Occasionally in life, people are given a 'wake-up call' - an incident, or event, so catastrophic, so shocking, that we are made to take 'stock', to slow down and say 'Hey, wait a minute...'
If we are lucky, we see it for what it is and we start to make changes...
The British Royal Family had it with the tragic death of Princess Diana, the world had it with the surreal unfolding of the Twin Towers. Some people take note, some don't...
I am lucky, I have been given two chances, this is my second...
Some souls never get to say those things they really wanted to say, do those things that they really wanted, had, to do...
In 1973, I started at a local mixed sex Comprehensive school in Bath, UK, The Ralph Allen School. I had come from a tiny C. of E. village school, with only six children in my year. We had been split 50/50 between two tutor groups at Ralph Allen, I was in Mrs. Dear's group with two 'best buddies' from my school, Debbie and Ruth, and my best friend from Primary, Andrea, had been put in the other group with Chris, and my cousin, Paul. I was out on my own, vulnerable, without my older friend to mother me. We were only in these groups for registration and assembly and then we were split into classes. Ralph Allen was a comprehensive but it did use some academic streaming. I was in the 'top' stream, which had two classes. I was in the lower class, 1P, of the stream, the top class was 1H. After a few weeks it was clear that the streaming needed some rejigging - 1P and H were to be merged into two new classes - 1PH and 1HP, naturally!
The stage was set. I didn't have to move, the seat next to me was empty. Into the classroom came maybe 15 new kids, the 'top' 'H-ers', all bright and bouncy and smiling, and out filed the exiled old 'P's.
A blonde girl, maybe two three inches taller than me, came rushing to my desk. She was warm and vibrant and happy. 'Hi, I'm Beverley, you're Sue. My Mum knows your Mum. We were born on the same ward. I'm a day older than you!'
That was it! Friends, inseparable.
Beverley Rowe - blonde, confident, warm - my best friend.
I had never known anyone like Beverley before.
Very soon we we're having sleepovers at her house.
Her Mum and Dad had their own modern house on the Wells Road.
She had her own bedroom, tiny, but it had it's own fitted white furniture, with lots of drawers and mirrors and secret compartments and make-up. I shared my bedroom with my two sisters.
My Mum and Dad were proud, strict, Working Class, who wouldn't accept charity.
Her Mum and Dad were middle class, aspirational, office types - with a drinks cabinet!
I spent so much time with her. Just growing up. I loved her mum, so laid back and warm and stylish. Her Dad, on the other hand, always seemed uptight, in a hurry, out to prove something and really skinny! (Perhaps, I'm being unfair with hindsight.)
Beverley knew everything about life. She was a rebel, a free spirit.We would go shopping on Saturdays together. We had a Saturday job, together. We went roller skating, together, wearing our 'wonderbras' and 'airforceblue' jeans, and tartan Bay City Roller Scarves (pretending they were for Rod Stewart, of course, more street cred!) We shared clothes and stories, and dreams and the occasional casual boyfriend, Dave!
We went to the Odd Down Youth Club and snuck out to get chips! My Dad would have been so angry!
She told me about periods, about tampons, about french kissing, pop music - we were a soul or 50s rock music home. She told me about smoking, drugs, sex...boys. How she knew all these things? I will never know, but she did, and she had less than 24 hours on me!
Beverley was my constant, always there, always dependable, like the core of my left cerebellum, my left arm. We never fought, ever! She never criticised me, even when I didn't return her make-up, or was late, or didn't turn up at all, or didn't stand up for her when I should have. She only ever supported and encouraged me.
Beverley had a lisp. When she was younger, she used to worry about it. By the time she was in her mid-teens, she just didn't care anymore. I never really thought about it much.
And for five blissful years, that was my life. In the mid 1970s, Ralph Allen School 'lost' funding for it's sixth form - the politics of this, I never knew, but it meant that anyone showing aspirations to study 'A' levels, had to move on. It was the age of 'equal rights', single sex schools would be a thing of the past. Beverley and I had a plan, we would go to Culverhay Boys School - near my old village so my Mum could take us. You could only go to the school of the opposite sex, if they offered subjects not offered by the equivalent girls' state school. I was going to do Law and Sociology - a 'lefty' in the making. Literally a couple of weeks before we were due to start the sixth form, after the induction, Beverley got cold feet and pulled out. I never really knew why, she was having second thoughts and thinking that maybe, nursing might be more her thing, she was dating a boy from the other school, Beechen Cliff, I think, it all got a bit muddy there - 'But Bev...All those boys!' No, she wasn't going to be convinced, but she supported me anyway and said 'You're going!'
We drifted slightly, stayed in touch, met for the occasional drink...then I went off to University.
In the early 1980s we had a couple of polite fun meet-ups, including a school reunion in The Crystal Palace, where the sleazy boys from Batheaston were still trying to get into our pants! No, they never did! She told me she had a special guy in her life. Tony, she loved him, I could tell. I told her about my boyfriend, and she seemed impressed - I may not have landed a degree but I did have a Junior Doctor!
I had crashed and burned at Uni, taken a golden opportunity and blown it! In the early eighties, I struggled to find a 'decent' job and started working part-time for Tie-Rack in Bath. One evening in my bedroom at home, I had moved into my Brother's old room at the front of the house, a tiny box room, but mine, that fronted onto the only lane in and out of my village, I couldn't sleep. There was a motorbike outside making a hell of a racket, going round and round and revving up. Only there wasn't, several times I looked, the lane was empty. I was dreaming. I spoke to my family the next day, no-one else had heard a thing. I told my boyfriend...I must have been dreaming.
A few mornings later, cold November, I was sat in the car at the bus stop with my Mum, outside the Crossways Inn, waiting for the bus to take me to Tie-Rack. In my mid twenties and still relying on my Mum and Dad to chauffeur me everywhere. We put the radio on, unusually, the local station, we would normally listen to Radio 1. There had been a serious accident on that Road, with fatalities, the bus would be late. I knew, at that moment, like a bolt, that it was Beverley. I turned to my Mum and said 'Oh my God, I think it's Beverley...'
Beverley had visited her Mum and Dad that evening with Tony to announce their engagement. They had left on his motorbike, and had been involved in an accident with a car. There were no other witnesses. Beverley's body was found thrown some distance from the road in a field belonging to my Dad's employer. I hope she was already dead. I hope she never suffered.
When we were in English, at school, Beverley had written a story where she was being cremated. She had been in a motorbike accident and they were cremating her. But she wasn't dead. She was trying to scream out to them, but the music got louder, nobody could hear her, the casket shut and...
They cremated Beverley and scattered her ashes on Tony's grave.
Beverley's favourite record was 'Stairway to Heaven'. When we piled into my friend's car after the funeral, the first song on the radio, was Stairway to Heaven...
We went to Beverley's Mum and Dad's house. Her Mum showed us photos of when we had slept in a tent in her garden and the 'boys' from our class had gate-crashed! It felt surreal, so un-Beverley.
I never saw Beverley's Mum again after that. It hurt too much. I am deeply ashamed. I loved her Mum.
If you knew Beverly Rowe, of Ralph Allen, then you know me!
I wonder what she would make of the past thirty or so years...still supporting me probably.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY FOR YESTERDAY, BEV!
I loved you.
I always will xxx