My Self-Inflicted ‘Hi’

When I come home, and I know Trace is in, I shout up ‘Hello’.

When I come home, and I know Trace isn’t in, I shout up ‘Hi’, to Beth and Izzy.

And then I pause for a second, in the hallway, the front door still ajar. Maybe for less than a second, as the door closes behind me, I listen intently. I crane and strain, in some idiotic, ritualistic hope that I’ll hear a nonchalant ‘Hi’  from Izzy or Beth. I stand, frozen in fanciful, perpetual expectation, for a reply.

Sometimes I even go upstairs and open Izzy’s bedroom door and stride in with a repeated, but more bombastic follow-up ‘Hi’. I blink, then blink again, seeing her strewn on her bed or sat at her dresser in just a towel, putting her mark-up on, getting ready to go out.

Sometimes I even go upstairs and knock overly loudly on Beth’s bedroom door and barge in and forcefully sit on her as she lays in bed, napping, snoozing, now groaning and moaning as I sit on her.

Am I being cruel to myself? Am I inflicting this self-made torture on myself, when, let’s face it, there’s more than enough pain to go around?

I do it because I don’t ever, ever want to forget the casual, every day, commonplace tone of my ‘Hi’  and the sound of their couldn’t-care-less reply. The abject normal-ness of life Before, when I’d shout up, get a reply, and simply carry on with my day.

I do it to remind myself of Before.

I do it because I want to feel irritable about crumbs. When I’d take off my shoes in the hallway and check the state of the kitchen. When they’d made toast and not wiped the crumbs away. When they’d used pans and ‘left them to soak’.


Beth at the door again.

I wish I could still go to bed knowing they were out, and that they’d return in the wee small hours with clunky going-out shoes, strutting on wooden floors, at well past the witching hour.

When the dogs would jump out of our bed to greet them at no matter what time. Or when Beth, unable to find her keys, would be rapping insistently on the front door and I’d reluctantly raise myself out of bed to let her in.

I wish they’d come back. Come home and disturb me. Irritate me. Annoy me.

I wish they’d shout down a nonchalant ‘Hi’.

The kitchen blackboard, a cardboard Police folder and a Bombshell Day

I have good days and bad days.

Good days are when I just get on with it. When I bury the hatchet. When I focus on that day’s proceedings. And I get on with it – I’m focussed at work, I remember what I need to get from the supermarket, I’m happy that I’ve been to the gym, happy that I put a wash on.

Let’s call these days ‘Kitchen Days’. Put the kettle on. Normal, as is.

I also have days that start badly and get worse. These are bad days. These days usually begin with a vivid dream that I don’t want to leave, that mash up my memories, recent or from their childhood, with flights of fantasy that they’re alive and well, and here, still here.  When I wake, the residual wave of my night brain lingers and lashes against the shore of daylight. I do my best to adjust to wakened reality, fresh coffee always helps, but the lapping of the shore continues throughout the day. I’m irritable. Grumpy. Agitated. Distracted. Now, often sleepy. I just want to go back to bed and start again.

Let’s call these ‘Night Days’. Day’s best to forget. 

And then, every now and then, come day like today, days that simply take my breathe away.  They catch me off guard, they come out the blue. Like a below freezing wave that smacks and smarts. They stop me in my tracks.

Let’s call these ‘Bombshell Days’. 

The following describes one of them.

I’m having a pretty darn chilled Saturday morning. Trace takes the dogs out the back for their morning wee, and makes the coffee. I get out of bed, bleary eyed and come down to the kitchen to watch and wait for the coffee to brew.

Whilst I hover by the coffee plunger, I take a iPhone picture of the kitchen blackboard that’s been recently exposed, as we strip things back for a kitchen refit, from the months of leaflets and notes pinned to it. The change is a purposeful re-habituation of our domestic space. A chance to at least renew downstairs, without affecting upstairs, and their bedrooms.

A year or so Before, we had painted a blackboard on the kitchen wall so we could all write up where each other was. Well, so that Iz and Beth could chalk their work-shifts on the makeshift week-plan, so we knew where they both were.

Not long after the family habit had been instigated and they had both reluctantly and partly complied with the rules, it had become a place for a spot of banter – an expression of scribbled messages, mainly between Beth and I. I’d write, she’d comment. I’d comment back.


