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Even less interesting than you'd think.

...but deep. Oh yes.

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» Mix Tapes

No woman, no cry

/pop/un-lurks.

Hi there, I’ve been lurking almost a year now, trying to get up the bottle to post my one and only story worth telling and I think I’ve found just the QOTW to do it. I will apologise in advance for any excessive length and also for any slurring which may occur - this is due to Dutch courage in the form of Scottish Water. It is on topic, but you’ll have to stick with it.

Well, where to begin? (not so easy this is it?)

How about 1978? I was 17 and while not a geek - I’ve never been a geek - I was a nerd. Kind of. I was into Punk but wasn’t really a punk, I was tall and a bit spotty and I liked maths. My best friend Nick however, was cool. He was a ladies man and bass guitarist with a post-punk band. We’d known each other since junior school and had become best friends in about the 3rd year.

I was more political than him, thanks to my elder brother. I went on marches a lot and in the holidays I got together with like minded friends from school and we’d volunteer down at the Anti-Nazi League HQ, stuffing envelopes etc. We were keen and our hearts were in the right place. I also got to mix with girls, though I was yet to have a girlfriend, and one of the girls was Manisha. She was a year younger than me - still in the 5th form, but would soon be a lower-6th former. She was born in South Africa and was a ‘Cape coloured’, i.e. her parents’ families came originally from India. The whole family was heavily involved in the struggle against apartheid: her grandfather and uncle were lawyers and belonged to the same practise as Nelson Mandela (before his imprisonment, that is); her auntie had been imprisoned for a time in Robben Island. When Manisha and her brother Anand were 6 and 4, the family had fled to the UK where they claimed political asylum. Ten years on the family were still not UK citizens but ‘stateless’ i.e. they had no passports.

As well as being highly political aware, Manisha was a peach and I fancied her silently but fervently from afar. We got on very well and soon we were both part of a tight group of mates. This was great until the tragedy stuck; she and Nick fell in love. It was full-blown teenage love and I made the best of things, i.e. suffered silently and became a much bruised gooseberry.

I got a Saturday job in a department store restaurant kitchen and when Manisha was looking for a job too, I put in a good word for her and she got a job as a waitress. This gave me more opportunity to eat my heart out, but it also gave us time to get to know each other better. As the ‘middle-man’, I could give sound relationship advice, listen to her moans and gripes etc. I found it easy to talk to her and we became very good friends.

Then the two of them broke up. I had both of them crying on my shoulders - I’ve always been a good listener, but this tried my patience somewhat. Anyway, it meant that we saw less of each other except at work. I didn’t want to be disloyal to Nick.

I’ll skip forward here to 1980. I’d got decent grades for Maths, Further Maths, Economics and Government & Politics A Levels and was now an accounting student at Southampton University. I managed to lose the ‘V-plates’ at long last [thanks Trish!] and was a studious student as those things go. My musical taste was a bit left-of-centre, more punk and reggae than heavy metal and I was pathetically glad to be ‘interesting’ as far as accountancy students go - and believe me, that’s not far.

Half way through the year I got a letter from Manisha! She was thinking of going to Southampton too and wanted to visit. Fine! She came down, but with some boyfriend in tow. I spent a day showing them round before they went back to London.

The next time I saw her was a scene straight out of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ - the one where George Bailey meets Mary at the college party - except this time it was the freshers’ ball. She’d finished with the boyfriend by then and at 18 she looked sensational. I mean jaw-droppingly gorgeous. No, that doesn’t even come close. Well, you’ve all been in love at 19 haven’t you? Is there anything better in the whole world? We spent that night in my room in the house I was sharing with two other guys from our school and a friend of ours. That year, she hardly spent a single night in her room in halls. I’ll leave the details to your over-fertile imaginations, this isn’t the place. She loved teasing me though, in more ways than one, and used to call me ‘Beenie Man’ - the reggae lovin’ bean counter.

Things went smoothly, I graduated with a first after a final year in which we’d shared our own flat - just like an old married couple. Our musical tastes coincided exactly, and one of the happiest days I can remember was when Clint Eastwood and General Saint played at the Uni. We were both right down at the front, lightly stoned, grooving away as if…sod it, can’t think of a good analogy, but you get the picture. In contrast, although I can’t remember where I was when I heard John Lennon was dead, I can picture exactly the scene as we sat up in bed listening to Radio 1 when it was announced that Bob Marley had died. We put ‘Redemption Song’ on so loud I couldn’t hear her crying. We loved that album, and I’d tease her sometimes when she took an age to get ready or something: “Bob’s right you know - ‘no woman, no cry’. Get a bloody move on!”

“I like a man who cries,” she’d say,

“OK, you can stay.”

The next year I moved back to London and rented a flat in Walthamstow. Manisha came up to stay weekends and holidays and had a room in halls for week days. I’d got a job with one of the ‘Big Five’ accounting firms and was also taking an MBA. They sponsored it and gave me time off too, I was earning good money and was happy.

