Wasting my one wild and precious life

Wasting my one wild and precious life


The sale of my late grandparents’ house completed yesterday and brought with it a sense of the end of an era. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately and I miss them so much.

When I collated family memories to pull together my Grandma’s eulogy last year, it was wonderful to read about how she had touched people’s lives in so many ways. Although the specific recollections were different, the common thread was that she always had time for people. Time to take her children out exploring the sights of London. Time to cook wonderful food. Time to talk about anything and everything. Time to listen to grandchildren practising musical instruments. Time to ride a double decker bus just to be with my Grandpa.

She was always present.

I have realised to my shame that I am not following my Grandma’s example. I am terrible at being present. My mind is always all over the place. I’m listening (or not listening) to my children and checking Facebook at the same time. I’m reading the news on my phone when I should be watching my little one trying to walk. I’m scrolling through Twitter when I should be finding out about my husband’s day. I’m always fiddling with my phone and I hate it. It leaves me restless and unsatisfied and feeling bad about myself.

The horrible thing is, I feel too enmeshed in the modern technological world to know how to break free. Just delete your accounts! But I help to run a few different Facebook pages. Delete the apps! I’ve tried that – I just end up going in through the browser instead. Try a bit of self-control! If only it was that easy.

I was tempted to go completely cold turkey and start using an ancient Nokia again, but I realised that there were also (non-compulsive) things on my iPhone that I value, such as the Kindle app, maps and podcasts. Surely I don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water?

So for starters I am planning to delete all the apps that I don’t need off my phone (I realise, of course, that “need” is highly subjective) and to challenge myself to only access these horrendous time- and energy-suckers on my laptop after my kids are in bed. I’m hoping that making them less accessible (no sneaking in through the browser on my phone either!) will put me in a happier “out of sight, out of mind” situation. I want to get my life back and get my use of technology back under control. I want to be present.

In the end, who could really ask for more than to be remembered as fondly as I remember my Grandma? Surely that is the ultimate accolade, not how many likes you get. I need to change my life, and really live it.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

— from The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

My Grandma

My Grandma

My Grandma passed away peacefully in her sleep on August 9th at the age of 94. I had the great honour of writing this eulogy, which was read at her funeral today. 



Doris Irene Hay – also known as Mum, Auntie Doris, Auntie Doll, Grandma, Great-Grandma and Granny – was born in the Mother’s Hospital in Clapton on 19th July 1922 to Charles and Florence Webber.

The family lived in Dagenham in the early years before moving to Leyton. Doris and her two younger sisters, Marjory and Winifred, shared a room and used to chat long into the night – something which will not surprise anyone who knew them.

As a schoolgirl Doris enjoyed cookery, dressmaking and swimming, and was very proud of having jumped off the top diving board at Cathall Road swimming baths. She went to Girls Brigade and learned how to tie knots and do first aid.

Doris and her beloved Ted started courting when she was 16. The story goes that Doris was struggling along with a “heavy” case after a meeting of their church’s dramatic society, and being the gentleman that he was, Ted went to help her out, took the case and walked her home. The case turned out to be empty, and the rest was history.


They fell in love quickly and Ted wrote adoringly about her in his 1939 diary, describing her as “the sweetest girl in the world” and recording blissful evenings spent together in the park watching the sunset. They married in 1943 when she was 20 and he was 23.

Their flat was bombed during the war and the only thing left standing was a cupboard in which they put a few salvaged possessions which had been wedding presents, intending to collect them later. These were all stolen apart from a lilac glass plate, which was always kept in pride of place in a dresser in the living room.

Their son Frank came along in 1944 followed closely by Lynne in 1949 – and not so closely by Jenny in 1967, which was a big surprise for everyone!

All three siblings have fond memories of going “uptown” with their mum to see the sights, visiting unusual places like the Silver Vaults, enjoying – and sometimes not enjoying – lunchtime concerts and feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Always a Londoner at heart even after moving next door to Lynne and Philip in Newcastle with Ted in 2005, Doris always loved listening to LBC on the radio and hearing the traffic reports from around her old haunts – particularly the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone, which seemed to feature prominently.

Doris enjoyed visiting new places and spent many happy holidays with family members, often memorably squeezed into their car “Tilly”. For many years she and Ted went on a September break with her youngest sister Win and her husband Frank, where they each had their holiday jobs and routines – Frank was treasurer, Ted driver and entertainer, Doris navigator and researcher of places to visit, and Win organised the food. A particular highlight was always their morning treasure hunt for sweets.

Doris was renowned as a great cook and many family members associate particular foods with her. These include, for various reasons: lasagne; hedgehog birthday cakes with Matchmaker sticks for spines; ham and eggs; mashed potato; Christmas pudding; fish and chips; blackberries; bacon and tomato omelettes; chocolate steamed pudding with vanilla sauce; jellied eels; lychees; shepherd’s pie; cockles; brie; sugared almonds – and even a chicken casserole accidentally thickened with custard powder, which was, unusually but perhaps not surprisingly, delicious.


