Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Hanging around

It took a while to find the right spot but your hooks are back up on the wall. They're the first things I see as I open the front door. Not in a cupboard this time but on full display. Not in the background but in the foreground where they belong - where you belonged.

It's not long since you last put them back up in my old house. They'd been in the cellar since I moved there, hidden from view though I had carried them with me through four house moves.

I tried to remember when you put them up the first time, the time when I didn't see what was in front of me, when we were just two people who hung around with Ed, whose paths crossed occasionally in pubs and kitchens. I asked my ex-partner if he remembered them and he did. He took them down when we moved fifteen years ago and told me how the then purchasers had asked if I would sell them. 'You wouldn't hear of it,' he said. It pleased me to learn this. I knew those hooks were important.

We used to talk about it sometimes. You would shake your head in disbelief at the chance we missed all those years ago. 'What was I thinking?' you would say. As you put the hooks back up, you shook your head again. 'I can't believe I gave them to you for free,' you said. 'I must have really liked you.'

I really liked you too, Blacksmith.
I really liked you too.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Happy pokerversary

I don't have time to write today. I need to finish boxing up my office before the removal men come tomorrow. But I can't let today go by without marking it with a little blog post. I don't know which day we would have celebrated our anniversary; there were so many stages to our coming together. But this day last year was the start of it. It was the day we started to fall in love.

Sometimes I can't believe this year happened. Soon I will have been grieving for you as long as we were together. It makes me wonder, sometimes, whether this much pain is a fair price to pay for such a short period of happiness. Is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

Of course, it is.

So amidst the packing and the stress and the heartbreaking sadness of moving into my dream house without you by my side, I am taking a moment to celebrate a wonderful man, a wonderful love and a fabulous first date that I will never forget. How lucky I was to love you and to be loved by you.

Happy pokerversary Blacksmith.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Moving forwards

Today has been a strange kind of day. The first thing I saw this morning, after my little boy's face by my bedside, was a photo of my mum on a boat in Devon last year. Facebook helpfully reminded me that this time last year my mum was, as far as we knew, in remission from peritoneal cancer and we were on a family holiday with her. Of course, as she had terminal cancer, we knew it might be the last, but we were hopeful that it might not be.

On the same holiday, I was texting you to arrange a date for our poker making. I wasn't even in love with you yet.

Fast forward twelve months and today the children and I got the keys to our new house. We haven't moved everything yet but we moved the first of our things in. The poker took pride of place on the log burning stove and we brought a box of treasures from my mum's place too: a cherub and a moon-gazing hare for the garden, a bronze knight 'to guard the house' (according to the children) and some china and crockery.  I brought her kettle and her tea bags and even brought her mop to help me clean the floor. A new mop is precisely the kind of thing she would have brought if she'd been here.

But she wasn't here. And you weren't here. And as soon as the children were upstairs arguing about their prospective bedrooms, I sat on my new balcony looking out over my impossibly beautiful garden and cried a mixture of happy and sad tears. It is the house of my dreams and if ever there was a house to have a happy life in, this is it. But it's not the life I wanted. Still, it is a beautiful house and a new chapter. People say it is a fresh start but of course it is not. I can't wipe away the past with a mop and a bucket of bleach and though there are all kinds of things I can't wait to leave behind, you are not one of them. Still, I must move forwards. Some things I don't have a choice about.

Language matters when you're a writer. It is important to get the words right. You are not someone I will 'get over', like the flu, I won't 'get better' from this bout of grief and I won't 'move on'. I won't sweep you into the corner or toss you in the skip with the detritus from the old house. Instead, I will bring you with me as I move forwards into some kind of unknowable future in the beautiful house that you helped me to choose. I will think of you when I stand at the bottom of the garden wondering how to chop wood without you and when the draft blows through the window that you observed was badly fitting and when I poke my fire with the poker and remember how it felt when our hands first touched and the first sparks flew between us. And from the balcony I have a perfect view of treetops and clouds. I will watch them shift in the sky and move forwards. Though we want them to, the clocks don't stop. Moving forwards, in grief, is all we can do.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Hanging by a thread

At times, on this journey, death has felt more real to me than life. Life is short, they say. You're a long time dead, they say. You only live once. To the uninitiated, another's death is a call to life: live for the moment, carpe diem, follow your dreams. But when you have looked death squarely in the face and your dreams are of the faces of loved ones drained of life, it is not so simple anymore. Where once death was a call to life, sometimes now it feels like a call to home. There is so much love on the other side for me now. The pull of death is strong.