As soon as Manisha graduated (History and Politics) we got married. Just a small registry office thing. Her parents were devout communists, and I’m a non-practising reform Jew. Now she could finally get a passport as she was a UK citizen. We used it first time for our honeymoon in the Maldives.

Although house prices were rising fast in London by then - this was 1983 - we were both working and we found a real do-er up-er round the corner within our limit.

Skip again a couple of years and 1986, Manisha became pregnant. I’d got my MBA and a promotion and we decided she should take a couple of years off work to be a Mum. She was working for the GLC and it was about to be abolished anyway, so we thought it must be fate.

Now, if you or your partner has been pregnant you will know about the changes the female body goes through. One of them is the enlargement of the breasts - this is necessary to produce milk of course - but Manisha had a large birthmark on her left breast. It was made up of lots of tiny moles really close together, making a dark, raised area, looking something like a relief map of Crete but about four or five inches across. As her breasts grew, so did this birthmark, and it started to itch too. It had never caused any sort of bother before, but this was a bit disturbing, so off to the GP we went. She took a look, asked some questions and said that it was probably nothing to worry about but she’d make a note to take another look after the baby was born.

This is where the mix tape comes in for the first time. From other posts, this seems to be fairly common - I think that’s down to Dr Miriam Stoppard and her babycare/pregnancy books. I think it was in her checklist of things to put in the ‘birthing bag’. Anyway, on this little beauty was a load of reggae of course: Marley, Culture, Burning Spear, Misty in Roots, plus a load of punk tracks like Buzzcocks - ‘Ever fallen in love with someone’; Ian Dury - ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’; Xtc ‘Making plans for nigel’; Ruts ‘Babylon’s burning’; The Higsons ‘Conspiracy’; Madness ‘My girl’s mad at me’; Elvis Costello ‘(Idon’t want to go to) Chelsea’ etc etc. I won’t bore you with the full listing.

August 1987 she was born - our little Jasmine - and you know when I mentioned 19 year olds in love earlier - well that was as nothing compared to the feeling you get holding your own tiny little child in your arms, well not quite, but different. I can’t explain it to you if you’ve not got any kids, and if you have, then I don’t need to .

All was well at bean-counting towers. I took a couple of weeks off work and we adjusted to the little one, she seemed to like us…

…in September, the doctor sent a letter reminding us about checking out the birthmark. This time, she suggested a specialist look at it, and the best place would be the Royal Marsden. OK, well, hmmm, I suppose that’s the best place, you know best etc. The doctor arranged it and in early February 1988 she went in for a biopsy. Now I didn’t know what this meant and was scared to ask really, but Manisha said they’d look at the birthmark and see whether it was benign or malign. No point worrying til then. I hadn’t realised they would cut the whole thing out!

She went in with an over-night bag, including tape and walkman, by taxi - she didn’t want us dropping her off as Jazzy would be asleep. I kissed her goodbye and arranged to visit the next day which would be February 13th - I promised to bring some flowers and the baby.

When we arrived at the ward the next afternoon in visiting time laden down with a dozen red roses and a bundled up baby I was shocked. All the other women on the ward looked to be in a really bad way. Quite a few were bald from chemotherapy, lots looking not just old but ancient, wasted, drained, all life sapped away. And there was Manisha, propped up in bed, a huge bandage on her chest under her nightgown. Jaz spotted her and reached her tiny arms out towards her, but a nurse swooped down on us, saying, something like: let me take her for a minute while you two have a talk - before snatching her away, cooing in her 6-month old adorable face passing her around the nurses and patients as if we weren’t there. It’s true that, like a fairy drawing colour with a wand in a black and white cartoon, her presence created smiles, spreading down the ward in her wake.

With one eye on the nurse, I went to talk with Manisha, who was a bit upset not to have Jasmine in her arms, but otherwise seemed OK. They didn’t have the results of the test yet and she’d have to stay another night, but all being well would be home in a couple of days. I found a vase for the roses, reclaimed the baby, chatted about this and that and when visiting ended at 5.30, off we went.

The phone was ringing as I opened the front door - not an easy manoeuvre with a bundle of baby on your hip and a bag of nappies etc. in the other hand. It was still ringing though and I reached it in time to answer.

“Mr Bean-counter?”
“Yes,”
“It’s the Royal Marsden here,”
“Oh yes,” Jasmine was wanting to be put down so I said, “just a sec,” while I put her down.
“Mr Bean-counter,”
“Yes,”
“It’s about your wife,”
“Yes,”
“There’s been a complication,” possibly the four most horrible words in the English language.
“Yes,” my brain had frozen and my body was shutting down, “what is it?”
“It was just after you left. She suffered a pulmonary embolism - a blood clot lodged in her pulmonary artery and cut off the blood supply to her lungs. The thing is, she had her Walkman on and her eyes closed and by the time the nurse noticed and called the doctor I’m afraid it was too late. She died just after 6.00pm. I’m so very sorry Mr Bean-counter.”

