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

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