After a day ambling around Brussels we took an evening train across the border to Germany, our journey ending in Cologne. Wow, just wow.
The shared feeling we got when leaving the train station at Cologne was one of ‘….and relax’. I’m not sure whether it is the comfort of German efficiency, the slightly less chaotic sense to the station, the cold bight to the air, the beautiful Cathedral that hits you as soon as you walk out from the train station, or indeed the fact that we were inching ever further close to our end destination of Sweden, but something felt different to (and for me calmer than) Brussels.
Of course it could simply be a trick of the mind, in that now we were at a second destination, and one with snow, my brain no longer thought at a residual level that this was some sort of work trip with all the fun and games of British trains and missed deadlines.
In stark contrast to my experience in Brussels (which I fully acknowledge maybe a conclusion drawn too hastily), there was something that felt just right about Cologne. I know that I’ll return and I suspect that you could spend a decent period living or working there and still not get easily bored. There was some sort of character to it, a visceral one at that. This was only heightened when peeking out the window after a night’s sleep there had been about a foot of snow. We only had 24 hours in Cologne before one of the planned highlights of the whole trip (the sleeper train north) and so we decided to focus on the christmas festivities. We didn’t set foot inside the Cathedral or any of the museums or cultural activities, instead we ambled around the Christmas markets, soaking up the atmosphere, sampling the Glühwein and generally mooching.
We stumbled across a carol performance at the Cathedral Market by a choir called Art&Weise. Since coming back from holiday I’ve found their facebook page and website where you can get more info and listen to some samples, but I have something else to share with you – an audioboo of their performance of Halleluja. It was tingly good, in a snow covered temporary christmas market, on day two of a much needed holiday – spine tingly good.
I hope you enjoy it, the audioboo comes complete with the hustle and bustle of the sounds of people shopping, drinking and joining in. If you get the chance I’d recommend a visit next year, but for now you can listen to ‘Weinachtsmarkt Köln – Hallelujah’ on Audioboo by clicking that link. Enjoy.
It’s three weeks since Dad died, in some ways I can hardly believe it and in some ways it seems much longer. The two weeks between his death and funeral felt quite strange, it was good to be getting on with things, to be planning, organising and arranging. It was lovely to hear so many tributes, comments and memories about Dad and to get in touch with so many people who we’ve not been in touch with for a while. Lots of people were surprised that Dad had died, even though the majority of people knew he was ill, lots of people have also commented on the fact that he never really looked ill, he never complained and they hadn’t expected the news. We have had stacks and stacks of lovely, lovely comments, of cards (Mum has over 70), flowers, phonecalls, facebook and twitter messages and general sentiments and wishes sent from across the globe. It is a real comfort to know how much Dad was loved and respected, and also to hear of his quirks and foibles too, he wasn’t a saint after all.
Dad’s funeral was really special, it went completely without a hitch, as he’d have wanted it to. The Church was packed (my irrational fear was that not many people would be there – I really needn’t have worried), the cadet gang turned up in uniform (which I reckon Dad would have loved), the service was proper without being too Holy and I’m delighted to report that Dad’ s eulogy went well. I was giving it and given that I’m quite used to public speaking I wasn’t too worried about the audience (and lots of people had reminded me that everyone was on my side at this gig), I was confident about the content (you can read it here – in one way or another I’d had long enough to think about it) but I was concerned that I would be overcome with emotion.
Seemingly so were lots of other people! Contingency plans were put in place, practices were held to identify the trigger points that got me every time (1. Mention of my sister’s best mate/ Dad’s surrogate daughter since her own Dad died about 15 years ago; 2. Mention of Dad’s partner in crime Pete; 3. Mention of my nieces), I read it out load and tweaked it till I was almost bored with it – I’ve never prepared so much for anything. On the day the preparation paid off, aside from a brief moment where I went Welsh (it’s impossible for me to say bargain without using a Welsh accent) it went completely as I’d hoped. I held it together, spoke slowly, paused for emphasis and didn’t lose it until I sat back down. Afterwards everyone was telling me how proud Dad would have been, and I knew it and felt it. He would have loved his funeral service, and he also would have loved the cream tea we had afterwards.
The other thing I’m confident Dad would have liked was the Ikea pencils and the memory postcards we had for people. The postcards were designed to capture people’s memories of him so that we can look over them, and share them in years to come with his grandchildren and others who didn’t get to meet him. The design on them was quite simple – his letter boxing stamp and his details – we had a few left for us filled out on the day but we’re hoping that some will arrive back through the post in due course. Mum has also been able to send them with copies of the Order of Service and eulogy to people who weren’t able to make it on the day, we’re hoping that by sharing their memories, they’ll get to feel more involved in some way.
After the funeral we had a cream tea in the parish hall – the scones were from Devon Scone Company and they were an absolute bargain and really lovely! Check out their website if you’re looking for scones any time soon!
The immediate aftermath of the funeral saw time spent with family and friends who had travelled down to be with us. There was lots of reminiscing and remembering and lots of time spent with my nieces who are a great distraction. The most heart breaking bit was when my Uncle turned up (actually the day before the funeral) and Libbie looks up and announces to the room it’s Grandad – luckily my sister had already anticipated that this might happen and so we were somewhat prepped for it, they do look very alike, and in a way that only two year olds do she completely accepted that it wasn’t Grandad and got on with the rest of her day.
The emotional rollercoaster didn’t end there though. That weekend I went into my office to clear it out – I was officially on leave for the two weeks after Dad died but they were my last working weeks of my job, so I needed to empty/sort/handover things. A couple of hours, four black bin bags and six years of my life – done, like that. As I jumped in my car to drive home my immediate thought was that I couldn’t wait to ring Mum and Dad to tell them I’d done it, and then it hit me, like a four tonne truck in the chest – no can do. I couldn’t ring Mum and Dad, even though my mobile still told me I could it was lying, alongside the cheap trick of my subconscious, a nasty one at that – I rang Mum instead, but that was the first real time since Dad had died that I felt I was unprepared for missing him, and the only way I can describe it was that it was a full on force.
I’ve felt it a few times since, none as full on as that. On Tuesday I got my OU exam result (72%) and overall result for the module (73%). Even though nothing about that course was about the grades for me, I was chuffed and I wanted to share that with the folks. Mum was delighted for me, and was pleased with herself too – I can’t tell you how many times she had to encourage me not to drop out of that module, it really wasn’t the best six months to be trying to study, but I’m glad I did it. I’ll blog about that another time and may even write it up for my new work blog that you can read on my new website here.
The final thing worth mentioning since Dad died is the sense of freedom. It feels incredibly odd, massively liberating and if I’m completely honest a little scary being able to plan for the future without having to worry about Dad, or Mum. I’m able to book a holiday or arrange a weekend away, to look at potential jobs and consider moving to London, or further afield, I can have a drink any evening and not worry about having to be sober to drive to the hospital/parent’s house. I hope that the timing of Dad’s death will mean that my Mum and I will both be able to find a new path in life, one where we can remember Dad and celebrate his life, but also create our own again. I’ll keep you posted on how that works out but for now I’m grabbing the opportunity by the scruff of the neck and am holiday for a couple of weeks, touring European Christmas markets and sampling international festivities. I’ll worry about 2013 and the realities of the future once I’ve recharged my batteries and got through our first Christmas without Bobby J. It’ll be different but it’ll be joyous, just as he would have wanted it.