Life is Fragile

Time is flying passed and there is never enough of it. This post is about death, but hopefully not in a morbid or morose way. Perhaps more about the joy of living and memories of those who we’ve lost or are going to lose soon. Hopefully it will remain light-hearted and be celebratory but it’s been a tough month so bare with me…

This last month has been tough and the last week much tougher than most – chuck in the latest terror attack on London and the emotional One Love Manchester concert and everything that has been happening hit me at once in a dramatic, teary-eyed explosion of emotions.

My mate’s dad finally lost his battle to leukemia. He died surrounded by family and friends in hospital. We was Jimmy Copley, internationally renowned drummer who played with Paul Rodgers, Tears For Fears, Tony Iommi and Jeff Beck among others. He was a legend, an insanely talented drummer and someone I’m proud to call a friend. I grew up and went to school with his son Jack and we remain friends, although perhaps not as close as we used to be. Growing up with Jack we always knew that his dad was cool and a musician. But he had no airs and graces. He was the most down-to-earth person you could ever hope to meet.

JimmyWhat struck me most during his fight will the illness was his incredible positivity and his love of life. I would often bump into him walking around Bathford or on the bus and he always stopped and chatted and took a genuine interest in my life and what I was doing. His fame didn’t change him. To me he was just an ordinary guy who I felt proud to know and slightly in awe of.  He remained positive until the very end, always with a smile on his face. In fact he spent his last few months recording new material which has just been mixed down and will be released to fundraise for the amazing teams hospital departments that looked after him during his illness. The album features all manner of incredible musicians who came together to help Jimmy finish his final tracks.

For more information about the album “Live on Through the Music” and to donate to the cause visit the website:

http://www.liveonthroughmusic.com/

 

DeanoThe second person who left us suddenly was my friend Deano, who was only 40 years old and was found dead at work. His funeral was Friday. This hasn’t quite sunken in still and the emotion is incredibly raw. He was an amazing guy, incredibly funny and the life and soul of the party. He played rugby for Avonvale RFC, taught rugby to the juniors and also marshaled at Roller Mania at the pavilion in Bath. His sudden death has left the whole community in Bathford in shock. His friends and team mates from Avonvale all had special rugby tops made and wore them to his funeral. It was an amazing and emotional sight seeing them line the pathway up to the church. Deano worked on diggers and he absolutely loved them – the bigger the better. His coffin was paraded through Bathford and down to the church in the front bucket of a digger.

Deano 2When he arrived at the church he was walked through the two lines of his rugby team mates as they formed a guard of honour and clapped as he was carried between them. The service was beautiful with stunning tributes from his friends and family and there were well over 300 people in attendance to say their final goodbyes. I have many happy memories of Deano and we used to go our drinking as a group and had some hilariously funny nights out. One night he got so drunk he was found hanging on to a lamp post for dear life. I’ll always remember him, cider in hand, on the middle of the dance floor leg extended playing it like an electric guitar and singing along with Queen. AC/DC or Guns and Roses. One of his favourite songs was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird which summed him up perfectly. It’s going to take a long time to register that he’s gone. Every time I pass his house I expect to see him standing in the doorway, fag in hand waving out. And then every time I remember that I won’t ever see that again.

 

MickyThe third person to go recently was an old friend, Micky the chef. One of my first jobs when I was 15 or 16 was as Kitchen Porter (posh name for washing up) at the Crown in Bathford. Micky was chef and took me under his wing. The kitchen was a lovely and often hilarious place to work especially when there were difficult customers. Micky would come flying into the kitchen in the campest rage you could ever imagine flapping his tea towel about. He affectionately called everyone “Bitch” or “Hun”. At the time the pub was a proper local where we had the “Cheers” corner where all the regulars sat. Many hours were spent listening to Micky’s stories of working far and wide, serving royalty or his time spent in Rhyl. We often went off on trips to the theatre and we would go off to visit some of his favourite places in Bristol. And sometimes a crowd of us who worked there and regulars would pile back to Micky’s and sit with him and Chris listening to his ever fascinating stories and tales. He was also an incredibly talented artist and painter. He didn’t have an easy early life but he achieved so much on his own terms. And that’s how it was with Micky he did it all his way. He had a particular love of the music of Edith Piaf (he used to do an hilarious full vibrato impression) and Mama Cass. No matter how much time passed without seeing him he would always wave as I passed him on the bus and would always chat to mum whenever she saw him. He was one of a kind and will be missed by everyone who knew him.

