Saturday, August 5, 2023

Exercising my Brain

It has been an extraordinary amount of time since I last wrote a blog.

As you know I published my social history book The Last Class in November 2021, well, it also kept me busy in 2022.

With help from my beloved Mr H, I spent a lot of time honouring the requests of the Midland Adult School. This was to send a copy to every public library in Birmingham, plus every current and past member who we had details for and of course copies for people who requested to purchase one. They are still trickling out of my hands; I am now on my last 18 out of an original 300 copies. Other copies have sold on Amazon and through the publisher Brewin Books.

It is not a best seller by any means but that was never the intention. My pride emanates from the fact that I have recorded, forever, the story of a Philanthropic Organisation which had a significant part in bringing education to the working class of Britain. I recorded the personal memories of some of its members and along the way achieved something that I know makes my late Great Grandad Tom very happy.

I organised a launch of the book for the Rubery Class at my mom’s house. The look of surprise on their faces when they walked into the room where I had the books laid out in true ‘book launch’ style lit up my heart and settled in my everlasting memory. Alan, one of the members took a step back from the table and when I asked him why he said “I had absolutely no idea it would be so professional, a real book.” I asked each member to sign a  copy of the book which will be treasured record of them all.

Each member posed clutching their copies which we caught on camera before sitting with a cup of tea and blue and white Adult School coloured cup cakes which I had made for the occasion. The chatter in mom’s lounge was reminiscent of my first attendance at one of their meetings in 2016.  

I was also invited to do a talk to the Lickey Hills Local History Society. The room was packed with friendly faces, a few familiar, many not. The last public talk I gave was in 2011 at a Brain Tumour conference so I had to try and control my jangling nerves. But after the first five minutes with my notes in hand I got into my professional swing.

A friend subsequently came across a review of my talk in The Village Magazine. The article started with…

 “The guest speaker at the Lickey Hills Society had the packed Trinity Centre enthralled writes Keith Woolford. Dawn Hamill, who gave a talk on The Story of the Midland Adult School, was part of a family that took advantage of, and ultimately benefited from the scheme.” A tingle of elation ran through my body as I read it…

Now that life has resumed and some kind or normality post Covid lockdowns exists, I need a plan. So, even though my mobility took a big hit, and my new - post Covid - normal now includes two walking sticks instead of one, a rollator called Canardly and a Zimmer frame, I shall get back to regularly exercising my brain at the lap top. 

I may even set up a new Blog because Blogger have made their blog site even harder to negotiate or maybe its my older brain getting weary... 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Words on the Wind

On a week away this summer a rotund man says

 It must be a real pain just sitting there taking in the sunshine, as he passes while waving his arms around to take in the sunny blue sky, sea beyond and screeching seagulls.

My stomach rumbles. 

I mull over how long I should leave it before I mention my hunger to Mr H, knowing he will offer to fetch me something as I laze in my deckchair, smelling of sun cream covered skin. Maybe an avocado bagel from the kiosk I think...

I wonder how much they cost a day

£11 I call out as the two ladies pass. They stop, turn their heads and smile a thank you.

Hello you are through to British Gas if you have a boiler breakdown press 1... fades with the phone owners footsteps crunching on the pebbled beach in front of us.

It was grey on Tuesday but we still went for a swim a mature lady giggles as she and her companion walk, engrossed in their friendly chitter chatter, oblivious to my pen scratching across the page of my notebook.

Almost everyone peers inside as they pass. Unembarrassed curiosity disappointed when all they see are two chairs occupied by Mr H and me, our rucksack, knitting, books and shoes abandoned on the floor. They are hoping to see a quintessential beach hut. Pastel blue and white interior with shells dangling from string, a kettle whistling on a camping stove, empty cups awaiting the hot water while pretty, tied back curtains flutter in the breeze.

Sand in my shoes a small child moans, nestled in his Dad's arms as they wander towards the bucket and spade shop...

Nosey dogs of all shapes, colours and sizes are eager to investigate the inside of our hut before being yanked away by their lead, held by an absent minded owner. 

A people conscious, bucket and spade laden grandma walks ahead of her dawdling grandson calling out we are holding everyone up here. And when they stand aside, like a queue at temporary traffic lights, the trailing hoards rapidly filter past. 

