14 July 2011


The one memorable moment of this week was supposed to happen today - Thursday: Frances's graduation from the University of Birmingham. It's why I came home from South East Asia when I did. But - life being what it is - we were presented with another memorable moment on Wednesday afternoon. This one was unexpected and very much unwanted.

Around half past two the phone went and at the other end of the line was a wailing dervish, speaking some kind of gibberish. Fortunately, someone else grabbed the receiver and I heard the professional tone of an ambulance woman telling me that Shirley's sister's husband had died and that we needed to get to their house as soon as possible.

I put our phone down in stunned disbelief. Shirley's sister is just fifty and her husband is/was just forty nine. Parents to two teenage boys. I zoomed to Shirley's workplace and we sped towards their unexceptional village near Selby.

Shirley's sister remained a gibbering wreck - as if a hurricane had passed through her normal and unremarkable life. The police had arrived and her husband's body still lay like a sack of flour dumped on the floor of the utility room between the kitchen and his little office. His face was changing colour rather unpleasantly. He had gone forever.

He was always very civil to me and I felt at ease in his company. He had been married to Shirley's sister for twenty years and had had no significant health problems but the last couple of years had been laced with financial worries. He'd lost jobs and had taken, like a gambler, to playing the stock market but with very little success. In fact, he had been driven to re-mortgage their house. He was quite secretive about it all and my sister-in-law was left in the dark about most of his difficulties. He has unluckily left her an awful mess to sort out and it won't be easy for her. But I will remember his pleasant nature and his lilting Scottish accent - he came from the Scottish Borders - and I will remember how he was loved by his boys and tried to be a good father to them. Forty nine is too young to die. May he rest in peace.

And so to Thursday. Driving down the M1 and the M42 and along the A38 to Edgbaston on the southern side of the city of Birmingham. Me and Shirley with Ian and Frances in the back. I had never been to a graduation ceremony before, having deliberately missed my own many moons ago. There were perhaps three hundred graduates in the congregation we attended in the university's Great Hall. It all went like clockwork and traditional rituals were followed. The address by the Vice Chancellor. The playing of the national anthem. The gowned and capped graduates announced one by one as they climbed on to the stage to shake hands with the Chancellor - Sir Dominic Cadbury. And amongst those graduates was our own Frances Emily. I felt so proud - at least as proud as she must have felt at that moment.

The future is uncertain for so many graduates these days but such practical concerns belong to another day. Today was all about the celebration of achievement in one of England's finest universities and our lovely clever daughter was amongst them, bearing my mother and father's name and Paul's. Like Wednesday, a day to remember but for very different reasons:-


  1. Poor Carolyn.....how sad....and what a reminder that life is short indeed.
    On the Graduation day your heart must have been filled to the brim, give yourself a pat on the back as a good parent...you did good!

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother in law, YP. My heart goes out to Carolyn. It's bad enough having to cope with the loss of her husband without having to deal with financial problems too.
    Congratulations to Frances and I wish her all the best for the future. You must be very proud.

  3. its so like life isnt it...one nice thing to experience..... one awful

    life always throws a curved ball

  4. ps
    forgive me for saying this and I hope you dont mind, but should the personal stuff about your Brother in law be on the blog...?
    I have made a mistake once about personal information online and it bit me on the arse

    only a thought YP

  5. LIBBY Confused emotions this week. Some weeks are so ordinary and eminently forgettable. Thanks for your support and understanding.
    JENNY Thank you too.
    JOHN GRAY Thank you for your sensible ps query. As a result I have now removed the names. I know where you are coming from and yes, life does seem to have a habit of giving us the unexpected googlie from time to time.

  6. Sorry to hear your news -- it must have come as a heck of a shock.

    Congratulations to Frances though. You mus be very proud.

  7. What a great-looking family you have. Congratulations to the new graduate!

    And my condolences on the loss of your brother-in-law at such a young age.

    Life is both bitter and sweet, it seems, and often simultaneously....

  8. Congratulations to Frances, she has good reason to be proud.I'm sure your support has been invaluable to her.
    Commiserations to your SIL and her family. Hard days ahead by the sounds of things.
    ....and Yorkshire (or the dales at least )is my all time favourite part of England too !

  9. Thinking of you. It must be lovely for Frances and your sister-in-law to have your and Shirley's support... in different ways, for different reasons.

  10. I hope that you will accept my condolences on your family's sad loss, but may I also say what a lovely family group photograph of you all - a proud day for you.

  11. I'm sorry to hear about the sad death of your brother-in-law. Many congratulations to your daughter though.
    I missed my own graduation ceremony, deliberately - such dressy events always scare me. I've never met anyone else who missed theirs on purpose - I wonder why you did.


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