Happy Birthday Bethy

I guess I’d be making breakfast. Grinding coffee, poaching eggs, maning the toaster.

I guess you’d still be in bed and we’d be shouting up for you to come down. For your cards and presents – the birthday ritual rolled out every year for you and your sisters.

I guess by now, Izzy would have gone up to your room and jumped on you.


But this assumes you’re at home. This assumes you’ve come home and that, to all intents and purposes, time has frozen.

This is the third birthday you’ve missed. Two and a half years of you not being here. Two and a half years of changed politics, changing plans, changing temperatures, of shifting sand. Of friends moving on, falling out, getting jobs, of getting on with their lives.

And that’s the hardest thing, you see.

For me, time is frozen. And really, if I’m being honest, I don’t want it to unfreeze, to thaw out, to ease.

Because that means that you, and your little sister fade a little. As if time displaces you. Time means I can’t imagine what you’d be doing or where you’d be. It means you’ve lost your place in the world. Your slot. The time slot you should be filling right now. The piece of life and the piece of this world that is yours, by rights.


The sky today, 10 August 2018.

Happy Birthday Bethy. xx

Glasses so you can see, not so I can keep

I have Izzy’s tortoise shell frames. They sit still and motionless, their arms crossed over in uncommon silence, on my bookshelf.

Glasses were part and parcel of Izzy.

From a few weeks old, it was obviously her eyes were shot – we should have known, given both her parents eye defects – her eyes were as wonky and random as her baby grimaces and grins.

At about three months old, we’d taken her for her first opticians visit (Birds, on Surrey Street) to measure her little head for her first glasses. Mr Bird suggested a ribbon tied round the back of her head to keep her from wriggling them off. She was a wriggler.


Izzy’s first glasses, aged circa 3 months. 

At about eight, I’d held her hand as the anaesthetic took effect, for her first eye surgery. As an early teenager, she was self-consciousness. She didn’t want glasses that marked her out as, seemingly, different. A photoshoot at a ball was uncomfortable for her, with or without her glasses. Then, as a late teenager, a young adult, she began to accept her glasses and her eyes, as part of her, of who she was.

For me, I used to wash and clean them for her. She never seemed to keep them clean. Maybe it was a throwback to her younger years and bathtime, when it was my duty and my pleasure to ensure she was washed and dried, along with her lenses. And my dad, her grandad, did the same. He’d run them under the tap in soapy warm water and carefully towel them dry. It was his weekly ritual with her, that seemed as though she smudged her lenses deliberately, just so her Grandad could clean them for her.

And then, whilst they were away, sometime in early February 2016, in a meaningless, meandering, elongated conversation over Skype, she talked about getting herself new glasses when she got back. Darker frames. ‘Maybe, sort of, like yours? What d’think?’ She was planning, scheming, daydreaming. And we suspected, missing home a little. April was going to be special.

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Izzy’s last selfie, 25 February 2016.

And then, the time came to dress them for their final journey, their ‘passing’.

We were asked about their clothes and things we wanted them to have with them, with metal and certain plastics a parameter. This is a ritual that all bereaved families go through, but that I’d no idea about. After all, we were beginners, this was our first time. No one warned us.

Trace wanted her to wear her riding clothes and her cross country colours and to take her Teddy, the beloved yellowy thing I’d bought her on the day she was born. Beth was easier to dress in her glittery finery, her unique, quirky style, laid out by Molly. Accompanied by her childhood teddy dog, Toby.

But Izzy needed to wear her glasses. It seemed reasonable, entirely rationale in the state we were in then. She’d need to be able to see and she’d want her childhood comfort toy, that had soothed her to sleep so, so many times.

But, with neither glasses nor Teddy, I would, in my mind at the time, be left with nothing. I wanted to keep Teddy, but I also wanted to keep her glasses too.

So, we compromised. Teddy went with her but she wore her spare pair of glasses instead.

And so, her frames lie here still, on my study shelf, on top of a single dollar bill I took from her travel bag, that lies on top of a book that Beth had banged on at me to read. That I should really, really read. It’s still unread. It’s a stand for Izzy’s glasses now.


It’s called The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle.

Day 857

Day 857 was, to be frank, a catastrophe of unexpected, unintended, ill-timed and poorly performed remembrance.

BTW, I have to confess that, as an almost complete innumerate, I had to look up the days/date thing to work out the number of days since February 26 2016. (Where’d we be without Goggle, eh? – other search engines are available).

