Rebecca van der Putt, known to her friends as Bec or treaclechops, was my best mate. And now she’s gone, taken by cancer, aged only 38. Just like George Gershwin. I met her in 1991 when I started work at Oxford College of Further Education. We hit it off immediately. For more than 16 years I have been able to share things with her that I have shared with no one else. This is not the rose-coloured observation of a bereaved friend looking at her dead mate as some kind of angel. It’s simply the truth. She was bloody ace.
Bec was a gifted creative photographer. Check out her photo gallery here and gasp. She shot on film and loved to used old-fashioned darkroom techniques. Her work was published in newspapers, on calendars, in magazines and in exhibitions.
She was a phenomenal raconteur, embroidering her witty and dramatic tales with actions, sub-plots, fine vocabulary and precision grammar, meticulous observations and regional accents.
Only she could truly tell the true stories of the incident of the screaming frog in the watering can; the riverside urination episode; the scattering of her father’s ashes from a light aircraft; the being mistaken for a man incident in the ladies’ powder room of a posh hotel in East Sussex; my stupidity while she offered me the gentlest care during some of the worst times of my life. Who’s going to tell those stories now?
Bec came out in the late 1980s, a move of extraordinary honesty and bravery at that time. She was never short of girlfriends or partners, but didn’t find The One until she met Kate in 2003.
With Kate she found the love, stability and life she always craved. A week before Bec died they married in a ceremony arranged with such extraordinary speed (due to the progression of the disease) that I couldn’t be there. I will always regret this. When Moth and I married in 2004 she did us the very great honour of being not only our official wedding photographer, but also our Best Woman. I wish I could have returned this huge favour.
When her mum and sister moved up north in the mid 90s, Bec stayed in her native Oxford but missed her family terribly. So she adopted a second family – my family! We were delighted to have her! She took on the important role of oh-my-godmother to both my children, but developed a profoundly special relationship with Rupert from the moment he was born. They were never happier than when grubbing around on the riverbank together, pulling out fish, identifying birds from their song, learning how to read the river, just happy being together.
She was very intelligent but always regretted not going to university. This hampered her professional self-esteem and she was never able to find a truly satisfying or rewarding job. Instead she threw herself into the University of Life: her general knowledge was jaw-dropping and she possessed a small but well-thumbed library. She was particularly interested in neolithic and bronze age history – an obsession we shared – and wrote extensively about prehistoric monuments.. She was a popular member of this and other on line communities and made many friends this way.
She loved to cook, drink real ale and experiment with single malts.
She adored Nigella Lawson, Kate Winslet, Katherine Jenkins and Princess Diana. She loved being out and about in the countryside, observing flora and fauna, picnicking, searching for ancient monuments.
She loved going to exhibitions, museums and galleries, discovering new pubs, then frequenting them. The long list of friends in her address book – real friends, not just acquaintances – is testament to her twinkling, enchanting, magnetic and unique character. If you met her, you’d know this is almost an understatement.
If you feel moved to make a donation to charity in memory of her, please send money to Nightingale House Hospice in Wrexham who cared for her until she died.
Today is her funeral, forty years or more too early. Now we have to learn to live with a whopping Bec-shaped hole in our lives. We have all been cruelly and unfairly robbed.