Grateful for my Dad

Dear Dad,

On the weekend of your 59th birthday, I just wanted to say how grateful I am for you.

We haven’t had an easy time in this world, especially during the past few years, but right from the start you have been the most wonderful father. It has always been about having fun, being silly, laughing. I remember you setting up a treasure hunt for Greg and I to wake up to one Saturday morning, the thrill of searching the house for clues which lead to one of many ‘happy days presents’; when you brought home dry ice from the theatre where you worked and we watched in amazement as smoke cascaded down the stairs; making a nativity together out of toilet rolls and ping pong balls; the countless Christmas presents that you lovingly handmade for me: a circus, a shop, a dolls house.

It was a perfect childhood and Greg and I were so carefully surrounded by the love of you and Mum. I’ll be forever grateful for the holidays on the Isle of Wight, days out at the Severn Valley Railway, evenings at home playing Pass the Bomb, Rummikub or whatever new game we had chosen from Toys R Us that day – so much fun and laughter; an amazing family relationship that never really wavered, even as we grew into adults.

When you went into hospital for routine heart surgery in 2008, I first experienced the feeling of complete and utter heart-strangling terror that arises when you sense that you might lose someone close to you. The anaesthetist punctured an artery whilst inserting the IV into your arm and you nearly died. I can vividly remember that phone call, hearing Mum on the phone and knowing something was wrong; sitting in a family room with a box of tissues and the surgeon telling us: ‘it’s like a plane – sometimes you can do everything right and it still crashes’, shell shocked. We were allowed to see you, but you were in an enforced coma whilst your body tried to recover. The worst of it was knowing that when you woke up, you’d be told that the operation hadn’t happened, that you’d have to recover from this and then come back. In fact, you ended up back there sooner than that: a collapsed lung on my birthday, even though you somehow managed to walk an entire lap of the lake before we had to take you to A&E. That’s you to a tee Dad, always carrying on like nothing’s wrong, never one to make a fuss.

Just out of university, I was unemployed during your recovery and living at home again, so we spent our days walking around the block together, watching Homes Under the Hammer, shopping for a Christmas hamper for Mum. When I moved to London a few months later, you both supported me unquestioningly, despite (I think) always knowing that the guy wasn’t at all right for me. When we broke up, you were there in a flash, helping me move house, move on.

The way you cared for Mum when she became ill was amazing. You did absolutely everything you possibly could, from making a hundred trips to Sainsbury’s every day to try and locate a food that wasn’t completely nausea-inducing, buying presents, arranging trips and days out, to leaving your brand new car in a dodgy looking car park so we wouldn’t miss our appointment at the Royal Marsden (I can’t bear to think of that horrendous day, so full of hope that there would be an appropriate oncology trial that could help Mum, casually told by the trendy young doctor in leopard print pumps that there was nothing they could do). I remember when Mum was first in hospital, walking in and seeing her so upset in her chair; you threw yourself to the floor, sat at her feet telling her everything would be okay. It epitomises your total selflessness; of course, you would have done absolutely anything.

When Mum died, you told us we had to carry on; we were going to carry on. We walked around the lake in the sun. We planned the best funeral we possibly could, making beautiful photo boards covered with Mum’s smiling face and stunning blue eyes, so many happy memories surrounded by glittering flowers and hearts. When I get angry and unreasonable, you always see the good in people, make me see that there’s no point in being so cross – how the person who put Mum’s gravestone in the wrong place didn’t do it on purpose, how the nurse who asked Mum if she felt like she was dying only meant well. You are always so grateful and appreciative of the people who have helped us.

I can’t think about how you have done since Mum died without wanting to burst into tears of pride. I can’t believe how you’ve coped in the face of this imaginable horror that fell upon us. Even when you don’t think you’re doing well, you’re doing amazingly – believe me. I know it’s hard rattling around in the house sometimes, but you always get yourself up and out, keep yourself occupied. Sometimes I wish you had a job that meant you weren’t self-employed, that you didn’t have so many days on your own. But you now volunteer at the hospice that once cared for Mum, bringing your sense of humour, your empathy and your understanding to the aid of others. Always going above and beyond. I’m so hugely grateful for the network of friends that keep in touch with you, pop in for a coffee, invite you for dinner and on holidays. But why wouldn’t they?! Everyone loves you so much Dad.

