Blog 8 – Love in the Time of Covid

Hello dears. How are we all? Well, I hope. I am almost fully recovered although it has taken longer than I ever thought, we are on week 7 and I still sometimes struggle with breathing. But I am so much better than I was. I am back to work too which helps keep the focus.

When I feel full of oxygen and hope, I go the garden with husband who has become very handy lately. A proper Percy Thrower. He was getting tired of me asking him to fire up the chainsaw so he bought me a hedge trimmer online. Apart from thrice severing the lead I now have a very tidy box hedge. And a healthy yew bush. Anyway, enough of my topiary, how are you?

I suppose like me you are getting very good at face time and using distinct intonations when talking on the phone, which takes up so much oxygen, don’t you think? And never again in my life will I take Oxygen for granted. Never.

So today I thought I would write about love which I believe is as essential as oxygen and yet not as readily available. I spend my days in such quiet contemplation in this lockdown isolation and recently it is love and those in my heart that continue to come to mind. I can think of worse things to think of. So I don’t. Love love love. Here we go.

The other evening whilst pondering the kitchen skirting boards I had a video call with my Uncle Phil. He had upgraded to a smart phone and so pressed the little video recorder under my name and then there he was, in the kitchen with me, on a screen, in my hands. Phil! What a nice surprise. I wondered if he was wearing an ill fitting belt? Turns out he was wearing a guitar strap attached to a guitar which quickly changed our conversation from the ethics of furlough, to Pink Floyd. He then sang a song, Wish You Were Here. It was nice. Although I couldn’t see him as he played. Due to his stage fright I had to be placed on the floor. I got to see something that looked like Uncle Philip’s kitchen skirting boards. There seemed to be a theme developing.

I love my Uncle Philip. When I see him, I see my mum. Her blue eyes and soft mouth. They are from the Warburton clan, which is made up of gentle artistic wise people, who are passive and loving. Years ago, after my mum died, I couldn’t look at him without crying, he is so like her. He is so precious to me, Uncle Philip. Maybe because when I was very young he used to let me steer his green VW Beetle down lanes with tall hedges. He was probably my only older relative that never sent me away to look for four leaf clovers. I used to spend hours looking for four leaf clovers at the bottom of the hill not far from the kitchen door. I was always so keen to please. And I found loads – to my relatives’ surprise and I found them so quickly too! It only took me forty years to realise they were just trying to get me out of the house for some peace, no doubt. I honestly thought they wanted a four leaf clover. Anyway, they are out there, four leaf clovers, you just have to look really hard for them.

The Beetles, ACDC, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and motor bike chains in roasting tins coming out of Nana’s oven, more or less sums up my childhood memories of Uncle Philip. He was never that great at the guitar though, still isn’t. He was always kind though and he genuinely cared. I have him to thank for my musical taste and my love of old Volkswagens. At Christmas he was the only uncle who brought us all a present. Usually a video of something he found funny or an album. And then one Christmas he didn’t bother, again. Maybe that was when he considered us all grown up. I say all of us, because we were six and then later, seven children. We had a big table and a big aga and a big barn that had a big beam to run across with nothing underneath it but a big circular wood saw that would scream when it was fired it up and sawing wood. Loads of fields, tonnes of horses and a stream.

During this Covid lockdown, I reflect on those years of growing up. I consider my childhood as though it was a life time ago yet here I am, living the same life. And now that my parents are passed and our family home is someone’s boutique hotel, I sometimes query whether it actually was real or not. Because it’s not there any more; the home, the large table and the barn with the exposed beam for running across, twelve foot in the air. It is as though it has all gone away. And it has gone. All of it. And in its place are these little snap shots called memories of when days were so loving, I can almost taste their sweetness.

I ask Uncle Phil after his sing song, have you read my blog? I have, he said. What are you doing it for? Well, I tell him, I am trying to raise money for those people who are sad and lonely after their loved one dies, I have been inspired by my late friend Alison, do you remember her? Yes, I do remember her, he says. Well then. You should donate Uncle Phil, you really really should. Hahaha. Ok, he doesn’t say to me, I will give you loads of money to help raise enough dosh to make a registered charity. And we laugh some more and joke about his grey hair and then after he is gone from my screen in my hand, I reach for husband’s guitar and for the next forty minutes I am a really awful Taylor Swift. I sing the song Lover. I love it. You know Taylor Swift is a gifted songwriter.

But love, is a wondrous thing don’t you think. The love we have for family the love we have for friends, the love we have for lovers it is wonderful. And now we have time to think, we can think about all those we love, and all those we have lost. Those that are alive, those that stopped living. All those relationships that went wrong, the ones that didn’t even get off the ground. The dates we went on, the ones we declined and we think – well I do anyway – how different things might be now had I said OK, I will go on that walk with you, instead of, no way. What might have happened had I accepted that invitation? Would we want anything to be different from what we have today? I discuss this with husband as his guitar gently weeps. You know what we need, Mary? What I ask? We need a capo, he says. He isn’t wrong.

I speak to my sisters. My youngest sister is having a tough time – she is without a loving relationship and finds it difficult dealing with things on her own and she has a lot to deal with. How things might have been for her, had she just made a different decision than the one she made? I tell her, look as soon as this is all over we are going to take off in campervans and see the coast and be like Neil Oliver, understanding coastal conservation and the archeology of caves. Who is he she asks? We laugh.

