“Now bless thyself: thou met'st with things dying, I with things new-born.”
Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale
In 2006 many memorable things happened, such as my mother's ‘second funeral’, when her ashes were interred in my father's grave, and I was able to stay in England with two sets of friends whom I don't see nearly enough.
Two things, however, mark the year for me—the death of my good friend Barry Williams, and the birth of my fourth grandchild, Phoebe.
Barry was born on a Friday in 1943, exactly four weeks before me. We met at the quiz I have been going to more or less since I came to the Costa Blanca. He and his lovely wife Brenda drove nearly an hour from Oliva to be there, and before long we were in a team of five, who all turned out to be born in 1943.
He was a man full of life and energy, and had as warm a heart as anyone I have ever met.
The day before he died, he telephoned me to check that I was also going to a twelve-hour party which was to be given by two lovely new quiz members the next day. Since the party was going to last so long, he wanted to be sure that we were going to overlap.
At the party itself, he became quite sad about the fact that it was September. It meant that winter was on its way—and he wasn't thinking of the relatively mild winters we have on the Costa Blanca.
In the sunlight, our hosts had laid on a jazz band. When it got dark, there was Karaoke. Barry and I sang an Everly Brothers classic from our teenage years. Next, he sang a song with Brenda, which I joined in. Later, he was with Brenda at the list of songs, trying to remember one she wanted him to sing, when he suddenly said, "I can't do this any more", and fell dead to the floor.
I spent most of the next hours holding Brenda, and telephoning her and Barry's children, to let them know he was dead. But I saw the immediate efforts that professionally-trained friends made to revive him, and had a late moment of silence and solitude before the coroner came, when I found myself speaking out loud over his body, the words prompted by the sceptic Horatio's farewell to his dead friend Hamlet: “Good night, old friend/And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
By early October I had used up my four weeks, and now the whole of my life feels as though I am living on borrowed time.
My daughter Imogen has a name made up by Shakespeare, and so has her first daughter, Jessica. The name Phoebe wasn't one of his inventions—but it's once again one of his names.
Phoebe was born in mid-October, just as my borrowed time was beginning. I met her when she was a day old, since she turned up a week or so early. I met her again over Christmas—each time for a week.
Each of my grandchildren seems to me to be the special one, whenever I think of him or her. They each have something quite distinctive about them. As does Phoebe, already.
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