Blog 7 – In the Camper Van with Mary

Sarah, Mary and Alison Isle of Arran 2017

Welcome dears, to Jed. Here we are in a little old VW camper van. You know the one, the tired white thing on wheels that houses a flippant battery and makes long lasting acquaintances with rust. It smells like an old car your father or great uncle might have driven you in, once – a memory that only shuffles forward in your mind when its remnant fragrances greet your nose. Jed sits obediently on the drive behind the house, waiting to be ignited with the turn of its key. Waiting to squeal with joy at being started up once again. You may think that this is the slipping fan belt that makes such a high pitch when Jed is started, whereas I am sure its the sound of delight. A squeal, a screech, a scream of release. Think of When Harry Met Sally, the cafe scene. This is what I’m talking about. I love this smell. I love this van. I love the fact that I finally feel well enough to come out to play in it. Covid 19 it seems has left left the chest wall building. Yay.

Jed was bought in 2017 for a bag of beans. It is the only vehicle I know where the sound level inside stays at a constant, whether the windows are down, or not. And it doesn’t matter what speed you travel at, or what time you leave, you are only ever going to get to your destination when you get there. Of this you can be sure. It houses, amongst a few spiders and redundant sachets of ketchup the wonder of possibility. It houses hope and dreams of where to go next? You get behind the steering wheel and you don’t see the miles that need to be eaten up, you see the smiles on the faces that are waiting for you. You don’t worry about the stores in the cupboard, you dream of the what might be on the pub menu, if you find one open, when you finally get to the place you are going to. You will eat at a pub table and later sleep in the quiet of the pub car park. In your little parked up van. Always with snoring friends. Amen to that.

When I was 15 Jed was born to Volkswagan. Fifteen was such a good year for me. I loved school, had some great friends and could ride my bike, smoke a cigarette, drink a can of coke and give my friend Siobhan a seater, all at the same time. Now, that is multi tasking. When I was 15 I felt free. Just two more years to wait before I could drive. The following year 16, was going to be even better. I was certain of it.

So when I sit in Jed (aptly named after my dad whose name was not Jed but he liked to refer men he held in high esteem as Jed) I think about all the things we have been through separately and now we are together. We can pool our experience and enjoy some life together. Whoever had Jed before me and before the man who swapped him for a bag of beans, clearly loved this little van. He runs like a dream and when you drive along you feel as though you are in a carriage. There is a bounce to Jed that only some royals may be familiar with. A true bounce.

Our first family trip in Jed – the very day after we exchanged beans – was to Scotland. We were on our way to Harris, and we made it. The scenery to Skye via Glen Coe can only be described as moving. Overlooked by immovable giant munros staggered with waterfalls, we passed soaring peaks which are now memories’ friends when searching for something soothing to think on. But you have to see them to have them. You have to fall in love with them to be able to recall them. I never can understand why people in the UK might go South for holidays when really, the gorgeous stuff is all up North. Trust me. It is beautiful.

We made it all the way to Skye in our helpful Jed, with one night in Glen Nevis and one dinner from a greasy burger van. And from Skye we had to complete our journey on foot thanks to all the over zealous wanna be pioneers, in camper vans, all on their way to the isle of Harris, having booked their ferry ticket early… …. Hmmm. Anyways, luckily for us we had friends Calum and Karen to meet us. And we had family accommodation awaiting us with smiles and love where their two young sons could amuse our two young daughters. When we arrived at Scott and Margaret’s house that looks over the coast we were met with the sweet siren of Scott’s bag pipes as they were played with skill, heart and a tapping toe. We had arrived, albeit in their car, and we were welcome. So very welcome.

If you haven’t ever been to harris I urge you to go. Though if you do go in a camper van make sure you book the ferry from Uig in advance, so as to avoid disappointment. On Harris the ground is thick and rolling with fertile peat and the waters are like stewed tea; dark and honest. The beaches that tempt you with their sublime sands, cast lights low and subtle over lunar rocks. There are no trees yet the place is lush with green cushioned terrain dotted with cleansed sheep who own the right of way. And just when you think you can capture the beauty of the light and the scenery and get the children in an orderly fashion to pose for a photograph, the picture changes. The wind conjures a fury and a meteorological dimmer switch moves everything from blue white to a sombre grey. With or without rain drops. Only to light up once again, eleven minutes later and burn your nose.

