Words for Friends #14

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#14  Jayne

This July I took a long overdue holiday with my wife Gill, in my old haunt of Chichester, West Sussex.

Whenever returning home – as I still call Sussex – I always made a point of catching up with one of my oldest friends.

Jayne and I met as teenagers while nursing together way back in 1978.

But any hope I may have had of a romantic attachment disappeared quickly when on our second date, and after a couple of beers and an attempted snog, she told me she was gay and lived happily with her partner Julie.

She was the first openly lesbian woman I had ever met – in a time when personal sexuality was more closely guarded.

I was gobsmacked and in typical 1970s’ misogyny I said something like: “How can you be gay, you are too attractive?”

Horrid words, which ought to have choked me, there and then.

But, there was something deeper between us and instead of romance, we became lifelong friends.

Over the next 30 years on my each visit to Sussex, we would meet for a beer and swap stories about the directions our lives had travelled and how much weight we had both gained!

While my life and career took my all over the UK, Jayne remained my constant point of return.

This summer I had not seen Jayne for over 10 years, so this holiday visit was going to be an extra special catch-up.

But, before I set off for the drive down south, I cried myself empty, when I discovered that Jayne had died some 30 months earlier, aged just 56.

Her partner Julie was with her to the end.

Time, life and death waits for no one.

But my friendship and memories of Jayne will always remain.

 

Words for Friends #13

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#13 Ann

Ann is the type of friend who comes into your life just once.

We first met 30 years ago while I was in hospital undergoing radiotherapy, following surgery for a malignant cancer to my right shoulder.

It was in so many ways “true love”… for while my first wife visited me just twice in my 10 weeks (my cancer ensured our marriage, which was already on the rocks, was over) in Velindre Hospital, Cardiff; Ann was with me every day. She was my saving grace, and a real-life Angel.

As a nurse she tended my mundane daily needs and dressed the slowly healing flap and skin grafts, which the surgeons had used to repair my shoulder and back. She also treated the suppurating skin on my neck and shoulder, caused by the radiation burns, ensured I took painkillers and sleeping tablets, and listened quietly to my fears and growing angst about my uncertain future.

We maintained close contact after I left Velindre, and she visited me regularly, when I was readmitted to another Cardiff hospital in April 1988, after the cancer spread to my right lung.

At this time the oncologists gave me a 1 in 10 chance of surviving five years. Yet Ann stayed close by, checking on my welfare by letter and phone almost every week. Her love was immense.

When my marriage finally ended, Ann and I enjoyed an all-too-short romantic relationship. She regularly told me that my horrendously scarred body was “beautiful” and urged me to “keep living”.

But, when I moved to Scotland in the winter of 1990, the geographical distance between us (this was before the days of email and mobile phones) meant we lost touch.

Seemingly forever.

Then suddenly, 26 years later, and thanks to the blue and white monster called Facebook; we found each other again.

We now maintain touch and banter by email, as if time had stood still.

Life and relationships for both of us have moved on.

But, Ann is, and remains, one of my most important and lovely friends and I genuinely do, owe my life to her!

 

Words for Friends #12

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#12 Anissa

I don’t sense affection, no gratitude or love, your loyalty is not to me but to the stars above… one more cup of coffee for the road, one more cup of coffee ‘fore I go, to the valley below.

These words by Bob Dylan have always resonated with me since I first met the lovely Anissa in 2014.

Anissa is so many things: French, Tunisian, an Anglophile, Muslim, a deeply caring mother, a lover of art and North African food, a fiery advocate for justice, a fighter and writer for Palestinian freedom, a caffeine addict, stunningly beautiful, an amazing friend and someone you would choose first to be on your side in a conflict.

Our friendship has grown on so many levels over the past two years and rarely a day goes by when I don’t receive a message checking if I am okay and offering advice or assistance. She is always there.

Geographical distance may separate us, but Anissa is very dear to me as a rock and a friend on that long road to the valley below … one more cup of coffee!

Words for Friends #11

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#11 Jo

Jo is one of the truest friends I could ever have wished for.

