Category Archives: Writings

White Forests

The dark, the dark night-almost-morning that I walk through is my forest. The forests of fairy tale. The forests that Sara Maitland writes about in her book Gossip from the Forest. It is the space I most fear and my nerves jangle as I walk out into it.

This morning it grew white. The snow makes it clean, light, less fearsome. Listening to Our Own Correspondent yesterday morning while doing yoga there was a journalist writing about visiting a backwater town in Russia famous for its copper smelting. An ugly, black industrial eyesore which the winter snow yearly renders beautiful. I watch the flakes fall as I walked, the way they made new the forms that lay on the ground. Discarded cans, bits of rubbish took on new, softened life. Cars, roofs and lamps all became shrouded in white. Everything is softened, all hard-edges gone. And the stillness. Music still thumped out of the Pier Pressure nightclub. You’re the one that I want, yeh, yeh, yeh.. was being pounded out as I trudged past. I could hear them all singing along. Girls, coatless ran out into the snow, flakes catching like gossamer in their hair. The ground was sometimes slippy, sometimes crunchy. Down by the harbour the wind whipped-up. A fish lorry was waiting, its engine humming and two fishing boats were there, lit-up like Christmas.

The dark. I walk it with fear and wonder. The snow added to the wonder. My forest. I remember the forests in Norway. Both in Baerum. Places of escape, of breath, of freedom and of fear. Mystical places, with those high, high trees and the funny, perky-eared squirrels.

A cold morning, chill. My fingers tingled and stung. Even in the pockets. I like to walk and swing my arms. It stabilises me. It stops me falling.

Her auntie fell again, he tells me. Poor love. I remember seeing the woman in the home fall. She couldn’t help herself. That cry, that terror of losing control. And all the paraphernalia of getting her up again. Hoists and joists, straps and levers. Who has all that at home?

Do be careful, he pleads.

A grey-white sky. Rooks break its chill stillness.

Coffee then work.

I wanted to get a pattern for her. I wanted to make something for her. I have the labels. Her name, printed out. No joy. Nothing in the shops. I shall have to search the internet. I like to feel, to see what I am getting. Move with the times. Let it be as it is.

And the disc is going funny. Is that more resistance? Who knows. I could be comic if I let it be so. Who cares?

What are your plans for this wild life?

Unshaven Legs

I find myself watching them. I watch them all intensely. Usually when one of them is speaking. I want to know them. I want to know people generally. I burn through them with my watching. It isn’t staring. Staring is cold, unkind almost. I look with care, with empathy, with compassion. I know this. But I am also curious. For they are not me. I only know myself. And how it is to be me. How is it to be them?

She doesn’t say much. She is withdrawn. In grief. She is clearly grieving. She is a beautiful woman. You see, I don’t want to make judgements but I cannot stop my mind making these distinctions. I look at her with wonder. How is it to be so beautiful? How does it feel? Her chin comes almost to a point but her face is heart-shaped. An exotic, dark-skinned kind of beauty. And so different to mine. I am a Jane Eyre, a plain needing-to-get-used-to-and-love-kind-of-beauty. A not noticeable kind of beauty. Hers is enchanting. Her voice has a hint of American or is it Canadian? She wears patterns, shimmering golds and greens. Yesterday she had on harem pants that were cut at the ankle. A woman of largesse. She drives a people carrier. A family woman, a mother. Then when we moved to sit cross legged I notice her calves. Her legs were hairy, unshaven. Long black hairs. It was a shock. Ridiculous to admit it but it is true. And yet it is just a different notion of beauty. That is all. Still is took something away.

Last night I dreamt that my legs were hairy. I was ashamed and made a mental note to remove them the next morning. It was a surprise to see them in the bath clean as a whistle.

She answered the phone. It was nice to hear her. Her voice is stronger, more cheerful. She’d been for an MRI. I’d put on tidy underwear, she said, and then found out they did it with my clothes on. She suddenly realised what she’d implied, and added, but of course I change them clean everyday. Of course. Of course you do.

The wind was strong this morning, gusting. Students and revellers wandered wind blown along the Prom. Big girls with cleavage-revealing tops and no coats. Such big-bosomed girls. One had on a gingham top, all flouncy at the sleeve and chest. A Botero-darling. She walked back to the Halls alone. They are so luscious. Are they safe? Nothing is hidden. All is on show. So different. Do I notice it more now that my ripeness has gone? I don’t mind. This is another time, another place. I am content.

