Rusty loves the South Downs. If he could talk, he would tell you that the best bit is finding some poo to roll in, usually cow or horse. The amount of pleasure he gains from getting stuck into a smelly old cow pat is immeasurable. The only exception is when he was fooled into thinking he had found a pat of reasonable consistency, only to find that what he thought was pure cow pat, was actually a yellow shell on top of a cow pat, because the sun had baked it. When he started to roll in it, the shell broke to reveal pure yellow liquid poo. He was so yellow, he looked like a small Labrador. Even he didn’t like it and before I had a chance to yell at him, he leapt onto his feet and seemed visibly distressed. He rolled in grass, presumably to attempt to rub off the offending poo. Of course, fox poo is the champagne of all poos; that lingering acrid odour, which lurks like an aura of despair and unlike cow or horse poo, which is fairly innocuous in comparison and washes off with the cold hose on full blast, requires a warm bath and lather, rinse, repeat.
Conversely, he is not a fan of the beach. He will happily prance along the undercliff walk, or even stop for a coffee with me at Whitecliffs cafe. Well, I’ll have the coffee and he will enjoy the bits of sausage sometimes provided by Beautiful Greek Friend, who, incidentally, called the ambulance when I broke my wrist. But I have to drag him onto the beach (Rusty, not the Greek guy). Maybe it hurts his pads, so I try to choose beaches with small stones or even sand. Then, weirdly, I have to drag him off the beach when it’s time to go. Anyway, the point is, usually we stroll around the countryside, because the walk is mostly for him, but sometimes we go to the beach because sometimes the walk is for me.
Last Saturday we went to the beach and there was an eerie stillness. A sea mist was suspended over the sea and seemed to stifle all movement, as the ebb and flow struggled to move the tide, like someone struggling to breathe. I reflected on the week at work, which, like the previous week, had been fraught. It had ended positively though, with World Book Day and I chuckled at the memory of a lad attending my Superheroes vs Villains workshop, who commented on the typical size of female villains’ breasts. Along with one of my students accidentally calling me ‘babe’ earlier in the week (a variation on the approximately weekly ‘mum’), I’d had enough laughs to get me through the week.
As Rusty pottered amongst the pebbles and I sat daydreaming, I caught some notes of a favourite song: Cheerleader. I’d felt happy with my lot as I relaxed on the stones, but hearing the chorus of that particular song, had an unexpected effect on my mood. The Rastafarian had said that I was his cheerleader, saying that the song could have been about me, as, he said, I was ‘always right there’ when he needed me. Remembering good things about him was not the intention. I needed to remember the bad stuff, so I could justify my ending the relationship. But of course there was good stuff, so this is where it gets tricky, I thought. The whole trip to the beach became a mournful affair. I realised I was sitting on the very beach where we’d taken Rusty, one day early on in the relationship. There is, I believe, a defining moment in every relationship when you realise you have a relationship. It might be a phone call that goes on for a particularly long time, or you might stay up all night chatting and watch the sun come up together. I remember the first time I did the latter with a boy. I was 15 and he had just finished at uni, so although we had that defining moment, the relationship was doomed because the chances of my parents allowing such a relationship were zero. My sister and I had invited friends back – from a Gilbert and Sullivan production we were in – and they’d all stayed over. Uni Guy and I hit it off and for romantic value, watching the sun come up together was a straight 10 out of 10. The defining moment between me and the Rastafarian happened on that beach. When we set off for the walk it was warm but overcast. I was wearing a flimsy summer dress and after some time a fine mist of rain started to sweep over the beach. I’d paddled in a rock pool to encourage Rusty in for a swim and the fine mist turned into big drops splashing onto the water. We laughed at how drenched we were getting and the Rastafarian helped me out of the rock pool and again, for romantic value, kissing in the rain is also a straight 10 out of 10.
Fast forward to the end of the relationship and I’d recently lodged a claim at the small claims court for the money he owed me and rather than feeling empowered, I was feeling pretty miserable. I thought it would give me closure. Well, it did, which was the problem. The finality of closure was bringing me down . . .
