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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Summer 2018 issue

Sally Spurgeon

Written by Richard Spurgeon for the funeral which took place on Thursday 12th April.

Talking about the measure of a good life, Abraham Lincoln is said to have used the phrase: “Not the years in your life that count … but the life in your years.”

That’s an idea I approve of and am sure it’s characteristic of how mum felt too…

I am conscious as I write this that it is quite impossible to give more than a sketchy outline of the life in Mum’s years in a few minutes.

We were reminded in a condolence message that mum’s first school was Highfield in Southampton. Her friend Frances says she was quite a tall, lively girl… and had blonde curly hair. Frances and mum were separated for a few years but met again at Southampton Grammar School… or as I now know to call it “The Grammar school for Girls, Southampton”!

The school was evacuated to Bournemouth while she attended and Mum chatted quite recently about the squirrels in Fishermans Walk, a path through the pine trees on the cliffs there.

The school, and the bonds she forged there were a powerful influence on Mum’s life. Elizabeth, Marion, Joy, Frances and others… friendships that would endure lifelong.

Mum was too young for college when she finished school and had what we would now call a “gap year”. She went to work for a family nursery run by Frank Bealing. She must have started to develop her wonderful knowledge of plants during that time and would talk about the excitement of delivering plans and flowers to the cruise ships.

Both Mum and Dad’s families were devout Christians and the congregational churches in Verwood and Bookham were a big part of their young lives. When they went up to Cambridge, Dad to the university and Mum to Homerton teacher training college for ladies they both attended the local United Reform church. Mum and Dad sang in the choir together and Dad recalls that the seating allowed him to watch mum sitting on the opposite side.

He was captivated by the way Mum’s face lit up every time the children in the congregation took centre stage. He knew she would be a devoted mum and resolved to win her for himself. This rather romantic story takes a downward spiral when we hear his first effort to break the ice amounted to “Do you fancy a cigarette?”

I am going to break from strict chronology here to say that Dad had astutely spotted something which was absolutely core to the Sally we all knew - her openness, gentleness and enthusiasm for forming friendships especially with children. There are hundreds of family photos in which mum is head down patiently enjoying the company of children explaining some beautiful detail in a seashell or talking excitedly about the colours on an insect or the shape of a blossom.

Mum certainly loved the form of things - the relative arrangement of leaves on a stalk, the awesome way an assortment of petals are arranged to create a stunning flower… a way of enjoying the world that would fuel her artistic endeavour and inspire people around her.

So Mum naturally became an infant school teacher. She instinctively guided thousands of children to find they enjoyed stories, they could read, they could draw, they could use numbers, they could use their imagination and explore the world around them.

Mum had a career break while Sian, Christopher and I were really young. The young family moved from Richmansworth to Wokingham and as Chris approached infant school age himself, Mum took a post at Uplands Primary School in Sandhurst.

My memories are of an idyllic childhood. Mum and Dad both worked to school terms and the phrase “later on next holidays” entered our vocabulary. Mum was hugely patient - while I dreamt of being the next Bobby Charlton while getting thrashed 13 nil in the pouring rain playing for the cub scouts. Or riding ponies. I remember Mum fashioning a wonderful astronaut helmet for me from one of those white plastic vinegar containers (bit like a big supermarket milk bottle.) Brilliant! I was the bees knees that evening…

Of course our lovely neighbours Lois and James, Julia and Claire became extended family in Wokingham. Fireworks have never been as thrilling as those shared between the gardens of Park Road and Station Road.

I can’t talk about Mum without mentioning our family tragedy. All three children enjoying a happy grammar school education. Dad secure and busy with his musical life and his jog at Bulmershe when there was literally a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Sian her beautiful daughter had died instantly in a car crash aged just 17.

I can hardly imagine anything worse for a parent than coping with the death of a child… but Mum managed. She chose not to talk often about her loss or the waste of Sian’s life and it still moves me that she never expressed anger or bitterness towards the young man (a fellow pupil) who was driving. Indeed forgiveness and sympathy are what I remember.

Well it would be remiss to dwell too long on the loss of Sian. Instead, Wednesday evening was Bracknell Choral Society night. Dad was musical director/ conductor and Mum was a dutiful alto singer. Each week, Mum would cook, Dad and guests would join us for early supper straight from work and after eating Mum, Dad and guests would go off to sing. I like my food. Too much in every sense! But as a teenager I could be picky. It was chilli con carne, in the 1970’s! I told Mum it smelled funny. With hindsight I should have known better… Mum suggested I smelled it more carefully. Then, when my nose was inches away from the steaming kidney beans, she firmly pushed my face into the plate of food. I think there may have been tears, but I had got what I deserved.

Mum loved to make things - I think we share a philosophy about the satisfaction of making things being core to human spirit - it doesn’t have to be a work of art… cooking, gardening, music, for me even a computer spreadsheet all offer a fulfilment that Mum felt deeply.

One of Mum’s creations was home brewed ginger beer. I don’t think the exact proportions bear recording but grated ginger, water, sugar and yeast were mixed and set in a clean demi john… The demi john was corked, placed near our nicely warm central heating boiler and forgotten. Forgotten that is until nature took its course - the brew had quickly started to ferment slowly building pressure on the cork until with an almighty bang the cork flew across the room followed instantly by an  eruption of ginger beer so lively that it had to be literally washed from the ceiling!

There are lots of examples of Mum’s creative side in the family home - ceramics, sculptures, drawings and paintings. Mum was modest and not one to share her output widely although her silk painting drew many admirers. Mum exhibited and sold her silk at craft fairs and became involved in the Silk Painters Guild.

Quite uncharacteristically Mum became a committee member in the Guild and one year she and Dad agreed to travel to Newcastle for the AGM and gala dinner. Mum you will remember was not much taken with dressing up posh and it was a very big deal that she chose and bought a frock for this special event.

Now Mum and Dad are pretty experienced international travellers, 6 or 8 round trips to Australia and their luggage has always been to hand. Sadly the same can’t be said of their flight to Newcastle. They arrived in good time for the committee meeting but the suitcase containing Mum’s new dress was mishandled and didn’t arrive in time for the ball. Mum’s first new dress in years wasn’t seen in public for some years.