Monday, 7 March 2011

Susan Crosland's Funeral - 4 March 2010

Susan's very elegant Basket Coffin

Susan's grand-daughter Sacha
Lord Lipsey giving his speech on Political Wives not being what they once were

Lady Jane Rayne

Susan's daughter, Sheila

Michael Barnes, retired-MP for Brentford and Chiswick

Robert Posner

Lord Lipsey

Ellen Craig and others

The Wimpole Room, Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street

Robert Lacey of "Majesty" with Therese Lawson drawing on her smokeless cigarette

Robert Lacey, Lady Jane Rayne and Therese Lawson

Ellen Craig (left), Diana Melly (right)

Perhaps this is the funeral Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour Party, should have attended, if he cared anything for the ideological traditions of his party, for  Susan was the widow of the late Tony Crosland, the Labour Cabinet Minister who wrote The Future of Socialism.  It was he who famously declared that he would "destroy every single fucking grammar school in England".  Perhaps Ed was too busy struggling to recreate Labour ideology to come.  I did hear that he in fact rang to give his condolences and that he would "send something".  (I do not know if he did or if he did what it was.)

I remember Ed made a speech on the subject in Grimsby in 2006 peppered with references to the "good society" without bothering to define it.  It was then that I noticed what a beautiful young man he was with his long well-formed limbs.  His speech however was stupendously dull and went over the heads of those long-suffering Fabians who attended.  One of them confessed to me in the ladies that she didn't really know why she turned up any  more.

Friday was cold, blue and bright.  I walked up the elegant and undulating path of West London Cemetery (formerly known as Kensal Green Cemetery), immortalised in the lines of G. K. Chesterton's poem The Rolling English Road from his book The Flying Inn:

"For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen;

Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green."

I saw Robert Posner and Verushka Wyatt.  Verushka appeared to recognise me.  We shook hands solemnly and I mentioned how I first met her and her late husband at a Literary Review party in happier times. Woodrow Wyatt (who was also another Voice of Reason) has been dead for 14 years, she told me, and she is no longer in that big house.  It is odd to even think of describing such a distinguished old lady as "fresh-faced", but that was how she seemed, though a little fragile-looking now.  She has the look of woman once known for her beauty (which at the time of our last meeting I had not noticed particularly) and I remembered her for her liveliness and humour, and the way she teased Woodrow at the party.

The old reprobate and charmer Robert Posner (who had been Business Manager of the Literary Review) looked just as he did 10 years ago at Auberon Waugh's funeral, smelling of cigarettes.   We sat together at the service.

The last basket coffin funeral I attended made me take against them rather, but I was charmed by the femininity and elegance of Susan's.  The service was held in West Chapel. and conducted very well by a British Humanist Celebrant.  It may have been Trevor Moore

One of the more distinctly humanist things we were asked to do was to think of Susan while Pachelbel's Canon was being played.  (It wasn't this version though.)

Lady Jane Rayne (whom Susan always mentioned with affection and gratitude) told us of the occasion when they were in a restaurant about to leave.  The waiters overheard Susan expressing regret that she would take an age to make her way to the exit of the restaurant on her crutches.  Without further ado, two waiters came and lifted Susan's chair (with her on it) to the exit, just as if they were her litter-bearers.  (I did not catch the name of this restaurant.)

Lord Lipsey made a most interesting political speech on the subject of political wives.  Susan was not a socialist, he declared.  Her interests were rather wider than socialism and her ability to attract many more friends outside socialism than within was testament to that.  Nevertheless, she was a good political wife and helped her husband win Grimsby, which was rather ironic considering her extremely privileged background of being a Vassar girl and a member of the New England gentry.   He did not mention the egregious Sally Bercow who is proving to be the ruin of her husband's career.  In politics, one disastrous personal decision - such as marrying a woman just because you fancy her, without concerning yourself too much about her character or her morals - can be the ruin of one's hopes and future.  It would not be so bad if John Bercow was a talentless bore, but he is one of the few members of Parliament still capable of the well-turned phrase, so it is sad indeed to have a promising political career destroyed by the fancies of a man's lust.

It made me wonder whether if I were to marry Peter Mandelson as I so dearly wish to do, how well I would be able to carry out that role.   However, since Peter has always been a pragmatist and is pretty much an ideology-free zone, I think I could do OK, as long as we agree to disagree about my views and my political connections, which are probably wider and deeper than his, now that my tentacles reach all stratas of British society.

I did once ask Susan if she had met Peter and she said she had, remarking that she found him to be "very pleased with himself."

The service ended when we were told to applaud Susan while the curtain above her coffin slowly came down.

Fortunately for everyone else, I successfully resisted the temptation to shout "encore!"

The reception was held at The Wimpole Room of The Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, W1. and was booked in the name of the Rayne Foundation.

Michael Barnes the retired MP of Brentford and Chiswick very generously gave me a lift there.   His wife who also attended the funeral did not come because she had to walk the dog.

Robert Lacey of Majesty and was there, discussing the King's Speech with Therese Lawson, who was sucking on one of those smokeless cigarettes.  (This was the first time I had seen one of those things.)  Therese informed us that her mother was complaining, rather like Peter Hitchens, that the whole story had been sexed up for the vulgar crowd, which made her very cross. Robert Lacey however declared the film to be historically accurate.  Therese recommended a restaurant in Winchester, but I forget its name now.

It was only afterwards that I realised that Rosemary Lamont who introduced herself to me was the heroine of this story at  I feel very privileged indeed to have met her, and we briefly discussed the subject of political wives and how one keeps in touch with everyone else anyway just because one plays bridge. I trust she had a very enjoyable dinner with her ex-husband Lord Lamont that evening.

The red wine was very good and the hot canapes delicious.  They were Susan's favourite, apparently.  


Anonymous said...

You sad sad woman, taking photos at a funeral for a blog.


Claire Khaw said...

This was with the permission and approval of the bereaved.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth did you go? You clearly are a narcissist and very very weird.

Claire Khaw said...

What an odd question to ask. Do you not go to the funerals of your friends?

Anonymous said...

She wasn't your friend.

Claire Khaw said...

How do you know?