After having my hair done on Thursday afternoon, I had a quick catch up with Michelle, next door, loaded up my car and set my Sat nav for Colchester. Even though I still was going through 'Clive should be just finishing at a conference in Stoke now and we should be together,' I just got on with it. I took a personal development CD set with me but I felt like listening to the radio. On sunny days like it was, the media seems much happier! I was also in a 'roof down, shades on' mood with my lighter-coloured hair. The journey passed well with a few hands-free phone calls. I know Clive used to make the most of the time he was traveling in the car in this way. In recent months as I was working with him I would give him a list and numbers of people he was due to have a catch-up with. He was loving our organisation - me too!
I admit I avoided a potential tear-jerker as I would not go in Peterborough services as that is one we had been in last December, when I had driven him down to Ipswich. That had been an amazing trip. We had gone in my car that time too so I drove this time with my hand on the passenger seat to feel him with me. I only stopped for a quick cup of tea as I had seen that the pub I was booked into did food.
After almost 4 hours I duly arrived at The Kings Arms at Coggleshall, near Colchester. It was a small inn on the A120. I parked and made my way in, to be greeted by a smiling landlord, a dog and some male customers. It was small enough for everyone to be included in each others conversations and not the sort of place you can go in unnoticed! The friendly landlord confirmed that my room was booked but they had upgraded me to their best room at no extra charge as no-one else had booked it. What fab customer service. He helped me through the pub with my heavy bag of books amid teasing from the clientele that he didn't do that for the blokes! My room was a self-contained outbuilding, beautifully converted with an en-suite and all the usual B and B features - and more! Baby wipes, puzzle books, extra toiletries, needle and thread. Small things - big difference. I often stay in a Travelodge but this has encouraged me to find small and personal.
I could have stayed in my room and become sad but as I had got such a warm welcome and I was hungry I went back into the pub, ordered myself a glass of rose and chose from the menu - homemade fish pie. I chose to sit at the bar too. Some may feel I am being too forward but I simply prefer to have company and be sociable. I am not looking for another partner but does that mean I can't speak to people?
There was another guy ordering food too and in his conversation with the landlord it was obvious he had been here before and was also on his own. Our food was brought out at the same time so very assertively I asked if we could eat together! I have always had a notion that it is foolish to be a lone diner at a hotel when you are surrounded by other lobe diners. Chances are that you would be happy to chat and simply share a mealtime. No more no less. Don't worry - I am not going to become a lone-eater stalker on my travels. With this being a very small pub I felt it was safe and so was I.
Maybe Kev who I then dined with didn't feel so!! He was a fellow Northerner, from Blackpool, in fact, 7 miles away from Fleetwood where I was born and lived until I was 16. We had a couple of hours of friendly chat about life and after a another drink I thanked him for his company and settled into my room to sleep. I was so pleased that I had chosen to be sociable as I felt relaxed and shed no tears.
I didn't sleep all that well but then I often don't before I am due to give a presentation and this one would be a challenge for me. It was to be my first official one since Clive died. Also it was a broader topic on 'What makes me feel safe', from a patient's perspective for NHS staff. Had it been my usual keynote on postnatal illness I could have done that without a mention of Clive. In this one I wanted to include him. Would I crumble? Would I look pathetic? It has been said by some health professionals that they don't like listening to some 'service users' on the platform as they use it as part of their recovery and as an opportunity to moan and whinge. I did not wish to be perceived as either. Somehow I simply had to keep composed and professional through it. This had been planned for months and I had told the organisers about Clive a few weeks ago and they had said they understood if I needed to back-out. Not a chance! One of Clive's and mine values is integrity - if we say we will do something, we shall be there. The alternative? Letting them down and staying at home regretting it? No way.
I think I saw every hour and was glad when it was time to get up. I felt sick. I thought I had an upset tummy. I had a headache. Oh no! I showered and packed. Then the panic changed as I literally slid into my dress!
