It’s been over a month and a half since we lost Shiona Wood; yesterday a gratifyingly large crowd of some of her many friends left the bright sunlight behind to squeeze into an auditorium in her base of operations at Edinburgh’s wonderful Filmhouse, which has been one of my favourite haunts since my student days. In fact it was in my student days I met Shiona as she guest lectured on one of her favourite topics in film studies, the representation of gender. For that module we were very lucky the organising tutor, Andrew Tolson, thought that it would make for a more interesting course if we had a second lecturer and that it would be good to have a woman discussing gender roles with us for some more balance. I’m very glad he did that or I may never have met Shiona and once you met her you never forgot her. In among the audience yeterday I briefly bumped into some friends from those college days who I rarely see these days, so that was quite lovely too (hello Caroline and Rhiann if you’re reading!); funny how some people can be in each other’s lives so much for a period then drift slowly apart and hardly hear from one another.
We gathered together to hear film critic and friend of Shiona, Mark Cousins talking. He told us about the funeral, which was good for those of us who learned of it too late to attend; he told us about Shiona arriving in a stylish fashion which was very her, drawn in a beautiful horse-drawn hearse (she liked horses – I bumped into her more than once fresh from a ride still with horse hairs sticking to her clothes) with the horse’s traditional black mourning plumes replaced by bright pink feathers and how Abba’s Dancing Queen blasted out at the ceremony. We all turned up in bright colours because Shiona’s fashion was a bright law unto itself – this was unusual for me since I normally wear black, black and black. In fact I wear so much black kids follow me down the street saying “Mr Cash, I loved you in Walk the Line”. But yesterday a bright Captain Bluebear T-shirt and my extremely loud tie-dye bandana, which I suspect Shiona would have wanted to borrow :-).
In fact with us all so brightly attired and the general feeling of goodwill it wasn’t a sombre memorial, it was a good-natured celebration, which is what she would have wanted. Obviously sadness remains and, as Mark said, anger too. Anger that this awful thing called cancer claimed yet another good person, something all too many of us have experienced. Well, yesterday proved one thing – cancer, you didn’t take Shiona from us. You removed her bodily from our everyday lives but you couldn’t match her spirit and yesterday’s warm gathering showed that. As V tells Evey in V For Vendetta, there is a face beneath this mask, but it is not me, anymore than the muscle beneath that face is me or the bones – we are all so much more than that and that inner, essential core of our being is something mere illness cannot touch.
And so we sat and watched one of Shiona’s favourite movies, Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who of course directed one of my favourite movies of all time, Casablanca, it was made really as a “woman’s” movie, but actually its a cracking movie for any gender or age and littered with those beautiful styles of fashion, design and cinematography that you associate with 40s movies, as well as some great lines (Joan appears for the first time in front of her new man in a swimming costume ‘ “No whistle?” she asks him “I’d need a police siren” he returns, deadpan; Joan’s voice over as she bakes to make ends meet “I was always in the kitchen. Sometimes I thought I was born in a kitchen, with just a short time outside to get married. It didn’t take long.” That line must have really hit a chord with many women in the 40s).
The British Film Institute had donated the print free of charge because many of the BFI folk knew and loved Shiona too, while the money from the tickets went to Saint Columba’s Hospice. A nearby hairdressing salon she used to visit gave out cards for a free hair session to everyone who came along, which made me chuckle (not just because I don’t have enough hair left for them to style, unless they want to groom my chest) but because how many memorials do you go to and get given an offer of a free styling offer to friends of Shiona??? That kind of summed it up in some ways – irreverent and fun, she’s have laughed at that.
Mel had come along with me and afterwards we walked back to her place along the restored canal, which was glittering in strong summer sunlight. We picked up a ton of fresh veg and other food and when Gordon came round to join us we enjoyed a nice bit of al fresco dining and drinking outside in the garden with Dizzy slinking around the garden and attempting to pounce on bees as they visited the flowers (so many blooms this year after all the clearing and pruning we did – for someone like me who is generally useless with plants very gratifying). Drinking and chatting and eating until the sky grew dark (which is way after ten here at this time of year and even then the northern sky remains aglow, never completely dark) then inside to drink more and watch movies. What could have been a sad day had actually been a really good day with friends.