A couple of weeks ago a friend’s daughter had her induction day at secondary school, I knew she was anxious so text to see how she’d got on. My friend said that she’d enjoyed it but was a bit freaked out by the enormous dining hall. My initial response was, tell her not to be worried, that’s where I met Clare for the first time. I didn’t need to say any more.
It was September 1992, it was our first day of secondary school, none of us really knew each other as we had come from schools all over Birmingham. We’d made it to lunch time, and we were queuing up. I was with a girl who sat close to me in the form room – we had surnames beginning with the same letter, as we had to sit alphabetically! We were chatting very happily, and turned round to talk to the girl behind us. We chatted a bit and then we said ‘what form are you in?’ She said B – the same form as us – we hadn’t realised (it was only lunch time on the first day – and we hadn’t moved from our alphabetical places in form) and we continued chatting. I remember that day clear as anything, but I had no chance of knowing that that girl was going to become one of my closest friends.
That girl was Clare. She would have been 35 today, I say would have because she was taken from us 6 years ago. Hence this tribute.
Clare truly has had one of the biggest influences in my life! We spent so much time together, whether that was mass sleepovers with friends, pubs at the weekend (once we were in sixth form and 18 obviously), going on holiday together, travelling Europe with Orchestra, German exchanges, getting lost in Copenhagen! ( well if the school is going to tell you that the restaurant you’re meeting at is the ugly duckling, how are you supposed to get directions back if they haven’t told you the Danish name)! The majority of our summers were spent together running around Birmingham doing the adventure game, and getting lost. And the bit my parents will remember, the amount of hours we spent on the phone – of course this would be the house phone – before mobiles! I was with Clare at the millennium, we got our GCSE and ALevel results together.
Although I did a lot of things on my own with Clare, there was a group of us who were pretty much friends from year 7. These are the friends I went to Scotland with at half term. I’m probably sugar-coating memories but I don’t ever remember us having beak-ups or arguments. We spent a lot of our time together, including numerous games of slam and pool (I have no idea how we got A levels) the majority of weekends were together, and we had a lot of sleepovers! We didn’t expect anything of each other, I don’t remember any sense of having to do anything to belong, we just were who we were. There was no pressure to conform at all. When everyone else was going to 18-30s holidays, we went to a cottage in Bude! They have all helped me to become who I am, I am happy with who I am, I recognise my faults (and tell you about them regularly) but I am confident to make my own decisions and choices. This wouldn’t have been possible without this amazing group of friends, who were my rock throughout the traumatic time that is being a teenager. This then meant that we shared some of the most important life events with each other
Clare was one of the kindest, friendliest, funniest people I have ever met. One of her most redeeming qualities (of which there were many) was that she was true to herself. She wasn’t going to conform to what the world expected of her. She was vegetarian, this wasn’t a whim, she took it very seriously, she wouldn’t wear leather, and I think most people from school will remember her canvas black and white tartan doc martens. She actually eventually became vegan, as she was so true to her beliefs. She was an amazing musician, I tried to be jealous of her, but it was impossible because she was so humble! She played the cello, and she was phenomenal. Whereas I played music, she actually felt the music. She got a 1st class degree from Sheffield, in Music. Then she continued to be honest to herself and did what anyone would do with a first class music degree – she worked in a greengrocer and she loved it!
When we found out that she was ill, we all did our bit. I still remember my mum driving me to Sheffield so that I could see her in hospital. We all would text her, and do what we could from a distance. She eventually moved back to Birmingham, because she had to. Throughout her entire illness she never stopped being Clare, thinking about the positive, thinking about others. Never was there doom and gloom, or woe is me.
We knew that time was short, So we all arranged to meet up. This was something we all felt we needed to do for Clare. We all lived so far apart that all of us being in the same city at the same time was pretty much impossible, but we managed it.
Unfortunately the next time we came together would be for her funeral. I had been to many funerals before but this one was different. This is a funeral service that I still talk about at school now, when we are discussing the issue of death and funerals. Why? Because the funeral completley and utterly reflected Clare. She had actually written the service, it was a humanist service, with a woodland burial. There was music throughout, including some rock music. As we left we were given bean seeds to grow. My gardening skills are not great, and this is the closest I came to getting beans before they were all eaten. But I know my other friends do grow them every year. I will try again!
I hate that she was taken from us so soon, but I love how she is still very much a part our conversations. When we were in Scotland we spoke about her a lot and we skyped her parents, and a couple of us saw them when we came back. They love to hear how we are getting on, and they reminisce with us. Her mum actually said she’s convinced that if Clare was still with us she would still be working in the greengrocers, chatting to the older folk who went in, and having fun.
On her anniversary and birthday, it is almost impossible to be sad, because to think of Clare is to think of happiness. I also know she would tell me off if I spent time mourning, when I could be living.
I feel so blessed to have known Clare, to have spent so much time with her, and once again, to have been part of such an amazing group of friends who just accept who we each are. As I look at the pupils I teach, I hope that they can find such friendships.
I wanted to write this as Clare was definitely one who enjoyed life, and I know she’d be glad that I was doing the same. I also know she’d be really pleased with how my lifestyle has changed but how I will still drink a pint! Afterall, I still remember the time I went to the pub she was working in and I asked for bitter. She told me, ‘you’re having a Guinness’ I said that I preferred bitter, she wasn’t interested because she’s been practising making a shamrock in a Guinness and that was what I was going to have! I also had the nicest pint of my life at her wake!
I’ll raise a pint for you later Clare, thank you for being you.