Eulogy for My Mother-In-Law and her Lasagne
by Jo Lloyd-Davies
You know, Ro made the best lasagne I’ve ever tasted. A perfect balance of silky pasta, meaty ragout and glossy bechamel sauce, all densely packed and baked in a red-sided Pyrex dish. It would be sat down without ceremony on raffia mats in the middle of the table. Bubbling, cheesy topping all brown and crispy at the edges. Each piece she cut would stay completely intact between dish and plate, landing with no more than a pleasing little wobble. I must have had that lasagne dozens of times over the past 25 years and each time it was a triumph.
Whenever I asked Ro for the recipe, she would say: “I don’t even think about it. I just do it”.
You see, effortlessly fabulous was Ro’s stock-in-trade.
The question is: how did she make such an impact without seeming to try?
Because there is no doubt that she made an impression on everyone she met. Strikingly original, unconventional and magnetic. She was vivid, vital, generous and brave.
And, my goodness, what a sense of fun! Ro had been a useful swimmer, squash player and skier in her youth. But, at some point, she realised that she could reach international standard in any given sport or activity, simply by adding the word “apres”.
Indeed, Ro was outrageously sociable. She loved camaraderie and the craic. There were few people she didn’t know in Derby and even fewer occasions she couldn’t transform into a party: collecting the Mile Ash Christmas trees, decorating the Abbey for Halloween, or a Tuesday.
She was the catalyst for many great nights I can remember and many, many more that I can’t. She also had a party trick: she could tell how many pints were left in a barrel of old brewery bitter just by thinking of a number.
She prized spontaneity and had a knack for disrupting its less-classy cousin: organised fun. Many moons ago, we hosted a 1920’s-themed murder mystery dinner party. It was a marvellous disaster. The evening ended in complete confusion and without resolution. It was only the next morning we found out who the murderer was supposed to be. Of course it was Ro. In fairness to her, she seemed as surprised as the rest of us.
You see, even if something wasn’t her thing, she contrived to find the fun in it. By way of example, Ro became a brief but committed football fan during the 2002 World Cup. Wholly coincidentally, because it was staged in Japan and South Korea, all the England games were shown at 7 o’clock in the morning. In Sobers (the bar of the old Clovelly Hotel). Happily, by the end of the group stages, Ro was something of an expert, having made two confident calls for hand ball. Against the ref.
To the outside world, life with Ro might have looked chaotic. It wasn’t. Perhaps you saw the tornado, but for those of us at the centre, it was perfectly calm. There was an awful lot of love and an awful lot of adventure, but absolutely no drama. The only crossword in that house came courtesy of the Daily Telegraph crossword.
That’s how Ro was fabulous. Of course, anyone can be like that from time to time. We all have our moments. What made Ro unique is that her character was completely consistent.
You never heard anyone say that Ro was “on good form” because she always was. You got the same Ro every time. The closest she got to a mid-life crisis was when she threatened to get a spider tattoo. This was to be accomplished by the addition of eight legs to an existing mole on her, erm...well, never mind.
She was also consistent in how she treated people. She didn’t care who you were, where you came from, what car you drove or what job you did.
She knew that to behave differently depending on your audience was just exhausting. Why be a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a mother-in-law, a colleague and a neighbour when instead you can just be a great friend? Ro didn’t do anything out of a sense of duty. That’s not to say she didn’t make sacrifices for her family. She did. She’d give you her last fiver if she felt you needed it more than her. But she had no truck with martyrdom.
Birthdays were remembered and forgotten in equal measure. Now, if you were family and she’d forgotten, you might be treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday by telephone. I don’t know if Heavenly Choirs have auditions, but if they do, it’s a safe bet that Ro’s been relegated to the Apres Choir. Ah well.
So that’s how Ro was consistently fabulous. But how did she make it seem effortless.
Back to that lasagne. You know, years after I first had it, we went to a car boot sale, indulging Chloe’s taste at the time for “cheap tat”. I was thrilled to spot the only culinary text I’d ever seen Ro consult: the 1000 Recipe Cookbook. Finally, I’d be able to make that lasagne! I snapped it up for 50p. Didn’t even haggle. As soon as I got home, I hungrily turned to page 153. Mmmm. Lasagne.
The first warning bells sounded when the recipe called for mozzarella, parmesan AND ricotta. That didn’t sound like Ro’s brand of effortless. Next came lemon rind, Italian sausage and, as sure as 1978 was 1978…two hard-boiled eggs. That recipe was many things, but Ro’s consistently, effortlessly fabulous lasagne it most certainly was not.
You see, I couldn’t have made Ro’s lasagne any more than I could have worn a pair of bright red kickers without looking like an over-sized toddler. It wouldn’t be me.
But it was Ro.
The reason it seemed effortless was that after years of being completely true to herself, it actually was. She was comfortable in her own shoes. She did what she wanted to do with the people she loved. The life Ro had made for herself with Jim, her family and her friends was hard-won and well-earned. And it was utterly, authentically, unapologetically her own. Once she had it, she didn’t even think about it. She just did it.
Ro’s loss will naturally be felt most keenly by her three children: Sian, Gareth and Chloe. I hope you take some comfort from the fact that her love for you came without any strings attached. You were always good enough. No better than anyone else - because you’re not that precious - but plenty good enough. You’re her legacy and she just wanted you to be happy. Helpfully, she’d given you a pretty good blueprint of what happy looks like:
Do what you want. Do what you want with the people you want to do it with. And always be comfortable in your shoes. Live and Love. Consistently. Effortlessly. Fabulously.