Eulogy: Pete ‘Jona’ Jones

Hello, everyone. For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Helen. Sadly, many of you have already met me at least once in this capacity because we’ve lost so many mutual friends in recent years, all of them well-known and well-loved Doncaster characters: Penny Flintoff and her daughter Kate, Kate’s fiancé Pete MacDonald, and Shell Stubb’s partner Stevo Pearson. And now we’ve lost perhaps the greatest local character of all, the truly legendary Pete Jones – or Jona, as most of us knew him.

Jona and friends enjoying the sun (far right) at our last encounter in 2018

It was in Wetherspoons, on a sunny afternoon a few months after Kate’s death, and while he was still recuperating from major surgery, that Jona asked me if I’d do this for him when the time came. I was honoured to say yes, albeit naturally hoping that time lay much further ahead than today. We didn’t discuss details or even what music he might like; but I’m sure he’d approve of the songs chosen by Marc, Emma and Nicky, the first being This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush which we’ve just heard – and I can only hope he’s here now listening in spirit, and will be pleased with what I’m about to say.

My original draft started with a warning: ‘This service contains strong language, sexual swearwords, tasteless humour, and explicit drug references throughout.’ Then I thought it might get me arrested – might get some of you arrested, too – so I binned it in favour of this carefully sanitised version. No doubt you can fill in the blanks for yourselves.  

The Jona we all knew and loved was the quintessential good-time guy, a true party animal, sociable, hospitable and endlessly entertaining; a bit of a rogue and a ladies’ man, yet with the qualities and interests to be a man’s – and a children’s – man too; a gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and about whom no-one has a bad word to say, as shown by the many similar tributes that poured in on Facebook: ‘one of the best blokes around,’ ‘diamond,’ ‘could’ve got away with murder if he’d fancied.’ What a way to bow out – it makes a fitting epitaph for a life which gave so much pleasure to so many people. Everyone in certain circles knew Jona, and everyone loved him because he was such good company and fun to be with. That was his surface persona; but even on a deeper level, what you saw was what you got. Jona was extremely Zen; a natural Buddhist, he lived in and for the moment – and mostly his moments were pretty damn good. He seemed to glide through life with calm acceptance, fully aware and involved in the issues he cared about, yet with no sign of the pointless angst, overthinking and emotional baggage so many of us carry. I can sum up my experience of him with a line from Leonard Cohen’s famous tribute to Janis Joplin: ‘You got away, I never once heard you say I need you, I don’t need you, and all of that jiving around.’  Perhaps it was this peaceful, chilled vibe which made Pete so magnetic, and drew people to him as much if not more than his social assets. If he had a dark side, I never saw a hint of it in the thirty years I knew him. The worst adjective I can think of to describe him is ‘messy’ – in every sense – and the worst criticism I can make is that it was easier to get Strongbow round at his place than milk for your tea (which I learnt to drink weak and black since I was invariably driving).

Despite our long acquaintance, I knew very little about Jona personally, or about his life before he settled in Doncaster. I gather from Nicky that this isn’t unusual among his friends and associates, so parts of this story may be as much of a revelation to you as they were to me.

Peter Howard Jones was born in Birkenhead in 1950, the only son of Beryl and Reginald Jones, and brother to Debbie and Rosemary. An extremely talented draughtsman, as a young man Jona ran his own company, Jolly Design Ltd. While married to Trudy, he became a loving father to Marc; then to Emma, the daughter of his second marriage to the late Heather, and to Heather’s daughter Penny; and later an equally loving and beloved stepfather to Nicky, entering her life as her mum’s new partner when she was only six weeks old. He also had the joy of seeing another generation of his family born, and would be a proud, doting grandfather to Emma’s three children Jack, Hattie, and Dara, and to Nicky’s daughter Kendall.

Though Jona had many talents and virtues, self-discipline wasn’t among them. In Emma’s words, ‘My dad was a keen fisherman and a generally laid-back guy. He had a lust for life and enjoyed himself to the full; my earliest memories are of stepping over sleeping bodies after one of his drinking marathons. Dad and one of his oldest, closest friends, Johnny Carter, went off to Ireland for a time to run a family pub Johnny had inherited. Unfortunately they couldn’t get a licence, but apparently a good time was had by all as they fished all day and partied all night – until the booze ran out.’

