Digesting Life


I didn’t want to write two posts about death one after the other, but I don’t have much choice (well you have a choice whether to read it or not obviously). The helicopter crash in Glasgow has claimed nine precious lives, including a friend of mine. Nine friends, relatives, colleagues, loved ones. Nine families will have an empty chair at the Christmas table. Nine pillows undented. Nine is a hell of a lot when you think of it. (Yet hear of hundreds killed in an earthquake in a country far, far away and you think “Gosh how awful” and turn the page to find Peanuts.)

My quiet weekend, so deliciously anticipated in my last post, turned out to be anything but.

On the same day that these lives were snatched away, Black Friday indeed, people went crazy in Asda for a slightly-discounted TV or other pointless bargains, wild-eyed and frothy-mouthed (I imagine) with greed. One woman had her arm broken in the melee. It’s a bloody television, people. When did we become so primitive? Silly question – we’ve always been primitive, we are supposed to have evolved. (I hasten to reassure that I do not think such bestial behaviour is the sole preserve of Asda, though going there after 2100 one evening was so unnerving I would take a crucifix if forced by lack of camembert to go again.)

Today, finally, I started crying, and could not stop. It was a relief in a way as I had not cried before. I had been sick and sobbed a bit but not a proper “mourn”. Not even at N’s funeral. I felt a fraud, dry-eyed, calm and unperturbed – when I was perturbed, somewhere at the very back of my subconscious. I’ve never forgotten a Reader’s Digest article (my parents used to keep copies by the loo, and you could spend a good seventeen minutes on the seat if you found a decent story)  in which it said that if you didn’t cry you risked a heart attack. (Is Reader’s Digest still going? It was ace.) Not a case of Break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue” so much as “Break, my heart… well at least bleed. Or bend. You might twinge a bit, please. I’d like to know I’m still alive even if they’re not.”

I don’t have words for what has happened in the last few weeks. Which is unusual considering I was known as “diarrhoea pen” at middle school – because I wrote fast, I hope, rather than because I wrote crap. There is grief that cannot be assuaged and loss which cannot be comprehended. We are aghast, wide-eyed and numb, because this kind of thing happens to someone else. Five years ago I drove past a newspaper stand with the headline “Man fights for life in crash” and thought “How sad” and turned up my radio to sing to Crazy Crazy Nights. Only when I reached my destination did I learn the victim was one of my dearest friends.  When life happens to us nothing is safe. The things we take for granted are swept away by events as merciless as the Asian tsunami. Destroyed, left for dead and covered in silt.

I have been lucky to be buoyed up by two wonderful books to escape into. All Change is the latest and final novel in the Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It commences with a death but ends with the start of a new life for one of the family. The Cazalet chronicles are books complete within themselves, tracing a family through the war, but like a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings if you devour them one after the other. This should be done more than once a year.

Speaking of spell-binding serieseses (seri?) I am now on The Magus of Hay by Phil Rickman, the latest in the Merrily Watkins series. Looking forward to reading one of Rickman’s books is like anticipating the arrival of a good friend, then relishing every minute of their company. He just gets better and better.

Sit down and enjoy both of them. That’s an order.

The photograph is one I took this morning leaning out of my bedroom window. It took me about 17 attempts to get one half-decent shot and I hope my neighbours weren’t watching as they’ll probably have me reported. It is not a good picture, but it gives you a vague idea of how beautiful the sunrise was. Grey and pink, gentle and vivid. A reminder that life happens to us every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and sometimes it brings pain, but, as surely as the sun follows the moon, in time it also brings peace.

With love, in memory of David Traill and Naomi Hall


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