I just want to live while I’m alive.


A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.  Maya Angelou

The 23rd of May would have been Dad’s 65th birthday. I’ve talked a lot about him being ill, his death and how that’s affected me but there’s a big section of his life I’ve not mentioned on this blog until now.  Not because I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed by it, I’ll talk at length with people in person, but because it is something that a large section of the population can’t understand and I didn’t want to have to put up with negative comments that are inevitably on their way whilst coming to terms with a death.

But since it’s been over 6 months since he died and I seem to be doing better, talking about it seemed like a good birthday present.

For the last 4 years Dad has been known not as Donald, but as Dawn.  It’s going to get confusing writing about it because when we found out we asked him what he wanted us to call him and he said that only 5 people in the world could call him ‘Dad’ so we should stick with that.  But with ‘Dad’ comes ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’.  Whenever I talked about him with others I still used male pronouns, but if we were out in public together I did make an effort to use ‘she’ and ‘her’.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Coal Not Dole – It’s people that mater


I was born in 1984, just before the miner’s strike.  I was given my nan’s middle name – Margaret – by parents who were more Labour supporters than anything else.  I started school the year that the National Curriculum was introduced, something that many teachers disagreed with that was implemented by a Thatcher government.

I grew up listening to all sorts of music and folk is one genre that has stuck with me.  I love being able to listen to songs written by people to tell the tales or make comments about their everyday lives.  One song that stuck with me that I decided about 3 weeks ago that I would really like to learn properly and start singing out was ‘Cole not dole’ by Kay Sutcliffe.  It was written in response to the closures of pits in Kent and across the country.  I wanted to learn it because the voices of 30 years ago can still be heard echoing today and are being joined by more and more voices of dissent when people see that the current government is continuing the dismantling of the country that began during Thatcher’s government.  I don’t agree with the current government’s policies and wanted to add my voice to the crowd.

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Begin the Begin


“Fresh starts: thanks to the calendar they happen every year —just set your watch to January, our reward for surviving the holiday season is a new year. Bringing on the great tradition of new years resolutions, put your past behind you and start over. It’s hard to resist the chance of a new beginning, a chance to put the problems of last year to bed.”

Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy [2.13]

It’s nearly the end of the year, very soon I will be by a beach overlooking the Indian Ocean and so many things have changed.  The Mayans thought the world would end today.  They were wrong but for me, this year, a good many things have ended.

The first, in January, was a three year relationship, I thought that we would get married (mainly because he said we would), I thought that we would have children and that I would live in a cottage somewhere in the North East (he said all that too…).  Last December I sat at my sister’s and then at my brother’s playing with their children and decided that enough was enough.  Enough making do with someone who couldn’t look after himself, enough hoping that if I was supportive and patient that things would pay off and we would be happy.  Enough of being afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own without him, despite him dragging me down gradually with him. So I told him that this was it and he agreed.

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First things first


It’s December the first.

Yesterday, I was sitting in the school pool wearing factor 50.  It seems very wrong to be in an open air pool in November.  I watched my first live fashion show – the secondary students put it together to raise money for the school’s Saturday school which provides education for local orphans.  They put on a really good show, models, dancing and a bit of singing.

This morning I worked as promt for the dress rehearsal of the secondary production of West Side Story. This afternoon I’m heading to Tunza to celebrate a first birthday – they are roasting a pig on the beach.

A kite swooped in on me and stole some of my lunch on Thursday.  I’ve seen it happen before – circling ahead and then diving down onto the kids to grab a bit of food, all happening too fast to warn them.  It had never happened to me before, I didn’t realise it had happened until afterwards.  I felt a change in the air next to my head and spotted that some of my food had gone.  Some of the children nearby laughed, some said things like ‘sorry Miss!’ but I found it entertaining, if nothing else.  At least it didn’t scratch me, being allergic to plasters means things like that can be a pain to keep clean, especially in the dusty environment we have here.