Blackboard bants

And now, as the coffee stands, I trace the faded curves of Beth’s handwriting on the kitchen wall. And I take a picture. I just needed to document it. I’d look at it later, the coffee was ready.

As Trace and potted around in the kitchen, we had a row. I was distracted, withdrawn. On my phone. I didn’t clock it, but I should have. It was the beginnings of a Bombshell Day.

A little later I drove Mario to the station to pick up our friend who was coming over for brunch. A friend who happens to know the inquest process inside out. We wanted to pick her brains. She wanted to help.

When we got back home, I made brunch for the three of us. Some avocados were harmed in the making of eggs, avocado and hollandaise sauce on toast. We talked, we shared. We caught up, it was a Saturday after all. But then we got down to business. I learnt  that inquest outcomes have boxes.  Box 1 to 4. That the coroner completes on an official form. I didn’t know that before.

And we stood in our kitchen,  next to the faded blackboard work shifts and the handwritten ‘bants’, as we thumbed through the pale yellow Staples budget cardboard folder that holds our copy of the South Yorkshire police evidence, gathered from Katie Sloane’s diligent early reconnaissance on Facebook.  And the circa 200 page Vietnamese Police interviews. And the summary post mortem reports. About 3 pages. One for each of them. The ones I’ve only ever skimmed. As I glanced at the san serif pages, the word ‘bruises’ stood out. And then a bulleted lists of injuries. I said out loud ‘It includes the post mortem reports. But I can’t read them’.

As I gathered the papers together that our friend had offered to read, she went to the loo. Trace and I retreated to the living room, not deliberating, but as soon as we were alone, I tried to breath it out. But to no avail.

The bomb had landed. We held each other and cried. Stillness, together, softly and quietly,  in front of our memorial mantlepiece.

Our friend came back down and we changed the subject, this time deliberately. We talked living room furniture and dog petting.

A little while later, I dropped her off at the train station. ‘I have no idea’ she said ‘how you cope. But you both look much better. The last time I saw Trace, she couldn’t even look me in the eyes’. We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.

I drove Mario in oddly unsettling silence (for some reason I didn’t want the radio or music) to Waitrose to get a few bits for our Saturday evening in front of X Factor.

As I picked up a hand basket near the flowers, I realised I’d completely forgot what I’d come for.  I wandered up and then back down the fruit and veg isle, racking my brains, as my tears started to build steadily,  consistently. They were contained enough for my fellow shoppers not to notice. Although one woman did look at me directly and smiled sincerely. Not something commonly overseen in Waitrose.

I cried in each isle, even in the cleaning and domestic one I don’t normally go down, as it’s cheaper in Aldi.

I had to ring Trace twice to remind me what I’d come for.

All the week after, we both continued to feel the aftermath. A brutal, jolting reminder made worse, like a thriller narrative arch, by its unexpected and unwelcome entrance. We slept more, we drank more, we were more restless. we both stayed in and cancelled seeing friends.

This Saturday was a Bombshell Day.


New York, on repeat. (I promise).

New York was a thing, for sure. We’d taken Molly first.  5th avenue, Times Square, bright lights and TV show yellow cabs. The macro of soaring Manhattan skyscrapers, like an ever familiar film set. And the micro of Pokémon and Nintendo Gameboy Advance. Molly’s excitement of pre-release before the UK. We needed a UK adapter, clunky, cream plastic.

And then we were there again, a few years later, with Beth. Lower Manhattan this time. The Soho Grand. An evening at the Balthazar, French food served with New York nonchalance, but with white aprons and black waistcoats panache. An impromptu limousine ride to and from the restaurant. Living like rock stars. Lapping it up.

And the promise to Izzy, it’ll be your turn. Albeit, let’s face it, the money we spend on your horse…

So, it was delayed. Repeated requests would come, from time to time, until, I guess, she submitted. She had to wait for the invite.

But it never came. The final grains of sand drained through. Time ran out.


About Day 56, or thereabouts, I was wheeling a trolley around Sainsburys.  In the not so often visited clothing isle, I spotted a t-shirt. It said ‘New York’ in white letters on speckled blue cotton. I added it to my trolley. And I cried.

I wanted to say ‘Sorry, we didn’t make it’. ‘I would have, I promise’. I wanted the t-shirt to remind me of my New York promise to all 3, and to Izzy, the last in line.

…Roll forwards, to Day 950.