That seems like an apt point to break for this song: Fisherman’s Blues by the Water Boys

I first met Jona around 1990 in The Leopard – where else? – while I was getting to know my friend Penny’s daughter Kate. Of course, I liked him immediately – who didn’t? – and we had a lot in common. A fellow nature-lover, he belonged to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust; was soppy about cats and gave them cool names (Reggie and Ronnie, Ping and Pong); and a keen gardener, he shared my fondness for houseplants, which he was highly skilled at cultivating. Back in those days he looked very much as Marc does now, so it was quite freaky – in the nicest possible way – to Facetime with Marc while preparing for this service, and reminded me so vividly of a scene from our early acquaintance that I even recall how we were dressed: Jona in a white shirt and jeans, and me in Gothy black. We bumped into each other at Donny station one summer Saturday night and travelled to Sheffield together; he and a petite blonde lady were on their way to a party, and I was with a group heading for an all-nighter at the Leadmill – but I enjoyed their company on the journey so much I wished I’d given raving a miss and accepted the invitation to party along with them instead.

Not long afterwards, Jona left his town centre flat, where his good nature and hospitality were sometimes abused by folk rolling in from the pub and creating hassle, and moved to 74 Furnival Road in Balby, well out of their way. I loved going round there. I can still picture – and smell – it quite clearly: the red front door, the massive mess, the clothing-strewn bathroom, Reggie Catt snoozing somewhere or pottering about; sitting in the living room with the gas fire blasting and Jeremy Clarkson burbling in the background if it was cold, or outside in the sun if it wasn’t, sometimes alone and sometimes in company. Either way, the memories are golden – I can’t recall a single time which wasn’t fun. As you know, Pete was a great raconteur and frequently had me in stitches. One story that sticks in the mind, so to speak, concerned a bucket of slugs he and some friends had collected in the process of blitzing a garden. Much debate ensued on how best to humanely dispose of said critters. Then someone had a bright idea: tip them into a bin-bag and squash them en masse. The knotted bag was duly jumped on with full force – whereupon it burst, splattering the onlookers with a mixture of slime and pulverised slugs. I almost laughed myself sick, then countered with the tale of how my husband Mick once accidentally stank the neighbourhood out with baked cat-shit. (Ask me later if you really want to know).

Kate and I often met up at Furnival Road before, during and after her romance with Jona, and I always felt sorry that the vegan cookbook they’d been working on together never came to fruition. After one typically hilarious afternoon, we sat in my car meanly laughing at some poor novice driver struggling to make a thirty-three-point turn between the tightly parked rows before it occurred to either of us that any half-decent person would get out and help – by which point it was embarrassingly too late, so we stayed put and enjoyed the show until the poor lass finally managed to drive off. On odd occasions, the three of us also met up at Kate’s, usually when we were trying to tame her wildly overgrown garden. On many more occasions we passed at the gate, or missed each other by minutes, since we lived our lives from opposite ends: I’m more likely to rise at midnight than midday then crash out straight after tea, so I’d usually finished my stint and was heading home by the time Jona arrived. I confess I was very alarmed when a chainsaw was acquired, (minus the requisite PPE, of course), to speed up the work. I tried not to imagine Kate with her weak ankles and the pair of them stoked up on Strongbow, stumbling through that jungle wielding a potentially lethal power tool, and daily expected to see ‘Armthorpe Accidental Chainsaw Massacre’ cropping up on Look North.

As well as playing hard, Jona could and did work hard when the occasion demanded. In the late Nineties and Noughties he set up as a freelance IT consultant – I hired him a couple of times to sort out computer problems for me – and often spent much of the summer doing catering or bar work on the festival circuit. It seemed like an idyllic existence in many respects, if not without its downside – like the frightening incident when some bad guys kicked in the front door and robbed him. As time passed we saw less of each other, particularly after I moved from Doncaster to Wakefield, but I well recall his 60th birthday and the lovely evening Mick and I spent with Kate and James, celebrating it at The Leopard; and that it was from Kate I first learned of Jona’s cancer, and his operation in late 2017 to remove a kidney tumour.