When you had your stroke just under a year after we lost Mum, the bottom fell out of my world again. I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying that experience was for you – how you felt unwell in a house you were working in, collapsed and then – half-paralysed – managed to drag yourself onto the front drive. I daren’t think about what would have happened if you hadn’t had the strength to do that, and if the owner’s dog hadn’t stayed by your side, barking until she drew the attention of some nearby builders. The name on your heart monitor later that day: Janette. Mum was there watching out for you. After a dippy few days you were back home pretending nothing had happened, driving myself and Auntie Rosie absolutely crazy, trying to go straight back to work and drive before you were supposed to. That’s you Dad, carrying on regardless, never one to sit around without a project; something to build or decorate or take apart.

Even though you annoy the hell out of me sometimes (no, two lamb chops, a packet of sliced pork and some chips is not a balanced meal), I am bursting with love for you my wonderful Dad. I won’t stop telling you that your hair looks silly or that your T shirt needs ironing (someone’s got to make sure you look presentable, right Mum?!) or that the hall decorating still hasn’t been finished, but I don’t want you to stop telling me I work too hard or I’ve got black under my eyes or my dress looks weird either.

Happy birthday Dad, and thank you for everything you do for me; for our daily phone calls, for the theatre trips, the presents, the ‘I’ll come down and get you’s. Thank you for being you.

All my love,


Grateful for University

This week I’ve been lucky enough to see my uni friends several times. I’ve known these girls my entire adult life; from that first terrifying step into the unknown – September 2005, Whiteknights Hall, University of Reading – through marriages, breakups, births and deaths – we’ve experienced all the good and bad that life has thrown at us so far. There are no other friendships like the ones we make at university, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to create them.

High-quality degree aside, I suppose the best thing about uni was how it broadened my horizons. Coming from Solihull I hadn’t exactly had a sheltered childhood, but my experience had been limited to a certain group of people. To meet so many people from so many different backgrounds was completely thrilling; I heard a South African accent for the first time, met people who’d been to boarding school, someone who lived next door to the Sultan of Brunai, a guy who drove a red BMW (who also happened to be a second year – that was simply beyond grown up and cool), someone from Essex (this was of course pre-TOWIE; I knew nothing!). I was amazed by the confience of these people, by the way they were so comfortable in their own skins. Everybody thought the Midlands was ‘up North’; I was confused.

On that first day, my parents stayed the night in Reading, fearing that I would be homesick, scared, alone (I was, after all, the girl who was sick on the way to her college induction through nerves). But they needn’t have worried; I grew in confidence the second I had made my single bed, set up my VCR and stuck my Greenday poster on the wall. This wasn’t school: emerging as individuals with no back stories or reputations, no preconceived ideas of each other based upon a scroll through Facebook  or a quick Google, we all just wanted to be friends. One of the first people I met became one of my best friends; she said she liked my hair (still a stripey mullet at that point) and the rest is history (I didn’t know any girls who wore Nike trainers – how frightfully cool and exciting!).

I was lucky enough to be living in catered halls with a huge dining room (complete with long tables, plastic jugs of orange squash and dinner ladies spooning corrugated carrot slices – amongst other culinary delights – onto your plate) and their own bar – the Junior Common Room, or JCR. The JCR committee were the coolest group of people I could have ever imagined. They were second years, and they were committed to getting you drunk. I can still vividly remember that first week: pub crawls, fancy dress, afternoon naps, a trip to town to buy posters, an introduction to Snakebite. Time seemed to go on forever. Someone’s sister visited for the weekend and it felt like she had joined our friendship group permanently. We still talk about her massive gold handbag!

It wasn’t a grown up existence at all, but with a bank account bounteous with my student loan (which now seems more likely to be cancelled out through death rather than my ever actually managing to pay it back) and an interest-free overdraft begging to be spent, I was afforded a freedom like never before. The freedom to go to Primark and buy a chunky sequinned belt, to order pizza at 1 in the morning, to collect enough hoodies that meant no other type of clothing was ever required before 7pm.

