There can be little more stark reminder of the fragility of life than the death of Sarah Harding yesterday. Famous as one of Girls Aloud, she was 39-years-old. I was completely taken aback when I heard. I knew she had been diagnosed with breast cancer but people survive breast cancer now, don’t they? Seemingly, not in a pandemic; after all, it is all about COVID … That young woman – well, girl, really – must be representative of so many more; those side-lined or hesitant in the eyes of the all-consuming scaremongering. Who could entertain the thought of going to a hospital, rife with the virus? Who, even, had the energy to fight – and it was a fight, and still is – to see one’s GP? Sarah, herself, wrote that she delayed seeking help when she, originally, found a lump under her arm. I suppose, first of all, there is fear; there is shock but, then, there was lockdown, proving fatal time lost for this vibrant life … and how many more?
‘If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away …’
The words of the wonderful Jim Croce, Time in a Bottle. Jim Croce, who seemed so very much aware of time, the passing of and its value. Perhaps fortuitous, for he, himself, died on the 20th September, 1973, killed in a plane crash. He was just 30 and, after years of struggling to be discovered – making ends meet by any means he could – he had just been signed to a major record label, making a second album and a Number One single. The stars had, finally, aligned only for his own to be, cruelly, extinguished. The Jim Croce Collection is one of my favourites, his words and music, the likes of Photographs and Memories, made all the more poignant by hindsight.
I need no reminder of the preciousness of time. I have stored every moment of it for as long as I can remember. Labelled with love, much of my life is documented in diaries and photographs; in blanket boxes filled with old letters, newspapers and ticket stubs, momentos with which I cannot bear to part. Why? The past is important to me. We are who we are because of our past. Happy or sad, it is what makes us. So, it is, that I carry it with me, both the joy and the wounds. Minimalists? Those who keep nothing, whose homes resemble sanitized cells? As though a diary filled with blank pages. How sad.
Time in a bottle. Wounds of the past. I revisited both yesterday. I went to see an old friend, he and his partner having moved into their new home smack bang in the middle of my memories! We spent many of the formative years of our childhood together, sisters and brothers, family friends, home from home but, as I know now, there are fault lines which run through every family and, although seemingly hidden, one little crack can spawn a gaping chasm, impossible to mend. A childhood error of judgement led to him being cruelly cast from his family, branded the black sheep; bad blood. I never knew his story – we were teenagers and I had left home for university – and he was never given the opportunity to tell. Keeping in touch with his sister, however, I knew that his father remained steadfast and he was still out in the cold. There was no contact. For my part, I couldn’t understand it, nor did I believe the character portrayed. The boy I had known was gentle, sensitive and always one of the cleverest among us. He remained that in my mind and, given the opportunity, I always endeavoured to fight his corner. I do tend to follow my gut, my instinct, and once I have formed my own opinion of someone – often instant – I rarely sway.
It took the death of his mother, last year, for the truth to out. All these wasted years; precious, precious time. Ironically, this man – now 60-years-old – who had been so cruelly banished as a teenager by his father and, consequently, shunned by his whole family, bravely put his own hurt aside to come and say ‘goodbye’ to the mother who, too, had disowned her son. Moreover, I was to learn, yesterday, that he had done the same for his father when he died in 1993; the same father who, in his last days, insisted that he would never forgive him …
I was reunited with this incredible person a year ago, too, my great joy being that, in a family beset with bitterness and deceit, his sister has her brother back and, united once more, they watched their youngest sibling reveal his true colours in his cold quest for money, regardless of cost. I, for one, feel sorry for the youngest. Guilt is a heavy burden to carry. Me? Well, I took more than a little satisfaction from knowing that my loyalty had not been misplaced.
As I was shown round their new house, my eyes were drawn to family photographs displayed on the shelves in the dining room. I had to do a double take for there, in a silver frame, was one of his father, resplendent in his kilt … We sat outside in the beautiful garden from where, in the distance, one can see the hill which belongs to the farm, once his family home. Three hours slipped easily by as we reminisced, all the while, trying to understand parents, siblings, people, for there are many similarities in our stories: middle children, same age, both ostracized without trial from our families, both misrepresented, both stabbed in the back by a younger brother, both let down, terribly, by parents we loved. So much in common excepting one thing – courage. He put aside his own hurt to do ‘the right thing’, selflessly, saying ‘goodbye’, first to his father and then to his mother, both of whom were undeserving. There we differ for I didn’t have his courage. Years later, I couldn’t revisit the deep wound left open by my mother … The respect I have for my old friend is immeasurable. As for the wasted time? There can be no greater loss.
Last Saturday evening, I watched a recording of Parkinson at 50. Yesterday once more, I was back in the Morning Room – Pop in his chair to my right – watching Parky and Billy Connolly or one of the many other huge stars he interviewed. In hindsight, we took such programmes for granted – like so much more. Anyway, suffice to say, in the end, Parky declared his most memorable interview to be that recorded in 1974 with Dr Jacob Bronowski. No Hollywood celebrity, he was a Polish-born British mathematician and historian perhaps best known for the 1973 documentary series – and accompanying book – The Ascent of Man. Born in 1908, Bronowski lived through WWII and was a key figure in Operations Research for the UK’s Ministry of Home Security. The interview included a moving film clip of Dr Bronowski returning to the horror of Auschwitz many years after the war. In the final moments, he quotes the words – albeit altering the tense – of Oliver Cromwell in his letter to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1650. The context ensures the poignancy of those words. I wrote them down, never suspecting I would find reason or cause to quote them so soon …
‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may have been mistaken …’
This is Trish, signing off.