As the sea recedes it exposes a moss covered rocky prominence which I am itching to explore but when I mention it to Mr H he rolls his eyes saying it will be too slippy for you and I don't fancy fishing you out of the water with a broken ankle. I know he is right so I am content to watch as adults and children clamber all over it, standing and staring.  And instead I imagine they are looking into pools full of sea anemones, limpets stuck to the rock like glue and crawling, creeping crabs.

A young girl's words to her boyfriend are carried to us on the breeze, take a photo but wait until I get further away from you I will look slimmer then. I grin knowing that is something I am likely to say to Mr H. 

As the sun dips down towards the water and the air cools, dehydrated children trail behind their equipment laden parents, their eyes watering as they suck rapidly on straws sunken into cold cups of drink, looking anywhere but where they are heading.

Shall we have a walk into town Mr H suggests as he starts to gather our belongings at the end of this beautiful Mindful day...

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Last Load

I hear the rumble of lorry wheels. They are here I shout to Mr H.

We step outside into the cold darkness.

It’s Wednesday evening on the 10th of November. We have waited all day. I have been like a jack in the box every time a vehicle drove up our road. I am shattered. I have done more sit to stand exercises in the last 11 hours than all week.

My physio will be pleased.

Outside the huge lorry slowly chugs towards us as I wave frantically hoping he can see me in my navy clothes as they merge with the dark damp air.

The lorry driver gets out. Walks around the back of his monster of a lorry and raises the hatch. He disappears into the dark echoing vault. He eventually emerges with a pallet wrapped in plastic and makes the slow mechanised descent to the ground.

He wheels the load over to us as we stand in the road saying thank you, thank you, thank you, with beaming smiles.

The driver meanwhile says absolutely nothing! He takes a photograph of us standing by the pallet and we say thank you again to his back as he walks towards the lorry, gets inside and drives off.

There is no fanfare. Just the two of us shivering.

Let’s get a knife Mr H says…

He tears the plastic off and carries box after box into the back room.

I rip one open and stand motionless. Staring down at the result of five years work.

I stroke a cover. Lift one free of the box. It is heavy, heavier than I had expected. And shiny. And big.

It is full of my words. Photographs I have collected and painstakingly chosen to include. Stories and memories of many ladies and gents who were once members of Adult School Classes within the Midlands.

My first book has been published.

Thirteen years to the week after my life changed because of a brain tumour, I have become a published author of a book on Social History and the History of Education within the Midland Adult School Union.

I am totally utterly silent. Overwhelmed as tingles run down my arms and spine. I would never have believed it was possible.

The Last Class. The Story of the Midland Adult School Union 1845-2020. Written by Dawn Hamill.

I have spent the last five years plodding through archives, reading old books and interviewing past and present members of this remarkable Movement. I have discovered that my own family history was woven into the world of The Adult School. I have shared some truths about my own journey through life up to and after the brain tumour. A tumour that changed my world. But gave me the time to change my path in life.

The Rich Tapestry of Life never ceases to amaze and thrill me.

The book is available from Brewin Books Ltd. Also Amazon. It can be ordered from WH Smiths. If you have a query, please feel free to email me


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Dimwits Don't Wear Masks

Yesterday over 49,000 people tested positive for Covid infection.

Within the last week an average of 124 people died as a result of Covid each day in the UK.

That’s two double decker buses full of seated people. Friends, wives, husbands, grandparents, mothers, fathers and the occasional child.

Every day.

If a double decker bus ran off the road and into a ditch killing all its occupants there would be outrage. An enquiry into what happened.

Two on the same day. Well, that’s hard to imagine. Almost as bad as everyone dying on a crashed airplane. Well four a week actually if the weekly figures are compared with a Boeing 747.


The UK Government website displays the numbers vaccinated first thereby placing emphasis on this rather than the many thousands actually affected by the virus on a daily basis. Yes, vaccination appears to be saving lives, reducing the severity of illness in most of those vaccinated but coronavirus is still there. Still killing people in airplane loads.

