November 2007 Archives

Laszlo Mammocker Nightshade

We are once again a two-dog household.

Cleodhna phoned me at 8:30 yesterday, while I was at the Research Club getting ready to play chess, to tell me that Laszlo was in a really bad shape. I dashed home, and when I came through the door Laszlo was sitting up, but didn't have the energy to wag his tail. He'd slipped and fallen earlier, possibly triggering a major internal bleed; he'd refused roast chicken. He was clearly on his way out.

Cleodhna phoned Kirsty, and Al drove the two of them over; we phoned a variety of vets, and got a number of reasons why they couldn't come over and put Laszlo to sleep (all their vets were busy in surgery, and they weren't insured to take drugs to people's homes; the vet on call was the only one in the building; the practice had a spare vet who had been on call for the last four days running, and was now on his third beer, and if anything went wrong the practice was potentially at risk so his manager said no). Eventually Kirsty found a vet who would take Laszlo; we experimented with bundling Laszlo into a sheet, but he decided that he could walk down the stairs, with a fair bit of prodding and encouragement. Al, Cleodhna and Laszlo drove ahead; Kirsty and I followed them. We arrived at a vet in Paisley, marched him into the consultation room, the vet injected Laszlo with a sedative followed by, effectively, a lethal injection, and he went quietly to sleep. Cleodhna and I stroked him and hugged him until we couldn't stand it any more, and knocked on the wall so the vets could take him away.

We drove home, and spent the next three hours talking about what a great dog Laszlo was, how lucky we all were, what we're going to do next, and how lucky we are to still have Berkeley and Habibi, who can keep each other company and play Nr with each other.

As far as I can tell, Laszlo suffered perhaps 4 days in his 7-year life. He spent a day and a half with the emergency vets, then his own vets, when the tumour on his spleen ruptured; he spent a day and a half at Glasgow Vet School when we had him in for tests. He was probably in pain for roughly 4 hours yesterday, between the bleed being sufficient that it was compressing e.g. his heart and lungs, and him being given the final release. This isn't bad at all.

And we spoiled him rotten in the last few days. He got haggis, buttered toast, rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, pilchards, you name it.

And he was never in and out of hospital; he never had batteries of pills or random treatments imposed upon him. Only a month and a half elapsed between his spleen exploding and him being put to sleep. And for nearly all of it, he was at home, surrounded by the humans, dogs and smells that he loved.

Laszlo was gorgeous, a working dog with the shape of a malamute but the colour of an alsatian. He was athletic and indefatigable, right up to the end, when his blood supply betrayed him. He was unflappable when it came to other dogs (his normal tactic being to take his Massive Paws and whack one of them onto the head of the dog that was annoying him, and subsequently to drive him into the ground), but very rarely sought domination over others. He was a wonderful companion to his humans, and a graceful pack leader to his other dogs.

Cleodhna took him to puppy classes when he was young, and he did all the things he was told to do (e.g. "pick up that ball, jump over this fence, then put the ball in this dish"), but then gave her a look as if to say "Mum, why are you making me do these things?" He would chase squirrels in the park, but mostly because he was interested rather than because he wanted to kill. (He once brought Cleodhna a baby bird that he'd found, fallen from its nest, carried every so gently in jaws that, if he wanted, could e.g. kill network cables with one bite.) He had a congenital fear of strangers, but he absolutely loved those people he decided were OK (many of whom still have the bruises to show for it.)

We will never get another dog like Laszlo, and we're not going to try. Having acquired Habibi by complete chance a few months ago looks like wonderful timing, with hindsight: it's been long enough that she's completely settled in with us and the other dogs, and it means that Berkeley has a companion. We'll take the two of them to France in the summer, along with (probably) Laszlo's ashes, which we'll use to fertilise a tree that we'll plant in Margaret's memory. And then, once we're back, we can look at dogs again.

In the mean time, though, let's hear it for Laszlo.

Finding out how your mother died is satisfyingly involved

When my mother died, I hoped "she blanked out, fell, and never regained consciousness". But I didn't know. The death certificate said there were three things that were, together, the cause of death: injuries from the fall, hypothermia and exposure. (No, I don't know the difference between hypothermia and exposure.) It went into no further detail because it didn't need to. I think I mentioned these three factors exactly once to someone, before deciding that people didn't want to know that, and fell back to a simpler and easier "she was out hill-walking and she fell".

As I said in the above-mentioned blog post, that was still better than many of the possible other ways to die. But I didn't know for sure.

As she'd died outdoors, a post-mortem was on the cards no matter what, and when I went to the Procurator Fiscal's in Edinburgh a few days after her death, in mid October, they told me the full results would be available in two to three weeks. What I didn't appreciate, until I phoned them last week to find out what was taking so long, was that the Fiscal doesn't randomly post raw post-mortem results to grieving families; they expect the families to arrange for their GP to act as a go-between, so the GP can translate very technical medical speak into something that a layman can understand.

A few phone calls later, I had an appointment with my GP for this Monday afternoon. And it was good news: she almost certainly knew nothing at all of what happened to her.

She fell (whether a trip or a faint, we can't possibly ever know), and she almost immediately suffered two major head wounds, with accompanying brain hemorrhaging, as well as a broken collar bone. My GP was pretty damn confident that you don't regain consciousness from injuries such as that. She rolled a fair bit, and had a number of other incidental injuries - we knew that, she was found a fair distance from her rucksack - but the important thing is that when she fell, she fell hard.

I mean, you don't break your collarbone from a glancing blow, even if you're 70. You don't suffer a minor tear in your goddamn aorta if you've just pulled a muscle. (Even a minor tear will nonetheless carry on being a problem, and eventually require major invasive surgery - another reason to be glad that the fall killed her, given that Margaret had clearly refused any kind of medical intervention short of pain relief, and did not want to be in and out of hospital.)

I am so relieved. (And it made it so much easier to phone around everyone telling them the news.) I had feared that she'd fallen and then lain there, in pain and confusion, before blacking out. Hell, I'd feared that she'd gone out the day before and only been found on the morning after. Now, Science tells us that she in all probability went out walking on that Wednesday morning at about 8am or 9am, fell, and was found uneventfully dead at 10:20am. I mean, yes, hypothermia and exposure were what did her in eventually, but she was almost certainly blithely unaware of all of that. From her perspective, she fell, she whacked her head, and that was it.

