The Ghost of Gary Barlow

We get a cab from our hotel to the nearby venue for Fi’s wedding in serene rural Cheshire. Fi is one of Izzy’s horse riding compadres, a crew of girls a good 5-10 years older than Izzy. Despite her age, they saw her as their equal. I think they were part of the reason she grew up so early and how she came by her gentle swagger.

It’s an unseasonably hot day. The taxi driver sure is chatty. ‘Typical isn’t it’, she’s saying, ‘after a week of torrential rain, we’re all moaning about a few days of sunshine’. Then she asks, ‘do we know the wedding venue is Gary Barlow’s old house’? No, we didn’t. She recalls the local rumours and no doubt half truths about the house, the fenced in acres and private lake, about Gary’s state of mind whilst he lived there and the infamous Take That re-forming meeting in the living room (I begin to wonder if she’s just recounting his autobiography) and the recording studio he built, that’s now the wedding reception dance floor.

So there you go, Gary Barlow. Who’d have thought it.

On the sun-drenched terrace of Gary’s former home, we sit on cream ‘event’ chairs that have been neatly arranged to face a floral alter. As we take our places at the back, the banter with the girls begins to warm up with the afternoon sun…Weather report says it’s destined to Shine all day… must be one of Fi’s Greatest Days…gotta show some Patience for the bride… this’ll be a day we’ll Never Forget…can’t wait for the reception and…A Million Love Songs. Titter.

Over afternoon champagne and petit canapés, we chat and catch-up and later sat at a table all together, we giggle and snort with laughter through the immaculately presented wedding dinner. After, we take ourselves to a circle of outdoor sofas and lounge about, a bunch of friends who’ve not seen each other for a while. The banter flows with the after dinner drinks and the sun fades over Gary’s acres of land and shimmers on the surface of his own personal lake.

It’s a good day. No. It’s a great day.

And I only cried once, at the dinner toast to family and friends who are no longer with us.


It’s late evening now and we’re back at our nearby hotel. I’m sat up in bed with my Macbook, Trace is asleep. Outside, the trees are silhouetted by still pale blue skies, surprising for this late hour. Despite the open window, it’s hot, sticky hot.

I sit up in bed and, and at this eleventh hour, I think about you.

And I think about you not being here today.

You’d have driven here in your beloved Mario Mini One and met us at the hotel, not wanting to stay the night before, as we’d decided to do. On the morning of the wedding, you’d have helped your mum with her hair, no doubt bickering throughout, but getting a much better result than I did. Then, as we arrive at the wedding, you’d have stuck close to us at first, before you spotted your riding buddies and their fresh-faced partners and you’d have been off, a glass of prosecco in hand, banter a-ready.

You’d have been allocated a seat next to me at the reception dinner. You’d have whispered comments and jibes throughout, and I’d have lent in to your delicate, soft ear and whispered, ‘Who’s that again?’ And you’d have groaned and exclaimed ‘Dad!’, as only you could.

After dinner, you’d have revelled in the half cut wisecracks, as we all lounged abut on the outdoor sofas, telling embarrassing stories and laughing at each other. Then you’d have said, ‘Let’s go for a walk’. And the two of us would have gone off together, bumping shoulders as we walked down the grassy bank to the edge of Gary Barlow’s lake, to dip our hands in the still chill of the water.

We’d have walked back up the hill to the house and gone inside to explore the pop star palace. ‘Come on’, you’d have said, as you opened another door, ‘What’s in here?’ And we’d have wandered round the house, doing shit Manchester accents and name dropping the celebs who we thought would have perched in his grand and glassy kitchen/dining area.

But all this is pointless, completely pointless.  I know it is.

It’s utterly pointless for me to project the ‘what could have been’ onto the ‘what is now’. It’s like smacking a recent bruise. Like shuffling an imaginary deck of cards.

Maybe, this ‘grief’ thing is simply about dealing with time and the passing of time. Maybe it’s simply about learning to accept that time is actually moving on, like the light of the Summer’s day fading over Cheshire hills, off into the distance, rolling away and beyond, forever.

But we’re here, your parents, here, right here, right now, in this hot and sticky hotel room, drunk, after this lovely, lovely day with your friends. We’re here right now, but we’re here without you. We’re here where you should have been too, where you would have been. We’re here now, in the stupid, bemused, all over the place state we’re both in, simply because you’re not here. You’re not here.

Friday, February 26th 2016 has left me with a line in the sands of time, that, instead of being washed away by the natural moon cycle of waves, remains indelibility etched into the grains of wet sand beneath my feet. No matter how many waves rush in and cover it, then slowly ebb away, the line in the sand still remains, over and over again.

So there’s absolutely no point, no point whatever, in me imaging a world where my line of sand simply gets washed away, like it so should have, by a single sea wave, washing over it, taking away its jagged, scored ident and returning it to perfectly, sweetly smooth sand.

No. I have to accept that time is marching unstoppably on and all the people I know and all the people you knew are moving on. I have to accept that there is a definitive ‘Before’ and an absolute ‘After’ and that the two can never come together. I have to accept that you are forever frozen, fixed in the ‘Before’ and that you’re not, categorically not, here now, in the ‘After’, at Fi’s wedding in Cheshire, with me.

(Even if I feel you are.)

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