At the start of Lockdown 1 I was part of a group of friends who started zooming each Sunday, initially to support our dear friend John who was completely socially isolated as a result. As my Blog readers will know John sadly died but not of Covid. However, we have carried on zooming most weeks as we reach out to each other, voices of reason, debating the news headlines, deciding which masks are the best to wear on an airplane and in shops…

As a group – all retired - we fit into the brigade of vaccinated, eagerly awaiting boosters, mask compliant, sanitising, handwashing, still social distancing where we can and avoiding places/situations where we can’t.

Yet it feels as though there are not many of us left.

At the weekend Mr H and I stopped at a service station on the M5 to use the loo and it was buzzing with crowds of non-mask wearing people pushing past me as I headed, slowly, towards the sign for the Toilets. Mr H as usual was by my side to block those non mask wearing pushers who were in too much of a hurry to give a wobbly me the space I needed.

You wouldn’t think we were in the midst of a pandemic at all would you I said to Mr H as we walked. I was feeling so angry I checked the UK Gov Guidance which states: When You Should Wear a Face Covering: We expect and recommend that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed places (sounds like a service station to me…) where you come into contact with people you don’t meet. For example, on public transport…

This brings me to Dimwits and back to my zooming friends. In particular our zoom master, the organiser of our weekly chats Jeff Smith. He has kept us entertained with his lengthy emails, summarising and commenting on the day’s news headlines. He has just returned from a holiday in Mallorca and this was our zoom sponsors take on what he witnessed…

There are just so many cases nowadays in the UK, very nearly 45,000 yesterday… at an average rate of 387 per every 100,000 over the last seven days. 

According to Reuters this morning, in Spain over the last seven days, the average is currently at 4% of its peak… that is an average of 1,538 cases per day, just 22 cases per 100,000. A significant difference.

 Our country isn't using avoidance of infection as one of its tools to tackle it, it appears we are relying on the vaccine alone.

 Elsewhere in Europe, even though 'things' are increasingly allowed, going shopping, meeting up, dining out; mask wearing indoors remains mandatory. In smaller shops and cafes, the numbers allowed indoors are restricted, and some social distancing is still in place. All hospitality staff engaging with customers wear masks.

 In a hotel we stayed in for our last night, our temperatures were taken at check in. The breakfast was held on the covered (but open both ends) roof terrace (yes it's warmer on the med) and everyone still had to wear a mask. The tables were well spaced and you had to wear plastic gloves for collecting food from the buffet. 

 They haven't forgotten, they aren't ignoring it. Despite starting after the UK, they're as vaccinated now and often more vaccinated - in percentage of population - than we are. But they recognise that reducing infection is key to success.

 Double vaccines alone do not prevent infection from the delta variant, it reduces the severity, but unfortunately, it doesn't guarantee it won't kill you. Above the age of 65, maybe even 60, there are deaths amongst the double vaccinated and the ratios and numbers increase with age.

 We all have to be careful.

 In the airport at Mallorca, we saw signs (in multiple languages) instructing everyone to 'respect respiratory etiquette'.  

 An excellent message. Or as I might say 'wear your bloody mask. And wear it correctly, you dimwit'!

 Here it feels as though the government message is that we are reverting to 'herd immunity' through spreading of infection. It appears as though they're not interested with how many folk get ill or infect others (even deaths), just as long as the NHS doesn't get overrun. 

 I don't understand it, I don't agree with it, but most of the UK’s population (from the evidence I see) seem not to be bothered at all.


This is the personal view of an intelligent member of the public who has witnessed first-hand the different approaches in the UK and Europe. It is clear that a large percentage of the UK population don’t want to protect their fellow man.

 I feel that reintroducing mandatory face coverings and social distancing in England (if only to give a visible sense to all that we are still in the middle of a Pandemic) as in other parts of Europe could have a significant impact on the numbers of airplanes, we are filling with deaths from Covid infection in the UK.

 And as the dark nights draw in and winter takes hold, the population of people who have not been exposed to the usual colds, flus and respiratory infections because of lockdowns are now moving around as though these infections also don’t exist.

 As someone with underlying health conditions and a trashed immune system I am worried. I am vaccinated, wear a mask, maintain social distancing but despite this am fearful that tomorrow or the next day I could start coughing and end up as another statistic on one of those buses or airplanes…


Monday, June 14, 2021

Farewell John

During the last three years I’ve said too many tearful goodbyes to people who I have loved and who have stamped their special characters into my soul.