What a way to go. Especially for someone like her, who, at her age, had no significant remaining ambitions, and knew that the people she cared for - particularly Cleodhna and I - were set, established, and didn't need any major attention from her.

A number of her friends mentioned that she wasn't eating, and perhaps she feared that the bowel cancer she'd had five years ago was on its way back. Well, if it was on the return, there was nothing obvious to be seen - not that, of course, there would have been, if the cancer was returning via very small secondaries. (And the post-mortem doctor had no reason to look particularly attentively for cancer.)

But, you know what? That doesn't matter. What matters is that Margaret lived a full life, a complete life, and when her end came, it was swift, resolute and no-nonsense, at a time that she would have appreciated. She didn't suffer, and us survivors didn't suffer; one moment she was alive, and then she was dead. Let us all hope to go that way.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled tales of death and grief... bring you this fantastically-written story of going to watch really, really bad Scottish football:

When I decided to pursue a career as a sports journalist, I nurtured dreams of Olympic finals, months spent following Ashes tours, trips to the World Cup, and the occasional illicit tryst with Katerina Witt after she became smitten by my interviewing technique. What I hadn't expected was to find myself at Ochilview, watching the two worst teams in Scottish football go head to head.


The crowd consisted mostly of old men and small boys, prompting the unusual realisation (for a league match) that, in the unlikely event of a fight between players and fans, the players could win.

It turns out that the journo had a blast, and so have many in the resulting comment thread.

Wii musical games post

Christmas has, for many years now, been a simple matter of heading over to Margaret's (either in Edinburgh or in France), eating good food, talking about probably far too many things, drinking wine, and at some point going through the book box. (We abandoned individually-wrapped presents years ago; instead, everyone buys a bunch of books, and puts them in a communal box, and then we dig through them, and whoever most wants a book gets it.)

Obviously this isn't going to happen this year, so Cleodhna very sensibly suggested that we do something completely different this year. So we decided to buy a Wii, and play fun multi-player video games all day at Christmas.

The original plan was to wait until shortly before Christmas, but given that the things are scarce, it's probably a good thing that we spotted them on sale for cheap in France (effectively £100 less than what you'd pay in the UK). The high street doesn't have Wiimotes and/or nunchuks for sale, but ebay does, so that's OK. We forgot the Wii sports disc in France, so Cleodhna went out and bought Zelda, The Sims and, crucially for this post, Rayman.

The game itself is wonderfully silly, and ridiculously fun - one of the early mini-games involves running as fast as you can by waving alternately the wiimote and the nunchuk up and down as fast as you can, which is a tremendously intuitive alternative to the old-style arcade decathlon method of button mashing. But what really appeals to me, in a long term, is the musical games.

They're pretty simple in theory - you have visual cues to your left and right, and you need to wave the wiimote (right) or nunchuk (left) in time to score points.

So much for dodging a bullet

Last month, three days after my mother died, Laszlo had to have emergency surgery to remove a large tumour from his spleen. He bounced back wonderfully, and we hoped for the best.

When we came back from France, and picked the dogs up from the kennels, he seemed fine, if rather thin. We booked him into the Glasgow University Vet School, parts of which we can see from our flat, for further tests and scans.

The appointment was for Tuesday. By Monday, it was becoming obvious that he was slowing down again. When we picked him up today, after they'd kept him in overnight for further observation and tests, the only course we had left to us was to take him home, keep him comfortable (and spoil him rotten while we can), and wait for the time when we'd have to call it a day.

He has some sort of cancer; which, we're not sure, as the emergency vets didn't send the tumour they removed off for testing. It's aggressive, so while the main cancer was removed last month, it left behind minuscule clusters of cancerous cells, which have since grown, latched onto supplies of blood, and ruptured. While the tumours would eventually kill him, the blood loss will kill him much sooner.

And there's enough blood loss that the vets wouldn't recommend a course of chemotherapy (because of the side-effects), even if they were confident that they knew which type of cancer he had.

Now, in a purely objective way, this is actually not a bad thing. We knew that the cancer would eventually kill him, almost certainly within a year; his father was riddled with cancer at a similar age. We're due to go to France for a fortnight in February, and a month or two in the summer; the prospect of something similarly terminal happening to him while he was in kennels, or with us in France in a foreign language and a foreign vet system, isn't something I want to think about for too long.

Which isn't to say that Cleodhna and I weren't completely crippled by the news. Margaret dying was comparatively easy: she knew she was old, she'd achieved pretty much everything she was interested in, she accepted death when it would come, and when it did it was quick. Laszlo has only just turned 7, had shown no signs of slowing down before this (Berkeley, just a few months older, is already showing signs of turning into an old dog), and has no idea of what's going on other than he's unwell at the moment.

The dog that, for almost all of his life, we could never tire out, who could run miles upon miles without batting an eyelid, now no longer wants to be taken any further than about a block or two from our flat. It's an achievement if he can go up the three flights of stairs to our flat without needing to rest.

Yesterday, we were stuck in our flat with only our two healthy dogs (and what a good idea it has turned out to be, to get a third dog - when Laszlo dies, Berkeley will still have another dog with him in the flat when we go out). We spent some time being miserable together; eventually, though, we decided we needed to look to the future, and talk about future plans, about getting a parrot (our Christmas presents look like being a couple of books about African Greys that can read bits of to each other), about getting another dog.

I spent a very emotionally taxing hour or so reading up about pet funerals, on the basis that no matter how bad it would be now, it would be worse after he'd died. It turns out that pet funerals are very much like human funerals - you can end up spending a hell of a lot of money on random frippery if you're not careful - with a few twists, such as: 1) if you're not careful, your pet could be cremated along with a whole bunch of other pets, and miscellaneous medical waste, because that's how the law classifies dead pets, and you could end up with a bunch of ashes that are only mostly your dog; and 2) as long as your horse was a race-horse, not a farm horse (commercial agricultural animals are covered by a different set of laws), you can get it cremated for merely £1,000.