There have been other firsts too, seeing or hearing something and reminding myself to call Dad to tell him.  Then remembering that I can’t.  In 12 days it will be my Grandmother’s 100th birthday – the first since she died and quite a significant one.  Christmas will be the first without being anywhere near home, the first without getting a scratch card from Dad, the first in Africa.  There are going to be lots of firsts, it’s almost as if my life is now divided in two – when Dad was around and after he died.  All the potential things that could happen from now – boyfriend, husband, child, job, home, tattoo…whatever. Who knows.  It’s going to be odd, some times sad, but it can’t be sad forever.  I know he’s not going to be here for the important things.  It’s the little things, the silly jokes, the random thoughts, the odd objects that I think to tell him about that keep catching me out.  And it’s not as if it’s heart wrenching or anything, there’s just a small intake of breath, a pause mid sentence or foot steps stop whilst I remember and then I carry on.  Which is how you manage to have more firsts.

The sun’s coming over the hill.


“Oh how the nights are long
But life is longer still
Oh how the nights are long
But the sun’s coming over the hill.

I can’t say there’s many things I wouldn’t change
There are better days gone than those that remain
But I can find joy in the sound of the rain
You have to find joy where you can.”

Karine Polwart

So three funerals in 3 days, Gaggy, Dad’s cremation then his memorial.  What do we do now?  I came back for five weeks with the intention of spending time with Dad, he died 3 days after I got back, so then time was focused on talking to undertakers (the most unintentionally hilarious one), booking churches, ordering flowers, picking music.  My brother made an urn.  And it all happened yesterday, so what do we fill our days with now?

My friends have booked me a train ticket to Newcastle for tomorrow, then I’m going to Birmingham on Monday to see some cousins and Grandad after his heart attack after that who knows?

I’ve seen some people that I’ve not seen for years and it’s made me think about things.  I’ve made some predictions about my life that people think I’ll probably change my mind about but I know now that it’s likely the way things would pan out.  But that’s ok, I’m letting people know how I feel about them.  Which means that I can make some decisions about who I want to be and what I want to do.  Sometimes we hold onto the past without realising, but at somepoint you have to draw a line and make a change.  So I have two and a half weeks before I go back to work out what that change will be.

Travelling in time


I’ve come to my grandmother’s house to clean up before my aunt gets here tomorrow; I pressed play on my ipod – there’s 7144 tracks ont here at the moment (I really should get some more) and the first that came up was this song by Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts .  Jamie is the little brother of Kathryn Roberts that I linked to earlier in this blog, talented family.

Travelling in Time:

I wandered off today, back to the house we lived in then, the sound of voices play, the children are young 5, 8 and 10.

The rooms seem darker to me, but everyone else says they can see fine, shapes are all I can see, your voice calls me back to present day time.

It seemed to fit with what I’m doing.  I’m picking up some cds I loaned to Dad, pinching back the DVD The West that I gave him, and getting rid of the mess I made staying here last week.  It doesn’t seem fair for my aunt to come here to come to say goodbye to her brother and mother with some of my washing up still here.

It’s a different house now.  It has been in our family for 80 years or so – I think my great-grandmother lived here, my great-uncle, great-aunt, my grandmother moved here after her husband died 38 years ago, my dad moved in 9 years ago after he and mum split up.  The house will be sold now, maybe it will stay with another family for as long, but more likely someone will buy it and  build something in the garden, sell it for much more.  I don’t want to stay here now, it was fine when I was staying to visit dad, my cat was here, but now the cat has gone to live with my oldest brother and his family, so nothing living is here now.  It still has its familiar books and pictures, models that dad made, plates, pencils that went towards Gaggy’s collection.

I know that this seems morbid or melancholic, but I don’t think it is really.  People are what makes something or somewhere make you feel like you belong.  I’ve been very lucky, I’ve lived with 18 people in the last 9 years and I’ve felt at home nearly everywhere I’ve been.  I’ve had a good week – I’ve been singing with my old choir, I’ve sat in on some lessons at my old school to see the sorts of things I should be doing when I get back to Tanzania, I’ve bumped into people I’ve not seen for years.  Although I can’t picture myself ever living permanently in Northamptonshire or even in England for quite a while, it’s good to know I can fit back in relatively easily.  And I know I’ll fit back in Tanzania when I go back there.

