Revisiting, For Erika

Revisiting, For Erika

This was the eulogy I gave for my friend, back in 2019.

Before I start, a bit of housekeeping: if there are any people with children here, let them be noisy – don’t shush them and take them out. I can wait and work around you. That being said, I am likely to swear a little bit and I will cry, you will also have to work around me. If anyone wants to come and stand beside me while I do this, thank you. Lastly, this looks long, but it is only really spaced out, so I can read it through my tears.

When Ian asked me if I wanted to speak today; he said I could send my words to Jane who would then read it out for me. But if Erika taught me anything; it was to get up and get on with it, even when you didn’t want to. Just keep going. 

For many of you, the past few weeks would have been a blur. I’m all over the place, I’m only here from Melbourne for a week. I don’t know my arse from my elbow, although I know it is Tuesday but only because I’m here in a dress talking to you. I started a new job the week before Erika died; I’m still in that learning new processes, period of confusion and breaking in a new boss limbo. We’ve also only just got Archie back to school after his two weeks winter holidays. Add the fact it is bitterly cold in Melbourne at the moment, is not helping my confusion on this beautiful day.

None of that matters though, because I simply cannot fathom I am never going to see Erika again; that she won’t get to meet Archie; that I can’t post Princess Bride quotes on Facebook while I’m watching the movie, that she’ll like every single one of them and volley them back at me; or that whenever I see a rabbit, kitten or Metallica video, I can no longer share it with her.

In fact, it’s inconceivable.

But I don’t want to stand here and rattle on about how awful it is, as every one of us is feeling that, the Man in Black reminded us that ‘Life is Pain Highness, and anyone who says differently is selling you something.’

‘Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.’ That quote is from Glennon Doyle Melton. 

Most of the poems on bereavement I found, are awful and not Erika. Death is nothing at all? Bull shit. Death is everything. I know it is only technically the opposite of birth; but it also the full stop at the end of a sentence in a paragraph that many of us were still writing. That quote was me. 

We celebrate births, then dither about what to say when someone dies. What I want to try to do today is celebrate Erika, to try and share with you how daft we were together, how much she shaped and helped my life over the past fifteen or so years.

We met in the early 2000s at a clothing company based in Andover, specialising in selling clothes to grumpy old women who would complain, vociferously, about anything and everything. Helen and I sat opposite each other in customer service; Erika was in an office next door. Before I go any further, can we also acknowledge that Helen’s beloved Dad passed away a couple of weeks ago, his funeral is on Thursday, let’s all give our love to her and her family too?

James Meade clothing was all hideous print blouses, high waist trousers and mostly polyester. If you walked too quickly through the warehouse, you could set it on fire. 

Customers would phone up and complain about buying a hideous print blouse, for it to be on sale after they’d brought it. They wanted their money back. Their parcel hadn’t arrived. They wanted their money back. The colour in the catalogue of this blouse was red, you sent me scarlet. They wanted their money back. 

A never ending stream of vitriol and bile which was not helped by calls being held in a queue for us to answer. If you answer a call and put people on hold to tell them their call is in a queue, it costs them money. The customers would only hear a phone ringing and ringing and ringing; they didn’t understand, or care, that we were all flat-chat on calls until we got to answer theirs. They wanted their money back.

Erika was away when I started, I bustled into the lunch room one day and saw her sitting there. I told her she looked like she needed a hug. So I gave her a hug. She then told me that she’d just got back to work after burying her Dad and she needed that hug. I probably gave her another one just to make sure.

We had an archaic vending machine in that lunch room, where you’d put your money in and hope you’d get what you asked for. One day I asked for Maltesers, but they got stuck. I went to find the key to open it, in the meantime, Helen had also asked for Maltesers and, of course, got two packets for the price of one. Helen just thought ‘Result!’ and promptly shared them out. I got back to the lunch room and shrieked ‘You Bitch-Troll-From-Hell!’ to much hilarity and the name stuck. I was re-christened Maddie-lion and Erika was Furriner.

