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Just back from the funeral service for Rob Holdstock. No, ‘funeral service’ is the wrong term; it was a memorial ceremony, a celebration. It was moving and hard to take and joyous all at the same time. It took place in a Unitarian Chapel, but it was the most unreligious ceremony you could imagine: the only ‘hymn’ we sang, right at the end, was Woody Guthrie’s ‘So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You’.

It was bitterly cold, we struggled down Hampstead High Street thinking it might be quite nice if we came on a warmer day, and we’d have walked straight past the chapel if we hadn’t run into Steve Jones, who led us to the secret entrance round the side. I had no idea what to expect of a Unitarian Chapel, but it looked like an Anglican Church with stained glass in the windows (and what looked disturbingly like angels in alien space ships high above the altar), but it felt far more relaxed. And in it was a confusion of sf people, several of whom I’d not seen in 20 years or more (Kevin Smith, Andrew Stephenson). At one point I caught sight of Rob’s younger brother, Chris, whom I’ve never laid eyes on before, and thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice, Rob’s turned up’, before I did a double take.

We began with a few words from the Minister, and stood as the wickerwork coffin was brought in and laid on tressels at the front of the chapel. Then Malcolm Edwards, who had orchestrated the event, took over, and for the next hour and a quarter we had a succession of family and friends sharing their memories of Rob, starting with Chris who recalled their childhood. I was honoured to be asked to read a message from the French writer, Christian Lehman, who was unable to attend; after the ceremony I spoke to Sarah and I think they might put all the messages up on the web site, I hope so because it was a wonderful piece and I just hope I did it justice. Other contributions came from Roy Kettle, Chris Evans, Jim Burns, Wendy Froud, Malcolm, Chris Priest (who spoke very simply about how Rob had died, without pain or any awareness of what was happening, which somehow allowed us all to relax after that), Lisa Tuttle, Garry Kilworth, and Matilda Verrells (Rob’s god-child and niece, who spoke very eloquently about what Rob meant to his extended family). Everyone spoke well, and there were, inevitably, a lot of comic memories, though it was obvious that several people were really struggling not to break down.

After the ceremony, while a very small group accompanied the coffin to the crematorium, the rest of us found food and wine laid on at the chapel (you’ve got to love a chapel that serves wine). An army of young family members did a steriling job of pushing sandwiches and pieces of cake on the assembly. Meanwhile the rest of us formed groups and chatted, and it was impossible, as such things always are, to exchange words with more than a very small percentage of the people there. We spent most of our time with Lizzie Priest while Chris and Leigh went to the crematorium, but I also managed to speak with Farah, Garry, Chris Evans, Malcolm, Roy Kettle, Kev Smith, Dave Langford, Andrew Stephenson, Judith Clute, and, in passing, Al Reynolds and Kim Newman, and, of course, with Sarah.

Rob, I think, would have loved it – good people, good food and drink, good conversation, what is there not to like? – except, as Garry remarked, for the black ties.

First published at LiveJournal, 17 December 2009.

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