The next day, I had planned to meet with an old school friend. After Nira left my school, a new girl joined. She became my best friend for the remainder of secondary school. When you’re 12 years old, the ‘best friend’ phenomenon is serious business. Karen had become my best friend over Nira, yet Nira still called me her best friend, so I decided I could have two, officially, although the reality was that Karen was more of a best friend than Nira. The classes were always full to capacity in my school and places only became available when someone left. So Nira leaving was fortuitous for Karen, because it meant that she could join. I found it funny that Nira’s replacement in the class had also become my replacement best friend. We made each other laugh and we were both into animals; Karen’s parents ran a pet shop which I thought was the best business your parents could possibly run. We quoted lines from sitcoms like Fawlty Towers the day after it had been aired, impersonating characters and finding ourselves hilarious. We learnt the words to favourite songs and sang them at full blast, thinking we actually sounded good, often whilst on our way to hockey, which involved a bus-ride across town. Or a walk, if we spent our bus fare at the sweet shop on the way, which happened a fair bit. We had our fall-outs, of course, like when we went to Wales on a field trip, although I can’t remember why we fell out. I do remember throwing up over everyone’s rucksacks in the mini-bus though; and being driven into the countryside with maps, and being told to find our own way back to the field centre, in pairs; and climbing Pen-Y-Fan because the PE teacher suddenly felt like it, yet we had no climbing equipment. This was, of course, before the advent of Health & Safety, which is a wonderful thing. But speaking from experience, it makes school trip planning a minefield (if you will pardon the pun, which would make for a Health & Safety nightmare, if one cropped up on a school trip. Just fields are bad enough). Sometime around that trip, Karen’s dog died; I can picture her crying to this day, over her dog dying, just as I’m certain she felt the pain of our family pony dying.
In our teen years, we both became friends with the school friend I met with last week. She was responsible for providing us with endless invitations to Venture Scout discos. They sounded tame enough for us to be allowed to attend by our parents, yet were entertaining enough to bridge that gap between being too old to go to playgrounds yet too young to go clubbing. When your school is single-sex, opportunities such as discos (God I feel old, using that word) are not passed up without good reason. Those Venture Scout discos are responsible for my first slow dance, my first kiss, the first time someone whispered to me that so-and-so ‘liked’ me and most of all, my first boyfriend. If he could be called that. His name was Ian and he was ridiculously handsome, with thick, floppy, jet-black hair. We dated for . . . A couple of months (?) and actually hardly saw each other. We had some long telephone conversations and my mother followed us on one of our first dates. She said she was on her way to the the post office, when we met, ‘by chance’ in the park. I hoped and prayed that Ian was not familiar enough with Saltdean to know that she was quite far from the post office. I recall very little intimacy between me and Ian; clearly, we were both novices which, frankly, was a poor combination, so it is no surprise that the flames of passion failed to ignite. Karen, School Friend and I stumbled (on high heels) and laughed (at each other mostly) through those teen years and like most people, I cherish the memories. What makes me cherish the memories all the more, is that Karen, tragically, died a few years ago. We dipped in and out of contact after leaving school and when she died, we hadn’t seen each other for a few years. I’m glad that we had a few years previous to that though, of the three of us meeting up for drinks and coffees, as you do when life is busy. How different communication is now; there is no excuse for losing contact, as you can move to Timbuktu and back again thrice over and still have the same points of contact through electronic communication, most notably social media.
Since Karen’s death, School Friend and I have remained in contact. She really hasn’t changed – her face is still the same, her hair is still shiny and black and she is one of the smiliest, easiest-to-be-around people I know. We met up last Sunday, along with Karen’s younger sister. I never saw a resemblance between them, until last Sunday and the way she looked, the way she laughed, her whole demeanour was like Karen, just with red curly hair instead of brown/blond straight hair. It was a mellow, happy afternoon, drinking halves and listening to live music. I will admit to feeling emotional, as that was the longest amount of time I have ever spent with Karen’s sister and I was constantly reminded of her, by virtue of being in her company. But however I was feeling, her feelings would have been more intense I’m sure. Karen was the link between us, so my presence must have been a continual reminder of her loss. But there were many laughs; School Friend and I had tales aplenty of our Tinder experiences with which to entertain Karen’s sister and likewise they had equally sad, funny and shocking tales for me about nights out and other things, which led School Friend and I onto ‘the olden days’ which I believe is compulsory conversation material for reunions.
At some point, late into the afternoon, I left them there as someone had to drink all the cider, but I needed to prepare for a week’s work. I’d lost some lesson plans from the night before, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to start over. I left the proceedings in good but slightly emotional spirits and my phone ‘pinged’ all the way home. I smiled as I wondered if it was School Friend, already trying to arrange a speed dating night, as Karen’s sister’s eyes had sparkled at the mention of it, when I regaled my night of searching for karaoke. School Friend was a good companion for nights out, prepared to dress up to down drinks and generally throw herself into the proceedings.
As I arrived home, I checked my phone.
‘I miss you.’
‘Love . . . Xx’