Today, Monday 2 July, was no different a Monday to any particular Monday. After all,  like most people, I’d have preferred not to have to end a weekend and restart a week. Doubly considering that the 2018 summer heat wave would probably mean well over 100% of the UK population, statistically speaking, would be thinking the same thing as me.

I’d slept pretty well. Nothing unusual.  The familiar 3am probing of the mind, as unforgiving wakefulness trod over drifting dreams of long distance, slowed down reunions. But, after a routine round of mobile sudoku, amid the early calls of our feathered friends outside, I fell back to sleep, perchance to dream.

In the actual morning, the summer light, long since opening and warming, I lay in bed, put my glasses on and read a chapter of a new novel. Perhaps I was avoiding my attempts at daily 15 minute morning yoga, but it was nice none the less – to be back to reading fiction after a fair few months off.

A chapter in, I nudged the bookmark in and pulled my tee-shirt on to go downstairs to make the coffee. I  checked the weather conditions from the back yard, wary of any spurious App predicts. It felt and smelt like another hot day ahead.

Coffee in hand, I sat and opened up my daily bread of mobile-friendly social media. Flicking upwards, there came the familiar blue bar of a Facebook ‘reminder’. This time, it warned me, it was from 3 years ago. For a moment, I had to think, innumerate or in denial of passing time, was this Before or After? I pushed my thumb up to today’s reminder.

Screenshot 2018-07-02 23.27.00.png

Izzy was there, staring at me, at the camera, at the phone, my phone, that she’d taken, logged herself in, and held in her hands to take this selfie, in July 2015. She looked beautiful – but I’m her adoring father, so she always looked beautiful (except when she pulled ‘that’ face). It was the eve of her sixth form prom.

In retrospective, the strangest thing was that, for a handful of seconds, I sat there, coffee in one hand, phone in the other, thinking, convincing myself, in a series of staccato false realities ‘I’ve seen this picture before.’ – ‘I’ve seen these eyes looking at me before.’ – ‘I’m coping with this.’- ‘This is actually OK.’.

Then seconds on, it came, as if Day 857 was Day 1.  The permanence. The forever-ness. That that digital playful, lovely look would never again be matched by a real, living breathing, alive look.

And today was supposed to be a Monday of intended reclaimed happiness. Of a considered purchase, a real Fender Jazz Bass, not just a copy, part ex’ed and bought, ahead of  a series of back to back meetings and conference calls.

I cried driving to the music shop. I cried driving to work, my new bass, boxed up, sat beside me in the passenger seat. I performed at work and in meetings and conference calls. Then I cried in the car home, and rang to cancel seeing a friend. I went home, and I cried. And we cried, and we watched the football.

Here endeth Day 857.





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Beth by Izzy, 4th February, 2016

Stand straight
Stand tall.
Drop my shoulders,
And stand

Stand feet astride,
Stand strong.
Stand even.

Stand with purpose,
Stand focussed.
Stand against
The storm,

That buffers
And engulfs me.
That catches me out.
When I least expect it.

Lest I fall.

The Biggest Grief, Take me Back to Happiness.

I lost 2 out of 3 of my kids. (My babies, as Tracy repeated over and over, on 26 February 2016).

My one remaining daughter is now an only child, for the first time in 24 years.

One friend has lost their closest friend.

Another, the one they wanted to be their closest friend.

Another, who won’t talk about it, but carries on regardless.

And someone who knew them vaguely, at the back of the class.

And another, who met them, travelled with them, shared their lives for a handful of weeks. Who loved them and then waved goodbye, expecting them to keep in touch.

And the family member, who looked on from a distance, not realising their presence wouldn’t last a familia lifetime.

And me. Just me.


Their last selfie, 25 February 2016

Their taken for granted, asked for cash, adoring at a safe distance, dad.

This is now, all I know.

That I know now, how I feel.

That, in the time since they left me (2 years and still counting), I feel no difference from Day 1. Maybe, just, that the lightness between the darkness has stretched out, making the anticipation of darkness darker. Blacker. More dense.

I hope, and I’m sure, that loss will dissipate and fade and go tranquil for all their many, many, many friends.

Like my loss for my dearest friend Gill (who knew me far, far too well. Who I met when 18 and argued and fell out and loved til she was 42 and died horribly and slowly of cancer). She too, died too young. And I miss her to this day too.

