(14) Mountain, Sea, Tears, Laughter, Small Rebellious Acts And A Song - Last Will And Testament
Updated: Apr 10
My lovely friend Elaine recently sent me a letter I had written to her from The Train, on the 30th January 1992. We were 20 and I had not yet met Ian. I was, in fact, still going out with X. Nelson Mandela had been freed and the Gulf War had begun. The Internet was barely there. I regularly spent long hours locating correct micro-fiches in the Mitchell Library only to find out they were not useful for my essays. Everything was handwritten in those days. I wrote many, many letters, especially to Elaine.
‘Dearest Bed-Cover (flowery of course), (I had a four year habit of changing Elaine's pen name every time I wrote to her) After monopolising my evening last night, I think you at least should have the courage and despondency to support my case for euthanasia. Will you please be my doctor and issue me with the right drugs when I am beyond hope:-
Last Will And Testimony of Miss S. K. Elliott
- I start with my most prized possession, my box of diaries. These I want burned / cremated / eaten, never to be read by anyone. They are purely for me. When I die, they must be cruelly murdered also.’
And so it continued with my wishes. I need to revise them somewhat.
I agree, and always have, with euthanasia. When my time comes, I do not want prolonged pain, depression, waiting. I am scared of that. I do not want my loved ones to see me like that, and I in turn would hate to see them suffer in this way. I hope that other Noel Conways will have their day, and be able to leave before it is too awful. I do not believe in a God and if I did, it would be a God who would also accept that we can choose this.
So. Last Will And Testimony of Mrs Suzanne Karen Gillies (I am going to keep the Mrs and the Gillies. Whatever happens next, I am Gillies. I have been Gillies for nearly half of my life. Suzanne was the third name tried out on me, after Emma and Karen. Suzanne was the one that stuck for longer than two weeks. I will keep that too.)
My diaries are perhaps not my most prized possession now, they have been overtaken in that race by the clavinova. Both the clavinova and my diaries, if you want them, are for you, Katrina.
‘My cat, Blue, will have to be taken care of, she will suffer poor thing, of great sadness and if my good friend Elaine Downie shall not take care of her, then the aforementioned shall not receive any other of my possessions. If this be the case, then everything I own is to be burned down and the ashes to be scattered all over Mrs A….’s clean floor.’ Blue went long ago. Blue should not have remained as long as she did, according to the vet. She was too early taken from her mother and too ill with flu to survive the night, one night not long after we got her. The best I could do, I was about 16, was to keep her warm and try some milk drops on my finger. She survived the night, and then she lasted a few more years. Always a bit of a scaredy-cat, always most content on a lap, my beautiful Blue. I have no pet now, but Elaine does, so all is good there. I have nothing against Mrs A…. and would not wish anything to dirty her floor.
‘To Elaine Downie, I leave all of ‘X’s unspontaneous letters, so she may see this divide in our humour and know and understand why I laugh at her feminist jokes. Particularly the pig one and the intelligence one.’ I have no memory of these jokes, but it is my wish that she tell them at my funeral/wake/celebration of life and make as many people laugh as possible.
‘My clothes are for anybody who wants them. Left overs or indeed all of them, if no one wants them, are to be thrown unceremoniously at Mrs A…’s house by her ex pupils who bear a grudge. 50p each to join in. The money is to go to any prevention of cruelty to children charity.’ Again Mrs A….. this is not entirely fair, although there are some who say that she had favourites and showed that. I never had her as a teacher and so I don’t know. I leave my clothes to the discretion of others.
‘My classical tapes may go to Richard, apart from the Palestrina. This was the only classical tape of mine that X liked, so this must, of course, be presented to my mother’................ All tapes are now in the attic, if anybody wants them….. There are a few records from my teen years, eclectic tastes…. Madness, Dire Straits, Police, Terence Trent Darby, Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield. There are far more CDs collected since then, Lisa Hannigan, First Aid Kit, Peter Gabriel, REM, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Mozart. They are in alphabetical order, as are my books. Again discretion with any that Is does not want.
‘Richard A…..’may also have the galaxy nut bar in my middle desk drawer. I think he needs it.’ I have no idea what he needs, but I think he is certainly well off enough not to need my chocolate nut bar. I think I must have eaten it a long time ago anyway.