Yesterday was better. As were my readings. Perhaps I still can. Who knows?

Dying from Loneliness

I glanced a headline in The Times as he read it at breakfast. Something like 10,000 more deaths this year. Is that the elderly? I asked him. Yes, he said. Was it the cold? Yes, that and the lack of hospital beds and loneliness. They die of loneliness? I asked. Can you die of loneliness? I asked again. Yes, he said. Really? Yes, he said.

It’s not really loneliness, as such. It’s not the specifically the want of company, its all the stuff that goes with it. The neglect of oneself, the lengthening of days, of having nothing to live for, I suppose. For I can only suppose. I watch them at the home, intently. Most sleep. Some stare out of windows, into space. Some wander about. Some with coats on ready to go out. Why do they never bash on the locked door, fight their incarceration? Do you think they sedate them? I asked him. Though how he would know, I don’t know. Some, maybe, he said. For their own good. One that he knows, sits in the office with the staff with his hat and coat on, acquiescent but perhaps ready for the off if it arises. It won’t. They have company in there. That is they have the cheeriness of the staff, and the other residents. They have bodies around them, people tending to their physical needs. But they don’t have loved ones. They don’t have intimates. Is that it? Is that what we die of, the lack of people knowing us, and our story? Was he lonely? I don’t think so. He had regressed, gone back to a childish time. We caught him crying once. He talked of his grandparents. Later he sang songs. He was locked-in. No, he died of the disease. And she? She certainly fell fast when they separated them. He was a rogue, possibly. And he smoked and interrupted her regular habits. But he was company. She believed in him, he filled her day, made her feel useful. Her senility came on fast when the family separated them. They thought he was after her money. Maybe. She didn’t mind. And then when she was in the home it was harder for her to hold it together. He was forgotten. She made another male friend in the first home. How could she not? She was charm itself. But then they moved her and he was lost to her too. She died of a stroke. Not loneliness. I loved her. I loved him. But in the end they were lost to me and I was lost to them. She is almost a hundred, the lady downstairs. She isn’t lonely. She lives with her son and her large, sprawling family visit often. And she has the church. She is strong, walking into town every day wearing her jaunty hats. Constitution and mental attitude must play a large part.

You know the man in the wheelchair we saw when they were having that service at the home? he asked. Yes, the one with the orange socks, I replied. Well, he died. He’d been singing and playing catch ball the week before.

Maybe it is just time. Time to go. Have can we assuage another’s loneliness. We talked to her last week. Over and over. Replying anew to every thing she repeated. Did you? Did you? So much so that she wanted to come out with us. Can I come with you? And was hurt, anxious when we had to say no. Your daughter’s coming, you have to wait for her. Is she? Such subterfuge. It can’t be done. Heartbreaking, he said. Heartbreaking.

I’m trying to see small. To focus on now, what is in front of me and to let the rest be. Let it be. Let it be, I chanted to myself as I walked. Let it be. The rain was heavy on my umbrella. Let it be. I walked in a puddle. Let it be. The rain is relentless. Just let it be. I’ve only time to do an hour’s work before I must go out. It is enough. Let it be.


Funnily enough, she said as she carefully placed each of my oranges in the bag packing area, it was my birthday a few weeks ago and I got a cross stitch kit. We’d gone to the supermarket later than usual. You’re late, she’d said. Yes, I’d had to go into work early. We don’t usually see her these days, not since they changed everyone’s shift. I like it when she is free and we can chose her aisle. I like to be around her. We are of a similar age, I like her carefulness, the rather flat, forced way she replies to our questions about her health and her laugh. A horsey, neighing kind of laugh. She’d surprised me when I’d interviewed her. Of course, she had, I had a two-dimensional view. I wanted to be surprised. Sewing keeps us connected. I’d asked if she was knitting. Yes, she said, I am. A cable-fronted jacket. Then she told me about the cross stitch kit. She’s bought a frame for it. From EBay, she said, though I’d thought she didn’t have computer. Who bought the kit for you? I asked. She said a name. I must’ve looked blank. You know, she said, the one I was seeing before. The one with the disapproving grown-up daughter, I asked. Yes. I’ve moved in with him. Oh, I said, taken aback, so you’ve left you’re flat. Yes, she said. I’ve left the caravan.

