Such sweet sorrow

I lay my head on his chest. The sound of his heart blocks out everything else.


It's not a beat. Not the rhythmic tick of a machine keeping time. It's muscle and gristle, practically turning itself inside out with the effort of it all. Then doing it again and again. Organic.

I wish I could fall asleep like this.

I kiss the side of his cheek and move over, put my cheek down on the cold pillow there.

I need to sleep, but I can't. The next sound I hear will be of the alarm. Then that'll be it. He'll be gone. If I can just stay awake I can keep adding minutes, driving it further away with every moment of consciousness I manage. I can keep pretending it's not happening.

But then the bells of Big Ben ring out. That's it then. 3am, time's up. And before I know it we are hugging goodbye, clutching, hanging on for dear life. And it hurts. Maybe a little more than last time, maybe less than the next time. How do you measure something like that?

The cluncking slam of the front door is so final. I sit up staring stupidly into black space. Then at the last minute throw back the bedclothes and run to the window. The shutters are all down but there's a tiny gap between my shin and the floor so I drop down to my knees and peer out like a madman.

Just in time to see the red tail lights of the taxi disappearing out of view.

The floor is cold and the whole quality of air in the room has changed. You are alone, it says. Completely alone, it screams.

But I've had it worse than this.


I remember him sweeping the floor. Waking up with another hangover and everything just being so white. Full of light.

No-one has decent curtains in England to keep the sunlight out, but I didn't know that then. Or I did know it, but it didn't register. It's something that you only notice once you've slept in a room completely darkened by shutters. Why would you bother keeping the sunlight out when there's not that much of it going spare?

You wouldn't have recognised the room from what it had been just a week before. Now just white empty space, but once full of wires, studio equipment, books, tapes, records, ashtrays, boxes of random shit. Pictures of people I would one day get to meet, and places I would go. Though I didn't know that then. There was so much I didn't know back then.

I must have been 21. That's so hard to comprehend right now. Nine years ago.

The summer was just beginning but it was all over for us. That time round anyway.

The flatmates were long gone, and the house was just a empty shell of memories. But once we slammed the door shut and posted the key through the door there was no-one left to remember them.

I went with him all the way to Gatwick. I don't know you but I'm sure I love you. Six months to last a lifetime.It was like nothing before it, totally incomparable.

Sun shining through the dirty windows of the train as text messages arrived on his phone. Goodbye and good luck, we'll miss you, all the best. One of those shitty Nokias everyone had. No iPhones, no Skype, no Facebook, no nothing. So much harder to stay in touch. So much easier to be out of sight, out of mind. Fade away into the background.

And thinking, I just have to get through this then everything can just go on as normal. But not really believing it.

Then that moment, when he has to turn his back and go. Slow motion. I'll see you again, I will come back.

I don't know you but I know I love you.

But something's wrong, It's not going to work out the way I want it. I know it's going to hurt. And about that I'm right. It's harder being the one left behind. Looking for things to fill the gap. Constantly searching.

The sliding doors swept shut with an almost silent click, and that was that. I was just another girl crying in an airport.

That was the real goodbye. But not the final one.


It wasn't that smutty

"Well it wasn't that smutty," says PB.

You know those moments when you start off a conversation in your head, and - after a while - you finish it out loud? When it makes sense to you and you only? Well that was one of those moments.

We were on our way to the beach in Malaga with Two Shandies, who was now doubled up in laughter at PB's non-sensicle comment.

I hadn't heard her properly. "What wasn't slutty?"

Now PB was doubled up in laughter.

It was a while before she regained her composure enough to answer me. "I said it wasn't that smutty. The hen weekend. I thought it was supposed to be all talk of sex and penises and stuff like that," she says.

I forget this is PBs first experience of a hen weekend. My second. I guess the stereotype of strippers and the bride being made to do something rude with whipped cream just doesn't ring true. Thank god.

There were no L plates or fairy wings, though there was a stripper of sorts. Well, some dodgy guy who offered to strip when he found out there was a hen party in the bar. Thankfully he only got as far as his shirt. Though he did take the poor bride in his arms and carry her to the upstairs part of the bar.