On Harris there are a few restaurants and we found one of them. It was open from six until 9 and fully booked. I wondered after we left the restaurant into the sea warm winds towards home, why do they have to close so early? And in the sound of the nothing as it tinkered above the grass I found my answer. Those that worked there, if not serving a fully packed restaurant, were permitted to go home, coorie up and just …. think. You have some lovely thoughts in a place such as Harris, its a place for dreaming up words to be said or dreams to be lived, you just have to give yourself to the tempo. Yet, ironically the time on Harris can hurry by, faster than the train that isn’t there.

Another great trip done in Jed was later the same year when I took Alison away for a while to give her a break from her gruelling cancer treatment. I met her directly from the London to York train and hurried her into the front seat. Right then I said, no excuses, you can now have a mini break. We drove straight up the M1 then we did a left to pick up Sarah from Carlisle and made it up to Dumfries to spend the night laughing that the name Dumfries – which does not represent daft chips – and wondering where the nearest toilet might be. And what to do if someone came and asked us to leave. We had parked the van in a lay by just a meter from a sign that said, ‘no overnight parking’. After some thought and googling for the nearest police station we decided that the only way we might get moved on would be if there was a busy body out and about in the morning. We decided if someone challenged our parking options, we would all be from a very foreign county, unable to read or speak English. That should get us out of a sticky situation, we decided.

The next day we crossed to Arran on a ferry that had enough space for us. And whilst driving around the perimeter of the heighty mighty Isle we discovered the joy of stopping and putting the kettle on. Just because we could. A kettle in a big car with a bed, could you want for anything more than this? Everything was going fine until the following morning I washed the breakfast dishes in a puddle next to the beach. Alison certainly was a stickler for hygiene. Don’t worry I protested, as soon as we get to some hot water, I will give them a proper wash. When we stopped for lunch we found seals and I saw in the still bay a submarine that came up and them went down again. I looked at my friends. Did anyone else see the submarine that just came up for a bit and then went back down? No, they said, we would have noticed that! But might they have? Sadly therefore, I can’t say for certain that I did see the top of a submarine and even if I did, it’s best not to be too sure of it. For British Intelligence sake.

The last time I took Jed for a stretch away was last summer. My sister Marianne and me went to St Andrews via the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What a riot Edinburgh is during the Fringe. Bursting with bevies of extroverts – mostly in knickers – trying with all their might to push theatrical boundaries and entertain anyone. In contrast, St Andrews is saturated with hopeful academics earnestly aiming to fit the mould and please their parents. We cooked fillet steak and drank red wine, Marianne cooked green beans in a tin cup. We talked about our parents, our children our loves and friends. We camped next to the old pier and were awoken at dawn by fishermen leaving early to catch the tide.

On our return journey over the boarder and down the A1 we decided to try the road to Lindas Farne Holy Island. A couple of miles down the road we found ourselves in a queue. Perfet timing! We just had to wait for the water to go down and then we could make our way to the island which was usually cut off by the tide and time. And so we waited and waited and ate some chocolate biscuits until I had the brave idea of just going for it. Are you sure, asked my unsure sister. There are a lot of people watching us. Look, they waiting for the water to go down, they will see us.

Marianne, I say, do you think I would be driving Jed with such aplomb if I cared that people are watching? I started the engine that squealed with joy and off we drove, careful and considerate not to drown. Jed is higher than other cars and the timetable says we can go now, I told her, we will be fine. But what about the hole, asked Marianne? And then, a friendly chap with a generous face put his head through the window and hindered our acceleration. I pulled the handbrake. You are going for it then? He asked, you gonna’ do it? Hmmm I thought. Go away, I didn’t say to the strange head at my window.

Yes, we are but Mary has a hole! Yelped Marianne to the wide mouth stranger. There is hole, so we might get wet! she told him.

Marianne, I said, stop telling everyone about my hole and it’s not a hole so much as a space with some van missing.

Mary, she tells me in a very elderly sister kind of way, You have a hole over the wheel on the drivers door. She has a hole! She sings to the stranger in the window once again. I wind the window up, bid the stranger farewell, get the revs up, release the handbrake and make the journey. Marianne, I say, stop going on about the hole! Think of other things. Like the height of the water, it looks low enough to make it. Why do you have to tell that strange man about my hole it’s none of his business?

We clenched our knees and slowly drove into the flow of the cause way. Look, you see! I said, It’s not coming in. And so on we went. A journey that can not be turned back from, in a van with a hole, over water, with folk watching. What could go wrong?

Sister was right, the hole was going to play a part in the crossing as the water was so much deeper than we had anticipated. Salt water came through the hole and drenched my galoshes and we screamed along with the fan belt. And when the fan belt stopped its screeching we continued ours, until we reached the dry part of our destination and then we cheered. Yes, we made it, even though we had a hole on our way to Holy Island. What do you want to do first I asked Marianne as we parked in a huge and spacious car park with so much choice of parking spaces. I want to eat something she said, all that excitement has made me hungry. So we walked to the nearest cafe, me with a wet right foot, and Marianne ate a dressed crab salad with real salad cream. And a cup of tea. A perfect day, hole or no hole.