Very little work occurred for the majority of that year – we rolled out of bed 15 minutes before a lecture, threw on a hoodie and came back to bed an hour later. Whilst our fellow science and maths-studying students struggled through 9-5 lectures every day, us English Lit girls moaned when we had to get up for a 10am.
We illegally downloaded music, spent hours binging on TV series like Lost and Scrubs, religiously watched Neighbours once (sometimes twice) a day. We played Super Mario Kart on an old TV in the kitchen, drank cans of Castlemaine XXXX with the boys and Cherry Lambini if we were feeling fancy. We went out most nights (usually for less than £10) and in fancy dress at least once a month – costumes generally created using a pair of 99p coloured tighted from Primark and a piece of shiny fabric.

Our experiences of this time are cemented in our brains forever, only partially captured as a set of badly-framed digital photographs from a time pre-selfie. The poor girl who was sick in the first Shakespeare lecture of the second year sadly still sometimes gets a mention when we reminisce (I’m so sorry; I honestly hope it didn’t scar you forever).

It freaks me out that this experience happened over 10 years ago: how an 18 year old today (who was born in 1998!) will have a completely different experience to mine; there will be no digital cameras, no £5 nights out, no MSN Messenger or sending emails from the library.

When we did get Facebook during second year, never in a million years could I have imagined how social media would explode, how part of my proper grown up job would involve managing accounts on these sites. We just wore what each other wore (denim skirt, vest top, chunky belt – obviously); there was very little outside influence – no apps to scroll through in moments of boredom, no YouTube vidoes to teach us how to contour, no wifi, no high-res camera phones, no Daily Mail circle of shame. We lived in a strange limbo where the digital world was rapidly speeding towards us – we had mobile phones with internet (although God help anyone who accidently pushed that button to launch it – did they think we were made of money?!), we had iPods, we had email addresses and Bebo accounts – but today’s world of instant updates, of viral photographs, of likes and shares and followers and two blue ticks on Whatsapp wasn’t yet upon us.
My memories of university aren’t ones created for social media; they don’t have filters to make me look more tanned; they aren’t carefully curated to ensure my experience looks better than everyone elses. That first year at university shaped me as an adult, it gave me some of my best friends and it enabled me to be one hundred percent myself. I’m so grateful for that time of my life, and I am beyond grateful that we got to do all of it before social media, that we didn’t feel the pressure young girls must now feel to create Instagram-perfect makeup, to dress like Kylie Jenner, to take the perfect selfie, to be #couplegoals or #squadgoals. We were able to make our mistakes without them being added to someone’s Snapchat story or shared on Facebook for the world to see. I love the fact that my memories are recorded as slightly blurry, slightly unattractive photos. They are so real.

Grateful for Amazon (but not because of the shopping)

Two weeks into January and this month is living up to expectations; this week has exclusively involved going to work, eating dinner in the office, then coming home and going to sleep, with a distinct lack of daylight in between. In the absence of a hard-hitting topic, one thing I have genuinely been grateful for is the lazy present-buyers dream, Amazon. I’m not a lazy present buyer at all; I love spending weeks finding the perfect gifts, but Amazon has saved me this week.

In amongst one of my many emails to customer service (don’t ask, I promise I’m not actually one of those people), I realised you can view every single order you’ve ever made. That’s 13 years of my buying history right there! And wow, does it tell a story. A capitalist version of the Facebook timeline, if you will, I can remember every single one of these purchases (bar a couple – why did I buy Union jack bunting in 2010 and who on earth were the ‘Comfortable Dust Mop Slipper Shoes’ for?!). So much of our lives is now saved on the internet, but trawling through my Amazon history brought back a different set of memories.

2004, age 18 – the days of studded belts and mullet haircuts and hanging around with my brother’s band desperately trying to be cool (if the definition of cool was showing the waistband of your knickers above your jeans and covering the entirety of one of your black-ringed, Barry M Dazzle Dust-ed eyes with a side-swept fringe); desperately trying to be noticed by the guy in the striped jumper (update: I never was). I bought numerous CDs: Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish, The God Awfuls (who the heck were they?! I actually daren’t listen), Capdown, Mad Caddies (it was a ska punk band; my friends and I were extremely committed to wearing predominantly black & white checks and skanking for an entire two hour set on a Friday night). These were the days of mySpace and MSN messenger, of disposable cameras and Blue VKs; being on the cusp of ‘grown up’ without actually being anywhere near.

