Vale Matthew Perry

I’ve not been ignoring him, or his untimely passing, but I have not wanted to write this post.

If you’re new, I don’t “goodbye” any and all notable people when their deaths are announced, but I do like to acknowledge those who meant something to me, impacted my life and share why. We don’t talk enough about grief; while at the same time the media glorifies death.

We’re seeing atrocities on the news daily, with barely fuzzed out images of the worst of human behaviour. I’ve chosen how I consume news for many reasons, that being one of them. Flying a drone over Mr Perry’s house and garden really upset me; not least because of the amount of times those images appeared online across different outlets. I don’t want to spend this post talking about that, so let’s just agree – if you did it? You are an arsehat. You’re also an arsehat for repeatedly sharing it.

Like many people in the UK in the 90s, I tuned into Channel 4 to watch Friends from the get-go. As we know, it grew like topsy, and being pre-internet, they relied on magazines and print media to feed the frenzy around the water coolers. At one point the Radio Times or Readers Digest did a quiz on, “100 things every Friends fan should know”, I didn’t know three of the things.

I’ve been practicing talking out loud for weeks now, getting used to verbalising my ideas. One of the things I’m doing to practice are ‘interviews’, where I watch a youtube video and then give my answers. From sensible to stupid, including who was my ideal man, a few short days before he died, Matthew Perry was mine. I said this to a friend on the phone last week, I can’t describe it other than that – Matthew Perry was mine. Not that he ever was remotely, I’m not delusional.

I loved all six of the main actors, then and now. The tight unit they formed was first shown when they negotiated their salaries together, yes it was a silly amount of money. But would you like to attend a funeral for one of your best friends and have people taking long-range photos of you?

More than a few actors have said in interviews, they act for free. The money they get paid for the intrusion into their lives and their families’ lives is what they get compensated for. The incessant snark about all of the principal cast of Friends in one way or another has been dispiriting. From marriages to divorces, including childless to children; from working to not working; from working but never repeating the same successes (!), all six of them have been unfairly labelled as failures in one way or another.

The vitriol served hottest on a plate was for Matthew Perry. When his autobiography came out, more bile followed. Slanted pieces on him being narcissistic and sharing his story in the first place. News flash daily fail, that is what an autobiography is, or is that two syllables too many?

After the book had been out for a while, he admitted what he said wondering why some people lived when others didn’t, was stupid and mean and would be corrected in later versions. (BTW, his editor should have called him out on it before it had gone to print).

It wasn’t until people were reading the book, only then did people realise how ill he was, and for how long. He was sober on Friends for one year, the year he was nominated for an Emmy.

If you struggle with any kind of addiction; you know it is not a normal state of mind to live with, or in. Listening to Stephen Gilchrist Glover, on Diary of a CEO podcast with Steven Bartlett in July, he talked frankly about his addiction. I’ve been thinking about the conversation off and on since then, wondering how to connect the dots, because of how deep this resonated within me:

It is the most profound gift ever… As upsetting as alcoholism and drug addiction is, it’s the only disease where once you treat it, you become a better version of yourself than you were before. That’s really incredible to me, because with any other disease, the best you can hope for is to get back to as healthy as you were before you got sick. But for us sober alcoholics and addicts, we genuinely become better versions of ourselves.

Stephen Gilchrist Glover

It’s months later, that quote is not where I thought I’d use it. I can’t believe I’m sharing it writing about the death of Matthew Perry.

Stephen Glover, professionally recognised as Steve-O, knows he can’t get away from the Jackass / stuntman alter ego, but also knows he is not Steve-O. Osher Günsberg talked about changing his name on a recent The Imperfects podcast, because he wanted a different name as a marker to seperate drinking him from not-drinking him.

I’ve been in rooms where I’ve done a double-take because there’s so and so off the telly-box. When you are in the rooms, people depend that we it/they/we/are anonymous, not because it is shameful or something to be hidden, but we need to speak freely and honestly about some really serious shit.

You declare your intention not to drink or use each and every day. When you go into a room, you are there because you’re doing your daily practice. Occasionally, you rock up to a room because you’re strong enough to help someone. Sometimes you rock up because you need help. Over the pandemic, it could have been all three.

