Wednesday, 30 March 2016


In a world without Facebook I would probably never have heard from Clare again.
She would have remained in the archives of my memory, a slow motion montage of her best moments. A girl from the late 1980s, all hair and all check shirts. Turning and smiling. Playing guitar by a campfire. Laughing nervously at my weirder jokes. Turning. And smiling.

Without Facebook I’d never have heard from her again. I wouldn’t have known that she was ill. And I wouldn’t have had a message yesterday morning telling me that she was gone.
Thanks Facebook. I think.

It’s been about 20 years since I last saw Clare, back at my first church in Bradford. We were part of a youth group, a bunch of friends who spent all their time together for a few years, as if nothing and no-one else mattered, and then drifted apart into real life.
At least I think they drifted apart. Maybe everyone else still spends all their time together, singing songs and explaining Leviticus and driving to McDonald’s at midnight. That’s entirely possible. Maybe it’s just me who drifted off.

But it seems unlikely. It was very much ‘a time’ and like all such times, it came to an end. Marriages happen. Careers happen. Slowly that process takes place whereby months and years pass and life cartwheels on, and suddenly you realise that it’s twenty years later. You tell a story or mention a name, but no-one here knows who you are talking about. Your life has shifted around you and none of the reference points are there any more.

My time at that church in Bradford – Church on the Way – is so far away now as to be a different world. With a couple of exceptions, all those relationships are gone. Social media lets me reconnect, here and there, with people I knew in the 80s. But these might as well be new friendships. We’re not the same people.

That was Better Call Saul. This is Breaking Bad. That was Happy Days. This is Joanie Loves Chachi. That was Pulp Fiction. This is that horrible insurance advert with Harvey Keitel. Some of the faces might be familiar, but everything inside has changed.

So I heard that Clare was ill. And that was weird because how could she be? She was fine, turning and smiling in that montage. The montage that passes for memory once a person drifts far into your past. And they live forever and they have good lives and they stay young. And you stay young with them.

Clare showed me how to play guitar. Well, my dad taught me the first few chords, I suppose, so when the history of rock is written, I guess that will be his claim to fame. But it was Clare I followed when I started leading worship at that youth group. She was unfussy. Sensitive. She’d just pick up her guitar and play, eyes closed. No sheet music, just a confidence in the way the chords felt.

And I would watch her fingers - I can still see them – moving around the fretboard, swift and precise. I would sit beside her, chasing those chords, trying to keep up. She’d sing the songs and we’d all sing along with her, following her lead. She made it look easy. And slowly I learned how to make it look easy too. And in doing so, learned that it wasn’t easy at all.

It’s fair to say I was in awe of her. She was only a little older than me, but we were young and small differences seemed big. Where other girls had to put up with my terrible, adolescent attempts at romance, Clare existed in a different place. I admired her. Literally. Together with my friend Ian, I created an appreciation society for her. With badges. And a newsletter. It ran to four issues. Much of the information was made up, like the fact that she used to be in Iron Maiden, but its spirit was pure and true.

She liked it. I think. In retrospect it was quite an odd thing to do. But like I say, she was unusual.

Without Facebook, she’d have stayed there, for me, forever. Guitars and newsletters and teenage nonsense. And now there’s an odd kind of grief. You can’t miss someone you’ve not seen for decades, I don’t think. And I never saw her as a grown up, changed by life and children and illness. But there’s a profound sense of wrongness and sadness that the girl I knew should be dealt so unfair a hand.

So I’ve written this. Hardly the most profound thoughts anyone will have about her life or about her passing. But an offering of memory. Turning and smiling, slow motion in amber. A memory of a girl in her early 20s who shaped little parts of who I am.

Goodnight Clare.