Clive had told 'the dresses' story many times from the platform as an example of the importance of focus in achieving your goals. Last year I had wanted a new dress. Several times I had gone on fruitless trips for one only to return empty handed. Each time he'd be waiting in anticipation to see the contents of my bags. Each time I had an excuse - 'nothing fits' ( I am a size 12!); 'I didn't see anything' (what?); 'I am too fat', etc. etc. I had been to Chester, York, Manchester and other areas. Not a single dress was there in my head!
Eventually last spring I had moaned again that I wanted a dress but hated going shopping. So I made do with what was in my wardrobe.
One afternoon Clive sent me a text as he was halfway around his game of golf - 'Meet me at Starbucks at Clifton Moor (shopping area near York); bring your dress money (saved from Ebay sales); spare jeans for me and I will see you at 5'.
I replied that was a lovely message and yes I would.
At 5 we met, he changed into his jeans from his golf gear, we ordered coffee and he asked me to clarify 'a dress'. It turned out that really I would like at least two - one for 'work'. i.e. suitable for wearing on a platform that was smart but not middle-age frumpy. We also had Sue and Scott's wedding so another one for that would be good. In addition we had our cruise coming up so maybe something for that.
With a clear 'plan' he took me by the hand and said we'd start at the far side of the shops which are set out in a 'C' shape, and work our way back to Starbucks again. First stop Monsoon. We walked straight in and within minutes he had picked 6 dresses for me! Some were designs I would never have tried myself - one being a slim fitting straight dress. I loved it and so did he! It was brown with cream embroidery on it. I am conscious of having wide hips and a big bottom so this fit was one I always steered clear of. That was dress number one in a bag.
Next was Laura Ashley. We chose more but their fittings do not suit me.
Onto River Island where he ignored my shouts of 'I'm too old for this store' (47). A few minutes later we left with another bag containing a cute little black floral dress great with tights or on the cruise.
As we passed BHS at home I commented on a very smart sofa in the window and suggested we looked at it! That was it!! His keynote message - women don't focus! They get distracted. This was why I had never managed to get a dress before. He was right. I do wander off for other things .. I'll just look at baby things for Ruby and Sophie; I'll just look at shoes ....
He grabbed me even tighter by the hand and exclaimed 'We aren't here for sofas! We don't need a sofa! We are dress hunting!'
He would also say how men were still like cavemen in that they would be like hunting for sabre-toothed tigers. They would not think or do anything else until that was done. It was a story that went down very well from the platform!
Meanwhile we then went into Debenhams. Again I tried on more and emerged in one that we both liked. 'Hmm', Clive said, 'I like that .. but you need a size 10!'
Wow! Now isn't that music to a girls' ears! The sales assistant was stunned by his attention and interest. I then made the comment that I had actually seen this dress on other trips! Hmm.
As I changed into the smaller one Clive appeared with another cream dress which he had actually undressed the shop dummy for!! He said it was the dress he could happily marry me in. It fitted perfectly and I felt a prick of tears but fought them back. I loved this dress and so did he. I came out of the changing room and his face was pure adoration. He wrapped his arms around me and said if there was a way to marry me right there and then he would do. That particular dress had a tear in it so we ordered one which was delivered within two days.
So there we were .. back in Starbucks in just over an hour with not one but three dresses and another on order! I was thrilled to bits. Never before has man shown so much interest or been so helpful in choosing clothes with me. I felt completely loved and respected and very, very special.
So yesterday morning it was appropriate to wear the brown number. The difference today was that I literally slid into it. A stone lighter in weight makes a big change to how your clothes hang. I was thrilled! I felt like Clive was watching me, saying 'Told you you would look good in that'. I felt it.
This was the dress I chose today, as worn for my Greatvine filming.
So what did I learn?
- That Clive continues to be around me in everything!
- That I don't have to go to places that might upset me
- That small and friendly places are good to stay in
- That choosing to be sociable is kinder to myself
Going to have breakfast in the garden now ... more later.