 

And finally we get on to my dad. I’ve mentioned in previous posts about his illness but to give you a bit of background. Six years ago he was rushed into hospital. He could barely breathe. In fact he had a heart attack on the way to the hospital and had to be revived. He was put in an induced coma for ten days and we were told that he may not survive it. This happened just after Christmas – I believe it may have even been Boxing Day. Whilst he was in a coma my nan also passed away. It was not great time by any stretch of the imagination. Thanks to the amazing staff at the Royal United Hospital Bath’s intensive care unit he pulled through and we were told he had about a year left to live. He was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) or Chronic Lung Disease. Six years later, a couple more heart attacks and fighting off skin cancer and he’s still going. Until this Wednesday when things took a turn for the worse. He was having real difficulty breathing so we called out the district nurses who came in and spent most of the night with us trying to stabilize him. We were told he’d be lucky to last out the night. So we prepared ourselves for the worse. At the time of writing this he’s still very much alive but we’ve been told he could go at any moment. He’s currently bed-bound and being fed drugs intravenously through a machine. He has up and down days. Today was a bit more of a down day. He was confused and slightly not with it. Making comments about making sure the cat didn’t steal his tablets and then this evening my mum found him very seriously trying to unplug his bed – which I’m afraid to say did make me laugh – it’s a normal double bed and not plugged in at all – I guess it’s gallows humour . Possibly a water infection – possibly some kind of hallucination bought on by the morphine and other cocktail of drugs that are currently keeping him going. The whole experience is incredibly emotionally draining. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched someone slipping away slowly in front of your eyes but that’s exactly what is happening. He’s currently disappearing piece by piece and we’re pretty much sitting here waiting for him to die. Wondering if the next breath he will take will be his final one. We don’t know when it will be but we just know that it could be soon.

Life is a funny old thing sometimes isn’t it!

But what do I take from all of this? It would be very easy to just sit and cry right now and just become a sobbing, sniffly, emotional wreck. And I have sat and I have cried and for a brief but all to fleeting moment you get some sense of empty release. But what I have chosen to take from all of this is the overwhelming support and kindness that’s around me and actually around the world in general.

My favourite quote to pull out at times like this is by Fred Rogers:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

There is always shit going on. In life. In the world. But there are always – 100% without fail, people there offering to help. People coming together. People uniting. It would be easy to turn to fear or anger or even hate. But love always wins. Always.

For all of those who have been lost above the overwhelming thing has been the unity it has created. The sense of togetherness. People uniting in grief and going out of their way to help and support each other. Love always wins.

To the amazing teams of paramedics, doctors, nurses, consultants all fighting day in and out to save lives. To our amazing NHS. The amazing people who have chosen to spend their lives serving and saving others. They are the real heroes. They have propped us all up so many times and are always there without fail. The come together when you need them most. They don’t judge. They perform miracles. They show compassion and give hope. Love always wins.

To the people of the world who keep on offering help to each other no matter what life throws at them. Even after disgusting and cowardly terror attacks. Their spirit cannot be broken. They offer up their homes, open their hearts wide and let people enter in. Helping complete strangers. I guess a stranger really is a friend you haven’t met yet. They continue to support each other. They are there for each other. Love always wins.

Shedding tears tonight watching the one love Manchester concert. Seeing people sharing their grief. Coming together and proclaiming loudly that hate and terror will never win and never stop us living our lives and enjoying ourselves. Hate has no place here. Love always wins.

I choose to remain positive. I choose to continue fighting for what I believe in. I choose to stand by the community that has always been there and always stood by me. I choose love over hate. Peace over war. Calm over fear.

Love, ALWAYS, wins!

xXx

Dear Terrorists #WeStandTogether

For Manchester x

Dear Terrorists,

You can never win.
Your hate, anger, rage against us is in vain,
You try and then you try again.
But each time we come back stronger and more humane.

