Remembering

Today there were convictions; the culmination of almost two years of angst. At least in legal terms. Emotionally the angst will never be purged. Because what little satisfaction comes from people paying for their sickening crimes does nothing to bring back the person who fell victim to them. That person who had everything to live for. Who should be here today.

But let his memory not be tarnished with inaccurate news reports and unreliable eyewitness accounts. Instead, let him be remembered at his best, for everything he was, for everything he achieved and for the infinite joy he brought so many.

His passing has taught us so much about what it is to live. That we must never EVER take this precious life for granted. That we must love until we are fit to burst. That we must fill our lives with fun, sprinkling joy and laughter all around us like fairy dust.

And so, forever, we will remember. X

download (2)

Remembering a Friend

A year ago today someone very special was taken from this world in the worst possible way, leaving a deep chasm of grief in his wake. For his family, his girlfriend and his friends life would never be the same again; there would forever be a Paul-shaped void. Of course life does, inevitably, move on – it has to, for despite its power even grief can’t stop the world from spinning on its axis – but time, though a healer of sorts, can never erase the pain of such a shocking and untimely loss.

I only knew Paul for a short time, but he made a big impact on me, as I know he did on all the many others that he met along the rollercoaster ride that was his life. Yesterday I was so happy to be reunited with his girlfriend Sarah, for whom the past year has been difficult beyond words, but who has shown such admirable strength of spirit in the midst of her grief. Nothing will ever make up for the loss of Paul, but one thing is certain: He may be gone, but his exuberance, charm and joie de vivre will never be forgotten.

image

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

image

The End of the Road

Today I took what was probably the last ride on my Norco hybrid bike. Despite the fact it has for the past five months been out of use and cluttering up the hallway of my flat so much it’s nearly made me and my boyfriend come to blows, I must admit I feel a certain sadness now the time to part is nearly upon us.

I’m neither a natural nor particularly keen cyclist, indeed the only reason that I bought the bike in the first place was because I was coerced (or was it me who did the coercing? I forget) into doing a sprint distance triathlon back in 2009. After the first sprint triathlon I did another, and last year I took on the Olympic distance. Throughout it all my trusty bike was on hand, taking me out training no matter what the weather was like outside. We had good times and we had bad times but we never gave up, and we chalked up some surprisingly impressive results over the course of those three races – results I will be proud to share with my children one day, ensuring its legacy lives on.

But since that last race back in September 2012 the bike has been in premature retirement, and spending some of the best years of its life languishing unwanted in a hallway just isn’t fair. We both need to accept that it’s time for us to move on with our lives, separately. I’m pleased to have found a good home for it with a friend who has also now committed to an Olympic triathlon next year – really, neither of us could ask for more.

And so with a heavy heart I bid my bike adieu, and wish it well for its future endeavours, whatever they might be. I’ve given it one final service and am handing it over with love. Bye, Norco, you’ve been great. Ride well and prosper.

Happy Birthday to my Spiritual Twin

Today is a very special person’s 27th birthday, and as I can’t think of a better way to mark this most auspicious of occasions (plus I’ve only just learned of the occasion and therefore haven’t time to do anything else), I thought a blog post in her honour might just fit the birthday bill. Because, you see, this person is special for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is writing.

Allow me, if you will, the luxury of a nostalgic trip into the past – May 2011, to be precise, on a lazy backwater tour of Cochin in India. That day I met a girl called Jen who hailed from Brisbane and was five years my junior, and with whom I instantly got on. We were both travelling alone, and it was most enjoyable to share our experiences as our guide negotiated the labyrinthine maze of aquatic waterways.

As fate would have it when I arrived at the Sivananda ashram in southern Kerala a couple of days later who should be there but Jen? It turned out we had both booked onto the two week ‘yoga vacation,’ although it quickly became apparent this would be about as far removed from a holiday as could be. Five am starts, ‘karma yoga’ duties and four gruelling hours of yoga a day was an exhausting regime, and if Jen hadn’t been there to laugh with in the moments when it all got too much I’m not sure I’d have lasted the two weeks.

