Eulogy for Jean Bone By Roz Boot
We’ve come here today to celebrate and give thanks for Jean’s life. This eulogy has been a bit of a challenge for me, because there is so much that I could say about her, but in the time available I’ve had to cherry pick snippets of my memories of Jean over forty-odd years in the village.
Jean was born in Swindon on 11 July 1924 to parents Nell and George Ambrose Parker. She had a younger brother called Ron. Jean was a Parker until she married Joe Bone, who she met in the Brixton area of London. Her parents ran a health food shop in Gordon Road for many years, and later sold the shop to Miss Cross and Miss Shepherd and the shop was known as Cross and Shepherd. When Jean’s mother died, George Parker married a Miss Kilminster who became Jean’s step-mother. She was a pupil at the Commonweal School in Swindon and later went to King’s College (London University), where she read English, around 1942. She worked in London for a while, and then came back to Swindon where she worked for Townsend’s (solicitors) in Old Town. By the time we came to the village she was working for the Milk Marketing Board in Reading.
Jean was a civil servant, in charge of the Irish Land Registry, and part of a group who inspected farms all over the British Isles. We as a family were eating cheese like cambozola long before it went on sale in supermarkets. (Not Jean’s sort of food, so it always came to us with her saying ‘See what you think of that and let me know.’) When Ted and I moved into Finchill all those years ago, with two small boys, a dog and a cat, Jean was one of the first people to introduce herself to us, and to see if we would support her in getting the village hall built.
This was a tiny, tiny community, a good quarter of the size it is now, but with two shops, two pubs, a school, a church and a good bus service. It was a very stable, settled little village, with properties only becoming available if someone died. A conservation village where new build, (or extensions) weren’t allowed. Mark and Mary took over the Royal Oak, Joan and Les bought the main shop, Pattie and Nick Auger bought the Mill House and Ted and I bought Finchill, the first people to have a mortgage on a property in the City (or ‘round the pond’ we used to call it). We had French one side of us and Americans the other, so Ted hoisted a Union Jack on the shed at the bottom of the garden on a military flagpole, we had arrived!
I was working at the Crown at Stratton four evenings a week and I arrived home after my shift one night to find Jean and Ted kneeling on the sitting room floor, studying the plans drawn up for the hall by Geoff Drew. Ted, not being a fence-sitter by nature, decided we would throw our lot in as a family and support Jean with her venture. It was a fierce campaign creating a ‘them and us’ situation. It split families, some members for it – others not. People boycotted the shop, costing Joan and Les money, because they were known to be supporters. It was like being in a war zone.
All plans were turned down initially. The entrance and exit to the site coming off a blind corner onto the main road onto the main road through the village. Everyone would be killed within a week! Jean battled on and finally, finally the plans were accepted and work began clearing a piece of rough ground eight feet high in brambles. We all got stuck in. Tom and Karen Coggins, Geoff and Liz Drew, Ted and myself, Phil Colin, Nick Auger and others. We dragged it all up to the allotments where it could be burned safely. Fund raising started straight away, the major events being two sponsored walks to Savernake Forest. Ted walked the route early one Sunday morning to make sure it was alright for small children. So the route was Bishopstone Downs, Aldbourne, Ramsbury, Axford and the Forest. Sponsor forms went out in all directions. Jean filled hers in Reading, Geoff Old Town and Rotary, Phil Dick Lovett and Swindon, Tom farms where he delivered feed, Karen teachers at her school, me, the Crown staff and customers, and the children went to ‘friendly’ houses in the village. Ted just told his men to sign the form and hand the money over.
We did this two consecutive years and it was it was very successful. Ted arranged for a working party at R.A.F. Lyneham to erect two large tents in the Forest on Saturday morning and then take them back down and return them to Lyneham on Sunday. Tom, Phil and Ted slept with the boys, Jean, Karen and I slept with the girls. My job was feeding everyone. Sausages, beans, margarine, tea bags, powdered milk, paper cups were from cash and carry through Joan and Les. My boss at the Crown gave us boxes of tomatoes, huge slabs of cheddar cheese, bottles of squash, trays of eggs, paper plates, napkins and plastic cutlery. Tins of bread pudding and loaves of bread were donated by Hewers the bakery in Wanborough. I made an industrial amount of blackcurrant jam, and all the food and equipment went in Phil’s car to Savernake. My boss’s brother drove the ice-cream van around Marlborough and he arranged for him to come to the campsite and give everyone a 99 cornet with a Cadbury’s flake.