I’m starting to give St Vincent some time, in my headphones, as I work. Masseducation is the album. I wasn’t sure about her. I couldn’t quite connect. But one track was familiar, maybe from car airplay on Radio 6, maybe from Later…with Jools.

The album stays on my Spotify repeat. Day 951. Day 952.

Then Day 953.

I lay on the squidgy grey vinyl matting of my gym cool down area. ‘ New York’ plays and suddenly, unexpectedly, I connect with the lyrics, the chorus, the refrain. And I shudder gently, hoping no one notices.

New York isn’t New York
Without you, love
So far in a few blocks
To be so low

I have lost a hero
I have lost a friend
But for you, darling
I’d do it all again

They don’t die. Not completely.

They don’t die. Not completely. They live in your mind, the way they always lived inside you. You keep their light alive. If you remember them well enough, they can guide you, like the shine of long-extinguished stars could guide ships in unfamiliar waters. If you stop mourning them, and start listening to them, they still have the power to change your life. They can, in short, be salvation.

Matt Haigh, from ‘How to stop time’ (2017)

It’s X Factor, so I cried. 

I was supposed to go out with friends for a friend’s birthday. It was all going to plan, until I had a bath.

And then it came.

A massive wave that lashed harshly, hurtfully over me, over and over again. Quiet tears at first. Then, laid on the bed, gentle, ebbing, slow, but increasing, like the shipping forecast, increasing, becoming variable.

I decide, strewn on the bed, not to go out. I just can’t face normal life. Not right now. I thought I could, ten minutes ago. But no. The dogs, sensing something is wrong, come and lay with me, licking and nose nudging for attention, distraction, consolation, and an ever stranger sense that they know I’m upset and that they even know that it’s because I’m missing them. The ‘missing ones’, the ones they can still smell and sense and wonder about in their bedrooms.

I text my friend to say sorry, l’m ‘tired’. It’s like the tabloid ‘tired and emotional’, meaning drunk as a stunk. It’s so much easier to say ‘tired’ than say I simply can’t face leaving the house.

Then, with the release of not going out, I put my PJs on, put a wash on, mix a gin and tonic and begin to relentlessly cry.

The tears accompany me at first, like a supporting actor, a side to the main story. Then they come stronger, closer, as though circling around me, before lunging in for the kill. For sure, I’ve got used to them coming now, 925 days later. The rushing waves, the incessant pounding of the salty, cold water on my face. I carry on making my solo tea (Trace is away, it’s just me and the dogs) and the waves continue to come inland. Steady, but increasing, relentless. Becoming unwelcome.

I eat my tea (Ikea veggie meatballs) in front of X Factor.  The dogs hanker for their share and the tears continue. They’ve gone to force 9 now. Every little, tiny moment of the Saturday night TV dinner remind me of them and the tears stream.


Then Izzy comes in from her Starbucks shift and slumps on the sofa. Minutes later, Beth comes back from her shift at Bill’s. I look for them, I search for them. I look at the empty, silent sofa.

And then the tears become angry. A rage of tears, like a roaring pride of lions. I’ve gone beyond crying. I weep.  Surging, painful thrusts from my abdomen up, tears streaming down my face, i thrash out. I punch the sofa repeatedly, then the hard floor.

‘I don’t want this, I don’t want this,I don’t want this’.

I shout this out-loud, in the genuine hope, that, if I shout it loud enough, it will stop, and I’ll find zen like peace.

The dogs retreat to their kitchen bed, as though they know they can do no more and that they need to leave me alone with my raging grief and X Factor.

Eventually, slowly, the rage passes, releases me.  I get up, unload the washer, put the dryer on. I cry softly throughout. Gentle, not angry tears, but somehow harder tears to bear, because they acknowledge the permeance of this situation.

I press play on Sky again, skip the ads and carry on watching X Factor, series 5 billion, still through watery teary eyes, a bleary lense effect on Simon Cowell and the new series judges.

Izzy’s sat on the green sofa next to me. She laughs. She likes the latest contestant. Probably because she fancies them. Beth yawns.

And I carry on crying, gently sobbing.

Maybe I should made myself  go out, see my friend  for their birthday, rather than lying in a pool of tears?

I write this up through Jonathan Ross.

Beth, then Iz say ‘night night’ and go to bed.

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.

2016-02-25 15.47.39

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.





2016-02-04 14.57.42

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.