"But there was plenty of talk about sex," I say. "Although it all came from Two Shandies."

Shandies is seeing a new bloke, who looks just like Kevin Spacey. She's not that sure about him, but has at least got some brilliant stories to tell.

Which she did, on the Friday night, when we had arrived, and were having dinner with the majority of the other hens in a lovely restaurant called Rucula.

The bride, Jess, heard us cackling with laughter from where she was sitting, at the other end of the table. it's a wonderful thing, Shandies' laugh. Hearing it just sets you off yourself. It's impossible to resist.

Jess came over, to investigate, her flashing pink penis earrings swaying as she went.

It would have been rude not to compliment her on such wonderful accessories.

"Yes, i've got cocks in my ears," she said.

Two Shandies interrupted her: "Well, I had a cock in my mouth the other day…."

(Cue more shrieking laughter).

And something happened to me that has never happened before. He turned to me and said…

(We were all on the edge of our seats)

"Do you want to take a picture?"

How strange. She hadn't really known how to respond to that. So when he saw her looking puzzled he thought he would clarify things.

"I don't mean of my face," he explained.

The other great gem he came out with was telling her: "You look really beautiful from behind.

Shandies said she fell on the floor and almost split her sides laughing. "He might as well have told me I look great with a paper bag on my head," she said.

I'm sure he didn't mean it like that… But it does make for one hell of a story.

We re-lived all of that as we made our way down to Malaga's grayish beach. Not the prettiest thing in the world, but it had sand at least. And today, it had sun. We'd been blessed with freakishly warm weather all weekend.

"Spot the Brits on holiday," said PB as we walked past a group of pasty white lads and their suitcases, laid out on the bare sand, trying to roast themselves silly. "Bet they turn a nice shade of pink.

But we were Brits on holiday technically, though we liked to think that no-one would guess it as easily.

On Jess' recommendation we hit the third chiringito restaurant thingy on the beach and tried the local specialty - aspecto de sardines. Afterwards we moved down the beach to sniff out some rebujitos - another local speciality. Something like a white wine sangria - vino de mazanilla con sprite. Delicious. I had two.

Somewhere along the line the conversation took a sinister turn - when Shandies and PB would return to England. Sometimes I take it for granted that they'll just be here forever, and it scares me to think they won't. For me, I don't have to worry about if I'm doing the right thing staying here. I forget that it might not be a case of forever for everyone.

but I looked at my friends sipping their rebujitos in the sunlight and there was this sense that this was one of those magic snapshots in time. One of those epic moments that would come back - like a dream - at the strangest moments of the day. As familiar as the first sun of summer warming your face.

They won't be going home any time soon, I thought.

Then I had a nice long sip of my drink.


A different world

The actors looked different when they weren't on stage. Some of the magic had gone. They were smaller, and if you looked closely you could see blemishes and wrinkles.

What a surprise to find out they were human after all.

Watching them interact in the bar was like gatecrashing a private birthday party. So familiar were they, you almost felt you shouldn't be there. Eyes on eyes, gazing. Tucking each other's hair behind the ears mid sentence. Earnest touches to the face. It was all so intimate. They were a different breed of people.

And in the middle of it all the bloke and me, and of course Alicia, the one we had come to see. But with her the magic was still there, it always seemed to be.

On stage she was altogether the same and different. Speaking with the same voice, but with subtle nuances and shifts that made her into another person.

Seeing her there brought tears to my eyes. My cuñada, my sister-in-law. Who lives in a different world.

Some of the words jumped off the stage and bit me.

"¿Por que? Si creéis en Dios, y yo creo, ¿por qué tenéis miedo a la muerte? Y si creéis en la muerte, ¿por qué esa crueldad, ese despego al terrible dolor de vuestros semejantes?"

"Why? If you believe in God, why do you fear death? And if you believe in death, why this cruelty, this drawing away from the terrible pain of your fellow human beings?"

Nothing less than a slap in the face.

In the bar she showed us pictures on her phone. Her playing Federico Lorca's piano in the house he used to live in. Told us stories of how he had the keys to the Alhambra, and would do his writing there, or hang out with friends, getting inspired.

