These are the shoes

I was in two minds about posting this up but as it is the day of Alex's memorial/celebration thought I would share some memories and a poem I wrote for Alex after hearing he had died.

Alex and Laura were the first family we met when we moved to Frome - a valuable gateway to the mine of information on our new town and its surroundings. In a roundabout way it is thanks to them we moved here - their relocating from Bristol to Frome was mentioned by a mutual friend when we were looking to move south from Scotland. We'd also met before - Alex and I working in web development we were bound to orbit the same events and people.

One night shortly after we had moved to Frome I went out for some drinks with Alex in what used to be the Olive Tree. I nervously drank too quickly as I often do and knocked a pint flying over Alex. The whole pint - all of it - glided over that large varnished pub table all over him. Sorry about that Alex.

As you likely know I have struggled with my diagnosis of sarcoidosis the last three years. I started to be ill in the summer of 2019 - the same summer as Alex's diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease (ALS).

During those early months of our both coming to terms with our illnesses I met Alex for some drinks in Frome. We talked for a few hours about life. Our bodies. How God/the World/karma throws curve balls at us. Our trauma. Not listening to ourselves. It was a brief but deeply personal conversation that will stay with me forever.

I had hoped to resume our chats. Then the world went a bit topsy-turvy. Life got in the way. It always does.

The next time I was able to see Alex his condition had deteriorated but he was taking great joy in the open air swimming at Vobster. Last September I decided to join in. It was a lovely experience. The tail end of summer. The sun was shining but the water was cold. It turned out to be his last there. The cold water triggered a huge flare up of my sarcoidosis but that didn't matter. It was a beautiful moment to have shared with him.

I tried to visit Alex - again things get in the way. I visited him some Wednesdays. We talked. Mostly about our children. But by then talking for Alex was hard - he needed an eye tracker. One afternoon we spent an age talking. It must have been so tiring for him and I could see that battle in him - the mind wanting to continue but the body saying "enough". I said I'd come back and we could watch a film together.

The following week he died.

When I heard of Alex's death I decided to climb Cley Hill. It was a beautiful day and I hadn't been up Cley Hill since my illness. The main symptom of my sarcoidosis is fatigue. In my case it had primarily attacked the lungs. It made exercise difficult (ironic for somebody who barely ever did any) and I tired easily. The hill seemed too much and I had often lamented the thought I may never go up it again.

When we first met Alex and Laura I remember Laura telling me about going up Cley Hill pregnant. If Laura could scale it pregnant then surely I could make it up a sodding hill with some crappy lungs! And I did. It wasn't easy but I did it.

On my way up I started thinking of a poem. I never wrote poetry but some words just came to me striding up that hill. Some words for Alex:

These are the shoes
All battered and worn
The laces are frayed
And the fabric all torn

These are the shoes
Now shorn of their tread
Just think if they spoke
Of what might be said

These are the shoes
The trails they began
The trials they endured
The miles that they ran

These are the shoes
Beyond all repair
We’re sad now they are gone
But so glad they were there

On the way home I stopped off at the pub and bought two halves of Guinness. One for me and one for Alex. And I didn't spill a drop.

It was only when I got home I realised that I'd "borrowed" the rhythm of the poem from Michael Rosen's "These are the Hands". I'm sure he won't mind.

Anyway, Alex. I miss you. I wish we'd talked more (my fault). And sorry we didn't get to watch that film.

The next round is on me. And I promise not to throw it over you!