Beth: A Little PS

A hot-off-the-press addition, which came as a complete surprise to me. I’ve found this photo of James and Matty to go with it – now, I know I’ve already posted one of them both, and did the whole compare and contrast bit, and that photo was lovely because they looked so comfortable with each other. This one, however, is from way back in the past, from Carol’s archives, because it shows James aged about sixteen and Matty aged about eleven. It was apparently taken in the garden of Carol’s house in Stafford, goodness only knows what kind of bribery she had to employ to get James to stand still and have his photo taken with his annoying little brother.

You can see from the grumpy adolescent scowl that James is less than happy to be there, and although little Matty is smiling, it looks like it is because someone has said ‘say cheese’, not because he’s particularly happy or relaxed in his big brother’s company, and there is an air of uncertainty about him. They both look tense.

It seemed like a snapshot which perfectly described their younger days, and maybe a good introduction to this bolt from the blue from my constantly surprising husband.

Right, on to the main event.

I was just finishing up this photographic amble down memory lane, putting the final touches to it, almost ready to hit send and fling it out to everyone, when James came up behind me and coughed quietly, shuffling his feet awkwardly until, he hoped, I couldn’t ignore him any longer. Honestly, I know him so well by now, that if he wants something urgently he’ll just barge in regardless of what I’m doing and demand to know if I got any cornflakes at the supermarket, or what I’ve done with his blue t-shirt. So this softly-softly approach made me think he might have done something I’d be cross about (not that I don’t get cross about after all these years still being the one who does the shopping and the clothes tracking but not the point right now).

So I thought I’d let him stew for a bit, and carried on tapping on the computer, squinting at the screen, until he coughed again, drew in a breath and walked into my field of vision.

He had a piece of paper in his hand, and he held it out tentatively towards me without saying anything, waiting for me to take it, with an apprehensive expression on his face.

‘What’s this?’ I took the paper from him, glancing at it quickly, catching the words ‘Matty’ and ‘memorial’. I looked up at James queryingly. I’d told him so many times that if he wrote it all down, got it all out, even after all this time, he might feel better. I never expected him to take my advice though.

‘Well, if you read it you’ll find out. It’s that thing, you keep saying, if I do it, it might help, and so I have. But I’m not talking about it, just read it and you’ll know, but I don’t want loads of questions, alright?’

‘Um, ok.’ I read the first few sentences and felt myself fill up with emotion. He had actually done it, by the looks of it, written down how he felt, and was still feeling about Matty. I was so proud of him. ‘This looks amazing, James. Thanks for showing me.’

I reached out and held his hand, and was surprised to feel it trembling slightly. He had been nervous about showing me this, hadn’t he! I gave his hand a squeeze, stood up and hugged him tight, saying softly, ‘No nosey questions, I promise.’

He smiled his crinkly eyed smile, kissed me on the cheek and left me to it.

And now I’ve read it, and not asked any questions about it, even though as you may imagine I had loads and loads. I did ask one thing, though, and that was if it was alright to share what he’d written with you all, and he said it was, that was one of the reasons he’d done it, as long as the ‘no questions asked’ rule extended to anyone who reads it.

So here it is:

Look, I wasn’t going to do this, right? Do the Matty memorial, big him up, get all emotional, maybe say things I’ve never said before. But it’s been on my mind for a while, how from Matty’s point of view I’m a bit of a slacker when it comes to expressing myself, although he’d be a fine one to talk, and I also don’t think I come across as a particularly caring brother the way he tells it.

So. Part of this is to set the record straight, let you all know I did – do – care about lots of things, and partly to say what I really feel about Matty.

It’s not going to be open for discussion, I’m not going to be changing the habit of a lifetime and talking to anyone about what I say here. But, as I said, it’s been on my mind, so here I am sharing my feelings. Happy now Beth?

Matty. Even typing his name makes me feel all kind of weird inside now, now he’s gone. I can’t believe he’s gone, either. I mean, we didn’t exactly spend every day talking about deep things, we’d probably text a couple of times a week, you know, daft things we’d found on the internet, we’d see each other fairly regularly, that was Beth’s doing, family get togethers and all, and we’d nod at each other to say hi, and take the piss out of each other to say ‘you’re my brother’ and that was the extent of it mostly.

But deep down, God actually writing this is hard, getting over all the ‘I’m having an emotion’, but deep down I knew we loved each other. There, I’ve said it now. Yeah, we loved each other. In the end. I mean, there were times, many times when I’m pretty sure we didn’t. He was an annoying little git when he was younger, and it didn’t help that Mum made me look out for him at school because he was a nerd and always getting picked on because he was weedy and speccy. I hated that, the conflict between getting stick from the cool kids if I looked after him, and getting stick from Mum if she found out I hadn’t. So I suppose I didn’t hate him, I hated the situation, which came about because our Dad died when we were little, and I had to ‘step up’.

But eventually, when those five or so years between us started to mean a bit less, and Matty got more confident and, ha, mature (did he ever get mature?), well I suppose we communicated a bit more like grown-ups, until that awful day when Mum called me and said he was unconscious and might not make it, and it suddenly hit me, that I loved him, and I’d been a bit of a bell-end about him and to his face, and if he didn’t make it, then I’d not done a great job of being a big brother like I’d promised Mum all those years ago.

So it took Matty being on life-support for me to realise how I felt about him, and then it took the next twenty-seven years of my life trying to hide it from everyone, from the metaphorical ‘cool kids’ I suppose, how’s that for a bit of pop-psychology. Because Matty nearly dying all those years ago, it affected me deeply, switched on a need to care for him, to keep him safe, that had I’d turned off on purpose when it wasn’t convenient, and because Matty was so bloody independent by then, once he got better, or even before that, he wouldn’t stand for any kind of caring, any kind of hint that he couldn’t do things for himself. I had to wipe his arse when he first came out of hospital, but Jesus the battles I had with him about what he could and couldn’t do for himself.

So anyway, I pretty soon learnt, once Matty was on the road to getting better, that you didn’t try and help him, you just let him get on with it (well I learnt that, not sure my lovely wife ever got the message, but we’ll let that one slide). I didn’t acknowledge any protective feelings towards him at all, just carried on taking the piss, carried on letting him think I didn’t really care how he was getting on.

So when this what he called ‘fucking bastard’ actually got him in the end, it all kept welling up in me, how I should have shown him more that how I cared about him and worried about him, and I felt guilty that I never did more for him, never got to the stage where he got pissed off with my interfering like he did with Beth, because I never interfered. I hate, now, that he died without me ever telling him I love him, without me even showing it in an overt way. But that’s just the way I am, I guess. I can only hope that he knew, in some way, how I felt, even though we can only ever have addressed serious issues between us on a handful of occasions.

Ironically, Matty dying set something free in me, made me kind of ‘seize the day’ or whatever, do things I never even knew I wanted to do, but knew Matty would have wanted to do if he’d not been so hampered by his health. I think, if he’d still been around and in top condition, he would have gone off round the world (hmm, maybe Laura might have had something to say about it but we’ll never know), doing amazing things, having adventures, and I would have stayed at home not wanting to copy him, or compare myself to him.

That’s been another big thing I’ve had to confront – our differences and our similarities. Matty wrote a lot in his story about how he wanted to be as physical as me, and thinking about it, I did the opposite with him, in that he was always a brainbox and I never felt I measured up. It was another reason why I resented him so much when I was younger, as well as the pressure I felt Mum had put on me. I also resented his relationship with Mum, which I felt outside of. Don’t get me wrong, Mum is completely blameless. Of course she asked me to look out for Matty when he was being bullied, of course they had a close relationship – I could have had it too, if I’d wanted it, but I was too worried about my coolness and how my mates would laugh at me if I did anything with my lame brother and my mum. I was at just the wrong age, I suppose, and Matty was at just the right age at the right time. Just to be clear, my mum is a legend, I love her more than I can express, and I know she misses Matty a hundred times more than anyone else.

So, before this turns into a page count worthy of Matty’s story, I will just say this:

My brother was awesome. I’m going to list why:

  • He was the cleverest person I have ever known.
  • He had such a way with people, showed an interest in what they did and said, that put them at ease. He could get on with anyone, which is a skill not many nerds have.
  • He was such a computer nause it made my head spin. I mean, the kids and grandkids can do things with tech that totally blows my mind, but Matty probably could have invented some of that stuff, let alone just used it. He was wasted staying down here tinkering with Raiders’ GPS system and responding to emails about ticketing systems for Linebreak, but he missed his chance for bigger and better things because he cared about Mum and then he got ill, and that’s such a shame.
  • He knew so much about so much – he probably remembered every single thing he ever read, and he always had his head in a book, or a newspaper, or sciency magazine, from an early age, so that’s a lot of knowledge. I can’t say he never rubbed my nose in it, because he did, quite a lot, but it was impressive, and he always had something interesting to say, even if he also always had solid evidence against you in an argument, which was bloody annoying.
  • He was passionate. There was always some crackpot theory he was banging on about, they came and went, and he blew hot and cold about them, but other things stayed, like Spurs, like Laura, like hiking, and whether it was something permanent or something that he’d forgotten about the next week, he would promote it and defend it at the time with all his heart.
  • When Matty started going to see Raiders with Cal, and fell in love with rugby, it made my heart soar. We didn’t have many shared interests before that, apart from maybe cars, and for him to give the same attention to the one thing I love above all else (family aside) as he gave to other passions he has had, well it made me very happy.
  • For Matty, having his own family was the making of him. He just looked right with them, the four of them doing their thing, Matty front and centre, loving his kids, loving his life. I think he found it all at just the right time, if I’m honest. He was just grown-up enough to feel ready for the responsibility, but still open to the enjoyment of it all.

I loved Matty more than I think he ever knew, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the cruel and unfair way he was taken from us. But I will continue to try to honour his memory by taking a few more risks and being more adventurous.

That’s it, that’s the end.

Jay

Isn’t that lovely? I think that’s a really good place to finish. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the photos and reading about the stories behind them. You never know, maybe it will inspire you to do your own bit of story-telling in whatever way your imagination takes you.

