Magazine article The Spectator

Having a Good Memory

Magazine article The Spectator

Having a Good Memory

Article excerpt

IT WAS a shock, a few weeks ago, to open my morning post at home and find an invitation to a `memorial celebration' of a friend's life; a shock because the friend in question, whose name was Jay Reddaway, was only 41 years old, and I had not heard, until then, that he had died. How I regretted our aborted meeting at the Hong Kong handover last year, all those thoughts of things now too late to say. It turned out that he had been bird-watching on Lundy island, and had slipped off a cliff. His widow is expecting their first child next month.

We went to the memorial celebration with some trepidation, not only because it is always so sad when someone dies young but because we could not quite imagine what the celebration would be like. I suppose I worried that it would not strike the right note, and that its secular character would lack the depth which religion helps to confer.

The meeting took place in the Roundhouse in Camden. A friend of Jay's who designs stage sets had made a sort of circular tent of black drapes in the middle of the building into which we all passed through a narrow entrance. The space was confined, imparting a certain tension. There was a dais with a lectern, two large displays of flowers, amplifiers and a screen.

There was no liturgy. The only prayer, if it could be called that, was a minute's silence. There was only one short reading. The music was not live, but recorded, and consisted of Jay's favourite rock songs. Pictures of Jay were projected onto the screen - a thin man with gold-rimmed spectacles, who was and liked to look enigmatic. When four passport-booth pictures in different poses flashed up at the same time, almost everyone cried because they were so comically, touchingly characteristic.

There were eight speeches, the first by Jay's brother, the others all by friends. These included a friend from school, a former business colleague, Jay's brother-in-- law and Richard Curtis, the famous scriptwriter, who had shared a house with Jay in bachelor days.

The formal celebration ended with a little coup de theatre. The screen presented a picture of Jay and his wife, Clare, looking amused and happy together. As we watched, the curtains lifted to the music of Bruce Springsteen, and with them the screen, so that Jay's head gradually disappeared from our view and we rejoined the full space of the Roundhouse and saw the tables all laid out for our lunch. It was the equivalent of that moment which is always the most powerful in the funeral service when the coffin is lifted up and carried out of the church. …

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