Follow one crying eye on


Last weekend was my university alumni weekend and I was invited back to my old college to celebrate 40 years since I matriculated (posh word for starting at the University of Cambridge). In fact, this anniversary occurred in 2020, but for obvious COVID reasons, the celebration was postponed until this year instead.

The weather was reasonably kind, being overcast but warm during the first day, spookily misty but not properly chilly after midnight when we staggered back through the deserted college grounds to our student accommodation, and then sunny and warm on Sunday – all resulting in decent amounts of outdoor (rather than potential COVID-ridden indoor) gathering and photo-opportunities galore.

It was nice to see old friends, but in fact most people I enjoy seeing have been part of recent holidays or other jaunts and there was not a great deal of need to see them again so soon. Of course, you can never have too much of good friends’ company (well, I suppose that is debatable, but I was genuinely happy to see them all again), and there were a handful of others with whom to cordially catch up. 

We were also honoured to be the first small congregation to join the famous Chapel Choir at evensong since the first national lockdown in 2020, due to the huge restrictions which have been placed on public singing. There was still a strange absence of hymn books for the congregation, meaning that we were unable to sing lustily along. I was initially pleased to hear the introduction to Lord of all hopefulness played out on the organ, as I was sure I would be able to remember an approximation of the words to that from my childhood. But no, they sang completely different words! A cruel blow. (I had, however, surreptitiously mumbled along to the traditional setting of the founder’s prayer, previously a regular number at midnight al fresco inebriated celebrations, although sadly I only know the soprano part and now have to sing this a growly octave below pitch.)

Dinner was excellent, badinage more than cheery in the newly bland student bar, and people were generally on good form.

But, throughout the weekend, I was reminded too many times of my first term there. In the dinner speeches, we were asked to think back to when we first arrived at King’s – and I recalled only too well the excitement but also the trepidation and the feeling of intense loneliness. I realised that, although I still regard years 2 and 3 of my time in Cambridge as some of the very best in my life, there remained throughout a fear that I was not really properly part of the gang there. I have no idea really why this should be – I have plenty of enduring friendships and I have no real reason to think that I am not actually valued by any of these people. Nevertheless, the overpowering fear that I would not see anyone to talk to, or have anything much to say or do with them – an acute FOMO with no real basis of the actual MO which might occur – seemed to linger over me whenever I was not already in the presence of a group. I was often like that as a student, which is something I have tended to forget when reminiscing about the many wonderful and ridiculous and stupid and fantastic times we had as a group of friends together there. 

The one person I could always turn to during my time there, and also on all recent return visits, was not there last weekend. At least, not in person, although perhaps somewhere in the shadows or invisibly at our sides in Hall.

This was the first time I had been back in College since my friend Emma died three years ago.

It hurt like hell.

At the moment, I can’t think of an upbeat punchline to this one.


One year ago today, my best friend’s husband left a message on my phone whilst I was on a conference call in the office. He asked me to call back when I could get to somewhere quiet.

Emma had been seriously ill with cancer, suffered some horrid treatment, but had recently been in one of those cancer pauses where all is reasonably ok for a while. She was a very emotional person and hated the phone because she would often cry at the slightest thing which made conversations tricky. So, my fear was that she had received bad news about her prognosis and wanted me to know, but couldn’t quite articulate it herself. 

I took myself to one of the private study booths nearby. Sound-proofed but in full view due to the glass door and wall. There was a brief pre-amble about a hospital visit the previous weekend – then the awful finale – ‘she passed away on Tuesday’. I had seen her, in pretty good form, just four weeks earlier.

I can still hardly believe it. She was a year younger than me. We had known each other since we were in our late teens. We were chief-bridesmaid to each other. We were god-mother to each other’s eldest children. We had stayed in touch despite living 100+ miles apart. We had been closer again during her illness – contemplating how we would do some serious walking together in my planned early retirement and beyond, always conscious that we may have less time than we would like.

She was one of the most active and self-motivated people I know. She followed what seemed like a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

How can it be fair? 

I have missed her this past year and continue to grieve. I have shouted her name in anger on the cliffs alone in Cornwall. No doubt I’ll do it again somewhere.

Doesn’t help, does it?

I can’t seem to see the funny side of this.


Follow one crying eye on