As promised I include below the eulogy I gave for Caroline, along with some pictures of her.
"I met my Aunt for the first time when I was eight years old. On that particular day, I was very excited. It was December 1988, the height of summer in Argentina, and my mum and I were living in my grandparents house in Buenos Aires.
Theoretically, this was a big deal. We had lived all my life in a flat which we had now sold as we were moving to England to live with my future step-dad. However, these were not the reasons I was excited.
I was excited because:
- We finally had a pool in the back yard, and as it was nearly 40 degrees, this was a very good thing indeed and
- Because the mysterious Aunty I had last seen when I was 2 was on her way from the airport.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but someone grown up and sensible are probably a good bet.
Surfacing from under the water (where all the fun swimming was done) I saw my granny and mum were back and standing on the lip of the pool. With them was a lady in leggings with a loose shirt, huge 80s glasses and fabulous red hair.
She told me years later that I was looking at her with wide, slightly apprehensive eyes. Being Caroline, she took an instant decision.
Rolling her eyes, she exclaimed: ‘Oh my god, is it hot!’
And without another word, this crazy woman jumped feet first into the pool with all her clothes on! It was instant love!
Within days I was hugging her and calling her ‘tia’ – the Spanish word for Aunt – and demanding that she play her guitar for me on command and to make sure that when she did, she used all the funny voices in the songs.
If I had to describe Caroline, that is the image that immediately springs to mind.
The feelings that follow any memory of her, are of laughter.
Lots of it.
I was a passionate devotee of Mills and Boons in my teens and she would have us all in stitches by grabbing latest romance out of my hands and in her most torrid, passion laden voice, reading out the most innocuous passages about the heroine getting her breakfast ready in the morning.
Of course, there was a lot more to her than her irreverent sense of humour.
Caroline was born on the 15th June, 1953 in Buenos Aires to Kenneth Bridger, a well-known ceramics expert who thought wearing a flat cap was the height of fashion, and to Chela Schiele de Bridger, a headmistress at one of the most prestigious English schools in the country, and a woman whose nickname was ‘the dragon’. You can see she needed a sense of humour from an early age!
Once, as a toddler, when in deep trouble with her mum and under fire from the dragon for her infraction, little Caroline wagged her wee finger and said censoriously: ‘Mummy, you compicated. Mummy don’t be compicated!’
By the time she was one, Caroline’s sister, Sylvia (my mum), who was 6 years old, was already at boarding school. Caroline would follow at 5 years old, but while mum thrived on the rustic conditions at the little school in the camp and made friends that would last her her a lifetime, Caroline’s memories of El Carmen were always complicated and considerably less fond. She was removed from there 3 years later, suffering from malnutrition. She later attributed this event for starting a lifetime’s love affair with delicious food.
In fact, for a variety of reasons, Caroline attended many schools over the years. I imagine having to start over so many times is the reason she became so funny – it was a good way to make instant new friends wherever she went.
Her sense of humour was augmented with a sense of mischief. I remember the twinkle in her eye when she told me how she used to sneak on the roof of her parent’s house with her friend Michelle to have an illicit cigarette away from the ever acute nose of ‘the dragon’. In later life she would loathe smoking and develop a pretty acute nose of her own which John, her partner, was always trying to sneak around.
As a teenager, she also delighted in greeting my mum’s dates at the door and, while they waited for her, solemnly shaking their hand then holding her own up to her nose, to give it a sniff. She would then wrinkle her nose and say disdainfully ‘Ugh! Old spice!’
I never knew her then, but she must have had quite an adventurous spirit, because at the age of 20 she boarded a plane with just her bag and her guitar to go and read Hispanic Studies at Bristol University, eleven thousand miles away from home, family and everyone she had ever known.
It must have gone well, because one failed engagement to fellow student John Marshall and a degree later (the first in her family) she decided to make Bristol her permanent home.
It was around this time that Caroline met Simon Holder and fell in love. They were married in the UK and in Argentina in 1977 and Caroline acquired an extended family in the form of the Holder clan. Although the marriage was sadly to end in 1984 those ties continued until her death.
With lots of time on her hands, Caroline began to look for more creative outlets. She discovered photography, a hobby that she excelled at. A member of the Blackwell Camera Club for years, she spent every weekend dragging her new partner, John, to whatever site provided the best opportunity to photograph that week’s camera club challenge.
Roll upon roll of pictures were taken of hot air balloons, hundreds of photos of waves lapping up on the sand, all with John patiently waiting in the background, carrying all her cases, rammed full of lenses and other photographic paraphernalia.
In fact, she became so good, that the Bristol Rugby team hired her to be the photographer for their programmes. She told me how conspicuous she felt trudging to the middle of the field, lugging her camera in front of hundreds of people to take the team photos, and how she much preferred standing on the side lines, taking action shots for the cover while John roared ‘Come on, you buggers’ behind her.
John Humphrys was pivotal to Caroline’s life. They met in 1987 and his infatuation with her was almost instant. Attracted to her bright smiles and sense of humour, he pursued her for many years. Despite Caroline’s uncertainty about their 26 year age difference, she was soon won over by his gentlemanly character and cutting asides. John’s unquestioning love, devotion and admiration became crucial to Caroline, who often said that he had shown her what unconditional love truly looked like. His loving indulgence, along with shared interests, led to a friendship which slowly blossomed into a love that was to last till his death 26 years later.
Caroline called him ‘Humph’ and he called her ‘Titch’ on account of her size, and their relationship was filled with little in jokes that would delight them every time they shared them. She would often tease him that if he didn’t do what she told him, he would ‘feel the back of my hand’ and then, when he pointedly defied her, would stroke his cheek with the back of her hand as promised.
When John offered her a treat of some sort, she would pretend to refuse, unless he was twisting her harm. He would take her hand and give it a gentle twist that had her surrendering instantly to whatever was being offered.
John’s death in 2013 was a terrible blow for Caroline. She turned to her cat Banjo for comfort and once more found a creative outlet for her grief. She had been writing a blog for some time in which she included short stories of family members and friends and little vignettes of things she overheard while out an about. She developed a devoted following who would tune in regularly for her latest post and many of them have expressed grief at her passing online since she died. So although she withdrew into herself during this period, she never lost all contact with the outside world.
Caroline was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. She faced it with pragmatism, humour and unrelenting optimism. She was not above moaning that she’d ‘had enough of ‘effing cancer’ when things got a bit much, but until she passed, she was convinced she still had ‘tons of time’ left.
If there is one shining thread through Caroline’s life that speaks to her character, it’s the value of her friends. Sitting here today are her ex father and mother in law, Boggs and Maggs Holder. Her executor is Rob Holder, her ex brother in law and her financial advisor was his son, Michael. Years after her divorce she loved and is loved by them as if they are still family.
Messages have come pouring in from friends from childhood – as you’ve heard – and in this room are Caroline’s neighbours, who, in the last years of her life, gave Caroline the care that mum and I were not always in a position to offer. From cleaning house, to gardening, to endless lifts for hospital appointments, Val, Garfield, Claire and Claire’s family (John & Frank), have shown us what special people they are, and how special Caroline must have been to attract people like that into her life.
All the people in this room have come together to say goodbye and wish her a fond farewell. As testaments to life go, that pretty good.
So it with a light heart, that I can say: So long Tia. Thanks for all the laughs.