I’m writing this the week after you turned three. Three whole years you’ve spent on this planet and what a three years they’ve been. I often use you as one of the reasons I started blogging, so it felt natural to write this as a letter blog post to you, so one day you may read it, but I’m hoping your mummy reads it too because I’ve something to share with her.
Three years you arrived into our lives, the long awaited and much loved first-born grandchild for Grandma and Grandad. My first niece or nephew. You took me by surprise right from day one, I didn’t expect to feel such a connection to you. If I’m honest Libster I was a little worried I’d be a bit rubbish as an aunt, not too interested, there have been so many little people in my life and I’d began to realise that I probably didn’t want my own family, but nothing could prepare me for what I felt for you. It was different to any connection I’ve had before. It was almost animal, when I held you for the first time I knew that I’d do anything for you. Maybe this is what love, true love, really is – an instant, physical, visceral connection easily induced for one so little and helpless, and one who at some subconscious level I know is one of my own.
In some ways I think it’s quite selfish, driven by ego almost. I watch you, your mannerisms, character, willfulness and I see me, a little Georgie! I love that, I love your spirit, your determination, your questioning. I love the fact that you are as happy dressed as a pirate as minnie mouse! I love watching you with your little sister. It’s ace having one, there will no doubt be times when she is a complete pain, she’ll irk you and irritate you but trust me there are few things as comforting in life as knowing you’re never really on your own, you’ve always got your siblings around to rely on if you need to. You’re doing a great job as a big sister, never doubt that!
So what can I share with you Libbie? I’ve listed ten things, there are more, these might not even be the most important things but they’re want came to mind:
1) Never, ever, let people tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a girl. You can do anything that you want to if you work hard enough. You can succeed and achieve if you believe, so don’t listen to people who say no.
2) Never stop asking questions – as you get older people play this trick on you where they suggest asking questions is dumb because it let’s on that you don’t know something. That’s ok, in fact it’s more than ok, it’s essential. People who pretend to have all the answers are just pretending. Even your teachers and your Mum and Dad sometimes.
3) Have fun and play lots – play with the dolls, babies and prams, but play with the lego, football and swords too. Dress up, pretend, make believe and discover. Play often and when you get older make time to play, life can be a lot of fun but sometimes it’s easy to forget that if you work too hard. Don’t take things too seriously.
4) Trust Grandma – if you ever need anything, or want to share something, or don’t know who to talk to then trust Grandma. Your Daddy will tell you a (true) story about Grandma talking to the fish the night you were born which makes her sound quite mad. So, ok, if you need to know about fish ask someone else but anything else ask Grandma.
5) Offer your opinion but don’t forget your manners – life is easier when people work together, sometimes people are shy about offering their opinion, sometimes it can be easier not to. It’s up to you but never forget your manners, and sometimes it helps to ask if someone wants to know what you think before you offer it! Remember also that some people offer their opinion silently by doing, some people communicate differently, there are many people who are more quiet than us and it’s important that we listen to what they have to say.
6) You can be friends with boys and girls – at some point in your life people will suggest that you can’t really be best friends with a boy, don’t worry this probably won’t happen for a few years yet. Never forget Harry and what fun you’ve had together and don’t let anyone tell you not to be friends with boys. It’s an old fashioned thing that some people haven’t let go of yet. Be friends with the people who make you feel best about yourself irrespective of their gender, age, nationality, sexuality – it’s all nonsense!
7) Don’t worry about what to do when you grow up – when I was growing up people were always nagging me to decide what I wanted to be as a grown up, I never knew. Sometimes I wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter, others a skip lorry driver, at times a special education teacher – I never did any of those, and I’m still not sure what to do when I grow up and I’m ten times older than you, so don’t worry about it. You’ll make good decisions when they come along.
