Back On The Chain Gang

Someone said this next post was ‘inspirational’. That’s nice but all I can remember is that heavy heart feeling; it seemed as if I was carrying a ton weight round in my chest. One of those times where you think of the place and the whole atmosphere overwhelms you, as if you were back there and it was THEN again. I leave the post as it is but even reading it now is painful.

I could never get insurance for Gail due to her poor health but I wished I’d tried a little harder. I eventually got one of those ‘No questions asked over-50’ things but even so I should have invested more in it. Finance? At a time like this? Yes! This was 10th September and I was back at work. It’s too early. You may not think it is – “Oh it will be good for you to take your mind off things” – but it is. I urge you. Get decent insurance. I know it sounds too unemotional but it’s not. You need a decent payout so you can take a year out without worrying about anything. DO it. Now.

So first proper day of work today. “How’d that go Blagg?” I hear you ask. Well, the network hadn’t been configured properly so I couldn’t train on the Hand Held Terminals and had to do two training sessions theory only. Believe me, this is no way to learn a new system. So I wanted to tell someone, but the someone I usually speak too isn’t here any more. I can’t tell you how weird that felt. I kept looking at my phone and no bastard had rung me ten times. Remember how I used to complain about getting so many calls? To paraphrase Oscar ‘the only thing worse than getting phone calls is NOT getting phone calls’. The place is right next to Brighton Marina though, so it made sense to stay at the nearest hotel. Bad move. This is a Gail hotel. She’d have loved it here. Sparkle, chrome, ambient music. I celebrated my first day back at work by breaking down and howling into a wonderful plate of seafood spaghetti. Tears add some piquancy to a dish I find. Must remember that when the book gets published and John Torode asks me onto Masterchef. ‘Let the fun be Gin’ it says behind me. ‘Do fuck off” I say to my complimentary Tequila Sunrise.

September Blue 3

The kindness of others really sustains you during the months following. Particularly those who – like at the funeral – were old friends, work colleagues, casual acquaintances you’d meant to see for years but somehow not got around to seeing. The fact they had made an effort to support me and say goodbye to Gail in their own way was and still is, truly overwhelming.

In September 2017, I’d posted a photo from Kos in the Greek Islands where Gail and I were having a wonderful holiday. Underneath the post was a comment from a long-time friend and work colleague Vic and his wife Loretta. By coincidence they were in Kos too and suggested we meet up. This wouldn’t be quite so surprising if it wasn’t for the fact that Gail and I hadn’t seen Vic and Loretta in over 30 years! We’d often talked about meeting, never managed it and, when we eventually did, it turned out to be a couple of thousand miles away from where we both lived. Strange how things pans out.

We’d last met at a company Christmas Party I’d organised in 1987. Gail arrived as my guest for what was to become our first Christmas ‘together’ and the first person she met was Vic and his then girlfriend Loretta who were also breaking the ice. Now it was three decades later and, inevitably, as happens with these things, when we did meet it was like we’d seen each other the previous week. We had a really nice meal and spent several happy hours catching up under a hot Greek sun.

Now, a year later and it was hard to think where we’d been just twelve months earlier. With Facebook posting up its one-year reminders, I relived again the happy day a year earlier and got another message back from Vic. They were returning to Kos again and they wanted me to know they were going to to the same restaurant and bar where we’d been a year earlier to celebrate Gail’s life and raise a glass to her. It was both desperately sad to think of them in that same place where we’d been so happy just twelve short months before, but I was also overwhelmingly grateful that they would do such a thing to remember her.

It was odd to think of our two respective journeys since 1987 and – and this happens a lot when you lose someone – you bemoan the wasted years when you wanted to do things but somehow never got around to it because, as John Lennon had it, ‘life got in the way’.

Gail Kos 2017

September Blue 1

I’m aware I now have a strange relationship with social media; a medium I initially shunned as ‘me’ and only approached in another guise because I needed to get my football-related media related stuff into the world.

