On Monday this week, I discovered that my aunt Audrey had died the week before; for some reason, the message had not got through to me. Audrey was an amazing woman. She had a fearsome intelligence – she was the historical researcher for the much-acclaimed BBC TV 26-part Great War series – but she never condescended to anyone; she treated everyone as if they were her intellectual equals. She was wildly eccentric and unconventional – great fun when I was a child, although sometimes rather scary. She was in her late eighties when she died, and was definitely ready to go; she had persuaded her son to contact Dignitas, but when she found how much it would cost to end her life this way she decided not to bother (well, actually, she asked her son to drown her in the bath instead but he declined). She was opinionated, mischievous, scurrilous, wicked sometimes, entertaining always, and a kind and thoughtful person. I’ve been asked to give a little speech at her funeral tomorrow, and it will be a joy and a privilege to do so. Sometimes death is not really sad; just a timely conclusion to a life well lived.
My GP writing group were terrific as always, and in the evening I went to see Rhod Gilbert. He was very funny at times, but just a little bit repetitive.
On Tuesday I answered loads of emails and ordered lots of books through Lulu, the online publisher. It’s always worth waiting for their discounts, and this time I got 20% off. I like a good deal. The gas man came to look at my fire, and despite all his efforts could find nothing wrong with it – but he couldn’t reconnect it, because he hadn’t been told to. So now I have to phone again and arrange another appointment to get that done. Sigh. I did lots of prep and went to see Skyfall. It was good, but not as good as Argo, in my opinion.
On Wednesday I did lots of prep for my young people’s writing groups, and wrote my funeral speech, and worked at the hospital oncology unit. The people I spoke to were very matter-of-fact about their illnesses; you’d think they had flu. Prison prep, hospital writeup, and a phone call about my new project with the lovely Fergus, and that was it.
As usual, I worked in the prison on Thursday. It was a successful day – a new guy in my group who really got on well, and progress with various projects.
On Friday I did lots of prison typing, and answered emails, and planted plants, and washed my car (thought that was a bit pointless – it’s filthy again already), and cleared some leaves from the garden, and did some more prep, and judged a children’s poetry competition. I got a bit cross with this; there were 20 entries from a school, and they had obviously given their kids a formula for their poems. Several entries showed some originality, but it was all hidden under this deadly formulaic blanket. If teachers would only expect more from their pupils, they would get more! Anyway, there was a clear winner in each age group, so no agonising decisions to be made.
No day off on Saturday – my full day with the young people’s groups in Hereford. They were great! We had equal numbers of boys and girls in the youngest group – most unusual – and the two younger groups really showed empathy and understanding in their writing. The third group focused long enough to sort out the structure of their forthcoming publication, and wrote some lovely new stuff too. They are all such a joy to work with.
I was tired afterwards, though, and slept on and off during the evening. But yesterday The Bloke and I went to Symonds Yat, and climbed to the top of the rock, even though our ears were frozen. The cold air blew away my sinus headache, and all in all the afternoon was great fun. I did a bit of prison work in the evening, and practised my funeral speech.
I would like to think that one day, someone will describe my life as well-lived. I can’t hope to emulate aunt Audrey, but I try to get as much in as possible.