She introduced us to the niece of a famous flamenco singer whose auntie died of a drug overdose. The girl - who less than an hour ago was a different being up on the stage - asked me if I could follow the play, being British, and all. Her concerned frown turned to delight when I pulled out a copy of the original text and told her I've been studying it.

"That is so British," laughed Alicia. "I love that you did that."

I laughed too. Some habits are hard to shake. And I will always have my very British idiosyncrasies. But I felt a million miles from Britain.

Today I sat with the hot sun on my face and drank wine. Climbed the steep hill up to the Alhambra, the place where Lorca himself used to go for inspiration. Drunk on wonderment I strolled the grounds with the bloke, devouring it all with my eyes. Thinking back to what it would have been like in ancient times, when kings and queens held court here.

At the top of the towers that look out over the picture-perfect landscape of Granada, we stood and watched the sun begin to sink in the sky, covering everything with white light.

It was one of those moments when you realize that you are just one tiny speck of dust on the vast map of life.

But it doesn't scare you. Not this time anyway.


life goes on

I dreamt of Dario last night.

We sat together in a forest clearing at the dead of night, at a round wooden table. His face was illuminated by the glow of my computer, which he used to check his facebook page, just like I did, many times over in the days after he died.

There he was, reading the tributes people have left, smiling at some, laughing at others. Sometimes saying: "I didn't even remember I 'ad 'im as a friend."

It was the most normal thing in the world.

"I can't believe you're stuck with picture of you in your chef's uniform kissing the pig's head as your profile picture," I told him. And amazingly, we both laughed.

It felt so good to be laughing with him again.

I tried to ask what things were like for him now. But his face clouded over. He wouldn't talk to me about it.

"But I miss you so much," I told him. "Won't you just tell me how you are? How are you coping with all this?"

"I'm gone, tesoro," he said. "I'm fine, you gotta let it go. Life goes on. How are you coping with this? That's what you gotta ask."

Evetything else is just fragments. My hands on the table, engagement ring sparkling in the moonlight. Birds in the trees, watching and waiting. "You have to go soon, don't you?" and "this isn't real, is it?"

How are you supposed to cope with the end? When it grabs you by the hair at strange moments during the day and pulls so spitefully?

I've shut it out of my life for so long. It never even occured to me till recently, that all this is so very temporary.

Trying to live with it, though it sits badly- like co-existing with a new flatmate you instantly take a dislike to.

Just because bad things happen doesn't mean they'll happen to me, or the people I love. But saying that is easier to believe it.

But I must. A life lived in fear is not much to shout about.

Because life does go on. And when you have bad dreams you wake up and put them away. Wash them down the plughole with the shower water.

Get dressed, take the dog out as normal, and feel the warming light of the morning sun on your face. Look at the sky- is it not more beautiful because he is up there somewhere?

And if you're lucky, stop in front of a tree, and evesdrop on an unseen bird heralding the coming of the new day. A sweet sound, a music far purer than man can ever make with his machines.

Because life goes on, and today everything feels different.

Or at least that's what you want to believe.


Goodbye dear friend, addio

The world has changed. Colours are less vivid and sounds are duller. There's no place for the sun or the stars - much better a lightless sky or a rainy day.

The world has changed because you're not in it anymore.

It just doesn't seem right that things go on as before, as if nothing has happened. The alarm still sounds in the morning. Kids still laugh on the bus and lovers still kiss in the street. None of them know that you are gone.

That day just passed in a blur. A marker between before and what replaced it. Phone clasped to my ear, shaking in the street. Half from cold and half from something else. Hands pressed to my face in the toilets, holding it all in - strange emotions never felt before, coming in 9ft waves, drowning, drowning.

I know in time I'll be able to remember you without pain and with dry eyes. The good times, and just you - your punk way of viewing the world, your stubbornness. Your kindness and your wide smile, always there no matter what.

I'd like to say you were too good for this world, that's why you had to go. But you'd never let me get away with that, and you'd remind me of all the mischief you used to cause. The time you spat on the door handle of a police car, and how we laughed thinking about the expression on his face when he came back and opened it.

Memories will bring comfort. But it doesn't seem fair that that's all I have now. I'll never see you again, never hear you say, "Ciao, tesoro". Never be able to cook for you like I said I would, never be able to give you back your dear dad's scarf - the surprise that I knew would mean so much.

