In Memoriam Chris Howarth November 2016

Weds 16th

How long has it been? The first time was maybe 28 or 29 years ago. The last time maybe 15 or more. The Royal Oak in Rhandirmwyn seems exactly the same. Even the furniture is in the same places. The village shop is now part of the pub and no longer part of the house next door. Same smells of woodsmoke, same dark darkness.

Beer was excellent, a very welcome surprise was that Sue and Rachel had left me the price of a pint behind the bar! I was sorry to miss seeing them. The food was ok, it was a veggie bake with salad and a bread roll. It didn’t have much in it and was mainly tomato and goat’s cheese. Tasted fine just not what I was thinking it would be. I followed it with a choc mousse which arrived with loads of cream on it. I don’t like cream. But the choc was good and dark and not too sweet. The room is ok, cold at first so I left the electric heater on. Still not madly hot so have wrapped myself in the car blankets.
Thurs 17th
I didn’t sleep very well. Lumpy bed although nowhere near as lumpy as the bed for visitors at Tregaron hospital which was worse than camping. At least not sleeping meant I read a lot of The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I like her books but this one is boring me to sleep. Perfect.

Breakfast was horrible instant coffee pretending to be ground coffee. Laverbread mash with a poached egg and a grilled tomato. This was fine. Last time I ate laverbread was with Chris before we moved up north so fitting for this trip. This time it was edible because hidden in mashed potato.
I parked up in Pen-y-rhiw-Rhaiadr near the gate to the forestry track. It was raining heavily at this point so I put all the gear on. Up the track and onto a footpath through the forest eventually coming out onto a swathe of moorland. Across this then up the side of more forestry before reaching a long stretch of featureless moorland (Carol’s favourite – not, but have talked to Kate who does like it).

30 or so years ago Chris and I were looking for a standing stone which we failed to find. We reached the moorland, Chris was surprised that there were bogs on tops of mountains. The rain drove at us horizontally and we decided to retreat. Chris opined that the mountain didn’t want us there! We took a different path back down through the forest that day by the side of water dashing over cliffs of slate. I fell over and ripped the palm of my hand open. So a memorable walk.

When Chris and I started hill walking, she was always the one in front, huge amounts of stamina. She was a strong walker and swimmer, it’s entirely thanks to her that I can swim at all. Becks reminded me that she and I both learnt to swim in the pool at Bristol Royal Infirmary where Chris got us in. Chris was a life saver when I first met her.

On our last hill walk in the UK in November 2013, Chris was struggling. It’s so easy with hindsight to see things you just didn’t really take in at the time, other than I thought she was tired and perhaps a bit out of shape.
Today I’d worked out that we simply didn’t walk anything like far enough to see the stone. It was a good 40 minutes from the edge of the forest. We gave up after about 10 minutes if that! So I plodded on, the big wind kept the rain off. Plod plod plod. You don’t see the stone until the last possible moment. But it’s there, it does exist! On the top of Mynydd Mallaen.

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At long last
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Seriously in the middle of nowhere

I tucked my flower for Chris in between the rocks at the base of the stone and as out of the wind as possible. If today’s tornado in Aberystwyth comes up here it won’t be there for long.

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It took 1hr and 50 minutes to reach the stone. I retraced my steps and 1 hr and 20 minutes to get back down with the wind behind me.
On reaching the gate there was a blown down tree branch, fortunately a few metres away from my car.

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I drove to Pontrhydfendigaid via Llyn Brianne and the mountain road to Tregaron. Dining there was high quality. Quorn and veg in rich tomatoey sauce with baked potato followed by a profiterole. Thank you, Kate.