Lots of love, everyone xx

Beth: Say Cheese!

This one makes me smile so much. Not only that it is all of the kids/cousins/first generationers, whatever label they’ve decided to give themselves these days, but it was done especially for James and me for our anniversary. Not as a surprise, it was booked well in advance, and everybody came, the whole lot of us, from wherever we were in the world.

It was a proper professional photo shoot, and it was split into three sections: Oldies (that would be the remaining mums along with James, me, Dec, Amy, Nico and Lis and Laura), Youngies (all the cousins) and Tiddlers (all the offspring of the cousins so far). It was a huge melee, and there was a lot of arguing beforehand about who ‘else’ was going to be allowed in, for example did we say yes to Charlie’s current boyfriend, who had been around for a week and was likely to be history in another week’s time but who she swore undying love for right this minute and was outraged that he wasn’t invited? No we did not. Did we say yes to Tom’s partner Maria, who he had moved in with a few years ago and was trying to start a family with? Yes we did. And other such dilemmas which had us all talking round in circles for ages.

Then we had to discuss the photos themselves. Maybe a shot of the whole family might be too much? There are an awful lot of us, and getting a good shot might not be possible, especially in the relaxed ‘let’s all run about enjoying ourselves’ way this particular photographer worked. Then did we do it in family groups? That might leave a few people out, and there could be some who were in more than one group. So that’s why we decided on the groups as above, and then try for one huge all-the-fam one if it was possible (it was not. There were too many small children who were overexcited, and too many of us distracted by too many things. It would have been lovely, but not to be).

Eventually we got agreement on the guest list, and the themes, everyone had a date they could make, we had big family reunion gatherings organised, and the shoot was a go!

So this photo is of all the cousins, we only got the final prints a few weeks ago, so this is as up to date as it gets. I’m going to use it as an aide memoire for where they all are now and what they’re doing. I’ll do it in left to right across the picture, otherwise there will be arguments about whether it should be age (that’s what Cal always asserts), alphabetically (Basty is quite keen on this one) or who is the best (all of them think they should be first in the category, even though it is quite vague).

So, here we go, from left to right.

Iz: My wonderful girl (sorry, I can’t be objective in these things). Iz is still living near Manchester, she works for and semi-manages a translation agency, as well as doing lots of community volunteering (homeless shelters, food banks and animal rescue charities at the last count). She’s grown up to be so beautiful (again, mum lenses in), loves her job which takes her translating all over the world, but she always comes home to …

Evan: who is standing next to her, looking adoringly at her as if he is the luckiest man alive. Which he is, of course, but loving Iz can be a bit of a rollercoaster, as we all know. In their time, she has had him bareback riding in Arizona, fixing up an old cottage in the middle of nowhere as an investment, being a roadie for her short-lived band, driving up and down the motorway to see her huge and demanding family, and generally doing all sorts of things he never thought he would be doing before he met her. But we love him for it.

Charlie: She’s next, but only because as usual she’s front and centre, not really in one place or another, focus of attention. She still hasn’t settled in any way on anything, be it a career, a relationship or a place to live. She’s back and forth to Dec and Amy’s all the time, one minute packing all her belongings and moving out, usually in the middle of a shouty argument about something, next she’s pulling up in a taxi and loading it all up in her room again. Dec and Amy are very philosophical about it.

Basty: Almost hidden by Charlie’s hair, that’s typical Basty, taking a back seat and not minding not being in the limelight. He still quietly gets on with things without making a fuss (like being in a World Cup semi final with Argentina, and winning the league with TomCats). He’s got a bit of a secret smile going on, and we found out just a day or so ago why that was …

Ella: Is expecting! Lis and Laura are beside themselves, and I think Ella and Basty may just be regretting telling anyone, as the anticipation of the first family baby since Willow has been tremendous, and they are hard pushed to get everyone to keep their opinions to themselves about boy or girl, names, due dates and the rest. Ella hasn’t found her perfect career yet, and a baby may put a stop to any of those plans for a little while, but she has been getting a lot of experience working with various conservation charities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes her passion. Well, it already is her passion, but getting paid for it would be great too!

Cal: End of the row, lovely wide smile, my blondie boy. I wish he’d grow his hair, but he won’t. Cal and Chrissie have three children, my munchkins, who I’ve already gushed over. Cal is a physio now, lead physio at Raiders, of course. He played there all his career, and I can’t see him leaving ever. Takes after his father in not wanting to exert any more thought and effort than is necessary. Unless Chrissie wants to move, then he will find himself doing what he is told. Cal is such a wonderful son, he calls in all the time, looks after the garden when we’re away, I’m so lucky with both my children.

Rosa: Front left we have Rosa. Another quiet achiever, Rosa aced all her A levels, but decided not to study at University (just yet, she hasn’t totally abandoned the thought of further education). Instead, she concentrated on her small jewellery business, which we all thought was a bit of a gamble, but boy has it paid off. She is sought after around the country, and has had some pretty high profile commissions, and even has a small staff team now. She is well set (jewellery in-joke) from a financial point of view, and to Rosa’s right we have …

Ali: Who is Rosa’s right hand woman, in more ways than one. Ali is Rosa’s partner in both business and life, she was Rosa’s first employee, and now owns part of the business. She also has shares in Rosa’s heart, and they live together not far from Dec and Amy. They have three cats.

Maria: Is Tom’s girlfriend, they’ve been together a few years and have a dog called Yips. They have bravely announced they are trying for a baby, which considering the amount of family interference this will generate is positively reckless (I include myself in the interfering, I love giving a bit of advice here and there). Maria is as techy as Tom, which is saying something, and works for a software development company.

Tom: Tom still co-runs Linebreak, they have another ex-Raiders player alongside them, who shares the meet and greets with Dec, while Tom just gets on with being a computer wizard. Tom is such a great young man, he is steady, reliable, and caring, gets a lot of teasing for being the only one of the male cousins not to play rugby professionally, but takes it all on the chin with good humour (to be fair, you don’t last long in this family if you don’t have a good sense of humour).

Josh: Lying on the floor at the front is Josh. He is another lovely, caring young man, but he has his wild side, and has loved playing rugby in London, has really developed a taste for the high life. He hasn’t got a girlfriend at the moment, but that’s probably because he has a few on the go at once and doesn’t feel the need to make a decision.

Gracie: Jumping in the air, of course it’s Gracie. She’s so active, never stops moving, either physically or geographically. She’s visited so many different countries, I’ve lost count. Currently working in a hospital in Iran with Medecins sans Frontieres, which gives Amy nightmares, but has been to Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Italy, gosh loads of places, and learned bits and pieces of so many languages, she often has some strange conversations with Iz. She hasn’t stayed still enough to find herself in a relationship, but she has loads and loads of friends across the world.

Chrissie: On the end, in front of Cal. Chrissie and I took a while to warm to each other, mainly because of the circumstances in which she and Cal got back together. But once I was over all that, we slowly got to know each other, and I’m so happy she’s my daughter-in-law. She doesn’t let me get away with anything, challenges me about everything, it’s great! Willow is still young, but Chrissie is already making plans to go back to teaching in a few years, that girl always has a plan! Which is great, because left to Cal, well …

And that’s the lot of them, and us all up to date!

Beth: The Dads

I’ve done this collage of all the missing dads. When I started thinking about James’ dad, I also thought about how many dads aren’t with us any more, and they are some great people, so I’ve just put them all in here together. Aren’t they a handsome lot? In case you don’t know who they all are, here’s a short bio of each of them:

Peter Scott: I have done a longer bit on James’ and Matty’s dad elsewhere, but he worked as a forest ranger and was an amateur rugby player for Scotland. Carol says he was a bit wild – can you see that glint in his eyes? I just bet he was. Love his bushy red beard!

Richard Parsons: My dad. I didn’t see him as often as I would have liked, firstly because of his career in the RAF which meant I went to boarding school, and then because he and Mum went to live in America. But he was a lovely, caring man who would do anything for any of his daughters, and because he was lovely we would do anything for him, and I miss him loads. He generously passed on the annoying cowlick in his hairline that makes my straighteners despair.

Tom Collier: The rest of the family sadly never knew Tom, but from what Dec can remember, he was a dedicated, fun, caring dad who loved spending time with his son. According to others who knew him, he loved all sports, worked hard to provide for his family, and was a mainstay of the local pub football team. Also ace at his job of designing air conditioning units.

Jack Wright: We didn’t get to know Jack that well, but Amy’s dad always had her best interests at heart. He loved his family and gave them his unique style of support. He took early retirement from his job as an accounts manager with a major supermarket and he and Diane went on several cruises afterwards.

Philip Shoeman: Look at that mop of red hair! How did Laura, Josh and Ella escape that? I never knew Phil, but April and Laura tell me he was lovely, a big cuddly bear who was a total softy, hardly ever raised his voice and had infinite patience. He was a civil servant, which covers a range of possible jobs, but April was quite unforthcoming about what it was he actually did! Family mystery!

Juan Tiago: This is a recent loss, Nico’s dad has only just passed away. I met him a couple of times, he was as handsome as Nico and all Nico’s brothers, you can see Nico in this picture of him. He flirted as much as Nico and all Nico’s brothers as well. He was a lovely, lovely man who was a role model for the Tiago family, not just the flirting, but the kindness and generosity.

Matt Scott: I couldn’t decide whether to include Matty or not, because it was really about the older generation dads, but I know that Ella and Josh miss their dad as much as I miss mine and Nico misses his, so he’s here because he’s gone and we loved him.

I hope that was a happy roll-call, I was trying to keep it light rather than maudlin! It’s great to remember these fine men, who we’ve all loved, and who have given us so much over the years.

Beth: A Rose by Any Other Name

Aww Rose. That last bit about the Mums made me think about her, and I dug this picture out for a bit of nostalgia. Rose was part of our family for a very long time. I think we all forgot, as we do with Dec, that she didn’t start out as one of us, but was more absorbed into the general mayhem. I don’t think she had a lot of choice, but I don’t think she wanted one to be honest.

She’s such a strong woman in this picture – I’d almost forgotten that about her, how much of a presence she was. In her later years, after Dec went to Australia, she declined in body and in spirit, even after he came back, but oh yes, when we first knew her, she was very much a force to be reckoned with.

