Dr Stephen Heyworth, a colleague of Peter Derow gave an address at his funeral last weekend which was both a moving & amusing insight into the life of the historian who had campaigned for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
Peter had been a founding member of the Parthenon 2004 campaign, now known as Marbles Reunited.
Well, the cat-in-the-hat, that legendary figure, is dead. I had better explain. I use that name not only because it avoids my having to make Peter the subject of that sentence, but also because the cat-in-the-hat crystallizes a number of things I want to say.
Firstly, Peter loved the Dr Seuss books, especially the first. And in his room, among the many other curiosities and toys, high up on the stack of videos, sits a figure of the cat-in-the-hat. More importantly, he was a great giver of gifts: I’m told he gave Cath Forrest, George’s daughter, her first camera and set her on the path to photography. One gift he often gave was copies of these books: he kept a stock for when he found a friend or a pupil who didn’t know them at all. So ten years ago, he gave a copy to my daughters; and on Friday afternoon last week, when we were thanking the two student hosts for looking after the candidates, Josie took away a bottle of the burgundy we’ll have a chance to drink later, and Sophie two Dr Seuss books. My daughters’ copy is inscribed in Peter’s beautiful italic hand: ‘To Lucy and Harriet from the funny dancing man’ [I think the dance was the one from Zorba, but I've not got time today to go into his love of films] ‘… from the funny dancing man a.k.a. … the Cat-in-the-Hat’. He loved the precise rhymes and the surprising rhythms of the books, but I suspect it was the anarchic morality of the narrative that appealed to him most: he truly knew how to have ‘fun that is funny’; and that’s what lies behind his self-identification with the cat-in-the-hat. But anarchic bringer of fun though he was, like the cat at the end of the book, he could also tidy up the mess; one would see him the morning after Classics drinks in the garden picking up glasses and cigarette butts; but I mean more than that-he gave his time and his care to helping us clear up the messes that we can all make of our own and each others’ lives. But I’ll return to that theme.
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