Even today, there are tears running down my face and dripping into the whiskey glass shaking in my hand. The shock at that time was total - luckily, it numbed some of the pain, and time passed in a fog. I couldn’t describe the next few weeks even if I wanted to. My Mum came to stay and looked after Jasmine while I was sorting out things and crying myself to sleep. I took a month off work to think what to do, anyway, I could barely count to ten.

I found a nursery that would take Jasmine while I was at work, but after two weeks I handed in my resignation. The people at work were great but I just didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t bear to leave Jasmine at the nursery in the mornings. I decided to move to Southampton and set up as a self-employed accountant. That way I could work from home. At least I didn’t have to worry about money for a while. The life insurance paid off the mortgage, I put the house on the market. In the short time we’d been there the value had shot up, I sold up and bought a big place in Southampton which would serve as home and office.

I played that tape I’d made for her over and over again. The first track was ‘No woman, no cry’. By the way, Bob was wrong, so very, very wrong. I just tried holding on to the lines that said “Everything’s going to be alright”, but it was a damned close run thing at times. By the time Jasmine was a year old, she must have heard the tape over a hundred times, and “Don’t worry, Jaz, everything’s going to be alright” was a kind of mantra of mine.

You have to pull yourself together when you’re looking after a baby, and if there was one thing keeping me going it was Jasmine. There was so much of Manisha’s face in hers…

God, I wish that was the end of my story.

Briefly, over the next few years, I built up a business doing books for small and medium sized businesses in the area. I could do it virtually in my sleep which was good, and it kept me busy, which was also good. I made some friends, got recommended. One of my old housemates still lived in Southampton and taught at the University and Manisha’s family (especially Anand and his wife) as well as my family visited a lot, so I had plenty of human contact. Quite a few of my clients were self-employed builders and tradesmen, one was Steve who was a plumber. When his daughter Michelle wanted to open a hairdressing salon, he asked me to look after the finances for her. Steve and his mates did the place up for her for the cost of the materials and she’d done an apprenticeship, had HND and whatnot, she was in her mid-20s, pretty, unattached; I was in my early thirties by this time and hadn’t wanted or sought out female company since Manisha died six or so years previously.

You may doubt this was so, but firstly, my heart was burnt to ashes, secondly, I’d turned off this part of my life and thirdly, I was a single Dad with a little kid - not so easy to do anything about it, even if I wanted to. But, little by little, I got friendly with Michelle. She was…undemanding company but she actually made me laugh and I could tell she liked me. She got me to bring Jasmine to her shop and did her hair for her which thrilled her, as I was her usual hairdresser at that time. I still didn’t make any move though and it was her idea in the end - she invited both of us for dinner at her place…

…Six months on and she’d come and stay at our place at weekends. She left womanly bits and pieces in the bathroom, took over a couple of drawers in my bedroom. I went along with things, maybe I shouldn’t have.

It was a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day. You can imagine how I felt about that date. She wanted to go out to a restaurant but I told her not to come the following week as we wanted to be alone and we’d be up in London, visiting Kew Gardens, where Manisha’s ashes were scattered in the bluebell wood. I suppose she felt it was time for me to ‘get over it’ and get on with life. I disagreed, we went to bed in foul moods and woke up the same way. At breakfast, Jasmine was acting up; I was making a pot of coffee, so I didn’t see what happened but Michelle started shouting at Jasmine. As I turned round, Jasmine threw a spoonful of cereal at Michelle and Michelle pulled her out of her seat and smacked her on the bum… …before I knew what was happening, I’d pulled Michelle’s arm round with my left hand and smacked her across the face with the flat of my right hand, then I was shouting in her face “IF YOU SO MUCH AS EVER TOUCH ONE HAIR OF THAT CHILD’S HEAD AGAIN, SO HELP ME, I’LL KILL YOU”

I bent down and gathered up the screaming Jasmine in my arms, ran out of the kitchen and up to her room, murmuring “Don’t worry Jaz, everything’s going to be alright.” When she’d calmed down a bit I said “OK Jaz, we’re going out for the day, get yourself dressed, I’ll be back up in a minute”

Back in the kitchen, Michelle was looking furious but hadn’t moved. “OK,” I said, “I’m really sorry I hit you, but this isn’t working. It was never going to work. I’m taking Jasmine out, clear all your stuff out before we get back.”

“You’re fucking dead you. I’m gonna tell my Dad you slimeball and you’re gonna wish you’d never been born.”

“Too fucking late for that you cow, been there, done it. Just be gone or you’ll be the sorry one.”

I took Jasmine to the seaside. We had a favourite place where there was a café and some shops on the front and a good long beach. At times of stress I still sometimes fall back on cigarettes, at that time I did. I very rarely smoke in front of Jaz but I did then. We went into the café, got a table by the window, I got me a large black coffee and a hot chocolate and a cake for Jaz and I smoked, staring out of the window at the cold blustery February morning.

“Daddy, what was Mummy really like?” Jasmine asked as I lit a second cigarette. I couldn’t get a word out at first, but the tears started again. She came round the table and gave me a huge hug, “Don’t worry Daddy, everything’s going to be alright,” she said.