There’s a lot people didn’t know about Rose. No-one knew what her history was, how old she was even, but that is probably because they never asked, or never asked the right way.

Naturally (I make a modest bow) I asked the right way, and found out things about her which I never shared, as I sensed she was a private person and would tell the things she wanted to the people she wanted to know them. But over the years I spent a lot of time with Rose, lots of it in the kitchen cooking up a storm for some family gathering or other, and I managed to eke out little bits and pieces. I’m going to share them with you now, as Rose has been gone for a long time, and it never hurts to understand why people were like they were. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t mind now.

Rose was eighty-two when she died. I don’t know if I found that suprising or not. When I first knew her, I could never work out how old she was, Dec didn’t know (or much bother about it), and there was no one else to ask (you don’t ask a lady her age, it’s impolite. And besides, direct questions led to no answer at all). But when she first met Dec, she must have been in her late fifties.

Rose had always wanted children, but never managed to have any of her own. Her and her husband split up over it – Rose wanted to try IVF, but he thought it and called it a waste of money, after so many miscarriages. I thought this and called it a horrible opinion, and considered Rose well-shot of such an awful man (not just based on this, but on other things Rose told me about him, such as philandering and gambling tendencies). They’d moved from Wales to Devon when Rose was in her early forties, once she’d accepted she wasn’t going to have a child of her own and her husband had made her accept he wasn’t going to support her to adopt a child. It was kind of a new start for them both, but it turned out his new start ended up being with one of the women at his work, and before too long she was without a child, a husband or the home they’d bought. It brought tears to my eyes to hear Rose’s story, and tears to hers to tell it, and we had a big hug and cry together. It made sense of her need to nurture everything she touched, and her response to Dec’s need for a mother figure when he was going through all that trauma back then.

When Rose was young, she was a dancer! A proper ballerina! She could have got into the Royal Ballet, but her family couldn’t afford to send her and she couldn’t get funding from anywhere else. I was absolutely stunned when she told me this – her shape and general demeanour never suggested such a thing lay in her past. Rose must have sensed my amazement and she laughed at my attempts to cover it up.

‘Oh, I know you wouldn’t think to look at me now, love, probably just as well I didn’t get in, I’d have been the heaviest ballerina to lift in its history! Probably would have broken a new trapdoor in the stage if they’d dropped me. I always loved my food, and I was lucky when I was young that I could eat what I liked and stay skinny, but that stopped fairly early on, and I gave up the dancing because of what it did to my ankles. I haven’t missed it really.’

That was typical of Rose’s postivity. I don’t think she was putting a brave face on it, just putting her practical mind to it and seeing the best out of a situation.

At Rose’s funeral, there were so many people there from all over the city, people she’d worked with, people she’d helped, charities she’d volunteered for – I think she put all her mothering tendencies into helping others, rather than feeling sorry for herself, although I know she did mourn the lack of her own child. But the amount of people who wanted to say goodbye and thank you to Rose, she would have been astounded, I think, as she never thought of herself as a giver.

When we first met Rose, after Dec had been beaten up that time, I was very impressed with how well she both knew him, and had a handle on what was bothering him, after knowing him for a comparatively short time. Admittedly, Dec had reached rock bottom, and when you get there, it can be a place for all sorts of information to come flooding out in various ways, but rather than retreating from it, and from some fairly obnoxious behaviour from Dec, she stuck by him, saw what he needed and gave it generously. She helped James and me so much, by helping us to see what had been going on, and how we could help him once we sorted out how we felt about it all. Rose was always a very wise woman, who instinctively knew people, and instinctively helped them.

Shortly after Dec moved out of her flat and into the shared ‘rugby lads’ house, Rose offered her spare room to a succession of young people in need, people who would otherwise have had nowhere and nothing. I think her experiences with Dec had shown her that she had it in her to make a difference to people’s lives, and although she didn’t form such as strong bond with any of them, she did influence those young people for the better, and kept in touch with some of them for the rest of her life. Yeah, she had her telly nicked and her flat trashed and came home to vomit everywhere amongst other things, and had to stop Dec going after the culprits with a baseball bat, but she just passed it all off as ‘well, you know love, he’s a troubled soul, and he probably needs the money more than I do’, or ‘she helped me clear it up, it’s taught her a good lesson’, or ‘I’ve laid down the law, and no more of that or he’s out on his ear, love’.

She took no nonsense, no one took advantage of her without her blessing, and she had the biggest heart of anyone I know.

I miss you Rose.

Beth: Back to Life

Well this certainly does take me back, quite a long way. Two very smiley looking young men, mostly smiling because they have had a lot of illicit beer, but also because they have been out together and had a good time. Maybe a little bit because they think they managed to get one over on me.

It is, of course, young Declan Summers (very young, nineteen I think) and Matthew Scott (not so young, just over thirty I believe, but acted like a petulant teenager most of the time so we’ll go with that).

The observant among you will have noticed that Matty is in his wheelchair. Matty is attempting to cover it up, and was very fussy about which of the shots he allowed me to keep on the digital camera, but he is in his ‘infernal machine’, and happy to be there for once.

They had just got back from a trip to London that I (supposedly) knew nothing about, which they had planned weeks in advance, to see Matty’s beloved Tottenham play at home. Of course I knew about it! I let them have their fun, could see nothing but good coming of Dec caring enough about someone’s situation outside of his own to act on it, and Matty getting out of the house for a day and rediscovering his independence.

I mean, yes, I was a little worried about what would happen if Matty overdid it, but in the name of testing the waters, I let that one go and let them get on with planning their escapade.

They presented it to me as a fait accompli the evening before they were going, and I gave some half-hearted objections in the name of letting them feel they’d won some kind of competition, warned them of the perils of too much alcohol, mainly because of Matty’s meds, but he was on a lot less by then and it wasn’t a serious worry. I knew they’d ignore me anyway.

When they got back, they were high as kites, some of it beer-fuelled, but most of it freedom-fuelled. It had done both of them the world of good to do this on their own with no help, to have a great day and metaphorically stick two fingers up to everything that had held them back for the last few months. This picture says all that in a small image, to me.

Dec stayed the rest of the weekend, and I managed to have a chat with him about the things he revealed to James in their Christmas Eve talk. James was frustratingly (but predictably) vague about the details of what they talked about (‘yes James, but what exactly went on when he was in care?’ ‘Oh I can’t remember it all, just that he had a hard time’. Useless). Dec had said we’d talk another time, as going over it all twice in one evening was too much, but I knew that if I didn’t bring it up, he wouldn’t either. So, yes, Beth Scott rolls up her talking sleeves and wades in.

It was lucky that James was out that evening, Matty was tired and went to bed early, and Cal was in already in bed. We were sitting in the lounge with the TV on, drinking tea. It felt like too good an opportunity to miss.

‘Dec … do you think we could have that chat?’

He looked up, a frown crossing his eyebrows. ‘What about?’ He’d more than likely genuinely forgotten.

‘Well, you had a really long conversation with James at Christmas, and I’ve tried to get him to tell me all about it, but he’s so useless, and you did say we could chat about it another time … but only if you want to, there’s no pressure, I’m just trying to make sense of a lot of stuff.’

‘Oh. Yeah. Right. Umm …’

I’d obviously caught him off guard, and I wasn’t quite sure which way it was going to go. If he agreed but didn’t really want to, I wasn’t going to get much out of him, but if he said no, or not yet, I wasn’t going to get anything at all. I’d just have to wait if that was the case, I really didn’t want to push him. It had sounded like a very emotional conversation, and the last thing Dec needed was to feel forced into something he wasn’t ready for.

‘It doesn’t matter, sweetheart, we can do it another time, when it feels right for you. I just wanted to give you the opportunity if you felt ready.’

Dec was silent for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and straightened up.

‘No, it’s OK, it would be good, I think. I’ve started seeing a counsellor, and it all feels a bit more contained, like it wouldn’t be so weird and awful to tell someone else about it all.’

I smiled at him, encouragingly. ‘Well if you feel you’re ready …’

And that was the encouragement he needed. Dec went over the long list of tragedies and misfortune that had eventually resulted in the events of the previous year. It was such a sad tale, I cried and Dec cried, and I nearly called a halt to it as he was so emotional. But by the end of it I had a much better understanding of how a young boy had been left to virtually fend for himself, certainly emotionally, for too many years, and how the resulting coping strategies and unresolved grief and loss had caused some kind of disturbed mental state when he crashed his car. The psychologist he was seeing thought it was based in PTSD, and was helping Dec to find a way through it.

‘I’m glad you’re getting help, sweetheart. You seem a lot more stable than you did at Christmas, with your emotions.’

‘Yeah, I’m getting there. You know what, though, it’s not just the counselling. You and Jay, you’ve been brilliant. You’ve made such a difference, having me here, being part of your family, I can hardly believe my luck.’

‘Luck goes both ways, Dec. What you did for Matty yesterday, that was so lovely. If we’re talking about family, we’re pretty lucky to have you in ours too.’

That set us both off, and we passed the tissues around again.

‘Well, any time you need someone to plan a beer-focussed football trip in the name of family, I’m your man. Do you think I should try it with Carol next weekend?’

I laughed. ‘You could give it a try, sweetheart, but I think she’s more a tea and gardening kind of gal.’

‘Maybe I’ll just go and cut her lawn then.’

‘Dec, you don’t have to do this, you know, nice things for people. Just be yourself.’

‘That is being myself, thanks, I am naturally very nice. And I want to say thanks to all of you for letting me in. It’s incredible. I couldn’t see myself being in a family a few months ago, and now I’ve got all you lot, and it’s brilliant.’

‘Ditto, sweetheart. Right, before we run out of tissues, lets have another cuppa.’

Oh Declan Summers, how we love you being part of our family.

Beth: The Mums

April, Diane, Carol and Rose. Mums and ‘mum’ of Laura, Amy, James, Matty and Dec. Known collectively, mostly when someone wanted them to look after one or more of their children, as The Mums.

