Hats off to Lynda Bellingham!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

I woke up early to do some work for Phil Irish, who’s designing publicity materials for Prouder Than Ever. I finished at 7.30 and, as Phil lives only a couple of streets away, I pulled jeans and a sweater on over my pyjamas to go round and deliver it. And suddenly I remembered my father doing exactly the same thing. At 5.30 am every morning of every decade he and Mum lived in Highgate Village, London, he’d put some clothes on over his night things, then go out, cross the road to the newsagent, buy a paper from Graham, who worked there, then bring it back to read in bed with Mum.
Dad loved Graham. He got up every morning looking forward to seeing him.
‘Mustn’t be late for Graham,’ he’d say.

Graham was big, shy, young and wore brown. A great friendship grew up between them. Whenever my parents went away, Dad would buy Something for Graham, a small souvenir, a plate, a box, or a pen with the name of the place where they’d been. They gave each other chocolates and cards at Christmas and on birthdays. I tried to find Graham when Dad died to tell him about the funeral but the shop had changed hands and no one there knew him.

Still thinking about Dad and Graham, I walked to Phil’s in the lovely autumn air, popped the stuff through the letterbox then crossed the road to our corner shop, to check out the headlines and see if the croissants they bake there were ready. It was closed. Sunday. I joined three men waiting outside then came a fourth. Is it worth it? I thought. Yes. It’s for Dad and Graham.

They let us in at 8 am on the dot. The croissants weren’t ready so I checked out the headlines. The front page of the Mail said ‘Lynda Bellingham dying. Only weeks to live,’ with a photo of her looking great. That’s Lynda Bellingham as in my childhood friend who’s written such beautiful words for the back jacket of Prouder Than Ever, the Lynda Bellingham who’d texted me yesterday to say she was determined to come to the launch of the book, how exciting it was and how my Dad would be so proud. I’ve known for months her cancer was terminal, although wild horses would not have wrested that secret from me, but I still felt the ground rock.

I paid for the paper and stood there reading her words: ‘I’ve chosen the date I will die’ and I started to cry but then I stopped. Lynda is brave so I’d be too. I knew this was an important moment and asked the man in the shop to take this photo of me and the front page. I’ve cropped the head off as I look heartbroken and that’s not a good look.

Then the croissants came out and filled the shop with their aroma. I bought a couple and walked back. They were still warm when I got home and so was the newspaper I’d clutched to my body. I put it on the table to read later. Then I took the croissants into the sun and ate them with unsalted butter and lots of apricot jam. How delicious they tasted!