Old Chas Ambler
Yesterday, Saturday 5th of September, we buried my dear old friend and partner in crime, Christopher Charles Ambler, known to the world as Chas. We buried him in a remarkable ceremony at a remarkable site up in the Tatham Fells above the vilage of Lowgill. It’s a place Chas knew and loved well, a place where a few other friends are buried. Chas’s body had been kept overnight on The Melodrome Mobile Stage, which was the great project of his last three or four years. On Friday, a stellar cast had turned out to play at his wake; and on Saturday, we committed his body to the grave. A 5 piece marching band led the hundred or so mourners around the site, and took us to the grave. I was the celebrant. As I stood at the head of his grave, I called for people to speak, and lots of people did. There were poems, and songs, and personal testimonies, including, remarkably, the guy who featured in Chas’ oft-told story of his shipwreck off the coast of Majorca, and subsequent meeting with Robert Graves. It’s always great to have your stories corroborated, even after you’re dead, I guess.
And then I did my bit, and then we all turned to to fill in the grave. A few people afterwards were kind enough to ask me to post what I said, and so, for those who weren’t able to make it, here is the text. It was difficult to get right; I knew that most of the mourners weren’t Christian, but I felt very strongly I needed to quote from the Book of Common Prayer. I apologise to those purists who might feel that my adaption goes too far.
‘Thank you ALL for coming; thank you very much. There are so many people to thank, that if you were all to be thanked, we’d be here all day. But we must, I think, single out three people that we all need to thank – Chrissie Gladwin, Chel Stevenson and Mick Fuller. Chrissie has been amazing throughout this process, and I for one wish to do her great honour.
Chel and Mick gave up their bedroom for Chas, and made endless cups of tea for the parade of luvvies, weirdos,and freaks (many of them here today) who trooped through their house in Glasson Dock in those last weeks. Chel nursed him with love and patience and kindness throughout the last six weeks of Chas’ life. Words fail us all when we think about what Chel and Mick did; may all our endings be so full of love, light, and laughter.
If anyone would like to say something, please feel free.
(At this point, several mourners gave readings or shared memories)
Over the last 24 hours, we’ve heard a lot of extraordinary music, and a lot of stories about Chas. I could tell you hundreds, and then we’d be here all night too. But I can at last tell the story about how we met without him contradicting me; how he came up to me in the Yorkshire House and said I was the only man in Lancaster who knew how to sing middle of the road properly; how I swear this is true; how Chas swore it was shite. But it IS true. That he couldn’t remember, I think, is because he could never quite bear to feel he had said something sweet.
He was a cantakerous old sod, who also found it difficult to tell people he loved them. But he loved very deeply. He could be rude and thoughtless; and always funny with it. He said to me once, ‘I’ve always been rude, and I will always BE rude.’ And he always was rude. Part of my job in Your Dad was to follow in his wake, apologising to organisers and sound guys, and I loved it all. We had nothing but great times, the rude old sod and I. I shall always miss him.
I loved him, and I told him so. I loved his patience and kindness with me; loved his talent and passion for music; loved the laughs and scrapes we shared over nearly twenty years of working together. Above all, I just loved his company. The gigs were great, but they were always book-ended by long conversations in the car, in festival fields, in truck-stops and bars. We talked. A lot. We talked about politics; we shared a lot of views, both of us old anarcho-libertarian-lefties. We talked about music of course, and we talked about show-biz too. Chas’s family have a history of working in show business which stretches back to the 1860’s; he had grown up in theatres, on bandstands, and at the end of the pier. Chas told great stories about this extraordinary heritage. This is one of the many reasons he was so proud of his son Ben, who is following in this tradition.
But a lot of our conversations, and I mean a lot, were about what you might call religion. Chas was a man of great faith, and an atheist. He was for many years, from the early 1970’s until the moment of his death, a follower of the Guru Mahari Ji, whose real name is Prem Rawat. Hence, his followers are sometimes known as ‘Premmies’.
Being a Premmie does not involve giving up your religion, or having one, even, but to simply discover that all you need is inside you – and that you and the Divine are the same extra-ordinary thing.
Chas’ friend and fellow Premmie, the astrologer, Jonathan Cainer, who is unable to be here today, was kind enugh to send me these words.
“Thanks to the teachings of Prem Rawat,
That life is for living but that death is nothing to fear.
That life would have no meaning if it went on forever.
And if you want to understand what death is, you must first understand the true meaning of life.
Chas knew, too,
That what we are looking for is always inside us.
That Peace is Possible.
That time is an illusion, life is a mirage and identity is temporary.
Chas knew that the ultimate reality and the highest aspiration for every single human is a simple experience of joy and contentment.
Or, to put that in a phrase that would make him smile with recognition…
“Truth is the consciousness of bliss.’
That is what he knew.
That is what he still knows.
That is what we all know and will always know… in our heart of hearts.
If Prem Rawat were here in person, today, he might say ‘Know yourself and make inner peace your priority.’
And Chas might nod and say ‘Jolly good.’
In one rather wonderful, cosmic way both are right here with us, right now.
Let us all be grateful for every moment. “
From our endless discussions, I feel there are ideas, or rather, difficult to voice intuitions, that Chas and I shared too.
Chas believed, as I do, that we live in a miraculous place, a place where creativity and imagination are the necessary tools to percieve what we might call the Divine, whatever we mean by that. We both believed that our presence, all of our presences, were necessary, and appropriate, for the existence of the Universe. And we felt that the Universe loved us, and wanted us here. And that there was nothing we could do to seperate us from that love. And that in death, that love for us continues, whatever its source.
For those of all faiths or none, please take these readings in the spirit they are intended; bring your own interpretaion as to what is meant by God, or the Divine, or Resurrection.
Because this, I think, is the best of us, the true mark of humanity; how we deal with the dead. Evidence for the ritual burial of the dead stretches back at least 100 000 years. This is how we mark the beginnings of civilisation; and also its continuation; that we learned that the dead deserve our respect. By what we do here today, we may be remembered.
I’m going to say a prayer, a Quaker prayer, written by William Penn.
Then I’m going to read a short passage adapted from the rite of the Burial of the Dead, from the Book of Common Prayer, as we commit Chas’ body to the grave.
Finally, I shall say a short prayer from the Uphanishads, one of the holy books of Hinduism; Premmies, though not all Hindus, are rooted in Hindu traditions.
After this last prayer, the service will be over, and all that will remain is to fill in Chas’ grave.
‘And this is the comfort of the good
that the grave cannot hold them
and that they live as soon as they die.
For death is no more
than a turning over of us from time to eternity.
Death, then, being the way and condition of life,
we cannot love to live
if we cannot bear to die.
They that love beyond the World cannot be seperated by it
Death cannot kill what never dies
Nor can the spirits ever be divided
that love and live in the same Divine Principle
the root and record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.
Death is but crossing the world,
as friends do the seas.’
MAN that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he flieth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we be in death.
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection , we commend to a loving universe our brother Chas.; and we commit his body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
May the Loving Universe bless him and keep him,
and be gracious unto him, and give him peace. Amen.
Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace
Let peace fill our hearts