‘All my music books are to be shared by Miss Downie and Michael Dalgliesh on the promise that they will both aim for grade 8. Elaine can play to grade 4 standard and needs theory lessons. Michael says he is hopeless at any music. Prove yourselves wrong.’ If Katrina wants any of them to go along with the Clavinova, that is great. I may even leave her messages inside them. If not, Elaine can split them between herself and my brother, who plays what he learned at 11 very well and I know if he gives it time would be a good grade 8 one day. Sorry to Michael Dalgliesh.
Everything else I pretty much left to Elaine, apart from some memories and the DHLawrence collection. Obviously now I leave everything pretty much to Is and Ian and Katrina. I know you understand, Elaine. I am sure that Ian and Is will be sensible in deciding. I am sure Ian will not want any material things anyway, so that makes it even easier. The two big things, the scottish flat and the french flat, I half own with Ian, although more recently have paid mortgage with Isabelle and she also has spent a lot of french holiday time working on the Beziers appartement. I know that things will be sorted in a fair way. I want to point out that I am assuming this will happen when I am 97, and I will be in good health. I will decide, having loved my life and the people in it greatly, that I am tired and I will fall asleep and not wake up. Yes, I know.......It frequently makes me sad that that is highly unlikely. Two deaths in Applecross recently, of people I thought a lot of, have proven that it can come any time, any way, wholly unexpected and not at all when you want it. Ali was just in his fifties, Bethany was not yet twenty.
A thing that I do quite often, at least twice a month, since I was about 20, is imagine different people's deaths and my response to them, and how I would feel. I go through those who mean the world to me and have them disappear. I know that my induced sadness and seeming despair is nothing compared to the reality. In my scenarios they always come back. I also imagine my own death and other people's reactions. And that also makes me cry.
I did have one flirt with deciding my own ending when I was 20, shortly after writing this letter to Elaine. Things were just far from great. University was not the 'best time of my life' and I kicked myself regularly for the kind of anxieties that prevented me turning up to tutorials. I had finally made the decision to leave the church after a realisation that what it was that I liked about going was the organ music, the candle light and the long carved church pews, rather than the words of the songs, the teachings or any belief in God. Things were not good at home, I had been asked to write a university essay for my mum. I had said yes, and then found with work and my own essays, that I had no time to do it. I actually even ran away from home for one night, hitchhiking up to the Peace Camp, near Garelochhead. Anyway, I had ended my first long term relationship (of three years) and felt a bit lost with all of it. Forty paracetamol taken with so much wine (2 bottles) made a poor job of it, everything out, all over the floor, not pretty..... I will be always grateful for too much wine.
Something that makes me very sad is a video I watched, a recording of a man, Kevin Hines, who had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. He survived and lives to tell his cautionary tale. He spent the 8 seconds of the jump changing his mind. He also spoke to others who told the same story.
Anyway, as I said, in my story I live until I am 97 and find myself getting slightly annoyed at the thought of anything sooner than that, unless I am in poor health and with no-one to love and be loved by. At any time earlier than that, I would like friends and family to cry a lot, and laugh loudly at Elaine's jokes, if she does remember them; go and swim in the cold water, or climb a grand mountain and make a memory of the day by doing something subtly rebellious. My life is made of many small rebellious acts - walking through interdit signs on safe pathways; swimming a fraction beyond the yellow flag (I am a strong swimmer); reading risque books on kindles in libraries while looking academic; wearing docs with fancy frocks; singing Budapest down phones to cold-callers who will not go away; being under the influence of Mike; calling it Curriculum for Excrement sometimes. I told some friends quite recently that I would like everyone present at my funeral to take some of my ashes and scatter them somewhere they are not allowed to be, the ashes and the person. At least some of them should be up a mountain in Applecross, overlooking the sea. Elaine pointed out that ashes don't really amount to very much, so maybe they should be mixed in with all those clothes that won't be thrown on Mrs A's floor.
I have put it down officially that any organs and tissue, any part of me at all which can be recycled, may be recycled. Even eyes and knees, because now that I am more than twice the age of that 20 year old letter writer, that sort of squeamishness should be brushed aside.
Finally, at the start of my celebration of life, I would like my Anti Gun / Anti Trump song to be played, to set the tone. I am still pretty pleased with it. Unless I have written one I like more, I will still like it then. I am slightly disappointed that Mr Trump has not come forward with a derogatory tweet about it, but I have no doubt that it festers in his mind at 4am. If Mr Minchin could perform it for me, I will love him even more.