I didn’t know she lived in a caravan. So many people from Brum come here for holidays and stay. Caravan parks abound. They are cheap, easy but must be so cold in the winter. I think of his parents. Not him but the he from years ago. Travelling to the South West to see them in Weston Super Mare, that then sad seaside town. He was virtually monosyllabic and she chattered on, always wary of me. I wasn’t of their kind, she knew it, and was ever suspicious. And her beloved son. He was hers not mine. I have a photograph of us all. She is sitting next to me and leaning away from me, as far as she can.

Let me know how you get on with the kit, I say. Oh, I’m not starting it yet. What does he do while you sew? I ask. Oh, he’s outside, she said. He’s a landscape gardener, he’s always outside.

I wanted her to encourage me but she didn’t. She is an odd woman. I can’t find my way with her. I’m to check my blood pressure for the next three days and report back. Then, if it’s still steady I can try to come off them. I just want to be clean, inside, I said to him, trying to explain. Lots of people have to take medication, he says. Look at me. I know, it just I work so hard at trying to remain healthy. What is it? What am I trying to prove? I just want to see, to see if I can do without them. But my anxiety, this stress isn’t a good sign. It erodes me. And my pace quickens. We’ll see. Perhaps this course will help. Though the expected euphoria is missing. Not like that that I got yesterday. A pot of tea, that was all I had and I was spinning. For hours.

Mother’s Day

There was a card on the Prom by the bar. It was still in it’s cellophane. A Mother’s Day card. A Happy Mother’s Day card, left, dropped, abandoned in the rain, in the wet. On Monday I’d noticed some words written out on the beach. On North Beach, big letters formed out of seaweed and pebbles. Carefully done. Meticulously done. Happy Mother’s Day it read. The sea hadn’t taken it the morning after. I forgot to look this morning. Surely it has gone.

They keep sending me them. Mothers’ Day cards. I don’t want them. I never have. It gives me the creeps really. Total strangers commiserating. Sending me a card because they believe I won’t get one. They are right. But I don’t mind and their gesture could never make up for anything from her. Ever.

I dreamt I was there at a birth. It was another woman’s. My child’s? I don’t know. I was the only one there. I was the only one helping. I did it. I birthed the child. A long, tall, dark-haired beauty. Almost fully grown. I did it. I was so proud in my dream. I walked head held high. So proud. I wasn’t scared. Well, a little. It wasn’t gory but laborious. I know that. I helped guide it out. No blood. But there was water and a sac. Symbolic. Naturally. She’ll have such tall girls, I said.

We are off. Off for some tea and a seminar. I want to talk about sewing, to find the questions I need to ask. I want to be prepared this time, though leaving a chink open for the unexpected.

Barbara, he said, sat there sewing. I heard it as I made breakfast. I was listening to a radio dramatization of The Old Curiosity Shop. Kit has got a new job and he is being watched by a girl sewing. I must look it up. I heard it. My ear pricked up. Sewing.

Tea. I need tea in a silver pot. Off. Off into the grey morning. The sunrise was pink. Stunning. To be replaced by clouds. Ho-hum.

A Yorkshire-Kind-of-Loving

I’ve been listening to some John Godber plays while working. Two-parters, they’ve all been acted by himself and his wife, Jane. Man and wife dramas set against the miners strike, Northern poverty and the onset of old age and infirmity. He writes about a Yorkshire-kind-of-loving, undemonstrative, monosyllabic, tacit, cold and bitter. And yet, it is not. It is there the warmth, the care, the intimacy. It is there but taken for granted. He shows this in each and every one. I could kill ya, she says over and over again. You don’t mean it, he says. I do, she says. I do. Boredom, poverty of both purse and ambition, family, roots and fear hold them fast.Together. Always. All that bickering. It rises and falls. Neither take it seriously. It’s just a flash then it is gone. It’s how they communicate. A loving. A Yorkshire-kind-of-loving.

Fantastic. I am hooked. I knew of him while at Wimbledon. His Hull Truck Theatre Company. I was too intimidated by its rawness. I couldn’t engage with it. I couldn’t find my way in. I can now and I’m hooked. Then I go upstairs to do yoga and there’s a Dave Sheasby play on. I’d heard it before. Keeping Anne-Marie, about a woman who’d agreed to be a surrogate mother, took the money, but reneged on her promise once the baby was born. She goes to a solicitor to get help. A rough-and-ready Northern lass, hardened by life, all sharp edges she still manages to get under his skin and the judge’s and the case is won. (The judge quotes a fairy tale where fighting mothers who both claim to be a child’s biological mother are told to cut the child in two and each to take half. I vaguely remember the tale but cannot remember the result. Does the real mother concede?)