This week I will be saying a final farewell to John, a friend for forty years.

We spent ten years of our lives together and since then our strong friendship has moulded into an exchange of support and sharing a love of music, film and books.

In the 1980s we traveled around his much loved Spain, proudly thinking we had learned to speak Spanish at night school until challenged with trying to understand Spanish people talking!

I have stood ‘patiently’ tapping my feet while John lay on the pavement in the middle of Madrid trying to get THE photograph, and again in the Alhambra Palace in Granada and again in Andalusia and the mountains of Austria…

I sat through a horrific bull fight in Rhonda because John wanted the experience, oh yes, and the photos…

Those who knew John will know that getting up and down from the floor was no mean feat with his disabilities caused by polio when he was 4 years old.

He taught me so much about dealing with disability. As ironically I followed in his footsteps - or not so many steps as it turned out…

He showed me that grit determination mixed in with a bit of a temper, helps in rising above health challenge after health challenge which were thrown at him and subsequently me…

He rarely complained about his fate but when he did it was usually to my ears as a nurse. I understood his pain and frustration and even more so as my own health declined.

Despite his own problems he was ready with advice, compiling a cd on music we had spoken about or researching whichever electronic device I was thinking about buying…

When I decided to learn to play the ukulele during lockdown it was John I turned to for guidance... We had always been happy to entertain as a guitar playing duet - John a skilful master of the guitar, while I strummed along or sung out of tune! 

John had a strong family of friends but it is only now as we plan his funeral that I begin to understand how, like a bird collecting grass and straw, it was John who gathered people into his nest of friendship.

It is only through loss that I begin to realise how much of my friends' soul has seeped into mine…

So once again, as I sit in the garden listening to the breeze rustling through the trees and to the joyful bird song as they settle on branches, I am reminded that precious moments like this can so easily end…

Rest in Peace John xxx

Monday, February 15, 2021

And the winner is...

Love is in the air and when I wonder into the kitchen two red envelopes await. The one with my name on has a bag of heart shaped chocolates behind it!

I don’t open it as I am up early and Mr H sleeps on.

I look up from my computer screen when he wonders down the stairs and immediately asks

Do you want another coffee?

Ooh yes please I reply without a glance in his direction.

Oh, and will you read this letter for me to check that I have included everything…

The last few months I have been working harder than I ever have. My days at the computer are long, my eyes are sore but I now have a deadline to meet.

The book I have been undertaking research for and then writing over the last five years is almost ready to go to my publisher.

Yes, MY PUBLISHER… every time I say those words, I grin

I have signed a publishing contract – grin

I have been talking to my publisher – blush with pride

My book - The Last Class – The Story of the Midland Adult School Union 1845-2010, is about the history of the astonishing Adult School Movement in the Midlands. Once a flourishing organisation, it is now about to close is doors and only the last class will meet. The Rubery Class. The Class which my Mom has attended for almost sixty years. The history and memories of the last living members of some of the Birmingham Classes are woven into this book along with my own recently discovered family history. Snippets of my own life peek out from some of the pages.

I am beginning to get excited, I am however, keeping it in check with a heavy book as I try to unravel the world of copyright law for the many images to be included.

After an hour and another cup of coffee I remember it's Valentine’s Day so drag myself out of my computer chair to give Mr H a hug and his card…

This year I am convinced that my card will be the winner, appropriate for the moment depicting what has occupied almost all of my time since the start of Coronavirus…


 Mr H agrees… and I make my way back to the computer…

Sunday, October 4, 2020

I am not a Grandma

My nan uses one of those.

My grandad was told to have one but he refused as he didn’t want to be seen using it

My grandma has one

Each time I manage to squeeze the words four-wheel walker out of my reluctant mouth to share the new horror in my world, people spurt those words which make it tougher for me to acknowledge at the age of 57 I need more help with my walking.

A stick is no longer enough.

A feeling of dismay washes over me each time I glance sideways. It blocks my view of the garden so I move it under the stairs.

But it stares at me each time I walk past… whispering you are old now only the elderly use these…

If you google the words balance and falls the words older and elderly jump from every page. I have fallen too many times this year. But I am not old or elderly.

Six falls in July alone.

