Losing makes you stronger

My dad said to me last night that he had been enlightened.  He realised he could apply Bruce Lee’s 3 principles of Kung Fu to Computer Architecture (his work) with life changing results. I watched beaming as he told me the story and all about his enlightenment and practical implementation. He finished by saying what Bruce Lee said -that to truly succeed you need to learn ‘the art of dying’. What he meant was that to defeat the enemy you have to learn from your previous defeats. We have all heard that you should learn from your mistakes, and that to succeed first you have to fail (sometimes many times to learn and perfect!). I know what he meant to tell me as I smiled nodding in agreement,  and it left me proud and excited to think how I might apply it. Yet at the same time as I later reflected, the thought of death was what was left hanging in the air.

I have always been a person who have never been good with birth or death. I never want to hold people’s newborns or swoon over them, it’s just not my thing. So I avoid people, even people I like when they have a newborn. (What is wrong with me!) Also I avoid people who have suffered a loss, a death of someone close be it a friend or family. So sure I would say something stupid, I’d rather say nothing at all.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and that is due to the fact I’ve been lost for words, because I lost someone,  just a few months ago,  and it was the saddest thing I have personally ever experienced.

It all started October last year, I had just started doing some acoustic stuff with a guitarist at open mic nights, and we thought it would be cool to build a band. So I advertised on Gumtree (how I found the guitarist) and a bass player got in touch.

His name was Dan, he was quite enthusiastic via email, shy in person, at least at the beginning. Our first rehearsal went really well, we clicked musically straight away. I always told him what a great musician he was; we vibed well,  him interpreting my bass lines wonderfully for live. He couldn’t praise me and my music enough, and I always felt like he was my little angel, sat on my shoulder telling me only good things: giving me the confidence I never had.

The more time we spent together the more we realised how much we had in common. We had similar views  on environmental issues, and life in general. We both loved the sky and everything in it, and listening to music, live or not. We went out in Bristol, drinking cider (his choice) and sitting in parks or by the river (my choice) or at his flat if it was impromptu after rehearsal/gig chats.

I’ve never made friends with someone so quickly, so deeply. When I have friends I love them, and I really loved Dan to pieces. We’d text in the day about our jobs and funny things at work, he made me really happy. In person he would bring up deep topics of conversation and we’d debate often in strong agreement…it was awesome for us but I’m sure boring to anyone that could hear us blabbering on. I loved that we liked such different music, we played songs to each other and often didn’t even talk for whole songs, just happy to sit in each others company.

7 months later, and I really wasn’t ready for what was about to happen. On an afternoon in May I received a text that really scared me. I went straight to Dans flat, and his flatmate and mum were already there, looking as panicked as me. The next few hours were hell and the text was the last words I was ever to receive from Dan.

I don’t think I left the sofa for days. My family, especially my sister were wonderful. For hours my sister just sat and stroked my hair or held my hand while I cried for hours. This is what loss feels like, I realised, and like I guessed before, there really isn’t anything you can say. The band and closest friends were also a great support visiting just to force me to eat, go for a walk, or have a chat about random stuff. Everyone at work even put up with me being a complete mess, and my first day back my boss let me cry all over her top. I remember warning her with the words “I’m a woman of extremes: you know how happy I usually am – I think that’s how sad I’m gonna be.”

I spoke to his family often, our stages of grief seemed to be similar, though of course I know they felt the pain deeper than me. I learned that to cope you need a task, either for the person or in their name. For others it was sorting the funeral, making a video channel of Dan memories, putting on fundraising events, or going out to help the homeless just like Dan used to.

I  immersed myself in music. I wrote a new song (which will be on my new album) and finished the images with Unearthed and edited my Bristol Beat music video. I realised that many of the photos my friend had already taken of me were places where me and Dan had hung out, and I decided (with his family’s permission) to dedicate the video to him.

Every day I think of him, and every day I miss him. Most of the time now I think of him and the wonderful memories I have and smile. Other times I feel just like I did that first month, my heart sinks through my feet, my body feels empty and I cry a river. But I try to remember the person that he was, and what he would say if he could see me now.

