Mary's musings

Mary Hoffman, author of over 90 children's books, including the Stravaganza series and Amazing Grace, has begun a web journal which will be updated roughly once a week. You can read more on

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Three weddings and a funeral

A friend's e-mail alluding to my blog has reminded me that I haven't written it since the death we had in the family nearly four weeks ago. It has been a busy time. My father-in-law's funeral was on 16th and a great number of family members converged on Oxford for a very beautiful, classical service in Merton College chapel. Michael Billington gave the eulogy and four family members read passages - two of his four children and three of his six grandchildren.

One grandchild had flown over specially from New York with some difficulty. She married an American in summer 04 but has not got her green card yet and was officially without a visa. She got a special compassionate leave one after the death certificate had been faxed to the Department for Homeland Security! And Paul, my husband's half brother, was over from Mexico.

A poigtnant touch was John's black hat on the coffin.

Then there was a tea party with wine in the JCR and lots of people stayed on for that. There were three boards with photographs from his very long life, including shots with Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye but of more interest to us the first photo my husband had ever seen of his English grandmother.

It was a rush to prepare for Christmas after that, especially since there was an issue of Armadillo to edit and get online. Amazing how everything always gets done every year. Among the flood of Christmas cards, two friends in their fifties separately announced that they had got or were going to get married. A third, younger woman, we already knew was engaged but she too will marry next March.

The Falconer's Knot has been much neglected and I am now two chapters behind. But my researcher has now finished her PhD and will have more time to give me. I'm looking forward to it but we have another family event on 1st January - dinner for ten. Then it will be time to roll up sleeves, refuse all social invitations and FOCUS!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sitting Shiva

I was going to write about the Harry Potter movie but events have overtaken me and only one story is on our minds.

On Friday my father-in-law died. He was a great age - 93 - but after a while one becomes lulled into forgetting that even the people who have been around for a very long time will eventually go. When the phone call came, every family member who could converged on his house. We sat for hours, drinking tea and coffee and remembering this paterfamilias. The youngest member of the family, little Freddie, at only six weeks old was a great distraction and comfort for all.

John was a theatre critic, for the last 18 years of his career on the Daily Tellegraph, which carried an obit this morning. In the last war he wasa conscientious objector and drove an ambulance in London in the Blitz. Unlike the composer Sir Michael Tippett, whom he somewhat resembled. Tippett, whose centenary is being celebrated currently, another CO, refused alternative work on the land, on the grounds that it would suppoort the war effort, and went to prison.

John on the other hand did his dangerous war work and was bombed out of his house three times. He was very supportive when Rhiannon and I put together Lines in the Sand, our anti-war anthology, two years ago. He had a wealth of theatrical anecdotes, which he loved to tell, about Rosemary Harris, John Gielgud, The Mousetrap... There seemed to be no-one in the theatre he didn't know over several generations.

Staying with his widow until he was taken away in the early evening reminded me of the Jewish custom of Sitting Shiva. True, they do it for a week and we did it only a day but it felt very right.

RIP John Barber 4.4.1912 - 2.12.2005