We first met in our second year at university, and now 40 years later

she carries secrets about me which she would never share. Well the last bit is a lie, because she shares them regularly to everyone’s amusement … including me!

As young students, Jo and I shared the same friends, music, humour, drinking places and vulgar Tory politics. I fancied her rotten, but we were only ever good friends. Now we talk regularly about those days… except the politics, which we try to bury as deep as Margaret Thatcher’s grave.

Like many student friendships, ours waned after graduation as we both left the campus environs in search of jobs, careers and family.

Then by chance (Friends Reunited) in 2003, we rediscovered each other and a new close friendship was reborn. It is nurtured almost weekly through social media, emails and buckets of shared retrospective humour.

A highlight in recent years was meeting Jo and her husband Ian for a coffee in 2014, when we could at last sit down, catch up and span the years since we last met. It was a wonderful moment.

Today, Jo is one of the first people I always turn to for advice and support, because I trust her implicitly and value every word she shares.

She is quite simply lovely… and a real best friend.

 

Words for Friends #10

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#10 Ian

My friendship with Ian comes home on so many levels.

We were both brought up in the same part of Sussex – albeit three years apart in age – and the same pubs, gigs, record stores and venues were our playground as older teenagers. We are also both lifelong obsessive fans of Brighton and Hove Albion. Our first Albion games were exactly one year apart!

Yet our shared passion did not bring us together until an Albion away game with Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, in March 2004! Then through football, Fans United for Wrexham, music and conversation our friendship grew.

But, it was not until I suffered my breakdown in 2013, that I discovered the true measure of Ian’s friendship and concern. As two family men, who both love our children dearly, we have shared many heart wrenching moments and confessions – the sort that blokes don’t normally chat about in a pub!

And those confessions and conversations continue now.

As the last full measure, I know Ian is always there as a true friend, an open ear, a confidante and a great mate… thank you. UTA!

 

Words for Friends #9

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#9 Clare

Clare is quite simply a rock and my best friend. She is someone I trust and turn to when life becomes tough or we have reason to celebrate.

She is the mother of my son Nathan’s best friend and  we have both marveled at how their friendship has remained close, even though they have been geographically separated by 200 miles for the past two years.

When I went through depression, suicidal thoughts and marital problems a year ago, Clare was always there for me.

An abiding memory is of last 31st December with Gill, Clare and I, our four youngest kids and three friends sharing a New Year’s Eve meal.

Then the mutual parental chuckle after reprimanding two of our teenage children for secretly sharing a bottle of champagne together!

Clare and I share much more than parenting: our love of large open spaces, gardening, green issues, social justice, adventure, beer, food and the wilds of Scotland!

We can – and often do – sit and chat for hours about how we can put right all the world’s ills. Before laughing at how serious we become.

Thank you Clare for being a very special person in my life and being such a wonderful friend.

 

Words for Friends #8

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#8 Sharon

I have known Sharon since 1991, but she has only known me for the last eight years!

I met her via a TV screen and an old VHS video player while I lived in a loch-side cottage on the wild, west coast of Scotland.

Life really was wild and devoid of modern culture in Knapdale, Mid Argyll, without TV reception and the nearest cinema some 45 miles away.

So to stay in touch with the late 20th century, my partner and I would rely on monthly trips to Glasgow – some 102 miles away – to buy a clutch of videos of which ever movies took our fancy.

One such video was called Clockwise  a hilarious 1985 British comedy starring John Cleese and co-starring a then unknown actress.

Sharon turned my head. She was funny, beautiful, slightly quirky and most of all reminded me of my first teenage girlfriend!

So it came as a surprise when some 17 years later I stumbled across her on Facebook and realised that we had mutual friends – largely due to my time at drama college in the late 1970s.

A friendship grew slowly via social media, emails and telephone chats and blossomed with our shared experiences, values and a constant battle against injustice and abuse. We also share very similar humour and a mutual disdain for bullies and deceit.

I now consider Sharon a close personal friend and someone whom I trust implicitly.

Thank you for returning that friendship.