What I love about the framework it gives you though, and the reason it works, (I said at the beginning of this video), is it as simple as it is profound. When you ask for help in a room, people will give you a lifebelt, or hold you above the water, or even get in the boat with you and row you to safety if you’re not safe with yourself and your thoughts.

We know that society has made it hard to ask for help, even for the smallest of things. People offering to help is rarer, watch how many people drive past someone with a flat tyre. Asking for help with addiction is huge, but there is a global army of people willing to help you; because we’ve been there, and we know we’re stronger together.

In any 12 step program, you show up, you do the work and you count the days. You count the days because when you’re in a full-roar of a craving, getting through five minutes can take all your energy and it is a talisman to hold on to. That talisman helps you, because as soon as you’ve clicked over 24 hours, Day One is done. Each day reminds you of how far you’ve come and if you relapse (which everyone will, at least once), neural pathways don’t shut off. You don’t go back to day one of knowledge, but you do go back to day one of sobriety. You work the steps to help yourself. As you get better, you deepen your knowledge and understanding by helping others. The joy is in the journey.

As he promoted the book, Matthew Perry knew that when he died, everyone would talk about Friends first. However, he wanted people to talk about how he found sobriety, specifically how he helped others. Sharing in the book that he’d done so much damage to his body that he was put into a coma; or he’d lost all of his top teeth; that he’d had umpteen operations to mend his damaged digestive system (opiates slows everything down); talking about what he had done to his body – waiving his anonymity to help others.

The creators of the show, the guest stars, the people he worked with, the five remaining Friends, all shared about how much he gave to others. In the middle of his addiction, Lisa Kudrow said, “Thank you for showing up for work when you weren’t well and then, being completely brilliant.”

There is a scene in a movie with Bruce Willis where Matthew Perry charges into a glass door, I can’t find it online because it’s not the short scene in the trailer for the Whole Nine Yards. It may be in the Whole Ten Yards, anyway he’s running down a hill, full tilt – Bruce Willis watching him. He fully commits to the bit and slams off the door.

It sounds like he fully committed to himself like he did to his career. By all accounts, the past few years of sobriety brought peace to his life. I love that the last picture on his instagram is him sitting in his pool, looking out over the skyline he loved so much.

I don’t need to know how he died, we need to remember he lived.

Vale Joss Ackland

In last Friday’s embrace & encourage newsletter, I made a passing reference to the Pet Shop Boys. In particular the video to Always on My Mind with Joss Ackland, hamming it up in the back seat of an ancient Ford Consul. Today, Monday, we heard that Mr Ackland passed peacefully, surrounded by family and friends at 95 years old.

An extraordinarily gifted actor; his face could convey the deepest of emotions with the smallest shift of his eyes. At the end of They Do it With Mirrors, (he plays Lewis Serrocold, married to a childhood friend of Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple), right at the end of the TV movie there’s a tight close-up of Joss Ackland in profile. As another character challenges his; the very uptight, very middle-class English man, who’s world is falling in around him, he’s fighting his emotions and the realisation that this is it. From a distance the facade would have looked in place. His eyes tear up, his voice breaks, we only see it because of how close in the camera is. The next scene is him in a pond, he repeats,”Eddie!” and manages to convey a different emotion each time.

I would like to say that I knew this, given Agatha Christie is a specialised subject of mine, but I dug out the DVD to double-check I’d not misremembered it.

Joss Ackland had an extraordinary career on stage and screen, with every possible base covered, (including The Mighty Ducks). Looking at the reaction and memories being shared of him, he was well-loved and respected by his peers too.

That is all you could ask for isn’t it?

Vale Dame AS Byatt

This morning, I woke to the news that Dame Antonia Susan Duffy DBE HonFBA, had passed away at 87. Until I’d finished this blog post, I hadn’t realised that she shaped me in a way that almost no other person has.

For a while in a previous life, I worked in a bookshop. Equal parts both bliss and fatal. I ran the children’s department after cashing up in the morning from the trading the day before. Unusually, we had two branches of the same chain in the city. One was a considerably larger shop in a shopping centre/mall that had more room for authors to do large signings in. I once saw the back of Terry Pratchett’s head.

