Celebrating Life – and Good Friends

Today I went to Birmingham for the funeral of my good friend’s dad. It was sad and uplifting in equal measures, sad because Brian no longer walks amongst us and he will be sorely missed by those who loved him, and uplifting because so many people turned out to pay their respects. Brian was a larger than life character, and it’s always those people who leave the biggest hole when they pass away. I didn’t know him well, but I knew him well enough to know he would have thoroughly appreciated every moment of today, from the sympathetic vicar who delivered the ceremony in exactly the way he had specified before he died, to the inordinately large volume of champagne that was drunk in his beautifully sunny garden afterwards. I know he would have loved the fact that everyone had come together to raise a glass in his honour, and above all else I know he would have been hugely proud of his son, my friend, who has borne his father’s untimely passing with such strength and courage, helped in no small part by his gorgeous fiancé and wonderful family.

It’s on occasions like today I realise how important it is to count blessings. When I looked around me in the crematorium, which was lined wall to wall with people, I really felt the value of the life that had been lost. I like to think I live my own life well enough to ensure a decent turn out to my own send-off, whenever that might be, but that’s not to say I can’t do more in whatever time I have left on this mortal coil to positively contribute to others’ lives, to make them feel valued, supported and loved as they have me. I felt particularly grateful today at the wake, when I recognised the fantastic and extensive support network of friends I still have from university – not something everyone can claim to have sustained a decade after graduation. This friendship group is special and, despite not getting together nearly as often as we’d like, it is also lasting. I know I’m being a soppy cow but sometimes it’s just nice to take a moment to reflect on all the good things. And I’m sure that somewhere up there in the ether, glass of champagne in hand, Brian Simonite is doing just that too. Cheers, Brian.

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Birthday Wishes for an Absent Friend

Today would have been the 33rd birthday of a very special man who was in my life – and the lives of many others – for far too short a time: Paul Wickerson. The sole weekend we spent with him and his beautiful girlfriend Sarah in a bonny Scottish lodge for the wedding of our good friends Emma and Harry last August will stay in my heart and in my memory forever.

I didn’t know Paul beyond that short weekend, as two weeks later he was tragically taken from this world, but his spirit, sense of fun and his aforementioned love (the gorgeous Miss Sarah Rhodes) have loomed large in my life ever since.

I won’t profess to have known him better than I did, nor will I dwell on the obvious tragedy that his life was cut short in its prime. Because today is his birthday, and whilst he may not be here in body I’ve no doubt he is here in spirit, so it’s only right he should be celebrated. Happy Birthday Dude, I for one will be raising a ladle and a glass to you tonight x

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The Personal Touch

I’ve just got back into the office after an exciting awards ceremony that I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose further information about until tomorrow – but suffice to say it’s very positive for the charity I work for and will hopefully provide us with leverage to a higher platform of media awareness.

It’s exhausting spending hours waxing lyrical about what your organisation does, but it’s also immensely satisfying, and it’s reminded me of the importance of establishing face to face contact with people instead of always relying on email introductions and social media to do the job. No form of online contact can ever match the effectiveness of face to face interaction, but sadly in our ever-more isolating technological world we are all too often resorting to anything but that mode of communication.

Much as I hate to wax lyrical about ‘when I was young’ (not least because it makes me feel, at the age of 32, positively ancient), there is a hugely notable difference between what it was like to be a teenager then and what it’s like now. I remember signing up to rudimentary chat rooms and carrying around a mobile phone the size of a brick solely to put my mother’s mind at rest, but back then Facebook was but a seed germinating in Mark Zuckerberg’s brilliant mind, and the concept of instant messaging my friends instead of calling their family homes to organise meeting up under Carfax Tower in Oxford on a Saturday afternoon was unthinkable.

Times have changed so much since my childhood and society is, as it always does, adapting. On the whole I am an advocate of social media (I use it enough in my personal life, how could I not be?), but today has reinforced the importance of occasionally reverting to more old fashioned methods. Embracing change is all well and good, but sometimes the old ways really are the best.

Cold calls and cupcakes

This morning I came into work determined to blitz my to do list once and for all, so that I might go to Belgium this weekend feeling in control and, dare I say it, ‘on top of’ things. Sadly, however, today was not to be my day. My initial enthusiastic approach was thwarted at every turn. Firstly, I sat down at my desk to find the papers for the hitherto forgotten (in my mind at least) board meeting staring back at me. Then, post three-hour board meeting, I emerged, blinking in the light, to a telephone call from a blocked number which went something like this:

Me: Hello?

Annoying stranger: Hi, yes, I’m calling about your payment protection.

Me: I don’t have any payment protection.

Annoying stranger: But haven’t you recently taken out a loan?

Me: Look, if you’re trying to sell me something I’m really not interested..

AS: No, I’m absolutely not selling anything….

Me: So what are you calling about?

AS: Your recent loan..

Me: But I haven’t taken out a loan.