Again, this is typical. Jona never publicised his problems, sought sympathy or bemoaned his fate; he just stoically dealt with what he had to. There was no secrecy or embarrassment involved; when I saw him in Spoons, he freely described his unusual kidney, the apparent success of his operation, and his slow road to recovery, with characteristic good humour and understatement of the pain and discomfort he must have endured. As Emma says, ‘Jona battled his illness like a trooper – a lot of people never even knew he was sick.’

This natural discretion was compounded by Covid and the 2020 lockdowns, with Jona’s age and health placing him in the most vulnerable category, and restricting him to a small social bubble at precisely the time he would most want to be with his family and friends. One great blessing is that he was able to go on living at home with the support of his good friend Dave ‘Spike’ Mahoney, who Emma particularly wishes to thank for caring for her dad when she couldn’t, due to work and family commitments. Sadly though, Pete was unable to say many things he might otherwise have said to many of you face to face – so on his behalf I’ll try and say them through this verse: Farewell, My Friends.

It was beautiful as long as it lasted, the journey of my life. I have no regrets whatsoever, save the pain I’ll leave behind – those dear hearts who love and care, and the heavy-with-sleep, ever-moist eyes, the smile in spite of a lump in the throat and the strings pulling at the heart and soul,
The strong arms that held me up when my own strength let me down. Each morsel that I was fed was full of love.
At every turning of my life I came across good friends, friends who stood by me, even when the time raced me by.
Farewell, farewell my friends, I smile and bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears, for I need them not, All I need is your smile. If you feel sad, do think of me, for that’s what I’ll like – when you live in the hearts of those you love, remember then… you never die.

I’ll be eternally grateful that I got to see Jona for what proved to be the last time, though mercifully neither of us knew it, on a blisteringly hot day in June 2018. Even though the occasion was sad – a small planting party in our orchard for some of Kate’s ashes – it’s another golden memory I treasure. Roy made music while we made merry in the usual way – although Jona was quieter than usual, which is hardly surprising, and spent much of the time crashed out in the sun. We planted Kate at the foot of two cider apple trees called Katy and Sops in Wine, watered in with copious libations of Strongbow while Mick quietly freaked out in case the alcohol killed these precious saplings we’d painstakingly nurtured though the drought. He needn’t have worried. They’ve turned into two of our best croppers, and we make their fruit into organic cider and this sublime apple brandy – a nice bit of indirect cannibalism I suspect would amuse vegan Kate enormously. Here’s to you both. Another blessing is the family’s golden memory of their last holiday together in Turkey, where Jona enjoyed the beauty of the place, being peacefully at one with nature and spending time with his grandchildren.

When the end came, Jona’s decline was so sudden and steep it took everyone by surprise. Even though I was aware of his condition, like many of you, I didn’t know how critical it had become, or that any chance of visiting had passed. This does mean I can remember him as he’d like to be remembered, full of life and fun. Sadly, it also means I never got to tell him how dearly fond I’d always been of him, and how much his friendship meant to me. Like most of you here today, I never got chance to say goodbye.

So let’s tell him now. Let’s reach out to Jona with our hearts and minds and say to him all those last words; and let’s reach out to each other, united in the sorrow of loss but also in the joy of having known and shared our lives with this uniquely special man. Let’s take a few quiet moments to fill this whole space with our love and memories of laughter, to lift the roof off and send his spirit soaring on a champagne supernova…

*****

Pete Jones, if the power of love in this room could restore you to life, you’d live forever. But the time’s come to bid farewell to your physical presence, and as they might say on Top Gear: The vehicle has become unroadworthy – which, considering the joyride it’s had for seventy-one years, is perhaps no surprise. The bodywork’s decaying, the filters have packed in, and now the engine’s totally failed. The driver has duly abandoned it in long-stay parking where he says you’re welcome to torch it – he’s elected to fly home instead.

CLOSE CURTAINS

It is a great comfort to know that Jona died as he lived: peacefully, surrounded by his nearest and dearest, still able to enjoy a can of lager and a smoke, and give a thumbs-up, practically till his last hour. You know how he’d like you to celebrate his life, so when we leave here, get yourselves down to The Leopard; and since he didn’t want you to be any sadder than you can help, I’ll close with this thought:

When I die, my atoms will come undone;

I’ll be space dust once again.

The wind will carry me; scatter me everywhere, like dandelions in Springtime

I’ll visit worlds and alien moons; it will be so damn poetic.

Until I land on your sandwich.

Oasis: Champagne Supernova

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s