The first Bank Holiday weekend of the year often means DIY for a lot of families, or perhaps some gardening and prep ready to fire up the BBQ at the first sign of a sunny Saturday. B&Q is always rammed. Normal folk have inspiration to decorate a room, maybe put up some shelves, paint the fence or jet wash the patio. Normal folk. Normal DIY-esque activities.
The regular benchmarking doesn’t really apply with the Brays. Matt has been using this Easter weekend to overhaul the Bungalow plumbing…. picture 200metres of copper pipe, no heating for two days, no mains water for one, four days of hands and knees in the loft with a head torch. This is our “normal”.
Similarly, in a regular house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Ascot, “DIY” doesn’t mean picture hanging. DIY this weekend has meant plastering a front porch.
Tracey Hall is my best friend. And I could just stop there right. Everyone knows what “best friend” means….. but to me, Tracey is SO much more than that. She is top of the tables, a World Class Best Friend. If friendship skills were graded she would be ELITE.
Tracey and I went to secondary school together, during which time we had a small close friendship “group” which saw each of us being closer to each other at different times, and during different phases. Not unusual I imagine. Fast forward 20+ years and we still have our original friendship group, plus the excellent addition of Schwester (Tracey’s younger sister – but known and loved by us all as our sister!) and a couple of her a school friends. As a full group we probably get together only 5/6 times a year… busy lives, busy jobs, family commitments & different priorities… it’s always a challenge to get everyone lined up at the same time.
Despite initially drifting a bit further away from the group when I moved down to Sussex in 2004 a few years later, when that chapter of my life ended and another started, I slotted back in as if I’d always been there, and during the next few years Tracey and I got closer than ever. Thankfully neither of us have finally settled too far from our home town, although in slightly different directions, and so we are only 45-60mins apart (M25 permitting). As a result, we still see each other quite a lot, and chat on Whatsapp probably every day. After Matt, she’s the first person I call/text with anything and everything important.
But Tracey Hall was not plastering her front porch this weekend! That job fell to Jon, Tracey’s husband. Tracey and Jon have been together for years and years and years, marrying on a picture perfect winters day in 2010. Jon is all things AWESOME. He is literally everything I could want in my best friend’s husband, both for her and for me! He is Tracey’s husband, but he is also my friend too, and has been for years. Just to top everything off, Jon and Matt get on famously and are like two peas in a pod… they too have a stand-alone friendship. Like Matt, Jon is an engineer, and they both have limitless topics of conversation, similar interests and share each others’ knowledge and expertise.
Tracey and I would be close anyway, but it just enhances everything that Jon and Matt are friends too and means when we see each other it is usually all together. There have been many evenings, weekends, NYE’s spent with Tracey and Jon. The boys are normally talking about geeky stuff, and looking up technical things online. Us 3 girls usually opt for a boardgame.
So after some extreme DIY on both sides, last night was one of those perfect evenings spent with the Halls. Given the heating/hot water situ here, we went up there for dinner, where Tracey had made us a mouth-watering chicken pie.
There are, however, two very important pieces missing from this mental picture… because Tracey and Jon are Mummy and Daddy to Ollie (6) and Sammy (3). Obviously I have known Ollie and Sammy all of their lives, but I would want to go further and say that I have been a part of their lives, adore them, and feel very privileged that I’ve been alongside them so far.
This is a conversation I was having with Ollie at bedtime last night, which I will come back to.
First, let me try and briefly describe these two little characters. To the untrained eye, two typical boisterous kids with bags of energy. Sometimes noisy, but always attacking everything with 100%. Lego, trains, cars… they love to play.
Whenever they visit us I dig out the bucket of matchbox cars that used to belong to my brother (although technically, I suppose they still do) and it usually keeps them pretty well entertained. Two energetic children racing round the bungalow was initially a bit of a shock to one little system although she very quickly got used to it, and could always be found in the heart of the action!
Having spent such a lot of time with Ollie and Sammy – and I mean actually with them, interacting with them, not just that they have been present when I’ve been there – I’ve got to know their little personalities well.
Sammy always greets us with big hugs and kisses. He says “I love you heather” a lot whilst wrapping his arms around my neck and squeezing like he isn’t going to let go, and last night was no exception. Sammy, nicknamed SamBam, can be very crash, bang, wallop, and looks you right in the eye with a cheeky grin before proceeding to do whatever you may have just told him not to do. Sure Tracey and Jon won’t be expecting me to say anything else (honest blog and all that) but there’s no doubt he can sometimes be a little bit naughty. But in a cute cheeky way, not a spiteful way. He’s a gorgeous little monster.
Ollie is two and a half years older so is naturally further ahead. From what I can see so far Ollie is going to take over the world. He talks of robots and plans and building things. More and more I’ve seen his vivid imagination shining through, and he talks about stuff with such enthusiasm and animation. Last night he was showing me the invisible robot that he built, and explaining how it was controlled by a remote control disc (a medal)… the robot had levers and lights and he was describing it with such detail it was so clear that he had a perfect mental picture of it.
When the apocalypse comes I want these little ones in my bunker. Sammy to tell me everything is going to be ok and Ollie to use his inventions to make it so!
Although we see them often, they are growing and changing and developing all the time, and every time I see them I observe something else. Watching them on their journey through childhood is so great. Watching my best friend be an awesome mum is also so great. Ollie and Sammy couldn’t have better parents than Tracey and Jon, and I am so proud of both of them for that.
Right, now back to bedtime. As we were late arriving and late eating, for the children it was pretty much straight to bed after dinner. Rather than story time it was snuggles with a little chat about the day, then lights out.
Having hoisted myself up into the top bunk next to Ollie, we laid down forehead to forehead on the pillow. After some more talk of robots and master plans, I told Ollie how as a baby we used to stroke his back and snuzzle his hand to try and get him to fall asleep. It didn’t often work mind… Baby Ollie had colic and sleeping was a challenge.
I told him how much I loved him and how lucky I was that he and his brother were in my life. Whilst stroking my hair, Ollie then looked intently into my eyes and said “I know you are really sad about Milly, she was a lovely doggie”…. His sincerity absolutely took my breath away. He asked me how she died, and how I knew she was dead. Holding back tears I managed to tell him that there was something wrong in her brain, probably because she was really old, and that I knew she was dead because she went to sleep in my arms. He seemed satisfied with that fairly loose explanation, and then he went on to talk to be about his Gandad, who is currently fighting cancer, who has had an operation and now sounds like a robot, but how absolutely everyone is hoping the cancer doesn’t come back.
After leaving Ollie with his torch, pencil and paper to draw up some more plans I snuck into the bottom bunk to say goodnight to Sammy. After several rounds of “I love you Heather”, to which I repeatedly replied “and I love you Sammy”, he snuggled down with Puppy, his soft toy, and we didn’t hear a peep out of either of them for the rest of the night (which is unusual).
After several cups of tea, some custard creams and a good game of scrabble, Matt and I left to head home. Despite the constant and now familiar ache of sadness in my heart, I felt happy and hopeful.
The whole point of being with good friends is to lift you up, and you them. I didn’t expect that, last night, it would be the genuine kindness and sensitivity from a 6 year old and his 3 year old brother that made my grey sky look momentarily blue.