Your acts are nothing more than cowardly deeds,
The aim – to plant the hatred seeds of doubts and fears,
Reduce the country and the people to tears.
But every time you rear your ugly heads,
We meet you face on with love instead, and hope and togetherness.
Class, religion and politics get cast aside,
People of all faiths, religions and beliefs side-by-side,
Together we come and in plain sight we stand, not hide,

We do not cower and we will not fear you,
We are humanity, we are one, we belong to something much bigger than you.
And what you fail to grasp,
And what you fail to see,
Is your actions bring out the greatest and best of humanity,
A stronger, more loving society.

Your terror and fear are short lived,
We respond with the love we all have to give.
From the angel of Manchester rescuing fifty kids,
To everyday folk offering up their beds.
Taxi drivers giving rides for free,
Thousands giving blood and hospitality.
All religions, ages, races and creeds.
To the man without a house or home,
Who lept to his feet and raced into danger,
Pulled people out, risked his lives for strangers.
For someone who has nothing to give so much, so freely,
And expect nothing back because “it’s just what anyone would have done”.
Emergency services, our police, paramedics, firefighters and nurses,
To venue staff, who reacted with calm and saved many more people from coming to harm.
Small random acts of kindness – hotels throwing open their doors,
People offering food and sandwiches,
Buskers playing music & singing songs of hope.

The aftermath, a vigil attended by thousands in solidarity,
United as one, a whole,
And that’s the reality.
Although we shed tears, come together and grieve,
And our love and thoughts go to all of the families,
You can never accomplish what you hope to achieve.
Their memories live on, in our hearts, spirits and minds they will never leave.
The fear you seek to create bonds us closer and stronger.
And the one thing we all know to be true,
Our lives will not stop just because of you.
We rise above hate, above racism, religion, above blame.
We see you for what you are and refuse to call you by name.

Dear Terrorists,
You have not won, for tonight the world is united and we all stand as one.

  

  

Collage

   

Have a look at some of the amazing acts of kindness happening in and around Manchester today:

http://bzfd.it/2rdwkpl

Repetition, Patterns and Déjà vu

Patterns, patterns everywhere. Things that seem to keep on reoccurring. Repetition.

This is going to be a bit of a ramble and I’m not sure where it’s heading but I felt the need to write it down. So here goes…

Do you ever feel that no matter how much things change, certain aspects of your life seem to loop back around again? Things go full circle. Not to go too Lion King on you but it’s very much “circle of life”. 

I’ve been noticing lots of things recently with family members and friends and I keep seeing patterns emerging. My life is very different now compared to when I was a child but recently I’ve seen events loop back around again and patterns of behaviour that I haven’t seen for probably 20 years are returning to those around me.

It’s surreal and unsettling. And hard to write about in detail without revealing too much about those involved.

My nieces are staying with us at the moment. One is 4 and the other is 11. The 11 year old in particular is almost experiencing the same issues that I had at school and it’s horrible to watch. It’s like looking through a portal in time and seeing yourself and watching yourself go through some pretty tough things. And again feeling powerless to do anything about it. She won’t accept help and the school are being less than great at sorting things out. 

We’ve had a lot of stuff to deal with over the last few years but recently it seems like the family is dealing with things by reverting back to patterns of behaviour from a long time ago and it’s weird to be a part of it. It’s weird to watch. And I don’t like it.

I’ve always been a big believer of carving my own path and being able to change to move forward. But I’m beginning  to wonder how much of the changes are real and how many are superficial, on the surface. Or perhaps we think things have changed and trick ourselves into believing they have when actually all we’re doing is acting out what looks like a change. Convincing ourselves that we are doing things differently. When actually, fundamentally nothing is really different. And when things begin to fall around you the false wall of protection comes hurtling down exposing an uncomfortable reality behind it. That there are certain mannerisms and behaviours that we revert back to when everything else fails. A core being that is at the base of what makes us who we are and to some degree is an unchangeable beast.

I am intrigued by it to say the least and although things have been tough it is interesting to watch these patterns emerge and perhaps when things calm down I’ll be able to understand them better.

Watch this space!

I’ll Have You Know I’m Approaching 30 – Yes but from which direction?