I’ve now found this area has become to me what it has to millions; a way of keeping in touch with people who want to know how you’re doing and what you’re up to. Truth is though I’m aware that this could so easily become one of ‘those’ types of pages. Full of bon-mots about life, death and love and pictures of Gail at Halloween, Bonfire Night etc. and I really don’t want to do that. I will probably just disappear from here for a few months soon, visiting only to read others posts and to keep in touch. N.B. (I soon realised this was a mistake and I needed to keep writing for my own sanity, in fact my page became exactly what I’d railed against in my original post)

In the short term though, this is just to let everybody – and I’ve had another three old friends get in contact just this weekend (and I really thought I’d found everyone) – know I’m OK. I’m eating, sleeping and doing things; I’m just heart-broken, bereft and mentally shattered. Your thoughts, words, condolences and kindness are overwhelming and greatly appreciated though and the fact that people I’ve barely spoken to for years have got in touch with such heartfelt messages is truly inspirational. Even the ‘I don’t know what to say’ message says a lot. Really. The support I’ve had here and via related media has really helped.

Thank you.

Attached – because it amuses me – is a photo taken on an illicit weekend in Bath in March 1994 before we decided to just do the right thing and move in together in June.

This was the start of me posting photos of Gail that no-one had seen before. Telling our story – and it is a helluva story – of how we met, broke up, got together again, lived and loved together and married. I won’t post them all here. Some of the story is quite personal and doesn’t add to the grief aspect at all. But I have to say I got a lot of pleasure and grief respite from posting pictures and hearing people’s interest – and often amazement – at the associated stories.

It became apparent to me that writing and telling our story was my release. It still is nearly a year later.

Gail 1994

The Mysterious Black Cat

More of those mysterious coincidences that you hang onto. Some people read more into this than I do, I just recount them here because they are an important part of the grief process.

We have four cats; Morris, Buzz, Gus and Ziggy. The first three are pure black cats, the latter a grey British Shorthair. We had one previous cat named simply Puss-Puss who had arrived at our old home in strange circumstances. At the time I was highly allergic to cats and, in fact, Gail had to give away her pets when we moved in together. Something which, incidentally, didn’t seem much to me at the time but which took on greater significance later in our relationship. In fact, giving her beloved cats up to live with me must have been enormously difficult for her and it’s not something I would do now for anyone.

Puss-Puss subsequently bought another cat back to live with us – again odd circumstances, but something to which Gail put more significance on than I did – we became, astonishingly considering my health issues previously, a two-cat family. For when Puss sadly died from old age, a small cats home had sprung up in an attempt to replace him and, by July 2019, we had the aforementioned four cats.

Anyway, with the weather in Britain glorious all summer I had the back patio doors opened when the following occurred.

Beware everyone! I’m about to become one of those social media loonies

When Puss-Puss turned up in what was admittedly very strange circumstances (too long to relate here) in 2000, Gail always insisted he was sent by her Mum who had passed away earlier that year. When Puss-Puss brought Morris back – in more odd circumstances – when we moved to Colchester, Gail insisted it was her Grandfather who had died a few months before. I should add that at this I usually rolled my eyes and went somewhere quiet.

I was sitting downstairs today when Buzz started howling at Morris sitting on the floor in front of me. “What you doing Buzz? It’s only Morris” I said. Then I realised Morris was on an adjacent chair and so was Gus. A quick head count revealed I had four black cats in front of me instead of the requisite three I own.

I’ve fed the stranger, had a far-too-early stiff drink and gone to lie down as I’m starting to feel very odd.

Puffy, as I was to learn later, became a frequent visitor over the coming months.

