Posts Tagged ‘true friendship’

Death of a Friend

March 6, 2013

ImageMy friend Brenda has died. But she will never be dead to me. She is too much part of my childhood, influencing who and what I am.

I recall the day I first met her. We were about eight years old. She was skipping outside the huge gate and high walls of her big garden. Her big ‘mansion’ house — posh to me — was the other side of the road from where I lived with my family in a modest late Victorian semi. Her garden is stuck in my memory too. Not just the profusion of fruit growing on trees and bushes — apples, pears, plums, raspberries, loganberries, gooseberries, and such — but the grass on which we played silly games, practiced three-legged races, played tennis with each other and her brothers, pretended we were famous entertainers. And, oh, so much more. It was another world where make-believe became almost reality. Plant pots were moulds for making sand cakes and pies. The sand having been carried back from the river a mile away, no easy task for a couple of young girls.

But if the garden was another world, so was the attic room where we played on cold and wet days. Her lovely mum would even light us a little fire occasionally, which we would huddle round and daydream. As we grew older, we even danced to my sister’s old wind-up gramophone, eventually turning our efforts into concerts for the family.

We bought our own records. Over the years, we developed our tastes through visiting the cinema a lot, sitting in the gods at the Nottingham Theatre when a ballet was on. And attending concerts at the Little Theatre, and generally ‘picking up’ our musical tastes from what we saw and heard. But not just musical tastes: we enjoyed the cinema and had our favourite films and stars. We saw one 1947 film — Song of Scheherazade — so many times that we wrote out the script then acted the parts at Brenda’s house. We saw all of Jean Pierre Aumont’s films.

As young teenagers, what a pair of dreamers we were. We carried the wind-up gramophone to the local gravel pits by the river. There we played our Swan Lake record to the swans gathered there.

As young children our amusements were quite simple: Skipping, hop-scotch, ball play, pencil and paper games, including battleships and cruisers. We collected wild flowers and pressed them in books. Wanting an Arrowhead flower that grew in the local canal, I dangled Brenda over the edge of the tow path and sat on her legs while she picked it with a garden rake. We drew and painted pictures. And we made our scenery for our little concerts. A large hall mirror flat on the attic floor, with flowers and leaves around the edges, made a lovely pool to go with Dance of the Flowers. Coloured paper over a bike lamp, plus sticks for the ‘fire’, and a bowl of water to throw liver salts into for effect, was great when dancing the Ritual Fire Dance (her young niece screamed when the liquid suddenly ‘bubbled’ up sending froth over the floor.) Bolero was a favourite too. We made our own costumes.

We lit too many candles one day and the wax ran all over the concrete floor. Brenda was very good at scrubbing, she was a methodical and steady worker. I soon gave up patient scrubbing and quickly mopped my part of the floor. Brenda cleaned the outside of the window by sitting on the outside cill with me holding on to her legs. We trusted each other.

There are so many things I could talk about concerning our childhood. (Many things are in my little illustrated book of childhood memories — When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes, extracts are on my various blogs) In our teens we had holidays together — Prestatyn, London, Isle of Wight.) I could write a chapter on each one! It was meeting my husband-to-be that eventually separated us. We moved to a different part of the country but we always stayed in touch.

Dear Brenda, you will always be a part of who I am — the gentler part.

Photo — Brenda (on front horse) and me, having a go at riding while on holiday at Little Canada Holiday Camp IofW 1952

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Visiting Geoffrey — Make Me Happy… a plea from the heart

November 25, 2011

Visiting Geoffrey — Make Me Happy… a plea from the heart

 

Geoffrey and me 19 years ago

Geoffrey looked at me closely. “Who are you,” he asked, when I walked up to his chair and smiled down at him.

And so began my usual explanation of our friendly relationship, which of course, did little to enlighten him. He was sitting positioned between two lady residents and it was difficult talking to him. I looked around the room and found a chair I could pull over. I had some fruit jelly slices for him. I opened the box and lifted a slice.

“For me?” He put the fruity slice to his mouth and bit it. Delight spread over his face. Soon he was happily chewing the full piece.

“Mm…mm…mm… nice.”

I offered him another and another and another. Each time with him asking if it was for him, and then chewing and sucking merrily. Sheer pleasure glowed from his eyes and cheeks. But I thought it best to give the rest of the jellies to the assistant for him to eat later. This way the enjoyment would come again and again. For it does not take long for the childlike happiness to fade and the “Who are you?” questioning to begin again.

He suddenly asked if I could do something for him.

“If I can. What do you want me to do, Geoffrey?”

“What can you do?”

“Lots of things. What do you want me to do?”

“I want to be happy. Can you make me happy?”

Were it not for my Dry Eye condition, tears would have been rolling down my cheeks. I thought of getting his jellies back to give to him but his need went beyond a few moments of pleasure in his mouth.

I touched his hand. “I wish I could sing to you, but, with my voice, I would make everyone cry!” I looked around at the residents sitting in their chairs around the room. Most were looking in my direction with a hint of curiosity in their dull eyes. How ridiculous of me to try to be funny.

I reminded him of when he sang to me “I am a Nightjar” on the first day I visited him. But no bells rang for him.

“I’m an old fool, aren’t I,” he said, not for the first time that afternoon.

“No, you are not a fool, Geoffrey. You are the most intelligent person I have ever met. You have helped a lot of people. You were my tutor and helped me a great deal.”

“That’s good,” he said brightening a little. So I told him more details of the help he had given, and the work he had done.

Then I asked him about India where he and his family had once lived. The information he gave was brief so I turned to London and got him to confirm that he had worked at the British Library and been head of Oriental Studies, but it got no further. I wondered if he would recall his priesthood and work in the Church but I thought it better to let that sleeping dog lie for now, so I told him that he was a theologian and that his teaching had helped a lot of people, especially me.

His face brightened. All time I have known him, his great delight has been when he has been helping others. I realize much of his distress (though he cannot vocalise it) is that he is no longer able to give of himself. He can only ‘be done to’.

I asked him to tell me about his childhood.

“We played games and such, like all children do.”

“What sort of games?”

But he was looking puzzled. Obviously words would not come to his mind. “I’m a foolish old man,” he said.

He gave a cough-come-sneeze, putting an arm in front of his nose and turning sideways out of politeness. I hoped the lady next to him did not catch anything.

He scratched his neck, looking rather uncomfortable. Evidently he was suffering from a rash covering much of his body, which could make him irritable at times. He had also been suffering from a bad cough but the lady in charge said that he was much better. I thought how awful it must be when you are not in complete charge of yourself. And when your memory fails to offer the only explanation he could — “I’m just an old fool.”

After a while, tiredness forced his eyes closed. I stood up and took the chair back to where I found it. I went back to Geoffrey to touch his hand and say goodbye. He opened his eyes.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Gladys. I’ll come again soon. I’ll bring you some cake or sweets. Would you like that?”

Childlike, his face lit up and a smile came to his lips in a brief moment of happiness.

I found it both touching and sad.

 

Thinking back to when I was training for Church ministry, I recall Geoffrey’s incredible eagerness to help people at all levels, from tutoring students to simple tasks like handing round papers at meetings — “I’ll do it,” he would say, eagerly snatching a pile of papers to hand round, then dropping the lot! Indeed he could be quite funny, but never a fool. No, never a fool.

(See posts of previous visits to Geoffrey. The last one is ‘and then he kissed me’)