By the time the children arrived with Ted and Jean, Phil and I had the campsite ready, fire burning well, sausages and beans cooked, everything ready to feed them. On Sunday morning after a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, bread and butter and tea, they set off with Jean and Ted back to Bishopstone. This was before mobiles of course, so we had to estimate how long between various points it would take them to walk, the slowest one setting the pace. Ted leading in the front, Jean at the rear so the group stayed together. Phil and I used to watch for them coming from the gate that leads up to the Ridgeway from the village. Once we could see them, Phil used to wait and carry as many duffel bags as he could manage and I would run back to the car and drive up to Frank and Nancy to say they were here. Nancy would have huge saucepans of homemade soup ready. Bread rolls from Hewers, and Frank would have the barn warm and cosy with the stove burning well.
I can never watch the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness without thinking of Jean and Ted walking with all the Bishopstone children, cold, wet, tired and hungry, just like the film, doing this for Auntie Jean and the village hall. It was a big ‘ask’ and they did it twice! We did other fundraising, Camelot had just started the lottery, and were giving money to projects like ours, (a form of grant), so a carefully well-worded letter was sent off, and they responded with a very healthy cheque.
Joan and Les ran Saturday night dances in the hall. Jean and Phil ran the Youth Club every Friday evening, and every Saturday morning we had a rummage sale, which everyone came to, the clothes going round and round. I can remember Margaret (Gill) telling me, that a child had gone up to her in class and said ‘You’ve got my Mum’s cardigan on.’ Margaret was school secretary. We all wore each others’: it didn’t matter. We were definitely people who wore anoraks and black wellies, rather than waxed jackets and green Hunter boots with the buckle at the back. That wasn’t our style, not in our village.
Only twice did I see Jean in a skirt. The first time was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Nigel came running home and said, ‘Mum, Auntie Jean’s got legs, and they’ve got hairs on them.’ She’d got a hessian sack from the farm, cut three holes it for head and arms and stitched strips of newspaper all over it and entered herself as a paper chase in the fancy dress. The second time was when she had to go to a posh funeral (as she put it) in London and was told she wasn’t to go in trousers. I arrived home from work to find her rifling through my wardrobe looking for something to wear. She settled on a brown pin cord jacket and skirt. I suggested carefully, she would need a pair of tights, and she refused point-blank to go that far. So she stomped off to her posh funeral in the jacket and skirt, white socks, black lace-up shoes and a t-shirt out of the jumble with the Bisto kids on it saying ‘Ahhh Bisto.’ It was not a good look. Jean was definitely not a fashion icon, or domestic goddess.
She was full of charitable deeds and good Christian values. She came round and asked me one day if we intended having any more children, and I said “Well, no, we were very happy with our two boys and couldn’t see us having any more”. Her response was ‘Good, have you got any baby clothes and equipment I could have?’ So she went home with a carry cot, blankets, pillows, sheets and all things baby. Matinee coats, hats, bootees, mittens, vests, etc. etc. Many weeks later I popped up to the shop and outside was a frame with wheels that was used for carry cots. I recognised the cot straight away, and the baby was wearing the baby clothes I had given her. Nothing was said, a family was in trouble, Jean stepped in and sorted it. All delivered to the family under the cover of darkness. A young girl getting herself into trouble, as it was called, was extremely frowned upon in those days.
We gave her two retirement parties. Geoff and Elizabeth provided the drinks and I did the food. After two months she became bored and went back to work, and when she retired for the second time, and we did it all again, I said to her, ‘If you go back to work again we’re not doing this for a third time.’ When Manor Farm was being thatched by Stuart Blake, Jean took the role of ‘gopher’ for him. Going up and down the ladder all day with bundles of straw, stacking them on the scaffolding. She wanted to thatch her own cottage, so she studied the way Stuart was doing it, and went of to the library in Swindon and brought back a book on thatching which she read from cover to cover. I went round to her one morning to find her up a ladder with the book open and she had started her thatching with left-over straw from the farm job and Stuart overseeing, and helping her with the awkward bits.
Jean was very good at persuading you to do something, like buying Cheney Thatch (emotional blackmail I like to call it), saying I should consider John as it wasn’t just the boys and me now. It was more that, the village hall garden party had always been held at Cheney Thatch in John Tring and Charles Jacob’s day, and she wanted it to continue, as it provided decent money for the hall funds. The rates on the hall for the first two years were paid for by a lady called Marge at the office in Reading, Jean, and me by selling Nestles charity chocolate. Jean had it delivered to the office, Marge took her boxes and sold them throughout the building, Jean did village, and I sold to the staff and customers at the Crown, and the profit paid the rates.