2005 – I started university, where nobody else wore studded belts or mullet haircuts – so things quickly changed and the mullet was no more. It’s testament to the complete and utter easy ride that was first year English Literature that I bought just one book. One book! Henry V – and I’m pretty sure it was never properly read; my main memory of this play is going to watch a film screening in the English Department prior to a night out, and using it as a pre-gaming opportunity – plastic bottles of vodka and lemonade, hooting in the back row, more concerned about which denim skirt and chunky belt to wear later. My uncle told me they would be the best days of my life and they really were; never again will we be that carefree, that irresponsible, that innocent. University friends are different to all other friends – we transitioned from childhood to adulthood together; we learnt how to cook something that wasn’t a cheese sandwich, how to rent a house (the wrong house, as it turned out), how to build a flat pack table, how to operate in a grown-up world.

2007 – things got a bit more serious; my friends and I were quickly realising that an English degree didn’t exactly catapult you into a well-paid and glamourous job. I bought lots of books, started going to the library, actually read the books. We became committee members on the English Society, basically an excuse to wear cute red polo shirts, strutting from pub-to-pub followed by a trail of freshers who possibly thought we might know what we were doing. Suffice to say, we did not set the world on fire (one night, two people came) but it went on the CV, we graduated, got on with life.

2009 – 2011 – I moved to London, got a job, accidentally became housewife (not literally) before my time; I bought lots of books, stayed in. Looking back at it now, this says a lot.

2012 – newly single, this year saw a fresh phase in my life; new home, new friends, new experiences. The black eyeliner actually came out again! I bought flight socks, in preparation for a trip to New York with six girls I hardly knew, some of whom are now my best friends. I bought a Pilates DVD, having started going to Ballet Pilates with my new friends (one of whom was the teacher – I was in awe); it took me an hour to get there each week but I didn’t care – I was somehow surviving on my own, doing things, meeting people, being myself. I hadn’t had a group of girlfriends in London before, had been reliant on the ready-made group that came with my ex-boyfriend – this was a revelation and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered to cultivate these kinds of friendships before. I bought prints for my new bedroom, Velcro rollers for nights out in Chelsea, Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, because I wanted to know! I started wearing heels again; went to house parties, went on dates, partied with my neighbours, went to a drum and bass festival, blagged VIP access at a polo match, drank way too much, spent way too many Sundays in bed until 3pm. It was a fantastic year.

2013 – 2014 – Mum was diagnosed with cancer; the fun slowly stopped. I bought books, games, DVDs: distractions to while away the time at home with my family. I bought a laptop case for work, my amazing boss telling me to go home whenever I needed to. Life went on; it wasn’t all horrible, nowhere near – we had days out, went on trips, celebrated birthdays and Christmases.

2015 – Mum became more poorly, the drugs stopped working; I purchased an air bed so that my Dad could sleep downstairs at her bedside. I bought things for myself: make up brushes, nail varnishes, books – distractions to make me feel normal. I drifted away from London, living at home four days out of seven – my friends’ lives moved on with frustrating normalcy, plans were made without me, memories that I’ll never be part of. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and neither would they. Both the worst and best thing about having something so traumatic happen in your life is that everybody else’s life just goes on around you. But you’ll catch up with them at some point, and I did. The first Christmas without Mum was always going to be hard (and always will be), but we got through it, and I started to feel more at home in London once again.

2016 – Life carried on, I bought birthday presents, books, an earring for my new piercing. Dad had a stroke; life stopped again for a while. But he got over it and went back to volunteering at the hospice; I bought a name badge for him to wear during shifts because people kept asking for his name. I’m so proud of him. We made it through another year, slowly finding a new normal.

And here we are, 2017 – who knows what story this year’s purchases will tell when I look back on them in a few years (providing we don’t experience an apocalypse which sees the death of the internet and a return to the Ice Age in the meantime – I’m not ruling anything out). For many, the consumerist world we live in probably looks like a nightmare, but I feel lucky to have so much at my fingertips, if I choose to buy it!