Fast forward to January 2013, by which time Jen had moved to New York after her travels to start a new life, and was making ends meet by waitressing, spending her free time working on her novel. When I sensed from her messages that she was feeling a little flat I felt a strong urge to visit her, and before I knew it April had come around and I was on my way to New York City.

The six days we spent together were amazing, especially considering we didn’t really know each other that well, and almost two years had passed since our last face to face meeting. We were laughing from the second Jen met me at the airport, and we didn’t stop until it was time to say goodbye. We walked sixty blocks in an afternoon, searched for mystical horses in Grand Central station, ate pizza, burgers and cupcakes like they were going out of fashion and painted New Jersey and downtown Manhattan entirely new shades of red. We also discovered a shared passion for cheese, and whiled away a perfect afternoon in Murray’s Cheese Bar over a bottle of quality red.

Leaving NYC was a wrench, because I knew I’d found in Jen something so very rare – a spiritual soul mate, if you believe in such a thing, someone who is so much like yourself you could actually be related. We both love to write, we’re both utterly neurotic (!) and we share an interest in spirituality.

Since New York we’ve kept in touch via a series of endlessly entertaining Whatsapp messages, which often leave me giggling aloud in public (not a good look). And now as Jen prepares to leave the city she has come to love for pastures new (Hawaii, as it happens – not a bad choice of destination), I find myself wishing I could join her on her next adventure, and in ways I can’t explain feeling that in some way I am.

So, on your 27th birthday, here’s to you, my Spiritual Twin. Thank you for the laughs your friendship over the past two and a half years has given me, and here’s to the future and all it brings. Remember that no decision we make is ever wrong – because each one gives us so much new material to enrich our writing and our lives. Love you x

Bon voyage to a friend x

This post is to wish my beautiful friend Sarah the very best of everything as she prepares to fly back to Australia tomorrow to resume the life she and her wonderful late boyfriend Paul had made together. I know she hates to be called ‘brave,’ and feels she has dealt with all that has happened over the past weeks and months as anyone would in the same circumstance, but nonetheless she has been an inspiration to me. Her warmth and humour have been a shining light in what has been an utterly dark time, not only for her but for her family, Paul’s family and all of their friends.  Paul’s passing was grossly unfair, an utter tragedy whose sadness knows no bounds. And yet as is always the case, out of this most horrendous of tragedies have sprung some small green shoots of hope. The outpouring of love for Paul has shown his beautiful spirit will live on forever, and I sincerely hope that Sarah feels the warmth of everyone’s affection shining on her every day of her life, as she most truly deserves. I wish you all the luck and love and happiness in the world gorgeous girl. Have a safe journey and soak up that Sydney sunshine for those of us you’re leaving behind. And always remember, physical distance is nothing, it’s what’s in your heart that counts. Which means wherever you are, Paul and all of us will be there too. xxxx

For Pauly xx

Tomorrow is the funeral of the wonderful Paul Wickerson, who came into my life with his beautiful girlfriend Sarah eight weeks ago at the wedding of our mutual friends Harry and Emma, and who left it a mere two weeks after that.

I’m struggling to find the words to describe how I feel as I sit here and consider all that’s happened in the past few weeks. We only knew Paul for a weekend, and yet he has made a lasting impact on our lives. His gentleness of spirit and sense of fun were plain to see from our first meeting, and I’ll treasure the memory of the four of us spending several cycles in the Jacuzzi (naughty) before launching ourselves down the children’s water slide. I will also always remember the fry up Paul cooked for us before we left that sunny Sunday, sharing the food he’d brought as we hadn’t had the forethought to bring our own.

When I think of Paul it will always be in that beautiful five star lodge besides a lush green golf course, a big smile plastered on his face. And I, in turn, shall make sure I have a big smile plastered on mine.

I wish I could write more eloquently but my sadness prohibits me saying more. Instead I have taken the below picture, which I hope encapsulates Pauly’s love of fancy dress, fun and silliness. And I am posting the following poem which I read at my grandma’s funeral and which, whilst heartbreakingly sad, I believe with all my heart:

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

God bless Pauly. The world’s a less colourful place without you in it.