They were a tight-knit little gang for a while, when all the cousins were little. Carol and Rose had been great friends for a while before most of the children arrived, but when first Charlie and then Josh and Ella popped along, Diane and April completed the quartet.

They were such a diverse bunch, but united by a common goal – comparing notes on grandchildren.

We had Carol, who was quiet, calm, watched what was going on and came up with a logical and practical solution; Rose, who took no nonsense, talked her way through a problem and responded first and foremost by rolling up her sleeves and doing something; Diane was quite prickly, especially at first, when her husband was still alive, and needed a bit of careful handling (particularly when she annoyed Rose with some comment or other about Dec – Carol would often have to step in as peacemaker), but she loved all of her grandchildren so much, would do anything for them; April was an interesting woman, kind of a game of two halves. She had been all over the world in her youth, had stories about her life with missionary parents from Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Haiti, almost you name it she’d been there before the age of twenty. Then she met her husband, Phil, at a religious festival in Thailand, followed him ‘home’ to England and settled here, never to leave again (holidays aside). She was profoundly religious, but although unashamed of her faith, mostly knew when to bring it up and when she was not talking to a receptive audience.

As a gang of four, they were formidable. They could even look after all of the cousins at once with no problem. At it’s height, this would mean Cal, Iz, Charlie, Tom, Basty, Josh, Ella, Gracie and Rosa, an age range of fifteen years or so. Admittedly, Cal was not often part of these Mums-ins, as he felt himself above both being looked after and spending any time with the ‘dweebs’, but even so, the dynamics of controlling a room containing Iz and Charlie (explosive combination), and all the younger ones needed careful handling, and The Mums got it just right.

Rose stood no nonsense from anyone, showed no favouritism, stared down Iz and Charlie, often at the same time (which made me go cross-eyed when I tried it). Carol would talk to the quieter ones, Basty particularly took to her, and liked snuggling in a corner reading a book together. April and Diane formed a nappy-changing tag team when the really young ones were in need, and it somehow all worked seamlessly, so much so that the announcement of an afternoon with The Mums was usually greeted with cheers by all the cousins. Quanitities of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks may have helped, along with cartoons aplenty, and then sometimes a sleepover in Diane’s three bedroom house, which at the height of Scott family baby production meant everyone squished in together, adults included and little sleep had by all.

I know The Mums loved these times, and it makes me a little bit sad that those days are over now and our family is no longer the large, sprawling, noisy chaos it once was. Except on Zoom calls, then you can’t get a word in edgeways.

Here’s to The Mums! *Raises a glass of prosecco, which they always had one or two of after a Mums-in as it was medicinally necessary.

Beth: Peter Finlay Scott

You might not have seen this, tucked away in the crowd of family pictures in my living room. A very rare photo of James and Matty’s dad. Carol has a whole album, and is always happy to show them to us, but there aren’t many copies that make it out into the wider world.

Peter Scott is a bit of a mystery. He had been gone a long time when I met James, and James never really talked about him, even with some fairly heavy duty prodding on my part. Carol would go a bit vague, which is her strategy for avoiding things she doesn’t want to talk about – ‘oh, you know dear, it was all so long ago, I’m not sure I can really remember that well’, and she was mostly resistant to my best prodding as well. Matty could barely remember him, most of his memories came from the photo album and talking to his mum.

So it became a bit of a mission of mine to find out about James’ dad. Not just so I could have the information, although I do like to know things, but I thought it would help me get to know James better.

So under the guise of doing a family tree, I dusted off my Googling skills and surfed off to investigate.

Surprisingly, given how long ago he died, there were a few mentions of a Peter Scott from Stafford who could be James’ dad. They were reports of old rugby games, and I knew that Peter had been a keen rugby player, well before the days of professionalism, but good enough to represent Scotland a time or two, which I wasn’t sure even James knew. There was also an obituary, which I was very lucky to find, as the Stafford Gazette had an online database of old papers. It mentioned a sudden death, and leaving behind a wife and two sons, but provided little else in the way of detail. I was resigned to finding out no more, and for authenticity I completed what I knew of the family tree from James’ side, then forgot about it.

It was a chance bit of homework that got the information ball rolling again. Cal was doing a ‘my family’ scrapbook for the end of year project, and as he was always hopeless at anything arty or creative, he enlisted the help of as many family members as would succumb to his pleading. I suggested he might want to try asking everyone at the next Sunday lunch get-together, and was rewarded with ‘awesome’, which I think means he approved of the idea.

As it happened, there were fewer of us than usual there that Sunday. James was on his way to a rugby coaches’ conference/booze up with old rugby mates in Newcastle, Matty had cried off pleading recovery from a late night out, Rose was visiting her sister, Nico and Lis were in Argentina (bit of a long way to come for roast beef), it was a long time before all the cousins had arrived on the scene, so all in all, it was a bit of a reduced crowd of me, Cal, Iz, Dec, Amy and Carol.

Cal was a bit disappointed he wasn’t going to get more people to do his project for him (yes, young man, I know just how your mind worked when it came to homework), but at least Amy would be there, who was always great with paper, scissors and glue, and Carol would be able to draw anything he wanted.

So after dinner had been eaten and cleared away, and left over roast potatoes had been Tupperwared for James (otherwise you should hear the complaining!), we all stayed sitting round the table so we could help Cal.

‘What exactly do you need us to do, dear?’ Carol had been a primary school teacher before she retired, and she was really good at focussing Cal, who tended to get distracted when left to his own devices.

Cal shrugged, which was pretty much his main form of communicating at that time. I sighed inwardly. I was going to have to, as usual, pave the way. I was trying to get Cal to take the initiative more, but he took his lead from his father and tended to look to me to make his life easier and hassle-free whenever possible.

‘Cal, tell Granny what your project is.’

There was a hint of an eyeroll, but it stopped when Cal remembered that without us he was going to have to do his project on his own.

‘It’s My Family,’ he said, as if that explained everything.

‘Whoa, I hope you’ve got a few years to do it then, mate, it’s going to take you about a million pages to explain all of us.’ Dec slapped Cal lightly on the shoulder, failing to notice the slight lines of anxiety drawing theselves around Cal’s eyes. Maybe he was worried about having to explain the more extended elements of our immediate family? Young boys were so easily embarrassed.

‘So is it written work, then, Cal? That sounds completely hard work.’

‘No, we can do what we want, we can write or draw or make a book …’

‘Ooh, I like the sound of making a book!’ Amy was looking excited, and I could see the creative cogs whirring already.

‘But what am I going to put in it? I’m not just putting in, like, photos of Mum and Dad, that’s so lame.’

‘Calum, dear, I wonder if we need to plan exactly what’s going in your project, or book, whatever you want to do? That might help you to decide what it’s going to look like, and what you need?’

There was a bit of a discussion, where the grown ups threw ideas at Cal, most of which he rejected as too hard, too lame or too something indefinable that was described by a shrug, until he found the easiest option, which involved him being project manager of a book that Amy and Carol would make to his order. I had offered the family tree I’d made and saved on my computer, which got another shrug that I took to mean ‘thanks Mum that’s brilliant and will really help, you’re great and I love you lots’.

We were all in the middle of cutting, sticking, drawing, printing out photos, eating cake (oh whoops, one just turned up on the table, rude not to), and going along the family tree, with added stuck on bits for Dec, Rose, Nico and Lis. There were some photos, and some caricatures that Carol dashed off, she’s so great with pen drawings, but all of us were kind of skirting around Peter Scott. At least most of us were. Dec jumped in with his size elevens, probably completely oblivious to any awkwardness being generated.

‘So have we got a photo of your Grampa, Cal?’

‘Yeah, there’s Dada Rich, on the ‘USA’ page.’

‘No, your other Grampa, your dad’s dad, your Granny’s …’ his voice trailed away as he belatedly realised he might be heading into tricky territory. It wasn’t that we weren’t allowed to talk about Carol’s husband, it was just that she didn’t, and neither did James or Matty, and so we didn’t. ‘Sorry, Carol, we’ll just leave it, yeah?’

Carol smiled at Dec, and held up a piece of paper.

‘I’ve just done this. It’s from memory, so who knows how accurate it is. He’d be the same age as me now, obviously, but in my head he’s always this age. He was a lovely man, he would have been a lovely Grampa, he would have loved you, Calum.’

The picture was amazing. I’d seen a couple of photos of Peter, but family photos rarely capture someone’s spirit, do they? This drawing told me more about Peter than any photo could have done, I saw the kindness in his eyes and love shining from his face. If that’s the memory Carol held of him it was a precious one.

‘Thanks Granny, can I stick it next to you?’

Carol smiled and handed the drawing over. ‘I can’t think of anywhere more perfect, dear.’

‘What was he like, Carol?’ I couldn’t help asking. Now the subject had been broached, I wanted to find out as much as I could.

‘Oh Beth, dear, he was wonderful. He was strong, and kind, clever and fun. Caring. A bit wild. He was a rugby player, that was his passion, as well as his boys. We had a wonderful life together, ten years we had.’ A wistful look crept over her face, and I wondered how fair it was to be digging around in Carol’s past in front of everyon.

‘What happened to him?’ This was blunderbuss Dec, who thought something and said it, then thought about whether he should have or not. ‘I mean, sorry, none of my business I guess, it’s just Matt and Jay never mention him.’

‘Oh they were very young, I doubt Matthew really remembers anything, and Jameson was only six or seven, so … no, it’s alright, I suppose I don’t talk about it very much, it seems such a long time ago, but like it was yesterday. Well, it must be over thirty years ago now.’ Carol seemed to take a deep breath, maybe preparing herself to say something she found difficult. ‘He got an infection, and before we knew it, he was just … gone.’ Carol’s eyes welled up, but tears didn’t spill over, and after a second or two, she offered a thin smile.

‘What sort of infection?’ This was my inner nurse being curious.

‘Oh, we never got to the bottom of it, there weren’t the tests there are now. I imagine if it had been today, it would have been called sepsis, and there might have been something to be done, but as it was, he was gone almost before we knew he was poorly. Maybe it was better that way, no lingering or pain, not really.’