Crucially, it turns out that Laszlo isn't anything like as debilitated by injury as some ill or aging animals could be. One of the sites I saw had a check-list of things that it basically isn't fair to let your pet have happen to it - reduced mobility, incontinence, pain, arthritis, etc. - and, thankfully, pretty much the only thing that's symptomatically wrong with Laszlo is that he gets tired very quickly. (Also he's shaved in some strange places because of the tests, so we're keeping the heating on a bit more than we would otherwise.) Our (Greek) doctor at the vet school summed it up as: he's slowly bleeding to death (internally), but in Greece that was considered not a bad way to go. There's no pain involved. When we make the decision that, for his remaining comfort, we should call it a day, our vet will be able to make a house call, and administer a soothing, painless cocktail of chemicals that will let him soothingly die in his own flat, with his own smells, surrounded by his dog and human pack-members.

Why can't we do that with humans?

Margaret's French funeral

Realised today that I hadn't blogged this part. Here goes.

Margaret's service in France was always going to be a Catholic service in the church in Savignac les Eglises*, because that's what the community wanted. (If nothing else, Bruce's funeral was there also; someone reminded me of a point that I'd forgotten, which was that the mayor and other State representatives stayed pointedly outside the church during that service, separation of Church and State meaning a lot in France where we've had the Church siding with the Nobility prior to the Revolution, and the wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants.) If you're buried in Savignac cemetery, you have a funeral service in Savignac church.

But I was damned (see below ;-) ) if I was going to have a full-on Catholic service. I've been to one of those in Savignac church, and it was full of incense and involved a bizarre procession around the coffin that I definitely didn't want. Margaret wasn't religious, and neither are Cleodhna or I, and while respect for the local community demanded a religious service, it said nothing about how religious the service would be.

Due to various mix-ups and telephone tag, I only managed to speak to the priest (or deacon, or whatever - I never found out his full title) in charge of the funeral the day before it would take place. He turned up at Merlhiot, along with Catherine Lamy, the mother of a kid I was at school with in Savignac school in the early 80s - French practice is to have a member of the clergy, but also a member of the community, at a funeral. We went through the basics of Margaret's life (which I'd already researched for the Edinburgh service), and I emphasised that we wanted a minimally religious service.

(They asked me if Margaret was religious; I said no, she wasn't. Then they asked me if she was baptised. I carried on ducking the "atheist" word, and said that if there was any religion she wasn't of, it was Anglicanism. That seemed to satisfy them.)

We agreed that they'd sort out something between the two of them, muttering something about expat Sue, and we left it at that.

All that was left to do that day was pick up Ole from the train station. Ole is an old friend of the family; he worked with Bruce in the pre-FLS days, and we regularly holidayed in his house in St Pierre de Côle before we moved to Merlhiot full-time. (He since sold up and moved back to Copenhagen.) So we drove to Thiviers, and there was Ole, all by himself, without luggage, because he'd been robbed on the sleeper train somewhere in Germany.

During the night, Ole forgot about a flight of stairs and gave himself a nasty black eye tripping onto a door handle. I had visions of having to introduce Ole to people, and explain that he got robbed on the train, but no, he didn't get the black eye then, he got that later - thankfully this didn't happen.

Came the day of the funeral, and like the rest of the preceding week, it was a gorgeous day - slightly cloudy, just chilly enough to deter people from wandering mournfully in a cemetery for too long, but not chucking it down in a way that cinematographers love but real people hate because there's nothing worse (especially if you're a guest) than maintaining a proper pose of grief and mourning while the constant rain is slowly but surely making its way through your clothing, clammy finger by clammy finger.

We headed to the church and set up (the photo of Margaret we'd used at the Edinburgh service). The priest and Catherine were there, and so was Sue, who turned out to be Sue Palfreyman, who is a professional translator and knows the Anglican ceremony, which meant that she'd organised a bilingual catholic / anglican service, including a wonderful prayer from an Irish book of prayers which was all about plants, bees, birds and nature. The priest asked me if I wanted to do the Catholic "traipse around the coffin" thing, and I immediately declined; mostly because I thought the whole thing was just ceremony for the sake of it, and because it doesn't scale downwards very well. (Maybe 10 people can fit around a coffin; if all you've got is a casket of ashes, you can fit at most 4. A bunch of agèd expats queueing up in a narrow church aisle to do an awkward dance around a small wooden box is potentially amusing, and if somebody else wants to try it out, more power to them, but I wasn't going to have anything like that at Margaret's funeral.) Given that at least two of our guests needed crutches or walking sticks, I'm glad that I stuck by that decision.

It's an odd thing, waiting for guests at a funeral. Cleodhna doesn't speak French, so she mingled with expats while I waited for people to come along and be greeted (difficult when you don't always know everyone, or don't recognise people, and therefore don't know which language to greet them in - thankfully people mistake this caution for grief and introduce themselves). Someone ventured into the church, so I went forwards and said hello - and then I realised I had a God-botherer on my hands.

The conversation went something like this (I'm being slightly unfair to her, but she had it coming because she's a bigot):

Her: "Ahah! The church is open!" Me: "Yes, it's my mother's funeral. Margaret Kington." Her (ignoring all of this): "They keep on locking up the church. I try to come here every day, to pray for the souls of those in purgatory." Me: "It's not a particularly religious funeral." Her: "Are you religious?" Me: "No." Her: "Were you baptised?" Me: "No." Her: "But you at least know about the history of the world, how we were all saved because of Moses after the Flood?" Me: "Yes, I know my Literature."

She wasn't impressed, and grumbled off, announcing that she would pray for my soul, trying to make it sound like a promise rather than a menace.

The resulting service was remarkably tame in comparison :-). Having heard them side by side, I can confirm that the British translation of the Lord's Prayer and The Lord Is My Shepherd are marginally, but significantly, better than their French equivalents. The priest, Catherine and Sue did an admirable job of interchanging at the pulpit; we had Fauré's Requiem on CD, which they played at appropriate moments.

We then filed out of the church, and did a brief meet and greet while the Pompes Funèbres guy gathered the casket, flowers and other random stuff. We had a decent mix of Brits and French, including, wonderfully, Robert Maureau, my childhood primary school teacher in Savignac, who for some reason has been bad-mouthed in the area even though he was a wonderful teacher. (I won't go into a full list of guests, because I can't remember all who were there, and it would be a disservice to try and list only those I can accurately name.)

Eventually, we followed the hearse - ridiculously oversized for a casket of ashes - through the narrow streets of Savignac, and made our way to the cemetery. After another brief prayer, the casket was placed in a small hole at the head of the grave, right next to my father Bruce's grave, and we all filed past and sprinkled rose petals on it. (Which was just as well, as the typeface on the plaque was some horrible sans serif oblique monstrosity.) I made sure to avoid the pink and red rose petals, as Margaret was very much a white flower garden person ;-).