Couldn’t resist starting this blog post with an old panto joke as so much of my life has involved panto and theatre. I’m going or use this post to look back at some of the crazy things that have happened to me over the last 30 rebellious years.
 
My first rebellious act was at the moment of my birth. No I don’t remember it but it’s been burnt into my memory as the story frequently gets pulled out by my both my parents. The midwife who was looking after my mum when she went into labour wasn’t the friendliest person in the world and seemed to be dressed for a night out on the tiles when she was called in to deliver me. Bright pink make-up exploded from both her lips and nails like an hallucinatory flashing of a gaudy 80s nightclub. Her hair carefully up so as not a piece was out of place. She seemed very keen to get out of there. Anyway I dutifully did my bit and wriggled free and into the world and proceeded to urinate directly into her face. Maybe I sensed she wasn’t that nice a person… Who knows but I’m assured that my aim was perfect and I drenched her sufficiently (possibly from both ends I might add!). And that was how I came to be… Explains a lot huh?!?
 
Childhood was pretty normal I think, I was always a bit of an oddball and that kinda stuck. My mind was always away with the fairies and I had a deep desire to explore, to go on adventures and find out “what would happen if we did this?” Dangerous qualities in anyone, but especially in a child. That sense of adventure and exploration has stuck with me along with an incredibly rebellious nature.
 
When I was younger my mum was always reading to me. Every night we would have a story before we went to bed. Never my dad though. It was only in later years that I discovered reading didn’t come particularly easy to him but as a child you don’t understand these things and just think that your dad doesn’t want to read to you.
 
I grew up with a head full of the tales of Enid Blyton from the Folk of the Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, to the Famous Five and Five Find-Outers-and-Dog with the surly policeman Goon. The Tales of Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne and a little later Roald Dahl and Ted Hughes. These stories and tales became a massive part of my life and I would often find myself daydreaming about going on adventures with the characters. I remember actually going to the woods behind my house and trying to find the Far-Away-Tree and climb it and wondering what would these wild animals say if they actually could speak. There was a hollow tree in the top corner of the field along from my house, at some point in the past it had been struck by lightning and the charred edges left a hollow big enough for a small child to climb into. This became my magic tree which I nick-named the weather station… I can’t remember why? Perhaps it was because the wind whirled through it or perhaps I felt that the tree still held some of the magic from the Lightning that struck it. Who knows but for me that place was magic. 
 
The sad fact is I think at some point you realise that no matter how much you will them these things will never actually come true, that there is no Neverland, Lost Boys or a ticking crocodile, that no matter how many trees you climb you will never find a magical changing land at the top (but you do get amazing views!). And that’s a really sad day. When the spell is finally broken and your head pumped full of useless Maths Equations, facts and things measurable by science that you’ll never use in real life. I’m not sure we ever know when the changing point is, it just happens and life rushes passed in the blinking of an eye and when you do finally turn back you see the magic has faded and the grey reality of life seeps in and drains all the colour. And those characters you had dedicated a good part of your life to have returned to the pages of the book whence they came.
 
But their stories are far from over as they wait patiently for the next generation to discover them, to befriend them and bring them back to life. That’s the beauty of books and the imagination. When things are written down they are never truly lost forever. They can be rediscovered.
 
And sure I don’t climb nearly enough trees these days, although I do still talk to animals (if you own a pet you’ll understand – they totally know what you’re going on about). But I have discovered a way back to the magic – through theatre. Through bringing words on a page to life. To painting the stage with lights to help to bring these fantasy worlds into reality. The best part… Yes I’m nearly 30, but I still get to create magic, and play and watch others share and experience that magic as well. As jobs go that ain’t bad really is it.
 
I’ve rambled on long enough and I’m not sure this was even the post I was going to write, (I may write a few more “reflective” posts), but like so many things in my life I pick up the idea, set my imagination loose and just see where it leads me… Hey It’s worked out okay for 30 years.. And if it ain’t broke…

How Does Someone Cope With Being Told They’re Going To Die?

Firstly, as far as I’m aware I’m not going to die anytime soon, so please don’t worry – this post isn’t directly about me. But this week has been another emotional rollercoaster. I’ve gone from the incredible highs of a very successful conference to being physically and emotionally exhausted to receiving quite bleak news from the family.