With the pull of gravity, grief comes like swirling waters in the plughole, dragging me down. It is hard to resist such a force. I see myself as a spider clinging to a silver thread, battered by waves so strong that they make me catch my breath and lose my mind. But I climb slowly upwards out of dark waters and towards the light. I am hanging by that thread, spinning a web of blind faith and love, even though I know that one careless swipe of a finger could bring it all crashing down at any moment. The instinct for survival is strong too.

I exist now in parentheses. But there is love on this side too and slowly the balance tips towards life again. 'You don't strike me as a person who is ready to give up,' says my friend.

The love on the other side will wait.
For now, it takes all my strength
but I climb upwards,
move forwards,
hang on.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Acts of kindness

Yesterday was a bad day. I came back from holiday and had no-one but Facebook for company. No-one phoned to check we were home safely. No-one was eagerly waiting to see us on our return. In fact, only the children's dad knew we were coming home at all. And when he came to pick them up for the afternoon, there was overwhelming silence, where once there would have been your knock at the door. I missed you and I missed my mum. Everyone needs a someone to say those words to: I'm home.

Eventually my sadness pushed me out into the sunshine and I walked, tears streaming, through the park, not caring who saw. He saw. I know he did. But I didn't meet his eye. It wasn't the time to stop to talk to the man who runs the fairground on a sunny day. I couldn't interrupt his patter and the chatter of sunshine children with my tears. I walked on.

I knew him vaguely before I knew he knew you. I've been wandering that park for years. He has a soft spot for a mum in a flowery dress, can clock the tired eyes of a single parent who has been on duty for too long. He brings me chairs and sunglasses, once even bought me a cup of tea. He lets the kids go on for free when I've forgotten my cash, doesn't mind if I don't pay him back. Though I do, usually, pay him back.

I only saw him with you once, saw the look of surprise on his face when he saw us hand in hand. You waved your greetings across the grass. You'd known each other years ago when you'd famously used your metalworking skills to make him a Clingon weapon. At your funeral someone wrote about it on the memory tree. There can't be many people who leave memories of fantasy weaponry behind them but then there aren't many people like you.

He'd heard the bad news before I told him, strode out across the grass with open arms. Strange the way grief breaks down barriers, how I found myself hugging a fairground Clingon as if he were my own best friend. 'All the good ones are gone,' he said. He told me of his own lost love. We are bonded now in the club of broken hearts. Grief, the other side of love. Love, the other side of grief.

Yesterday's hug came from another club member who reached out to me when you died. She was in the park celebrating her late husband's birthday. Strange that my footsteps led me to her, that she ended up consoling me on her husband's day. I left her in the company of her own loved ones, sat on a stump in the woods and called your mum instead of mine. She is someone else I never knew before. So important to me now. We too are bonded forever in grief and love.

Today we were in the park again. I had the children in tow. I smiled at him as I carried my tea and cups of water back to the playground, no time to sit today. Later, she went to fetch more water, came running, beaming like sunshine back to my side, with a wand of bubbles. 'Paul's friend gave it to me,' she said. 'He filled it from his bubble machine. He said, madam, it's all yours.' And my spirits lifted. Your gift to him, his gift to her, a gift to me. Small kindnesses passed on. He's like a kind of fairy godmother, we said. And we laughed, the way we did when we picked up the pure white feather outside art club on our anniversary and imagined you as an angel. Beauty comes in unusual packages. Love is as big and wide as sadness. Small things make a big difference. Surprising people welcomed me home.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

I have the clouds in my head

They said I had my head in the clouds. But now, instead, I have the clouds in my head. They move in for hours or days at a time. Not the fluffy white, light as a feather, candy floss clouds, but a thick grey-white covering: smothering, suffocating, separating me from the rest of the world, blocking out the sun.