August 29th 2018 – Gail’s Celebration Of life

My Eulogy for Gail. I needed to tell our story and I needed to tell why Gail was so pivotal in my life. I asked for a full ten minutes in the ceremony and I think the Humanist was only too happy to let me have it. I understand not many want, or can, speak about their loved ones at the funeral and I think it made her job so much easier. I had to do it though. It wasn’t a case of ‘Can I do this?’ (although I did wonder briefly), it was more a case of ‘I must do this’. There was no option. I needed everyone there – and whoever else visits the website – to know what Gail meant to me. I’m not someone who is good at self-promoting – even when I had my book published it was Gail who told everyone – but this is the one thing I’m enormously proud of. I told ‘Us’ in ten minutes. I know Gail would have loved it.

(Preface) Many of you will know that – thanks to Gail who gave me confidence where there was none – I have been an IT Trainer for the past fifteen years. I am used to standing in front of large groups of people and speaking, often unscripted, sometimes for several hours.

However, nothing I have done in the past fifteen years has prepared me for today. And so, against my better judgement, and because I need to do this not only for Gail but also myself, I have decided to write this out and read it.

I know it often sounds odd reading out the written word, but I hope it won’t sound too stilted. If it does, I hope you will bear with me.

(Start proper) Regardless of your religious, spiritual or scientific beliefs, at a time like this, when we’re all trying to make sense of something that makes no sense,  you might find solace in Gail’s first words to me. Like Gail herself, they are probably pretty unique.

I first spoke to Gail when she rung me at work. She’d started a new job in High Wycombe and was chasing leads, cold-calling companies with a five-minute introductory call about herself, her company and the services she provided. And – yes! – We did have a laugh later about some of the services she provided for me over the years. For those of you who didn’t know Gail before her illness, she was a superb and hard-working sales person. She’d made many dozens of calls before she rung me and made dozens more after; they’d all lasted about five minutes, some shorter, few longer. Ours lasted 45 minutes. Years after we couldn’t actually remember what we had spoken about. We just remembered that we felt instantly at ease, sensed a rapport but, more importantly, felt that something odd had occurred.

Gail rang me again a couple of weeks after. A follow-up call supposed to last another five minutes, this one lasted an hour. Over the coming weeks, the calls got longer and the time in-between shorter until two things happened. Firstly, BT’s shareholders threw a party; secondly – after a full seven months – we decided to meet. Even so, this first meeting wasn’t quite how it sounds.

Incredible to think back then, there was no internet, social media or mobile phones. We had no idea what each other looked like. This though was no blind date – neither of us was in a position for that anyway – instead it had the feel of a slightly surreal business meeting.

In fact, we only met because Gail’s Mum Denise had come down from the North-East and was staying with Gail for the week. She wanted to see a bit of London, was in the area I worked in and so, with Mum in tow, we decided it would be a good time to meet and, we both thought, put an end to all the nonsense.

You see, it was apparent from our conversations that we had absolutely nothing in common. We didn’t like the same music, books, TV shows, we didn’t enjoy the same things and, more importantly, we were entirely different people, Gail was gregarious, fun, chatty and – let’s be honest here – needed to carry a big stick with her at all times to fend off the attention of the opposite sex. Something incidentally, she still needed 30 years later. Me? Well… not so much….

My idea certainly was we’d meet; Gail would see who’d she had been talking to all this time, we’d laugh and then move on.

After I’d left them following our meeting, Denise – bless her! – summed the reality of the situation up as only a Mother can with just two words. She told Gail simply ‘Be Careful’. Gail wasn’t, I wasn’t …and, astonishing though it is to consider it, every one of us is here today as a direct result.  

By the way, don’t bother ringing Match.com to suggest the idea of a solid, hedonistic, loving relationship based on having absolutely nothing in common. I’ve already done it; they weren’t interested.

One thing I quickly learned in those opening conversations was that the name Gail doesn’t lend itself to someone with an East End accent. That harsh A sound just doesn’t sound right and, as it turns out, sounded even worse as we subsequently settled in Essex. With deference to my In-Laws who’ve travelled from Newcastle to the Deep South to be with us today, the softer A of the North East – Gail (Geordie) – sounds much nicer. I did try the cod Geordie for a while but then dropped it in favour of just saying ‘Eeeee Pet’ whenever I answered Gail’s calls. Eventually I dropped that too and Gail just became ‘Pet’ and later when we moved in together ‘My Pet’. All our cards to each other are signed that way and that was the name I called her all the time. Like an errant child she only became Gail when she was annoying me or spending too much money – which to be fair was quite often!