And that was it: job done. Handshakes, commiserations, exchanges of addresses followed; we had a bunch of the expats back to Merlhiot, where we all gathered around the kitchen table and talked about a whole bunch of things, some of which completely unrelated to Margaret, which is of course what she would have wanted.

We'll be back in February, to sort out Lawyer Stuff, and then thereafter probably every summer (I can work from home as easily from Glasgow as I can from Savignac, so that shouldn't be a problem).

*: Savignac les Eglises is called that because, at some point, it used to have 7 churches (as I recall). These days, it has one functioning church and one ruin. I'm not sure where the other 5 are supposed to have been - the wikipedia article is slightly more informative than I remember, but still not that useful.

Margaret's funeral service

This is, as far as I can make out, all that was said at Margaret's service in Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens on 20th October 2007, compiled from pre-prepared speeches and my own memories of the day. I've made some minor edits for, mostly, spelling and punctuation.


Good morning, friends, and welcome to this memorial ceremony which celebrates the life of Margaret Kington. We meet here today to honour and celebrate her time with us; to mourn her passing, to say our farewells, and to offer what words of comfort and consolation we can to help her family at this sad time.

Later, Margaret will be laid to rest in France.

My name is Ivan Middleton and I am a Humanist celebrant. Given her clear views, she wanted to have a non-religious ceremony. A Humanist ceremony provides an opportunity to join in saying goodbye to someone we have loved. It is also the celebration of Margaret's life. She lived a warm and caring life; sadly, it ended too soon. She was a kind, and loving, daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.

This is a sad day, especially sad because grief for the loss of someone who always seemed so young, is hardest to bear. We mourn not only for the life that was, but also for the life that might have been. Let there be comfort in coming together.

The weight and grief laid upon us by Margaret's death is more easily borne by friends, coming together. For those closest to Margaret, there is the assurance that they are not alone. We cannot share with them the intensity of their experience, but we can be with them for comfort and support. We recognise how much love, care and support they always gave to Margaret, and received from her in return.

It is right and natural that we should grieve, because sorrow is a reflection and measure of the love and friendship we shared with Margaret. In a way we grieve for ourselves, as we realise that our own lives will never be the same without her.

As Kahil Gibran reminds us, "When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that, in truth, you are weeping for that which was your delight."

We are all involved in the life and death of each of us. Human life is built upon caring. The separateness, uniqueness of human life is the basis of our grieving in bereavement. Look through the whole world and there is no one quite like Margaret.

But she lives on in your memories, and though no longer a visible part of your lives, she will always remain a member of your family or of your circle, through the influences she has had on you, and the special part she played in your life.

The following words seem appropriate at this time:

"I often think that people we have loved And you love us, not only make us more human, But they become a part of us And we carry them around all the time - Whether we see them or not. And in some ways we are a sum total of those who have loved us, And those we have loved."


It is now my privilege to pay tribute to this loyal, friendly and lively woman.

Margaret was born on the 3rd November 1936 in Keighley, Yorkshire. She was one of her father Alexander and mother Christina's three children. She had two brothers, Ewen and Jimmy.

Her brother Jim recalled that he and Margaret were the most close of siblings and [they] had a continuous telephone relationship for many years. "She was a fine person: kind, responsible, courageous and by a mile the most intelligent of us all. Her strengths developed with her years."

After school she went to [Manchester] University where she studied Economics. Here she met friends, some of whom were to be with her for her lifetime.

After Uni she did several different things to earn a living, working in John Lewis for a while and also taught English as a second language.

She met and fell in love with Bruce and they were to enjoy an extremely happy life together. They married and Margaret gave birth to their son Sam. She and Bruce always felt that having Sam and bringing him up was easily the best thing they ever did in their lives.

She and Bruce holidayed regularly in South West France, notably in their photographer friend Ole's house in the Dordogne. They decided that he would take a sabbatical year from running his successful lighting company to bring a house they had bought there up to scratch. BRuce brought over some of his employees, including Malcolm and his teenage son.

Whilst he had not been too well before he left England, he had not had a diagnosis. Upon seeking medical advice in France he was told he required an immediate heart by-pass. He had this and it was successful, so a few years later he sold his company and the family settled in France.

Together, Margaret and Bruce turned the old dilapidated farm house into a house of beauty, converting the barn into a spacious kitchen where they could cook and talk to their many guests at the same time. Outside, small outbuildings were torn down and converted into a terrace where people could sit and enjoy the view of the surrounding countryside. The outside walls were stripped down to their original stones, which were then over time covered with vines and ivy. Occasionally cats joined them.

Margaret and Bruce made many, long-lasting friends in France, expatriate Brits and French alike. After years of walking past it, they bought the Old Lady's house, in part for the view and in part for the tree in the courtyard, and turned it into a summer home for fellow lovers of the Dordogne. Friends, old and new, and family acquired a habit of spending a week or two there, and enjoying Margaret and Bruce's generous hospitality.

By 1992 Bruce again began to have heart problems. He did not want to slow down, and opted for another bypass, which sadly was unsuccessful, and he died. The loss of Bruce was a very sore blow for Margaret as they had been very happy together. As her brother Jim recalled: "The changes she and Bruce achieved at Merlhiot amaze me, and were borne out by the crowds at Bruce's funeral."

Sam was attending University in Glasgow; Margaret's friend Pat, whom she'd known since [Manchester] University, had laid down roots in Edinburgh. So Margaret moved to the Scotland of her grand-parents, and set about acquiring friends old and new. Meanwhile Sam graduated and started a fruitful career in Computing. In recent times Sam and Cleodhna were married, and to everyone's delight, Margaret and Cleodhna because firm friends. Christmas celebrations became a joyful ritual.

Margaret, as well as having great friendships, had an amazing range of interests and hobbies. Having friends around or visiting them, and appreciating fine win, good food and conversation, was when she was happiest.

She loved being out of doors, and gardening was a passion of hers. Walking in and enjoying these beautiful Botanical Gardens gave her tremendous pleasure, and just had to be the venue for this memorial ceremony.

Another passion was hill walking. Scotland suited her so well to pursue this pastime.