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Chris Howarth

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Anyone who reads my blog will know that Chris has been my dearest friend, my soulmate and companion on a great many journeys. A love lasting for over 30 years. The last 2 and a half years have been unbearably awful, to see someone you love slipping away seemingly gradually but actually very quickly. Chris died peacefully on 27th October. I miss her more than words can say but am also glad that she no longer has to endure the horrors of amyloidosis. We are raising money for the National Amyloidosis Centre which needs money to research this rare disease. Please support the NAC: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Christina-Howarth-UCL-Amyloidosis-Research-Fund

The funeral

We played Thunder Road (Hammersmith Odeon 1975 version) as we walked into the crematorium.

Lift Me Up

Ending with Born to Run. The man controlling the music looked a bit taken aback when we all turned round and said “Turn it up! Turn it up! Turn it up!”. He did.

For me, this is now the beginning of life without Chris. She’s everywhere throughout our house from the knick knacks to the photos to Bruce. I still have no idea what shape my life has without her but I’m immensely glad I was on the receiving end of her love and her zest for life.

We didn’t play this song at the funeral. I did try to sing it to Chris not long ago but she said it would make her cry too much: Drive All Night

“but baby they can’t hurt us now
‘Cause you’ve got, you’ve got, you’ve got my, my love, girl, you’ve got my love, girl
Through the wind, through the rain, the snow, the wind, the rain
You’ve got, you’ve got my, my love, oh girl you’ve got my love

You’ve got, you’ve got my love, oh girl you’ve got my love
You’ve got, you’ve got my love, oh girl you’ve got my love
Heart and soul, heart and soul, heart and soul, heart”

Andy (Chris’s brother) and I wrote this tribute together, which Andy read out with some great ad libs, we knitted it until we were both happy with the final version.

“When we asked Chris what she wanted at her funeral, she gave us two simple instructions:

  • No religion, but a structure
  • And Bruce

It’s not possible in the time we have together today to do justice to Chris’s enormously full and exciting life; her wide ranging interests and activities and the influence she has had on others over the course of her 63 years.

You will all have your different stories to tell, but what is very clear is that she made a huge impact on a great many people.

It all began on 22nd August 1953 when Chris was born to Jean and Charlie in Dartford and she was to become big sister to Gerry and Andy, and eventually auntie to Alex and Christy.

Chris did alright at school and when she left Sixth Form College she did what a lot of Dartford girls do:

She left;

Got a boyfriend;

A flat in Putney;

And a job on Oxford Street.

She liked the work, Peter Robinson and the first Top Shop. But even then she was looking for the next challenge and moved on to setting up jewellery mini shops in Biba, and then all over the country.

Somehow she then grabbed a chance to go to Paris and work as a nanny to a very trendy couple: She was a model and he was a photographer and Kenzo used to pop in for tea.

(I/Andy visited her for a week in 1977…and managed to miss the jubilee!)

She moved with them to New York and, through them, met a few celebs: including The Four Tops, Arnold Schwarzenegger (and his mum).

But in late 1978 she was back, had started nursing and by Christmas she was in the Anti Nazi League: immortalised in Mark Steel’s account of setting up Dartford ANL as “a nurse from the Women’s’ Group”. This was when Chris started to develop her political self.

Chris did her stretch in the SWP while she was nursing in Dartford and Sidcup, and we all know that’s not all that happened in Sidcup!

This is when she came out and threw herself into lesbian activism. And she has certainly been an active lesbian ever since.

But then Chris was ready for another challenge and moved to Bristol in 1986 to take up midwifery training. And Chris made new friends along the way.

And the politics continued: for example campaigns to Stop Clause 28 / Section 28.

By the way, at this time there was only one cat, Pussy.

After Bristol, Chris and Jak lived in Gower for a year.

Chris practiced midwifery at Morriston hospital and in the late 80s led a successful campaign to “get rid of the stupid midwifery hats”.

It doesn’t get more radical than that!

Changing the world, one step at a time!

But then its time for another challenge:

She moved to Todmorden in 1990, with Jak, Pussy and 3 more cats and did her degree course at University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

Chris continued to practice midwifery but had a small career break to nurse her mum through pancreatic cancer until the end.