Jean slept in a summerhouse in the garden, which was cedar wood. She lined the inside walls with foil and used an outside tap to wash. Her toilet was an Elsan bucket in a bit of a shed with holes in the roof, with a piece of cloth slung across the front to provide privacy of sorts. With four foot high nettles either side of the bucket, you learned very quickly never to get caught short round at Jean’s, something you would only do once. The cottage was full of black dustbin bags full of jumble: socks, pants, trousers, jumpers, bedding, towels etc. etc. She never ever shopped for clothes, she would just open a bag and take out something to wear. She was the agent for the allotments, but as time went on she started to worry about it and asked me to take over the agency with Cluttons, which I did, which meant she had the enjoyment of her allotment without the responsibility.
She became very forgetful, abnormally so, not paying bills etc. Mary and I tried constantly to sort it out. She had dozens of used empty envelopes, which we were always trying to put in the recycling, but she wouldn’t have it, and current bills to be paid got mixed in with old envelopes and paperwork. Things started to go downhill quite rapidly after that. She was going round to Mary and Ray several times a day for her paper, forgetting she had already fetched it. Then she would go down to Pat and Tony for a cup of coffee and a chat and back up the lane to me. It got that if I hadn’t seen her for an hour and a half I used to go round to see if she was all right, and she would be sitting reading the paper underlining sections of interest with a pen. I took over washing her underclothes the day I caught her doing her washing, which was only ever pants. Socks, jumpers, trousers and t-shirts were thrown out when they were grubby (any old six months would do) and she just pulled more out of the bags. She was squeezing loads of them having soaked them and put them in a wet lump on her only storage radiator with the water dripping everywhere. I didn’t want anything happening to that heater and goodness only knows what state the wiring was in. The washing was no big deal to me, I’ve got three lines every day.
She slowly became a bit of a liability, an accident waiting to happen. I dragged my heels on it a bit, because it was her, and her beloved Bishopstone, and I couldn’t see a happy ending to all this. But the decision in the end was made for us all when Mary went round one morning as she did every day, and found the cottage wrecked. Books everywhere and Jean bleeding from a nasty head wound. We thought she had been burgled. We took her up to A&E to have her head stitched, brought her home and called the police. She clearly couldn’t stay in the cottage, so I took her home. The police arrived and took a statement of sorts from Jean. This was New Year’s Eve three years ago. John offered to sleep in his chair and I put Jean in John’s bed downstairs. About 3am John was calling for me, I opened the door to John’s bedroom and she had completely destroyed it and was lying on the floor. Mattress off the bed, pictures off the wall, and dried flowers everywhere. I rang the policeman’s mobile and he activated the only doctor on duty for the whole of Swindon who came about 4.30 and said it was a urine infection and gave me some tablets for her.
I took her back round to the cottage, straightened her bed and her put her in it, gave her some milk and managed to get the tablet into her. The doctor said she would sleep like a baby, well not quite. Mary rang Pat the next morning to show her what had happened in the cottage, and found Jean without a stitch on, lying on the floor. They both came round to me, and I showed them John’s bedroom. There was nothing else we could do but dial 999 for the ambulance and she went to hospital. It took Gladys and I hours and hours to put John’s room back to normal. I don’t know where she got the strength from. She was in hospital for a week and then John had a stroke, so I was up and down to the hospital taking food to both of them and collecting laundry etc.
After six weeks a decision had to be made. She couldn’t stay in hospital any longer. She refused all care packages and they wouldn’t have been any good any way. Someone to clean, well you could hardly get in there. Think of the TV programme How Clean is Your House and you’ve got the picture. Not a grubby person in any way, but definitely a hoarder. Today’s society doesn’t allow for people like Jean, she doesn’t conform. There’s no room for individuals, you can’t put her in a box and tick it. She doesn’t fit. I had a lovely mental health worker called Debbie Smith, and I just took her round to Jean’s cottage so that she could see the problem and that’s how I became main carer, and I chose Downsview at Badbury because they had a more open policy. She couldn’t come home, and she couldn’t stay in hospital, what do you do? It was the only option. It quickly became her comfort zone and what she could cope with. Karen the manager and her wonderful team of carers looked after her very well and Jean was happy and that’s all that mattered.
I know one or two of you have been concerned about the length of time it has taken to arrange this service and I think it deserves and explanation. When Jean died on 24 June, I rang the local authority straight away to try and register the death, and arrange to pick up the death certificate to be told, that although I was her main carer, it had to be done by a relative, and Ian was away on holiday. Also all the people I had dealt with two and a half years ago had all moved on, and the paperwork had moved round a bit. It then went to the coroner’s court. Ian came back and did a lot of legwork, and finally the paperwork was traced and we could move forward. These things are rarely straightforward and this was no exception. Then I had problems, and it meant I was in two hospitals every day for five days from the 14th July, culminating with a hospital appointment in Birmingham on 24 July. We had the committal at the Crem on 27 July and the Ian was overseas again with his family, which had been arranged long before Jean had died, and he only came back last week! My caterers were away in St Lucia and have only been back a few days, so pulling this all together hasn’t been easy, which is why an announcement didn’t go into the Parish Newsletter, because the deadline for text had long passed, so it went into the Evening Advertiser and on the Bishopstone website last Sunday when Andy Greenhalgh came back off his holiday. I think you would all agree that we couldn’t have this service without Jean’s relatives being here, so it has been arranged as quickly as it possibly could be given the circumstances. But it needed to be explained.