Man’s best friend

Image

When the alarm clock beeped Maurice groaned his customary groan and stretched out like a tiger waking from a snooze. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and blinked several times. Then, with a whoosh of excitement that coursed from the top of his head to the tip of his toes he remembered: Today was his eighth birthday.

He leapt out of bed and ran out of the room and all the way down the stairs into the kitchen. There he found his mother, his father and his baby brother Teddy sitting at the breakfast table waiting for him.
“Happy Birthday Maurice,” his parents said in unison. Teddy just grinned and waved his rattle. “Here,” said his mother, “sit down and I’ll make you a special breakfast before school. Eggs and bacon okay?”
Maurice beamed and nodded as he took his seat at the head of the table where, he couldn’t help but notice, there sat a large box with a ribbon on it. His father smiled and nodded so he ripped off the paper and shouted “yes!” and punched the air when he saw it was the remote controlled rally car he’d been wanting for ages. “Can I take it to school?” he asked,but his father shook his head. “I think it’s best kept safe at home for the moment,” he said.
Maurice kicked his chair under the table in silent protest, but was soon distracted by the plate of fried breakfast his mother had put in front of him. She sat down beside him, pulled her purse out of her bag and fished a shiny pound coin out of its depths. “Here you go,” she said, handing the coin to Maurice, “I know we normally say no sweets at school but as it’s your birthday why don’t you pick up a little treat from the shop at break time.”

As his mother had suggested, Maurice went to the shop around the corner from school during his lunch hour. When he arrived there was a little dog tethered outside. Maurice didn’t know much about dogs but he thought this was what his father would call a Scottie dog-a Scottish Terrier with charcoal grey fur, a long body, short little legs and ears that looked too big for its head.
As Maurice bent down to pat the dog the shop door opened and an old lady came out. She was wearing a thick wool coat even though it was warm outside and she had a scarf wrapped around her head like a turban. The skin on her face was baggy, like it was too big for the bones and sinew underneath, and she had drawn thick black lines around her eyes.
Maurice stood up and the old lady smiled. “Oh don’t mind me dear,” she said, “Colin loves the attention.” Maurice knew it was rude to stare but he couldn’t take his eyes off the old lady. “Colin?” he repeated? “Yes,” the lady said, “it’s a silly name for a dog I know but it was my husband’s name, you see.”
The old lady stopped to cough, and Maurice noted with alarm that when she pulled her tissue away from her face there were spots of what looked like blood on it. “Are you alright?” he asked. The old lady straightened herself up as best she could and forced her withered lips into a thin smile. “Yes,” she said, “I’m fine, thank you,” though Maurice was far from convinced. “What brings you here, anyway?” She asked. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
Maurice grinned and pulled the coin from his pocket. “It’s my birthday,” he said proudly. “I’m eight years old today and so my mum gave me this to buy sweets.” The old lady coughed again and winced in pain. “That’s nice,” she said. Her breath was shallower now and Maurice was scared. What should he do? Call the shop owner? Call an ambulance?
As he was thinking trough his options the old lady pulled a small black coin purse from her pocket and began to root around in it. “Drat,” she said, coughing again. “I’m a pound short.” “For what?” Maurice asked. “For a taxi to…it doesn’t matter.” Maurice looked at the pound coin in his hand, hesitated, then held it out on his palm.
The old woman smiled through her obvious pain and took the coin. “That’s very kind of you little boy,” she said, “what’s your name?” Maurice, who had been told never to tell strangers his name, replied without hesitation, “Maurice Brown.” “And you go to the school next door?” He nodded. “Well Maurice,” the old lady said, “I promise to repay you for your kindness today. Though it may be in a different way to that which you might expect.”
Before Maurice could ask what she meant she had flagged down an approaching taxi and climbed unsteadily into it, coughing and wheezing all the while. Colin jumped in after her and she shut the door and drove off. Maurice returned to school empty handed.
That evening, after his birthday dinner there was a knock on the front door. When Maurice’s father came back into the room he was carrying a large box. “Another present?” Maurice asked. “From who?”
His father put the box down onto the table with great care and handed Maurice an envelope with MAURICE BROWN written on the front in thick marker pen. Inside there was a piece of paper, upon which was written:
Dear Maurice, if you’re reading this it means I’ve gone to a better place, so please don’t be sad for me. When we met today I could tell you were a special little boy. In return for your kindness I would like to offer you first refusal on this gift. I hope you will love and care for it as I have, and that it will bring you great happiness. God bless you, Annie (the old lady outside the shop).
Maurice put the note down and stared at the box, and as he did a scratching noise from inside made him jump. Suddenly he knew what was inside, and began tearing at the wrapping. He opened the box and, sure enough, inside it sat Colin the Scottie dog. When he saw Maurice he jumped up and licked his face, making everyone laugh.
“Can we keep him Dad?” Maurice asked. His dad looked at his mum, and his mum looked back to him. “How could we say no?” she said with a smile. “We’re so proud of what you did today Maurice.” Maurice beamed back at her. “This is the best birthday ever,” he said, and Colin barked his agreement.