‘Oh Carol, that sounds completely grim.’ Amy took Carol’s hand and squeezed it. ‘It must have been so hard with the boys so young.’

‘Yes, it was, but you just have to get on, don’t you. I tried to make sure they never forgot him, and I’ve kept as many photos of him as I could, but, well the boys are the boys, and deal with things in their own way.’

‘What you mean by putting their head in the sand and refusing to address it?’

Carol laughed. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I don’t know where that came from, I tried my best.’

‘Of course you did, sweetheart. I think Scott stubbornness is in your genes somewhere. Are you OK?’

Carol nodded and gave herself a little shake. ‘Yes, dear, a cup of tea and another slice of your lovely Victoria sponge will shake the blues away. Right, Calum, who are we drawing next?’

I sensed subject closed, and was grateful to Carol that she’d given us that much. I resolved to let her know that if she ever wanted to talk about Peter, I would be there to listen.

Cal’s project was a roaring success, largely due to the efforts of people who weren’t Cal, but as it was a project about the family, it seemed apt that the family had done most of the work. I don’t often let Cal get away with it that easily, but on this occasion, job done.

A couple of days afterwards, I went to see Carol, firstly to check she was OK after what could have been a bit of an emotional time under the scrutiny of a table full of people, and secondly to see if she would lend me a photo of Peter. I had plans for it.

I started with the photo.

‘I want to see if I can get James to talk about his dad a bit.’

Carol gave me a wry smile. ‘Well, if anyone can, you can dear. But over the years he hasn’t wanted to talk about him with me at all. Of course you can have a photo, shall we choose one?’

She got out her photo albums, and while we were flicking through the pages and not looking at each other as a consequence, we chatted about her life with her husband. Well who would have though that lack of eye contact would make it easier to talk? (Yes, me, I admit it, I have a whole range of devious techniques).

I learned that they met in Lanarkshire, he was a forest ranger, she was still at University, but waitressing in her summer holidays. She spilt a tray of tea and scones on him. He didn’t mind. They spent a wonderful summer together, and then she went back to Edinburgh to complete her teacher training and they lost touch. Then, in the best tradition of the finest chick lit, a chance meeting at a folk festival in Orkney led to a rekindling of their romance, they were married within a year. Peter got a job in Stafford (not sure the forests of Staffordshire compare that favourably with those of the Highlands, but apparently it was a promotion, and an offer from a local rugby club may have had more than a little to do with it – not a professional sport at that time, but there are tales of brown envelopes in rugby boots and all that), and little Jameson was born not long after. Carol got a job in a local primary school, had maternity leave when little Matthew was born, and went back to the school where she worked until she retired. When Peter died suddenly, Carol was of course devastated. But she had her sons to think about, and needed to work to support them – Peter had a small pension that came her way, but it wasn’t enough for the three of them to live on.

I wondered aloud how they had all coped, and got a typical Carol response.

‘Well, dear, lots of people asked if I was alright, and I just told them well you have to be don’t you.’

‘Oh Carol!’ I heard this a lot from older people. You just have to soldier on, keep your feelings to yourself and everything will be alright in the end. I didn’t want to tell her she’d been wrong all these years, but wanted her to know it wasn’t too late to let it all out if she needed to. ‘You never have to be alright if you’re not. You know you can talk to me if you ever want to.’

‘I know, Beth dear, and I think you’d be a lovely person to talk to. Maybe sometime.’

That gave me hope that maybe it wasn’t going to be locked away permanently, that maybe in dribs and drabs I could help Carol to take the lid off everything that was in there. But not all in one go, not all today.

‘Well, you know where I am, and now I know where these photo albums are, I’ll be coming over to have a nosey a lot more often. I might even bring some of my lemon drizzle.’

‘That would be lovely, dear.’

And that’s where we left it. I took a copy of the photo of James’ dad and returned it to Carol, then tried to start the same process with my reluctant husband. I didn’t get very far.

I put the photo in a frame and put it with all the family photos, hoping he would see it and comment. It was as if I didn’t know James at all – when had he ever noticed anything that changed in our house, let alone a small photo among hundreds of others, and let alone actually commenting on it?

So I had to be a bit more direct, as usual, brought the photo down and asked him what he thought of it.

‘Hm. Why is that here?’

‘I got a copy from your mum, I thought it would be nice in with the other family photos on the shelf.’

‘OK.’

As ever with James, this could be agreement, enthusiasm or a request for more information. I took it to be the last one.

‘Don’t you ever think about him?’

‘Not really. It was a long time ago, I can’t remember him very well.’

‘But your mum does, I think she’d like to talk about him with you.’

There was silence in response to this; James was doubtless thinking about how he could get out of awkward conversations with his mother.

‘James, he’s your dad. I know it’s a long time ago, but your mum worked really hard to make sure you and Matty were OK. It still upsets her though.’

‘Have you been talking to her about it? Jesus, Beth.’

‘Yes, I have, and I’m going to carry on, because it seems to help her. Your mum never shows how much she feels about things, because she learnt all those years ago to try and protect you from that. It’s not helpful in the long run, not to her, and not to you and Matty, who both have the emotional expression of a turnip when it comes to deep feelings.’

‘I feel things.’ There was a cross tone to James’ voice, and I knew I was getting close to him shutting down, leaving the room and taking refuge in his office. But I had a small window.

‘I know, James, believe me if I didn’t think you felt things I wouldn’t be here, but it can be tiring trying to prise them out of you sometimes. All I’m saying is it might help your mum if you just occasionally even mentioned your dad, when it’s just you and her.’

‘It’s never just me and her.’

Almost true, there were so many family members popping up all the time, that mum and son alone time was hard to come by. But James was trotting out excuses now, and my time was up.

‘Well on the off chance, then. Just if it crops up.’

‘Are you giving Matty this chat as well?’

I hadn’t thought about that, but Matty wasn’t my responsibility, and to be honest his current party-animal behaviour was more of a concern than chatting about his dad.

‘Maybe you can talk to him about it?’

‘Hm.’

That was another non-committal response which could mean yes, no, I’ll think about it, or I’ll put off thinking about it. Probably the last one again.

But that was where I left it. It wasn’t up to me to make James talk to his mum or his brother, I just kept on with Carol, as she had shown willing and I thought it would help. Every so often I’d take a cake over and we’d look at photos (old and new) and chat about what the family were up to now, and what her family had been like in the past. I hope it helped, I think it did.

Anyway, this photo is here as a reminder of people from the past who are still with us in how they’ve affected us.

Beth: Rawr

This is a lovely photo, Cal and Dec pretending to be eaten by the animatronic T Rex at Dinosaurland, a trip that was a little delayed, but happened in the end.

Before everything went wrong, Dec and Cal were always making plans and schemes for adventures. I trusted Dec to know what was and wasn’t OK to agree to, and this birthday trip would have been absolutely fine with me, but Dec must have forgotten about the original plan for Cal’s sixth birthday with everything that happened and the aftermath, and I didn’t know about it. So I didn’t know it was on Cal’s mind before his birthday; if I had I would have made sure he understood that it couldn’t happen.

If Cal hadn’t been worrying about how the trip to Dinosaurland was going to happen, he wouldn’t have called Dec the day before his birthday to check out the arrangements, and Dec wouldn’t have told him in fairly bald terms what he had done, and Cal wouldn’t have been freaked out. He also wouldn’t have tried to make it happen a week or so later when we went down to stay in the city – oh Lord, that has just brought back a real rush of emotion, thirty-odd years later and I can still feel the fear of realising that not only was Cal not in his bed in the hotel, he wasn’t in the room.

I still don’t really understand how he managed to get out of the room, out of the hotel, onto a bus and into the car park at Dinosaurland without anyone noticing he was a small child on his own, and it still makes me shiver with cold fear to think what could have happened to him on his journey. Of course, in little Cal’s mind he was being a big boy and sorting things out that the annoying grown ups were being slow and stupid about as usual, and so he’d just left us a treasure map and a drawing, which we didn’t even notice at first, as clues for us to work out where he’d gone to.

James and I were beside ourselves, of course, and although the police, hotel staff and everyone we contacted were absolutely brilliant, there was that overriding sense of helplessness – our little boy was out there somewhere, with who knows who, doing who knows what (although we could imagine some pretty horrific whos and whats), and the police had told us to just stay where we were in case he came back.

Waiting in the room with James pacing around swearing was not one of my more enjoyable couple of hours. We called everyone we could think of, until I had a sudden thought. It was just over a week since Cal had called Dec, and I wondered if Cal had still had that on his mind. He had taken James’ phone with him, and I wondered if he was going to try to meet up with him in some way.

Without even asking James, as I didn’t think I could cope with any surge of anger from him, I called Dec’s number on my own phone.

Dec said he hadn’t heard from Cal and offered to search for him, but there were so many people out looking, it didn’t seem like it would do much good. And I was still angry with Dec for making Cal so upset with the blunt admission of everything he’d done, so I said not to. Boy, am I ever glad that young man ignored what I said so he could follow his instincts and go to find my son!

The minutes had ticked by and James and I were getting more and more frazzled and frantic. There was a policewoman with us, and we asked her roughly every thirty seconds if there was any news, which of course there wasn’t, because we would have heard it come in. I was racking my brains trying to think of anywhere else Cal might have gone, in the increasingly vain hope that he had actually gone somewhere, and hadn’t been picked up by some awful person with awful intentions. My mind kept going over all the terrible things that could have happened to my little boy, and all I could do was sit on the bed and cry. James wavered between trying to comfort me, trying not to cry himself, and trying not to punch things.

My phone had been pinging and ringing the whole time, with people asking if we’d found him yet, and it was making me crazy. Every time there was a ring tone or text tone, my heart rate tripled, I got light-headed, and hope and dread surged through me equally strongly. After a few hours, I was on the verge of turning my phone off, because I thought I was going to go mad with the up and down of it, when suddenly there was a tone I recognised, and a photo of a young man with sandy hair pulling a cross-eyed face with his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. Declan Summers, in happier times. This time annoyance mingled with the hope and dread, because hadn’t I said … I couldn’t remember what I’d said, but if he was calling just to check if we’d found him, I was going to be so beyond angry … I stood up to take the call, ready to give him a piece of my mind if I needed to.