She lived life to the full, and was always active both physically and mentally. She already had German and of course French, but not so long ago decided to learn Spanish and Italian as well.

One of her closest friends, Angela, unfortunately was unable to be here, but has sent the following tribute which I am now delighted to read.

Angela's tribute: My friend Margaret

Margaret came into my life 58 years ago, as unexpectedly and unobtrusively as she has left it.

Some weeks after term had started she appeared in my classroom at Purley County Grammar School for Girls - an establishment with few cultural or artistic aspirations and a fairly basic level of instruction, which left us with plenty of room for self-improvement.

Margaret and I became close friends and spent a lot of time together. Apart from lessons at school, most of the time we were left to our own devices, there and at home. There were rules in both places but we felt that rules were made to be broken and we had a lot of fun doing so.

We roamed our area on our bikes or by bus, swimming at the baths and going each week to one of the local cinemas; where we got as much pleasure from the unintentionally funny 'B' films as we did from the main pictures.

We read voraciously, books from every available source and even our mothers' women's magazines with their knitting patterns, romantic stories and the Problem Pages, on which the letters were risible but intriguing, especially when only the answers were printable. Margaret viewed "Romance" at the cinema, in books and magazines with a sceptical eye and felt that the Problem Page was the most likely outcome of romantic associations. I was more hopeful but neither of us had the opportunity to put these ideas to the test, as boys didn't figure within our sphere.

We both felt the pains of adolescence keenly; perhaps this was why Margaret had special patience and sympathy for the young, which was later balanced by her frustration and exasperation at the behaviours of the old. She also deplored the depredations and indignities of extreme old age, and had no intention of going there.

Margaret had great resourcefulness, and a determination that sometimes amounted to inspired stubbornness. This meant that she could make a niche for herself in any situation. Though are paths didn't cross for a few years after we left school, when I came back from three years abroad we took us where we had left off. I visited Margaret in her niches in Forest Hill, then Penge - we lived in the same road as we did when Sam was small. Later, I could always count on a warm welcome in the delightful homes she created at Merlhiot and Edinburgh.

Margaret was a very private person, undemonstrative of her loves and hates but with strong opinions. I respected her views and tried not to trespass. She never showed any inclination towards flamboyance or self-aggrandisement but beneath the surface was a keen many-faceted intellect, with wide interests and a genuine loving kindness of word and deed.

Montaigne said that "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to ourselves." Above all things Margaret knew how to belong to herself, but her generosity of spirit extended that feeling of belonging to all of her many friends and loved ones. How I shall miss our long telephone conversations, her rueful sense of humour, her practical sympathy in bad times and her light-hearted companionship in the many good times we had together.

If there's a place where spirits exist after this life, then Margaret will be there, presiding at a big table in a warm kitchen, plying us with good food and wine and comforting us in our grief with the words she often said to me - "Bon courage!"

[Ivan also read an email from Barbara:]

Barbara's tribute

Dear Sam,

How very sad; I have thought of nothing else since your phone call last night. My friendship with Margaret was a great delight, and full of political/educational debate - I lean to the right! - literary discussion, particularly George Eliot's books - we read Daniel Deronda together - and much laughter; particularly at Elliott School in Putney.

That is where we met in September 40 years ago. She arrived with Bob Sabine and we helped him with props and stage management; got 'reprimanded' if we tried to display out of period pots. We were rather persistant in that area!

Margaret taught English and Economics before becoming interested in English as a second language, language and languages. This was shared by our mutual friend Mary Nicholson, a novelist and biographer. We often proof read for her; she was wise, older than our parents, but probably more 'with it' than Margaret and I put together! Mary lived in a flat in Chelsea - up 90 stairs; was eccentric, china shakily glued in many places!, was a marvelous painter and poet too. We sat at Mary's feet and experienced bohemian life stories. When Mary died 12 years ago I gave Margaret several of her paintings; her, alas, unfinished autobiography; and a red and white Chinese writing on it that Mary had made herself as well as collecting the wool in Kent. I think it went to France. Margaret loved it.

We were in our late 20/30s at Elliott and I mentioned to you that Margaret kindly covered a parents' meeting for me as I was off to meet a new date. At the time there was a film crew in the school making a 'modern' approach to Maths documentary, and as Margaret was marking essays one of the crew asked where the nearest pub was and suggested Margaret came too. That was Bruce. So our lives took on new levels and we gossipped all the more!

When they lived in Forest Hill Margaret took on Yeti, an enormous old English sheep dog. He had diabetes and she did efficiently all the necessary injections, as well as stopping Yeti fancying me for his supper!

She also became a keen, talented gardener. She phoned me to say she'd just bought a greenhouse; a month later she phoned to say a second had been purchased; and guess what? shortly a third! We roared with laughter when she followed the instructions from Gardeners' World magazine saying your greenhouse should be full now - hers were bursting with plants and seedlings - and the next issue said your greenhouses should be empty now. I always think of this each Spring joined by Margaret's witty retort when it is said growing potatoes clears the ground: 'no it's [bloody] not it's me'!

When you were very small Margaret started growing melons. We shared her very first at supper and decided it was the best ever. And so it has been.

Margaret was over the moon when she was expecting you. After your premature birth Margaret phoned from Kings College Hospital in despair, and I rushed over after school. I had with me a pair of dungarees for a 15 month child and Margaret cried because of my optimism. I knew you would survive, even when I saw you in intensive care - well, to be exact, not much of you, mainly woolly hat! On many occasions I have told other people this story of success when they have had similar problems. How well you have done.

Margaret used to stay with me when she came over to see her family and I loved to hear the family tales, all about France and your education plans. The visit I made to her in Edinburgh was lovely; she helped me with my computer developement, such as it is! We used to speak about once a year recently and I frequently hoped she'd come to stay.

I am terribly sad for you. But I do know that the greatest happiness and pride in Margaret's life was you Sam.

Forgot to add that Margaret taught me how to use herbs in cooking properly!

My memories are all happy ones. Margaret's friendship will never be forgotten. With affection, Barbara.

Ivan's tribute continues

Other interests Margaret pursued with vigour included being a volunteer for Citizens Advice Bureau and her local Oxfam bookshop. Dancing and pottery were also amongst her accomplishments. Added to this were her great skills as a cook; there are many testimonies from friends in France and Scotland who appreciated her talent.

