She would have been 50 today.

A year ago, last weekend I went to Sheffield to celebrate the life of my oldest school friend. It was a hot, sultry day. The kind of weather she loved. 

We’d been friends since 1968 when were put in the same form, first day at grammar school; almost 38 years ago. She features in my best memories of being a teenager: learning to sail on a freezing reservoir  in the middle of a school day; our first holiday without parents, on a sailing course, in London; bunking off school to go to one-day rock festivals in Charlton and Knebworth, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and once a month gigs at “The Rock of the North”

We had our ups and downs; huge gaps when we didn’t see each other much, barely communicated, but that didn’t matter, because when we next spoke or met up it was as if the space had never been there. To me that’s what having a “best friend” is all about. 

She questioned my judgement from time to time , but she was always supportive , even if, at the end of a bad relationship she had to say: “well, it wasn’t good , was it ?”

She was steely-willed, focused and the brightest of us all. Mis-advised by a career teacher with little vision, for her real achievement came late when, following redundancy ,she did an MSc in 1993 rapidly followed by a PhD,  and took up a senior lecturer post in New Zealand in 1998, becoming a full professor in 2002. When she died in March 2006 she was  Acting Vice Chancellor at the university. I an academic journal a colleague wrote:

“M. was a person of great energy, who could do everything in the academic book simultaneously. She had great personal honesty, and called a spade a spade. With a lifting of her eyebrows or pursing of her lips she could fell a bumbling bureaucrat or pompous professor at fifty paces. With brilliant humor and a gift for mimicry and dramatisation she could reduce a dinner-table of friends to helpless laughter. And when the bond of mutual respect and trust was established, there could be no more loyal friend or more empathic advisor. “

I last saw her in the summer of 2005 when she was speaking at a conference, meeting co-authors and family, and staying with C, the other part of our close-knit group. The following January M was very ill with cancer, finally diagnosed far too late, after several mis-diagnoses. She died in late March. In the summer, on her birthday her friends in the UK had a party in her honour, a birthday party, a celebration of life.

For me , that’s when I properly said goodbye and why I grieve in June, not March.

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