I tripped over my own feet, left my foot behind when I walked between rooms, I even lost my balance and fell to my knees on the moving walkway on our only visit to Tesco during this prolonged Coronavirus lockdown.

They came last week to assess me. My heart pounded and I clenched my sweaty palms, knowing I needed the review.

But I didn’t want them to come.

The nurse and physio from the Community Falls and Mobility service my GP had referred me to, stepped inside. They oozed professionalism and kindness, nodding understandingly when I burst into tears at their words.

It is unsafe to be so dependent on Mr H when you walk outside, because if you fall, you will take him down too...

It makes sense but my heart and pride don’t like the sensible option. 

They tell me the answer is a stable four-wheel walker with a bloody seat. The words I had assumed would be spoken but dreaded from the pit of my soul.

I now have new exercises to do daily to strengthen my leg muscles – maybe they will do the trick I pray – similar exercises I was doing at my weekly pre coronavirus exercise class for wobbly people, which needless to say hasn’t taken place since March.  A whole six months…

Things have gradually been getting worse over the last couple of years. It started with an increase in the number of my seizures. Making me afraid to walk alone across an open flat space for fear that one would swipe me off my feet mid-way. I started to walk close to walls – where there were any – giving me something to grab if a wobble or trip caught me out. Then a change in my epilepsy drugs which improved my seizures but I am convinced made my walking and balance worse. My Epilepsy consultant thinks not but we are tweaking my dose just in case.

In December I froze trying to get down the stairs at the cinema – something I have managed with Mr H until then. We needed the help of a third person, a kind stranger, to get me down safely as silent tears dripped off my nose while everyone there tried not to stare. My 88 year old Mum has had more stair rails installed for me. Not her!

A fall down the stairs at home followed with a visit to A&E, a CT scan of my head and a weeks’ worth of head spinning concussion smashed my confidence into smithereens.

Gentle slopes have become mountains. I feel as though I am in the front seat of a roller coaster ready to tip over the edge of a hundred metre drop before plummeting down to the ground. Vomit threatens to spurt out of my mouth when the camber of a pavement changes. I can no longer cross a road without Mr H. I grip onto his arm and stare at the ground while he checks for traffic before firmly telling me to walk. I shuffle like, yes, an old person. Fearful that stepping into the road will bring disaster. Another fall. A broken leg.

I prefer not to go out anymore. Yet I want to walk to the allotment…

The mask, apron and glove wearing Physio Assistant and Occupational Therapist come with the walker. They take time to talk to me with reassuring smiles, tweak the height of my kitchen perching stool so I no longer slip off.  With smiling eyes, the OT assesses our home to make it safer for me.  I now have appointments for walking practice outside and an order for six more grab rails to be placed around the home. A raised toilet seat, for god sake, to stop me pulling on the sink to get up and down off the loo. A step to make it easier to get into and out of the shower…

I am deteriorating. My brain is letting me down. My heart sinks each time I think about it. I don’t understand why. I want to scream and shout with sad tears running down my face.

The four-wheel walker is still there. Nausea rises each time I turn round.

I feel embarrassed. I dread the platitudes, the sympathetic looks and strained smiles as people look me up and down in surprise.

I dread more of the… my nan, grandma, grandad declarations. They DO NOT help me. I fear the jokes;

well at least you have a basket to carry the allotment produce back up the hill…

can I have a go? can I use your seat?

why don’t you just jazz it up

There are no young versions, they are all the same – metal and plastic, blue, black and grey

I need a new friendly name for my monster. It will never define me, it’s my enabler… 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Masks and Slimy Snot

It has been many years since I last wore a mask. In fact, pre-Coronavirus, I am struggling to remember when it might have been. But as soon as I realised that wearing a face covering was to become the norm in crowded spaces, where the two-metre distance was hard to maintain, I sought out my supply. I considered using a snood or scarf but felt it would be too much like hard work to wash it after each use. So, my answer came in a pretty double or optional triple layer mask, home-made by my friend Jacky.

Yesterday our neighbour took me and Mr H out to a Garden Centre. Mr H isn’t able to drive at the moment so we sat in the back of her car, face coverings on, windows open and my uncut hair wildly blowing around my face. I squealed when we realised that the café was open and we would be able to sit outside on the empty patio. Mr H ordered our drinks, while Tina and I sat grinning at each other while we waited.