‘Dec?’

‘He’s at Dinosaurland.’

What the … oh my …

‘You found him? Oh my God! Is he alright?’

‘He’s fine.’

Oh thank you all that is good and holy, my baby boy is alright. My knees went and I sat down hard. James and the policewoman rushed to my side.

‘Oh my God! James, Dec found him. He’s at Dinosaurland.’

I was ending the call and throwing James the car keys as I spoke. I have never run so fast in my life, and we reached the car in seconds. James drives like a maniac at the best of times, but I think he may have broken a few land speed records, let alone speed limits, on the short trip to the adventure park. I am not complaining (not that I usually let James off, you understand), these were exceptional circumstances.

We roared into the empty car park in a hail of gravel, screeching to a halt in front of a wooden shelter, where Dec was sitting with his arm round Cal, who was wrapped in an oversized hoody. The little chap had gone out without a coat, he must have been freezing. I felt James stiffen beside me as he saw Dec, but I didn’t care any longer about what had or hadn’t gone on between us, all I saw was my little boy being rescued by someone I cared about. I didn’t have time to explore that at the time, I was too busy throwing myself out of the car and flinging my arms round Cal, but the bit of my heart that had hardened against Dec when he caused Cal so much pain melted away when I saw how much he loved my son.

James got out of the car, avoiding eye contact with Dec and leaving him in no doubt that none of his heart had melted. James walked over to Cal and picked him up, pulling me in for a hug. I felt him shaking and realised that he had been as scared as I was, and felt as emotional as I did about getting our boy back.

I looked up, and saw Dec walking away. Maybe I should have just let him go, it was obviously what James wanted to do. But I couldn’t, it’s not who I am. This wasn’t the manipulative liar Dec had become in my mind. This was someone who cared enough about Cal to go looking for him, and knew him well enough to know where he might be when no one else did. Someone who at least deserved some recognition.

‘Dec.’ He turned round, and I was floored by the naked hope on his face. He wanted to talk, I was sure. ‘Thank you.’

Dec hesitated, seemed on the verge of taking a step towards us, then he looked at James. Whatever he saw on James’ face changed his mind, and he turned back and carried on walking.

Cal, watching Dec walk away from us, looked confused, and turned to me.

‘Where’s Dec going? The key person will be here soon to feed them porridge and I’m going to have ice cream and then we’re going to go in and see the dinosaurs, and I’m going to have a stegosaurus …’

Before Cal had finished the long list of things he had been expecting from his day, Dec seemed to flinch, and had sprinted away. I might have gone after him, or called out, but we needed to see to Cal, who was fine, none the worse in his own mind for his little adventure, and a bit miffed that no one seemed to want to go in to the park.

However, dinosaurs were the last thing on our minds, as there was now a lot of red tape to get through with police, and searchers, and thanking people, and letting people know Cal was OK. It just wasn’t the right time to think about Dec, and I stored it away, although I was going to try to get James to talk about it. I was good at getting James to talk, but this one was going to take some care and diplomacy.

So anyway, that’s a little trip down memory lane, for me it’s when things started to get better between us and Dec, a tiny glimmer that Dec was still who we always thought he was. Long story short, it’s all been detailed elsewhere, and we all know now that Dec is part of our family, it all turned out happily!

But Cal didn’t end up getting his sixth birthday treat until he was seven. He was still very into dinosaurs, and had already been to Dinosaurland once, for a friend’s birthday party, but this picture is so lovely because these two people, these friends, these brothers, whatever they are to each other, are so happy here in each other’s company, always have been, always will be. The plan took a while to complete, but they made it to Dinosaurland, and Cal got his stegosaurus, and saw the ‘animaltronic’ tyrannosaurus rex, and they had such a good time, it wasn’t just Dec indulging Cal, they both genuinely enjoyed being together. Cal talked about it for weeks, until he started planning what he wanted for his eighth birthday.

They still make plans to have adventures, although these days it’s more likely to be a pub in a different part of town to usual, or maybe having the lamb bhuna instead of the chicken tikka masala, but they have a bond that goes beyond friendship or family. I feel privileged to have witnessed it.

Beth: Wedding Exclusive

OK, maybe not exclusive, I’m sure everyone else has seen these by now, but they are the pictures of the latest Scott wedding. Doesn’t she look beautiful? Ella Scott, wearing the most gorgeous off the shoulder dress, not white of course, because she inherited her father’s propensity for going against the grain, but a deep teal satin that highlights her eyes, and is enhanced by the simple hair clips holding her lovely hair back from her face.

It kind of is a real Scott wedding, as both participants are from the extended Scott family, but they are not related, so that’s OK, although I think we all felt a little bit weird about it when we found out about Ella and Basty.

For once, I wasn’t the first to know – not that everyone tells me everything first, oh I wish! I usually guess, and then have to decide whether to keep discreetly quiet and act surprised (What? Laura’s pregnant? Oh Matty, how terrible your MS symptoms are back. Cal, you’re going to Uni? How brilliant!), or give things a nudge so I can stop pretending I don’t know (So, James, when are we going to discuss this new car you’ve got your eye on? And Iz, I think we need to talk about your job offer in Brussels. Amy, sweetheart, I think you should know that I know Charlie broke my straighteners), or even never say anything at all because not everything is something to be talked about (ahem, Matty seeing a counsellor for years, Dec getting the snip after Rosa, James’ hamstring injury not being from overdoing a hill walk … OK maybe I have now divulged, but there are still secrets I keep). It’s kind of exhausting being so perceptive with such a large family, because you don’t want to be the one who spoils people’s fun, and you have to constantly remember who knows what you know about who. OK Matty, whom. Or is is actually who? Oh who cares.

But anyway, yes, there have been very few times when a family ‘surprise’ has actually caught me unawares. Yes, I could tell Amy was expecting Gracie and was pretty sure Dec would propose once he found out. Yes, I knew Matty had met someone on that Living with MS day, and quickly felt it could be Laura. Yes I had a strong suspicion that Rosa was not planning to take up her place doing a Maths degree at Cardiff University because she wanted to concentrate on her jewellery business. And yes I was pretty sure that Matty and Julia were together properly – I even knew when they moved in together, though it was only for a week. These were all things I let lie until the secret was ready to come out. How do I do it? I’m asked this exasperatedly all the time. I just see people and how they are, and can put two and two together, which usually makes four.

I didn’t know about Cal and Chrissie though. That floored me. And Dec’s big meltdown on the tenth anniversary of his parents’ accident, well although I’d known it would stir up some potent emotions, I hadn’t anticipated the intensity, and so was unprepared. Thank God for Rose, that time. I knew there was a Big Secret about the name of Dec and Amy’s first child, but didn’t guess what it was, or that Matty and Laura were going to honour James and me with nods to our names for the twins. And I didn’t know about Ella and Basty, so when Cal casually dropped it into a conversation …

‘We wondered if you’d be able to babysit on Friday? Chrissie and I are going to Lau’s, Ella’s going to show us her photos.’

I never minded babysitting, it’s what being Nana was all about. ‘The photos from her latest trip? Has she done one of her montages?’

‘Yep, that’s the one. I’m sure you’ll get to see them soon, I got first dibs because I was round there when she finished it, and managed to wangle a dinner invite out of Lau.’ Bless Cal, he knew I liked to know things first, and was trying to soften it for me. But I was babysitting, so I didn’t mind in the slightest.

‘It sounds lovely, sweetheart, yes of course I’ll babysit. Would you like a sleepover, so you and Chrissie can take your time? I know Laura likes chatting with you both.’ I was even gracious enough to make this offer (because it meant a whole night with them all, probably snuggled up in bed with me while James huffed off to the spare room).

‘That’d be great, thanks Mum. It’ll be good to see Ella too, she’s been a bit bound up in Basty since she got back.’

‘Basty? What do you mean? He’s not visiting is he? The rugby season …’

‘Yes, it’s just started, which is why Ells came back.’

‘Er, what?’ I didn’t like feeling out of the loop, and I was so far out of this loop that I was a little spiral all on my own.

‘From Argentina. You do know that’s where she’s been?’

‘Yes of course.’ I snapped a little because I was irritated that something – I wasn’t quite sure what yet – had passed me by. ‘She went to the rainforest with that charity –’

‘Mum!’ Cal sounded gleefully triumphant. ‘I can’t believe you didn’t know! Does the word ‘smokescreen’ mean nothing to you? She went to Argentina, yes, and she did volunteer with the rainforest charity, but she mainly went to see Basty. She was in the rainforest for, like, a week, and the rest of the time she was in Buenos Aires getting it on with the Bastomeister.’

‘Getting it on … you mean they … how long have they been …’ There was too much I needed to know and I couldn’t get my words out in the right order.

Cal carried on gloating. ‘Oh this is pricleless. You are about the last to know. That never, ever happens, wait till I tell … well … everyone! The two of them have been on the edge for ages, since, well, Matty was still alive. Didn’t you see how they were at his funeral?’

Oh now this was annoying. My radar should have well and truly picked up on something. ‘Well, I did, but Basty was sitting behind Ella, and it was natural, when she was so upset, to put his arm round her.’

‘I can’t believe you didn’t know!’

Son or not, he was going to get a smack if he didn’t stop with the rubbing my nose in it. ‘Stop saying that, Cal. I’m not psychic. I don’t know absolutely everything.’ Although I usually did, and not having known this was very annoying, not to say disorienting. I suppose I could say that my senses had been skewed by Matty dying, as it had knocked me for six like it had all of us, and there were all sorts of things I probably hadn’t noticed. Basty had gone back to Argentina with Nico and Lis, and Ella had gone off on her charity trip a few weeks after the funeral too, so I hadn’t really seen her and Basty together. Now I had a major bit of information to try and get my head around. And questions. But maybe my son, who had the observational skills of his father, wasn’t the best person to ask. I quickly disconnected and considered my strategy.

Ella? No, she might be defensive, I would have to tread too carefully to get any decent information. Basty? No, he was a quiet young man, who could be easily spooked. Wait – Cal had said everyone knew. That meant Laura. And Lis. I set up a WhatsApp call with the three of us.