Some days I am made abundant by literature. And then there is David Sedaris. A new series, what joy. I took the iPad back into him afterwards so that he could listen too. Our humour is not always parallel but I wanted him to laugh too. And he did. He did.

I need to sew, particularly now. I’m unsteadied by this newness, this trying to recover. All the old habits rise to the surface like scum. The trying to be good, to get that gold star, that pat on the head. Then what? I can be at peace? That constant seeking of approval. Ugh. And yet, I didn’t do my usual thing. I wasn’t chatty, I actually felt reticent, shy. I wanted to sit in silence. So much resistance. And the sleeping. It’s frustrating, and embarrassing, particularly the snoring. Ah. But I’m beginning to be able to pull myself back. I’m just tired. Always tired. Dog-tired. Too much thinking. Too much.

So sewing is good. I calms me. It is simple, rhythmic, constant. I have something to follow. A pattern, a guideline. The tracks are set. With the rest of my practice it isn’t so. That I have to make up as I go along. And with my work, my paid work, well who knows when it comes.

I sew to be still. It is enough, that.



Walking out from Llanbadarn Road and across Penglais I hear voices. Several voices. They are loud, cheerful, perhaps slightly intoxicated voices. Young voices. Students? I feel slightly edgy. I want silence. I expected silence. Monday morning is usually silent. Where are they? Where is the sound coming from? Darkgate Terrace? The Coopers Arms? No, it’s shut. One of the side streets? No, there it is. There they are. A lad first then two girls. They are singing. He sings first. My love keeps me warm. He looks at me as he sings. As he walks down the little hill from North Road. The two girls sing in harmony with him. Higher voices than his. One has a lovely soprano. My love keeps me warm. They walk past, the girls not noticing me, still singing.

A few shapes in the blackness, one down by the harbour. A woman, possibly? The one who smokes? No, I don’t think so. The fishing trawler is there, its lights full one. How I love that. It cheers me, makes me feel safe. And the Samways truck with it’s beautiful drawing of a fish. A trout? Waiting. It is waiting. No generator noise. Then up by the Castle I stand still. Thinking about the power of standing still. Will they go for my idea? Do I care either way? Not really. My energy is low. I want to go with what is. Not push. Not for now. There is enough for now. I try to concentrate on my walking. Fully walk, finding my tread, my feet on the ground. My mind tries harder to undo me. Harder and harder. My back tightens. A guitar string, he said, your pulse is like a guitar string.

Walking down Great Darkgate Street I hear another voice. Whoa! it shouts. As if to a horse. Whoa! My hackles raise. Is that to me? Where is it? Where is he? I walk on past Superdrug, Supersavers and Poundland. He’s in the doorway, hidden by a pillar. A large man. Pink as a pig. Bald head, big ears. Whoa, he is saying, then, hiya. He’s on the phone. It wasn’t about me. I crossed it that’s all. I traversed into another’s life, briefly. It wasn’t meant for me. I walk on, peering in at Slater’s Bakery. All steamed up. Then the Pelican Bakery. No steam there. I can see through the window. The shop assistant is unloading bread from crates and placing the loaves on the shelves behind the counter. Sometimes I walk behind her as she arrives at work. Does she catch the train there? Just like in France this bakery opens early, six I think. I like that. People coming for their bread fresh first thing in the morning. In France they open on Sunday mornings too. Bread must be fresh. And in Spain too.

I fantasise sometimes about being a baker. I like the idea of it. I don’t know how it would be, of course. But I like the idea of the early hours, the solitude. The simplicity of the task. You make then go home. No interaction with the public. Just baking. Making the daily bread. The staple. And the smell. Would I ever tire of it? Or the heat? The baker in the Pelican is big. A mountain of a man. The one at Slater’s is wiry, small and always dressed in shorts. I wouldn’t make a big range of bread. Just simple loaves. What is required. No waste. I’d bake with love. Early in the morning, wearing an apron covered in flour.

