Aunty Betty

Today was the funeral of Aunty Betty, at which I wrote and read the eulogy with memories of her life. Here’s what was said:

Asked to talk about Betty, I had a chat with Sandra, David and Sue about Betty’s life and it was revelatory – I discovered lots of things about Betty from before I was born, that I had no idea about, and what a joy this has been.

It’s hard to think of Betty without thinking two things. 1 – Cockney. 2 – Fun. 

Betty spent her childhood years in London, on Carey Street, just behind the Law Courts, and she never forgot her roots. When my brother Rob got married in London, about 18 years ago, she took Sandra to see all her old haunts, reveling in the memories of time past. I’m told there’s a letter somewhere from King George VI, congratulating Betty for staying in London and at school during the war.  

She married my uncle John in 1961 at Caxton Hall in Westminster, which is where all the famous people got wed, people like Liz Taylor, Joan Collins, Ringo Starr and Barry Gibb all tied the knot there. She was 23. I’ve seen pictures from this time of she and John, him looking dashing in his Grenedier Guard uniform, she looking swish in her fashionable fit and flare dress. You know that a night out with them would have been the best fun. They went to coffee bars in Soho, once taking my Mum Liz with them, hoping to bump into the celebrities of the day like Billy Fury. 

And I wonder what on earth must it have been for this girl about town to move to the country, to Worcestershire, starting married life on a farm, for this is what she did. Sandra came along in 1963 and David in 1965. The coffee bars of Soho was replaced by a milking parlours of Malvern. Both Sandra and David remember the endless rice puddings that Betty produced when John came home every day with raw milk, straight from the cows, after the morning milking. Once John left that job she swore she would never make another rice pudding ever again.

Sandra remembers a tale when Betty took a lift back to London with her friend Colin, who happened to be working on the M5 building bridges. Once on Oxford Street the tail board fell off the back of his lorry, holding up all the traffic. Betty and Colin had to put the board back on, laughing and giggling at the mayhem they caused.

Betty was a real people person. Team games were her thing, and she was a key member of the local darts team, and loved a bit of skittles too. She helped to arrange street parties and carnivals, roping in John in his lorry to drive the carnival float. She also had a strong group of girlfriends – ‘the girls’ she called them – who regularly went out for lunches and weekends away.

Betty also loved a joke and I think she met her match in my Uncle John. An example: One Christmas, a year when my Nan spent Christmas day at their house, John wanted to have his tea early for some reason, maybe there’s something on the TV that he wanted to watch, but Betty said no. She then went out to take the dog for a walk. Whilst she’s out John put the clock forward by an hour. When Betty gets back she was none the wiser, just thought blimey that was a long walk. So he got his tea early, and it took Betty a few days to realise what he’s done!

In the early 1980s, during the Falklands war, Betty left her catering job and became a military driver, so she could do her bit for the country. David and Sandra, teenagers at The Chase at the time, wouldn’t see their mum for days as she was up at 4am ferrying important people from the military around the country, often taking them to GCHQ in Cheltenham. 

Intrepid Betty, in her American tan tights and high heeled shoes, had to learn how to check under her vehicle for bombs, do maintenance of her vans, plot journeys and, presumably, keep quiet about her work……which may be been a challenge for Betty because you ALWAYS knew she was there. 

Looking at the family of Betty, John, Sandra and David from the point of view of niece and cousin, the word that springs to mind is warmth.  These are such a warm group of people. You might call them game. When Sandra and David got motorbikes as young adults, obviously to begin with the parents lost their mind, but after they came round they both had a go. 

John crashed David’s little Honda into the back fence, and Betty would sometimes ride on the back of Sandra’s massive bike, except of course Betty was so short that Sandra had to have the thing practically horizontal before she could fit onto it.

John sadly passed away in 2001, and I saw a transformation in Betty. She grieved, of course, and then after a year or so, she became this adventurer, a world traveller. She called these trips her SKI holidays, SKI meaning Spending the Kids Inheritence.

She drove across America with her friends and I remember meeting her and my sister-in-law Anu in New York, where we went to the restaurant of the amazing chef and food writer Anthony Bordain. I was quite overwhelmed at being in this temple of gastronomy and literature, but not a bit of it for Betty – she was the life of the party. Rob, my brother, also took her out to various bars in Manhattan and they had a great time. 

She took a cruise in the Caribbean and plenty of coach trips around the UK. Her suitcase was always full of fancy dress supplies, because as we all know, Betty was always up for a laugh and a party, particularly if there was fancy dress involved. 

On holiday with Sandra and Richard one year, she stole a ride on Richard’s pushbike, ending up in a bush. In Dunoon in Scotland, she got stuck in a lift. Where there was Betty, there was laughter.

Betty adored her family and was a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She idolised her grandson Richard, and adored Ruby, his daughter. Not many people can say that they spent time with their Great-grandmother, but Ruby can.  

In her later years she had a wonderful carer, Rachel, who Betty adored – and Rachel I know that Sandra, David and Sue wish to extend their gratitude to you for the care and love that you gave to Betty whilst you were together. I’m told that Rachel would take Betty to M&S, where they would have lunch and try on silly hats and sunglasses, taking selfies of their antics. After Lockdown, when Betty was able to go back to Marks, the staff cheered and clapped to see them return. 

Betty loved life and people, and they loved her.

I will finish with a message from my brother Stu, who can’t be here today, which I will quote verbatim: I remember Betty always being sweet. She always made a point of listening, which when you’re a kid seemed pretty rare.

Stu’s now in his mid-40s and the fact he can remember this feeling from childhood strikes me as being pretty special. 

After today’s service we’re going to the Green Dragon, home of many a Darts evening, which happens to be on the stretch of road where John taught Betty how to drive in a green Cortina with David and Sandra in the back, no doubt quaking with fear. 

I suggest that we raise a Bacardi and coke, or a tea with no sugar, because as Betty used to say, she’s sweet enough, and say thank you Betty, for bringing your infectious Cockney spirit to bring joy to our days. 

Rest in laughter, dear Betty.

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