We all took the day off one day to have a Bar-B-Que at my house. We went to the butchers in Ludgershall, then the supermarket, and ended up with enough food to feed the five thousand. Over the day, Helen and I bombarded Erika with British culture, including Bagpuss, and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life which she watched in either bemused horror, or bemused amusement at our hysterics. We’d also all got firmly stuck into cider, which made Helen’s task of making a dress to wear for an upcoming night out more difficult than it needed to be. Feeling slightly shady, she was worried it was a bit too short after she’d got carried away and tried to even the hem up. Sending Erika out to her car to get some fancy shoes to see what the dress looked like with heels on, Helen wiggled into the dress while I refreshed the ciders. Erika tottered back with two shoes. They were both black, but not a pair and both for the left foot.

I am so blessed with my close friends; I call them my coven for all the cackling and mayhem we create. In truth, I have many best friends, those people that when you meet up with them, it is like no time has passed.

Before the age of smartphones, Erika never had her phone on. It was either off all together, or on but on silent at the bottom of her bag, or on but had no charge. To get around this, I would text Ian, then ring him, he’d pass his phone over to her, we’d chat for hours. 

Then my world collapsed. My first husband decided he was leaving me. I can still see this day so clearly, I left my desk at work with my phone and called Erika. Her phone was charged, on, and sitting on her desk when I rang. 

Erika sent Ian to come and get me. Initially I stayed with them for a couple of nights. When I was told I had to move out of the house I had lived in with the ex-husband, she told me I was moving in with them. She wasn’t going to have me living in a council flat on my own. They helped me pack up my stuff, going backwards and forwards to try and collect everything over one weekend.

Amanda who I worked with at Sandhurst was on the phone with her sister Sara one day. Did Amanda know anyone who wanted to work as a PA in the Chairman’s office at Cable&Wireless? Amanda knew of the situation I was in and suggested I would be ok, and that I needed a new opportunity. Mum brought me a suit for the interview as I’d lost so much weight, nothing smart enough I had fitted me any more. When I got the job, I surveyed my wardrobe. I had precisely four outfits to wear to work. Getting worried about my severe lack of clothes; Erika reminded me that as they had dress-down Friday, I would wear jeans. That, when I got paid in a couple of weeks, I could buy a top or two. Now get out there and do it.

Erika and Ian let me stay rent-free while I got my life together again. I’d buy the groceries when we all went to the market, or treat her to John Freida’s Frizz Ease, as she’d never buy it for herself. Other times I’d be home, the front door would open and Ian would say ‘I smell cleaning products’. He’d also have to announce ‘I am coming up the stairs’ after he scared me shitless that many times by apparently just apparating into my bedroom.

Mon Bears took me to France for a weekend away. It had been a long day driving over, I decided to take my contact lenses out in the carpark of Carrefour as my eyes were itchy and dry, I was using disposable ones then. But before I could put one into a tissue to throw it away, it flew off and got stuck on a windscreen. Ian and I have been reminiscing over phone calls and messenger, he reminded me that ‘I had to separate the two of you before you could stop laughing’. 

Erika, Wiz along with the rest of my coven, nursed me back to health, back to life. 

Wiz, Erika and I would have tat competitions. Trying to find the worst thing we could as a holiday souvenir. The only caveat was it couldn’t be an outright souvenir, like a fridge magnet, or shot glass. It took some effort I can tell you to find things. I have a variety of memories from all over England, but my favourite is a tray from Montreal that would maybe hold a tea-cup, but only if empty. Truly useless.

Erika asked for the recipe for my sticky rice, not realising that I’m just hopeless at cooking it. She made a soup for Ian and I from the left over veggies after a roast dinner, whizzed it up, then realised she’d left a bay leaf in – so painstakingly sieved it all out. We’d bake for hours to make scones, biscuits and cakes to raise money or to take to offices for birthdays. Leaving the kitchen in a trail of destruction, and Ian to do all the dishes. One day Erika and Ian were coming over for lunch with Dan and I in Portsmouth. I was on the phone to Erika trying to navigate them in to the car park under our building when they drove past me walking to the store at the end of the block, as I’d just found a huge, surprised grasshopper in the bag of salad. 