It’s been interesting watching people since I’ve been back because I’m the only one on my own – in some respects that gives me a fair bit of freedom because I can decide what I want to do without having to co-ordinate plans with someone else, or think about what they want to do.  It’s good to be a bit selfish sometimes.  But it’s also good to see people being able to support each other, being happy, doing silly little things together, I do miss that a bit but for now, it’s just me on my own and it’s time for that.  I’ve completely lost my train of thought now and should probably get back to cleaning things up…

Burt Bacharach and Hal David put it well, Ella Fitzgerald sings it best

(Although, I don’t think you have to have a man around to make your house a home, but that’s not the point of the song.)

Old woman, old woman, old woman said I


Today was the day my Grandmother died.  Very nearly 100 it wasn’t really worth her hanging on for much longer, especially after her husband died 38 years ago.

She had 4 children, one of whom died yesterday, 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

I saw her today, she looked very old and small but not in pain or sad.  She loved all her children very much but had a special connection with my dad so it seems quite fitting that she died almost exactly 24 hours after he did.

Some short memories:

  • A small old woman dressed in green knitting on the sofa with Countdown and Deal or no Deal on.
  • Blue plates with lettuce, tomato, boiled potatoes, coleslaw, chicken and salad cream. Knives and forks with bone handles.
  • Leaving for university 9 years ago and her saying that the one thing she would like before she died would be for me to be baptised (sorry, didn’t happen, not likely to, don’t think she minded)
  • Sitting in the corner of her sitting room counting hundreds of pencils from her collection.
  • Bromley’s soap and lavender.
  • One of the only people I know who can bend the top segment of her fingers independently from the rest of her fingers.
  • Telling me that she had a special trap door in the middle of the floor that she kept children in.
  • Randomly announcing another vaguely famous person that we are related to.
  • Her smile when I brought back a picture from Trinity College, Dublin, of the memorial plaque to her father who died in the flu epidemic of 1918.
  • Turning to my brother during Star Wars when Yoda has his first light sabre fight and both saying ‘That’s Gaggy.’
  • A scrunched up face when I suggested that she was at least 10 years older than she was whenever I saw her.
  • Feeding her chocolate buttons, showing her pictures of her garden and her telling me and Dad that she loved us 5 weeks ago, the last time I saw her alive.
  • Sitting tapping her fingers together saying ‘People can be so kind.’

And so it is


Today was the day my father died.

When I went to see him on Monday he wasn’t very recognisable as my dad – he hadn’t been completely recognisable as the man I grew up with since he shaved off his beard 9 years ago – but the person lying in the hospital bed riddled with illness didn’t even seem like the person my dad had become.  But that person was still my Dad, so I held his hand, talked to him, stroked his hair, tried to give him a bit of water and sat with him.

The hospice has a room where you can paint, so I made a picture of an acacia tree and a mountain with wax and water colours.  I talked to my brothers and sister, distracted my nephew, played with my niece.   Yesterday was my niece’s birthday, so I told Dad that he could go whenever he felt like it, he didn’t have to hold off for the sake of us, but maybe not on her birthday.  So he waited a few more hours.

Some short memories:

  • Sitting on a swing in Westbury park with Dad pushing me from the front, I used to kick off his belly to get higher.
  • Sitting in a dark, damp caravan probably in Wales or Cornwall or Devon, lit by a crappy little bulb with hot chocolate made by Mum and Dad reading ‘The Dark is Rising’ – I still have to put holly over my windows when Winter is coming in to ward off the powers of the Dark.
  • Sitting in pubs with the Morris team with Dad tapping on an empty pint glass with his ring turned into his palm to make a better sound.
  • Sitting playing in his dusty workshop in Drayman’s walk waiting for Mum to pick me up.
  • Sitting (I’ve just realised that they all involve at least one of us sitting, but then he was quite sedantry) in the Space Cruiser at night, watching stars and stroms out of the moon roof – driving in the dark is always the best driving.
  • Sitting in the Grandmother’s house with the cat trying to climb up his legs and then just settling to curl up by his feet.