I’ve just been to the funeral of my very dear friend, Tom Vernon. He died quite suddenly last week – I think his body had just had enough – and it should not have been surprising given how many health issues he had, but it came as a great shock to us all.
Tom had already had a colourful life in England, with music and writing intertwined, with occupations as diverse as working for the British Humanist Association – at the same time as singing as a minstrel in a medieval theme restaurant. (By coincidence my last blog entry was about the visit of Wenol and Paul Blackham. Paul’s father, Hal Blackham was Tom’s boss at the BHA.) As someone at the funeral said, it was at the restaurant that he met his future wife, Sally, who was a ‘serving wench’.
Tom was known to a wider audience because of his radio and tv programmes, which centred on his loves of travel, France and cooking. I saw one of his ‘Fat man on a bicycle’ programmes on the telly before I knew him.
Chris and I got to know Tom and Sally soon after we came to live in France. Although I saw more of Tom, because of our shared interests in music and computers, it was good that Tom and Chris also shared a mutual respect and affection. Here they are talking amiably, no doubt about food and wine, or perhaps about philosophy:
I think Tom and I drove Chris and Sally mad with our techie sessions with equipment – computers (Apple, of course), cameras (mine) and sound equipment (his). But more important was our shared love of singing and playing music. I got Tom to join Rinascenza, the choir in which we both sang for several years. And we both happily scraped away at our instruments (Tom violin and me cello) in a quartet, which met irregularly. We were both of us largely self taught; I had had two years lessons in my fifties, but Tom made up for the lack of lessons by an innate musicality.
But it was above all as a gentle and genial host that I will remember him. He just loved good food, wine and conversation. He was always generous about others and full of humour and happy to enter into discussions on an incredible range of subjects.
Tom and Sally’s home is a magnificent house near Valleraugue, about ten miles from ours. Its crowning glory is a magnificent magnanerie (vast room once used to breed silkworms). Restoring the house and in particular creating something very special out of the magnanerie has been a passion of Tom’s. Here he is coming up the magnanerie staircase (designed by our architect friend, Neave Brown).
[And I couldn’t resist more photos of the magnanerie.]
Tom’s funeral was memorable. On a chilly day, the hills that enclose Valleraugue looked beautiful but sombre as we climbed up the hill to the Protestant cemetery where the funeral took place (how ironic, for a humanist burial ceremony). We stood perched on the hillside while various friends and family spoke with much love and humour of the various phases of Tom’s life as it had touched theirs (perhaps a rare ceremony in two languages). A recording of a song composed and sung by Tom made him seem even more present. And then, to the music of Fauré’s Requiem Tom’s coffin was lowered into his grave. The pasteur (who had not known Tom) tried his best to be in harmony with the occasion, but could not resist saying “Au revoir”. For non-believers like me, it was sadly “Adieu”.
Back at Tom and Sally’s house it was hard not to expect to turn round and see Tom. Sally was, as usual, beautiful. And dignified, in control of herself, as were her sons and their families. I was so glad to meet Jos and Hal, the two sons whom Tom talked about so often and was so proud of.
Goodbye, dear Tom. As someone said “A gentleman and a gentle man”.