8) Respect your Mum and Dad - Auntie Georgie hasn’t got what it takes to be a parent, it’s really one of the hardest jobs in the world and your Mum and Dad are doing it brilliantly. The strange thing is that most jobs have long periods of training and preparation, people go to university or college, they study and get help to be good at it – there isn’t too much support for being a mummy, no-one gives you a certificate or tells you how well you’re doing. I guess you kind of have to figure it out as you go along, which must be very scary, especially when all of a sudden there are two of you. I am so proud of your Mum, she has worked so hard and she’s one of the bestest mummies out there. Remember that when she frustrates you or tells you no or insists that you sleep all night!
9) Wear hats – the secret to wearing hats is believing that you look good in them Libs. I don’t think you can have too many hats, they are a great talking point and they’re practical too, Grandad would always say that 90% of your heat goes out the top of your head, so wear hats, be confident, believe you look good and other people will believe it too.
10) Be friendly and love freely – this will probably seem a bit obvious. Life is much better if you’re friendly, look out for people, share your friendship and love. As you get older you might find some people aren’t what you hoped they were, some people might let you down, don’t take it personally. It’s not worth worrying about. The strange thing is if you worry too much, and try to protect yourself from being hurt, you miss out on so much in life. Don’t worry about being hurt, or losing friends, be friendly and kind and people will be good back. You’ll hear about lots of nasty and scary things in life but most people are good, and most things are positive.
So there you go some thoughts as you enter your next year. I hope this one is as much fun as the last three.
Lots and lots of love,
It’s 81 days since my amazing Dad died. He had been fighting bile duct cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, for five years and two months.
Today is World Cancer Day and the campaign is seeking to dispel four key myths about cancer, I hope this blog helps to dispel at least two – that cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries (Dad was 65 when he died) and that cancer is a death sentence. Dad did indeed die as a result of his cancer but his life was no death sentence.
Current figures suggest that 1 in 3 of us will develop cancer in our lifetimes. Trust me this disease isn’t something that happens to other people, look around, there’s a good chance that at least one of the people sitting with you this evening are likely to face this illness, and it could of course be you. Recent research shows that people in the UK are still too good at the stiff upper lip when it comes to cancer diagnosis – concerns about wasting GP’s time or being embarrassed prevail. If you have any concerns about your health then raise them with a medical professional as soon as possible.
Cancer Research UK estimate that 1000 people are diagnosed with bile duct cancer each year in England, so (very) crude maths suggests that in England alone 222 people have received a diagnosis of bile duct cancer since Dad died. If this blog, or any of it’s positivity about living with and fighting this disease, reaches one of those people or their families then it’s work is done.
If you wish to know more about life with cancer then take a look at Kate Granger’s blog or Helen Fawkes’s blog – two amazingly inspirational women who are sharing their experience of life with cancer.
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.
Our Dad, George Robert Julian was born on the 13th of September 1947. The third of seven children born to Winifred and Stanley Julian, he grew up in Boston, Lincolnshire.
When Dad became ill we asked him to record some memories of his life before he met Mum. He had very fond memories of every aspect of his childhood, except perhaps his education. Highlights of this time included:
- playing in the back yard in Fydell Street,
- having the honour of turning on the first electricity supply in their home
- chatting with his Mum and helping with the washing up
- spending time with his beloved Aunt Rose
- and failing to be rewarded with sweets from Aunt Con for sitting still; Jiffle Bum, as she called him, had far too much to achieve in life to want to sit still.
Educated at Park Board Junior School and Kitwood Boys Secondary Modern, Dad was left handed (and we now know) dyslexic, so alongside the basics of an education that he gained, he also developed a determined attitude and a belief that it was possible to achieve if you put your mind to it; alongside a keen sense of fairness. Dad would not tolerate people being judged by their academic ability; he believed life is about far more than the skills of pen and paper, and that the important thing was ‘to do your best’, as he went on to show us all.
He also spent lots of time at the Centenary Methodist Church, in the Sunday School and later on the Youth Club; keeping in touch with Ma Redfern for many years.
His first job, while still at school, was delivering groceries for Aunt Rose’s son-in-law, Terry. When he left school he joined the family business working as an apprentice to his father as a bricklayer. Grandad was known for his exceptional workmanship, once knocking down an entire wall and insisting Dad started it again from scratch. The practical skills Dad learnt in this period would come in handy many times over as he improved our family home, but also in later years as he passed on his DIY skills to Jonathan.