I moved to Australia in 2008 to be with Dan, Erika gave me a Jasper thumb stone, auspicious for long journeys. Dan and I married in 2009, with Wiz and Erika arriving at the ceremony with wedding tat from the same Clintons range. A truly shitty wedding frame and a cake slice that was so plastic you’d either break it entirely, or fling the cake across the room if you’d attempted to use it. Erika put a wedding album together for us, and even with our official photos, we’ve never needed to put together another one. Then our Archie arrived in 2011, the Jasper stone also came into the theatre when I had to have Archie by emergency c-section. Erika sent a package of love to him, with post-it notes on everything, painstakingly telling me what, why and when she’d found things for us.

Our friendship slipped a little for a couple of years; life got in the way for all of us.

I’ve come back to the UK twice before this trip. Once for my brother’s wedding, again for his 40th. On my last trip here, Mon Bears came and got me from Wiz and Jim’s house, we drove around, not sure where to go and ended up at the seaside. We walked along the prom, eating ice cream. We went to lunch and talked and talked and talked. The bridges that were broken were mended.

I knew I’d be coming back for a funeral at some point, but I never thought the first one would be for Erika. Again, it’s inconceivable.

Ian, being Ian, apologised he had to break the news to me over the phone that Erika had gone. He has been humbled and amazed at the messages he’s received. Ian has told me that people he didn’t even know existed have sent him messages, and he knows they knew Erika because of how they describe her.

From her lary leggings at zumba, to her stamps and crafty buddies, to Charli at the Wakkie Hair company doing her hair, given free reign with colour and cuts. From Erika’s love of the sublime to the ridiculous, including, but not limited to: Harry Potter, heavy metal, rabbits, kittens, sci-fi books, Stargate, Dungeons and Dragons, Red Dwarf, The Hairy Bikers and Nigella, chicken wings and chee-bor-gays, both our fridges groaning with condiments, the airer that she hated me hanging washing on, but she loved me so accepted it; she taught me how to fold a fitted sheet instead of rolling it up into a ball and hoping for the best. Her absolute love of self, the endless selfies, she truly was “This is me”, I’ve so many memories. Such a long receipt of love to show everyone. 

It only remains for me to say, “As you wish”

Revisiting, #MeToo

Revisiting, #MeToo

Cover of Tarana Burke's book, Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement

I’m reading Tarana Burke’s Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement. It’s not an easy read; but the interviews Tarana’s been giving have told me, the book is a necessary one. It’s also a book that Brené Brown said in their conversation on Unlocking Us, “You start reading as one person, and end as another.”

I’ve archived my personal blog, but have been ruminating on cross-pollinating some posts to this website. On my walk this morning with Tarana’s words ringing in my head, and indelibly across my heart, here’s the first post I’m re-sharing.

Any posts I add to this website from my personal blog will be labelled ‘Revisiting’.


Originally published on 17 December 2017.

As we approach the festive season, it doesn’t matter what people wear, how they act or what they do. If they look uncomfortable, leave them alone. If they say ‘No.’ leave them alone. ‘No’ is a complete sentence, it does not mean ‘Convince me’. Don’t be one of those people who gets so drunk they think it’s funny to lurch, lean, grope, manhandle or even vomit over someone else.

– On the tube in London, a day trip up to go shopping. Probably the Circle Line as that swung past Victoria. I feel a hand on my bum, it brushed past it at first, then slowly crept round to touch it (me) properly. I grab hold of the hand, hold it aloft and ask “Does anyone know who’s this is? I’ve just found it on my arse”

– On the dance-floor in a variety of clubs, the rooms are hot, dark and people are rammed together. It would be an unusual weekend of clubbing if one or other of my friends didn’t get groped. Note to all you youngsters; talk to the club staff and bouncers, get to know them, be nice, polite and friendly – they’ll help you out no end. Until then, wear trousers as much as possible so you don’t get an attempted fingering on the dance floor.