But then it’s another new challenge: taking the bold step from NHS practice to take up a job as a midwifery lecturer at the University of Huddersfield: from delivering babies to delivering midwives.

It was here where she got her masters in 2007 and where she worked until she retired in 2013.

The cats continued: Bumbles, Luna, Cagney, Kedi, Kitten McGitten and Blue.

And they are all still in the garden at Todmorden.

Lastly Jim, or Jimbob, and Patcho, distinguishable because “Jim looks like Errol Flynn and Patcho looks like Jimmy Stewart!” (Yeah right, Chris!)

Other animal interests were donkeys, birds, wolves, foxes, reindeer and hares. On her last holiday abroad in Finland she was thrilled to drive huskies and reindeer.

Political interests were a driving force, whether it was marching for rights, marching against war, writing letters to prisoners via Amnesty International, Chris’s heart stretched to practical help and raising and giving money. Her involvements included Nicaragua Solidarity, Cuba, including a trip to Cuba.

Closer to home there was Horton Women’s Holiday Centre and Spiral women’s gatherings held over many years.

Chris loved music from all around the world, not just Bruce, and was an enthusiastic member of Hebden Bridge singing group for several years. But Chris certainly did love Bruce and saw him live 15 times.

And he was a great excuse for travelling around Europe!

Chris didn’t do anything by halves, whether it was Tequila slammers or cocktails, solstice parties, wild swimming, swimming across Windermere to raise money for MIND, zip wires, cycling across Devon, triathlons, hiking up mountains, snow shoeing, husky dog sledding, or Christmas.

The parties always involved lots of lovely food and drink, fire and light.

There were various partners in Chris’s life over the years – Bronwen, Rita, Jak, Janet and some quick flings! (Did I say she was an active lesbian?) Chris loved us, her family, her gay families, her friends, – the letters, the postcards, the cards, the gifts, the phone calls, the emails.  She always knew the right thing to say even during the last few days of her life.

And the knickknacks: she claimed that she didn’t really want lots of knickknacks but we have boxes and boxes of them! Christmas candles anyone?

In the good times Chris was a heart stopping, pants dropping, house rocking, brain shocking, earth quaking, booty shaking, history making, love making, sexifying, electrifying nearly lifelong lover of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

“But there’s things that’ll knock you down you don’t even see coming”

And that was amyloidosis…..

Amyloidosis came just when Chris was looking forward to an active retirement with plans to travel the world, climb more mountains, and swim more. She moved to Borth, and even though she knew she was ill but didn’t know how ill or even what was wrong, she started rowing and getting stuck into Borth life.

The disease progressed very quickly.

Chris barely had time to come to terms with each new indignity before the next one came along. She lost her independence, and became resigned to not planning ahead, and eventually cancelling what would have been her 16th Springsteen gig.

It wasn’t at all the life she had wanted for herself. She spent 2 and half years of crashing endless fatigue and 2 and a half years feeling nauseous. And she very rarely complained. She knew all along that there wasn’t a cure.

It’s a reflection of how well loved Chris was that her friends in Borth and near and far –were so willing to help.  Especially her dear friends Nomes, Catriona, Kate and Bronwen, who were there to look after and care for Chris as she became increasingly disabled by her illness.

In the week before she died, Chris had a haircut. It gave her back a deeper sense of herself and restored some dignity that seemed to be taken away from her in Morriston.

Chris died peacefully in her sleep in Tregaron hospital, a place where she felt, in her words “safe and cared for”.

We included a few Springsteen tracks today, but its difficult to pin down what her favourites were. Chances are if you asked her, it would be the track that was playing.”

Linda (humanist celebrant) said this:

“In the hollow of the evening, as you lay your head to rest
May the evening stars scatter a shining crown upon your breast
In the darkness of the morning as the sky struggles to light
May the rising sun caress and bless your soul for all your life.”

(Bruce Springsteen)

Ways to raise money for amyloidosis research:

My JustGiving page

UCL Amyloidosis Research Fund

 

 

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