One thing Julia loved was how everyone gave in to her whims. She was often discovered at home with the yellow pages open on Funeral Directors, looking longingly at the Horses. So here we are in the Chandelier Room at the Old Assembly Rooms, majestically borne in a horse-drawn carriage. The nearest to a state funeral I’ve ever seen. Julia, you have your horses and chandeliers.
This tribute arrived last week on Julia’s web log: ‘Whenever I spent even a moment in her company, I came away renewed, bestowed with precious gifts – optimism, energy, humour and encouragement. Julia’s capacity to do this was unstoppable – her memory, her influence, spurs me still.’ She had, in the words of one her poems, “the kind of light that electrified the ordinary.”
We could just leave it there as this probably sums up everything that everyone here feels about her. But we didn’t want to short change you all. The difficulty is in, like Julia herself, knowing where to stop.
The absurd, the sublime, the ridiculous are all things that appealed to Julia and moulded her into a fantastic story-teller in a myriad of forms; poetry, plays (both radio and stage), novels, songs, you see what I mean about not being able to stop once you start, publisher, performance artist, presenter, workshop facilitator, mentor… I suppose the point is – You couldn’t pin her down.
Her poetry began as a comment on her life when Scarlet and Florrie were little, and thousands of others found it easy to relate to – whether it was buying bras or buying cars and landing yourself stranded on the cold M1… with your big end gone. Gradually, her words became a comment on her illness, dealing with the hospitals and doctors, creating a bold, new language for bodies, pain and loss that made it easier for everyone else to face, as she did.
Julia was an instigator, she was always happiest when collaborating with others. Writers, painters, glass artists, sculptors, musicians, photographers, performers, on books, postcards, exhibitions and public art projects… I’m off again, aren’t I? Terribly sorry…
She loved company. She was a fantastic hostess. The food, the drink, making sure everyone was well served and looked after. Many of her schemes and plans began round the big wooden kitchen table, with candles (even in the daytime) wine (often lots of it) and loads of laughter. It would go something like this: You’d all be having what you thought was a normal night out round at Julia’s, laughing, telling stories and suddenly she’d pipe up with:
‘I know, why don’t we do a performance of this in the Albert Hall next June?’ Next June, you’d find yourself standing on the stage at the Albert Hall, terrified, but duly, giving a performance.
If Julia’s life was a bus route — it would be the number two, swerving through the Dene at breakneck speed, passing front doors, back lanes, furniture shops and picking up pensioners, parents and kids, with a final stop not too far from Fenwick’s deli. A winding road, with curves and bends: never a straight line.