Editor: Robin Fairbairns
My father lived from 3 January 1921 to 17 February 1996. His death certificate says he died of `metastatic carcinoma of the colon', but he and all his family and friends knew that he was suffering from a large array of different cancers - the one that killed him is really irrelevant.
The family planned a (largely non-religious) service for his cremation at Charing, Kent, on 24 February 1996, and I asked those who spoke at the service to supply me with their notes for the present document.
The ostensible reason for my work is to preserve the words spoken so that a complete set may be sent to those who were unable to be present (notably Peter's sister Betty, who last saw him over Christmas 1995 when she was visiting from Zimbabwe, and his brother John, who was too ill himself, at the time, to travel to Kent).
Those who spoke were:
Peter's great love was music. We have put together a service that combines some of his favourite pieces of music with the words of many of his old friends.
Beginning the service:We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
1 Timothy 6.7; Job 1.21
Prayer of St. FrancisLord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred ...me sow love.
Where there is injury ....
Where there is doubt ....
Where there is despair ....
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness ....
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled ...to console,
To be understood ...to understand,
To be loved ...to love,
It is in giving ...we receive,
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned,
It is in dying ...we are born to eternal life.
Those of you who are not immediate family may not know that Peter's brother, John, has been very ill recently. I am pleased to say that he is much much better, but he is not well enough to be here today.
John therefore asked me whether I could read out his tribute to his brother Peter, and I am honoured to do so.
They were very close and those of us who have shared their company when both were in full flight will know what a great double act they were. Much leg-pulling, ribaldry, constant banter. Woe betide anyone who erred towards the mundane...`Boring'' they would bark before continuing with their next performance.
I should say that my heart sank when I was asked to do this, because if illegible writing is a sign of intelligence, the John is a genius. I need not have worried. He dictated this to his beloved Sylvia who I am delighted to say has brilliant handwriting, and is here today to make sure I do justice to his script.
So here, virtually unedited, are the words of the surviving half of a unique brotherly team.
Poor, plain, picknose Pete, PPPP. Definitely my best friend. Also known as the Owl. I was the Worm, my oldest brother was the Drain Pipe, my sister the Hussy Slug. Normally just the slug, but whenever she wanted any of us to do something for her she would turn on the charm and ``behave like a hussy'' we giggled. (George's aside... That's my mother he's talking about!)
For a best friend he could also be the most infuriating person I have ever met. But I understood his behaviour. You see, Peter was a genius. He was a time bomb of genius just waiting to explode, but because it never did he could become very frustrated, and as a result very infuriating. I have no doubt that there were times when I infuriated him too - but we were never angry with each other for long.
I shall always remember his active compassion and surprising ability to get on and do things rather than just talk about them. This was best demonstrated when he and Christine took up looking after Grandy after he had retired. (George's aside... Grandy was Peter and John's mother.) He never once suggested that I should alternate weekends, which he knew would be difficult for me, what with my sailing in the summer and rugby in the winter! I only once filled in, over an Easter weekend, and quickly realised how much he and Christine had been doing.
Peter's favourite line was ``I'm such a failure''. I always said to him that he had put in so much effort at being a failure that it was the one thing at which he had become a total success. But this ``failure'' still finished up, through the absolute minimum effort, with an excellent pension, a house which had been fully paid for and a chance to actively pursue his interests. Many would be grateful to enjoy such failure.
Whether we were canoeing the Thames from Oxford to Teddington, doing the Cuckmere, sailing at Keyhaven or going to Twickenham, he was a great companion. Mind you, he did have a knack of bringing occasions down to earth.
At Twickenham he was always saying ``That's it, I shall never come
again''. At Keyhaven, ``I only come down here because John is so
short of crew, and I am scared witless the whole time''. I was too,
but he felt he needed to express himself in an endeavour to support
his failure syndrome. Mind you, he was the only crew who ever had the
nerve to say on a very rough day ``You can do as you like, but I am
emphexpletive deleted ...with you''.
So Peter. Deep, kind, compassionate, infuriating, a genius, much loved by everyone. Fun to be with. With his love and knowledge of music, theatre and art which he shared so strongly with Christine.
I have lost more than a friend; he was a whole chunk of my life that sadly is lost forever. Still, at least one thing is settled. My grandson said he and I were the funniest people in the world - but Peter was slightly funnier.
I have known Peter Fairbairns for well over 60 years, for we were at school together from the age of 10 years. He was the third of four children of a lively family, who took a full part in the life of the community.
I remember him as a fairly mischievous schoolboy, but he was also a good scholar, and won a scholarship to the senior school, to which we both transferred at the age of 13. As was the custom with the brighter pupils, he elected to study the classics to School Certificate, but then transferred to the Modern side where we were in the same class, and I got to know him well.
