First of all, I want to ask if you’ve seen this film we made of my Dad, using footage from the sixties and some video shot about 10 years ago when he was obsessed by hens and living with my Mother again.
Secondly, if you were one of the approximately 200 people at the funeral I would be extremely grateful if you’d share your impressions below, as a comment. It can be as long as an essay or as short as a word. The 57 comments below my appeal for testimonials about him are incredible, showing dimensions of my father’s life that we never knew.
Thirdly, this is a long article but the eulogies are totally incredible. They were stunning when read out at the event but they’re so intense, detailed and, in places, witty, that they’re well worth reading here.
At some point during my Dad’s funeral I said to myself “this is the best funeral I’ve ever been to” — even though such a thought seems unworthy. Surely it’s wrong to rate a funeral as if it was a film? It’s difficult to describe, as it’s mixed up with the turmoil of feelings and memories (not to mention grief) that come after someone dies, fuelled by the discovery of old photos and letters — and our Dad was an epic letter writer, especially when in love. I’m thinking about putting together a book of his writings but there’s so much of the stuff that I wouldn’t know where to begin. What do you think? Would you buy a book about Angus Wolfe Murray?
Back to the point: the funeral. What made is fabulous? The location — a dour Scottish church that’s been converted into a modern theatre with good lighting; the 200+ mourners (the word “audience” comes to mind); the celebrant, who, with my brother Kim, organised a superb event; the coffin, which was hand made by my super-skilled-carpenter-nephew Nikita; the welcome music by another super-skilled-nephew (Caleb) and a haunting Romanian singer-guitarist called Monica Lucia Madas (Bob Dylan’s Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven’s Door also came on at the end); the funeral directors, one of whom learned cricket from our Dad, who organised all the logistical details with a minimal fuss and a sent a bill that was surprisingly low. I worried that folk wouldn’t be able to find the graveyard as it’s remote and located in a tiny village — but nobody got lost, they (somehow) all found parking places, and the burial was as incredible as the funeral service itself — with the wind, a rainbow and a violin coming in just on cue (I made an unedited video of the burial that you can see here). And the wake was great too, in Traquair Village Hall, with an exhibition of great photos of his life — any of which can be ordered from the local printer for just £2 each.
It’s all very well having a good location, great music and a big crowd, but if the eulogies (the plot) isn’t good then the whole thing could have been a damp squib. And there’s no doubt in my mind that it was the three eulogies that made this funeral fabulous — as well as, of course, the huge character that was Angus Wolfe Murray. The eulogies are copied below and, like the best malt whisky, best enjoyed slowly.
The celebrant’s name is Suzanne Dance and I think it’s most fitting that her background was in acting and drama, thus giving her an insight into our Dad’s love of film. She put a lot of work into researching him, and preparing the event, and here’s a summary of what she said:
This is like his patched denims, a patchwork eulogy. We will hear from Tessa, Magnus and Luca — three generations impacted by Angus.
The words that keep recurring about Angus are: defiant, amazing, extraordinary, eccentric, exciting, intense, complex, kind, generous, witty, charming, humorous, a free spirit, a grafter, insightful and original. His love of animals, dogs, ducks, and his empire of hens. His effect on women. His joy at watching movies and originality at reviewing them. As a roadie for Jethro Tull. Performing pantomimes. Eating porridge.
Tessa Wolfe Murray’s eulogy
Angus and I wrote letters. We started when I was 14. I was at boarding school, he was married to Stephanie. Kim and Rupert were babies. Our regular correspondence continued until I was in my twenties. I want to share some extracts from one of the later letters.
But first, some background for those who don’t know me. I am Angus’s half sister. He was 13 when I was born. My first home was with my parents and three brothers — James, Angus and Andrew — and our grandmother in Traquair village. When I was three we moved to Glenternie, in Manor Valley, near Peebles. Growing up, Angus always had time to play with me. Mostly teasing.
I have memories of shrieking with laughter, being rolled down the steep grassy banks outside Glenternie. Of scary visits to the cellar which became a dungeon, and he the ghoulish monster — good practice for his pantomime roles in later life. I became an awkward teenager, questioning my parents’ way of life and politics. In this he was my ally; he had been on the same journey. Often he would vocally support me in my conflicts with them.
