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.
Last weekend I stood looking out at a beautiful view from Culzean Castle being hugged. That hug turned into a marriage proposal. I never imagined I would be in that happy place. But oh my god it felt and feels rather wonderful. It’s funny how when you’re not looking for something or someone, life can throw something your way that’s wonderful. I’ve got used to spanners being thrown into my life not big fat positive love stories.
To recap. When Colin died I spent a year only alone. It wasn’t long enough. I met someone and I thought yippee I’ve solved that hole in our lives. I was wrong. I got it quite wrong but it was no one’s fault and actually it was all part of our journey, perhaps I needed it to see what I had been so wrong about to get to where we are. At the end, after lots of heartache, I felt quite happy that it was going to be just me and the girls. Just us. I actually felt triumphant. I was also very much not looking for someone. I was still sad that me and the girls were in the position we were in without Colin but the pain of his loss was no longer unbearable. A future of just me and them was very appealing after so much turmoil. My feminist side was jubilant. So when one of my best friends texted with a potential date almost eight months ago I was very much anti it. More than that actually. But she’s a persuasive woman. So I passed on my number and almost immediately in came this message that was funny, interesting and warranted an answer.
It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a learning curve. We both have had dark times and we both have kids we are very mindful of who’ve been through an awful lot in their short lives. But it’s been one of the best times of my life and I’ve never seen my kids this happy. And I know it’s only the beginning. And… well that’s it. Our new chapter begins. Colin is still with us in our hearts. The girls are so in love with their daddy they don’t remember but they are also pleased to be part of one big crazy modern blended family that gets more crazy by the day right now. People may judge. People may not. I don’t actually worry. I can’t change how I’ve handled things up to now but going forward I think everyone that matters is pretty ecstatic that this whirlwind has occurred. Bring it on.
Five years. Half a decade. 1,828 days. 157,939,200 seconds. 2,632,320 minutes 43,872 hours. 261 weeks. Whatever unit of time I use it feels too bloody long since I distractedly said goodbye to my husband as he left the house in a flurry to go and play tennis. How can I have survived the half decade that I have since Colin’s heart stopped working at 3.01 on a south London road on Saturday 25th February 2012. When I saw that policeman’s uniform through the windows of my front door I didn’t think I could live a minute without him let alone five whole years. The 25th of February 2012 is the day that my whole life changed completely and forever and somehow this year feels worse than year one, two, three or four. The world has spun me so very far away from him now and the pain may has multiplied with every eon. And now sometimes he feels like a figment of my imagination.
When Col spoke of his dad he always spoke with such admiration and pride. He described him as ‘nails’ or ‘afraid of nothing’. He told me one story many times of when, growing up in Nairobi, he and his sister nicola had been petrified by the appearance of a huge spider the size of a fully grown man’s hand (col was always one for exaggeration but he insisted this wasn’t one) near the house or in the garage (I wish I could ask him which, but I can’t). Col described his dad as calmly coming to the rescue and scooping up the giant arachnid on a postcard, Continue reading “In Memory of Poppa”
Recently, Evie has started this habit of standing in front of me, relaxed and conversational, with her hand down the back of her pants. This is not learned behaviour I can assure you. But I know someone who used to do the very same when he was around. Isn’t genetics a funny old thing? Aside from hanging out with his hand in his boxers while holding a nonchalent conversation, Colin was also a terrible tease. He teased everyone about everything. Isla is developing the same trait. Her latest trick when you ask her for a kiss is to walk towards you all puckered up. Just when you commit yourself to her snotty pout she turns on her heel and walks away, laughing as she goes. It’s hilarious. Well, I think so. And when I said at Col’s funeral that the only way to get through was to see him through his girls, well I didn’t know it would be so literal. Everyday there is another little Colinism coming through in each of them. But perhaps I will train Evie to take her hands out of her pants. It never worked on her father but you never know.
Colin lived a good life and I don’t believe he had many regrets. However, we did talk over the years about some that he did have and the most burning ones were not marrying earlier (!!!) and not having children before he did (double !!!). The other main regret he had though was losing touch with childhood friends. He spoke about this often. He had a very close friend in Kenya called Mark and all the best times he had in Nairobi seemed to involve Mark. Physical distance, time and Colin’s self-confessed laziness in keeping an address book seemed to have been the main factors in them losing touch. He also mentioned a few school friends from Oakham that he wished he knew as an adult but again he knew that he wasn’t great at making an effort so shrugged his shoulders but did little about sussing them out.
I met Colin when he was 28. I remember his address book and it is no wonder he had no idea how to find people. This scrappy pale blue book with leaves falling out all over the place was filled with scribbled numbers and first names in the wrong places alongside hurried random notes on motorway directions. So all in all I was never very surprised when he said he didn’t know where anyone from earlier years was and how to contact them. He admitted that the reason he was still so close to all his amazing university friends was not due to any hard work on his part but entirely down to a one-man wonder of keeping up the effort – Matthew Bowden. If it wasn’t for Matt I am not sure Colin would have any friends pre-dating 2001 (the year we met) aside from his best friend Ed.
I am sad for Colin that it has taken his death for me to meet any childhood friends that would no doubt have been quite formative in making the man I fell in love with. At his memorial service one of his fellow boarders from Oakham School came forward to me and gave me a glimpse of the Colin that turned up in England from Africa aged 11, bewildered and befuddled, and who turned into a popular school friend among his year. The ‘Colin’ this old friend, Liam, described sounded so similar to the man I knew. He was messy, funny and good to know. It made me smile on a difficult day and I am grateful to Liam for speaking to me.
Since then I have thought about his other friends that this lovely Liam alluded to and wondered if they also had stories of Colin from those days. I have been receiving so many lovely memorial cards from the service from people from Colin’s more recent life and as I read them I think gosh I wonder what stories I have lost with his death, stories that he won’t be able to reccount to his children as they go through their school days and find friendships for themselves. Then last night I picked up a Facebook message from another name from Colin’s past and it was as if he knew these regrets were passing through my head. Charles had heard of Colin’s death from Liam and it seems that some of Colin’s Oakham contemporaries have been sharing Colin stories on emails. Charles contacted me out of nowhere after hunting me out on Facebook and I am so grateful for this too. Imagine the coincidence. I am replying to his message as we speak and asking for as many anecdotes as those who knew the skinny boy from Kenya can muster. Photos too. I have one photo of Colin from school years and I can’t wait to see more. Are they the ones that called him ‘Something something putput chicken runner’? Can they remember the actual nickname I have so badly made up from a weak memory of it?
When someone dies often their stories die with them and I almost feel like holding an amnesty on tales of Colin so I have the richest of tapestries to share with Evie and Isla. So please anyone out there that is either holding fast onto that memorial card wanting to write the right thing or who didn’t come to Temple Church that day of his service because they weren’t able to or have only recently learnt of his death but want to write to me in a letter or a card but don’t know what to say, I say to you just write me a little story of the Colin I wouldn’t have known from that day I met him at 28 or the person who I didn’t see in our little day-to-day life. I don’t want to lose the history of those first years of Colin William Campbell and neither do I want to lose a privileged glimpse of the man he became. Photos welcome too.
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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.