But nothing, nothing, nothing, prepared me, steadied me, readied me, for losing 2 out of 3. No shock to the soul, to the core of my apathetic, mundane being will ever match the 26th February 2016.

On that day, my core left me.

And 2 years and counting, it isn’t getting any easier. The waves still come. Harder, colder, more violent, more crushing. Partly because the waves now breach some supposed semblance of ‘normality’.

And as Molly, my 1 out of 3 said to me, in a King’s Cross wine bar ‘I can’t ever imagine being happy again. Just sad. Or not sad’. And I quoted her in my ‘victim impact statement’ because she’d summed it up, in so few words.

Just sad, or not sad.

‘Take me back to Happiness’. Thank you Paz for this song. It makes me happy and makes me cry at the same time.


A Dream about the Queen and a Meltdown in Morrisons

I dreamt about the Queen.  

Well, actually, for the first part of my dream, I dreamt I was the Queen.

I was quizzing my Palace staff about my daily household routine, that as undeniable monarch, I’d suddenly, inexplicably come to question. All of a sudden I’d realised I was only allowed access to certain rooms at certain times of the day. My Palace staff explained that that’s how modern palace household run. The servants would open up sections of the palace for me to live in and wander through, whilst the rest of the estate would remain shut down, shrouded and mothballed for another day’s routine. The staff were briefed to vary the rooms for me every day, so that I don’t get bored.

Just as the penny dropped and I realised how, after all these years as ordained ruler, I’d be restricted to one room after another in a charade of orchestrated austerity, suddenly and inexplicably (as is oft in dreams) I morphed into a member of the royal household.

I was walking through darkened rooms, opening up huge, bluey-grey wooden window shutters to let light and life stream in. I moved from one ornate but dusty room to the next, preparing the route that the Queen would later take, spending her day wandering, taking tea, then passing onto the next.

I opened a set of grand double doors and walked into our living room, the familiar sofas, the green Ikea rug, the TV in the corner, the fire surround and the mantelpiece. I went over to the cream cloth blinds now down over the bay windows and pulled up the drawstrings to let the daylight in.

I turn around.

Beth grumbled nonchalantly from her curled up position on the sofa as the sunlight streamed in. She was laid watching TV. I sat down in chair in the bay window opposite her and shifted myself sideways, so my legs fell over the arm of the chair. We talked for a while about something or nothing. Something or nothing.

From from the bay window vantage point, I see someone coming to the door. I realised it’s Izzy, despite not recognising the new, pale orange shirt she’s wearing. She turns her yale key and I wait excitedly for her to come into the living room. To begin her usual disturbance of quiet, with her quips and her streaming questions and her constant chatter. She may well sit on Beth, literally, as Beth squirms and complains playfully.

And with the momentary anticipation of her coming into the hallway and bounding into the living room, with this excitement ringing soundly in my chest, I wake up…

It’s barely daylight. There’s a silvery stillness breaking through the spring night, making the trees outside the bedroom window begin to turn to hues of green from their night’s colouring of blacks and greys.  A car passes. It’s the start of another normal mid-week day.

The dogs stir on the bed. One of them shuffles, shifts, stretches, then shakes themselves before making their bed again, pawing frantically through our summer duvet. Trace is asleep next to me, unstirred by the dog’s movement or the change in the early morning light.

My right arm is sore. My second tattoo from yesterday is still red raw. Cleansed and creamed as advised by my tattooist (and diligently followed), I pull my arm out of the cosy warmth of the bedding and lay it on top of the duvet. I feel my hot skin begin to appreciate the cooler air.

Before, I really didn’t like tattoos.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t bang on about them, but I genuinely couldn’t understand why anyone would want to permanently mark their skin and carry the results around for the rest of their life. I would occasionally take the piss out of Molly’s numerous tattoos. But mostly, I’d turn a blind eye. I don’t ever remember commenting about Beth’s little symbolic tattoo on her ribs.

Then, After, almost immediately,  certainly sometime in Week 1, the idea of tattooing myself with a commemorative marking seemed the most normal, natural thing to do. I wanted to. It just felt the right thing to do. If there was ever a lifetime’s reason to be tattooed, surely this was it.