Margaret loved life and always wanted to live it at full speed. In fact she had completed a Living Will as she feared a long illness leading to a lingering death.

Here are some from many tributes Sam has received:

Tributes to Margaret

Margaret's niece Sarah, who lives in Gibraltar: "I have known Margaret my entire life and shared sorrows and joys with her throughout. [...] She was one up front lady, who knew her mind, her likes and dislikes, and was honest in everything she said and did. I cannot tell you how grateful we were when Margaret dropped sticks to come to mum and dad when mum was ill. She was a support for all, just the kind of thing she would do."

Charlie Stross, author and ex-colleague of Sam's: "I never met [Margaret], but I met her offspring, and that tells me she was a pretty good person."

Jonathan Sheps, friend of Sam and Cleodhna: "Your mother was so cheerful, so smart, and so utterly unflappable. I am very sure of this last because I only ever met her at your wedding, when one would have expected entirely the opposite from almost anyone. [...] I remember also how much joy she took in your happiness that day."

Her neighbours Jane and Graham: "We are going to miss her so much, she was such a friendly neighbour and cared for everyone in the stairwell."

Her friend and neighbour Anne Pankhurst: "She was a mine of ideas which she loved to debate, and so full of wise counsel. She was full of energy too; I would often see her striding along, in all weathers, on her way out or back."

Her friend Malcolm Davis: "I met Margaret and Bruce when I was going through difficult times; they opened doors for me to get back on my feet, they really helped me sort out my life. She will be sorely missed."

Her friend David Matthews: "She was a great friend, and we loved her very much."

Her friend Carole McAlister: "[Five years ago] I had an idyllic 10 days in beautiful Merliot in the kind of weather you associate with southern France, and I enjoyed Margaret's fantastic hospitality. I was always impressed with the way she never tried to change anyone's behaviour. She was so good at saying that it was none of her business. Yes she had views on how things could be done, but she was very giving, and was good at coming out with a surprisingly wise comment in situations."

Tom Clarke, a life-long friend of Sam's: "[I remember her] amusement (or bemusement?) at the antics of vegetarians. She'd be satisfied I think to know that [Tom's parents] Su and Don are finally back on the red meat (though sadly not if it's too pink). [...] She took the time to introduce me to the practice of slaughtering animals - that's not something I can say about many people. The memory of being left to supervise the entrails of the rabbit she had just killed is still quite vivid."

Her niece Catie Cherrie: "Our last meeting with [Margaret] was this year in France. We had the obligatory bottles of wine and noticed she had actually moved onto wine boxes (we think because it saved on the fuss of opening another when you could be having a good heated debate). As for debates we did have a few, and topics could always be varied but never trivial."

Her nephew Tim Low: "We have been of the habit of spending 2 weeks with her in her house in France almost every year in the summer, and on one occasion at Christmas - a glorious occasion with crisp air, beautiful blue skies, the occasional glass of wine, and of course fantastic food. [...] We will miss the company, the constant flow of wine and good food, the intense and ridiculous discussions that went on late into the night."

Ivan's tribute continues

Recently Margaret had gone hill walking, as she often did, alone, and was found dead in her much loved Pentland Hills. She had fallen and died immediately from her injuries. In a way it was perhaps as she might have wished, her life ended when she was still in control.

She has left all who knew and loved her with a wonderful example of how to live a good and full life well. She has bequeathed a host of wonderful warm memories.

It is now my pleasure to call upon Pat Eccles whom she met at University to recall her memories of Margaret.

Pat's tribute

Sam has asked me to say a few words about Margaret. I am very nervous of speaking in front of people so I will read them; and anyway, we are all friends here, and I am very pleased to speak about Margaret who was my special friend for over 50 years.

We were close friends and saw each other through many happy times and a good few sad ones too. At University in M/C we were young and carefree. Margaret particularly enjoyed our little flat in Stockport at a time when most students still lived in halls or digs.

Later she loved having her own house in Penge in S.London, and teaching in her own LA Language Centre where she taught English to children with other mother tongues. Margaret always valued her independence and having her own spaces.

When we were both busy with young families we might not have seen so much of each other, but we were always in touch and Margaret followed our children's progress with a real interest. Throughout her life she truly cared for people and particularly young people that she knew. They always felt it and remember it, as my own children have told me.

During her years in France, married to Bruce and bringing up Sam, I was impressed by her grasp of the French language. She knew the importance of language in society and culture and was determined to become fluent which she achieved. She and Bruce worked incredibly hard on their land and in their woods to create their version of the Good Life. It was great to visit them and I loved to see Margaret’s professional approach to the work but always her love of gardening and the care of her livestock shone through.

In these years, and later after Bruce died, the friendship and esteem which Margaret had had for Harry (my husband) was an added bonus to us all. Harry was able to help Margaret with the design of the restoration of her French property and to give her confidence to carry it out with local builders.

When she came to live in Edinburgh I loved the way she adapted to the lifestyle of the town. She always was a woman with attitude, so she was soon joining everyone else in commenting forcibly on the deficiencies of the street cleaning, rubbish collection, state of the parks and so on. On the positive side, she loved the libraries and the charity bookshops, and was delighted with her bus pass which she used daily to explore the town and the countryside round about.

Most of all, I admired her caring approach to the people she met and taught. These included helping young single mothers, the young Spanish people she befriended and lately her teaching English to Pakistani mothers in their own homes.

Her lifelong love of gardens is reflected here in the Botanics. Best of all she loved the Witch Hazel trees and shrubs, which flower in winter on bare twigs and have the sweetest scent. They grow on the left hand side of the path leading from the Beech Hedge to the Palm House.

With her love of country, hills and plants and her caring nature, she was for me truly ‘the salt of the earth’.

Now another Edinburgh friend, Madeleine Brand, will say a few words

Madeleine's tribute

I first met Margaret at Pat and Harry Eccles' flat, prior to her deciding to settle in Edinburgh for part of the year.

It was a very good meeting because it was soon obvious that we had interests in common; good food and wine, walking, and foreign films, to name but a few.

From the time when Margaret was living in a rented flat in Rodney Street, right up to the present, we saw each other on a regular basis and enjoyed each others' company.

It did not take long for us to establish a pattern of eating supper with each other, usually in Margaret's flat, because she generously said she had more time, as I was busy with work. She was an excellent cook, very much in the French style, and it was an extremely pleasant way of spending an evening.

