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Monday 20 March 2017

The Funeral – The End!

My Dearest Father, always with me, rest in peace

After a night of no sleep whatsoever, I headed over to pick my sister Lucy up and we drove to Mother's house in Holme. Vivien and her partner Ray had arrived minutes before us. It was very tense in the Clarke household, the nerves were awful. It was surreal – the final day. This was it.

I was so proud of my mother and sister's – they all looked beautiful, it was so nice to see us all dressed up – rare indeed! Ray didn't look too bad either! The usual panic to get out of the door – checking on the cat, loo visits, handbags, tissues, locking up, keys etc. Out of the door and then quiet composure enveloped us, as the hearse arrived at just before 10am.

Father's hat was already placed on the coffin as we had requested and we added my decoration I made last night, with the approval of my mother, Lucy and Vivien.
Father's hat (top picture) along with my decoration of marram and grasses from Holme beach and tied with green ribbon, were placed on the coffin. Father requested no flowers at his funeral, but the hat would have looked rather lonely by itself. I think I got away with the 'no flowers' request – Vivien thought it was because he didn't like wasting money – well, if you're listening father – it only cost me time and the price of a ribbon!

I was struggling not to cry, as I didn't want to get myself in a state before I read my poem. I had decided to do one of the most challenging and brave things that I have ever done – my mother wanted a poem read out. I'm one of the most emotional, sentimentalists and cry about so many things! Plus I hate having to speak in front of a lot of people – even the thought of it makes my stomach churn – I can chat away like there is no tomorrow to a handful of people, but I clam up completely when it comes to presentations and large crowds. As the day's went by over the last couple of weeks, I decided that I needed to take control of my emotions and attempt to read this poem out at the funeral, for both my mother and father. I was petrified about doing this and recited that poem so many times, so that it hopefully sounded right on the day.

We left in convoy for the crematorium at 10.05am. I drove my mother and sisters in my car and Ray followed behind. Poor Lucy got upset straight away. I thought that driving behind the hearse would be difficult and take forever to go to the crematorium, but I don't seem to have that much recollection of it now, so it must have been quick. There was no sunshine to keep our spirits up, it was a dull day with menacing rain clouds and it had started to rain.

We arrived with five minutes to spare. John Lincoln stepped out of the hearse and walked in front of the hearse to lead us to the entrance to the chapel. Ray had gone in ahead, leaving us to walk behind the coffin. We could hear the music. Vivien walked behind the coffin with mother and Lucy and I behind. I squeezed Lucy's hand and tried to look after her as we walked into the chapel – my stomach was churning and I felt like I couldn't breathe properly.

Double Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins and Orchestra – 2nd Movement 
J. S. Bach

As we walked in, I was aware there was a large number of people, but I couldn't look, I had a poem to read, I couldn't allow myself to cry until afterwards. As the coffin was lowered and placed, we walked to stand in place in the front pew. We must have missed most of the music, which was seven minutes long, for as soon as we were all asked to sit down by John Lincoln, the music finished. John then announced the reading of the Eulogy and Robin Jolliffe walked up to the lectern to read this out for us.

Robin, who had so kindly said he "would be honoured to read this out" for us, did a fantastic job, a gentleman, an excellent speaker and a lovely man, whom our family has known for many, many years and who was once on the NOA committee – thank you so much.

It took my mother and I so long to write this eulogy, with extracts taken from father's unpublished autobiography. We spent a good while trying to get things in order and it was very hard to condense it. We could have written so much more and added so many more names of friends over the years – a quick mention of just a few from way back in the 'good old days' when I was a lass: Chris Knights, Peter and wife Ruby Jackson and girls Debbie and Ruth from Hertfordshire, Geoff Want from Norwich, John and Mary Dixon, Beryl and Jim Jolly from Snettisham, Malcolm and Eileen White from Heacham, John Sheldrake, Fred and Pat Britton, Ron Clark and Ken Davies, Ron and Mary Longstaff, Kevin Shepherd, Jack Reynolds, Peter Allard, Paul Kirby (who kindly rang my mother last night), Barry Spence and Bill Rollins to name but a few. We didn't want to end the eulogy on a sad note – mother decided that the only appropriate end, would be to say that the Holme Bird Observatory and NOA would "inevitably.... evolve" which of course it will!

 Kindly and beautifully read out by Robin Jolliffe
Written by Margaret Clarke with assistance and editing from Penny
Extracts taken from father's unpublished autobiography

"Peter Clarke was born in Rochester, Kent in 1926, but from an early age he had strong connections with his paternal grandmother in Feltwell and his maternal grandmother in North Walsham in Norfolk. At the outbreak of the 2nd World War, he moved with his parents to Walcott and then in 1946 to Sheringham where they remained for 16 years.

