This weekend was one of those that reminds me of the importance of friends; as if I needed reminding. On Saturday Natalie, Joey and I, together with my in-laws, joined a number of Rosie’s great university friends to celebrate her life. For those of you who don’t know, Rosie was an alumna of Oxford University. She was a very clever person, but not in a big headed way. Her brain was the thing that attracted me to her and kept me attracted to her until her very last moment with us. Ro wore her intelligence lightly. She had plenty of opportunities to make me feel stupid, but of course she never did!
Early on in our time together I had the sheer delight of joining Rosie and her family at her Masters graduation; at the same time her brother was picking up his Bachelors degree. Until then my experience of Oxford academia had been fleeting. I had a couple of friends who attended the university and so I’d visited once or twice before. But really I always felt like an outsider; because I was. Going to an ex-poly as I did, studying at a “new” university in a grotty tower block in Birmingham made the specialness of Oxford sparkle even more. And on that first visit with Rosie it still felt like that. But over the years she and I visited her college, Brasenose, with her friends. As time passed by I started to feel comfortable there.
Like her dad I was proud to have a wife (in his case his daughter and son) who went to Oxford. And I enjoyed the trips there. It helped that her friends are such a tremendous bunch of people. All from different backgrounds, all welcoming and warm.
Anyway, one of those friends, Dan, had the fantastic idea of having a chair dedicated to Rosie’s memory in her college library. The Stallybrass Memorial law library is a small but perfectly formed room with every inch of every wall lined with books dating back to the 1700s. Watching Natalie’s face as she entered I thought I could detect a little flame ignite in her. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but she had asked me lots of questions about getting into and studying at Oxford.
Dan and Jeffrey, Rosie’s dad, said a few words (see video below) and her friends and their families enjoyed seeing the chair. I could definitely detect some moist eyes but I think the others, like me, were making a supreme effort not to cry. It really wasn’t easy.
Later on we all trooped back to Laura’s house, another one of Rosie’s great friends. The house was full of friends’ children enjoying themselves. I’ll be honest that I found the whole day overwhelming, but I’m glad we went. At times like these, friends really are so, so important.
And then in the evening I went to one of my best friend’s 40th birthday party. It was a lovely evening with drinks and food galore. Loads of close and not so close friends. Lots of people I hadn’t seen for a long time. Lots of caring questions about me and the children. I thought I’d be ok, but as it turned out I found it became just a little too much. I’ve never been a party person but with Rosie by my side I always had security. Being there alone I felt very exposed. Of course that’s entirely in my own mind. My friends were and are wonderful. I love every single one of them and thank them for their support.
On Sunday my children spent time with their friends. It’s no different for them to have their friends around them. And just like me theirs are very special people. At ages eight and five they can’t possibly know the importance of these relationships but in the years to come they will understand.
To all of my friends, new and old (and I know that this sounds cheesy), in the words of that gloriously cheesy song, thank you for being a friend.
Dedication of Rosie’s chair at Brasenose College