Series hysteria (aka Goodbye old friend)

Tonight I’ve been invited to my best friends’ place to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones (for the second time) and have dinner. But this will not be just any dinner-oh no. This will be a dinner fit for a king-quite literally, since the daft/ingenious pair of them have decided to create a Game of Thrones-themed dinner. One is doing main course, the other dessert. The latter of which, I’ve been reliably informed, will be nothing short of a triumph if it goes to plan, but if it goes wrong – and here I quote aforementioned friend – “I’ll look a bit of a twat.”

We three are not alone in our hysteria for the historical drama that’s taken the country by storm. I myself came to the party rather late, but through sheer diligence and the downloading assistance of my boyfriend (himself watching for the second time) have managed to catch up on all three series in under a month (if only I were that productive in all the other aspects of my life. But I digress).

I’ll admit that TV dramas have taken a back seat in my life in recent years – the last time I got really excited about one was when 24 first came out, when I’m ashamed to admit I failed to attend a friend’s birthday party in order to complete a marathon viewing session of 12 back to back episodes – but if this one’s anything to go by I might just have to make some space in my life to fit them back in.

Why? Because a good TV series is like a good friend-you stay by its side in good times and bad, sharing the highs and commiserating over the lows. You look forward to seeing them and can’t bear the thought of being parted. Which is why the end of a series can feel like a death (especially if-shock, horror, it’s the FINAL series), and can leave you feeling quite bereft. Or, in some people’s cases, feeling inclined to do a spot of historical baking. I shall report back…

You had me at first click – Part Seven

“Daddy?” Amy tugged at her father’s hand. “Who’s that lady?”

His trance broken, John looked down at his daughter and attempted a smile. “Just an old friend darling,” he said with as much reassurance in his voice as he could muster. “Right you two, it’s about time you got to class. Do you know where you’re going?”

Jasper, who knew exactly where his new classroom was, shot off like a rocket. As Amy hesitated, John could feel Jen’s eyes on him from across the room. He felt her presence viscerally, and it unnerved him.

“Can I help?” she said, in front of them now. John caught a scent of flowers, noticed a set of delicate beads around her neck. She looked, he thought – though even thinking it felt like a betrayal – radiant. She was still slim, but her face was fuller somehow, her skin pink and plump. A light smear of balm on her lips reflected the light, appearing to sparkle. Apart from that her makeup was minimal, her curly blonde hair tamed with her trademark red bow. John’s stomach clenched.

“My daughter, Amy, she’s, um…” He stopped, unable to find the words.

Fortunately his daughter was less shy in Jen’s presence, unaware as she was of the history and gravitas behind this chance encounter. “It’s my first day in Year One,” she announced. “Do you know which class room I need to go to?”

Jen smiled and knelt down beside Amy. As she did so the material of her wrap dress fell to reveal part of her upper thigh. She quickly rectified the problem, but not before a shock of lust had jolted in John’s groin. “Well guess what Amy? My name is Mrs Marsh and I’m your new teacher.”

As John struggled to register his childhood friend’s marital status, she stood up and rested a hand upon her stomach, where, he now noticed, there was an unmistakeable bump.

His heart sank.

Image

Writing about school made me think of this little chap, who I spent some time teaching in Taliwas, Borneo, last year. Our ‘classroom’ was a covered table and seating area surrounded by lush forest – beats a sterile concrete building!