I first met Alice when she was a fragile 14-year-old. Her life had become more than a little crazy following the sudden loss of her father at a tragically young age, for both of them.
At the time, Alice’s mother, Linda, was briefly working with my wife, Sue, at the local university. And, unknowingly, it seems the fates had conspired.
Alice had lost her father a few days after Christmas and in the months that followed, as an only child, had understandably lost a bit of faith and belief in the world; her world turned upside down and inside out. It seems neither mother nor Alice were coping with the grief too well. Alice, I’d been told, had yet to cry.
It was early that following summer when Alice came to see a gig with Sue and I and, presumably, having decided I wasn’t wholly unhinged [an early misjudgment], subsequently agreed to come out and have a coffee and a chat with me. [For anyone reading who might not know, although not qualified, I’ve shared a room with a high school counsellor for the past decade. So, used to being around vulnerable teenagers, both Sue and mum thought Alice might open up to me.] Alice had been brought up within a philosophically stiff-upper-lip background. Be strong. It seems emotion wasn’t something she was able to fully express. I’m not sure how long we were in the tiny, crowded coffee shop that day, but at some point the emotional dam burst; many curious heads were turned. Eventually, we were standing outside as the world swirled around us and I offered her a hug. As we stood on the pavement I nodded back in the direction of the coffee-drinkers, many still looking our way … “If you can cry in there, you can cry anywhere!”
Alice has cried quite a lot since then … sitting on the couch; lying on our bed; in the car; while out walking the dog; and in one or two more coffee shops. She’s quite good at it now! But we’ve laughed many times, too. What I hadn’t expected those seven summers ago, was to have made a special little friend – which she’s grown into. There was that slightly uneasy period, for a while, as Alice grew closer to both Sue and I, where I didn’t feel comfortable at the thought of replacing her father. We talked about it and reached the playful compromise of her being my young wife instead … I still attach a delighted mischievousness at some of the expressions such an introductory label engendered from a few; particularly as Alice shares my absurdist sense of humour.
Since then, we’ve passed a number of life milestones and shared many wonderful moments. And I doubt any moved me more than the day I found out – after the event – that in one of her final classes at high school, the teacher had arranged a show and tell: pupils brought in various objects and described their relationship with them to the class. Alice simply took in a photograph of me! I’m told that she had most of the class in tears, including the teacher, vividly describing the sadness behind our meeting before alighting on the significance to her of the next couple of years … a thought that still moves me today.
The following is a video I made for Alice’s 16th birthday that summer after a photographic session in her home. Arguably most remarkable for the fact that I was able to use virtually every image that we shot that day.
I’ve chosen to write this now because today is Alice’s 21st birthday. Another milestone. But it’s become an extra significant milestone, as earlier this week Alice phoned to say she’d just completed a Skype interview with King’s College London and they’d immediately offered her a place on their prestigious MA in Shakespeare Studies “Not only will you draw on the literary expertise of a world-class university, but you’ll be taught within the renowned Globe Theatre, only metres from where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.”
When I first met Alice it seemed she was destined to become a barrister or lawyer; something her father had potentially wanted for her. Since meeting me I’ve wholly supported her in her will to simply become … Alice. And as a Shakespearean heathen myself I’m happy to clarify this direction has garnered absolutely no coercive prompting on my part! However, if there’s one thing I hope that Adrian [if he is able to look down from somewhere] and I both share in this notable of week’s … it’s a sense of pride at seeing Alice finding her way with such intelligence and passion.
There’s a place I go
When I’m alone
Do anything I want
Be anyone I wanna be
– Newton ‘Shakespeare’ Faulkner
Who knows or even begins to understand why people come and go in our lives on this earth? The only thing I do know is that people occasionally swing into each other’s orbits for myriad of inexplicable fateful reason. And, undoubtedly, the best thing is being able to recognise the special ones when they do … and cherishing the journey you share.
This blog wouldn’t be complete without my favourite Shakespearean quotation: “I thought I’d [finish] by reading a poem by Shakespeare, but then I thought, why should I? He never reads any of mine.” – Spike Milligan.
For my special girl. For my special friend. To the future. Happy 21st Alice. x x x