Throughout the summer of 2012, Chrissie Giles spent time at the day hospice at Princess Alice Hospice, Esher, running a creative writing group. In a series of posts accompanying our exhibition Death: A self-portrait, she reflects on her experiences there and showcases some of the writing produced by group members.
I didn’t meet Rory until fairly late into my time at Princess Alice. It’s hard to miss his beaming smile, shaved head and bright eyes. On meeting, we shook hands and Rory tapped at the iPad he was holding. A jaunty electronic voice explained that he has a neurological condition and communicates via a text-to-speech app.
In the group we were working on an exercise about a relationship with someone we knew well. We started by thinking of all the things we associated with them: the smells, textures, sounds, tastes, colours and objects. We then thought of a specific event that involved them. From that, we let ourselves write.
Rory’s initial list evoked some strong images of his late father – a man with a sharp sense of humour who would go to football wearing a tie and whose claim to fame was appearing on TV playing the spoons. Rory tapped out the piece below and shared it with the group, bringing smiles around the circle.
In response to this piece, he wrote: “I am quite a basic person and describe things as they are – nothing too deep – and that way quite a vivid picture can be built up of how I see things. I think I have captured the many attributes of a great father, friend and mentor.”
Claude made us laugh by Rory
He made us laugh,
He made us cry
Because we were laughing so much
We would have tears in our eyes
As a young chef in his early twenties
It was war, and he joined the Navy
As the bombs dropped on his ship, The Welshman,
He said, “Sod the bombs, just make the gravy!”
He worked hard all his life,
A man, not born into wealth
His hard work was always hampered
By his continual bad health
High blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers and phlebitis
Irregular heartbeat, in-growing toenail and rheumatoid arthritis
Swollen knees and ankles aching
And not to forget that awful bronchitis
He made light of his ailments
And tried to be merry
By making others laugh
In fact, so much, it hurt my belly!
He joined a small entertainment group
Supported ably by Lily, his wife
Then to our surprise he was nominated
To play the spoons on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life!
He was a fantastic father
And husband as well
A blend of discipline, guidance and laughter,
How much pain he was in, we could never tell
His treat was to go and watch football
His team was Ipswich Town
He wore a tie, not scarf,
The adverse results never got him down!
He passed away at 81
Having given laughter to many
He was very careful with money
But he would give you his last penny
Whilst his life was, at times, a struggle
He put on a brave face and could at times appear quite daft
He gave to others the gift of humour
And his aim in life was to have a damn good laugh
Claude, we will never let the humour and memories die!
Listen to Chrissie read this piece: