Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cherished memories and happy times - remembering Graham by Juliet Bawtree

So many cherished memories about Gray that I can only scrape the surface here. Over time though, I’ll make sure I recall them with Towe, the girls and his friends.
One thing Graham was not was just one of my best friend’s husbands. He was a very dear friend in his own right such that in retrospect, I think he was probably my most constant male friend. I have to thank Towe as when she met and married Gray, I gained an incredible friend. Our old friendship was not watered down in any way. It was amazing how quickly they became the fantastic “G&T” team that it is difficult to recall not knowing Gray so well if that makes any sense.
However, I will never forget first hearing about Towe (AKA ‘Bird’) & Gray’s budding friendship over a glass of pre Christmas bubbly in 2000 at what was, back in the day, an old ‘Birds’ haunt on the Kings Road. Towe had a real sparkle in her eyes when she told me about Gray. On being told about the age gap, his grey hair and the fact he was as deputy head, her mentor, I merrily challenged her feelings as being a ‘schoolgirl’ or rather ‘teaching assistant’ crush! A story that Gray (the ‘silver fox’) found hilarious. How wrong I was though and that became apparent very quickly. Indeed, I changed my tune completely after only having met Gray once so that by April 2001, I told Towe that I thought he was the one for her and that they would marry.
I met Gray just the once before I went to Oman in April 2001. We were both helping Towe move to her little flat in Thame and I was struck by how compassionate, calm and kind he was when quietly helping out with putting up bookshelves and sorting things out. When the hard work was done, we had the first of many lovely meals out all together and thought Gray utterly charming and could really feel the warmth between them.
Despite the fact that I was living in Oman during the early years of the G&T courtship up to and including their wedding, I was made to feel so welcome each time I came back and visited them in Thame. It was then that we set up the tradition of a Bird shopette and lunch whilst G had a bit of time to himself (catching up on the football in those days!), followed by the three of us sharing a bottle of bubbly and having a good old catch up. This included the Birds fashion show sporting our (well, mainly mine!) latest purchases from Bicester Village. A lot of men would have bored of this but Gray joined in enthusiastically coining the phrase “So how much did you save Bird?!” With Gray’s excellent maths, he would tot up the grand total pretty quickly and we’d celebrate what fantastic savings had been made! Occasionally though, he would raise an eyebrow and exclaim that it was a rather small item for the price tag! Gray certainly had an eye for style and his input was always most valuable.
Over the years, I’ve been privileged to have spent so many happy weekends chez Hollows. The traditions remained. Once the girls arrived, Gray would without any grumbling, delight in taking them swimming and shopping or perhaps sitting down and introducing them to the Saturday afternoon football, whilst Towe and I had some Bird catch up time. I much looked forward to those weekends. We always had great times together usually involving delicious food, wine, bubbles and perhaps some Strictly in the Autumn. The photo attached of Gray with the Birds was one such evening captured with the self-timer that Towe is a master of. Gray loved (I think and hope!) catching up on the Bird gossip over a chilled glass of bubbly but we’d laugh when a glass or two of wine and a delicious meal later, he’d get rather sleepy signalling time for him to happily head off to catch up on kip leaving us to chatter into the early hours. Sunday morning breakfasts chez Hollows were a triumph with Gray’s fantastic pancake making. A treat for us all! I always felt so relaxed and welcome that I didn’t feel like a guest with G&T in Thame becoming a bit of a second home.
The day after I moved into my little ‘nest’ (as Towe calls it), the G&T team were the first friends to come over armed with wine and goodies. They enthusiastically arrived with Aila who was a babe in arms then and didn’t mind a bit that together with my parents, we had to have a makeshift lunch surrounded by the chaos of hundreds and hundreds of boxes. Both then and over the years, Gray seemingly happily volunteered his DIY skills and helped with a variety of things from setting up my monster of a TV from Oman to mending my broken desk and wobbly loo seat!
The only one condition Gray ever imposed was that I make a curry (much to Towe’s horror!) just once. I had to compromise with Towe and make it a mild one but we had a lovely relaxed evening so much so that by the time we sat down to eat, it was about 11 pm and Towe ate in her pyjamas! There was never any fuss when they all stayed over with the girls sleeping in my wee study room. Many a person would have baulked at staying over en famille in my little place but it was never any trouble and Gray always joined in with the Bird twitter and banter- a true friend!
My last weekend stay with G&T in September was not unlike any other in that as ever, it was lovely, fun and relaxing. However, it was poignant that I spent more time than usual with Gray as being the early stages of the ‘Pip’, Towe was not feeling great. Gray, a techno whizz as far as I was concerned, counselled me carefully on the new TV purchase I was about to make, proudly demonstrating his new Panasonic that Towe had got him as a birthday surprise. Gray’s enthusiasm was catching and it didn’t take him long to persuade me to go for the bigger (32”) screen. After all, it was only £10 more than the 28”! I was slightly concerned it might be too big for my sitting room but to Gray’s credit, when it arrived, it fitted perfectly!
It’s so terribly sad that we were all blissfully unaware of what was about to unravel just a couple of months later. When Gray took me to Haddenham & Thame station together with the girls, we were joking away waiting for the train. I could never have imagined that waving back with a goodbye through the window at a smiley Gray and the girls, was a permanent farewell.
Graham as a funny, self deprecating, ever supportive and empathetic friend, will never be forgotten. Writing this blog has been difficult but remembering Graham will never be.


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