‘Hi Beth! Oh it’s great to hear from you. Wow, I love your hair.’

‘Thanks sweetheart. Oh, hello Laura, thanks for joining us.’

‘Hi Beth, hi Lis, no problem, anything to have a break from clearing out the kitchen cupboards.’

‘Yuk, I hate that job.’

‘I know! It’s well overdue though, I’ve found stuff in there that was years old. And even the in date stuff I’ll never use, all of Matt’s weird cooking things – I mean, what on earth are bonito flakes? Or monk’s beard? It all smells proper rank anyway. I’ve filled a whole bin bag.’

‘Bet it feels cathartic though, yeah?’

‘Yes, very. A bit sad, though. Still, I’ve got room for a chocolate cupboard now.’

‘Every cloud, sweetheart.’

‘Too right. What’s this all about, then, Beth?’

‘Well, I’ve just been talking to Cal, and was a bit surprised to find out about Ella and Basty.’

There was a short, possibly shocked, silence.

‘What, you didn’t know?’

‘You’re kidding, yeah?’

‘No, I didn’t know, because no one actually told me.’ I tried to stop an irritated tone coming into my voice, not sure I totally succeeded.

‘But we all assumed you’d have worked it out, I mean it’s not like they actually told anyone, they let us all find out in dribs and drabs. Surely it was mentioned on the WhatsApp group somewhere?’

‘Not either of the ones I’m in. Maybe there’s another one I need to muscle my way in to.’ I knew the cousins had their own ‘no old folks’ group, and it drove me crazy wondering what they were discussing on there, even though I suspected it was just sharing rude GIFs and being disrespectful of their elders.

‘Oh Beth, don’t feel left out, I mean, it is a bit of a major coup you not knowing something, but I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate. It’s not been going on that long.’

‘Cal said Matty was still alive.’

‘Oh. Then, yes, maybe a while. But we didn’t all know then. I think Matt might have guessed, but the rest of us, it’s only been a couple of weeks, since Ella went to Buenos Aires really.’

‘I didn’t cotton on for ages either, Beth, I didn’t even know she was staying with him until Nico and I rocked up one evening at Basty’s place, and Ella was there looking hastily dressed and embarrassed. Bit of a shocker, yeah?’

I felt a little better, if Lis had been late to the party too, but was rather hurt that she hadn’t called me to talk about it. ‘Yes, I suppose I am rather surprised. Why didn’t you say anything? Or you, Laura? How long have you known?’

‘Well, I don’t know about you, Lis, but Ella asked me not to say anything, because to start with they weren’t sure, and wanted to know for definite, it felt like a big thing, because of the family connection, and they didn’t want to cause a big fuss and then have to say oh we got it wrong. I knew a few weeks before Ella went to Argentina, because I heard her on the phone to Basty.’

‘Yeah, Beth, they really wanted to keep it low key, it’s just we’re all such a nosy lot, we were all gossiping. We didn’t mean to leave you out, honestly. I’d say less than a week, and it’s not like they’ve even gone public. I bet Jay doesn’t know.’

I snorted. If James knew, I would be very surprised and even more annoyed. James couldn’t keep anything to himself, especially if he’d been asked to keep a secret, because he got too confused about what he was and wasn’t allowed to say, and always got it wrong. Although it was always a possibility that he had known, but had forgotten he’d known, or had missed a conversation he was theroretically part of, because he was too busy looking for golf on the sports channel. I would find out later.

‘He’d better not. He knows better than to keep juicy information from me, especially this important stuff.’

My annoyance drained away. This was big news. It didn’t matter if I was the last to know, or the first to know. What mattered was that the children of two of my dear friends, two darling members of my family (who weren’t actually related so that was OK) were in a relationship.

‘Oh but how lovely is it? Now I’ve had a chance to think about it, they are so suited to each other.’

Lis and Laura seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and both smiled widely.

‘Yeah, I’m proper chuffed. I’ve always loved Basty, he’s a good boy, and I know Ella’s always had a soft spot for him. Well, it’s pretty obvious now quite how soft.’

‘Ha, yeah, I wonder how long it’s really been going on? Could be years, yeah? But I’m the same, Lau, I love Ella, you know that, and Basty is so happy, he’s got this constant grin, although he’s a bit more grumpy now she’s over there and not with him anymore. At least he’s got his rugby to distract him.’

Yes, yes, it was all very lovely, but I needed details. I couldn’t feel like I properly knew about it until I knew as much as everyone else. By which I mean everyone else put together.

I pumped Laura and Lis for as much information as I could without them feeling awkward as the mothers of the two lovebirds in question. What I got out of them was:

  • Although no one except Ella and Basty knew for sure, it seemed to have started properly the previous summer, when Ella was thinking about going to the Argentinian rainforest and pumped Basty for information. They spent longer than strictly necessary talking to each other online, getting to know each other in a way that felt different from the usual ‘cousin’ chat, and this continued well after Ella’s plans had been drawn up.
  • It was cemented when the Tiago family came over for Matty’s funeral – Ella and Basty realised for definite when they actually saw each other how their feelings had changed. Because it was such a difficult time, they met up in secret, just to talk (I’m not sure if this is just the ‘mum’ version!).
  • Ella’s plans for Argentina were adjusted to incorporate less time saving the rainforest and more time staying in Basty’s central Buenos Aires flat. No one was saying, but I imagine they were doing a lot more than talking while they were there.
  • They were at this stage, when I initially found out, still officially just seeing how things went.

I put this together with the information I’d got from Cal (who as previously mentioned wasn’t always the most reliable reporter of details), to reveal that:

  • Ella and Basty were thinking about how to conduct either a long distance relationship, or a short distance one in the same country (bets were off as to which country this would be – Basty was kind of tied to Argentina because of his rugby, but Ella was a travel fiend and no one could imagine her being tied to any country for long).
  • Things had definitely got further than just talking.
  • The cousins all felt a bit weird about two of their number being an item, but felt they would get over it. However, it had not yet got to the comfortable cousinly stage of teasing Ella and Basty or asking nosy questions about their sex life.

Of course, I conducted my own investigations, mainly by talking to Iz, who considered herself gossip central for the Scott cousins. Firstly I expressed my disappointment that she hadn’t told me what was going on.

‘Oh Mum, it’s not like we’ve known for long, and it’s not like we kept it from you on purpose, just that they didn’t want anyone to know.’

‘And yet everyone does know. Even your brother.’

‘Yeah, well, it’s mainly Charlie, she’s such a blabbermouth.’

‘Hmm, well, I’ll have words with her later about how she failed to blabber to me.’

‘You do that, Mum.’

I wasn’t getting anywhere with my bid to get sympathy for being left out of this chain of events, so I gave up, and just got as much intel as I could from my daughter. She told me:

  • Ella had fancied Basty since she was old enough to fancy anyone, had even talked to Iz about it when she was as young as fourteen, because she was worried there was something wrong with her. Iz, always a champion of lost romantic causes (around this time she also came charging in to blast Cal and Chrissie back together), told Ella not to be daft, that they weren’t really cousins, and it would be a shame if this ridiculous family spoilt something lovely, but they also talked about how young Ella was, and that there were many years of fancying boys ahead of her, so maybe she should see if there was anyone less complicated she could fancy, who was actually living in the same country.
  • Ella and Basty had often, since teenage years, been close to something that Iz described as intimate, on the occasions when they met. These occasions were few and far between, being when the Tiagos came over to England, as Matty was not well enough to travel, much as they would all have loved to go to Buenos Aires. So these times felt quite emotionally charged, which was another complication – was it just the distance that was heightening the feelings?
  • Basty had girlfriends in Argentina – not all at the same time, but several one after the other – and Ella had the occasional boyfriend. They both said it didn’t feel right, neither of them liked it when the other talked about seeing someone, and the only thing that really felt right was when they were together. Iz knew that Laura would have a thing or two to say about that, and passed on the received wisdom that feelings like that are not to be ignored.
  • Ella and Basty were on the verge of coming clean to the family, a little belatedly as it turns out, as we all knew. Well, nearly all.

So after my little fact finding mission, I felt a lot better, and settled down to our monthly family Zoom chat feeling in possession of the same facts as everyone else. Ella and Basty announced their status as ‘in a relationship’, everyone whooped and cheered, and we all pretended that it was the first we’d heard about it. In some ways it was the best way, as if they’d announced it and no one knew, there would probably have been an awkward silence followed by a startled interrogation.

But after we’d turned off laptop, James turned to me with his eyebrows raised high and his jaw dropped low.

‘What the actual fuck, Beth?’

I looked at him serenely, raising my own eyebrows queryingly. ‘What do you mean? Basty and Ella? Did you not know?’ This was my payback time. Not that James deserved it, but I was now in my rightful place of stuff-knower.

‘You can’t tell me you did, there’s no way you’d have been able to keep that to yourself.’

‘Oh thanks, James. For your information, they didn’t want anyone to know.’

James frowned. ‘Oh but you knew? How come you were the chosen one?’ Well not exactly as I would have described it, but it never hurt to keep James under the impression that I knew everything that went on everywhere.

I shrugged mysteriously and moved the conversation on.

‘It’s so lovely, isn’t it?’

James spluttered a little, having had much less time to get used to it than I had. ‘Well that’s one word for it. They’re practically related. I’ve known them both since they were born, it just feels, I don’t know, a bit wrong. Don’t you think that?’

James was, as usual, wanting someone to tell him how to feel. He didn’t like having an opinion different from everyone else’s, he liked to fit in with the crowd. So naturally, I helped out, as I had at least a week’s worth of information gathering and mulling over to draw on.

‘Well what I think is two lovely young people, who are not related by blood in any way, and who have grown up together and know each other very, very well, have realised that they feel deeply for each other and have decided to have a relationship. I’m not sure exactly what could be wrong with that.’

James looked at me searchingly, as if trying to find the hidden trap. I could sense his confusion, but it soon dissipated, as he nodded to himself and dragged himself round to my way of thinking. I’m not saying that’s what always happened, that would give me way too much power over him, love him, but it happened reliably often enough that I could usually use it to my advantage.