“That’s right Jaz,” I said, “everything’s going to be alright. Let’s take a walk on the beach, and I’ll tell you all about Mummy.” We spent a couple of hours walking along the beach, throwing stones in the water, picking up shells, and I told her stories about when the two of us were young students, or when we were working together as 6th formers and when we were newlyweds before she was born.

When we got back to the house the front door was wide open. Shit.

I went inside first and made Jasmine wait just outside the front door. I stopped in the doorway to the living room. Inside, all of the photos of me and Manisha had been smashed and crumpled or torn and all over the room was tape. She’d taken the special tape and pulled it all out of the cassette, stretching it and tying it around things, yards and yards of thin brown tape, totally beyond repair. I stumbled out and into the rest of the rooms; the bedroom was a mess and all over the house the photos had been broken. Luckily that was all.

I had re-prints made of all the photos from the negatives and I made the tape again. I knew the order of songs off by heart and still had most of them on disc, though some now had scratches and jumps where they hadn’t the first time I’d taped them.

I’ve met a few women since, but I’ve not brought them home. I’ve not met anyone I’d trust that far. Jaz knows that I’m always there for her. A couple of years ago she went off to university and it was as if I’d lost an arm; I’m still trying to get used to it. The house is so damned quiet all the time. She knows if she’s feeling low, I’ll drive the 450 mile round trip to bring her home at a minute’s notice.

Each February at the nearest weekend, we go to the same beach, come rain or shine and I tell her stories about her Mum. The next day we drive up to London, with the tape on the player and we wander round the woods at Kew and I tell her more stories. As she’s got older, I find I can tell her different stories, I think she knows her Mum pretty well now.

Thanks for listening - I don’t feel any better yet, but I can see that I will do soon. Sorry it was so long.
(Tue 12th Feb 2008, 10:17, More)

» Dad stories

No woman, no cry
It’s almost three years since I first posted this story under ‘Mix Tapes’, but as it’s really about being a dad, I thought maybe it was time for a re-post, for anyone that wasn’t around on this board three years ago, and for the rest of you, that appreciated it the first time around.
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Well, where to begin? (not so easy this is it?)

How about 1978? I was 17 and while not a geek - I’ve never been a geek - I was a nerd. Kind of. I was into Punk but wasn’t really a punk, I was tall and a bit spotty and I liked maths. My best friend Nick however, was cool. He was a ladies’ man and bass guitarist with a punk band Mary Poppins and the Vinyl Flamingoes for anyone that remembers). We’d known each other since junior school and had become best friends in about the 3rd year.

I was more political than him, thanks to my elder brother. I went on marches a lot and in the holidays I got together with like minded friends from school and we’d volunteer down at the Anti-Nazi League HQ, stuffing envelopes etc. We were keen and our hearts were in the right place. I also got to mix with girls, though I was yet to have a girlfriend, and one of the girls was Manisha. She was a year younger than me - still in the 5th form, but would soon be a lower-6th former. She was born in South Africa and was a ‘Cape coloured’, i.e. her parents’ families came originally from India. The whole family was heavily involved in the struggle against apartheid: her grandfather and uncle were lawyers and belonged to the same practise as Nelson Mandela (before his imprisonment, that is); her auntie had been imprisoned for a time on Robben Island. When Manisha and her brother Anand were 6 and 4, the family had fled to the UK where they claimed political asylum. Ten years on, the family were still not UK citizens but ‘stateless’ i.e. they had no passports.

As well as being highly political aware, Manisha was a peach and I fancied her silently but fervently from afar. We got on very well and soon we were both part of a tight group of mates. This was great until the tragedy stuck; she and Nick fell in love. It was full-blown teenage love and I made the best of things, i.e. suffered silently and became a much bruised gooseberry.

I got a Saturday job in a department store restaurant kitchen and when Manisha was looking for a job too, I put in a good word for her and she got a job as a waitress. This gave me more opportunity to eat my heart out, but it also gave us time to get to know each other better. As the ‘middle-man’, I could give sound relationship advice, listen to her moans and gripes etc. I found it easy to talk to her and we became very good friends.

Then the two of them broke up. I had both of them crying on my shoulders - I’ve always been a good listener, but this tried my patience somewhat. Anyway, it meant that we saw less of each other except at work as I didn’t want to be disloyal to Nick.

I’ll skip forward here to 1980. I’d got decent grades for Maths, Further Maths, Economics and Government & Politics A Levels and was now an accounting student at Southampton University. I managed to lose the ‘V-plates’ at long last [thanks Trish!] and was a studious student as those things go. My musical taste was a bit left-of-centre, more punk and reggae than heavy metal and I was pathetically glad to be ‘interesting’ as far as accountancy students go - and believe me, that’s not far.

Half way through the year I got a letter from Manisha! She was thinking of going to Southampton too and wanted to visit. Fine! She came down, but with some boyfriend in tow. I spent a day showing them round before they went back to London.