We join in to the conversation brother Steven who appears in another little square and has recently had a serious fall so has two black eyes and a very swollen face. He is now in further isolation because he had to go to A&E for stitches to his forehead. He is surrounded by people in masks and plastic aprons but this doesn’t stop us from laughing and reminiscing about our childhood that now seems real, as its confirmed by those I shared it with. We remember the strangest of things. Like when we killed Uncle Johnny.

Our Father, had taken us all on a Mediterranean cruise on the QE2. His work with the dock board had earned him some quirks and he managed to get a corporate rate from Cunard. My mum who was very excited to be sailing in style bought a large red leather trunk in which she would pack all of our clothes and then, following this one trip, the red trunk would be used for housing Christmas decorations and kept in a cupboard under the stairs for the rest of its days.

The QE2 was a magnificent ship. An elegant leisure vessel, with teak decks, black funnels and too many steep stair cases where I would always find myself, lost. I was six. We would eat breakfast at a table adorned with sticky buns and crystal glasses atop white linen and were flanked by mustached waiters. I imagine we made a handsome sight, lots of children, two young parents and one red leather trunk in the cabin.  

The QE2 would be the first time I ever attended a funeral. I was six – although I had to pretend to be 4 so that my father got the full family discount. I used to complain daily to my mum as she tried to have me locked in the nursery – I am not four, I am six. No Mary, she would say, you have to be four. Just for this holiday and then when we get home you can be six again, ok?

On a daily basis we would all run to the ship’s theatre and scream with excitement to be entertained by the children’s entertainer whose stage name was Uncle Johnny. Uncle Johnny was a tall and lean man in his early sixties with a generous mop of grey hair, heavy jowls and a magic wand. He wore a velvet jacket of claret and black dress trousers and he would entertain us all twice a day, one matinee and once again before dinner at the large round table.

We would scream to him UNCLE JOHNNY from our theatre seats and my feet would swing above the diamond patterned carpet. Uncle JOHNNNYYYY! Uncle Johnny would perform magic tricks with cards and water jugs and pull flowers from his sleeves and at the end would get us all to chant his name whilst clapping before he performed the grande finale of pulling a white live rabbit from a black top hat. “Uncle Johnny” Clap clap clap, we would chant over and over and louder and louder. Uncle Johnny Clap clap clap! UNCLE JOHNNY ! UNCLE JOHNNY clap clap clap, clap clap clap. He was great.

He looked pretty exhausted most of the time did poor Uncle Johnny up there on stage under the warm lights, and his hurried march across the stage in black patent shoes was well trod.  He never underperformed, though. Never. Uncle JOHNNYYYYYY we would scream and scream throughout his performance. Mum and dad left us to it. They must have watched the clock all day for the Uncle Johnny Show when they could enjoy cocktails on the deck, without any kids.

And then suddenly, half way through the holiday, there was no Uncle Johnny Show. I was distraught. What do you mean Mum? No Uncle Johnny Show? I was a stubborn as a young child, I have been told, and apparently, I liked to get my own way. I imagine I kicked up such a fuss my mum felt compelled to take me to what would be Uncle Johnny’s true last performance. His burial at sea.

The deck was quiet and I remember clinging to a corner of fabric, sharp in my hand, it was probably my mother’s skirt. I held on to. The ship was not moving and there was a breeze blowing my hair into my eyes. A tall man dressed in black and wearing a white dog collar read mournfully from a red leather book – almost the same colour as Uncle Johnny’s dinner jacket, the one that had the flowers and row of small flags tucked up the sleeves. The vicar was stood in front of a long wooden box that was covered in the Union Jack flag that furled at the edges in the breeze. After a few minutes a sailor dressed in a neat and pressed uniform with white boots played some noises on a trumpet and then there were some very loud and short bangs, no doubt a gun salute. The coffin was then titled and slid over the side of the ship into the dark blue water beneath. Uncle Johnny’s final trick was that he slipped away from under the flag and the flag got to stay where it was, like magic, I thought. And then slowly, people started to move towards a lady dressed in black who had been near the coffin who was holding a very small hanky up to her nose. She wore an elegant black pillbox hat that didn’t blow away in the wind. My mum looked down at me, let’s go back to our cabin, she said. Who is that woman? I asked her pulling at her hand. I didn’t want to leave just yet, Uncle Johnny might have another trick to bounce back out of the water, I thought. That’s his wife, said my mum, his widow. Oh Wow Mum! Lets go and see Mrs Johnny! Please! Please. Please?

My mum was in no way a forceful parent, she was the most gentle and passive of parents – the good cop shall we say. But that morning after Uncle Johnny’s burial at sea, she pulled me up and away from Uncle Johnny’s widow so my arm hurt and my feet left the deck. It was no use. Uncle Johnny had gone and with him, the delight he brought to us all.

I spoke to a lovely widow yesterday. It was a week since I took her husband’s funeral service. It was a desperately sad day. With no thanks to Covid 19 social distancing restrictions, she had to sit alone during the service hugging only herself. We had a nice long chat on the phone about her husband and how much she loved him. She still loves him, even though he no longer lives. When this is all over Mary, she says, we can meet up and I can get to talk to other widows. Yes we can, I said, I have raised over £790 and £100 of that is from soap that I sell at the end of the driveway. That’s amazing she said, I just want to get out and meet people who are in the same boat as me. She tells me again how much she loved her husband and how there was no one like him. I believe her. Love is such a force.

Well that’s all from me folks. If you feel inclined to help the bereaved then help me raise some money for my charity The Alison Bereavement Society that would be wonderful. Thanks for your support and help but most of all, thank you for your love. All of it, as it comes through the airwaves unto me. I love you too.




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