|Richard Anthony Marshall Turner
||[Dec. 15th, 2014|11:28 am]
On Friday we drove to Derbyshire for the funeral of our old friend Richard.
The forecast was for snow, and we were heading for the uplands, so we were a little apprehensive, but the journey went very smoothly. It was a good funeral, as funerals go. The church in Tideswell - "the Cathedral of the Peak" - was Richard's church: he rang its bells and played its organ, and if he sometimes disagreed with its teachings he was nonetheless a member of its congregation, and the people there knew him. This always helps.
Richard and I were students together in the French department at Durham, and the earliest memory I can dredge up is of being impressed by that long string of initials - I'd never met anyone with three given names before! I don't remember being in classes together, though it must have happened, if only in lectures. I was not in the seminar group in which his paper on Romantic drama consisted of the performance by the entire group of scenes from Victor Hugo's 'Hernani' - but it was famous throughout the department. Nor was I there when he presented to his tutor the essay on Les Liaisons Dangereuses (that tutor's specialism) in which, having left his copy of the text behind in York, Richard had translated all the quotations into French from the Penguin translation. (Was this the visit to York undertaken to order an Easter egg decorated with sugar fish and chips as a thankyou gift to the staff of the local chippy?)
Richard's lateness was the stuff of legend. In his tribute at the funeral, his brother-in-law referred to his - his "tenuous grasp of time", I think it was. But it was more than that, a defiance of time: we have long been accustomed to refer to him as 'the late Mr Turner'. He once arrived at our house on Monday evening, asking if we had been expecting him to dinner on Friday (I replied that 'expecting' was putting it too strongly, but that he had certainly been invited). On one occasion we called for him to go to a concert, and realising that he was actually ready to set off at the appointed time, he declared that he must have a bath. Then there was the trip to somewhere in the Borders (Hermitage Castle, possibly?) when we made so many diversions en route that our actual destination was closed by the time we arrived.
We made this excursion in Richard's car; and car ownership was unusual it itself among the students at that time. Richard's was a stately old Rover 100, and it took me places I could not have gone without it. There was the Category D village of Waskerley, now reduced to a church, a few farms (one of which had converted the chapel into a barn), the stationmaster's house, standing empty and coveted by Richard (later derelict and now removed) and the Moorcock Inn, where he became a regular. An evening at the Moorcock was not to be undertaken lightly, because in those days of 10.30 closing, it was remote enough not to fear unexpected visits from the police, so it stayed open until the landlord wanted to go to bed.
It was Richard, too, who inaugurated the custom of visiting Holy Island to watch the midsummer sunrise. I first accompanied him at the end of our second year (June 1971) with D. and a number of others. It rapidly became an annual ritual: people would gather at our house for a last minute coffee before driving north as close to the time of sunrise as the tide would allow. In those days we would park by the castle and walk out beyond the castle to the edge of the island. Eventually either the sun would appear or we would decide that it wasn't going to emerge from the clouds, and then we'd either walk along the coast or return to the village. Richard was always one of the last to move off - my enduring image is of him gazing out to sea ("Where's Richard?" "Oh, he's communing with the sea"). In the early years we would go to Eyemouth for breakfast: there was a cafe above the grocer's shop which served a full Scottish breakfast, complete with porridge. After which we might go on to St Abb's Head - or more recently to D.'s sister near Alnwick, where Richard would arrive laden with cream cakes or with carrier bags bulging with reidiculous quantities of strawberries ("I always associate Richard with strawberries," says valydiarosada). Or Richard might have a pressing engagement to ring bells elsewhere - usually somewhere not very nearby, Hawick, say, or Tideswell. Even now, forty years on, feeling that we are too old to drive to Lindisfarne and back on no sleep, it will seem very strange in 2015 not to have Richard arriving with carrier bags full of breakfast supplies, declining a bed and sleeping the remains of the night in an armchair...
During our undergraduate year in France, Richard was sent to Rennes, in Britanny. I visited him there one weekend: he collected me from the train, quite late in the evening, and took me off to the café for a glass of muscadet - 'because that's what you drink here'. I've drunk a good deal more of it since. My other memories of that weekend are of Richard on the shore gazing out at Chateaubriand's tomb (so we must have gone to Saint Malo, which I had completely forgotten), and of walking around Rennes tracing the routes of the trams, now vanished. He took seriously his obligations as resident Englishman, organising his pupils to play cricket (I have no recollection of him ever playing any sport himself) and in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
His father was the Rector of Eyam, and the Rectory was the setting for some memorable parties: Richard had an old wind-up gramophone and a collection of 78s (he had a fondness for dancing the veleta), and he made a lethal punch. I knew nothing about the story of Eyam, the 'plague village' until I met Richard. When the BBC produced a play on the subject, Richard was quoted in the Radio Times feature: the tourism potential was limited, he thought, as people wouldn't want to buy souvenir plague mugs (nowadays they would, of course, but that's not the point).
This adds up to a rather old-fashioned, rather conservative persona, I don't think it was false, but I do think that Richard embraced it and played up to it knowingly. He was always capable of surprising you. When I think of him as an undergraduate, with his tweedy jacket and his classical tastes, so much happier with the literature component of the course than the language, I would not have predicted that he would find his niche teaching in Peterlee, and then with special needs classes at Houghall. Yet he did it brilliantly, taking groups of pupils to France and encouraging them to place their orders individually at the café (and enlisting the café staff so that they were delighted to be part of this enterprise).
It says something about Richard, I think, that once met he was never forgotten. When I've spoken of his death to friends who scarcely knew him, who had met him once or twice, they react immediately with an awareness of who I am talking about. This is not just you, helenraven. My father never forgot the evening we spent with Richard and some other friends who were teacher training together: what was the remark which provoked Richard to an outburst of "Oh, Piaget, Piaget, Piaget!"? We are all going to miss him.
We had arrived in damp grey weather, and cutting cold, but during the service the sun came and went beyond the windows. The final piece of music was completely unknown to me, by Louis Vierne, possibly this one, but I'm going to have to update my Flash player before it'll let me watch, and it reminded me so strongly of Richard that I was smiling as I emerged from the church into brilliant sunshine and a fine blanket of snow covering the churchyard.
One final ceremony, the committal in Eyam Churchyard, where Richard's grave is next to that of his parents. We stood between the church and the hills that rise immediately beyond, as the handbell ringers played one last piece, chiming so sweetly that it took a moment to realise they were not playing a tune but ringing changes, and as the cold seeped in and the flurries of snow began to fall, I thought that this was one last authentic Richard moment.
ETA: David's obituary of Richard in the online Guardian.