We talked of books and films, art exhibitions, and of our life experiences and friends. Margaret remembered being at a loathsome convent junior school and one particularly despicable nun! She thought that those such as I were deluded in our belief in God. Despite this, however, our friendship flourished.

We also talked about education. Like me, Margaret had been a teacher and she continued to be interested in the way education was going. She taught English to Spanish speakers in Edinburgh and became good friends with those she taught in her flat in Eyre Place. More recently she taught English to two Pakistani ladies who had come over to marry Pakistani Scots.

Margaret's first paid job in Scotland was looking after two children at Glenkinchie in East Lothian. Part of her remit was to help the children with their homework and give them tea. The little boy was very obviously dyslexic and rebelled against reading, and Margaret was appalled to read the very positive and inaccurate records written by his teachers.

Being industrious, Margaret also gave time she had to doing some gardening for her employer.

Having spent a long time in the French countryside, Margaret was quick to discover what Edinburgh had to offer. As I'm sure you know, she attended numerous and varied classes as well as doing voluntary work. The course she most enjoyed was Spanish; she learned quickly, and soon got involved in the meetings, and partying, that the group enjoyed. She generously hosted the parties in her flat and made some good friends, one of whom is Carole McAllister who unfortunately could not be here today. Only a couple of weeks ago Margaret was at a hen night, for one of the Spanish class, where, she told me, she sat and tried to look amiable, unable to hear anything above the din of music and raised voices!

It was during Margaret's illness with cancer that I got to know her really well. Her body took a while to rally after her operation and she did wonder whether this might be the end. Fortunately, that period was short-lived, and it wasn't long before she was counting the days till she could return to enjoying her wine!

As time went on I was privileged to be invited to stay with Margaret at Merlhiot. I visited there three times and I have very vivid memories of traveling to markets in local towns and visiting some beautiful villages, of our lunches under the plum tree, and suppers on the terrasse. Margaret was in her element, producing fabulous food, and together we would sit out as long as possible during storms, to enjoy the amazing fork lighting and the deep red skies. Margaret was always young at heart, and so we had people to visit and parties to attend.

A few years ago, I suffered from acute depression, which lingered for a long time whilst the doctors tried various remedies. Margaret was a true friend to me. There were times when I could not bear to be alone indoors. In those times we walked and walked, Margaret ever in the lead. Into the Pentlands we went, up and down the Water of Leith, round the Botanics and along the coast. She had a good knowledge of plants and I learned a great deal from her.

I am glad Margaret died where she did - out walking. She feared illness, impairment and old age, and I think she felt ready to go. She knew that Sam was settled, and was delighted that he and Cleodhna were so good for each other, as she put it.

Margaret will be sadly missed, by her family and friends, but we have our memories of a bright, amusing, forthright and somewhat mischievous person to cherish.


Let us now pause briefly, to remember Margaret in our own way and reflect upon her life. Those of you with a religious faith may wish to use these moments for your own private pray or contemplation. As we do so, we will listen to Debussy's Des Pas Sur La Neige.

Music plays

We have now reached the part of this ceremony when we honour Margaret's time with us.

Please stand.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose on earth: a time to be born, and a time to die.

Margaret, we are glad that you lived, that we saw your face, knew your friendship and enjoyed your company. We cherish your culinary and conversational talents, and your command of so many languages. Your companionship, your warmth and generosity of spirit, your example of always putting your family first, your courage, your determination and hard work, your honesty and interest in others, and your feisty character, we commit to our memories. Now, in peace, and thoughtfulness with sorrow, but without fear, with respect, ove and appreciation, we bid you farewell.

Please be seated.

Sam's tribute

In 1983, when we had just moved to France, I had an argument with Margaret's teaching colleague and old friend Jean Head about what Margaret wanted for Christmas. Eventually, Jean played her trump card: "I've know her for longer than you", she said. That baffled me: "You can't have, I've known her all my life". Thanks for all the tributes from people who knew her before I was old enough to start paying attention to other people.

Margaret used all of her cunning, and all of her love, to manipulate me into growing up well. She and Bruce always made sure that I had everything I needed, without turning into a stuck-up spoiled brat. There was never any bad blood, never any arguments; I can only remember one time, ever, that she behaved at all unreasonably (to my mind), and that was because she had secretly bought me a CD player for Christmas, and didn't want me to know. Indeed, at one point she feared that she hadn't prepared me for confrontation - and was delighted to witness an impassioned shouting argument between me and my piano teacher, Mme Gallon, on the precise timing of a Debussy piano prelude. (As it turns out, I was right.) We heard it earlier.

One of the first things Margaret said to my wife Cleodhna was "Sam will have told you that I'm a bigot." Not in the traditional sense of the word, of course. She hated small-mindedness, and the crossest I ever remember seeing her was when a house guest had ventured an opinion but not ventured to back it up with a decent argument. We left England in the 80s partly because of Thatcher, and she moved to Scotland in the 90s partly because of the rise of the National Front, and the growing casual racism you would find even in rural Dordogne. The only reason she was the right-winger in the household was that Bruce was a communist.

What she meant was that she enjoyed being old, and not having to bother with social fripperies. She stopped cutting her hair and just kept it in a bun. Before she moved full-time to Edinburgh, she went over to the UK briefly for her 60th birthday, to avoid the inevitable "surprise" birthday party the expats in Dordogne would have thrown. She loved her free bus pass.

Cleodhna and I got married 5 years ago, and Margaret was delighted that the two of them got on so well. Margaret taught her many things - how to cook game birds or roast beef, for instance - but refused to hand over her recipe for boeuf bourguignon, on the grounds that she needed to keep some things for herself. We used to go over with our two large dogs to her flat in Edinburgh, or she'd come over to see us in Glasgow, and - stop me if this sounds familiar - we've have a good meal and good wine, and talk about what we'd read, what we'd seen in the news, and whatever else came to mind. Her favourite mock-complaint, when she realised that she should have started cooking half an hour ago, was "You people are too interesting!" At Christmas we ditched the whole palaver of finding presents for all and sundry, and just each bought a number of books and piled them up in a box. Whoever was most interested in a particular book took it home, and maybe swapped it for another a few months later.

Time was catching up with her, though, despite all the hill-walking and the endless list of hobbies she took up to keep herself fit, physically and mentally. She feared a lingering death, and was determined not to spend the last months or years of her life in and out of hospital, or being a burden to those she loved. It looks like she got her wish, and we should all be thankful for that.