The next time I saw her was a scene straight out of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ - the one where George Bailey meets Mary at the college party - except this time it was the freshers’ ball. She’d finished with the boyfriend by then and at 18 she looked sensational. I mean jaw-droppingly gorgeous. No, that doesn’t even come close. Well, you’ve all been in love at 19 haven’t you? Is there anything better in the whole world? We spent that night in my room in the house I was sharing with two other guys from our school and a friend of ours. That year, she hardly spent a single night in her room in halls. I’ll leave the details to your over-fertile imaginations, this isn’t the place. She loved teasing me though, in more ways than one, and used to call me ‘Beenie Man’ - the reggae lovin’ bean counter.

Things went smoothly, I graduated with a first after a final year in which we’d shared our own flat - just like an old married couple. Our musical tastes coincided exactly, and one of the happiest days I can remember was when Clint Eastwood and General Saint played at the Uni. We were both right down at the front, lightly stoned, grooving away as if…sod it, can’t think of a good analogy, but you get the picture. In contrast, although I can’t remember where I was when I heard John Lennon was dead, I can picture exactly the scene as we sat up in bed listening to Radio 1 when it was announced that Bob Marley had died. We put ‘Redemption Song’ on so loud I couldn’t hear her crying. We loved that album, and I’d tease her sometimes when she took an age to get ready or something: “Bob’s right you know - ‘no woman, no cry’. Get a bloody move on!”

“I like a man who cries,” she’d say,

“OK, you can stay.”

The next year I moved back to London and rented a flat in Walthamstow. Manisha came up to stay weekends and holidays and had a room in halls for week days. I’d got a job with one of the ‘Big Five’ accounting firms and was also taking an MBA. They sponsored it and gave me time off too, I was earning good money and was happy.

As soon as Manisha graduated (History and Politics) we got married. Just a small registry office thing. Her parents were devout communists, and I’m a non-practising reform Jew. Now she could finally get a passport as she was a UK citizen. We used it first time for our honeymoon in the Maldives.

Although house prices were rising fast in London by then - this was 1983 - we were both working and we found a real do-er up-er round the corner within our limit.

Skip again a couple of years and 1986, Manisha became pregnant. I’d got my MBA and a promotion and we decided she should take a couple of years off work to be a Mum. She was working for the GLC and it was about to be abolished anyway, so we thought it must be fate.

Now, if you or your partner has been pregnant you will know about the changes the female body goes through. One of them is the enlargement of the breasts - this is necessary to produce milk of course - but Manisha had a large birthmark on her left breast. It was made up of lots of tiny moles really close together, making a dark, raised area, looking something like a relief map of Crete but about four or five inches across. As her breasts grew, so did this birthmark, and it started to itch too. It had never caused any sort of bother before, but this was a bit disturbing, so off to the GP we went. She took a look, asked some questions and said that it was probably nothing to worry about but she’d make a note to take another look after the baby was born.

This is where the mix tape comes in for the first time. From other posts, this seems to be fairly common - I think that’s down to Dr Miriam Stoppard and her babycare/pregnancy books. I think it was in her checklist of things to put in the ‘birthing bag’. Anyway, on this little beauty was a load of reggae of course: Marley, Culture, Burning Spear, Misty in Roots, plus a load of punk tracks like Buzzcocks - ‘Ever fallen in love with someone’; Ian Dury - ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’; Xtc ‘Making plans for Nigel’; Ruts ‘Babylon’s burning’; The Higsons ‘Conspiracy’; Madness ‘My girl’s mad at me’; Elvis Costello ‘(I don’t want to go to) Chelsea’ etc etc. I won’t bore you with the full listing.

August 1987 she was born - our little Jasmine - and you know when I mentioned 19 year olds in love earlier - well that was as nothing compared to the feeling you get holding your own tiny little child in your arms, well not quite, but different. I can’t explain it to you if you’ve not got any kids, and if you have, then I don’t need to .

All was well at bean-counting towers. I took a couple of weeks off work and we adjusted to the little one, she seemed to like us…

…in September, the doctor sent a letter reminding us about checking out the birthmark. This time, she suggested a specialist look at it, and the best place would be the Royal Marsden. OK, well, hmmm, I suppose that’s the best place, you know best etc. The doctor arranged it and in early February 1988 she went in for a biopsy. Now I didn’t know what this meant and was scared to ask really, but Manisha said they’d look at the birthmark and see whether it was benign or malign. No point worrying til then. I hadn’t realised they would cut the whole thing out!

She went in with an over-night bag, including tape and walkman, by taxi - she didn’t want us dropping her off as Jazzy would be asleep. I kissed her goodbye and arranged to visit the next day which would be February 13th - I promised to bring some flowers and the baby.

When we arrived at the ward the next afternoon in visiting time laden down with a dozen red roses and a bundled up baby I was shocked. All the other women on the ward looked to be in a really bad way. Quite a few were bald from chemotherapy, lots looking not just old but ancient, wasted, drained, all life sapped away. And there was Manisha, propped up in bed, a huge bandage on her chest under her nightgown. Jaz spotted her and reached her tiny arms out towards her, but a nurse swooped down on us, saying, something like: let me take her for a minute while you two have a talk - before snatching her away, cooing in her 6-month old adorable face passing her around the nurses and patients as if we weren’t there. Like a fairy, drawing colour with a wand in a black and white cartoon, her presence brought forth smiles, spreading down the ward in her wake.