Then another mask wearing couple entered the café and I watched with my mouth agape as, once seated, the man grabbed the front of his mask with both hands and scrunched it up before putting it face down onto the table.

I’ve seen this behaviour so many times. People pulling on the front of their face covering or mask, continually pressing on the bridge of their nose, pulling the covering on and off their face like they are wiping a snotty nose beneath ... The Infection Prevention and Control Nurse within me cringes every time, I want to advise, tell them to stop...

Each time this is done, hands and everything subsequently touched are covered with the virus -if present- and any other respiratory or environmental micro-organisms which have collected on the inside and outside of the face covering.

Wearing face coverings in public, often in close contact with others, also seems to give some an invincible air: I’ve got a mask on therefore the virus can’t get within a leopard’s leap of me.

Whereas, I have learnt that my mask or face covering, at best prevents me, should I be an asymptomatic carrier, from spreading any respiratory droplets which contain Coronavirus to others in close proximity. It may also have a minor effect on protecting me from some virus containing droplets in a cough or sneeze should I get close to a person who has the virus.

When I handle my mask, I imagine that it is covered in someone else’s slimy snot; not something to be grabbed with both fists and left on a table where food is to be placed:

I do not touch it until I need to remove it.
When I remove it, I unloop it from my ears, avoiding touching the front or inside before dropping it into a plastic bag which I carry with me. Then I wash or sanitise my hands.
If I need to wear it again before returning home, I only touch the loops of the mask – always maintaining the same side of the material facing outwards.
Once home, with clean hands, I remove my covering from my face or plastic bag, wash it in hot soapy water and leave to dry. Then I wash my hands again.

Personally, I don’t use a disposable mask but if anyone does and wants to re-use it, it seems sensible to keep it in the bag or hung in a suitable place away from all regularly used surfaces.

Questions about cleaning the house also tumble around in my mind. But I know that any detergent such as washing up liquid or simple soap and water are sufficient for cleaning my house.

The great thing about this virus is that it is an enveloped virus. This means, like my lockdown abdomen which has been full of cake, it has a fatty (lipid) outer wall. Here’s where we can celebrate, as this layer (membrane) makes it much easier to kill when outside of the body. Unlike my stubborn cake filled abdomen, this fragile outer layer is relatively easy to break down using soap and water and once done, results in destruction of the virus.

Bleach on surfaces will also work but as one author described it; using bleach is like using a bludgeon to swat a fly. Cleaning products, including hand sanitisers, containing at least 60% Alcohol are also effective but the Bludgeon and fly come to mind unless away from a sink in the case of keeping hands clean.

Talking about hands brings me to my final point and a man in Pink marigold gloves. I titter as I type… Gloved hands are still hands which can pick up and transfer the virus or any other micro-organisms. So, wearing gloves does not mean we will not come into contact with the virus if it is there.

There are five points worth noting here:

1.     Used appropriately gloves can reduce but won’t eradicate hand contamination and can spread micro-organisms. They are primarily and most appropriately for healthcare workers use.

2.     Hands must always be washed or sanitised after glove removal because hands are inevitably contaminated when gloves are removed.

3.     Disposable gloves are just that disposable and will not withstand ‘cleaning’ with alcohol.

4.    Used gloves, shoved into pockets will contaminate the clothing. 

     I never wear gloves in shops, instead when out, I rely on the effective use of hand sanitiser, hand washing where possible and not touching my face.

     Stay safe my friends and remember if you think of used face coverings (and gloves if you insist on using them) as being covered in someone else’s wet slimy snot it will keep you focused on their safe use.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Through Sue's Eyes

Today I am drawn to sit on our bench in the front garden. The seat is wet it’s been raining. I am sitting here to feel close to Sue. My Swimming Sue.

We met because of my brain tumour. We came face to face ten years ago as a result of Jon, a young man who I was lucky enough to connect with at a brain tumour support group. 

I needed to meet the lady who Jon was so excited to have joining him at Church during craft morning Sue told me much later.

When I turned the huge brass door handle and pushed open the heavy door to step inside St Marys Church for the first time, I scanned for Jon’s face, I’ll be doing my jigsaw he told me. He saw me and grinned. I walked towards him, my stick clicking on the floor as I went, to admire the progress he was making with his jigsaw rolled out on a mat before him.