Its all times like these I think about the places we have visited and how each destination was reached with such ease and joy. And even though we can talk to family and friends on the phone it’s just not the same as firing up an engine and burning some fuel to get to their smiling faces. Smiling faces in the flesh are something to behold and enjoy, just like a dressed crab salad and a proper cup of tea.

Until next time


Forgot to say, if you want to help me raise money to start a charity to help our fellow humans through grief then please do click here and make a small donation. I have raised so far £630 which is amazing! Thank you every one for your wonderful support but above all, for your love and smiling faces.



At The Edge Of The Bed – with Mary blog 5

Alison and Me 1994

Love in the time of Covid – day 12

At the edge of the bed – with Mary blog 5

Welcome all. We are now dressed and at the end of the bed and doing face yoga. Visage isn’t coping that well, but lungs are stronger. Yes. Feeling better.

Ok. I thought that today I would write about love and friendship. And this might be a good introduction for anyone who didn’t know my friend Alison.

The reason I started this blog wasn’t to bleat on about my self, although I must say it has been rather nice talking to myself none stop. Smile face emoji. No. The reason I set up this blog was to drive traffic to a fundraising page so that I can raise money to start a charity to help people who are sad and lonely after losing a loved one.

But don’t go to the site yet, not just yet. Stay with me a while here,  and let me explain. I can explain.

Alison Greer (1972-2018) inspired me to become a civil celebrant.

I work with people who have recently lost a family member, friend, aunts, grandparents and anyone, really. I spend my days visiting quiet houses to talk to the bereft to create a personal funeral that reflects the departed. I also go to grave sides and crematoriums to conduct the funeral services. I do a lot of praying, even if some of my families have no faith, I need to pray. A lot. I have my faith and that is mine. You have yours. Or you may not. Either way, I help people on a practical, spiritual, human and public level.

            My friend Alison lived in London. Considering I live in North Yorkshire and she was in Fulham we saw a lot of each other thanks to me working for a time in marketing. I would free lance here, there and Hampshire. I would stop off for a night at her flat and we would reminisce. Go to the pub. Put a bet on the Grand National, that sort of thing.  And it was during this time in 2016 that she told me that her illness had returned. She was battling secondary breast cancer and it had spread. She was frightened. I was frightened. And I said the normal thing one does say to a friend when she tells you she is probably going to die. ‘You won’t die. I won’t have it. I simply won’t have it. Now where’s the gin? Lets make some plans for next year and keep focused.’

Her treatment started, to buy her more time really, and she became very unwell. I helped her in any way I could. And then a year later when things started to look worse, Alison spoke to me again. We were in her flat. She said, Mary Love (that was what she called me) Will you speak at my funeral?  I put down my warm glass of Baileys Irish Cream and instead of laughing it off and dismissing this awful thing called end of life, I looked at her and said, yes. Yes, I will. I will do anything for you. And if that means me talking at your funeral and telling everyone how funny you are, then I shall. She was relieved. And then Alison my funny friend, didn’t seem as worried. She relaxed. Shall we go and do the pub quiz at the Pear Tree? I asked her. Ok, she said, but I will need to hold on to you, my legs don’t feel like my own.

We wandered to the pub 30 meters from her front door and sat and enjoyed our time together, we flirted with anyone who chose to talk to us, we attempted the pub quiz, we cheated at the pub quiz, and we laughed. She was very good at laughing at things, Alison.

It as a warm balmy evening in Nottingham 1994 when my friend Sarah and I rocked up to the Nottingham rowing club to join the throngs of hot and toned men and women who all sat in long narrow boats to sweat and heave oars together to race across the Trent water. Usually with ultra thin ankles and extremely broad shoulders.  We were arty students at Nottingham Trent University (that’s a former polytechnic to you academic riff raff out there). Sarah and I had joined the student rowing club and enjoyed sitting behind each other three times a week in a narrow boat to heave and sweat and pull on long pieces of fiberglass to move the boat as quickly as possible along the Trent. It doesn’t sound like fun but it is, trust me. I am telling the truth. Rowing is fun. And it’s not just the exercise and the narrow waste you benefit from, the toned thighs and rock hard calf muscles that you don’t even notice because you are only 23, no. It’s the parties after the rowing races, when the fun happens. They are of great benefit. Huge worth, massive. And we still benefit from those times even today. I just have to meet up with my old rowing crew for few minutes and it is like it was last Saturday on the water, all over again. We are all still bonded through oars.