– Drunk Portsmouth football fans on the train home after winning the FA Cup, smoking and drinking on the train. I’ve sat in the front carriage deliberately as when I get on the train at Waterloo, it’s nearly evening. The drunk fans start heckling and abusing me. Knock on the driver’s door to ask for help as I can’t walk past them out the carriage. He looks past me and does nothing as ‘I’m just the driver’ I ask about the guard instead and get told he’ll message him. No help arrives, heckling gets worse. Do I get off and wait for another train loaded with more drunk fans, I knock on the drivers’ door again. Ask if should I pull the emergency brake? He said if I did ‘It’s not an emergency sweetheart’ so I’d be fined. When I raise an incident form with South West Trains, I get told that “For the safety of their staff, the guard and driver chose not to approach the men on the train”. Luckily the Police were more sympathetic. Yes I should have called 999 (or 000, or 911).

– ‘You can’t refuse me, don’t you know that you stupid bitch.’ Yes, this did end up in One Last Hundred Chances

– ‘Come and take these notes, but write long-hand, I want to look at your legs.’

– ‘It’ll only take a minute, no-one will know.’

– ‘For a good-looking girl, you can look awful. You really should wear make-up every day.’

– The primary school swimming teacher who’d ‘check’ on how the girls were doing getting changed afterwards.

– That until I’d had counselling, hypnosis and EFT I couldn’t bear people breathing in my ear, but the smell of Brylcreem can still make me want to vomit.

– I’ve also lost count of men who think it’s funny or that other people won’t mind if they get their penis out in public. “Is that all you’ve got?” usually works well, or “Do you do that in front of your mother?”

the story behind the story

the story behind the story

I first started writing One Last Hundred Chances around 2004 or 2005, I’d just left my hometown of Eastbourne and the characters pretty much wandered into my head unannounced.

Hazel, Freya, Chris, Abigail; the four school friends who formed the core narrative have all had different tangents and storylines. Because of this, I can actually see them as four fully-rounded people, foibles and all, which I hope comes through in the story. Stella and her husband Steve, Chris’ partner Jono, Abigail and her husband Scott, with their two children, Amelie and Scarlett, have also all been loafing around in various guises for a while too.

I guess there is a bit of me in all of them, although when I go to the beach, I will never look as good or as put together as Stella. In one version, Stella originally worked part-time as a dominatrix; a few chapters was the four of them and Steve fitting out her studio. I had fun with that one, but as they lived in Brighton, I shelved it as too much of a cliché.

Also removed was the scene I wrote about Chris coming out to his parents. Last year’s pandemic meant (like many others) I inhaled Schitt’s Creek. I loved the world that Dan and Eugene Levy created, particularly the complete lack of homophobia. I do feel the more that occurs, the bigotry and asshat-ness will be shown up for the revolting behaviour that it is.

One of the first scenes I wrote was the shopping trip around The Lanes, although it had a mercy mission with Hazel and Stella rescuing Freya from buying up half of Lush. Another early scene was one in Lewes, where I had all the girls meeting for lunch. I talked about ‘starting out at the base-camp of Boots and walking up School Hill’, for those of you who’ve walked up it, you’ll know how steep it is.

Then The Duchess appeared. Freya’s mum, who is a truly awful person, avid social climber and will not stop until she’s driven her family to their expected status in life. The car trip from Brighton to Eastbourne, hospital visit and Freya’s family history fell out of me. I particularly like Freya’s sister Victoria saying that even though she lives in New Zealand “It’s still not far enough away.” When you read that section, neither I nor Wendi, my wonderful editor, needed to change much in it. Except for my tenses, as I get them all arse about face, and think I always will do.

But for the next few years, not much happened. I’d add bits in, rewrite other bits, tinker, fiddle. However, nothing much came from it. I had probably 20-30,000 words (about a third of a novel), but other than ‘school friends, keep it small’ I didn’t really know what to do the four of them, or with it.