Last week Cleodhna and I took our now three dogs to Edinburgh to water Margaret's plants and in general take care of the flat. Her friend Madeleine very kindly invited us over to her flat for dinner and a few glasses of wine, and Pat joined us there shortly afterwards. We shared our memories of Margaret, but very quickly the conversation drifted on to a wide variety of other completely unrelated topics. That is exactly how she'd want to be remembered, and I look forward to seeing all of you in the reception afterwards so we can continue her tradition.

Closing words

The best of all answers to death is the whole-hearted and continuing affirmation of life, for the greater fulfillment of Humankind.

We have been remembering Margaret, and reminding ourselves that she will live on, in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved her.

The music you heard as you entered was Fauré's Requiem, and as you leave you will hear "With This Love".

Margaret's family now warmly invite you to join them afterwards at the Botanic House Hotel, 27 Inverleith Row, where they will be able to thank you personally for your support.

On Sam's behalf, I want to thank you all for being here and joining in this celebration of Margaret's life.

It turns out you inherit your parents' spammers as well

OK, listen up, spammers: even if my mother (whose email I'm going through) were still alive, she wouldn't have wanted a Megadik.

But the fact that I'm having to go through my spam folder to make sure that I haven't missed something, says a lot about client-side spam filtering.

First of all, that I was unable to do this in France, because I didn't have the bandwidth to download all of the mail before evaluating it.

Secondly, Bayesian spam filtering works by statistics - if something happens that is unusual, it assumes it's spam. And normally it works pretty well. Unfortunately, people emailing you out of the blue about uncommon subjects also happens when a close relative dies, and it's exactly at this point that you don't want to have any email accidentally classified as spam. So if you have a death in the family, in this day and age, one of the first things that I recommend you do is dial down the aggressiveness of your spam filter.

And before that? Find out the email addresses of all your close relatives' close friends and relatives, and add them to your spam filter, and do this now, so when the day comes that you're getting email from all sorts of people that you don't know that well, your computer knows that they're not trying to sell you Viagra or penny stocks.

What we did on our Hallowe'en holidays

We got locked inside a cemetery.

I should backtrack a little.

It costs something like £2,000 to have a coffin shipped from Scotland to France. There's the air freight costs, the various medical and consular fees, and stuff like having an officially-translated certificate from the deceased's doctor saying that they didn't have any contagious diseases. While Margaret's estate would have paid for that, it still wasn't going to be pretty.

So, having checked that it's OK to bury a casket of ashes in a French Catholic service (it is, at least in our local parish), we had Margaret cremated. We assumed that it would be easy enough to get the ashes over to France - after all, surely this is something that happens all the time?

Apparently not. After a rigorous bout of calling, the Edinburgh funeral directors found one courier company that was prepared to take the ashes, but wasn't insured for that sort of thing, so would need a waiver saying that if the ashes got lost, it wasn't their fault. For anything else I'd have taken the odds, but - no.

So we got to plan D or whatever it was: have the boss of the funeral directors drive to Périgueux with the ashes. Which he did; when we turned up at the Pompes Funèbres Aquitaine, and were confronted with a morass of flower arrangements and tacky plaques, we heard the reassuring news that the ashes had been received. The rest was just tick-list stuff: arrange the ceremony, arrange the headstone, put a notice in the local paper, make sure that egregious crimes against taste don't happen - no artificial flowers, no red or yellow flowers (Margaret despised them), no plaques. For anyone who hasn't seen a French graveyard, graves tend to accumulate plaques, traditionally A6-sized marble jobs that say things like "to our beloved uncle" or "from the guys at work" (translated into bereavement parlance first); they accumulate like lice, you can't ever get rid of them, and they're bug-ugly. These days, you get plaques that come in translucent coloured plastic. I was so pleased that you could reasonably say "No plaques whatsoever". The funeral director guy volunteered that, while they sell the things, he wouldn't want one on his grave. Good for him.

We settled everything up, and then strolled over to the nearby very large graveyard, and spent a fun hour marveling at French graves, and how they show no inclination to document who's buried, or when they were born or died, and pondering how exactly you fit apparently 8 coffins in a grave that looks like it should only fit 4. And we wandered around, and we came back to the entrance, and we saw that it had a padlock on it.

Thinking "maybe only this gate is locked", we did a much speedier second tour of the graveyard, only to find that either a) there was a gate, but it was also locked, or b) it was easy to get onto the wall, but that was because the drop on the other side was something like 5m, and onto an uncertain surface. Finally we got back to the main gate, and some random French guy accosted us, asking (roughly) "What are you doing in the cemetery at this time of night?" The law of staircase wit means that I should have told him (but didn't) "You locked us in, you bastard!"; instead I mumbled something about how we didn't expect the place to be locked, we fled to our car, drove home, the funeral directors phoned to tell us when the funeral would be, and I phoned the world.

Yesterday was All Saints' Day (the day when the French put chrysanthemums on graves, as opposed to the hypothetical day when all radio stations play songs by the Spice Girls' rivals), so nothing was happening officially. We wandered over to the Old Lady's and spoke to Barry and Yvonne, who are (and hopefully will carry on being) regular tenants. We got a list of things wrong with the place, which I'll hand over to our builders and say "Fix this!", and then we wandered back; it being a fantastically good sunny day, we had a very pleasant lunch on the terrasse, interrupted only briefly by cats, ours (Vali) or otherwise (Doudoune, our neighbour Marie-Françoise's cat).

It's becoming increasingly apparent: this is our home. I've been making a few changes - moving a chair so it's easier to go from the piano room to the kitchen; moving the glasses in the cupboard so they're arranged in a way that makes more sense to me. And that's easy because I'm home, and this is a house I expect to come home to for years on end.

There's a photo of Margaret in the kitchen, and everything is right with the world. We'll have a Catholic service next Tuesday at 2.30pm, but it should hopefully be only minimalistically religious (I'll ask the priest to dial down the Catholicism as much as he can), and in any case we've had the important service, the one in Edinburgh; this is for the French, not for us.

More rushing around today: the piano tuner's come this morning, we're going over to the cemetery to speak to the headstone guy, and finally this evening I get to speak to lawyers and find out exactly how much months it's going to take to get this sorted. Joy.