A brief unsettled period, due to his father’s ill health led them from Walcott to Shipley in Yorkshire, which he hated at first, but then learned to love the Yorkshire Dales. His photographic skills were continually to the fore and a rare picture of a Great Crested Grebe’s nest at the watery edge of Malham Tarn, appeared in a national magazine! His mother took him to Variety Theatres in Leeds and Bradford and also to Pontefract races where they enjoyed “a flutter on the horses”. A fridge freezer at Peter’s home in Holme is testament to his early love of racing, as it was purchased with a 50p accumulator win!

The Yorkshire odyssey came to an abrupt end after two to three years, when his father found a small house cum fishing tackle shop in Sheringham. Their subsequent poor income was supplemented by Peter lugworm digging for many years, which entailed cycling daily, through summer and winter alike. Peter disliked Sheringham, but was able to reach “all the good birding spots” by cycle. Peter joined the Cromer Camera Club, which was on the verge of closure with only a handful of members. He was persuaded to take control and the club soon flourished.

On 23rd July 1949, a local wildlife journalist called “Sea-Pie” invited Peter to his home in Cley for tea, where he introduced him to a mystery guest, the Cockney born bird artist, Richard Richardson and from that moment on his fate was sealed! Richard gave him a crash course in bird ringing and recommended him to the BTO’s Elsie Leach. Not such a simple process nowadays! On Christmas day of that year Richard joined him for dinner at their new home in Sheringham. He also met for the first time one of his oldest and most loyal friends Peter Jackson, who had helped to construct Cley’s first Heligoland trap. His other contemporaries included NWT Warden Billy Bishop and fellow photographer, teacher and naturalist Dick Bagnall-Oakley.

Peter spent “every minute of his time at Cley and further along the coast”. Some amazing statistics from the archives, included the fact that from 1950 to 1958, Peter ringed 91 fledgling Nightingales, 88 young Red-backed Shrikes and 108 juvenile Yellow Wagtails – all in the Cley and Salthouse area! Unbelievable in today’s depleted environment and a cause for very sad reflection.

In 1962 and with no more than a £200 overdraft from Barclays Bank, he set up Holme Bird Observatory with the initial help of his parents and business partner Graham Byford. The observatory’s HQ was “The Firs” house. Peter met Margaret in 1962 on the East Bank at Cley. Margaret had moved from her home near the Hardley Flood area of South Norfolk, to work in the area – they married in 1964. Their first season in 1962 could not have been more challenging: the most severe winter of the century. Huge icebergs littered the shore at Holme for weeks on end and then later in 1965, the sale of “The Firs” seemed to be the last straw. Graham saw only failure, but Peter enlisted the support of surrounding landowners, who genuinely empathized with his predicament and enabled him to gain almost half the area’s land, to set up an observatory in an old half buried air-raid shelter, east of “The Firs”. Peter, Margaret and Penny who was born in January ‘65, lived in a caravan for a while, until they were able to find more suitable housing. Various, but well meaning friends told him to “give up” and that his “head was in the clouds”, but he ploughed on regardless. His father died of lung cancer during this critical period and his mother moved to the more civilized climes of Hunstanton. Peter and Margaret’s daughter’s, Lucy and Vivien were born in 1968 and 1969.

As membership increased, the NOA was established as a registered charity in 1970 to act as the parent body to the observatory and to further the study of ornithology in Norfolk. Peter and his committee oversaw the purchase of other reserves, including Walsey Hills, and Redwell Marsh.

Peter published books including “Bird Watching – Nesting Birds Along the Coast” in 1963, “Bird Watching” in 1965 and then later on “Where to Watch Birds in East Anglia” with his wife Margaret in 1987. He wrote “Nature Notes” illustrated with his own photos monthly, for the Lynn News between 1979 and 2012.

Peter was also responsible for setting up part-time wardening of the marshes at Snettisham and Titchwell, which led to firm and permanent establishment of reserves by the RSPB.

Peter retired from his post in January 1994 after 33 years service as Warden at Holme Bird Observatory. His passion for wildlife continued with photography and insect studies in his garden at Holme. Peter also assisted with moth identification at the moth events at Titchwell RSPB for a few years, until a series of strokes and sight loss led to other severe health issues and ultimately his death at aged 90 on the 23rd of February.

After various political upheavals, it is now in the more than capable hands of Warden Sophie Barker, who has known the area since childhood visits with her family. One could say that the “ship has been steadied” once more, and inevitably the picture will continue to evolve."

