Sunday, 10 May 2009

Brave Alison reminds us all, it's People who are the real celebrities

There have been a few events over the last week or so that ordinarily I would have blogged about. The superb and well-attended event hosted at All Saints' Church by The Isleworth Society (TIS) to launch a new panoramic web feature about the Isleworth riverside. A council Executive meeting on Tuesday at which, amongst other things, Councillor Paul Fisher was able to bring some long awaited relief to some of our small traders who are suffering the effects of recession by reducing parking charges on vulnerable shopping parades. Some ongoing issues surrounding Mogden, including the provision of funding by the Executive for 24-hour monitoring and confirmation by the Leader of the Council that the residents have his full support in their battles with Thames Water and the reverberations that that unambiguous announcement undoubtedly had in the corridors and offices of Hounslow Civic Centre, where unhelpful power games have been played out in recent weeks.

For whatever reason none of these events, although milestones in their own right, made it to these pages. This was very possibly a consequence of me being emotionally distracted by the untimely passing of my friend and former next-door neighbour Alison Cole (above) at the tragically young age of 39.

Alison was the youngest daughter of Pat Cole, who as a child was my mother's closest friend and who many years later, until very recently, held the post of Deputy Chair of the ICG for some years. In recent months Pat and the leadership of the Group had become slightly estranged, a thing which was entirely our fault but never intentional as we all wrestled with the incredible demands on our time and energy of being so few involved closely - and disproportionately - in the everyday business of running a local authority, but she has remained a friend and colleague and we are all passionately determined to make up for past omissions.

When Alison was born in 1969 her family lived next door to us in Chestnut Grove, where they stayed for many years before moving to a slightly larger property around the corner in Worple Road. Even as a very small child she exhibited that lovable cheekiness which was to stay with her and become her trademark in later life. I recall one evening enjoying a pint at the Victoria Tavern with her older brother Ian and a few other local guys when Alison, then probably about fifteen, came into the pub and stood defiantly with us. Ian, very much a youngster himself at the time, did not want his kid sister with him, cramping his style. "I know you want me to leave," announced Alison, sensing his discomfort. "It's going to cost you a pound."

Alison left the pub very shortly afterwards, a pound richer.

Despite knowing of her illness (she was diagnosed in her twenties with cardiomyopathy - an enlarged heart), Alison was always chirpy and invariably raised the spirits of all those in her company. She could be as blunt and impudent as she liked without any fear that anybody would take offence. The style of delivery was perfected in such a way that anything she said was accepted with good humour, and raised a laugh.

It is always, naturally, done to say nice things about somebody who has passed and to comment upon how unique and special they were. This to some extent makes it more difficult for me stress convincingly how unique and special Alison really was. And yet, reflecting upon those all around who are still with us (as one invariably does at such times), I can think of nobody around me who replicates or replaces Alison's own unique qualities.

Any who would challenge this only have to consider the size of the crowd that turned out at Mortlake Crematorium for Alison's funeral. Several hundred people lined the route to the chapel. Only the lucky ones actually got in, many more took part in the proceedings as best they could from outside. Friends from around Isleworth, people I knew but had no idea that Alison was close to also, people from my old primary school and elsewhere from my dim and distant past, old neighbours and current neighbours, even one of my cousins - from Hanworth - was there. It seems that Alison was a part of almost everybody's life in this community.

I doubt whether there is a single politician or "face" who graces the pages of our local newspapers from one week to the next whose passing would be marked by so many people. We will always remember Alison with fondness, but beyond that it would pay us to remember that this world is made what is by people, often unsung, and not just those of us more given to singing our own praises.

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