In addition, working alongside Grandad, with his attention to detail and exacting standards, stood Dad in good stead for when he left Boston to join the Navy. His first trip to the Westcountry saw him completing his basic training at HMS Raleigh in Spring 1970 and the Naval values instilled in him at that time, of Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect, Integrity and Loyalty were values that stayed with him throughout his life; alongside some other handy skills such as ironing, dusting, sewing, and polishing shoes so you could see your face in them.
Dad first posting was on HMS Jaguar and he flew to Australia to join her world cruise, arriving in Sydney on 30 July 1971, returning to the UK via Singapore. The following November, while preparing for a trip to Icelandic waters for the Cod War, Dad was home on leave when he popped to The Barge to meet up with his friend Brian, the local butcher, for a few jars.
As luck would have it Mum was staying in The Barge that weekend and as good as Brian’s company was, Sylv passed up the opportunity of a lifetime’s supply of Boston bangers, in favour of a drink with Dad. We know ‘All the nice girls love a sailor’ and the rest is history. Mum and Dad had been together for just over forty years when he died.
Dad returned to Chatham to continue preparations for his trip to the Ice, making a repeat visit to Boston the following weekend for a second date. Duty called and he left for Iceland, squeezing in a phonecall en-route to ask Mum to marry him; yes that’s right, after a grand total of four days.
Mum and Dad were officially engaged on Christmas Eve that year and were married the following summer at Centenary Church in Boston. They held their reception at The Barge where they’d first met, before Dad returned to the ice after a week’s honeymoon. In total Dad served five and a half years in the Navy. During that time he worked mostly as a Sonar Operator, but also as a Ship’s Diver, and had a short stint as a gardener, which no doubt is where his approach to cutting everything down and concreting over, came from!
Mum and Dad decided that they wanted a family together, and if they were to do so, Dad would leave the Navy. So, soon after they were married they purchased 74 Main Avenue, our family home ever since. Dad left the Navy in November 1975, a few months before Jonathan was born, and started work in the Post Office as a telephone box cleaner, cycling all around Torbay. Eighteen months later, just after I was born he secured a job as a postman, and he was working night shift by the time Abigayle arrived two years later, rushing to Torbay Hospital having put the post on the night train at Newton Abbot.
Dad spent almost thirty years as a Torquay postman taking early retirement in 2004. He had numerous different rounds, spent some time driving and also took occasional opportunities for overtime, running an unofficial child labour ring where we were paid about 10 pence an hour pocket-money to sort together leaflets and promotions for household deliveries.
One of the big advantages of having a Dad who was a postman, was the fact that he worked shifts, which meant he was around after school and was a very hands-on Dad. As much as we might have complained about the routine – school uniform off as soon as we got home, homework done before the TV went on, ironing and shoe polishing on a Sunday evening; it was actually good fun having a Dad who was around when we were little. Not satisfied with walking ten miles every day, most weekends would also be spent letterboxing on Dartmoor as a family.
In later years I would often share a cup of tea with Dad as he got up for work at 4am and I finished off some assignment or project before heading to bed! Dad never once complained about the early starts, instead relishing being out and about while most people were in bed.
During his time at the Post Office Dad got to know a number of postmen who were volunteers with local cadet forces. After a brief stint with the Sea Cadets, Ted Molloy and Mike Paul persuaded Dad to join Devon Army Cadet Force. He spent the following 25 years serving with the cadets. This involved at least two evenings a week, occasional weekends away and the highlight each year, summer camp.
He held a number of different roles, including:
- General dogsbody
- Detachment commander
- Training officer
- Company 2nd in command, and
- County Adventure Training Officer.
Dad climbed the ranks in the Cadets and was delighted to receive his first commission and join the lofty ranks of Officers as a Second Lieutenant in 1995. He was further promoted to Lieutenant in ‘98, and finally twenty years after joining the ACF, Dad became Captain Julian in July 2006. He served under six company commanders: Majors Embury, Salway, Molloy, Lillicrap, Black and Buller and alongside a number of other people here today.
