A week

A week. Just seven days,so much can happen.  So much emotion crammed into seven days and seven nights.

My cousin died.  He was only 71. I first saw him 65 years ago when we moved back to the North East of England. Instantly he became the nearest thing I would ever have to a brother. We were opposite physically.   I was small chunky and darkish. He was small delicate, blue-eyed with fair curly hair.  I liked dolls and reading. He liked Meccano, mud and trains.  We both liked the Beano and sand.  Living two streets apart we went every weekday to our respective schools.  He went across the river on a ferry, I went in the opposite direction to the posh girls’ school in the next town.  As our mothers were sisters and best friends we saw each other most weekends and every school holiday for weeks and weeks.

The beach was covered in yellow sand, punctuated with sea coal; if you looked up from the ditch you were digging for the sea to fill up, there was always a ship carrying coals from Newcastle to everywhere else, on the horizon. We went to Camel island and climbed the rocks to see the view of the nearby sea stack, stacked with Kittiwakes who would rise, crying into the sky in huge numbers and fall off back to the rock one by one.

Then you could build a sand castle and excavate it, he from one side and I from the other, until you could lean your head in the sand and see each other through the tunnel. Blessedly my difficult, controlling mother was occupied, putting the world to rights to her little big sister.  I was free to play in the rock pools, watch the sand wash between my toes and make sand cars round my cousin. or have him make them round me.

Every Christmas was the same. At his house we played games and he would be forced to show his presents and give me something from his tuck box and make a face.  Quite why they never just had a liquorice pipe put aside for me I don’t know.  At our house the same display of conspicuous wealth, though I never had sweets, sometimes my father would subject us all to a slide show.  ‘Now this is, oh what’s that.  I don’t… oh, it’s upside down.  That’s it. Got it.  No, what’s wrong?  Ah, back to front.’  When he put the lights on we had all gone to sleep.

There was Christmas Tea, a major event for my mother, followed by Just A Small Sherry and Morecombe and Wise.

And we laughed.  We always laughed. I laughed a lot when he was around.

We grew up, moved away. Jobs and so on.  I married, he was the best man.  We settled, he visited.  I had the S&H, he came and played with him under the table, under the bed, on the floor.  The S&H did not want a train set, which was a great disappointment to both of us as we had plans.

He visited a great deal.  He went round the world, sending postcards and letters to me and to my grandmother from everywhere.  Our grandmother said she felt as if she had been round the world with him.  So did I.

There were fleeting girlfriends but they were never going to match up to his mother, who sat up in bed one day at the age of 80 and suddenly died.  One Self Employed Works Outing and Christmas Party at my house he looked up over the turkey and said he’d met a girl at a party and that was how I came to acquire Aussie rellies just eleven years ago.

We even had cancer at the same time but on Wednesday he sat up in bed and died.

Sometimes on the beach, when it was really sunny, the sea fret would roll in like clouds.  You could barely see your feet in the sand, the seagulls sounded muffled and the damp got into everything and made you shiver.

The publisher is a scam. I have adhesions that hurt all the time.  The builders have knocked down the arch, there is rubble outside and junk in heaps inside.  The plumbers have left a hole in the wall.

I can’t even hear the laughter draining away on the tide, the mist is so thick.


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