You'll not be at my wedding, though I can't bring myself to remove your name from my invite list. And you'll never meet any children that I might have. You'll never be a day older than 35.

One day soon I will think of you and smile. But until then I can't quite manage to walk with my head held up high.

Addio Dario, my dear friend. Love you always. You have left such a hole. Not just in my life, but many others - you can see that just by looking at the hundreds of messages left on your Facebook. We'll all miss you so much.

I thought you'd be in my life forever. Can't believe I was wrong.


Grey days

Some days are grey days. Like dirty dish water. Yesterday's newspaper- worn, torn and faded. No great rhyme or reason, no big event, no drama. No "because" or "why" and especially "solution". Just grey, grey grey. A mantra for the hopeless, a tuneless ditty for bowed heads, lifeless eyes, slouching hearts.

Some people have grey days more than others. Some you would look at and say: "What reason have they got to complain?" And others, well, you would get it, or just think you got it. And really you would only see the hint of the shadow, or the footprints of that black dog. Snapping at the ankles.

Some hide it better than others.

The idea you will never amount to anything, you're wasting your time. You'll never be as good as x and y. One day you'll be gone and no one will remember you and you'll be nothing, nothing nothing.

Days like these, when asleep seems better than awake, and time slows down. Frame by frame, the moment in the film when the hero takes a bullet, sinks to the floor.

But you bought me roses. And the grey dissolved. Replaced by velvet red, and vibrant green. And you hold me so tight, and wring it out of me - drop by drop.

Thank god for you.


Can I have sex with you tonight?

I love those moments when the mouth moves independantly of the brain. When the speaker's trap just seems two steps ahead. A rational person would just want to grab onto the strands of the errant words as they fly out of the mouth and stuff them back in there. 

But more than often it's the drink that's to blame, and they couldn't give a toss what they've said. And probably won't remember in about five minutes anyway.

That's what I found myself thinking on Saturday night. It was Shandies and PB's joint birthday party at our new favourite place, El Rincón de Andy.

It's a small 'old man' style tavern that does really basic Mexican food. But the real charm of the place is The owner, Andy.

A shock of white hair and a mustache to match, which fully means he could do a great santa claus impression. He was born and raised in Madrid, but hear him speak English and you'll be shocked by his accent. Close your eyes and you've got Colin Firth in 'The King's Speech' (minus the stammer that is).

He atrended British boarding school and also us fluent in French. "I fell in love with a Parisienne, and followed her there," he explains.

Over his striped shirt he wears pink braces, to hold up his trousers. And if he isn't wearing a bow tie then he really should be.

"A real gentleman", noted the bloke, impressed by the way he served the girls of the group their after dinner chupitos before the boys. It never ceases to amaze me that he notices things like that.

Anyway, the inappropriate comment of the evening doesn't come from Andy, it's from a rowdy group of New Yorkers- all of them members of the flight crew of intercontinental airways.

And the recipient is my mate Shandies. The guy in question obviously thinks he's smooth.

"You're really pretty," he says.
"i think you're really handsome," she replies.

They stand and smile shyly at each other for a while, then Shandies starts to walk back to her seat.

"Can I have sex with you tonight?" he shouts after her.

Shandies kept walking.

Does that kind of crap actually work? I guess it must or else men wouldn't bother. But really, how flippin cheeky. The stupid fool might have been in there - after all she did say he was handsome. He messed it royally up- bout as subtle as Freddy Mercury. Gave us all a good laugh though at least.

The other example comes from Christmas in Durham. One of those evenings where everyone gets a bit over excited and drinks more than they're used to.

Dad was telling his old army jokes and we were all mixing drinks up hurricane style. Even my uncle, who doesn't usually drink, was getting stuck into the red wine.

And it was him who put his arms around the bloke and my neck and happily said to him: "I like yer, but if you cross my niece then I'll kill yer and bury yer."

I think it was the most serious talking to the bloke's ever had from my family. Don't think he really knew what to say to that one.

One thing's for sure, he'd better treat me right, or uncle Mike will be waiting with a shovel.