Saturday, 29 January 2011

Moonyeen - in memoriam

We met Moonyeen in '68, when I was a student training for ministry. Theatre was the interest we had in common. Clare played Lady MacDuff to her Lady MacBeth in 'the Scottish Play'. We lost touch after we moved to Birmingham, and got back into contact nearly twenty years later, through her realising who our daughter Kath might be, when she saw her one day in a public dance performance. 

By this time, Moonyeen was teaching circle dancing in and around Cardiff. In mid-life she had transmuted from a talented actress into a charming charismatic outrageous feminist divorcee. She'd renounced ownership of a surname by deed poll to be just plain Ms Moonyeen, except she was anything but plain. She was the embodiment of sixties hippie eccentricity and flower power culture, colourfully if not exotically dressed, theatrical, hilariously comic, larger than life and utterly anarchic. 

She was a superb, sensitive, inclusive teacher, whose enthusiasm and compassion would persuade if not inspire even the most reluctant to get up and have a go. When home on leave from Geneva, we went to her circle dance group and had lots of fun, so it was natural to go regularly once we came back for good. We did this for several years until work pressure and health issues intruded. She started to go south for the winter. The cold and darkness depressed her. She needed her place in the sun. Eventually she over-wintered in Cyprus, and it was there she had a major road accident from which she never recovered. After a few months in hospital in and out of intensive care, she died - last Winter Solstice night during a full eclipse of her beloved moon.

This occasion would be one of great significance to her as she'd long ago ditched cradle Catholicism in favour of her own New Age brand of pagan mysticism and nature worship. She remained compassionate and wise, utterly in awe of the mystery of the divine, resistant of any effort to systematise or control it. She respected my attempt to remain a cleric in the service of the church, and explore its spiritual depths. Our 'inter-faith' conversations over the years were brief and few. We danced and joked more than we ever talked. But despite her levity in all serious matters, she was a woman totally given to following the Spirit, no matter what cost personally to herself or, (alarmingly sometimes) those around her.

The illness of her latter years has been labelled as bi-polar but to me, this doesn't truly fit. Her openness, sensitivity and anarchic responsiveness to others and the world had no boundaries. It meant she'd rise to the heights and also descend to the depths. It meant she lost friends as well as gain them. She'd suffered through her life, was touched by the sufferings of individuals, and by war. Her 'cosmic' spirituality made it hard for her to defend or detach herself from experiencing the world's darkness and pain. Her faith in divine goodness and mercy (in whatever way it was manifested) meant that she'd always struggle to bring the light of love  into the darkness, some way, some how, wherever she was.

Holiday induced delays over inquests, first in Cyprus, then in Cardiff after her remains were finally repatriated this week, meant that her obsequies at Thornhill Crematorium this morning had to continue in the absence of her body. The ceremony was led by a woman called Rachel Matthews who describes herself as  'a community celebrant', specialising in devising events for people of non-standard religious needs. She made a superb job of it, far better than I could have done, if I'd been in charge. It was an event that long ago Moonyeen declared should be a 'fun'-eral. We laughed with affection when Rachel declared how typical it was of Moonyeen not to turn up for her own 'do'.

It was an unusual way to say 'goodbye' to an old friend - the first funeral of this kind which I've attended. It was filled with both sadness and warmth at the fond memory of someone who'd touched many lives through both theatre and dance. Inevitably the assembly ended up on its feet dancing by the end. After an hour we needed to get up and move - there was no heating in the chapel.

The celebration ajourned to the Bear Hotel in Cowbridge for lunch, meeting and reminiscing with the family. I wasn't surprised to learn that both Moonyeen's mother and younger sister were both poets. Moonyeen was always articulate, witty, good with words - but for her, poetry was made in movement under the heavens upon the well created earth, in the light or in the darkness, following the Author of the Dance...

And the Dance goes on

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful memoriam for Moonyneen. She was my drama teacher in Cardiff many moons ago. My most vivid memory of her, was when I was taking my first tentative steps into exploring Shakespeare. I had read Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene, and had questions about it. Right there and then, in a shabby little room, she brought the world alight with a breathtaking performance, which touched and scared me all at the same time, such was her raw passion and emotion. She guided me all through school, understanding my desperateness not to be there, and only to be performing. From first childish poems, to eventually listening to potential pieces for drama school, she guided me. Not intrusive, but a sounding board letting me grow and develop. Sometimes a challenging and hard task master, she never made allowances for my age, treating me as an actress, and I always wanted to please and impress her. I last saw her in Edinburgh, where we were both performing, and I felt so very proud to be meeting her on a professional level.
    She could be wild with fury, brimming with tears of joy,sometimes a world away. But always a unique power and force to be reckoned with.
    Thank you Moonyeen for those early exciting days of poetry and literature, you will never be forgotten.

    Slowly, silently, now the moon
    Walks the night in her silver shoon;
    This way, and that, she peers, and sees
    Silver fruit upon silver trees.