This was a friend of mine from before I understood there were so many people in the world. Maybe she was ten years older than me. She remembered me coming home from the maternity hospital, as she would often tell me. She was there in Jersey for some reason, when I was from my mother’s womb untimely ripped and there was all the worry and concern about the cord being round my neck and then me not breathing without help for a while after the last one (I think actually two on a row) were stillborn and messy messy messy for mum but somehow I made it. I had tubes down my throat which did weird things to my bronchial tract but I’m COMPLETELY NORMAL NOW YES YES? And when I came home, my friend was there.
Dad bought my friend’s father’s house privately when he had to sell it. Eyreton. It was where I spent much of my adolescence to my early twenties. A big house. Bigger than that. Bright yellow. Herons and stained glass windows and turrets and steeples.
Aged nine I heard my mother howling in anguish after putting down the telephone in the kitchen. I ran out into the stairwell. “He’s dead!” she screamed. She came into the hall below me. “Who is dead?” “He’s dead!” she repeated. “Who? Daddy? One of my brothers? Who is dead, mummy? Can you tell me who is dead please?” “He’s dead! He’s dead! Dudley. Dudley is dead!”
My friend’s father. I loved him. I remember that odd feeling of trying to unpack the reality of death, there on the stairs. I remember trying to comfort my mummy and us realising together. That person, gone. Gone for good. Never see them again. No takebacks. No sorting out the last interactions. Done.
I went to his funeral as a child. I stood there solemn in black. Daddy used to praymatically use the lesson of his death to teach me about mortality. Dad was brilliant and relentless and practical. He made fucking sure I knew he was mortal and, by proxy, that everything will come to nothing no matter how hard we love it. He prepared me for the deluge. It’s like he knew that I would experience so much death too early… But Dudley was the first.
Dudley used to give me dreams.
I occasionally continue the “I will give you a dream” tradition set up by Dudley. There’s one child I know who now waits up for it when I’m in the house. It’s a sweet thing to do for a sleepy young one where you enter into a goodnight story with them. Dudley was excellent at it. “I was taught this by a wonderful man I know called Dudley,” I will tell the dream recipient. Then we will gather the bits of dream dust together. It’s a complicated, relaxing, flawed process involving the palm of their hand and errant bits of dream dust that they haven’t been paying enough attention to. He would gather it all together with me, half pissed and stinking. I could hear everybody downstairs at Eyreton roaring with laughter as he did it. The effort we shared to gather the dream stopped me going downstairs later to see the party. He made me want to sleep despite the fact I could hear the grown ups having fun. My part of the contract was to have the dream we had gathered together. So I would try.
For as long as daddy lived, Eyreton was open to Cuddly Dudley, to his wife Jeannie, and to their children. The house continued to be a hub. Daddy built a bar below the stairs where I had stood to hear of Dudley’s death and watched my mother collapse into the hall carpet. Ten years later after Dudley went I served drinks from that bar at daddy’s wake. It was more for fun than anything else, that house bar. And it was fun that night. I got whatever people wanted from the long standing stock. And I’m sure my friend Sophie made a few orders that night.
I last saw her when I got some shopping for her in lockdown. She was staying in a mews house just up from me in Kensington.
She tried to get me to Boisdales for a book launch the other day. A friend of hers who is also an actor had written a children’s book. I was working but I was very aware of it. Her particular talent was to make people care about parties. She was on the junket for her good mate.
For most of my adult life she was the one who told me about people dying. “Darling, have you heard? X is dead.” She kept me in the loop.
Now she’s died quite suddenly.
I don’t like to contemplate it. She last checked her WhatsApp at 21:16 last night. Normally she would be the one to tell me of these things. Like our chum who used to like to slide his motorbike under the level crossing if it was down. But she’s the subject of it this time.
There is no way the number at the start of her age is more than 5.
It’s all such a fragile fucking soup. We only get the time we get and we cannot control the time and manner in which we leave.
I’m a bit sideswiped. So sudden. Screw you, death. Farewell old friend. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.