More and more I chose to spend my boarding school holidays with Angus, Stephanie and the boys. I owe my teenage mental health to them. When my mother died unexpectedly in 1968, they were very kind to me.
The letters Angus and I wrote to each other covered life, emotions, difficulties, books, films and music. The extracts I want to read come from a 1976 letter. He was living between Glenternie and Edinburgh. I was 26, living in the South Pacific with my anthropologist husband Nick and two year old Joseph. The letter is both history and poetry.
Dear Teaseyer, (I was Teaseyer, Teapot, he was Angst, Anguish or Anglepoise. As a family we went in for nicknames).
I’m typing because it’s nicer than sprawling half naked over a ballpoint Bic trying to squeeze ink from same and hold hand steady enough to make words possible on the eye. I wrote you a long deadly black stained (with gloom) letter soon after the New Year and found it a few weeks ago in the back of a book. It was never sent or finished (lucky for you — it was a whiner, and boring to boot).
NEWS: when faced with the prospect of relating life’s progress over the last 6 months I cringe and wobble, jellies invade my brain, marshmallows flap and flop in the inevitable mind splosh of stewed fruit afternoons. I’m 39. Birthday last month. Frightening innit? Christmas soon. And then another year.
The children grow taller, their lives leading towards the deathly teenage stewpot, the confidence crunch. Kim is vague and wandering, beginning to enjoy (or at least understand a little more) the complexities of school and its social hierarchies. Rupert, at Peebles High, is floating on the surface still. Work not going too well but I think it’ll improve once he sees the point of it. He’s a boon to Stephanie at home, helping and heaving. There’s no passionate interest yet, (I blame all their uncertainties upon myself. I’m so detached and locked into work, scared white about lack of money, fighting to finish things that might bring success/cash, isolated like a crab in a bucket). Gavin is at the Academy Prep. He’s zapped out with energy, keen and glistening with ideas. Mooner continues to be Mooner, magic smiles and innocence like buttercup yellow in fields of green, the closest to earth, feelings for natural things, animals and birds. In his head he’s flying. He’s happy.
Sometimes I feel the house (Glenternie) like a stone dragging us into the pit and yet I know this is in MY head and if I look from another direction I would see hope and fulfilment and opportunity and delight. For so long I have lived on a cloud of sheer invention. I think that cloud has dissolved into air and I’m falling. Below is the earth and its very hard and dark. Everyone I know is living there. They’ve learnt to adapt to the solid sounds of this stony wilderness. They understand the limitations and accept them. I’ve yet to hit the floor. Pathetic. A grown man dressed as a child gliding on wax wings in rain circling the mountain.
I’m very bad at writing. I shall improve, stimulated by letters from you. The new leaf? The old leaf burning in the fire, yes. The new leaf is fresh and green. I invented it two minutes ago. Here it is. Smells of gooseberries.
Full of resolutions ( shame went into the fire with guilt and disgust) and words aching to be written …next time.
Magnus Wolfe Murray’s Eulogy
So, Dad, I really don’t want to be here giving this talk, but here we are, in your homeland, where you and I were raised, surrounded by our people.
You seem to have had many lives (I know what that can be like). Not far from here, up Manor Valley, we lived in a massive house that was like a huge playground, surrounded by woods and secret spots for fairies and forest creatures. You were writing, in one of the most basic rooms, somewhere around the old stables, a teeny log fire in the corner, a window for spiders to roam; a bare table with that old typewriter.. tak-tak-tak – Bing! Always those single fingers typing at that thing.
The roof needed fixing, the rooms heated, you needed money. We had little.
You bought a van and moved everything from aunt May’s grandfather clock to wee Annie’s white mice. Then you scaled up, a huge yellow van with a guy running painted on it – as we moved out, closer to Edinburgh.
You created Moving Pictures. Scotland to London and back, and everywhere in between. I’d join you on these trips now and then. In your cab you had music, an extensive garden, your dog; a little home. I remember you on the M6, hurtling along, both feet up on the dashboard, a long stick just the right size to keep the accelerator forced down, the other end wedged into the top of the cabin somewhere. It’s a wonder we survived, that you survived for so long!