On days like this, life is a distant planet seen from the air, a world covered in tracing paper. I can just about make out the edges of things. Everything is hazy, muffled by the noise of sadness, the clouds of absence, the fog of grief.

Like the moment, last night, when we pushed headfirst into cloud covering somewhere over France and everything retreated, pressure blocking our ears so that the only sounds were our own thoughts and all we could see was white. Neither the world below nor the blue sky above, just the blank bank of cloud, bearing down on us, suspended in a no-man's land of white nothingness, the fullness of emptiness blocking out the view.

My thoughts are all of you. Nothing else makes any sense. It is like I have crossed the channel and other people are speaking a different language that I no longer comprehend. Only the others in this Afterland understand how all-consuming it is to live with the clouds of the dead in your head. How exhausting it is to be looking all day through the mist of time, replaying conversations, retracing steps, wondering how one minute you were there and the next you'd gone, trying to figure out where you are now and how and what and why.

I stare at the sky, searching for you, looking for the blue between the clouds. And sometimes you are there and sometimes things sharpen and the clouds clear and I can hear for a while the song of birds, the hum of the traffic, the rhythm of the every day. At times like this I sit in the sun and marvel at how far I have come. Sometimes I even think I have done.  And then suddenly, without warning, the sun is gone, everything is muffled and the clouds roll back in. All is distant except this pain. There is only relief when it rains.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Cloud catching

The sky was beautiful tonight. If you'd seen it, you would have captured it with your lens. Maybe you did see it. Maybe you made it especially for us. My daughter saw it, came bursting into the room saying, 'come quickly. You've got to come outside and see the sky. It is so beautiful. Can I borrow your camera. I have to take a photo.' She was right. Cracks of light shimmered like gold between the clouds and seams of sunlight jagged across the sky like lightning bolts. But when we looked through the camera, the tracks of gold disappeared. We couldn't capture them on film. Instead we stood and marvelled at them, checking with each other to make sure we weren't imagining these seams of light extending upwards in the dusk. We took some pretty pictures of the clouds anyway, running this way and that, looking from all angles, trying to catch the clouds: puffy ones, fluffy ones, clouds like feathers and angel wings.  'We should write a book called 'Cloud Catchers' she said.

Like all of us now, she thinks of you when she looks at clouds. I told her again about our last conversation, about the poem I sent and your photographic reply and your words to me: 'I love the poem, I love clouds and I love you.' She smiled and held my hand and I felt a seam of light and goodness between us, between you and me and her - the girl you never really knew but knew so much about, the girl who only really met you once, the week you died, who rushed from the room to whisper to me, 'I really like Paul. Can he stay?'

Tomorrow we're catching a plane to France for our first foreign holiday in five years. I've never taken the children on a plane on my own and I'm worried that my grief-addled brain won't get us there. I'm sad too, to be flying off to the sunshine when you are no longer living, scared almost to leave you behind, scared to leave my laptop too. But then I realise that you are no longer tethered here and of course I will take you with us. And I think about the flight and how close you will feel when I look out of the window and see those clouds around us and below us. Thinking about the flight reminds me of the poem that I wrote the day before you died, the poem that you loved and I remember that, really, it was a poem about the rollercoaster of grief, written following the death of my mum. I haven't shared it here yet, so I post it as my goodbye to Sheffield and my last blog post for a week, as we go off to catch the sun. Today I feel we are heading towards the light but I know that the clouds will come and go. A few days ago I couldn't move for grief, couldn't stop crying. Today has been the first day I haven't cried at all. I'm learning to go with the flow of this grief, enjoying the moments of respite, before the clouds roll in again, engulfing me in blackness, spilling tears like raindrops.


I collect raindrops like tears

store them up for years,
in a muffling grey blanket,
protection from the searing
rays of the sun.

And it has begun.
We break through, nose first,
hold tight as stomachs lurch
and then the bright blue glide.

Glad to be alive,
all below is candyfloss and cottonwool
and we long to be released,
to bounce on tiptoe,
light as fairies or feathers
in a pillowfight,

a delight of primary colours.
But we land in gloom
and the earth is a dirty smudge
beneath a grey-white ceiling.

