother’s parsnip wine all over the cellar led them to realise that it was just the popping of the overwhelmed corks!
Life, however, changed beyond recognition when their house suffered a direct hit, exploding and collapsing on top of them during the bombing of Coventry in the notorious operation moonlight sonata that destroyed Coventry cathedral. Only 5 other people in their road survived, Mum, her parents and Peter being dug out from the rubble after 8 hours. Mum struggled with extreme claustrophobia for the rest of her life as a result of this experience and as a family we never took a lift! They lost everything except for the family Austin 7 and for many nights after that all 4 of them piled into the car and drove out into the countryside to escape the bombardment, sleeping in village halls.
Mum and Peter were subsequently evacuated to her Uncle and Aunt in North Wales and she spoke of happy times living on the farm in the valley under the green mountain.
On leaving school mum then studied for a domestic economy teaching degree at Ormskirk College, part of Manchester University. She was quite a girl and a bit of a daredevil as a student enjoying gliding and tennis parties and she was also dedicated follower of fashion!
It was on a train travelling to college that she met Fred. She did admit to us that he wasn’t her first admirer but that that poor individual had a purse and she couldn’t marry a man with a purse!
Mum and dad’s courtship had its ups and downs. It survived the trip across the Pennines on dads’ motorbike where it broke down on the top in the middle of nowhere and only then did, they discover that the toolkit had been shedding tools all the way up the hills.
Dad and his pals also nearly got her expelled from college several times.
On one occasion they painted the windows of the girls halls of residence with blackboard paint so the girls didn’t wake up and subsequently missed college – a grave sin in those days.
A few weeks later dad’s chemistry society crew thought it a good idea to spray the girls on their rag week parade float with a spurious red liquid concocted in their lab. Mum and her friends had illegally borrowed their lecturer’s gowns in an effort to emulate witches as was befitting cookery students, but the said gowns were reduced to threads upon contact with the toxic chemical. Returning them to the lecturers wasn’t a very positive experience!
Mum also knocked out one of her supervising lecturers in her final teaching practice. Her school had a huge high cookery room with suspended drying dolly racks. The children used to release these with great gusto shouting heads, everyone knowing to duck to clear the way. Unfortunately, mum didn’t inform her examiner of this and the poor woman ended up cold on the floor!
Somewhat amazingly she qualified and became a well-respected teacher. She worked in all sorts of schools ranging from the sister school of Rodean to St Johns in Southampton docks in the 60s where she used to take in our shoes and vests for the poor children who had none which in turn made us the poor children who had none!
Her final position was head of domestic science at Bitterne Park Secondary School where she had many hair-raising incidents including separating 6ft boys brandishing kitchen knives- quite a feat for someone so vertically challenged.
Mum was a tremendous support to Dad throughout their life together bringing us up singlehandedly when he was travelling so much despite having a full-time job of her own. She was a loyal and feisty lady.
She was incredibly and fiercely independent, always busy and welcoming to all , insisting on feeding everyone whether they were hungry or not, and our house was full of love, people and noise and, of course, food!
As you may also have gathered, she was a very enthusiastic cook. When we were small every day she would collect us from school in her mini and there would always be some concoction on the seat. Perhaps not quite MasterChef but our personal favourite was called Haslam’s delight involving chocolate angel delight, a digestive biscuit base and tinned peaches …….DELICIOUS!
She would also make beautifully iced wedding and celebration cakes. Many of you will have seen the beautiful cakes that she made to celebrate this churches birthday as well as others for friends and family, not forgetting both our wedding cakes. She also made the harvest loaf every year for the harvest festival. Perhaps the most memorable for us being the elaborate Christmas cake she laboured over for weeks and carried on her lap on the plane all the way to Hong Kong to visit Jo and Mark only for one of their friends to accidentally lean back at the lunch table and sit on it!
Mum took it all in her stride. She never took herself too seriously. She had a great ability to laugh at herself and didn’t mind being teased.
