Nor do we have two heads or carry leprosy. We walk among you unnoticed until normal little everyday things force us to fall apart in public and reveal ourselves. This is my place to vent my frustrations, wallow when I need to and discover a new future because the unthinkable did happen and my husband died suddenly at 38 leaving me and our two little babies under the age of two behind.
Today was our niece Natalie Buggy’s christening. I was honoured to be Colin’s stand-in as Godfather. My sister and her husband had discussed several options but realised that if Col were still with us today he would have been the one standing at the front of the church with them. He would have been so honoured to have been asked to be playing such an important role in his little ginger niece’s life.
My sister Jo and her husband Eddie had been wanting a baby for a long while and Col always used to say to me how happy he would be for them if their dream came true. Natalie is our family’s little miracle baby because she was long awaited and there was a wee worry before she was born that there may have been complications with her health. Col asked me throughout Jo’s pregnancy what the news was. He was really worried.
Colin was a man that was not a big fan of kids before he had them. He liked them but just not enough to give up his way of life and his way of holidaying. But then he became a dad and he was the biggest advocate of having children. Once Evie was born he wanted the world to know how wrong he had been. Yes they were a pain, yes they changed the way you lived life and they meant you took different types of holidays but he realised just how much having children gave direction and meaning to your life. He wanted to share that with the world and for the world to go forth and multiply. He was devastated for Jo and Eddie when those complications arose but he was full of admiration that they battled on willing to meet with whatever the future held for them and their little baby-to-be.
When I phoned him one morning in January to tell him that his new niece was born his immediate reaction was to ask if she was OK. I reassured him that she was absolutely fine and totally healthy. He asked again, ‘really, absolutely fine, nothing at all wrong?’. When I said yes, yes she is totally healthy, a little small but beautiful and redhaired he was obviously relieved enough to joke: “Oh dear she’s a ginger.” Bless him.
We all missed him today. He would have been so proud and although I have to say it still feels like I have one limb missing when I attend events like this it was so lovely to gather and feel like he was with us. He was wearing one of his pinstriped suits and looked a little crumpled as always. I wore the dress I wore to his memorial and the earrings he bought me as a wedding gift so it felt like he was right there. Thank you for the feather my love.
Default relaxation for many of us is some sofa and TV watching action. However, when you are stripped of your sofa companion, sitting watching anything is sometimes quite impossible. So for a long while after Col’s death I was limited to Cbeebies’ Mr Tumble and almost non-stop Woolly & Tigs, partly because I couldn’t sit on my now very empty sofa and partly because I couldn’t trust any programmes not to bring up something that would remind me of the worst moments after Colin’s death. Dramas were out and they still so are because lives are too precarious and anyway these are the things Col would have watched with me so it is too weird to not have him there making our own judgements on the way the plot would turn. Specific shows like Downton Abbey have gone off my list completely because they remind me too much of Sunday roasts and PJ evenings with him. This is most annoying as the whole world seems to be talking about it just like we used to. Soap Operas were too depressing for the depressed. Celebrity chat shows made me want to scream because most of the A-list think they have had it tough and I end up wanted to throw things at the screen.
Now though I must be moving on to a new stage of grief because I am back to watching Emmerdale even through Carl King’s untimely death. I did have to skip through the scene at the morgue though. But the main thing I am managing to watch is Modern Family. I actually laugh outloud at it and I use an episode most evenings to turn my head off before bed. Since I stopped drugging myself into sleep months ago this is a big win. Thank you The Dunphys and thank you Karen for my boxset.