The shop I worked in was in an old building; double-fronted, with floor-to-ceiling windows. One of which I once nearly fell out of when Colin Firth walked in on a visit to his parents, who lived in Winchester. It was nearly Christmas 2003 when Love Actually was out. We had floor-to-ceiling posters advertising the tie-in materials all over the shop. I may or may not have photocopied his till receipt with his signature on. We hosted smaller signing sessions; Isabelle Allende, Santa Montefiore and her husband, Simon Sebag Montefiore. His mother, Phyllis was regular and a hoot. She was a very proud parent, moving both Santa and Simon’s books to the front of the store every time she came in.

By the way, we also had a fantastic Oxfam second-hand bookshop in the town. I’d regularly visit, both to drop books off and to peruse their stock. After wondering around for a bit on one visit, I found a book I’d not read in ages. I brought it, opened it on the bus on the way home and found my name in it.

In early 2004, the company sponsored the Art and Mind festival in Winchester. We all took it turns to run whatever pop-up shop we needed to be at, dragging and pushing a trolley up and down kerbs. On one Saturday morning, after cashing up, I toddled up to the theatre for the back-end of Antony Gormley’s talk. That same evening, after working all afternoon, I went to a cafe for AS Byatt’s talk. I had never read any of her work, but I was being paid overtime to go. I chose it as it was smaller venue, and the event after hers didn’t include selling books. When she was done talking, I was done for the day. (Finding the program online for this; why the frick I didn’t volunteer for Brian Eno, I have no idea. This event was after Christmas Eve debacle of changing the entire shop to Boxing Day before we could go home; but before the brouhaha when Order of the Phoenix came out. I was on shift for 18 hours, had a complete sense of humour failure about the whole thing and changed jobs shortly afterwards).

Anyhoo, Antony Gormley was fabulous; answering every question about his work, and didn’t leave until after everyone had the chance to talk with him. The Angel of the North hadn’t long been in situ, my Australian/USA readers, if you’re ever in the UK, it is stunning. However, Domain Field was what he was talking about. A few years later, I was given tickets to the last weekend of Blind Light, which was one of the most disconcerting experiences of my life; but that is for another blog, for another day as I’ve gone off on enough tangents as it is.

Antonia walked in with her husband, Peter Duffy; she’d kept her previous married name to write under. Peter sat off to the side and watched her proudly as she held the room in the palm of her hand. The time flew by, I’d gone because I’d had to. I’d gone as I was being paid to sit there. Instead, I listened. She talked about how writing the perfect sentence was elusive and entirely what she sought to do each day. She thought she might have written one, once.

I see her now, practically being shoved out the door by Peter, so they didn’t miss their train, while still trying to finish her point over her shoulder. She had been gracious with her time too, and opened my eyes to what I’d been missing. Up until this point, while I’d read voraciously all my life, I’d ignored literary fiction. Other than the Classics, I avoided it.

To me, Booker Prize winner meant ‘hard work’, I didn’t want to chew through books, I wanted to fly through them. After hearing Antonia talk, I stood in front of the shelves and chose the least daunting cover of her books. I didn’t read any of the blurbs on the back of any of them to choose a story. I couldn’t, as there were no synopsis printed on them. Publishers, being told how wonderful a book is, while giving me no idea about what it’s about seriously gives me the irrits.

Consequently I went in to Possession completely cold. I read it over the course of a week, turned it around and read it again. I re-read it at least once a year, and not one person that I’ve recommended it to has ever not liked it. Which is really just as well, because if you didn’t like it, 1. I would think you’re crazy and 2. would have to reassess my opinion of you.

I am so jealous of people who have not read the book, because the world she created is stunning and it is waiting in front of you. The characters central to the book are on a collision course across time; it all starts by the chance finding of a draft of a letter, folded into a book. Two Victorian poets, Christabel LaMott and Randolph Henry Ash, who had lived relatively small, quiet lives; although his success was greater than hers (natch), are now subjected to scholars pouring over their every written word. Items of correspondence, even their families and friends’ letters and household diaries; every time pen was put to paper it is examined in detail, on both sides of the Atlantic. From the dusty shelves of a British library, where it costs you to photocopy a page; to the unlimited resources of American backers and a portable photocopier in a suitcase. That unfinished letter unfolds a mystery that had hidden in plain sight. All the scholars around the world who’d spent their academic careers pouring over every word? Everyone had missed it and everyone misunderstood.