Death comes to us all. It’s a certainty, one of the few things we know for definite. Most of us carry on with our lives blissfully unaware of when or how the end will come for us.

But imagine you get told you’re going to die. The notion of death as a vague entity that will one day come for you is ripped out from underneath you and you’re left waiting for its dark claws to grab you and pull you into its pitch black lair.

My dad has been unwell for the last four or five years. He has COPD (chronic lung disease). About five years ago, just before Christmas he was rushed into hospital and put into an induced coma for 10 days. His condition was so bad that the doctors asked us if we would consider switching the machines that we’re breathing for him off. There was no doubt in my mind that the answer to this was unequivocally NO. We stayed with him and waited to see if his condition would improve or not.

Whilst my dad was in the coma, we lost my nan. She was in a nursing home and her condition was gradually getting worse until one day she gave up fighting and peacefully passed away in her sleep. I was asked to give a reading at the funeral, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I tried to keep the speech light and approached it the way that I deal with anything I find uncomfortable or difficult – with a lightness of touch and a smattering of awkward humour. The ceremony was lovely and although it caused a rift within the family she had a good send off. My dad was too weak to attend the funeral and was devastated that he couldn’t be there to support my mum and say his final goodbyes.

Wednesday this week, the day after the conference I got out of bed, aching all over and totally exhausted (physically and emotionally) from all of the hard work that went into staging the event. I fell out of bed, chucked on some clothes and headed downstairs. My dad had gone out somewhere and it was just me and mum there. I was sat down in the front room when my mum comes in.

“Dad’s doctor phoned this morning, dad was in bed so I spoke to him. He has a patch on his lungs. They think it is serious. His COPD has been upgraded to the final stage – highly critical. This is the last stages of COPD it doesn’t look like he’ll be around much longer. His condition will deteriorate, and eventually he won’t be able to breathe anymore. They says it feels like drowning. Your lungs fill up from the inside.”

I panicked. I choked. I didn’t know how to respond or what to say. How are you supposed to react to being told that? Usually I’m good at dealing with emotional things, when it’s other people’s anyway. But I could barely utter a word. I managed to stutter out… “Why didn’t he tell us? Why didn’t the consultant at the hospital tell him about it?”

To clarify dad had been back in hospital last week and had come home again on Sunday after the drugs had temporarily done their job.

“He says he wasn’t told any of this by the hospital. If the doctor hadn’t phoned I wouldn’t have known anything!”

I tried to find a joke or something funny to say but nothing came. Just numbness and the realisation that the dark shadow we have known would come for the past five years was finally creeping upon us.
The only thing I could utter was “oh dear, that’s not good!” I felt like an idiot saying it and I knew it sounded stupid and wasn’t what my mum needed to hear at that moment. But I had nothing else.

“I just thought it best that you know… Your dad is proud of you, you know that don’t you? He may not always show it but everytime we’re out and about and he’s talking to people he always speaks proudly of everything you have achieved” Said my mum as she exited the room.

Later that afternoon, whilst my mum was looking after my nieces upstairs my dad comes and sits on the sofa. He looks at me. Looks away. Looks back and I know what is coming…

“Did your mum tell you what the doctor said?”

“Yes,” I stammered, “Umm how come the hospital didn’t tell you?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged,

“They should have said something!” I uttered.

“Yes they should, if the doctor hadn’t phoned we wouldn’t have known anything. Apparently I’m on the last stage of COPD now.”

“Yeah mum said” was all I could reply.

His eyes began to redden as he blinked back tears and said “I don’t want a church funeral, I want to be buried at the crematorium. I’ve talked to your mum about it. And there obviously other stuff we need to sort out.”
I nodded and responded quickly with “yeah…”

A long awkward silence ensued that felt like it lasted and eternity.

“Are you going to let your brothers know?” I asked

Dad shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He is not close with his family, I have no idea why, something to do with him joining the army. He had lost both of his parents in the last year and that was the last time we’d seen any of his family.

“I’m gonna wait until after I’ve been back to the hospital in six weeks and had another scan. Then when I know the outcome of that I’ll tell them.”