She also prided herself on her telepathic skills; uncannily “feeling” when major events or traumas had befallen one of us, she even knew when Livi and Flora had been born (Both very prematurely) almost before Jo and I did!
Mum was frequently on a diet and was always falling for the lure of so-called wonder products. One day she appeared in the kitchen wearing newly purchased special shorts which required filling with air Michelin man style. The idea was for her then to run around the garden in them. We all howled with laughter at them and needless to say the wonder shorts were returned. I don’t think we ever stopped teasing her about them!
She had a real zest for life and Mum loved her life in the valley – especially if it involved chatting and she was devoted to us and her grandchildren Olivia, Jack and Flora.
She was in essence a true tiger if an anyone hurt any of us or let us down, but a pussy cat if she liked you. Her smile would light up a room whenever we came in, truly an example of unconditional love and there was nothing she wouldn’t do for us On occasion whether we wanted her to do it or not….
Mum fought so hard to stay alive overcoming cancer, a stroke and a heart attack and absolutely refusing to give in to her more recent difficulties.
The centre of her world, however, was Fred. They were a double act affectionately known as batman and robin by their grandchildren. They were devoted to each other for nearly 64 years. Mum could not cope when dad became increasingly unwell and never recovered from his death, although we were extremely fortunate in her last two months to have had a sort of Indian summer where she was much much better.
We feel that we owe a huge debt to the wonderful staff at Westacre who also loved Mum and looked after her so very well, but she and dad are together again now two halves making the whole,……..God bless them.
She leaves a huge void in our lives and we will miss her terribly.
The Bible reading was Song of Solomon 2:10-13 read by her friend Joy Weston.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
Revd Alex Pease gave the following address:
“Now Alex!” Eirlys would say to me; fixing me with her attention, if she wanted to make a point….
She wasn’t actually holding my lapel but if she could have done so (and I had been wearing a jacket) I think she would have done.
A strong personality but kind; but loving.
I think that Eirlys’s life, her personality, her character, teaches us that love isn’t something wishy washy – it has standards, but not boundaries; it has high expectations, good manners, but isn’t just limited to your own kith and kin.
Because love for Eirlys also meant looking after not only her own children and Fred at Christmas but bringing in a child from a children’s home as well to enjoy the fun of the Haslam household, a home which Sally and Jo remember as always full of fun and young people and the delicious delights of the domestic science that Eirlys spent her life teaching, enjoying the amazing cakes that she would cook and as we have just heard sometimes people would sit upon!
An ideal home in which to grow up for Sally and Jo.
But its clear that the passion of her life was Fred and it is so appropriate that we have as the Bible passage a section from the love letter which is Song of Solomon, as one can imagine Fred calling out to Eirlys over the chasm that separates us from those we love who have died, ’come with me!’
When life is tough, as it was for Eirlys, in her final years, as it is for all of us as we get older, it can feel rather like a a period of winter, a period of pain, confusion and fear
But there is a place, as we have just heard, where the winter is past, the rains are over and gone where flowers appear on the earth and the season of singing has come and the cooing of doves; where the fig trees form their fruit and the blossoming vines spread their fragrance; where everything is as it should be, as Eirlys would expect it to be; where the sort of kindness and love which Eirlys demonstrated in her life is the basic currency and common language.
But how do we reach that place?
How can we be sure to find it across that vast divide that terrifying chasm that is death.
How can we know the Way?
It was the same question that St Thomas asked Jesus when he spoke about leaving his disciples in John 14. Jesus said ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’. Thomas said ‘How can we know the Way?’
Jesus simply replied ‘I am the Way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me’.
The way that Jesus is, is the path to that place of beauty and joy where everything is as it should be, which we can only really know, if we know him.
Some times funerals make us think about our own deaths, as we get to the end of the family conveyor belt where there is no-one after us!
But Jesus is saying there is nothing to worry about as we cross over that final boundary, if we get to know Him, now, and are known by Him now while we still can…..
He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and there is no greater task for us in our lives today; no higher priority, no more rewarding task than getting to know Him and being known by him.
And the time to start on that journey Is now…..