Mum. Mam. Nan. Irene. Renee. Mrs Fielding. Miss Daisy.
Blimey, she went by quite a few names! When you mention Irene Fielding, her name becomes a synonym of kindness, warmth and generosity. She touched the hearts of many, brightening innumerable lives; and the world will sorely miss her. But what she leaves behind – her legacy, her family – will continue to shine the torch in her memory.
Irene Fielding was born at the Royal Blackburn Infirmary on the 31st March 1931 – the thirty first of the third, thirty one. You had no excuse to forget her birthday! The oldest of her siblings, June, whom we sadly lost last year, and Jim, from the very start of her life, she displayed that caring nature; looking after Jim when he had polio as a child. That nurturing side of Nan never stopped, and even at the beginning, her love of family – the importance of family – was evident.
In later life, she cared for her mum and dad, my Great Grandad and Grandma Byrne whom I sadly never met. Nan would regale me of tales about her father who used to go mad at people wearing hats indoors or wearing no shoes – Nan herself carrying on this etiquette in the household.
She was the mother of Ann and Graham, showing indeterminable strength and bravery when dealing with what no mother should ever face: the loss of a child. She leaves behind her daughters Yvonne and Pauline, both of them a reflection of the best of Nan whom she was rightfully proud. I see in you what I saw in her: extraordinary kindness, brimming with love even in the most difficult of times.
She supported her family through sheer hard work and determination. Working until the very last day of retirement, she had jobs in the mills, Kenyons, Gerrards, Forboys, the local chippy, Blackburn Market, and she worked as an auxillary nurse at Southlands.
She spoilt her family rotten, perhaps none more so than her grandsons, Colin, Graham, Ciaran and myself. Whether it was cooking tea when we got home from school – she almost had this Sixth Sense where as soon as you walked in, the tea was miraculously ready on the tray, regardless of what time you set foot through the door – or stocking up the sweet tin.
I once turned round to Nan, and bear in mind she did have great-grandchildren much younger than me, and said, “Nan, I’m 22 – and you still stock up the sweet tin for me!” And in her typical quick-witted and honest fashion, she replied, “‘Ee, well it’s better than drugs, love.” There was never any malice in her humour, just sharp Lancastrian fun.
She also kept biscuits for any visitors, with Oreos for my father Pat – or should I say his mate Ron? I think I can say it now, Dad. Ron was an abbreviation of ‘Later On’. As we got older, the
pop turned into shandy, and the shandy turned into beer. Her fridge, and her sweet and biscuit tin were never empty for her guests – and what an exemplary host she was!
Her door was always open for a friendly chat over a cup of tea. And boy, what wonderful brew she used to make! Although my Dad was a wee bit disappointed on his first visit when he was offered a ‘drink’. As a squaddie, a drink was something a bit harder than a brew! And the toast, for some reason her toast was the best in the land, and we haven’t the faintest idea how.
In times of trouble, Nan could always be called upon. She took Colin under her wing, when he was aged 12-years-old, and lived with her for five years. Me, Ciaran and Colin were chatting about this the other day: every afternoon, without fail, Countdown would be on the TV. That programme taught the grandchildren our letters and numbers; Nan would be quicker with the conundrum, but we would work out the numbers. Colin wouldn’t go out with his mates until he watched Countdown with his mates. “Sorry, lads! It’ll have be after teatime!” Mainly because you couldn’t miss Nan having a go at Richard Whiteley, shouting at the screen ‘get on with it!’.
She used to enjoy watching her TV and films. Under the stairs at Lonsdale Street was crammed with video tapes of Tom and Jerry, Pingu, Laurel and Hardy, the Carry Ons, Tommy Cooper, and Norman Wisdom – many of which had been taped off the tele by either Auntie Pauline or Uncle G. She used to crack up at Norman Wisdom in films like On The Beat and Trouble in Store. The hours we used to spend laughing at Margaret Rutherford as the elderly shoplifter, or during ‘Don’t Laugh At Me ‘Cos I’m A Fool’ with the lady at the café so immersed in the action, she fills her coffee cup with so many sugar cubes, it would sink the Titanic!
Now, we couldn’t talk about Nan without mentioning her beloved Blackpool. Either trotting off on the train by herself, or taking the family, she adored Blackpool. Throughout the year, she would save up all of her shrapnel, her coppers, for the amusements at Mr B’s, weighing down her handbag on the journey there; her favourite being the OXO machine, which I could never master. She used to visit the Tower, playing a Strictly Come Dancing judge in the ballroom, criticising the show-offs and taking great amusement from when they messed up and had a strop; perhaps harking back to the days spent in the dance halls in Blackburn.
She would love watching the world go by, sitting on the seafront or closer to home at the Bubble Factory, Oswaldtwistle Mills. We used to feed the ducks with bread purchased from Mo’s corner shop on Lonsdale Street. The poor, malnourished creatures would be lucky to get a slice as my dear brother Ciaran would pinch them for himself; thus earning the nickname Quack from Nan.
Whether it was playing bingo both at bingo halls or at Merlin Court or perusing the carboot sales; visiting Scotland where she loved hearing the pipers or down to London; or even further afield to Germany and Majorca – Nan got to see the world, and the world got to see her, and the world was better for it.
Although she held many jobs in her life, her vocation was her family. As a sister, a mother, an auntie, as something Les Dawson never had – a fantastic mother-in-law to Pat, Graham, Jim and Angela, and as a Nan, she was the rock of the family. There was nothing that made her happier than when we got together as a family. We were fortunate to spend one last Christmas Day with her, her favourite time of year, and I will never forget the beam of joy on her face, watching us opening our presents. She relished our card nights, our meals out, our get togethers, where she didn’t say a lot – and as she told Auntie Pauline, she loved listening and watching us, taking it all in.
She had a fantastic memory, so you had to be careful what you said! Woe betide anyone uttering a swear word! She didn’t need to say a lot, her looks and mannerisms did all the talking: that stare, the infamous wagging finger. And I tell you something, you never did it again!
We all have our stories of Nan, our own precious memories we shall treasure forever. And those special times make her immortal. It will be an honour to hear all of stories later on at the Britannia pub, after the service, friends and family together as she always loved.
Irene Fielding had a certain dignity and elegance, without losing her warmth and friendliness. A composed lady, whilst still being down to earth. She was selfless, caring and embodied what it means to be a truly remarkable human being. What we do now, we do in memory of Irene Fielding. We don’t let that light go out, we don’t let the world go darker in her absence; we continue to shine the torch in her memory, and in her name.
She was the rock of the family, and we shall miss her so, so much. Love you, Nan.