The Eulogy was followed by a piece that I choose (kindly suggested from a selection from John Furse, thank you) – "The Lark Ascending", which is the most beautiful and uplifting music and brought me to tears before I read my poem! I realised that I had about a couple of minutes left to compose myself and I had to fight with every bit of mental strength I had, to regain calmness and control. How stupid was I, choosing this particular piece of music before reading my poem!

The Lark Ascending
(Romance for Violin and Orchestra)
Ralph Vaughan Williams
(13.34 minutes long, but we faded it out at 5.30 minutes)

I had informed the funeral directors that I would be reading the poem out, even though I had not written this on the order of service. I didn't write it on there, as I didn't want to commit myself in case I was a real wreck – after all, you don't know how you will be on the day do you! Maybe John Lincoln thought I wasn't able to – he had started to read the poem out as I stood up to walk to the lectern. He obviously stopped when I said that "I am reading the poem" – this situation didn't deter me. I paused, took a breath and started to read. I didn't look up, if I had looked at anyone I would have crumbled. I managed ok, but I paused just before the last two lines, I was close to losing it at this point. I regained control thank goodness and managed to finish the poem. I must have floated back to my seat, as I can't remember this moment at all! I recorded myself reading this in a more controlled manner – please listen to my YouTube video below.

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep
Written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye 
Read By Penny

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Piano Concerto in No. 5 in E flat major ‘Emperor’,
2nd Movement (Adagio un poco mosso)

Ludwig van Beethoven

Chosen by dear Lucy who remembered that father loved this music

Curtains closed around coffin part way through music

“I Did It My Way”
Frank Sinatra
Mother chose this to walk out to – quite apt, as father did do things "My Way"!

We met everyone outside to thank them for coming – lots of hugs, surprises, tears etc. My biggest surprise was seeing my lovely work colleague Hilary who as an Occupational Therapist, had treated my father in one of his hospital admissions – she said "I had to come, I knew how much your father mean't to you" – lots of tears with Hilary! At work she has me in stitches with laughter! I also met two distant relatives whom I don't recall ever meeting: Marion Cogger and Angela Collison who had both travelled a long way to be here with us, lovely to meet you and thank you for coming! Nigel and Biben from father's care home also kindly attended. I'm not going to name everyone that went – it will take too long, but thank you all so much for joining us today, it mean't alot to all of us xxx.

Several people turned up whom I hadn't expected and that I thank you for, from the bottom of my heart. There were a few people who would have been there, but couldn't through either being too poorly themselves or for other reasons. We reckon through the number of Order Of Service booklets left over, that there were approximately around sixty people there – not too bad at all really! Maybe there had been more than that, if anyone left their order of services behind, which I doubt to be honest, most people like to take them with them. Holme NWT Warden Gary Hibberd and his partner Alison were not able to attend as they had offered to take on the very kind task of doing all the catering for the wake!!! Some people had kindly taken time to attend the funeral, but were not able to come to the wake and vice versa.

One of the coffin bearers had returned father's hat and I placed it inside my car – maybe it should have gone down with him on hindsight. We left and headed for The Firs House NWT at Holme for the wake. If anyone thought the road was uneven, trust me it was as smooth as a baby's bottom compared to what it was a week ago – well done to the NWT team!

The Firs NWT Visitor Centre at Holme
Hosted By Gary Hibberd with partner Alison
With very kind assistance from Robert, Tom and Janine

The weather had deteriorated badly – the rain was heavier and a short while later, it was torrential! Father died in Storm Doris and was going out in a storm! We parked as close as we could to the Firs House, as we were all in silly and inappropriate girly shoes!

As we walked inside, most people had already arrived. I couldn't believe what Gary and Alison had created. Their attention to detail was beyond anything I could have possibly done myself and it brought a tear to my eye. I had printed out quite a number of large pictures of father yesterday and they had arranged these beautifully on the window sills and tables, surrounded by tulips and daffodils in vases. 
Getting ready for our arrival at The Firs, Holme NWT
© Gary Hibberd

Vintage tablecloths covered the tables with beautiful crockery and tiered cake plates. Such a beautiful display of food and far more than we had requested. There were selections of sandwiches, crisps, breadsticks, salad choices, dips, pork pies, sausage rolls, pineapple and cheese on sticks, scones with real cream and jam, biscuits: savoury and sweet, After Eights, Terry's Orange segments, Carrot Cake, Coffee Cake and I'm sure much more, but memory now fails. I didn't spot until much later that Gary and Alison had placed lots of Polos in little white bowls – they had remembered that they were a favourite of fathers, such a nice touch and this made me smile. Tea's, Coffee's and cold drinks were of course on offer too. Eddie was beaming when he realised his favourite Carrot Cake was on the table! So funny! Lucy made me laugh, she is a chocolate and cake connoisseur like me, but the first thing she picked up to eat was the sliced raw cauliflower, which she loves apparently – didn't know that!
 Getting ready for our arrival at The Firs, Holme NWT
© Gary Hibberd

