Words for Friends #3

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

#3 Andrea

Throughout our lives we meet true soul mates and Andrea is one of my most precious.

We met in the most extraordinary of circumstances in the winter of 1987, while we were both recovering from cancer surgery. Racked in pain with bone cancer, and at just 20 years-old she knew her chances of survival were slim. “But I’m going to fight it,” she urged, willing me to do the same. “I haven’t yet got my degree, I haven’t learned to drive… and I’m still a virgin. “I want to live a bit before I die.”

My memories of Andrea always remain, and have often been my driving force to live.

Her laughter as she beat me in a physiotherapy game of football in the hospital gym. At the end of the game we collapsed side by side on the floor guffawing at how silly all this was.

Then there was the Wednesday night visit to the local rugby club for a game of bingo and a half pint of beer. We walked slowly back to the hospital at 10pm. She rested her head on my shoulder as we walked and suddenly whispered: “I love you Nic… we are going to win, aren’t we?” And then there was the rainy December day when she returned from a Christmas shopping trip in Cardiff city centre laden down with presents and a £300 hole in her Visa card. Her pleasure was manifest and her guilty laugh echoes now as I remember her.

A year before her death in 1990, I visited Andrea again in a hospital in Birmingham, where she had undergone a hip replacement operation in a last attempt by surgeons to remove the seat of her cancer.

I sat and clenched her right hand and looked into her sparkling eyes.

I giggled: “Hey, you’ve got freckles and hair!”

“Yes,” she answered, “I have been off chemotherapy for three months to build up my strength for the op.”

I had only known Andrea as a tall, underweight, pale-faced girl stooped under a horrendous NHS wig, which at times made her look like an extra in the Addams Family.

But now, holding her hand, this was how I was going to remember her… and I still do.

No Time to Cry

They sat together by the darkening sky

He looked at her as the carriage pulled by

The wind it whispered

The day grew dim

He knew right then it was up to him

Don’t cry

Time goes by

She looked closely at his face and caught a spark

Lovers walked hand in hand across the city park

The music it talked

The day bore down

He had carried too long the thorny crown

Don’t cry

Time goes by

He took her hand gently and held it tight

Neon lights flickered into a midsummer night

The memory it lingered

And the day was reborn

The undertaker blew his frugal horn

Don’t cry

Time goes by

They both shared this treasured place in time

He tied her green shawl and drank her wine

The coldness cursed

That the day did not last

Her grey headstone now just an echo of the past

Don’t cry

Time goes by

We were so much older then, we’re younger than that now

IT seems that time, life and death waits for no one.

Last Thursday I discovered that my former brother-in-law Dougie had died suddenly aged just 54. It was a total shock. I had not seen or spoken to Dougie for many years, since my former partner and I split, but he was a lovely man and the world is an emptier place now he is gone.

But nothing prepared me for a second similar shock today.

By sheer chance I found out that one of my oldest and dearest friends Gill Gilson had died last summer after a long battle with lung cancer. Gill was just 56.

We met at university (Bretton Hall College) and became the closest of friends. We were never romantically attached… we were just good mates and stayed in touch for many years after graduating. She sometimes came to stay and we would sit and laugh as we shared many student memories. If my mum reads this, I am sure she will remember Gill.

I also remember Gill giving me a lift home from Yorkshire to Sussex in her old Morris 1000 Traveller and eating cold bacon sandwiches which she had secreted wrapped in foil in her glove compartment. Memories are made of this.

We sadly lost contact about 15 years ago, due to my many house moves. I only found out today that she had stayed put at her dad’s old house in Holbrook in Suffolk. If only I had known I could have got back in touch before her untimely death.

Gill was a musician and a fabulous piano teacher. Her only weakness – and her charm – was she loved beer and I still remember the mornings I had to knock on her door to tell her to get to lectures because she had imbibed in a few too many jars the night before. “I should have been a man!” she once said, “Because I love drinking with you guys…. I have no time for all this airy fairy girl stuff!”

Gill just oozed fun, gentleness and companionship in everything she did.

Gill died on 22 July last year. Her death notice said she was “A much loved partner, daughter, sister, auntie, godmother, friend to so many and talented music teacher at Copleston High School” – not far from the same village where she grew up.

The head teacher at the school said this in a letter to parents: “She was an excellent accompanist, playing the piano for numerous Drama productions, Dance shows, Harvest Festivals, Carol Services and, of course, the Soirées.

“She accompanied pupils for their instrumental exams, spending hours with them patiently rehearsing, driving them to the exam centre, seeing them through the nervous wait before meeting the examiner, playing for the exam itself and bringing them back to school, via the bakers and a dough-nut!

“However, most pupils will remember Miss Gilson in the classroom. She was an excellent teacher – with the ability to get the point across with a mixture of strong discipline and fun. She knew her subjects well, drawing on a lifetime’s experience and education. She was also an excellent form tutor, having that knack of knowing exactly where to draw the line between firm discipline, and being the pupils’ friend.

“She showed considerable pride in her groups and, despite being absent from school through ill health for a considerable amount of time, they re-paid her with tremendous loyalty and affection.

“Teachers and pupils alike will remember her sense of fun, her no nonsense approach to life, her attention to detail, her ability to listen and her marvellous sense of humour. Gill taught literally thousands of pupils at Copleston and many have good reason to be grateful to her.

“Gill coped with her final illness with typical dignity and courage. She had decided that, given the choice, she would prefer to spend her last days in the hospice. She even planned her own funeral, and I have no doubt that she would have been pleased with how it went; a wonderful turnout for a wonderful person, who will be truly missed by so many.”

All I can add to that is: Cheers Gill, it was wonderful knowing you. I will raise a pint to you tonight.