Dan was an empathetic man, who always saw the best in people, yet he never saw the best in himself. You only had to be at his funeral to see how many people were touched by his presence, whether it had been one chance meeting at a party or a whole phase of his life. He was a gaming champion, a talented musician,  a showman in front of the camera, a comedian, a  loved brother, a perfect son, and a best friend to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. I always called him ‘the keeper’ the one I thought would be there for ever, that I never wanted to leave or lose, in the band and in life. But lose him we all did, and you could say our lives are so much more emptier without him – yet I prefer to say we are all the richer for knowing him. I know he made me a better person, and continues to do so, even though he is not here, at least not in the way we all knew him to be here. He now lives in all that knew him, all that benefitted from his wit, his charm, his charisma.

This is just a few of the ways he made me a better person when he was here:

– He made me question things

– He made me take risks

– I finally took the leap to vegetarian, something I always wanted to do, and seeing his commitment to veganism encouraged me to take that step.

And this is some of the ways he makes me a better person everyday that I remember him and all he was:

– Believing in myself. I valued his opinion on everything, so when he said such wonderful things about me I have to believe there was some truth to it. I see him on my shoulder, a little angel, encouraging me all the way.

– I took the step to veganism, it’s been difficult and not without hurdles, but I am so much happier with my choices and the impact it has for the planet.

– I have started learning to play the bass. His brother so kindly left Dan’s bass to me. (It was actually his brother’s but he says “Dan got more use in 6 months out of that bass than I did the years I had it.”) I said I couldn’t bare to see it hung on a wall never to be played, so I’ve been learning. It really hurt my shoulder the first time I hung it over me to play, but I couldn’t be a wuss now! I also started playing my piano again, after so long either just producing in the studio, and singing live with the band.

– I value every moment, even more so than I ever did before. I realise how special every moment was with my dear friend, and he must have felt so too from the things he said to me in the last few days and the day he went away and the things his brother and best friend said to me after. So whatever that guy saw in me, I want to be that person to those around me. I know I’m not perfect, and nobody can be, but I hope I can be that person he saw in me, as a relative, a friend, a musician, a human being.

Sometimes I feel guilty, that now most of the time, I am the happy person that everyone knew me as before it happened. But I know he hated attention (being on him), and I remind myself his last wishes to me:

– That I continue and progress my music

– That I forgive

– That I find happiness

I never knew those three things would be so hard for me, they were always the things that came easy to me before. That just goes to show how one thing can literally turn your world upside down and inside out, so that that everything that was once round is now square, and everything that was so easy becomes so hard. The little things in the first days after his death were so hard, eating, sleeping, smiling, talking, getting dressed. The first rehearsal after was so painful. Then it was the bigger things that were a strain, an effort, like exercise, socialising, performing. Now in the long term it’s those things he asked of, and I say them to myself everyday: make music, forgive, find happiness.

When it all happened I honestly couldn’t think how it would get better, you don’t get less sad about what happens you just get used to feeling the sadness when it comes, and then you just have to channel it somewhere. I’ve put it in a song, a video, and now what I am writing in this blog, and I’m sure every musical step I take from here on. I hope that anyone who understands this pain has found a way to turn the pain inside out and upside down. Your world will never be the same again, but you have to find your way to carry on. I know I made Dan happy and he made me happy, for those few short months that I knew him. I carry that thought with me every step I take, every song I make, every time I step on stage, every time I make a new friend. I feel him when I twang the bass strings, so I shouldn’t be sad, ’cause he is here really – he made everyone’s world brighter, and that will never fade.

Dan smiley

Food Food Food

Anyone who knows me knows I love food…a bit too much some might say! I love my dads Chinese, helping cook, and then chatting with the wider family around the table on a Saturday. I love sitting around the table at home after work and catching up on our day, while listening to the radio. I love bringing Miss Millies home after a late night gig when I’ve missed dinner. (I only found out while away at Uni that Miss Millies is a Briz Ting!) But that’s not why I wanna talk to you about food.