When he was about 16 his father died quite suddenly, and it seemed to us a disaster that he had to leave school to support the family budget instead of going on to University, but he told me later that he really had no regrets, and in fact enjoyed the independence of going out to work. He was always keen on sport, particularly cricket and rugby, and maintained these interests until the end of his life.
Peter entered the life assurance business as a young clerk, where he spent the rest of his working life. I remember visiting in the brief period before the war when he was working in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and finding him reasonably happy with his lot. Come the war, we were both called into the army, he into the tanks, when he was posted to India and saw service in Burma where I understand he had some difficult moments, although he spoke very little about these.
When he returned in 1945 he was lucky enough to have found and married Christine, and it is good that they were able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary at the end of last year. Christine seemed to me to be an ideal companion for Peter, and they rapidly established a stable home, first in London and then in Langton and Bristol, before moving back to London and finally to Tenterden.
Robin was born in 1947, followed by Jill and Sarah, and they always impressed me as a singularly united and happy family.
Peter was a man with an original frame of mind, not the least conventional, and with a quixotic, disconcerting sense of humour. I remember this from his earliest days, and one of his charms was that he never seemed to change. Some men become pompous as they grow older, and give themselves airs, but this could never be said of Peter. To me he remained the same delightful person throughout his life, and although always full of good humour, and master of a telling phrase, he was always amusing, at times hilarious but never in the least malicious.
Peter had always taken a great interest in music and even as a teenager had a good collection of classical records. After his retirement he was able to indulge this passion more fully and took part in local choral activities as well as attending Summer Schools at Dartington. He liked to take his guests to Choral Evensong at Canterbury, and I recall a memorable visit with members of his family to the new Opera House at Glyndebourne - only some 18 months ago.
Peter, then, was a man of many parts - a splendid family man with an ideal marriage and a wide range of interests. His strength of character is exemplified by the fact that although he had been told two years ago that he had a terminal illness with a brief expectation of life, he did not allow this to interfere with his activities, and suffered a series of operations and often unpleasant medical treatment with his usual good humour and without complaint.
Peter has a strong place in the hearts of his friends and will be missed by us all.
I first met Peter Fairbairns in 1964, I was a youngish Chartered Accountant trying to make my way in Bristol and he was a youngish insurance manager who had just assumed his first command. I was then a partner in a firm which had done much business with the Friends' Provident over the years and Peter had called to make contact. I do not know what we talked about at that first meeting but, after he had left, I thought ``Funny sort of Insurance man'' and, I have no doubt, as he left the building, Peter would have thought ``Funny sort of Chartered Accountant''.
Not long after that we met socially when we, and our wives, were guests at a garden part at Goldney House. We should have circulated among the guests meeting as many people as possible who might be useful to us in our respective careers, but we did not; we talked only amongst ourselves
We talked of many things
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
And cabbages and kings.
We talked of the Labour Party
And we talked of CND
On some of which, to our surprise,
We found we did agree.
We discovered we had offspring compatible in age and gender and wives who both loved nature and next to nature, art.
From that moment on, our two families spent much time together either at Westbury Lane or Knoll Hill. It was at this time that Peter invented the ``Read in''. Having talked ourselves to a standstill, we would all sit in silence having taken a book from our well-stocked shelves which we read saying nothing unless and until one of us found a passage which we thought worth reading out aloud to the others.
I will always associate Peter with such places as Kingswear, Dartmouth, Postbridge and Dartington Hall, and with breakfast picnics in Leigh Woods and Ashton Park and the walk along the disused railway line which turned out to be not quite so disused as we had expected.
Peter had a great talent for saying the most outrageous things with a disarming smile and, thus, giving no offence; his attitude to many things was irreverent but never uncharitable.
Although he espoused a number of ``progressive'' causes, he was a true conservative in that he wished to conserve the best of the older ways ...at the South Bank, opera at Glyndebourne, the unsplit infinitive and the Latin irregular verb.
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed,
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
Robin Langdon-Davies has talked of what a strange sort of insurance manager Peter seemed to him. If that had been said to Peter at the time, one imagines that he might have said ``you think I'm odd - you should see my pensions man: he's always in the betting shop''. We made a strange pair.
If Peter is watching these proceedings, he will nod as the various speakers express their affection and esteem, but as it comes to my turn, he will be alarmed and distressed, afraid that I would misquote the Bible and Shakespeare, and generally ramble on uncoordinatedly without much regard for the rules of grammar or style.
He was truly incomparable; to quote the Bard (as he would expect of me) ``We shall not see his like again''.
I worked with Peter in the Friends Provident. The name of Peter Fairbairns within the Friends usually brought a smile, because he was funny rather than comical - he didn't conform for the sake of it and was not keen on pomposity, though even his debunking was kindly.
I first became aware of him in the late '50s, when he was a City Inspector; like all Inspectors he used to ring up from time to time to tell us how to underwrite risks - in the same way that people will always give you an idea of how to drive.