A beautiful lady with dark curly hair approached us and with outstretched arms squealed Dawn, it is Dawn isn’t it, I have been so looking forward to meeting you; I’m Sue. As our eyes met and we hugged, I suspected that this lady was going to matter as much to me as Jon did.

To start with my contact with Sue was craft related, as recently traumatised by my need to retire from my nursing career, Sue encouraged me to join Jon at the Church craft session. I watched in awe as Sue bobbed from table to table, sharing an encouraging smile with new comers and tips on crocheting, knitting, painting and quilting with everyone there. The room positively glowed when Sue was in it. She made coffee and did the washing up while supporting and showering her love on those who were ready to receive it.

When Jon died because of his brain tumour it was Sue who walked with me around the church yard before the service. We sat on a bench under a tree and talked about life. And death. It was Sue and her husband Peter who put their arms around me when I was utterly overwhelmed by the loss of my friend.

Sue listened as I poured out the story of how, when on our Caribbean honeymoon cruise, two complete strangers had watched me sitting at the sea’s edge being swished in and out, too fearful to take the plunge. They held out their hands, enticed me in and once under water encouraged me to float and then swim a few strokes. I sobbed with joy as – for the first time in two years - the feeling of normality overwhelmed me, but I never saw those people again I told Sue. They were Angels she smiled knowingly.

Sue encouraged me to try swimming again. She took me to the local pool and spent week after week with me in the warmth of the baby pool. We giggled like kids as we raced across the pool, swimming with no leg movement to make it an equal competition! 

We swapped jars of homemade preserves, a jar of my blackberry jam for a jar of Sue’s gorgeously tangy lemon curd. Sue gently taught me that thoughtful home crafted gifts are more meaningful than those snapped up in shops.

We shared secrets on our lunch and coffee meet ups and excursions out to the Clevedon seaside which always included lunch after a stroll around our favourite high street store which was stuffed full of wool, material, threads and all things crafty. We um’d and ah’d over hats, tittering as we pulled the oddest ones onto our heads. We chose earrings and always visited the charity shops, Sue coming away with a top and me a jumper or two. We both loved bright colours, never afraid to add a splash to whatever we were wearing, our joint favourite was a deep sea-sky blue.

Sue had breast cancer. Then a year later so did I. We shared the intimacies of treatment, Sue shopped for my breast cancer bras when I was readmitted to hospital with complications after my surgery. She arrived swinging the M&S bag and we laughed as she pulled out one monstrosity after the other, deciding on the least offensive styles.

We cried on each other’s shoulders.

Hugged often.

When Sue collected me from home, we always stood in the front of our cottage to admire the tiny details in flowers. Look at the way that petal is curling Sue would exclaim; see how the water has settled on that leaf; and once cringing in surprise Dawn there’s a dead rat on your path!

Sue had an easy sense of style and on a visit to my much-loved Lyme Regis to see what it was all about she was delighted to discover the hat shop I had gushed about for so many years. In true Sue style she sent me a WhatsApp message with just a photograph of the hat she had bought. No words needed!

But Sue’s breast cancer didn’t behave the same as mine.

The last time I saw her in March we had a long coffee, once again in the leisure centre, but this time we didn’t swim. As we talked, and talked, she oozed with her now fragile beauty. She chatted about how happy she was to see her son Harry and daughter Laura settled in their relationships and about Laura’s forthcoming wedding. Sue showed me photographs snapped on her smart phone, talked about her and Peter’s strong Faith and how tired she was now feeling…

The morning the phone rang, it was a call I have been expecting yet hoping would never come.  Peter said she’s not with us anymore, and I wept selfish tears for the loss of my friend.

So, as I sit on my front garden bench where Sue and I have rested side by side so many times, I watch as a pair of Dunnocks come close. They move from branch to branch, slowly edging their way towards me, occasionally dropping onto the path by my side. I absorb their beauty, their grey chest, a rainbow of shades of browns on their backs.  As tears prick my eyes, a sense of calm rises in my soul.

Sue left me with more than the memories of our friendship, she gave me a gift. She taught me to see the world through her eyes.

With my deepest love

Dawn xx