You see my New Year’s resolution was to start shopping locally: local food markets,  and so on. My mum asked me ‘why?’  – she was confused, thought I hated Tesco like the Bristol rioters. No, not really to be honest. For a long time they gave me what I needed, I could shop online when I couldn’t get to the shops, and make sure I didn’t overspend.

Before anyone up the other end of Town gets upset, have you been to a local shop in Knowle West? I couldn’t believe the range up your area, you are so lucky! We basically have giant sweet shops : (

In fact the last time I went into a ‘corner shop’ near Stokes Croft (The one on Ashley Road) I had a free game show play out infront of me… It was pretty awesome!

Me and my friend went in to get ingredients for dinner and we somehow start talking to the owner about supermarkets. My mate says the basics are cheaper but they get you to spend more in the end with all the offers on things you don’t need. The owner rebuts and says even his basics are cheaper than the supermarket. His till has a computer that goes online and he gets up some supermarket comparison site. He shows us the cheapest big bag of Tilda Rice, it was £8 reduced to £7 special offer in the cheapest store. Now go and see how much mine is” he says. We are gobsmacked, his rice – exactly the same – is £4.59!!! *(price at the time and subject to my memory).

It then turns into a game, we start grabbing items off the shelf and shouting the product name and size/weight and he looks it up on the supermarket site. “Wait a minute,” he says, “I can’t guarantee I will beat them every time, but when I beat them, I beat them by pounds. When they do beat me, it’s by pennies.” But to ours and his surprise he wins on every item! More customers join in, we almost forget to buy dinner and go cook it! One thing was for definite, we were having rice for tea!

So back to my resolution: At the time I was also buying the Knowle West veg bag for a while (from the Edible Lanscapes project), and one day I tweeted a Knowle West only meal, veggie omelette with salad. It got me thinking how nice it would be if all my food were from within a few miles of where I live. I love cooking from scratch and knowing exactly what’s in my meal, this was one step better. And it would make it so much easier, I wouldn’t have to read everything and see where it’s from!

I started off by shopping at the Tobacco Factory Market on a Sunday. They have some really nice food stalls you can buy food to eat there and then, and it’s next to Aldi, so you can easily top up on things not sold at the Market. It’s fab for getting local honey, which is perfect to help prevent or at least decrease the impact of hay fever. (Not good to be up on stage snotting over the mic, struggling to see). The bread is amazing, a wide choice, proper Artisan (slow baked with less yeast).

Problem was (apart from the fact market shopping is always more than supermarkets when it comes to the meat, delicious as it is!) I was in the Studio recording a lot of Sundays. So I then eneded up breaking my resolution and going to a Tesco on Saturday when I realised I wasn’t going to get to The Market.

I then started hunting for a weekly Saturday Bristol Food Market, which I have yet to find. But lucky for me, I’d inspired my mum, and she had started driving to nearby farms with farm shops on Saturdays. I’ve been to two so far with her. Farrington Farm isn’t too far a drive and has pretty much everything you need ( I didn’t check for deodorant that week, but they had Ecover, Toilet Roll etc not just food). I also got a giant Scotch egg with cheese, which was a blast from my school days and I think I’d go there just for that! Neston Park Farm had great food in their cafe, but the shop was smaller and less products and variety, and was quite a drive for me (closer for those who live in Bath) . So worth a trip once a month or so but not for every week.

So I think I’ve found the solution, going to farms some Saturdays with my mum, and some Sundays at the nearby Market in Bedminster. I have to really plan my meals to make sure I keep to my budget and have enough food for the week, but it’s worth it: the food is gorgeous and my conscience is clear ( well on the food-miles front anyway!)

I’ve also stopped eating so much meat so I can afford the farm food but that also means good news for the animals and the planet (meat production wastes a lot of resources), plus by default I eat far more veg (healthy) which I love anyway.  I could probably do with loving butter and cheese a little less, and could probably dance off dinner more often. That can be my post Easter resolution, and maybe my pyjamas won’t be so tight, the next time I sit down and write!