Peter really started to make an impression on me when he and Philip Lee worked together in Bristol, and they used to vie with each other in their classical quotations when writing to Head Office in Dorking. The memos, which sometimes ran to two pages, had quotations from Shakespeare and the classics, often with the main purpose simply to ask whether a report had arrived from a GP. Eventually our Actuary, Geoffrey Stout (who was a gentle soul), wrote to them both to suggest that they moderate their style - otherwise the younger members of staff might not take them seriously!
Then Peter came to Dorking, and we worked together on particular projects. The one I remember particularly was when we had to go to a business meeting in Bristol, and we stayed at an hotel in Alveston (Sarah may well remember the really pleasant dinner we had together that evening). I was in my running mid-life crisis, and was jogging around the cricket field the next morning, when Peter came from the hotel and began abusing me. Apparently Dr. W. G. Grace had done something incredibly significant on that cricket field, and Peter was accusing me of defiling the sacred turf!
My wife's memories are of dictations which Peter used to start off with a snatch of classical music, then give the address for the letter - for example he would say ``will you write a letter to 15 Station Road, Lewes - by the way if you ever go to Lewes there is a very lovely coffee shop just under the prison wall where you can get scones and home made strawberry jam, etc. Oh well, to work''. This was really quite amusing, but became more so when it became possible to put it right with word processors whereas previously she had already waded into the first sentence. When Peter retired, she inherited the very much thumbed dictionary which he had used at work, and which she still treasures to this day.
He had quite a capacity to shock. One morning when there were two new typists in the office, who had only been there some 15 minutes, suddenly a shout came from his office - ``Come in here you silly old moo'' - and my wife got up and walked in to see him. The new members of staff looked very horrified and wondered what on earth they had let themselves in for.
One was always aware of Peter because he was such a noisy beggar. I'm afraid there won't be another one.
Was I ever a satisfactory son for Dad? I was never any good at cricket (I've always assumed it was something about my eyes), and despite his best training efforts hardly ever caught the balls he threw. He did, however, successfully teach me to enjoy watching cricket and rugby, and over the years we've seen many rugby matches together (though rather fewer cricket matches, and no test matches).
Did he envy any of my achievements? ... I think not, but I envied him his facility with languages. I've found myself in places where the language is one I was supposed to have learnt at school, but when I've tried speaking to the natives they've merely stared blankly at me (or ignored me completely). That would never have happened to Dad.
I want to read from one of Dylan Thomas's poems about his father. Dylan Thomas did have a gift (a poetic one) that his father envied. Dad would have envied it, too; he claimed that the only poem he ever wrote remained incomplete. It went:
The Sussex Downs near Seaford,
Towards the end, Mum called me one night and said ``I've been looking for a Dylan Thomas book. I'm sure this poem puts a finger on why he's so tetchy just now.'' I knew as soon as she'd mentioned the poet what she was going to say; it was the first time I cried out loud for Dad's impending end. I croaked out over the 'phone:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Strangely enough, when Peter was a boy at Dulwich College, my brother Jack was his form-master, and Peter used to speak of him with affection.
I enjoyed Peter's friendship in our group of Amnesty International, of which he and Christine were keen members. We shall very much miss him.
Later we were together in the Choral Society. The Chairman, Edgar Phillips who cannot be here, asked me to offer on behalf of the society, our deep sympathy.
I felt that Peter and I understood each other, and I greatly admired his courage during a long and painful illness.
Friends have spoken today of his many gifts. In the new life on which he has entered, all those gifts will be valued, including his sense of humour. There must be laughter in Heaven.
May I read a passage from Scott Holland:
Death is nothing at all ...have only slipped away into the next room ...am I, and you are you ...we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone; wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was; there is absolutely unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you for an interval somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well.
O merciful God, remembering this your son and our brother, we commit his body, no longer needed, to its end; in sure and certain hope that his soul is with you in the world of light.
Comfort those who love him and help us all to live worthy of this hope.
I have edited what I was sent as little as practicable, hoping to convey the effect of what was in the event a wonderfully happy occasion. Philip Lee, and Sarah and I, all spoke ex tempore, without notes (though Sarah and I included short readings). The reconstructions of both Philip's and (of course) my words are due to me (Philip noted down a set of themes he had covered, and I remembered one other). Peter Smith spoke with the aid of a set of notes; he `regenerated' his talk, dictating to his wife Linda.
Robin Langdon-Davies' quotation was of ``Heraclitus'', by W.J. Cory (1823-1892); it is, he tells me, a translation of a poem by the Alexandrine Greek, Callimachus (BC300?-240). Mine (as I said) was from ``Do not go gentle'' by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). Wilfrid Westrup's was from the works of Canon Henry Scott Holland (1874-1918).
Michael, who introduced the service, and Wilfrid, who performed the committal, both said brief prayers for Peter; I have reproduced these, too.
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