With one eye on the nurse, I went to talk with Manisha, who was a bit upset not to have Jasmine in her arms, but otherwise seemed OK. They didn’t have the results of the test yet and she’d have to stay another night, but all being well would be home in a couple of days. I found a vase for the roses, reclaimed the baby, chatted about this and that and when visiting ended at 5.30, off we went.

The phone was ringing as I opened the front door - not an easy manoeuvre with a bundle of baby on your hip and a bag of nappies etc. in the other hand. It was still ringing though and I reached it in time to answer.

“Mr Bean-counter?”
“Yes,”
“It’s the Royal Marsden here,”
“Oh yes,” Jasmine was wanting to be put down so I said, “just a sec,” while I put her down.
“Mr Bean-counter,”
“Yes,”
“It’s about your wife,”
“Yes,”
“There’s been a complication,” possibly the four most horrible words in the English language.
“Yes,” my brain had frozen and my body was shutting down, “what is it?”
“It was just after you left. She suffered a pulmonary embolism - a blood clot lodged in her pulmonary artery and cut off the blood supply to her lungs. The thing is, she had her Walkman on and her eyes closed and by the time the nurse noticed and called the doctor I’m afraid it was too late. She died just after 6.00pm. I’m so very sorry Mr Bean-counter.”

Even today, there are tears running down my face and dripping into the whiskey glass shaking in my hand. The shock at that time was total - luckily, it numbed some of the pain, and time passed in a fog. I couldn’t describe the next few weeks even if I wanted to. My Mum came to stay and looked after Jasmine while I was sorting out things and crying myself to sleep. I took a month off work to think what to do, anyway, I could barely count to ten.

I found a nursery that would take Jasmine while I was at work, but after two weeks I handed in my resignation. The people at work were great but I just didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t bear to leave Jasmine at the nursery in the mornings. I decided to move to Southampton and set up as a self-employed accountant. That way I could work from home. At least I didn’t have to worry about money for a while. The life insurance paid off the mortgage, I put the house on the market. In the short time we’d been there the value had shot up, I sold up and bought a big place in Southampton which would serve as home and office.

I played that tape I’d made for her over and over again. The first track was ‘No woman, no cry’. By the way, Bob was wrong, so very, very wrong. I just tried holding on to the lines that said “Everything’s going to be alright”, but it was a damned close run thing at times. By the time Jasmine was a year old, she must have heard the tape over a hundred times, and “Don’t worry, Jaz, everything’s going to be alright” was a kind of mantra of mine.

You have to pull yourself together when you’re looking after a baby, and if there was one thing keeping me going it was Jasmine. There was so much of Manisha’s face in hers…

God, I wish that was the end of my story.

Briefly, over the next few years, I built up a business doing books for small and medium sized businesses in the area. I could do it virtually in my sleep which was good, and it kept me busy, which was also good. I made some friends, got recommended. One of my old housemates still lived in Southampton and taught at the University and Manisha’s family (especially Anand and his wife) as well as my family visited a lot, so I had plenty of human contact. Quite a few of my clients were self-employed builders and tradesmen, one was Steve who was a plumber. When his daughter Michelle wanted to open a hairdressing salon, he asked me to look after the finances for her. Steve and his mates did the place up for her for the cost of the materials and she’d done an apprenticeship, had HND and whatnot, she was in her mid-20s, pretty, unattached; I was in my early thirties by this time and hadn’t wanted or sought out female company since Manisha died six or so years previously.

You may doubt this was so, but firstly, my heart was burnt to ashes, secondly, I’d turned off this part of my life and thirdly, I was a single Dad with a little kid - not so easy to do anything about it, even if I wanted to. But, little by little, I got friendly with Michelle. She was…undemanding company but she actually made me laugh and I could tell she liked me. She got me to bring Jasmine to her shop and did her hair for her, which thrilled her, as I was her usual hairdresser at that time. I still didn’t make any move though and it was her idea in the end - she invited both of us for dinner at her place…

…Six months on and she’d come and stay at our place at weekends. She left womanly bits and pieces in the bathroom, took over a couple of drawers in my bedroom. I went along with things, maybe I shouldn’t have.

It was a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day. You can imagine how I felt about that date. She wanted to go out to a restaurant but I told her not to come the following week as we wanted to be alone and we’d be up in London, visiting Kew Gardens, where Manisha’s ashes were scattered in the bluebell wood. I suppose she felt it was time for me to ‘get over it’ and get on with life. I disagreed, we went to bed in foul moods and woke up the same way. At breakfast, Jasmine was acting up; I was making a pot of coffee, so I didn’t see what happened but Michelle started shouting at Jasmine. As I turned round, Jasmine threw a spoonful of cereal at Michelle and Michelle pulled her out of her seat and smacked her on the bum… …before I knew what was happening, I’d pulled Michelle’s arm round with my left hand and smacked her across the face with the flat of my right hand, then I was shouting in her face “IF YOU SO MUCH AS EVER TOUCH ONE HAIR OF THAT CHILD’S HEAD AGAIN, SO HELP ME, I’LL KILL YOU”

I bent down and gathered up the screaming Jasmine in my arms, ran out of the kitchen and up to her room, murmuring “Don’t worry Jaz, everything’s going to be alright.” When she’d calmed down a bit I said “OK Jaz, we’re going out for the day, get yourself dressed, I’ll be back up in a minute”

Back in the kitchen, Michelle was looking furious but hadn’t moved. “OK,” I said, “I’m really sorry I hit you, but this isn’t working. It was never going to work. I’m taking Jasmine out, clear all your stuff out before we get back.”