It took me nearly a year later, but I had my first tattoo – a combination of the patterns of the shirts Izzy and Beth wore the day before they died. And their names, merged into the design, coming together, as ever. Izzy’s name inscribed forever, close to my pulse.

Then 10 months later, I have my second. And, the day before I awake from my queen’s dream at 5am, I find myself having a Meltdown in Morrisons – a Morrissey song title if there ever was one.

My upper right arm is wrapped in clingfilm, I’d been here before, 10 months before, I knew the score.  I’d come to Morrisons then too – it was on the way home. An opportunity to pick up a few bits, after a visit to Tattoo HQ.


As I pondered the mixed veg, I started to cry, then to weep and heave. And I remembered I cried then too.

It was something to do with the insane stupidity of such profound, surreal, unquestionable loss, combined with this unheard of, never foretold and very intimidate, gain of a new experience. The pain of a tattoo. The permanence of a tattoo. Of me, having  a tattoo. About them, for them.

And then, still in the veg section, I so, so wanted to tell them my news. To call them on my mobile as I pushed around the wobbling trolley and say ‘Hey, guess what? I’ve had another tattoo!’. I just so, so wanted to talk to them. To share this bleeding, cling-filmed experience with them.  I so, so wanted to talk to them. To hear them, distant somewhere, but so, so close, in my left ear again.

But, even in the chilled cheese section and the biscuits and crisps aisle, they weren’t there. And they never would be. And I was doing this, having this tattoo, being here in Morrisons, precisely because they weren’t there. I was here, wandering yellow and green isles, weeping, because they weren’t here.


After I finally managed to pucker up and brave the check-out, red eyed and probably wild-eyed, I headed out with my squeaky trolley back to the car park and to Izzy’s Mario.

Then I looked at my phone and realised I’d pocket called Beth.


My Izzy and Beth 
19 and 24
Forever Young
Forever on my arm
Forever in my soul.

Learning to Breathe, Lesson 2

A 10am Saturday morning beginners yoga class. A great idea. Stabilise and normalise. Find an alternative to just coping.

It goes well. Well, as well as it can, for a 50-something inflexible fool attempting movements and twists of a body that’s remained tense and taunt for, let’s face it, maybe 30 years? As long as I watch and learn and follow the supple bends and obscure angles of the lithe, lycra yoga for beginner’s teacher, I’m sort of fine.

So, after maybe the fifth or sixth session I’m still going, spurred on by a sense of near normalisation, and even, dare I say it, some new-found suppleness of limbs and straightening of posture. Bully for me. ‘Before our relaxation session’ our lycra yoga teacher announces in her tranquil tones ‘we’re going to focus on our breathing…’

This is Ujayi breathing, apparently. She explains and then demonstrates. Seems straight forward enough. Exhale, be aware of your breath, then inhale. Basically, its breathing. I’ll give that a go.

I settle into a well postured position and I take my first Ujayi breath in, and then out. In and then out. Then, a sudden flashing surge in my chest. A manic rush, a quickening pang. Not like I imagine a heart attack feels, but instead an instant physiological recall of Day 1, circa 11am. Hold it back. Shorten my breath. Hold it back. Don’t go deep, keep it shallow. Then a second wave shocks my system. I’m ice cold, shivering, my breath erratic, dysfunctional.

My eyes closed, I see blue, bluey green, white tips of frothy water. Crystal blue skies above, circling, what’s up and what’s down? Cold water, then bath warm water from the late afternoon Vietnamese sun.

They clutched at water, not air. They were thrust against rocks. They flailed. It took seconds. Please seconds, not minutes.

And then, I’m back. Sat on the wooden floor of a lukewarm church hall in suburban Sheffield. Hot tears are streaming down my face, sobs are emerging from the depths. I’m trying to mute, for the sake of the other 50-somethings in the class.

And then, I feel a welling presence in the room. A calming breeze of fresh air, breaking through the stale, ageing air of the church hall and its yoga trainees.

Beth and Izzy are right in front of me…


Detania waterfalls, Delat, Vietnam (26 February 2016)

…I want to be there. I want to drown for them.

I want to hold their heads in my hands and keep them separate and safe from the rocks, cracks and fractures. I want to wrap my arms around them, hold them tight and take the knocks as they tumble and fall. I want to hold off the force of the water and calm the currents of the waterfall whirlpool. I want to lift them and push them up, push them out to the water’s surface. I want to watch from as they come up for air and swim and look at each other and laugh.