In passing at the Zoo last week I told Evie that Daddy used to call her the Monkey Child. She has obviously stored this little nugget of information because she announced it as fact to myself and my dad yesterday. She has got such a good memory for detail especially when it comes to things I tell her about her daddy. Colin used to sing “She is the monkey child” at Evie to the tune of We Went To The Animal Fair. It started after we had seen a TV trailer for a Channel 5 documentary called My Monkey Baby. Poor Evie. She was born almost two weeks premature and was quite tiny and hirsute with it at birth. When all this hair stuck around for a few weeks we worried that she was not only looking like a monkey version of Colin but had also inherited his Wookiee-like carpet covering. We even had a discussion at about six weeks about what to do with her ear hair if she still had it at school age. I said that we’d make her paranoid if we made a fuss but Colin insisted that we would have to pluck it and to lessen her paranoia we would simply have to make it part of the bedtime routine. He said: “We could just do bath, book, ear pluck and bed.” I retorted: “But what about when she starts going to sleepovers? She’ll work it out or she’ll embarrass herself completely. We just can’t do that to her.” These conversations were obviously only half serious and all her unwelcome hair did fall out but her monkey name remained.
Colin had a name for everyone he was close to so it was inevitable that his child would have more than one. So Monkey Child was one of oh-so many for Evie. I called her Weevie and Weevil Bug and I think Col developed those to another level when he called her Dr Evil (pronounced EEEEEVAAL). I worried that this one would scar her more than any monkey child moniker but he loved it. Evie has spirit and while Col did have a few concerns that she was a very naughty little girl he was also secretly proud of the fact that she was no wallflower. I think that’s why he loved her as Dr Evil.
Then there was The Inspector. This tended to be used when she was waking through the night in the early days. She would kick off and he would sleepily turn to me and tell me that The Inspector calls. It was also used in reference to the fact that Evie ruled our roost. Will the inspector allow us this or that was the general theme to this nickname.
My personal favourite was when he called her Uncle Fester. This was simply because she looked like the balding simpleton in The Addams family according to her father. It helped that around that time Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out was getting loads of radio play. There is a line in that song that references Uncle Fester and everytime we heard it on in the car we would sing the lyric to each other and think we were hilarious. Oh dear.
Isla Baby was only in Colin’s life for nine weeks so unfortunately her role call of names is a lot shorter. In fact I feel quite terrible that I can only ever really remember him calling her the Chicken. I even had to ask a friend about the other name we developed for her. I think we called her The Difficult Child because she was the complete opposite. Half the time we barely noticed poor Isla Baby because toddlers are scene stealers in family life. Little monkeys.
As I journeyed in my taxi to my sister’s 40th birthday in Edinburgh on Saturday night I felt utterly alone and lonely. I have noticed this before. After years of going to events as a couple and returning home as a two, well, it just feels odd. I knew I had to shake myself out of my maudlin mood so I did what I have from day one. Since Colin died one of my coping mechanisms to keep me sane is to conjure up images of him in my mind’s eye whenever I need to feel him near. Perhaps this little trick in itself is a sign of the madness brought on by my grief at this loss and I am therefore far from sane. On the day he died I saw him lying reading in our bath in Huntspill Street while I took the longest, hottest shower to wash away the hideousness of the day. Just as I could see the empty bath before me I could also fill it with him with the many images I had of him lying in it reading (it was one of his favourite luxuries to lie until prune-like in our bath reading his many books).
In the days after his death I had to rely on family to put our babies to bed but when I finally did it for myself again, a few evenings after he had gone, I sat on the chair in Evie’s room reading her her bedtime story while pretending I could see his beady eye looking at me through the crack in the door. He used to do this if he got home from work early enough. He liked to survey the domestic scene of me snuggling our bathed little girl and talking her through the pictorial feast of her favourite book Each Peach Pear Plum while she interjected with her observations, ‘dummy, bunny, tootootoot trumpet’ without interrupting us. He would then break in at the last moment to delighted screams of ‘Daddy, Daddy’ and he would grab an enthusiastic cuddle for himself and get the final glory of putting her in the cot.