Jean and I had a conversation about her eulogy a long time ago. For me it was simple. I couldn’t bear to think there would be one person in this congregation who wouldn’t realise the enormous legacy Jean leaves to this village, namely the village hall. You had to be living here and involved with it to know how fierce that campaign was. But she battled through it, against appalling odds, and wouldn’t be beaten, backed by her supporters and the children of this village. She would have been 91 on 11 July this year outliving so many of her friends. There’s a poignancy in that, isn’t there? People like Jack and Lilly Dowling, Fred Smith, Edie Freston, Flossie Johnson, Betty Britain, Frank and Nancy, Charlie Partridge, Bert Tusker, Geoff Drew, Les Ball, the Tillings, Elsie Little, Mrs Durham, Agnes and Fred Razey, Miss Butterfield and Mrs Friend. Auntie Jean was a survivor. This poem sums up Jean perfectly:
We Are Survivors
(For those born Before 1940)
We were born before television, before penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, videos and the pill. We were before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ballpoint pens, before dish-washers, tumble driers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes . . . and before man walked on the moon.
We got married first and then lived together (how quaint can you be?). We thought ‘fast food’ was what you ate in Lent, a ‘Big Mac’ was an oversized raincoat and ‘crumpet’ we had for tea. We existed before house husbands, computer dating and ‘sheltered accommodation’ was where you waited for a bus.
We were before day care centres, group homes and disposable nappies. We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, artificial hearts, word processors, or young men wearing earrings. For us ‘time sharing’ meant togetherness, a ‘chip’ was a piece of wood or fried potato ‘hardware’ meant nuts and bolts and ‘software’ wasn’t a word.
Before 1940 ‘Made in Japan’ meant junk, the term ‘making out’ referred to how you did in your exams, ‘stud’ was something that fastened a collar to a shirt and ‘going all the way’ meant staying on a double-decker bus to the terminus. In our day, cigarette smoking was ‘fashionable’, ‘grass’ was mown, ‘coke’ was kept in the coalhouse, a ‘joint’ was a piece of meat you ate on Sundays and ‘pot’ was something you cooked in. ‘Rock Music’ was a fond mother’s lullaby, ‘Eldorado’ was an ice- cream, a ‘gay person’ was the life and soul of the party, while ‘aids’ just meant beauty treatment or help for someone in trouble.
We who were born before 1940 must be a hardy bunch when you think of the way in which the world has changed and the adjustments we have had to make. No wonder there is a generation gap today . . . BUT
By the grace of God . . . we have survived!
I have a few mementos of people who have meant a lot to me:
Burt Tusker’s cap (in the loft)
Flossie Johnson (pin cushion)
Charlie Partridge (pipe) – I took the boys down to Charlie’s table where he sold his vegetables and flowers with a rusty marble milk tin with a slit in the top and said to the boys ‘This is Mr Partridge’s money, you must never touch this tin.’
But for Jean, dear Auntie Jean, there could only be one memento, couldn’t there. Her cycle clips! Talk about keeping death off the road, frightening the life out of the driving public on her old Raleigh bike twice a week taking vegetables and fruit to her friends in Swindon with overflowing panniers, and a box on the back tied on with orange baling twine, no bell, no hat, not allowed it’s against the law, but you trying telling her. If you wanted to incur the wroth of Jean just offer to give her a lift home when it was pouring with rain, and put the bike in the boot, she would never have it. But she did give in to Phil when he caught her doing it.
I’ll miss her, we will all miss her. She was an incredible woman. I consider an honour and a privilege to have been counted as one of her many friends, as you all were. The likes of Jean we will never see again in our lifetime. She was a one-off, of the Churchillian brigade. Full of good Christian values, an outstanding mentor for all the children in the village, always kind and enormously generous. And without Jean, ladies and gentlemen, not one brick of that village hall would be built giving us all a facility we all enjoy from time to time, all thanks to her.
So it just remains for me to invite you all, every one of you, on behalf of Jean, back to her beloved village hall after the service for a lovely afternoon tea.
Thank you for listening and thank you for coming.