Singing Tree explained

I didn’t explain. I forgot. The singing tree. What is it? What do I mean? No, it isn’t a reference to Enid Blyton’s Singing Ringing Tree. I never read it, though I think there was an adaptation of it on the TV when I was a child. He read it, I think. He read most of the Blyton books. I never really got along with them. There were too many children. I never belonged to a gang like that, I couldn’t relate to it, nor to Swallows & Amazons. I’ve always felt more comfortable alone, a Jane Eyre figure and consequently sought out heroines who felt the same, Anne Elliot from Persuasion, Anne of Green Gables, Jo from Little Women. Singular women, though of course belonging to my later years. I cannot remember many female heroes from my young childhood. I read Blyton but preferred what? I remember horsie books. Why? I’m not in the least interested in horses but I suppose it is what was offered. The Silver Brumby, I remember. And Black Beauty, of course.  I did read the Narnia tales, though I found them harrowing, particularly when Aslan was caught and tethered. And then there were the fairy tales. Grimm’s, Perrault’s, I lapped them up. Girls were alone in most of those, having to cope, be resourceful and inevitably finding happiness with a man. Ah, me. And so it was and ever will be.

No, the singing tree of my title is one that I pass on my return home in the early hours. It sings. It sings with bird song. Not a large tree but a noisy one. What are they? Robins, sparrows, blue tits? I walk past it and it seems to come to life. Chirruping, tweeting, calling forth the dawn. Marvellous.

A flooding of starlings have just flown past and the sky is blue grey. There they go again. Spanning the sky, they flit and dive, calling to each other. What sets them off?

I tried it and I will persevere. It made me tenser. So much resistance. Yet another thing I feel obliged to do. Where is the time? Where is the time to do all I wish to do? My lower body relaxed, it tingled, but the rest remained stiff as a board. I want to do well too much. Always needing approval. This is not about achievement, the voice intones. There is no right or wrong way. And then there is this drawing. I cannot figure it out. I hold the image of it my mind while I walk, brush my teeth and go about my day. Is it a trick? Why has she given it to us? I am disappointed that there is no euphoria. He says that’s good. The come down will be less. Anger, pain, grief are already there, waiting in the wings. Already and it’s only the first week.

It was busy on the Prom. It’s the mild air I suppose. Two security men at the Pier Pressure nightclub seemed to be chasing each other up the stairs when I passed. The younger fitter man sped up the stairs while his heavier, older colleague huffed and puffed after him. Or perhaps they were chasing a miscreant.

A still day, no rain so far. He has returned to bed. I prepare to work. I tried. She did not respond. That is her prerogative. She did it also. That long silence. Impenetrable. I am out of kilter. But if she choses isolation I must respect it. Let it be. All will come right that needs to do. I dreamt of old friends and how their kitchen cupboards were jam-packed with loaded platters of party food from years back. They’d been shoved in willy-nilly and forgotten. I wanted to find a clean plate for some fresh food. I must go and see him before he goes. I will go alone. Perhaps I will see her to?

A bientot.

Singing Tree

A mild morning. There are lots of kids, students on the Prom. I listen to their chatter. Girls without coats, running on tippy-toe through the rain. Newly found lovers arm in arm. One couple strolls past me. The girl is speaking. Petit-pois, say. He laughs. Nearing the Pier Pressure nightclub another pair are walking towards me. The problem is the Freshers, the boy is saying, ending his half-finished sentence with ‘like’. Heading home and passing the Insurance Agent’s shop and Lilley’s café (though I think it is called something else now) I walk behind an Asian-looking boy and white girl. You’re Hungarian right? he is asking her. Yes. So what’s the Hungarian for ‘quiet’?

Walking through the Castle park there is a figure ahead of me, a hoodie obscuring his face in this semi-darkness. I feel a frisson of fear. He’s a big man. I push forward. He walks under a street lamp. There’s a dog. He has a dog on a leash. I relax. It’s OK. A boy passes me the other way. His phone lights up his face. There is Rap music coming from it and he is singing along.

Scores of taxis buzz around the streets. All white. Always white. They line the right-hand side of Great Darkgate Street. It’s warmer inside, shouts one of the drivers at a student huddled in a shop doorway. He finishes his cigarette and throws it on the ground. The cab with the Taxi sign and its missing ‘x’ is parked by the Cooper’s Arms. Still not repaired it then?