On the day of his funeral we had to follow his coffin in that awful hearse and I thought I cannot even bear to look ahead of me and imagine him in that wooden box. He is not there. I had been to see his body at the funeral home and I needed to not think of what I had seen that afternoon because that corpse was not the terribly alive man I knew and loved. Instead I looked out of the window as we looped a ridiculous journey to Putney Crematorium and I let my head conjure up Colin as I remembered him. I saw him throwing Evie over his shoulder as we passed one Common or another. He was wearing his black wool jacket that I loved him in (I’ve kept it) and he was laughing, open-mouthed with joy at his little girl. In another instant I saw him in his stupid, ill-fitting beige puffy jacket that I hated because he wore it so badly. It was hanging off his shoulders because it was only ever done up halfway and he was tugging at his hair, trying to bouff it up and create his infamous moussed style on a day that he’d not used a skoosh of his Shockwaves (he is the only person post-Eighties that still bought the stuff I am convinced). In another moment he was in his shorts and green T-shirt dragging his flip-flopped feet while talking on his mobile. I saw him pushing Isla’s buggy making faces for her and I saw him walking comedy quickly with a tennis racket while smoking a cigarette because he would have been running late for whoever he was meeting. I just went through a Roladex of moments in my head that would stop me even thinking about that coffin in front of us.
Nearly eight months on and I still do this on a daily basis. I imagine him in our new house trying to lie out in the new bath while complaining it is too small. I can see him in the garden with the girls. I can see him walking into the kitchen in his grey coat and pinstriped suit after a day at work standing at the fridge and grazing on celery and raw carrots even though dinner is on its way. It’s weird but it helps me feel less alone in this big old house with two little people.
After that cab journey to the bar on Saturday evening I made myself imagine him walking in front of me down Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. He was wearing a black shirt, jeans and his toddler-style lace-up shoes. I know so many people reading this will be able to see him wearing this, his familiar night out attire too. Anyway, every so often throughout Jo’s birthday do I let myself envisage him standing at the bar insisting on buying a large round of hideous shots to get the drunken drunker and instead of feeling maudlin I felt quite happy and normal and surrounded by lots of family and friends. My first normal, large social gathering all done and ticked off.
Over the last two weeks nighttimes Chez Campbell have been a pain. Teething, colds, general ‘mummy’ clinginess have all meant that I have been up and down like a yoyo to one child or the other. I have tried earlier nights to combat the sleep deprivation but it makes no difference. It really is a form of torture. It is as if both Evie and Isla Baby know when I have stopped clearing up toys, doing washings, attempting paperwork etc and have finally signed off for the night because inevitably as soon as I switch off for standby every day they start their nighttime shenanigans. I almost feel like someone is playing a joke on me and there are night-vision cameras overhead watching the to-ing and fro-ing, moving one baby from one bed to my bed, out of my bed to another bed, then doing the same with the other baby, administering Calpol as I go, and all the while a soundtrack is playing Benny Hill-style music. It’s a disaster.
Colin wasn’t a natural at being involved in the nighttime fiasco times with Evie but he took it on. We did discuss that as he was the main earner it was my duty to get him to work able to function so Mondays to Thursdays it was my fiasco. It changed a bit when I returned to work but I actually didn’t mind because I knew come the weekend there would be a let up and it was MY TIME. This is the one of the biggest drawbacks I have encountered since he died. There is no let up. There is no one to elbow in the back and say ‘it’s your turn’ when the familiar sound of a child cranking up for a squawk happens over the monitor. I am shattered.
I know I am not the first single parent and won’t be the last. I also know that splitting up is no joy either as Colin often reported how nasty it got when during a divorce couples used children as leverage or ammunition against the other. I don’t have the issue of someone taking my time away from my babies or making it difficult for me to see them. Some could argue widowhood is better because there are no arguements with anyone about childrens’ futures but really that’s a whole other discussion. Single parenthood, however it comes, is quite rubbish.