It’s been lovely to see so many people here today and to hear your thoughts on Gail and what she meant to you. But, for me, though I knew that Gail and enjoyed her company, we worked in a different way and that way just involved the two of us. It’s hard to describe here as often we were in our own bubble that made others uncomfortable; there wasn’t words, it’s like the air crackled between us and we instinctively knew what the other was thinking. We’d just look at each other and laugh because we knew the other knew what was happening. Gail did like her nights out but she liked being home the best and she told me this on many occasions.

So, if you’ll excuse me, it’s that Gail I’d like to speak too now.

(Address Gail directly)

So, Pet

Firstly, just to tell you that I am absolutely bereft and missing you so much. I’m trying to keep myself busy so I don’t get the chance to stop and think.

I had the downstairs toilet decorated as you wanted. That sparkly mirror I said was going up ‘over my dead body’ is up. I don’t see I’ve much to lose and, frankly, I need more sparkly mirrors in my life right now.

It was nice to have you home last night. I can’t remember a time when I said so much and you didn’t say anything in reply. The cats loved you being there though. Morris, Buzz, Gus and Ziggy thought I’d got them a new scratch post. Buzz, Mummy’s boy, slept on you. I know you’d have liked that. They’ve left a little black cat stamp on the end of your pink coffin.

I want you to know I’ve lit a candle for you every night since you went. You’ve left me about eighty of the bloody things so I may as well do something with them.

I thank you also for the 20 odd bottles of fake tan. You always said I’d have no style if you weren’t around to buy my clothes – but, hey! Check out the pink waistcoat and tie – so I’m taking this as a sign and I’ve decided on the Romesh Raganathan look for the next couple of years.

I’m sorry I let you down at the end. Everyone is saying I did my best but we both know I didn’t. I’m sorry I was just so tired and the drive back to Cambridge was long, it was dark, raining and I couldn’t face it. You’d been through so much I thought you’d get through this. I know when I get to the Gates of Hell you’ll probably be there with some sparkly wings and a red diamante trident and – a personal request here – some white thigh boots  and you’ll say to me ‘You useless bastard, you were bloody late again!’

But Pet, whatever my shortcomings – and there are many I know – I hope I gave you some sort of life. You used to say I did, but I’m just sorry I couldn’t stop the pain you were in for virtually all the time we knew each other. I’d do anything to have you back, but I’m grateful that at last you’re not in pain.

You were my inspiration: Without you, I’d not have been able to do the job I do now or – the irony lost on no-one – stand here like I am now. You told me I could do it and you gave me the confidence to believe in myself.

It was also you that gave me my second career as a freelance writer. You gave me the concept, even the name and started my alter ego for me. If anything can come out of this awful time, I think perhaps I’ve now got my subject for my second book.

My gorgeous Pet: Beautiful, Stylish, Inspirational, Funny, Smart, Sexy, Insightful, Elegant, Infuriating, Illogical, Vibrant, Intuitive, Short-tempered. You could be wonderful or you could be a pain but, either way, you were my Mrs T, my Lady Blagg and you were my pain and I love you for it.

When I said I loved you, you always said ‘How Much?’ and I had to answer ‘to the ends of the universe and back’. You’d say AND? So I could say ‘times the end of the universe and back again’. That’s not changed. That won’t ever change.

Your last words to me were ‘I Love You’ and my last words to you were ‘I Love You’ and I guess that’s about as good as it gets. So I should say ‘Goodbye’ here but….

(Address back to the rest )

Those first words? Years after, when I asked Gail why she’d said this, she didn’t realise at first she had said it, she most certainly did though and when I reminded her, she then couldn’t explain it except to say ‘It was like I knew you already’.