For many years Dad was never found far from his partner in crime, Pete Byrne. Whether it was running Torquay Detachment, arranging weekends away, converting our attic or shorting the lights at camp – Dad and Pete could often be found together. Over the past few years Pete’s workshop was a bit of a sanctuary for Dad, allowing him somewhere to escape to, to drink tea, reminisce and I’m sure do the odd bit of work.
One of the more unusual tasks that Dad and Pete tackled together was to help out with cleaning the Church Bell Tower here, volunteering a group of cadets from Torquay Detachment to help. Dad was confirmed in this Church in 1988 and had what I’d describe as a practical faith. In the early 90s he was ringleader, along with Dave Finch, in repainting this very ceiling we’re sitting underneath. That was Dad all over, he would readily volunteer to support anyone or anything. He was also exceptionally calm in a crisis. On one occasion a house I was sharing in Dublin was flooded in the middle of the night, it was of course my Dad that we rang for advice, not anyone else’s.
As a father Bobby was unique. He made us toys, a rocking horse, garden swing and toboggan for use down our hill in the snow. He was a great teacher with the patience of a saint; hours were spent encouraging us to practice a recorder or a bugle, or do our homework. He was also a world-class taxi driver, running us all around to various activities and helping us move houses. One of his favourite routes had to be Torquay to Liverton, running Abi and his honorary daughter Charlotte to each other’s houses.
He was generous and strict in equal measure, with a strong sense of fairness and a belief in people’s ability. His positive approach to life meant he gained people’s respect and we’ve been inundated with letters, texts, messages on Facebook and wishes from people who are sharing in our loss.
Whenever he was asked what he wanted for a birthday or Christmas he’d reply ‘three well behaved children’, I like to think we did OK with that in the end, but it was a measure of the man that Dad never really wanted for much, he was content with whatever hand life dealt him.
This was very much the approach that Dad took to his life, and his death. When he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer five years ago, days after his 60th birthday, he never once asked ‘Why me?’, instead treating his illness as another big adventure and learning opportunity.
He also found the humour in his situation and the picture on the back of your service sheet was taken during Dad’s second course of chemotherapy. He was given drugs to take with a list of side effects as long as your arm, including a warning that it could alter your mood. Dad decided it would alter his mood in a positive way and the hat is improvised from an NHS sick bowl!
Dad took every treatment that was available, refusing to let Cancer dictate to him. He defied the odds on numerous occasions, survived massive surgery, finished chemotherapy early so that he could walk Abi down the aisle, beat MRSA and lived to become a Grandad, not once, but twice over.
Dad’s only real regret was that he wouldn’t get to be the Grandad that he wanted to be. We are all determined though that his presence will live on, that Libbie and Phoebe will know of their Grandad and what a great impact he had on so many people. To that end we’d be grateful if you could fill out the memory postcard as you leave today.
Just to shatter any illusion that Dad was some sort of Saint, he was as mortal as the rest of us and would always grab an unnecessarily large handful of Ikea pencils when he visited. He loved a bargain and I’m sure he’d love the idea that we have a pencil for each and every one of you to complete your postcards and take away with you!
Dad had other characteristics that some considered less than perfect, he called a spade a spade, was scared of spiders and completely tone deaf – not that that would stop him from singing at the top of his voice, as anyone who has ever attended the Cadet Carol Service could tell you.
Dad received his terminal diagnosis over two years ago and we knew that he had limited time left. I think he finally accepted that he would not beat his illness about six weeks before he died. Mum has described those six weeks as amongst the best six weeks of their married life. There was lots of time to reminisce, to remember, to give thanks and to spend time together.
Dad didn’t lose his battle, or succumb to cancer; he stoically, bravely and steadfastly lived his death as he lived his life, with courage, dignity and a concern for others.
It is our job to make sure that his memory lives on, but also to approach life without Bobby as he would want us to – with a positive mental attitude and celebrating the fact that our lives are better for having had him in them.
In the words of Bobby J, it’s time to Let it Go.