Saturday, 16 November 2013

Ciao! Dougie

Yesterday, at Putney Vale Crematorium, we said goodbye to our friend, Douglas Ross Turnbull.
The sun was bright and piercing but the air was heavy as many of his friends and colleagues gathered to wave goodbye to the force of nature that was Douglas; a veritable cast and chorus of the many who have luxuriated in Dougie's backstage care regime.

The small chapel choked at the numbers waiting to be ushered in and when we were, many were left at the door with standing room only inside. A good house, as Doug would have said. For two weeks we had waited for the day to arrive and the finality of such an event re-opens the emotional gullies that we had begun to cover over. The silence as we watched the cortege pull up was broken only by choked back sobs and the throb of collective sadness. His mother, tiny and crumpled against her surviving son's shoulder followed Dougie's coffin in and there can be no more poignant sight than a mother at a funeral.

Will Todd's arrangement of Amazing Grace was sung beautifully by the congregation, accompanied by Will himself. Poor Will. His gorgeous arrangement has been performed at two funerals in the past few months but there was a joyfulness in its rendering, the descants dragging from deep within us non-singers an involuntary bolt of cathartic emotion. The wonder of music knows no correct occasion to weave its magic and Dougie would have so, so approved.

Clive, who was Douglas's partner for many years revealed so much that was unknown; how Dougie had been a medical student for a year, how he had played the flute, about his schooling. He imparted, with graceful dignity, the news that Dougie had called him a few weeks before his death to "say goodbye and make his peace". What we knew about Dougie was that he faced death - looked it square in the eye - for quite some time and this revelation came as no surprise, even as it liquified our hearts.

James stood to give a eulogy but it would be impossible to recall Dougie's life without laughter and so we laughed through the tears. It is beyond difficult to deliver to an audience a eulogy to a loved one; we expose ourselves in a way that is unfamiliar and in drawing a picture of the loved one, we reveal much of our own emotional heart. James showed how Dougie was adored in all his gracious, graceless, tactful, tactless larger than life glory and the pain that his passing has caused.

When Gweneth Anne Jeffers rose to sing Visi d'arte, the curtains around Dougie's casket began to close; it is a moment, if you have ever experienced it, that has an exquisite sorrow. "I have lived for art", sang Gwen and not a person in the room could think of a more appropriate 'addio' as Dougie danced, with top hat upon his head, into the glorious oblivion that he had always said was awaiting him.

We raised glasses to him at what was once the Colherne in Earl's Court. We had dramas and emotion, the evening became a traditional Opera Holland Park gathering and all that was missing was Douglas and his pithy contributions, his Agony Aunt role to soothe the angst or his mischief to cause it in the first place. He would have so, so approved.