So there we were, two students in the summer break, working in a factory, just so that after work, we could go for a row! I know, it doesn’t make much sense but that’s how much we loved rowing on the Trent.

Sarah and I walked up the river bank, and as we passed the gate to one boat house we saw the most gorgeous, very tall, very athletic looking girl with the whitest of teeth.

Hi, she sang to us. Do you want to come rowing? Alison’s voice was so melodic, everything she said sounded like a lullaby, some how. How did she know we wanted to go rowing? We looked at her, Yes we do! We were actually making our way to the more established rowing club that sat next door, you know the one with the reputation for being a bit more … top draw shall we say? We told her. Oh no! Alison smiles, you will have so much more fun here. We really know how to party. Do you want to make up a four with me and the blonde? Yes, yes we do! And in we went, got changed. Just next to the cricket ground. I’m Alison by the way, she sang to us, as we negotiated the boat off the boat rack. Magic. And then off we went, rowing on the river Trent.

Sarah, Alison, me and a girl we now refer to as Sandra D. (can’t remember her name) made up a coxless four (as in we had to steer the boat ourselves) Sandra D had joined the rowing club because her ovaries had directed her there, to find a mate. She took the gamble that she might find a male rower who was both fit and intelligent. Anyway, it worked. After one regatta she was attached. Ovaries were thrilled. Then she was wed – parent’s were thrilled – and now I imagine her with fluffy blonde children, living by a river, reminiscing with hunky greying husband how they too, once upon a time, rowed.

Where was I? Oh yes. Every evening after soldering mechanical components for vending machines in a factory, Sarah and I would make for the river and we would row, the four of us. We did a few regattas, too. We didn’t win, but that was not the point. The point was taking part and getting drunk afterwards at the after party. Sandra D didn’t party, she liked to mate.

Alison was strong, healthy, hilarious and generous hearted. She was my only friend in Nottingham who was a professional. She would lend me money when I was skint and when I worked in Boots – to abate my impecunity – she would walk past me at the make up counter unable to recognise my face covered in full make up.

We made friends and stayed friends. Sarah Alison Me.

Alison lived in Nottingham in a shared flat with a friend whose name was Tracy.  A year later, quite quickly, Tracy became ill and died of stomach cancer, I thinks she was only 24. Alison came to me. She was distraught and her relationship with one of the rowing club members (toss pot with a capital F, may I add) had fallen apart thanks to his penchant for even younger women. She told me, Mary Love, I’m going to London. I’m going to get a job and live the London life. Who knows how long my life will go on for? Look what happened to poor Tracy. Poor Tracy.

So Alison left Nottingham. She did what she intended to do. She had a stellar career and lived the London life. There was lots of work and lots of partying and she was happy. She was busy. Living the dream as one may say.

Sarah and I continued to row together along with Hege and then after graduation we all dissipated away from the Trent to go and start some sort of adult life. One that involved getting a long term job with real wages. How dull.

Over time we kept our bond that had been made over oars and beer, wine and song. She was there for me and for anyone else who needed help, support love, or company. Even before she passed away I would make the joke, now darling, before we start, do I owe you any money? No Mary Love, she would say, we are all square, we have been since 2001. Do you need money, now? She would laugh.

Her illness was bad. She had some very dark times that we won’t dwell on because Alison didn’t want anyone ever to think of her as unhappy and that was her parting wish.

She told me when i visited her, Mary Love. I want people to know I am happy.  I want people to remember me as happy. When I …. go. Will you talk at my funeral? She asked me again. Yes I will. I will talk at your funeral. Yes. I will do that for you. So long as you know that I have lots of stories. I might want to draw on them.

What stories she laughed. Mary Love, what do you remember? She was suspicious, she had every right to be.

Well let’s see, I said. Can I tell everyone about the time we woke up in that blokes bed – what was his name? -fully clothed. We still had the tequila shot glasses in your handbag.

Yes, you can!

Ok Great, that was a funny night wasn’t it. And can I tell everyone about the snog a bloke challenge we did on your Birthday dressed up as school girls at the Hampton Court Palace?

OH YES, that was a great night she said. You can tell that story, for sure.

And what about the time we did a runner from the Slug and Lettuce in Nottingham and had to go back because you had left your glasses on the table, which were worth three times the price of the bill. Can I tell that story?

NO!! What ever you do, do NOT tell anyone about that!

But it was so funny! I insisted. Running away then running back even faster than we had left.