In some ways it hasn’t changed too much for me. Col did let me make most of the day to day decisions for our girls. But what he brought to the table was support when I needed it, love and attention for the girls every single day, time for me to shower of a morning without an audience, fun, future financial planning and, quite a massive part, a person to bounce off the major decision-making with. Last week Isla was ill. Colin would have kept me sane or sent me ballistic, I can’t make my mind up over which it would have been, but at least he would have been part of a discussion over whether she was in need of urgent attention or whether we were being stupid. He was also the one that was doing all the forward planning for their financial security. This now keeps me awake at night when the girls aren’t. When I am lying in bed not sleeping between the ups and downs of child soothing duties I lie there thinking of all the things I now have to do that I didn’t realise he did when I sat with other mothers at work, cafes, toddler classes or NCT meets moaning about stupid husbands. I wish I could take back all the times we argued because I didn’t think he was pulling his weight. He was and I didn’t realise how lucky I was until he was gone. Bring back the huge showdown we had over why had I not supplied what he called ‘a bottom drying cloth’ at Isla’s changing station. I was incensed. He was critcising my mothering skills (bear in mind Isla was six weeks old at the time so probably hormones were still raging). I walked out threatening to take both girls with me to Edinburgh but ended up standing in a freezing cold Earlsfield play park, three minutes around the corner, with my double buggy filled with astonished children and weeping for half an hour while sending him evil text messages until I calmed down. That day I wished I could bring up my children without their idiot father. I was the idiot. Careful what you wish for world.
Colin was not a keeper of things. The one thing he held onto from his childhood was this worn old panda with a scarf around his neck that his Granny had made for it. One of the saddest tales Col ever told me that just made me want to cuddle him was the story of his first weeks at Oakham boarding school where he had come to from Kenya at the age of eleven at his own request. He did his big puppy dog eyes when he related how some of the big boys had stolen Panda and dangled his beloved bear out of the dorm window by his lovingly handcrafted scarf. Poor Panda and poor Col. He used to say this moment had scarred him for life in his overly dramatic way.
In the early days after Col died I gave Evie his Panda and she kept standing on tippytoes with him held as high as she could reach. When I asked her what she was doing she told me she was sending Panda hugs to Daddy. Now Evie has sort of re-adopted Panda in these last few weeks. She doesn’t sleep with him or anything, Big Bunny still holds that special place, but Panda is fished out if Isla is crying as Evie believes he will heal all ills. If I weep I am asked: “Do you need a Panda cuddle?”. Last week Panda had to be taken to nursery along with a photo of Col so that Evie could share with her new friends her daddy’s favourite toy. I was told a few of the staff shed a few tears that day.
Today, Isla Baby, Evie and I all went to Edinburgh Zoo with some friends of mine and we went with our pre-booked slot to see the Zoo’s elusive panda visitors. . The world and his dog may be booking in to see these rare bears but while peering through the glass at the real thing all Evie could talk about was Daddy’s Panda. And rightly so. What’s an endangered species compared to something tangible that she can hold onto as a two-year-old and beyond that belonged to her dead Daddy and that he loved so much he still got misty eyed at 38 when he spoke of it?
Evie and I have played this little tinny iphone video the last two nights before she goes to sleep. She has to watch it over and over until I tell her it is time to lie down and shut her eyes. He would be mortified that I am sharing his baby voice with the world but it really is so wonderful to hear him baby chat or not. She loves it almost as much as me. When it ends she makes the statement: “My daddy in the sky.’ I am not sure if this is now her name for him or if she is just giving me the facts as she knows them.
After meeting over a ridiculous game of pass the fruit at a Sunsail resort in Turkey in 2001 my first proper conversation with Colin was about Edinburgh. I couldn’t quite believe him when he insisted he came from there. I mean he didn’t exactly have the Scottish burr and he also seemed to have missed out on the pale white almost blue skintone many of us Scots have been blessed with. In fact, while on that holiday and on most of our subsequent trips abroad Colin actually got mistaken for a local due to his ability to tan at a wink of a sunray. Anyway, back to where I began, I thought this plummy English fellow was having me on but I started to take him at his word regarding his Edinburgh parentage when he told me his father went to a school called George Watsons, my dad’s school, so he couldn’t really have plucked that name out of nowhere . It all became way too much of a coincidence when we worked out that both our dads had been in the school choir and they were only five years apart. Turns out that this funny man, that looked like a Turk but sounded more RP English than the Queen, had grown up in Kenya but had been born in Edinburgh. I was hooked. Continue reading “London To Edinburgh”