The kindness of strangers – now is the time

In the last few years I’ve had help and support from a number of different people.  My younger* brother, Richard, and his girlfriend, Liz, let me live in their attic when I came back from Tanzania.  My sister, Alex, and her family let me live with them for a few weeks when I came back from travelling.  My poor niece was put out of her room and I don’t think she complained.  Well, if she did then they didn’t tell me and she’s so ridiculously cute she’d get away with it. I’m very grateful to them for helping me out when my world was slowly disintegrating and we had all lost a father.

When I was in Fiji, with about £30 left to my name I was really panicking. I think I knew I was a bit depressed again, I was annoyed with myself because I didn’t have enough to get across America and was having to face the fact that I was going to have to go back early.  I really couldn’t face going to live back in Northamptonshire.

Now I want to clarify, my home town is lovely place.  It’s relatively small, it’s got good schools, it’s a short walk to the countryside.  It’s pretty safe to bring up a family in, but for me it’s suffocating.  I can’t be there at this stage of my life, and actually, I don’t know if I can ever go back permanently.  When I’ve been back to my old school to talk to the 6th form I ask them to put their hands up if they want to stay there for all their lives.  I then ask who thinks that their soul would be sapped away, second by second, if they stayed there forever.  I’ll let you guess which option is voted for the most often.  Obviously it’s a bit of a joke, but I feel trapped there, partially by my own inability to drive.

So sitting by the beach in Fiji last May I was talking to my friend Ruby about how I could manage to move to Sheffield in my self-imposed impoverished state. She suggested contacting musicians to see if they happened to need a house sitter or babysitter over the summer.  Which is how I messaged Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and ended up living in their attic for 6 months or so. (Or, as their infinitely wise eldest son said ‘You live in the whole house, not just in the attic!)**

They were marvelous, I’d briefly met them when I was 16 at Towersey Festival and thought they were cool.  They are cooler now and I now feel lucky to count them amongst my friends.  Because of my illness, I’m not sure they’ve seen the best of me, but they kindly housed me and fed me, trusted me with their little dudes and watched silly TV shows with me.

Nancy is a ridiculously talented writer and performer, she works incredibly hard and is probably her own worst critic.  She’s very quick witted and is often hilarious, she’s a fan of musicals and hallowe’en.  She is very good at making a meal by throwing loads of stuff in a pot and it tastes awesome.  James is also disgustingly talented, hard working and very good at giving hugs when he thinks you aren’t having a good day.  He makes a cracking roast dinner. He’s also possibly too keen on Lego, but then frankly, who isn’t?  He has a fantastic collection of performance shirts and now has a small felt figure that almost looks like him and shall not be used as a voodoo doll.

I moved into a house share with Nancy’s bass player, Tim, when they were all on tour.  I had planned to stay the whole week with Nancy’s mum and the boys, but I was feeling so crap I just needed space to myself and so towards the end of the week piled up a load of stuff in taxis and trekked across town to Hillsborough.  I feel a bit shit about that, it was almost like skulking off when these ridiculously kind people had taken me in but I wasn’t really in a good place in terms of my mental health.  Having 4 or 5 days watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Grey’s Anatomy almost constantly was actually really therapeutic.

This evening has been the night of the Radio 2 Folk Awards.  Nancy was nominated for best album and for folk singer of the year and she won folk singer of the year.  I’m so pleased for her and James, this is the year that she has released her first solo album, James has recorded his first album as one half of The James Brothers, they have toured and recorded and made sacrifices and the hard work has once again been recognised by the folk world.

So because I have to make this all about me, I’d like to thank them for all they’ve done for me over the last almost year.  I’m finally almost starting to feel like myself again.  There are things in the world that excite me and inspire me again, this marvelous couple among them;  I am making things, reading things, exploring my newest city and feeling that I can do things again.  Much of my continuing recovery has been because two relative strangers invited me into their home and allowed my to stay like a strange hybrid of a gobblin, Miss Haversham and Mary Poppins at the top of their house.

So thank you Nancy, thank you James, thanks Richard, Liz, Alex, Justin, Tim and all the other people who have tried to help me when I have been at my utter lowest and here’s to the climb back up again!

*I can’t call him little anymore, he’s 29.

**I entertain my facebook chums with quotes from both boys when I babysit, the eldest (5) has an imaginary rock band and I’ve decided to do an expose on the early years of the band.  I think it’s a winner. Keep an eye out in about 20 years…

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