Grateful for the NHS

I was pondering a ‘grateful’ theme for this week when I received a call from my dad telling me that he’ll be having a heart monitor injected into his chest in a couple of weeks. Yes – injected into his chest. This thing can last up to three years and comes with a corresponding ‘box’ which records the heart rate. And perhaps also an app that sends him a push notification telling him to calm down when his heart is beating too fast? Maybe! My first thought was ‘what the heck is this craziness?’ but then – as the Red Cross warns of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in NHS hospitals – I thought about how lucky we are to live in a country that offers us free healthcare (yes, I know we pay taxes, but I still think we get a pretty great deal). We’re so lucky. 

By complete and utter chance we were lucky enough to be born in the U.K., and not in Syria or Afghanistan or Sierra Leone. In another life, my Mum wouldn’t have had the life prolonging drugs that cost the NHS somewhere around £1,000 a month and gave us almost two and a half years after her diagnosis; my Dad wouldn’t have received the thrombolysis that was delivered within a short enough timeframe after his stroke that he was left with no permanent damage. In another life, those with disabilities are left to beg on street corners and women with complications in childbirth are left to hope that Mother Nature will step in (I’m sure she does sometimes, but not always). Just because of the complete and utter lottery of where we happen to have been born in this world. Whatever horrid things might happen to us, we can pretty much walk into a hospital and they’ll do whatever they can to fix us – no paperwork required.

Yes, of course, there are issues within the NHS. I’ve definitely seen my fair share of them: the time when the anaesthetist ruptured one of my Dad’s arteries before heart surgery and he nearly died; when my Auntie was sent home early after surgery and suffered a bleed on the brain; when my Mum spend time in the local hospital with pneumonia and the nurse was unable to use basic maths to calculate the correct dose of painkillers. You may be wondering why on earth I’m writing about being grateful for the NHS!

After Mum’s stay in the local hospital, the matron actually asked my father and I to attend an upcoming ward meeting to speak about our experience – she wanted her team to hear first hand how distressing it had been; how my father literally didn’t sleep for five days worrying that somebody would either give Mum an overdose or miscalculate the amount of morphine and leave her in pain for hours until the next drug round. Life in an NHS hospital is certainly no barrel of laughs. Throughout Mum’s illness, my family were completely spoilt by our experience with the Marie Curie hospice – with palliative care it’s literally drugs on tap; take as many as you need until you can’t feel the pain any more. Not so much on a general NHS ward where patients are getting over a bout of flu or having a varicose vein removed, where it takes four hours for a doctor to come and fit a cannula, and nobody has any idea that the jolly lady in the next bed is terminally ill.

Hospitals can be so bloody miserable, so terrifying, but yet again during Mum’s stay in that local hospital, I was also reminded of the loveliness of people. The ladies on the ward laughing together, helping each other, even standing up for the woman who couldn’t quite stand up for herself or make herself heard by the busy nurses. Walking into that ward felt terrifying, but within hours it had – in some ways – taken on the feeling of a slumber party. Perhaps that’s a touch rose-tinted; the snacks included an omelette and gravy (yes, somebody actually did order that), lights were out by 7.30pm, and the gossip was mainly focussed around getting out – but there was a definite feeling of friendship and solidarity. Hospitals are so horribly sad and stressful, but I’m just so grateful when I think about where we could be if we didn’t have them at our disposal; we’ve all heard stories of people in America selling a kidney to pay for their child’s chemotherapy, or committing fraud and using their friend’s health insurance in order to have their appendix removed safely. 

The thought of how to make the NHS all right again is just completely overwhelming and very much beyond my knowledge. What an absolutely gigantic responsibility to have; so much cost and so many stakeholders, so many years of ingrained practises, so many underpaid staff who have lost their love for the job. So many customers and none of them paying a penny! As an overworked doctor or an underpaid nurse it must be very difficult not to want to snap when a family member is questioning their mother’s treatment or a father is calling for the tenth time to beg you to move his child’s appointment forwards. 

I have so much respect and gratefulness for both the system and the individuals who work within it. I’m literally in awe whenever I meet anyone who has chosen healthcare as a vocation; I can’t imagine the weight of bearing actual human lives upon your shoulders, of caring for people at the most difficult of times, of breaking bad news to family members, of trying your best but not being able to win every singe time. It makes a regular desk job seem like a walk in the park. Thank goodness that there are still people who want to give their time and energy to a role in the medical profession. I know I certainly couldn’t do it.