‘I suppose you’re right. Bloody hell, though, Beth, it only seems like yesterday they were all swimming naked in the sea together.’

‘I know, James. Probably best not to think about it, really.’

‘OK. Any tea going?’

And with that, the last member of the Scott family had found out about Basty and Ella, and made their peace with it.

Now it was official, of course, I could chat to both of them and it wouldn’t matter that I knew. I chose Ella, because I was due a FaceTime (yes, I did have a rota, but I tried to keep it flexible), and because I knew Basty would be feeling a bit vulnerable having offered up a bit of himself. He was always somewhat sensitive around the family, getting upset and sulky when he was younger if the other cousins made fun of him, which they invariably did because they liked to get a reaction from him. So when he was older and feeling like he was being picked on, he’d just go off on his own. I didn’t want to chase him away, and I’d probably call him in a few days just for a chat, and not really mention him and Ella at all.

Ella Elizabeth Scott, however, was another matter, and we had a different relationship. I was her aunty, and had been a confidante at various times in her life – all of us were confidantes to the youngsters for various reasons, it was one of the many great things about having such a large family. Whatever the situation, there was bound to be someone who you could talk it over with, without having to bother your parents about it. If you were lucky, it might not even get back to your parents (although I don’t think any of the cousins realised just how much us parents and grandparents actually shared with each other, having a pact not to go off on one whatever was shared, as the end result would probably be less sharing).

So Ella got the call.

‘Hi Beth, how’s things?’

‘Great, thanks sweetheart. It was lovely to see you and Basty on Zoom yesterday. What lovely news.’

‘Oh, thanks, yeah. It feels good to have it out there.’

‘I’m sure it does. Have you kept it secret for long?’

‘Yeah, quite a while. Before I went to BA. Quite a long time, actually. Sorry. Does it feel like we were lying?’ Ella’s forehead was wrinkled in a frown. She always worried about doing the wrong thing, but usually after she’d done it, rather than considering her actions beforehand.

‘No, of course not, sweetheart. I know when things are new they feel fragile, so you keep them to yourselves.’

‘Yeah, you’re right, that is a bit how it felt, although it also felt, like, not new at all, as if it’s always been there, and we’ve just tried to ignore it. It kind of feels good to not be ignoring it anymore. We were a bit worried about what everyone would say, but you were all so great, we wondered if you might have actually, like, known?’

‘Well, I think most of us guessed something was going on,’ except me and my husband, but I wasn’t going to admit that, ‘but I think everyone thinks it’s lovely. I know your mum is very happy.’ Oh damn, that slipped out.

‘Oh, have you talked to Mum about it?’

‘Yes, I had a quick catch up with her and Lis.’ Hopefully it would sound like it was after the Zoom chat.

‘Ah, quick work Beth.’ Yep, it worked. ‘Yeah, I’m really, really glad Mum’s OK, I thought she would be because she’s pretty cool, but with it not being that long since Dad … well you just never know do you. We knew Lis was OK because, well I don’t know if you know this, but her and Nico caught me and Basty in his apartment, kind of red-handed sort of thing, and they were both amazing. Well you know what a hopeless romantic Nico is anyway, and Lis couldn’t stop smiling, but we made them promise not to say, so that’s why she didn’t.’

‘That makes perfect sense, Ella. Yes, you’re right about Nico, he loves a good love story, and Lis loves the bones of you, they both do. I don’t think either of you have anything to worry about from your parents.’

‘I kind of wish Dad had known.’ Ella’s voice turned sad. It wasn’t long since she’d lost Matty, and she was still grieving.

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He didn’t have anything to do but listen to what was going on, and he was really good at putting things together. He would have been really happy for you too.’

‘That’s what Mum said. When … on Dad’s last night, I dashed back home and he was still hanging on, and I did a kind of confessional, I mean he wasn’t conscious, but I thought I needed to, like, unburden, but Mum said he knew a lot of what I was telling him, and didn’t mind, and what he didn’t know he probably didn’t need to know, as my Dad. So I didn’t actually tell him about Basty, but I think, or I’d like to think, that somehow he knew and was cool with it.’

Some of our aunt-niece confidentials had been about how Ella was feeling about Matty’s declining health, things she didn’t want to talk to Laura about for fear of upsetting her (although I reassured her that Laura would, I was sure, always be up for an open discussion). Ella was always wanting to do the right thing, not to be a worry to either of her parents (dashing off around the world notwithstanding obviously) – I think it was something she learned from Matty and Laura, who would both dance around each other, particularly when Matty became less mobile, in order to avoid either asking each other for things, or prevent the other one from having to ask. It went both ways, and was probably reflected in their daughter’s behaviour as well. Ella would talk to Josh about a lot of things, but often came to me for confirmation.

‘You know your Dad, Ella. He was pretty cool with most things you did, he was very proud of you, and always supported your choices.’

Ella smiled a sad smile and nodded. She still missed him, would always miss him, and I would never stop talking about him to her, because he would always be that little bit alive when I did.

‘I know, he was ace. Anyway, Beth, I’ve got to go, I’m packing – hey, here’s some hot of the press news for you, I’m off to Argentina again tomorrow.’

‘Oh that’s lovely sweetheart. How long for?’

‘Open ended.’ She pulled a mock shock face at me. ‘I’m going to look for a job.’

‘Wow, that is news indeed.’

‘And to save me telling everyone, maybe you’d like to fire up the WhatsApp and be the spreader of the word?’

‘Oh Ella, it would be my pleasure.’

So that was how it all, well, not began, but how it officially began, and a few years later, after to-ing and fro-ing between Argentina and England, with part time jobs in both countries for Ella, and short stays in England during the off season for Basty, they finally got to stay in one place when Basty signed for a London club. And then they felt settled enough to get married, which was lovely, as they were the first of the cousins to marry since Cal. But very sadly, and I really mean this, I was not going to be able to use my wedding planning skills, as James and I had planned another travelling escapade, and would be away for most of the build up. So Lis and Laura between them had to plan it, and I had no doubt they would do a brilliant job, which of course they did, all I had to do was turn up and watch. The first Scott wedding I’ve done that for in – well ever I guess, I’ve always been pretty hands on – for my wedding, Matty and Laura’s and Cal and Chrissie’s.

And a very lovely day it was too. As you can see from this picture.

But of course, being Scotts, that’s not the end of the story, because they’re having another wedding in Buenos Aires. And of course we’re all going out there too, because none of us want to miss it. Lis and Laura are planning this one too – Ella and Basty said they just wanted something small, and Lis and Laura agreed but they had their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs, and I think half of the South American continent has been invited, so not exactly small.

But I think I shall enjoy just going along and watching that one too. And afterwards, James and I are going on a little jaunt around South America, just because we can.

Beth: Scotts The Explorers

I finally persuaded James to go travelling with me. Since he retired from playing aged thirty two, I’ve been trying to get my reluctant husband, who loves nothing more than being at home surrounded by all his stuff, in his familiar world, to explore some of the larger planet beyond the confines of a holiday in Spain or France. James was not easy to persuade – we finally bought the tickets for the first leg of our America to Australia tour when James was sixty three, so you can see that although it took me a while, I never gave up, and persistence paid off.

This picture shows the absolutely amazing sight of my stay-at-home, reluctant husband having the time of his life, hangliding over the Grand Canyon. I hardly believed it at the time, there was no way you would have got me up there, but James loved it. In fact, the whole trip, he was up for everything, it was as if setting foot on the plane set something free, some kind of adventurous spirit, and it was me who was lagging behind thinking about safety and risk assessments. Well, sometimes it was. Sometimes I just joined in, because his enthusiasm was so infectious.

That first trip we went to America, so we could see my mum, who lives in California; to Argentina so we could drop in on the Tiagos; and Australia, where we didn’t know anyone but just fancied the heat and the outback. We had a brilliant time, have had another trip to New Zealand, and are currently planning our next adventure – maybe Polynesia or Malaysia, Vietnam or Cambodia. And James is up for it all! I’m slightly worried he may have been abducted by aliens and replaced with a replica, but I’m not complaining.

When I’ve asked James why it’s taken so long for him to let himself go like this, I don’t really get an answer, not that I would expect one really, it’s not like he’s had a personality transplant and suddenly shares all his feelings with no encouragement. He just says, ‘Don’t question it, just enjoy it’.

Personally, I think Matty dying has a lot to do with it. Matty’s health meant that he was never able to see as much of the world as he wanted to, and James always felt guilty going off and doing the things that Matty couldn’t. Once there wasn’t that guilt anymore, James grasped the chance, and in a way, I think he’s doing it for Matty. I know he thought about him a lot while we were away, we both did, and sometimes we’d toast Matty while we were having a spectacular lunch in a fabulous place somewhere. James would often say ‘Matty would have loved this, he would have memorised the guidebooks and had us all walking miles to look at some ancient hole in the ground’, or ‘this would have been right up Matty’s street, it’s so off the wall’, or we’d both be hiking (yes, James was hiking!) somewhere off the beaten track and we’d both look at each other and say ‘Matty’. Sometimes James would just go quiet and get a faraway look in his eyes, and I’d know what, or rather who, he was thinking about.

But whatever the reason, and I’m sure it’s not as simple as I’m making it sound, I’m very pleased that we are now Beth and James Scott, Citizens of the World, and about to embark on the next stage of the journey. It has taken some planning, because we don’t want to miss an important event in Argentina, part two of a love story that has already completed part one – read on for further details!

Lady Jabberwocky

Write with Heart

lastflyingcow.com

Philosophy and art. The philosophy of art

Fictive Dream

Short stories online

Friday Flash Fiction

Short stories and related info ... Come join the fun.

A Dalectable Life

Doing the best I can to keep it on the bright side

Crazyforwords

Real. Happy. Foodie.

The Mad Puppeteer

Warden of Words // Shaper of Stories

Object Relations

"A Word of Substance"

Penorama

All things whimsical

Autism and Expectations

De-Mystifying Autism

Insomnia Girl

and the Very Important Thoughts keeping her awake

Free the Free Write

Keeping Inspired, Trusting Self