There is no meaning,
no shapes, nor symbols, nor metaphors.
So bleak we cannot even see the clouds
for the sky.

Time passes by.
Rain falls and the ceiling breaks apart,
shafts of sunlight warm the skin,

illuminating everything.
Wind blows, clouds scud
like surf across the blue.

If only we knew
that it was there all along.
Clouds forming, moving, breaking


Friday, 5 August 2016

Have I told you that I love you?

Funny that I don't remember the first time you said
that you loved me or the time that I told you.
In other relationships, it had been a thing,
who said it first and when.
With you it just didn't matter.
I didn't need the things I used to fish for;
I already had the catch.
I knew you loved me, didn't need the proof,
didn't need fancy words or presents,
just needed your presence.

I remember standing on my doorstep in the early days,
arms around each other, saying goodnight:
'I'm very fond of you Blacksmith Paul.'
'I'm very fond of you too, Beverley Writer.'

And I do remember the feeling,
spooned in your arms one night
with you holding me tight, saying,
'and I've told you that I love you?'
Smiling into my pillow as I said that you had
and your voice in my ear saying, 'good. Good.'
Funny though that I don't remember when.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


Because you fetched bouncy balls for the party of the boy you hadn't met,
packed tiny, strange curios in an antique tin for his advent calendar.

Because you saw the beauty in my daughter's gesture and matched it with your own:
she gave her shells to her brother for their Grandma's coffin,
so you gave her the loveliest shell she'd ever known.

Because, when Grandma died, you came Christmas shopping in Meadowhall
even though it was your idea of hell.

Because you brought me books that you thought I'd like reading
and shared music that I might like listening to.
Because you always, always listened to me too.

Because you carried wood and an axe up a hill in the dark
to build me my own personal bonfire for New Year.
Because you brought a paper lantern and a marker
to write to my mum in the sky.
This is why.

Because you gave me a lift home when it was cold and dark and I was tired.
Because, when I was with you, for once, I didn't have to be in charge.
Because I didn't care where I was going with you by my side.

Because you paddled in the sea in December
and walked through bogs without a care.
Because together we barely ever spent a penny
but knew there was no-one richer.

Because you were strong enough to cry and show your feelings.
Because you left me with no doubts about your feelings for me.
Because you had a collaging kit and weren't afraid to use it.

Because, though you couldn't offer me a seat in your living room
you had the world at your fingertips.
Because you could play me a tune or show me the stars or read me a poem.
Because you knew what was really important,
what was important to me.
Because I knew how important I was to you.

Because you could accept me, just as I was.
Because you understood.
Because you were so very very good.

'You are such a lovely man', I said.
'I hope you know that.'
It was the week before you died
and you were opposite me in my living room
though usually we were side by side.
You wavered, too humble to accept a compliment and then,
eventually replied:
'Yes, I think I do.'

It is true.
You were.
The loveliest man I ever met.
I don't know how I will ever replace you.
What am I supposed to do now
without you?

Monday, 1 August 2016

This time last year

It is one of the plagues of the modern age, that little trick that Facebook has of reminding you what you were doing or saying or posting last year, or five years ago, or in some different age when your life looked completely different.

It just happened to me and it wasn't even my post. A friend posted a photo of a gig that he was at on the first of August last year. It just so happened that I was there too. I remember it vividly. I was still feeling fragile from my last heartbreak but I was out in the world putting a brave face on, trying to be optimistic that things that might get better. After all, I thought, they couldn't get much worse.

I didn't know then, that you were lurking just around the corner. In two days time, I would meet you again for the first time in years. I would be wary, scared to trust my heart to someone new, but gradually I would fall in love again. I would start to trust again. I would regain my faith in the future. I would have a wonderful time with you.

No-one could have predicted that, a year later, I would be sitting here sobbing because someone posted a picture of a gig attended by my innocent self who didn't know that twelve months later, the love I hadn't yet met would be dead. No-one would have known that my mum would be dead too. How much can change in twelve short months. From this week, every day will be an anniversary of a precious day that I spent with you. Until the day in March when Facebook will tell me that this time last year you died and all of my posts became memories of you, snapshots of heartache.

Photo taken by Paul this time last year, before we met