So the four of them would linger in my imagination, I’d make occasional notes in my phone or on emails to myself. My writing process is odd, insofar that I will hear a sentence in my head and whoosh, off I go and out it comes. And amazingly, if I make a note of that sentence, even months later, I can still riff off it.

Then, our house got broken into. The bastards took so much; jewellery, watches, small electrical stuff, even packed things into our bags to cart it out the house. They also took our Mac, which had baby photos on, and everything that we’d had on USB sticks, because the memory was so big, why wouldn’t we put it on the Mac?

As an aside, despite having individual serial numbers, apparently you can’t trace a stolen Mac with them. Which is maddening.

We went through everything we could find to try and find the files we’d lost. We had some files in the cloud, but not everything. We had some files on external hard-drives, but not everything. Friends started emailing and texting photos of our son as a baby, but the book, other than what was in my head was gone.

I gave it up as a lost cause and forgot about it. In the interim, I was having problems with my lady bits, after backwards and forwards for seven years and thirty-odd years of horrendous periods, I was finally scheduled to have a hysterectomy in April 2019. Hurrah! I hired a hospital table to go over the bed, as until the surgeon started, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to perform the surgery via key-hole. Reader, he did. However, just in case I was opened up stem to stern, I wanted something I could read / colour-in and rest my laptop on to watch movies if not.

I bounced back really well, I had six weeks off work to recuperate. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. I cleared two or three 10,000 word days in the first week re-writing what I’d lost and found that the plot had changed. Domestic violence and coercive control was coming through thick and fast in the behaviour towards Hazel from Ronnie. I got more of the book down, let my imagination run riot on plotting and settled in to do some research.

Going online and following breadcrumbs, I found my way into a couple of Reddit forums and a closed Facebook group. I lurked for a bit, then started sharing things that had happened to me, encouraged other people to report and then I posted this:

I am writing a novel about coercive control and DV, do any of you want to share your stories with me? If you’re happy for me to include them, I will ensure nothing will identify you. Is there something that happened to you that you would use as a red flag? Is there a story you want to tell so you can let it go?

I set up a seperate email address, and slowly stories and messages started to come in. My research continued and then I listened to a BBC Woman’s Hour article on the eight escalation steps abusers follow, more information from the BBC here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49481998

This was my framework, I had a clear pattern of behaviour I could make Ronnie follow. Using different memories and dialogue from the people who emailed me their stories, the book started coming together.

Then the pandemic hit in March 2020. The whole world was upended, DV incidents started to spike and I knew, I just knew I had to get the book finished and out into the world.

I looked at the ‘normal’ publishing route, and was horrified at the length of time it would take. People didn’t have that long! So I investigated self-publishing and put feelers out for an editor on Upworthy. Enter Wendi from https://www.cuttingecopy.com/ I gave her and another editor the dream sequence, followed by the shopping trip in Brighton and the hospital visit to read for a trial run. The other editor put it all into Hemingway and sent it back to me, Wendi went through with a fine toothed comb, made some great suggestions and off we went.

I printed out a calendar of each year from 1996 to 2006, plotting everything in from TV events and movie releases, FA Cup Finals, to concerts at Wembley, Bank Holidays, anything and everything I could think of to remind me. I listened to music from that period all the time, memories came flooding back about what it was like to live then. It pays to be a pop-culture nerd at times.

I set myself publication date of 1 October 2020. I gave Wendi everything I’d written to edit and tidy up, while I carried on with what I needed to write. We would spend ages on video conferences chatting about the story, working it out, talking things through until one call when Wendi said, “You’re going to have to show Ronnie hitting Hazel. Everything is about her being worried about it, or she’s in the aftermath, we need a scene where he does it.” We made that the middle of the book as it’s the fulcrum point.

I am so proud of it. Even if I got the formatting and pagination a bit skewiff in the first version and only realised when my author copies arrived. I’ve also added more resources at the back. The book took fifteen years to be finished, but is all the better for the delay. While I’m hard at work on book two, when I put that last full-stop down on One Last Hundred Chances will always be one of my proudest moments.