“You’re fucking dead you. I’m gonna tell my Dad you slimeball and you’re gonna wish you’d never been born.”

“Too fucking late for that you cow, been there, done it. Just get out and leave us alone.”

I took Jasmine to the seaside. We had a favourite place where there was a café and some shops on the front and a good long beach. At times of stress I still sometimes fall back on cigarettes, at that time I did. I very rarely smoke in front of Jaz but I did then. We went into the café, got a table by the window, I got me a large black coffee and a hot chocolate and a cake for Jaz and I smoked, staring out of the window at the cold blustery February morning.

“Daddy, what was Mummy really like?” Jasmine asked as I lit a second cigarette. I couldn’t get a word out at first, but the tears started again. She came round the table and gave me a huge hug, “Don’t worry Daddy, everything’s going to be alright,” she said.

“That’s right Jaz,” I said, “everything’s going to be alright. Let’s take a walk on the beach, and I’ll tell you all about Mummy.” We spent a couple of hours walking along the beach, throwing stones in the water, picking up shells, and I told her stories about when the two of us were young students, or when we were working together as 6th formers and when we were newlyweds before she was born.

When we got back to the house the front door was wide open. Shit.

I went inside first and made Jasmine wait just outside the front door. I stopped in the doorway to the living room. Inside, all of the photos of me and Manisha had been smashed and crumpled or torn and all over the room was tape. She’d taken the special tape and pulled it all out of the cassette, stretching it and tying it around things, yards and yards of thin brown tape, totally beyond repair. I stumbled out and into the rest of the rooms; the bedroom was a mess and all over the house the photos had been broken. Luckily that was all.

I had re-prints made of all the photos from the negatives and I made the tape again. I knew the order of songs off by heart and still had most of them on disc, though some now had scratches and jumps where they hadn’t the first time I’d taped them.

I’ve met a few women since, but I’ve not brought them home. I’ve not met anyone I’d trust that far. Jaz knows that I’m always there for her. A couple of years ago she went off to university and it was as if I’d lost an arm; I’m still trying to get used to it. The house is so damned quiet all the time. She knows if she’s feeling low, I’ll drive the 450 mile round trip to bring her home at a minute’s notice.

Each February at the nearest weekend, we go to the same beach, come rain or shine and I tell her stories about her Mum. The next day we drive up to London, we used to listen to the tape, then the c.d., now it’s a playlist. Then we wander round the woods at Kew and I tell her more stories. As she’s got older, I find I can tell her different stories, I think she knows her Mum pretty well now.

Thanks for listening - I don’t feel any better yet, but I can see that I will do soon. Sorry it was so long.
(Fri 26th Nov 2010, 11:47, More)

» Nativity Plays

Bean Countin' Man - the happy ending

Those of you that know me will be aware that every Friday afternoon, from 1.00 til 2.00, I spend an hour at a local primary school, helping some of the kids with their reading. It's something I started doing when Jasmine was little - the school always encourages Dads to help with reading, as there are so few male role models in schools - especially primary schools - these days. I was also co-opted onto the board of governors and I've remained there ever since. It's a fair sized school, with three classes in each year from Year 1 (5 year olds) up to Year 6 (10 - 11 yr olds), it also has a nursery with limited places. As a result, the headteacher has an annual budget of well over £1m to play with and my professional help (freely given of course) with budgeting is gratefully received. So, I'm pretty much part of the fixtures and fittings at Wellington Grove. It's good to give something back to the community and I always enjoy it. If you've ever seen a seven year old boy who had trouble with his reading gaining confidence as well as ability over the course of a year, you'd agree it was a worthwhile way to spend an hour a week. This year, I'm working with four kids in Year 4 that need a bit of extra help, there are a pair of identical twin, Polish girls, a sturdy little chap called Matthew with a runny nose and a bit of a perspiration problem and a really cute little kid called Kyle, who has thick brown hair to his shoulders.

Since posting last February, I've also made some positive steps towards finding myself some permanent female company. The first thing I did was to tentatively sign up on an online dating site, though apart from the odd reasonably pleasant meal, it was a wash-out. I also started to get myself back into shape. Since my early 40s, my waist has steadily grown outwards and although buying looser trousers helps in the short term, it doesn't address the underlying problem. So, I started running, or, to be more accurate, jogging. Every Sunday and Wednesday morning, as early as I can manage, I don my gear and head out of the house, down the street to the cycle path that runs along the river. There's a path either side of the river and it's a popular spot for joggers, as there are fairly regular bridges, you can choose the length of your run to suit your legs, lungs or time available.

