RIP Stephen Sutton / A lesson for us all

Today is a sad day, because it is the day that Stephen Sutton – the inspirational 19 year old who raised more than £3 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust whilst battling the disease himself – finally lost his fight and passed away.

What Stephen achieved in the short time he had far exceeded what most people achieve in a lifetime. Instead of turning his back on life as his body marched inexorably towards its tragic and untimely demise, Stephen made sure he squeezed every last drop out of the time he had left. Not only that, he turned his plight on its head and used it to help others in the same position. How many 19 year olds have the maturity and drive to do something like that? In fact, how many people of any age do? He also ignored the ignorant trolls who came forward when he was released from hospital after showing signs of improvement and accused him of being a ‘fake’ and lying about the seriousness of his condition – refusing to rise to their vicious bait about giving people their money back (something I for one would certainly have handled far less graciously).

Stephen’s story has got me thinking about selflessness and self-awareness; two qualities Stephen had in abundance but which so many people lack. You only have to look around a busy London office or commuter train to see people complaining – about their lot in life, or about the behaviour of other people and how it’s negatively impacted on them. True, everyone needs to let off steam once in a while, but in such moments it would do us all good to take a leaf out of Stephen’s book, think about how our negative behaviour and attitudes impact upon others – instead of the other way around – and realise that we all have a choice: To stay bogged down in our daily problems without bothering to raise our heads above the selfish parapets we inhabit, or to stand up, be counted and make the changes we want to see in ourselves and those around us. Thanks to people like Stephen Sutton, I know which I plan to do.

RIP Stephen: Wherever you now are please know that your legacy will live on in the lives of all the many people you have helped and inspired xxxx

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The Ticking of the Clocks

The only constant in his life has been the ticking of the clocks: First the mighty grandfather clock that stood at the foot of his crib like a sentry; then the gilt-edged pocket watch he was given as a boy before being sent to the country as a refugee. He remembered even now the thrill of that transaction as his father dropped the watch into his right hand, closed his fingers over it one by one and smiled. “Look after it,” he had said, ruffling his son’s hair and closing the door of the train as the engine creaked into life. That was the last time Bobby had seen his father. He was seven years old.

Now seventy seven, Bobby lies in a starched hospital bed. His eyes are closed, his breathing ragged. They have sedated him, they tell his worried family – son, Thomas, daughter in law Serina and beloved grandson, Jack. He has had a stroke and suffered serious paralysis and possible brain damage. “Don’t climb up there, darling,” says Serina to her son. Her voice, normally calm, is shrill. “But I want to see Granpa,” says Jack, ignoring his mother and climbing up onto the bed. He takes the old man’s veiny hand in his and squeezes.

Jack is seven, an inquisitive child with an aptitude for art and a love of reading. His sensitivity will serve him well in life, and he will one day become a celebrated artist. But for now he is just seven, sitting on a bed with his dying grandfather, listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall – waiting for something to happen. And then something does happen. Jack must have closed his eyes for a moment because when he opens them again he is standing on a dark landing with his grandfather. Bobby says nothing but points towards a big clock twice the size of Jack that stands at the end of the corridor. He looks down at his grandson and smiles, and Jack has the feeling everything is going to be okay.

The landing begins to shift and Jack feels himself being pulled away from his grandfather, back to the bright lights of the hospital room where his mother and father are waiting. The grandfather clock strikes seven times and Jack opens his eyes. He knows Bobby has gone but he looks peaceful, as if he is asleep. Jack climbs down from the bed and notices a feeling of heaviness in his pocket that wasn’t there before. He reaches a hand inside and pulls out a gilt-edged pocket watch. He smiles.

The Boss

I’ve decided to enter a short story competition, and this is my first attempt at the beginning of the story. What do you think? Honest opinions welcomed…

The Boss

The first time Matt slammed Annie’s head into the wall he said it was an accident. He was going to punch the wall, he said, but her head had got in the way. It was her fault, naturally. It always was. The second time was harder for him to deny. They’d been having breakfast in the conservatory on what she remembered to be a hot and sticky summer’s day. He’d asked about her male colleague, Sam, who he’d met at a work function the previous evening. Had they ever been alone together, he’d wanted to know.

She should have said no but she told him the truth; that of course they had on the odd occasion, travelling to meetings and so forth. It was the wrong answer. She spent that night in A&E with a split lip, black eye and bruised collarbone. He’d been treated for scratches where his hand had made contact with the glass of the conservatory. They knew, the hospital staff, it was obvious. But though they pleaded with their eyes for her to tell the truth she knew the consequences of doing so were far more dangerous than even they realised. And so she stayed silent.

It hadn’t always been like this, of course. When they met at Matt’s university’s graduation ball five years ago he’d bewitched her. Six foot two with gladiatorial stature and eyes the colour of swimming pools he’d not only been her type, he’d been her Adonis. Annie hadn’t thought it possible such a man could exist; as it turned out, he didn’t. When she looked at him now she saw not infinite possibility in his azure eyes, but infinite cruelty – how had she not seen it before?

He was an excellent liar – that much became apparent early on in their relationship, when she started to find the receipts in his jacket pockets, the clichéd lipstick on his collar. She should have left him then, of course, but she was pregnant with Jack. How could she have left? Her parents were dead, she had no savings to her name – he’d made sure everything was in his name. So instead she stayed, played the role of the oblivious wife perfectly. He never suspected a thing.

If there was any solace it was that he didn’t lay a finger on their son. The beatings lessened in severity during the pregnancy, and he was careful not to punch her near her stomach. He may have been a soulless man, but even he knew harming his unborn child was going too far. Instead he slapped her face, burned her legs with cigarettes, just enough to keep her in line, to show her who was boss – oblivious to the fact she would soon show him that it was her.

Phantom

After giving birth to my son the nurse told me he didn’t exist.

Can you imagine? The child I’d carried to full term, whose heartbeat I’d heard with my own ears, whose little legs I’d felt kicking inside me, whose features I’d seen at every scan.

At first I struggled to take in the meaning of those seemingly nonsensical words. But, as her tone of voice became more insistent and her manner shifted from one of consolation to frustration, it dawned on me that, for some unknown and utterly incredible reason, she believed it to be true.

I myself was incredulous, as I’m sure you can imagine, and when Michael arrived I begged him to explain, to tell them they were wrong and that there was a baby – our baby – somewhere. There had clearly been a mix up and our son, our Max – or James or Saul, we hadn’t yet decided – was in someone else’s incubator, mislabelled like an erroneous tin of soup in a warehouse.

Once the truth had been uncovered there would be a full investigation, of course. Heads would roll, and we would sue them and set up a trust fund for our son with the payout. In years to come we would laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation, and it would go down in family folklore and be told at annual gatherings for generations to come.

At first Michael agreed it was ludicrous. In fact, he was outraged. How could a woman carry a baby to full term only for it to disappear?

And yet, slowly but surely, they turned him against me, poisoned his mind with vicious lies about my state of mind.

This is my last attempt at freedom, a final bid to unshackle myself from the false accusations that have led to my incarceration, that have stripped me of sanity as I knew it.

I beg you to read my story and decide for yourself who is mad; them, me, or every one of us?

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I came across this charming little fellow whilst exploring a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was certainly very wary of me!