Gary also showed father's film on repeat, that I got made into a DVD for him: "Struggle for Survival" – a silent film which was taken on cine film between 1962/63, converted to VHS and now recently onto DVD. It was perfect for the wake, as there was no sound and several people enjoyed watching this unique footage of the ice floes on the beach, birds and scenery around the Firs House. My idea about holding the wake here had paid off – it was the perfect setting and was hosted perfectly. So nice to chat and meet up with so many lovely people again, including neighbours from the village Jackie, Pauline and Clifford, whose children we went to school with. Nice to see ex warden Bill Boyd here too! Chris Knights, John Sheldrake, Vernon Eve, Richard Brooks, Sophie, Pat & Geoff, Robin Jolliffe and his wife, Moss Taylor and so on to name but a few. When the rain was at its most torrential, I heard Alison shout "all outside now" – made me chuckle, its ages since I spent time with Alison, she doesn't mince her words (like me), but she does make me laugh! So nice to chat to Marion, one of my two distant relatives today, although I didn't really get the chance to chat to Angela.

We were all waiting for the downpour to stop, so that we could walk the short distance to the bird observatory for people to view the display of photos that Vivien, Ray, Sophie and I had put up yesterday. The rain continued with no let up. Mother had got her 'I want to go and check on the cat' expression on her face. When I highlighted that the cat would be curled up asleep on the same chair we had left her on, it didn't make much difference! But, with kind encouragement from Gary and a loan of his coat and brolly, mother trudged in the puddles and rain along with the rest of us to the observatory to look at the photos and memorabilia.

We were like sardines in a tin can in the observatory – one of the reasons it would have been impossible to hold the wake in there! People enjoyed looking at all the photos I had printed out and there were lots of discussions about who was who, in the old group photos. It was fascinating looking through the old visitor signing books and other records that Sophie had kindly put on display. David Bratt had stepped in to man the observatory today, whilst Sophie had attended the funeral along with her mother Jenny. I never imagined that after the torrents of rain, that the sun would come out, but it did! Blazing out! We had such a lovely walk back to the Firs House in the sunshine.

Mother nearly departed with Gary's coat, I had to remind her she still had his coat on! Mother, Lucy, Vivien and Ray went back home to Holme and I stayed a short while longer to thank everyone and then was offered food to take back – how could I refuse!!! Coffee and Carrot Cake and more! Lovely!

Huge thanks to Gary and Alison along with Tom, Robert and Janine (for helping Gary with the cakes and scones), for so kindly hosting the perfect afternoon. I can't thank you all enough. Also thank you to NWT HQ for allowing us to hold the wake here, much appreciated and made a difficult day much easier. It also created a unique and chilled place to spend time with friends and family, old and new.

I was handed a few donations in cash inside cards for NOA/NWT and will pass these to Sophie in the next couple of days to add to the total of donations, which is then being divided. A huge thank you to anyone that donated today for both the NOA and NWT. I know that John Lincoln have received several cheques. I will of course let you all know how much the total raised was, as soon as I know.

I spent the evening with my family and ate more scones with cream and jam – lovely! We all felt shattered and drained. A very difficult morning, but a beautiful service. Lucy summed it up when she said, "we did really well and the music was all beautiful" – how right she was! She had me in tears when she said how well I did, to read the poem out. The afternoon however, was not difficult, just simply beautiful and joyous. We placed father's hat on the windowsill next to his bed where he used to sleep – tears filled my eyes. Tears filled dear Lucy's eyes when she read Ruby Jackson's card (Peter Jackson's wife) which ended with 'until we meet again'. Vivien Lucy and I have had so many sister hugs today – its been lovely!

Vivien and Ray returned to Ely and I took Lucy home to King's Lynn. I didn't want to leave mother for several reasons – she looked so lovely in her outfit today and I simply wanted to stay with her, but sadly life has to go on.

Lastly I would like to say thank you so much, to all of you that took time out and travelled so far, to be with us and share your memories of Peter – this made the day so memorable in so many ways. Thank to you everyone who has sent cards of condolence with such beautiful words, the many emails I have received, messages and support from both people we do know and some we don't, via my blog – it is much appreciated, more than you know.

Peter Clarke
Rest in Peace
2-11-1926 — 23-2-2017
To My Dearest Father

My love and memories will never fade
I will never forget your beautiful smile,
your humour, kindness, love and support.
You have always been there for me as I for you.
"Until We Meet Again"

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