We went on holiday up north. Fishing on a wind-blown loch, under a broody sky; long hikes in the rain clouds. On the west coast we found sea cliffs and huge surf crashing into the caves and rocks. Now this was living! Leaping between the rocks, just avoiding the next surge. One mistake and we were gone. Maybe here’s where I found my thrill of the danger zone. Living on some edge or other. For you it was pure fun, and fear, together, and being the fish that swam against the current.
From you I learned to play; any stick would do, a tennis ball and a field. Not exactly cricket but a kind of rounders. All of us, any kids or adults we could rope in. Then my kids, from about the age of 2, all of your grandkids, the Traquair gang, their friends. We lived outdoors, we were lucky. What a privilege.
Inside. Darkness, log fire on, charades, two teams, a race, always competitive, 10 clues, two rooms: Go! Four words, first word, small.. “a, I, it” – yes, it, kind of. Next word, second word (points to self), “me, I, my” yes – my! Third word, acting out slit throat, point to coffin, “dead, murdered, death, funeral” Yes – funeral!. Fourth word, mime child in arms, rocking.. “birth, child, baby”. Baby, yes! “It’s my funeral Baby!” You got it. Next!
Building your coffin with Nikita, my son (I, like you, am quite incapable of actually making anything). I helped. This has been a nice way to send you on your way. He chose simple pine and linseed oil for finishing, which I remember you said was good for your cricket bats. We planed shavings for hours to make a kind of mattress for you to “rest” on – we just thought lying in a bare coffin was a bit much. We chose the wood to plane shavings from: cedar for nice aroma, oak for age, sycamore for youth. You are dressed in your best patched jeans, a denim jacket and one of your fancy pink shirts; and a set of red leather boots (but where are all your cowboy boots?), a cricket ball, a picture of Stephanie and… Pinkie, that near-human chicken you would share your porridge with.
Five words. First word, T “the” yes! Second word, finishing, block “End” Yes! Third word, small “Of” Yes! fifth word, sounds like mice (act out wriggling creature on floor with big whiskers) “Mice”, no, sounds like – “Rice, dice, nice?” Nice, yes! Oh, they yell: “The End of Something Nice”.
Luca Wolfe Murray’s Eulogy
I never knew grandpa in his youth. It’s been very nice to hear and read stories about him, most of which happened way before I was even born.
I didn’t quite know what to say here. I didn’t know him as well as many of you, and I don’t have any crazy stories about him. The Gus I knew was already old.
I thought to talk about how he looked so iconic with his patched up jeans and leather jacket. Or about how I told my friends that my grandpa is the crazy old guy from Back to the Future.
I’d like to just share my first memory of Grandpa, and an important lesson I learnt from him.
I remember: I was watching Tom and Jerry and he joined me.
I asked him, “Why are you watching Tom and Jerry? It’s for kids!”
“Don’t be a Silly Billy. Tom and Jerry is absolutely brilliant.”
I was genuinely shocked that an old man would watch Tom and Jerry.
Fast forward. A few years later I became a bit too old for Tom and Jerry but I was still watching it. I was around 12 years old and my older sister said, “Aren’t you too old for Tom and Jerry?”
“No I’m not,” I replied. “Grandpa watches Tom and Jerry and he’s over 70 years old.”
She was convinced he had only said that to make me feel better, so the next time I saw him I asked, “Plops, do you really like Tom and Jerry?” I don’t remember exactly what he told me, but it was something along the lines of… “Oh yes”.
If there’s one thing I learned from Grandpa is to be true to oneself. To not let restrictions stop you from living the life you want. And to not take yourself too seriously.
When he got a rip in his jeans he didn’t buy new ones, like everyone else would. He did things differently.
I really want to use this time to remember his awesome life.
I don’t have any words to end such incredible memories, but luckily my aunt Tessa does. When she shared her eulogy with me she also copied in the whole family and wrote this: “I noticed that all the eulogies were given by the youngest members of their generation!”
Please add your comment below. If you were at the funeral what was your impression? (a one word summary will do) and, if you knew him, do you have any last words?
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Rupert Wolfe Murray, 28th February 2023.