After a few weeks, I began to recognise some of my fellow joggers. I run with an iPod on, but, being a polite chap, I always nod to those coming the opposite way and they nod back. Some dog walkers nod too, though they tend to talk to each other more and ignore joggers. And then there was her.

The first time I noticed her she was about a hundred yards in front of me and moving very easily, whereas I was trundling along with my would-be love handles jiggling with every step. I tried to get a bit closer because, even at that distance, I could tell that jogging behind her would provide a very useful distraction from my labouring lungs. Unfortunately, she was far fitter than me and got further in front with every step. Never mind, I thought, and continued on my almost merry way. Ten minutes later I was rewarded with a sight of her coming towards me, but on the far side of the river. Although still a fair way away, I could see that even what was probably a decent sports bra was insufficient to prevent teeshirt moving more than my saddlebags and a lot more attractively.

The next Sunday, there she was again and, frustratingly, a little further in front of me than last time. I resolved to leave the house five minutes earlier the following week. It's not that I'm a perv or anything, this was no young girl that I was intent on letching after, I could tell that she was a mature woman who had kept herself trim, I just reasoned that if I was determined to carry on with this running malarky, then I may as well provide myself with every incentive. Anyway, the plan worked like clockwork. I left the house at 6.55am rather than 7.00am and when I was nearly at the half way point in my run and about to reach the bridge, she ran past me easily and headed for the bridge. I reached the bottom of the steps when she was half way up and guiltily looked up to see her lycra-clad behind bouncing merrily up the steps. The rest of that run I stayed behind her, though progressively further and further behind.

As spring progressed to summer and the mornings got lighter and the weather milder, I found I was shedding ounces of fat. I cut out alcohol during the week, gave up chocolate and crisps and soon I was looking at myself in the mirror with something other than head-shaking resignation. Sometimes, I'd run the route the other way round, so that I could nod at my running muse as she came towards me.

Anyway, back to the story. Christmas was coming and I was invited to the Nativity Play. The kids I read with always bounded up to me when they saw me sitting at the little table in the upstairs hall when they came in from lunchtime playtime on a Friday. As it was my last week's reading of the term, I'd bought each of them a little book, as well as a box of miniture heroes for the rest of the class. The kids were pleased with their pressies and also pleased to be able to present me with a typical kiddies home-made christmas card with 'Thank you Mr Bean-Counter' on the front with a picture of a christmas tree. Little Kyle gave me a hug after opening his pressie and said he'd try to read it with his mum during the holidays.

The following Wednesday was the Nativity play day so I took the day off. I went for my usual run then lazed around until it was time to go to the school. I got there early as these events are always well attended and found a seat in the second row. Soon someone came and sat next to me and I glanced at them, as you do. She seemed familiar, but I couldn't remember where from. The play proceeded and when Kyle came on as a shepherd he waved enthusiastically at me so I waved back, in fact, the lady sat next to me and I did a synchronised wave-back. We looked at each other with matching puzzled expressions.

"You must be Kyle's mum." I whispered. She nodded, looking a bit wary. "I'm Mr Bean-Counter - I listen to Kyle read on Fridays."

"Oh, I'm so glad I met you." she was whispering too, she had to lean quite close. "I wanted to thank you. He loves reading now."

As we were talking, it suddenly clicked - she was the Sunday morning jogger. I resisted doing the old 'didn't recognise you with your clothes on' routine, but sat quietly until the end of the interval. Then, as casually as possible (which isn't really all that casual at all) I asked. "So, your husband couldn't make it then?"

"No. We don't see much of him. I did hope he'd make the effort but..." she sighed, "Poor Kyle misses him a lot."

"Look, I'm not doing anything this afternoon, I don't suppose the two of you fancy tea and a cake do you?"

To cut a long story short we began to get to know each other that afternoon. We both took it steadily but having Kyle on my side helped. I let on that I recognised her from the cycle-path and she joked that it was nice to have a man chasing her again.

This year on Valentine's day, I could tell that part of Jasmine wanted to be somewhere else, with someone else. I'm not sure if she could tell that the same was true for me, but I broached the subject and we both agreed that we were happy for the other. Jaz wanted to meet Kyle's mother (name protected etc. etc.) so I cooked dinner for the four of us. It was strange, but it felt right, a funny little family group for the 21st century: Me - 47, Her - 34, Jaz - 21, Kyle - 8. Who'd have thought that we'd all get on so well together.

I finally managed to catch up with her at the end of February. I don't intend letting her get away.
(Mon 30th Mar 2009, 18:36, More)

» Guilty Pleasures, part 2

err,


I like walking down the street with a big semi-hard-on when wearing boxer shorts so that it's pretty obvious, but acting as if everything is normal.

I blame it all on that picture on Lou Reed's 'Transformer' - you know the one.
(Tue 18th Mar 2008, 14:02, More)