I will be forever grateful for that time spent in her company. That one evening listening to AS Byatt talk changed my reading career. Twenty-three years ago, she gave me a gift that has been paid forward a hundred times over. I cherish that she gave me permission to try. Since then, I’ve never looked back from hard books, books that challenge me, books that make me feel deeply.

The pet I’ll never forget

The Grauniad are running a nice series of people sharing about the pets they’ll never forget. As soon as I started reading, I knew I’d have to put my twopenn’orth in.

I’ve lived with cats all my life, please note – none of their names are used as passwords!

Susie was the first one, a black and white longish haired cat that my parents gave a home to when her owners emigrated. She used to sit under my pram or baby bouncer, was forever getting in the coal hole (I’m that old), would climb out the bathroom window to sleep on the sill, on the second story of our house. She lived a long and happy life.

Sooty came next, I wanted to call her Midnight, but Sooty was her name and the only thing she answered to. She was a rehome from the Cats Protection League. I can still remember Mum and Dad opening the cardboard box at my grandparents’ house and her jumping out. She was beautiful, would forget what she was doing in the middle of washing herself, see picture below. My brother and I could have a couple of biscuits in bed over the weekend, anything to help our parents lie in a bit, I used to put my two under my pillow, as you do. Sooty would wait for me to give her bits of the biscuits to eat when they’d softened up a bit. She also lived a long and happy life, but struggled with polyps in her ears. She had a couple of surgeries to help, but when the vet suggested to remove her entire ear canal to stop them growing back, I made the decision to have her put to sleep. That was a surgery too far. We took her to be buried at my Grandparents’ house, as they used to look after her when we went on holiday.

Beaky arrived while we had Sooty, she was advertised in the newsletter at Mum’s work as being free to a good home, otherwise she’d be euthanised. Mum decided there and then that was not on, so sent Dad to get her on his way back from work one day via Brighton. She yowled so badly in the box on the passenger seat on the way home, Dad opened it to put his hand in. Beaky spent the rest of the trip back paws on the box, front paws on the dashboard looking out the windscreen. She was our first tortie, and got her name from the orange patch down her nose which made her look like an owl. She was Dad’s cat through and through and tolerated the rest of us. We took her to the vet when she was licking her belly clean of fur, to be told she needed HRT. We struggled daily to get the tablet down her, until Dad dropped it on the floor one night, and she just ate it. From there on, he’d come home from work, open the packet, drop the tablet on the floor, she’d eat it.

I moved out of home, moved back, moved out, moved back. In and out like a fiddler’s elbow. On one longer stay at home, I went to the Cats Protection League and asked for a female cat, the house felt odd without having a cat charging around. I went to a foster home that had a whole series of pens in their garden. Only one female cat was there; as I walked in to one oversized rabbit hutch I squeezed past a male British Blue kitten. Then I met Fluffy. She clung onto me like I was a life-raft, refusing to let go as I reversed my way out the hutch. I took her home, opened the box and she fell in love with Dad. We didn’t know that she’d been rehome from someone who lived almost directly behind us. They found her in their nursery, sleeping in the cot. They were worried about her sleeping with the baby, so surrendered her. One night, Fluffy went to visit them, almost like to say ‘I’m just over there, and I’m OK.’ She was another black cat, fluffy, like her name would suggest.

I moved out again. I got married, we rehomed Branston and Pickle from another branch of the Cats Protection. They were tiny, Branston used to curl up in a six-egg carton. When she’d outgrown it, she would push it around the floor as it made a good sound. Both were torties, Pickle was white with patches of colour, Branston the whole tortie shebang. My first husband was in the Army, so we moved a lot. Branston wasn’t fazed, but Pickle couldn’t cope with it and was really stressed. It broke my heart to rehome her, but she found the stable home she needed. When the marriage imploded, I went to live with Mon Bears, who had a house rabbit. Not wanting to come downstairs one day to find a pair of ears and a tail on the floor, I asked Mum and Dad to look after Branston until I’d got myself back on my feet again. She promptly decided she was now Dad’s cat. They got a pet passport for her, and took her all over Europe camping as they went from kite festival to kite festival. She would travel happily around, secure under the caravan and wherever Dad was. I went back to the UK for my brother’s 40th birthday. (That was a palaver in itself, I’ll put the blog post up under Revisited and link to it). I opened the door to their house, called out ‘Branston’ and she came flying down the stairs. A few months later, she woke both my parents up in the middle of the night with a yowl; made sure they were both there and slipped away.