Don’t forget we’d never spoken before or even knew of each other’s existence. The phone rang, I picked it up, said Hello and Gail said “Hello……… it’s me again“

Perhaps, sometime, somewhere, me – or at least other parallel version of me – will have that happen again.

I can only hope so.

August 28th 2018 – Gail Comes Home For The Last Time

I found it difficult to accept that Gail had left the house in an ambulance a couple of weeks previously and had simply never returned. I felt there should have been some last look around, a way of touching things and saying goodbye. It didn’t seem right for her to go directly from the Funeral Directors to the Crematorium so I asked for them to bring her home for the last night before the funeral. I had intended that friends and family would come round and celebrate her life with her but, for reasons to tedious to relate, nobody came.

But I wasn’t bothered. I stayed up all night with her, so I could sit and talk with her in the room for one last night and the cats could say goodbye. 

Gail comes home later today for her final night at Blagg Acres. In tribute, I’m posting the first photo I ever took of her. Interestingly, she has the ‘Lupus pose’ – one hand holding the other – years before she was diagnosed. She’s wearing the earrings I bought her for THAT Christmas. For years, this picture has sat tucked into the cover of ‘our record’ and this is the first time I’ve ever shown it to anyone. I don’t think she’d have minded, she loved her hair back then

Buzz was mummy’s boy. A cat we’d rescued as a kitten, he is just one of those characters; always jumping on things, raiding the food cupboard, hiding in places he shouldn’t be – if there’s a noise to be made and some mischief to make then Buzz is your cat. It felt wrong he was here and Gail wasn’t but cats are inscrutable things and it’s hard to say how it affected him. I’ve put one of Gail’s clothes on her side of the bed and Buzz likes to sleep on it. More than that I can’t say.

On her last night in the house, Buzz sat on her coffin and laid there all night.

It was heartbreaking.

August 17th 2018

Planning a funeral: Is there anything destined to make the heart as heavy?

A strange power overcomes you when you’re faced with the enormity of having to do just that . Things that you think you won’t be able to manage to do suddenly become extremely important to get right. Factoring in what is possible with any wishes the person who left requested becomes you life’s sole work. Nothing you’ve ever done before even comes close to matching it.

I urge everyone to let their nearest and dearest know exactly what it is they want. Those departed won’t know what’s happening – or they might but that’s not a debate I’m having here! – but the person left beats themselves up continuously in trying to get everything right; in fear of missing something out.

Some of Gail’s friends came to see me a couple of nights after she had passed, intent on making sure that Gail ‘went as she would have wanted’. I could only imagine what Gail would have been saying had she been watching. I’m fiercely independent and single-minded and I will never be told what to do. I’ll listen to suggestions but don’t ever think I won’t treat them as anything other than suggestions. If I feel I’m being led I will go a different way just for the hell of it. I could almost feel and hear Gail at this point saying ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. Leave him alone. He always seems mild-mannered but push him and he will blow’. I nearly did too; I was on the verge of exploding but a fortuitous phone call from a an old family member helped calm me down. 

One thing I knew without doubt. Gail wanted a pink coffin, to be cremated in her wedding dress with ‘all her bling’ and she wanted her life celebrated not mourned. She wanted people to laugh, dance and remember her fondly. I never thought I could manage the celebration – in fact, celebrating in the normal sense is just a pipe dream for anyone associated with attending a funeral – but I understood what I could do to give her what she wanted and, over the coming days and weeks, I was able to tailor everything to ensure she was given a fitting farewell.

With the funeral scheduled for August 30th and with every day hanging heavier, I started posting reminders on social media of better days. I recreate them here so that everyone can share the experience and just get a sense of who and what Gail was.

Two years ago this very day. A great time in Vegas for Blagg Jnr’s wedding. Odd to think we returned home five days earlier from the U.S. than planned because we’d spent too much. Two years later and did it matter? Let this be a lesson to you all.