Oh ok then. What the Hell!  Tell them all, she said. Tell them everything.

And then we laughed … and cried … and laughed… and then she said, I want you,  Mary Love, I want you to tell everyone I am happy. I am happy! Honestly I am.

Really I asked her? You are happy?

I am not happy of course, that this is happening to me, she shrugged her hands down past her body referring to the disease, the diagnosis, the trauma, the sentence that is the end. She smiled at me. But I don’t want people to think that I wasn’t happy.

Ok. I will make sure everyone leaves the funeral knowing that you were happy.

And that was our darling Alison in a nutshell. She was happy. And that is how she wanted us to think of her.

One story I certainly did share the day of her funeral, the one that got the big thumbs up was this one:

It was a hot summers day in the Lakes,

There were seven of us, Natalie, Alison, Sarah, Hege, Niki, Karen and me. We were camping and climbing mountains.  All of us were wearing shorts apart from Alison who wore a short khaki skirt and lace thong. I know she had a thong on because I walked behind her when she was climbing the steep bits. It was very pretty.

We realized after four hours of hiking that those of us with big boobs would always fall about ten minutes behind those friends with little boobs. This was not a controlled test by the way. Simply a breast infused observation. It kept us amused, anyway.

After hot and tiring expedition we went to the pub. We were thirsty. Maybe a little too thirsty. And on the way back to the campsite it was clear we were intoxicated. We made a lot of noise, mostly laughing but we will have upset lots of other campers who were trying to sleep behind their nylon and zips.

As we could not and would not cooperate with the site manager who tried to get us into some sort of quiet order, we were told the next day we would have to leave.

Well, we didn’t want to stay there any more, anyway! We told aggressive site manager. Grrrrr

After being expelled from the site we left in a blaze of glory – which was really just honking our car horns and being extremely un pc. Finger gestures, the lot. Our three cars climbed a road called the Hard Knot Pass

It is a road of dreams. I recommend it to everyone.

Picture the scene. A scorching English summer day. A bevy of beauties, all in a convoy, some with bigger boobs than others. Alison was with me and my mini had a sunroof. As we cleared the top of the mountain and sailed down the other side the landscape stretched out before us. Hills and hills and the distant silver shimmer of the Irish sea. It was inspiring. And it was this view that must have inspired Alison to de robe.

I want to go topless, she said. I want to flash out of your sunroof, what do you recon? Do you think anyone will see me?

For miles there was not a car in sight, just some more girls in cars behind us.

GO ON I said, no one can see but the grass. 

The roof was back and up she stood.

Top off, hands in the air, waving them like she just didn’t care.

Shouting WEEEEEEE at the top of her voice.


Mary Love, she said, You do it too. Come on! WEEEEEEEEE!

I looked up still driving and winding down the valley, watching her bosoms bouncing as she waved her arms to the sky calling out weeeeeeee. Come up here! She shouted it is am AAAAmazing! WEEEEE.

I can’t come up there Alison, I can’t. I’m driving the car, in case you hadn’t noticed. Music on, top off, tits out to the sunshine. Yes indeed, Weeeeeeeee. Great day.

As the years rolled on Alison would overcome breast cancer in her 30s. She would work and travel and continue to have fun, cancer or no cancer. She climbed Kilimanjaro and ran the Himalayan Marathon, the New York Marathon, the Venice Marathon. She worked hard, too. Her glamorous career that had taken off in London led her to become a lecturer in accountancy. It is true – she could read a spreadsheet and flash her bare chest!  

As soon as she had any holiday time, she would book a flight and off she would go. She would travel for adventure and opportunity, to connect with fellow humans with whom she shared the planet. And she made friends everywhere she went. And she arranged them around her like petals sit around a daisy.

Alison’s illness, brought to an end, her beautiful life and she faced it with fortitude and grit. Even towards the end she carried on making friends, some only for a few months, during her art classes at her local hospice. The Trinity Hospice in London.

Her last journey  – the treacherous and lonely path that is terminal diagnosis, had no sunroof or mountains to call out to. The cheering of friends was replaced with birdsong beyond her window and the gentle noise of the hospice door opening as her mum came in to tell me, she needed rest, it was time for me to go.

She was going on a journey that no one else could join her on. I hugged her gently and sang her a song then kissed her hand. I told her I loved her. I will always love her. I said goodbye.

Alison passed away three days later on the 19th of April 2018. She was 46. Her last hours were peaceful. She was surrounded by those who loved her, like petals on a daisy.

That was my friend Alison. Who inspired the Alison Bereavement Society. She was happy.

Lots of love