Dad’s decline into Alzheimer’s sees him asking about where the cat has gone, wondering where she is, why did Mum get rid of her. It’s heartbreaking for both of them.

Then we get to the real reason moggie for this post. But I need to stop typing for a bit.

OK, I’m back.

Chief Brody was another rescue. We went to the Cats Protection League in the town we lived in with our son, who was 18 months old. I wanted to get a kitten he could grow up with. They only had two kittens in; it was the tail end of the season, but we’d been interstate over Christmas and wanted to get the cat when we’d got back home. There was another couple walking through on the left side of the room, we opened the door and got yelled at by an indignant medium haired champagne tabby on the right side of the room. As he climbed up the cage to get to us; our son, A pointed at him. That was settled then!

I’d never had a male cat before, but Chief Brody (named for the movie Jaws) was the most loving, softest, stupidest, daftest cat anyone could wish for. I’d call him in at sunset, (there’s a cat curfew to mitigate them hunting native wildlife), he’d come leaping across fences, yelling at me. He’d sleep on my pillow at night, curled around my head, would sit on my shoulders as I walked about the house and despite his bulk and his fur, was fastidiously clean. He had a litter box upstairs and downstairs in our old house, but barely used them, only when it was too hot for him to go outside, and only after much yelling, would he begrudgingly visit.

Right at the beginning of the pandemic, he’d came back inside one Sunday morning, was sitting, licking his belly with his leg stuck in the air. I took a photo and posted about him having an existential crisis. When I picked him up, I realised his tummy was swollen. I called the vet to ask for an emergency appointment. I took him in and was told to wait in the car. This was at the height of, we don’t know what’s going on, but we’re keeping people apart as much as we can.

I had a phone call with the vet, alone in my car, who told me that he had crystals in his bladder, because he wouldn’t use the litter trays, we hadn’t seen that he’d not peed for a couple of days and was now backed up. If we wanted to, we could try surgery, but she wasn’t sure it would work.

I called my husband, in hysterics. We made the decision to put him to sleep. I was allowed in the room with him as he slipped away in my arms. I miss him still.

30 things that make me happy

Daily writing prompt
List 30 things that make you happy.

In no particular order

  1. Our son, who makes me laugh every day.
  2. Our little family.
  3. Kubo, our new dog. In a week he’s already changed how we act as a family, I’m getting out for a walk with him twice a day most days.
  4. Reading, I read two books on Saturday and finished off a third on Sunday.
  5. Leeloo, she is adjusting to having the dog in the house. I love that she sleeps under the covers with me.
  6. Our bed, it’s a Sleeping Duck mattress and frame. We brought a harder side mattress for the husband and a softer side for me. With cotton sheets and an electric blanket, it’s my favourite place to be.
  7. A long, hot bath. Preferably with a book.
  8. Coffee, (was higher up, but thought the better of it)
  9. House plants.
  10. The days beginning to draw out, as we inch towards Spring.
  11. Being able to get washing on the line when it’s not raining.
  12. Candles, nightlights.
  13. The Thermomix, it’s a T31. It was so expensive, I named it Nellie. As an aside, with a lifetime guarantee, I ain’t buying a new fangled one with a chip, so stop emailing me.
  14. My coven *twirls moustaches*
  15. Food in the pantry and a roof over our head.
  16. Open windows and a breeze blowing through the house.
  17. Dinner with family and / or friends.
  18. Laughing till my sides hurt.
  19. Stationery. I have too much, but still like perusing.
  20. Haberdashery shops, UK version – patterns, buttons, sewing supplies, fabric rolls.
  21. Libraries. We must protect them at all costs.
  22. Halloween Decorations.
  23. Going out for breakfast.
  24. The kitchen clean, all the dishes away before we go to bed at night.
  25. Squidging my toes into sand.
  26. The feeling you get when you’ve exercised, hard.
  27. 475 days alcohol free.
  28. Elephants.
  29. Edna Mode.
  30. Honeydew Green or Matcha green tea in the morning; black tea in the afternoon, Assam, Earl Grey, French Earl Grey – I don’t mind.
Picture of a white coffee mug on a rustic table. There's an open journal with text over, saying 'May your coffee always be served with love'.