What can I say about yesterday? It was exhausting. I cried almost from the start. I felt raw, skinned. And yet, we did little. No exuberance. No deliverance. There is nothing. Nothing but ourselves. I didn’t want to share. I didn’t feel generous. But I felt compassion, so much, for all of them. Good people, gentle beings, even he with his anger. You could see it, it was palpable. It made me wary. A nice little hall. It smelt musty but it was warm. Old fashioned toilets, a little stage and a wooden roof. The Quakers are good with things like toilets, one of them said, trying to stop the silence. I wanted it. That silence. Ask the question of your heart. Let it drop down, she said. It did and I wept. So much grief. From me, from them, for me, for them.

We almost rowed. But we pulled it back. He is only trying to protect me. And I am a crocodile, snap, snap. Don’t be scared, my love. The change, if there is to be any change, will be on the inside. No more running away. For I cannot. There is nowhere to go, to run, from me. I cannot.

Shall I contact her? I am nervous of it. All she can say is no. Can I deal with no? Is that OK? To be told no.

She called me ‘love’. I was touched. She is not an effusive woman. I love her. I know her sharpness, but I understand it. There is often pain, sometimes there is awkwardness. She was the same, though her rancour was bone-deep.

I will give it a try. I will give myself to it. And find what? Nothing. That would be good. That nothing. Not a despairing, hopeless, empty nothing. No, a full, joyful, open space-full nothing.


Morning Blue

The morning’s coming up. A deep blue before the grey. A morning blue. And I always feel better, not so locked-in, hemmed in by anxiety. What is it about? Everything and nothing. But you are to die, I tell myself, soon, now, later, whatever you will soon not exist. At least not in this form. Can that not give you peace or at least the willingness to succumb, to yield to all? For your power is nil, you cannot control it. Any of it. Contrarily yielding is powerful. That giving in, that acquiescing for it removes the tightness of fear. Do your worst, it says for I am unflustered by it. I accept what is. Always. Can I? Can I do this? Can I accept that it is always so uncertain? When I’m walking the anxiety comes in thick and fast. It’s the motion, I think, and the freedom, the space that my mind has to fill. This and that, fret fret and fret. I try to challenge the ideas, what about this? How about seeing it this way or that? To let go.

I let go in sleep. The redeemers she calls them. A Swiss myth apparently, three men sleeping in a mountain and by doing so keeping the peace. Their sleep is the village’s peace. A nice image. That’s what most of them do there, sleep. I watched them. To give oneself up to sleep in public. They must be so tired. The tiredness of pre-death. A lifelong of tiredness.

I could sleep and sleep, I say to him. Well, why don’t you? he says. Because there is so much, so much to do. The sky is now a little pink. A pink wash. A little insipid, like a tentative watercolour.

It was good yesterday. I got a result. Though that sounds tacky. I got a response. I know she is probably one of the most gregarious of the residents but nevertheless she came and sat down right next to me. Just like that. Oh, hello, she said, how are you? I know so many people, she told me later, but I can’t remember their names. She is profoundly deaf and swallows her vowels as a result. It is hard to make out much of what she says. Sometimes she sings and acts out Welsh Rhymes. I don’t speak Welsh anymore, she says, I used to. I liked sitting in that lounge. Pendinas, the one looking out on the hill. I planted that hedge, she says, pointing out of the window. I don’t know what to say. Did you? I reply. The TV is off. Most of the residents slumber. Some sit at tables and having just finished their breakfast, they await lunch. One rather elegant woman sits by an open window. Her grey hair is stylishly cut in a bob and her clothes are a pastel-shade of green. She eats a bowl of cereal slowly while she stares. I go to the kitchen to make some tea, she looks at me and gives a warm, beautiful smile.

How I love him. I feel it most when we’ve been apart, if only for a couple of hours and then I see him again. Like yesterday when he returned to the home to pick me up. He looks so kind and is. He takes her hand, she opens to him like a tired flower. And the sleeping man wakes too, and he greets him. I am so proud. To be with him in this life is a blessing.

A good day. And today? Another new thing. It is a rich. It is not what I expected but it is nonetheless rich. A bounty of experience.

It’s heartbreaking, he said as we left. Walk ahead of her, one of the staff told us, else she’ll follow you into the lift. I wanted to say goodbye but couldn’t.

Can you do me favour? she asked. Can you take me with you?