RIP, Christina

It’s tough to blog this week without writing about my late colleague Christina Earle. So I won’t even try.

When emotions are less raw, it will be possible to look back through a happier lens. Right now, grief colours everything.  Needless to stress, it is so much worse for her family, including her husband Oli, than it is for colleagues and friends.

Aged 31, Christina died suddenly and unexpectedly last weekend.

There’s no point trying to make sense of that.

She was one of the best journalists I’ve worked with in over 20 years of writing for mainstream media. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Press Gazette has to say

Working for a 7-day newspaper, Christina often needed copy in a hurry. Sometimes this was a challenge to provide, as on the day that, unbeknown to her, I was being wheeled away for surgery myself. But she was always considerate. Thank you, Christina, for persuading me to turn my mobile off on my wedding day.

She made a fine campaigning journalist for The Sun, and she achieved so much. Every problem had a solution. Well, it did when she was on the case. Colleague Lynsey Hope put this tribute together. 

It seems self-indulgent to mope when Christina was such a sunny and capable person with an infectious smile. 

But how is it possible to do anything else? Columnist Virginia Ironside pointed out that you don’t ‘work through’ grief. It works its way through you.

Grief is the occasion for acknowledging the great value of what you’ve experienced. In his book The Middle Passage, psychotherapist James Hollis explains that, because it has been experienced, it cannot be wholly lost. The experience is still there, says Hollis. It is retained in the bones and the memory, to serve and guide the life to come.

I’m hoping so, anyway.

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The School Reunion: You Haven’t Changed a Bit

The smell of lino and neglected gym kit propels Harriet nearly 20 years back in time.  As soon as she opens the door of the hall, there’s a shriek: “Oh my God!  You haven’t changed a bit.”

Harriet returns the compliment then heads towards the drinks, remembering to push out her chest.  Amy aka the ‘Sweater Girl’ is bound to be here.

Harriet lives in the pages of my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. Today she’s escaped to attend a school reunion.  

She scans the room for Matt.  Back then everyone fancied him.  Now he sounds like Mr Irresistible.  She hasn’t read his book but, according to the reviews, it penetrates the very core of human condition.  Matt has arrived.

Though not here.   There’s Marcie who makes jewellery out of spoons, and an insurance woman who’s working the room.   She asks Harriet “What are you doing these days?”

“I’m a journalist.”  No need to tell her commissions are down to a trickle.

“Ooh, lovely! Who do you write for?”

“I’m freelance now.  Much prefer it.”   In truth she’s barely had 16 months on the staff since her degree.  “I write for a lot of the glossies, or whoever’ll pay me.”  She hopes the self-deprecating touch will make her sound witty.

“I’ll look out for you.  What kind of thing do you write?”

Best not to mention her last feature entitled What your loo-roll says about you. “I’m doing a piece on breast cancer at the moment” she lies.

unloved school piano

Tonight there’s a drinks table in the corner by the distressed piano, and by the drinks table there’s Amy cradling an orange juice.

“Oh my God, Amy, you look amazing” says Harriet.   As usual Amy’s wearing a clingy sweater, but now there are milk stains on her shoulder and her boobs are somewhere by the floor.  Oscar is just 17 months and Mia is 7 weeks.  She needs little encouragement to display the entire contents of her iPhone.

Harriet offers Amy a glass of wine.

“Oh well, just a small one.”

“Anyone seen Matt?”

“Not for years” says Amy, readjusting her bra.

Harriet helps herself to more Château Tannin and talks to a guy she can’t quite place. He’s an architect now.  “I designed the bus shelter in front of the Bagg building.  Have you seen it?”  But he isn’t expecting an answer.   He’s looking over her shoulder to see if anyone more interesting is on the horizon.

There aren’t many men, apart from a tight cluster by the window, all necking Bud from bottles.

“They’re not having a great run.  Arsenal, now…”

“The GTi probably.”

“Went belly-up, didn’t they?”

“Reckon Palace are for the drop.”

The smelly girl from the front of the class has changed.  A lot.  She doesn’t smell anymore and she’s morphed into an eye surgeon.  “Spent last year in Mali operating on trachoma patients.”

Harriet doesn’t dare ask what trachoma is, so she says “Is Matt here?”

He isn’t.  Harriet chats to someone called Caroline.  They tell each other they look incredible and agree it’s been years, or ‘yonks’ as Caroline calls it.  She’s started her own business, which Harriet can’t understand despite the long description.  Her clothes are expensive but she still looks a frump.  Apparently the scarf is Celine and the jacket was made to measure.   Harriet makes a mental note to stick to Zara.

white wineBack at the drinks table Amy has another glass of wine.   She burps and clutches her stomach.  “Sorry.”

“Are you OK?” asks Harriet.

Amy shuts her eyes and lets out a sigh.  “I think I’m pregnant again.”

“But you’re a fantastic mum.  You love children.”

There’s a pause before Amy says “Matt doesn’t.”