AS: Really?

Me: Yes, really. Look, I’m not interested in whatever you’re trying to sell me, okay?

AS: But I’m not a salesman, honestly…

Me: Then what are you?

AS (weakly): I’m calling about your loan…

Me: How many times do I have to tell you I’m NOT INTERESTED?

AS (sounding scared now): Um, okay….

Me: Right. GOODBYE (slams receiver down).

I’m not sure my true wrath translates so well in this context but suffice to say I think the poor man might be re-evaluating his career choices from this day forward…

Fortunately the remainder of the afternoon passed without incident and I did manage to make an indent in the To Do list despite the adverse conditions. But the true success of today was the delicious risotto we made for dinner-with peas, beetroot and goats cheese. This was topped off with a bottle of red and two delicious Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes (apple strewsel and tiramisu, since you asked), courtesy of my friend Kaye’s birthday voucher from a year ago, to celebrate two years to the day we ‘officially’ started going out – a low key celebration in light of recent events, but a lovely one nonetheless. Bruges this weekend will be the icing on the (cup)cake. I can’t wait.

Sisters

“What a beautiful day for a wedding!” Aunt Marjorie says as she scurries into the lounge, a tiny human tornado comprised almost entirely of cobalt blue feathers and taffeta. “Where’s your sister?” she says absent-mindedly, scanning the menagerie of balloons, cards and flowers that scatter the living room like fallen soldiers. The scan finally complete, she rests her eyes on me and gasps. “Lucinda! Why aren’t you ready? The car will be here in fifteen minutes!”

Before I can proffer an answer Mum comes down the stairs; my guardian angel. Though the sisters share physical similarities they are fortunately where the similarities stop. Where Marjorie is more highly strung than a ball of string, Mum takes a more relaxed approach to life, though I suppose with a husband as laid back as Dad she hasn’t had much choice about that. “Marjorie,” Mum says, “the girls aren’t too far off being ready. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll make a nice cup of tea?”

Making the most of this temporary distraction I slink out of the room and begin to climb the staircase, wincing at the squeals of laughter coming out of my sister’s bedroom. Alice, you see, is everything I’m not. Tall, blonde, disquietingly beautiful and clever – an A grade student whose ambition is matched only by her sickeningly loving nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister with all my heart. I just don’t always like her very much. I mean, when the genes got handed out couldn’t the Big Man have given me something? A runner’s up prize of good hair, for example, or nice nails? Instead I got frizzy brown hair, stunted growth and freckles. It’s hard not to feel jealous. Except…

But it’s not my looks that have been the problem. I’ve never had a shortage of boyfriends. They like the elfin look, you see, and I’ve mastered it well. I’ve learned over the years how to make the most of what I do have – a big bust (deep V-neck jumpers go down a treat), long eyelashes (voluminous mascara) and doe eyes (smoky eye makeup sends the boys wild). No, my looks have never been the problem. What’s wrong with me is my personality, or at least that’s what I’ve been told all of my life. Why are you so ungrateful, Lucinda? Why so rude? Why can’t you be clever like your sister? Why can’t you be kind like your sister?

Growing up in the shadow of perfection isn’t easy, but I coped with it as best I could. Sure, I ran wild, but why not live up to the expectations? They were going to think the worst of me whether I went that way or not. But even they don’t know the worst thing that I did. No one can ever know that.

I walk into my sister’s bedroom, still kept as a shrine to her teenage self with her ballerina jewellery box on the dresser and boy band posters on the wall. When I moved out our parents turned my room into a guest room without even asking. Alice sits in the middle of the bed, flanked by her three bridesmaids who are fussing with her hair, her makeup and her jewellery in turn. She turns as I come closer and flashes a megawatt smile. I smile back, hoping she won’t notice that it doesn’t reach my eyes.

An hour later the cars pull up outside the church and we climb out – my sister and her bridesmaids in the Rolls Royce, me, Mum and Marjorie in the taxi behind. The bridesmaids make last minute rearrangements to Alice’s dress as we make our way into the church. As soon as I cross the threshold a wave of nausea washes over me and I hold on to the doorway to steady myself. Mum looks over at me, and in the second that passes whilst locked in her gaze I realise that she knows.

We walk down the aisle to the front pew and take our place with the rest of the family. I’m suddenly conscious of how tight my red dress is, how inappropriate for a wedding. Why did I wear it? Couldn’t I just have let Alice have the limelight for this one day? But I know why I wore it, and as I tug at the hemline and he turns around I feel I might faint.

Taking his cue the congregation turns to get its first sight of the vision in white lace that is my sister. She wafts in as if on a cloud, her arm loosely draped through Dad’s, tendrils of her hair falling lightly over her softly rouged cheeks. She beams at her groom as she processes towards him and takes her place beside him. But as they turn towards one another to proclaim their everlasting love, he shoots an almost imperceptible look into the crowd that says what I already know.

It should have been me.