“Ok..” Was all I could manage.

I got up and left the room. I couldn’t bear to sit there any longer. I had no idea what to say or do. I had no way of making this better, I couldn’t take away the fear that I saw in my dad’s eyes and that’s what hurt most of all. I have no idea how to deal with this. I have no idea how to react. How I’m suppose to react, what I’m supposed to say or do. I’m feeling very lost at the moment and absolutely terrified. I’m used to being the one who holds things together and is sensible and brave and I am actually not sure that I can do it this time. I usually deal with things like this in the worst way possible, I pick myself up and carry on, throwing myself into projects and keeping busy. I just can’t talk about this, which Is why I’ve written it all down. I’ve tried. I have picked up the phone to call friends several times but I just can’t / don’t want to deal with the fact that sometime soon I’m going to lose my dad. Even seeing it written down doesn’t make it seem any more real. I’m going to lose my dad…

I’m not sure if knowing makes it worse or not? How can you even begin to comprehend being told that you don’t have much longer to live? How do you deal with that? I can’t even begin to imagine what he must be going through. I just know that I have to try and be strong and find a way of talking about this. At the moment all I can do is hide and avoid it and that’s not the answer.

Somehow I need to find the strength to help us get through this as best as I can. At the moment I’m not sure how. But I will find a way.

In Search Of Stonehenge But Finding Much More

After a very productive meeting this morning I found myself at a bit of a loose end. Sure I’ve got a 1001 things I could be doing; editing websites, sending emails or the soul destroying task of reworking pages and pages of an Arts Council Application. So I decided, at random that I was going to do something and head off on another adventure.

 
I decided I was going to visit Stonehenge and that’s what I did. I’ve never been and always wanted to so I just made the decision to jump on a train (okay a replacement bus service) and head to Salisbury and then on to Stonehenge. It took several hours to get there (and back again). Wiltshire has some brilliant places but their public transport network is shit.
  

Eventually I arrived at the monstrosity of a visitor centre (seriously why?!?) and headed out to see the stones standing in all their majestic glory, towering over a sea of selfie-stick wielding tourists and accompanied by the sound of camera shutters clicking out their irritating symphony. The place was absolutely heaving. Their tourist footfall must hit thousands each day. So I did the tourist thing, looked around, took some photos, listened to the audio guide and dodged through the labyrinths of cheap tat on sale at the gift shop. Now this all sounds very negative and moany, I’m well aware of this and I don’t want to take away from a place that I think is beautiful and I’ve always been drawn to. It’s great for tourists and must bring in a lot of much needed revenue to English Heritage and Wiltshire as a county.

  

It was upon leaving that a realisation struck me. It wasn’t the destination that was important, that wasn’t what I was really looking for. It was the journey getting there. Sounds all philosophical I know but it hit me that actually I’m so busy so much of the time I never have the opportunity to pause and think anymore. To try and answer questions which have been reverberating around in my subconscious left for an appropriate time to deal with, a time which I’ve never allowed to come. Whilst sitting staring at the beautiful Wiltshire countryside I allowed my thoughts to roam free. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular but just accepting ideas and notions as they arrived and then allowing each one the time to formulate and move on. In all honesty I’m now exhausted but my head is a lot clearer and I’ve managed to solve a few things I’ve been puzzling over for a while and I now feel I can move on from.

  

Life is short and we spend too much of it constantly working. Our minds never stop. Sometimes we have to actually give ourselves room to compartmentalise and sort out ideas and thoughts. If not we get bogged down by them and all the new information we are receiving on a daily basis. As someone once said, time that you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time.  

  
I urge everyone to try and take one day out a month and just do nothing but at the same time do everything. In Bath we are lucky. You can buy an all day southwest bus ticket for £7. This gives you unlimited travel all over the South West for the whole day. That’s a bargain. Set off early and just get on a bus and go somewhere, it doesn’t matter where. Just up and leave and see where you end up. The benefits are amazing. I feel completely relaxed now and can see the road ahead laid out much clearer before me. My ideas and plans feel more solid and I now have an idea where I’m going. 

  
Take a chance. What have you got to lose?