Saturday, 9 March 2013

Exits Right and Left

It’s really been a strange day, and this is not at all the direction that I thought this blog would take.  But if I am now indeed to blog then it would be weird not to recount these incidents.

Yesterday Charlotte came back from her ballet lesson with a letter saying that her teacher had died.  Yes, died, as jarring as that. I have to admit that I thought it was some misplaced joke at first, it was so unexpected.  But there it was in black and white, this lady had been battling cancer without telling anyone at the ballet school she’d set up.  Stoic isn’t the word.

I wasn’t keen for Charlotte to start ballet.  It’s something that rattles against all my feminist sensibilities, and the fact that the only two people I know that continued ballet into their teens have eating disorders did nothing to displace these.  But my mum obviously saw something in ballet that I didn’t and heroically made it her project, not only paying for Charlotte to do ballet but doing most of the dreaded ballet runs too.  And I have been proved wrong, because Charlotte loves it and has somehow assumed the most amazing posture since doing it.  And their teacher, which after all is the point of this, turned out to be this really rather extraordinary eccentric lady, who I totally wasn’t anticipating, and who managed to give them all, regardless of ability, a confidence to just dance for its own sake.

Just before Christmas Charlotte had a ballet exam, and caught flu and missed all the practice sessions.  But she rallied on the day and insisted on sitting the exam, and Miss Moss convinced me to let her try, and even though she flagged afterwards back to her sickbed, and I spent the next few weeks wishing I hadn’t let her set herself up for failure, she passed and passed well, and taught me something about trusting her judgement and letting go.  So while I have continued to rile at the prissiness of rules like ‘no pants under leotards for exams, girls’, on all the counts that really matter I have been proved wrong, and Miss Moss has given Charlotte the most incredible role model in determination and support.  I hope she’ll remember this extraordinary woman.  How could she not?

The second jarring moment of this weekend came tonight when I was reading Guardian Weekend and suddenly came face-to-face with an article written by the widow of Steve, who was my boss eight years ago and who was killed in the Sri Lankan tsunami, along with his children and parents-in-law. 

I remember like it was yesterday that day soon after Christmas the landline going. I was still quite pregnancy-sick with Charlotte, the phone call telling me that Steve had died.  We all knew he was in Sri Lanka with his family as he always was at Christmas, but incredibly hadn’t allowed ourselves to think he might be among those who’d died.  That kind of drama is just too of-another-world to be possible.  There have been countless times I’ve gone over what must have happened, and how on earth any human being can cope with the loss his wife’s suffered, but still seeing it there was a shock.  She’s written a book.

I’ve had a few bosses, and several of them have been amazing, but Steve was a genuine one-off that I know I won’t encounter again.  We were probably all total pains in the arse to him, because everyone respected his opinion so much that we all came to him with problems that in other jobs we would have just dealt with.  Because we knew he’d fix them, that he could always be relied upon to do the right thing.  He was doing really important social research into social exclusion, race and employment, but was doing it not for promotion or acclaim but because that was his life, those were the things that preoccupied him.  I remember seeing him once in a seminar using three different coloured pens to take copious notes, and when I asked him about it later he gave me this enthusiastic and perfectly-formulated answer about the different functions behind the different coloured pens, which made it easier for him to read back and get meaning quickly.  That was Steve all over, genuinely interested in everything he heard, passionate about taking it all in.  He pushed us all to be the best we could.

When we were all writing obituaries, one of my colleagues unforgettably said, ‘Steve made a difference; given time he would have made a great difference.’  In all the ways that mattered, he already had.  He was only my age.  His children were exactly the age Charlotte and Harry are now.  The minute I got that phone call, I knew that I wouldn’t be going back to work for a long time (I used to commute 4 hours a day), that my baby would be the most precious thing in the world, and in an instant these things could disappear.  And she was, and in ways that I totally wasn’t anticipating, but that story’s for another time.

It hasn’t all been like this today at all, of course.  How could life be? The girls went to their gran’s with C and Harry and I hunkered down and had a Star Wars fest.  I have high hopes of Buffy one day for that boy ...

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