It’s also not surprising to find Doris at the heart of so many family memories. She helped care for her own mother who had multiple sclerosis, and was a warm, motherly figure to her nieces and nephew, and the many young people at the weekly church youth group she and Ted hosted in the 1960s.

She dearly loved her grandchildren Rebecca, Thomas, Hannah, Sam, Daniel and Gabriel, and great-grandchildren Féirín, Oisín, Alex and Christopher.

Grandma_and_ISupportive and caring, Doris faithfully attended concerts, encouraged musical instrument practice – requesting numerous songs and often singing along enthusiastically – provided wise counsel and read endless stories before her eyesight grew too poor. She also amazed the younger members of the family by appearing to float magically up the stairs on her stair lift.

Doris was a voracious reader – Ted had to log which books he brought home from the library to avoid repetition – and in recent years she enjoyed listening to audiobooks on her special player from the RNIB. She even had an iPad for her 90th birthday and mastered it well enough to be able to do what she wanted to do, including challenging the family to competitive games of Wordfeud. She was a big fan of Murder She Wrote, Songs of Praise, Strictly Come Dancing, CSI and Carols from Kings, and woe betide anyone who was insufficiently up-to-date on current affairs – even from her hospital bed she was grilling people on the outcome of the Brexit referendum vote. And as a big fan of watching sports of all kinds, she’ll be sorry to have missed the Olympics.

While she may have frequently berated Ted for “breathing too loudly” and rolled her eyes at the detailed Christmas to do lists that he started in September, their 69-year marriage has been an inspiration to all. Before Ted died in 2013 he told her that he was sure he would see her again. It is a great comfort to think of them reunited now – along with her two sisters and Ted’s five siblings – laughing that memorable laugh of hers. Thank you for everything, Doris. Rest in peace.

My Grandpa

Some time ago, I was at a workshop with about 11 colleagues. We were asked who our heroes or role models were, and not one of us – not one! – could think of an answer. Put on the spot, the only person I could think of was Myleene Klass, and much as I admire Myleene – she is lovely and clever and pretty and talented after all – I knew that I did not want to go on the record as saying that the ex-Hear’say singer was my hero, no matter how nice and glossy her hair is.

The question of why none of us could think of a hero or role model preyed on my mind. Now, if I could go back to that seminar room, I would say, without hesitation, that my role model is my Grandpa, Ted Hay, who passed away peacefully today at the age of 93.

My Grandpa, pictured in 2007 with the first painting he had accepted into the Three Counties Open Art Exhibition at Keele University

My Grandpa, pictured in 2007 with the first painting he had accepted into the Three Counties Open Art Exhibition at Keele University

The best way to describe him is that he was a gentleman, and a gentle man. He belonged to the age where people still wrote letters, lovely handwritten letters with beautiful cursive penmanship, which filled pages and pages with news and observations about the world around us. His letters helped me fight off the homesickness that struck when I first moved abroad, the words bringing me closer to my loved ones. I come across these letters every so often and always marvel at the love within them. In an age where e-mails can be dashed off in seconds, a letter is still something to be treasured. If my Grandpa enjoyed a show at the theatre, he wrote to thank them. If someone gave him good service somewhere, he wrote to express his gratitude. I still remember (probably getting on for 30 years later) writing a letter with him to the BBC thanking them for screening the cartoon The Blue Danube (of course, you can just get it on YouTube now!), which had delighted me. Every year I make the resolution to write more letters but I never manage it – I really must try harder. I’ll do it for him.

My Grandpa could probably have told me exactly when it was that we wrote that letter to the BBC – every day he kept a diary of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you wanted to know what he had for breakfast on a particular day 19 years ago he could probably have found out! But there are gems in there too, full of happy memories. When I was planning my wedding six years ago, Grandpa was able to look back and give a round-up of the weather on April 21 through the years. His forecast for the day was, of course, spot on. Since March last year I have also been writing up my days in a five-year diary, just like Grandpa’s.

He was enthusiastic about everything, from his weekly art class to the handmade cards he made for every special occasion, from gardening to jokes, from Tom and Jerry to the Vicar of Dibley. It was wonderful to watch him with my younger cousins and know that we used to do the same things when I was their age, like growing vegetables together or having story time. He may have been slower, but the twinkle in his eye was just the same. And seeing him gleefully banging a metal tray with a wooden spoon to the delight of my baby son, the next generation, was a real treat.

Little anecdotes – that the fact that my Grandpa’s former girlfriend desperately tried to win him back after he proposed to my Grandma – really help to remind me that my grandparents were young once too and I find it fascinating. My grandparents were married for almost 70 years and complemented each other in every way. I only hope that my husband and I will be able to emulate them, an inspiration, two halves of the same whole.

You should not have underestimated the will of this gentle man – his strong beliefs lead him to be a conscientious objector during the war, along with his brothers. His brothers served time in jail for their stance, and he said he wished had done the same rather than work on the ambulances. Even in the chaos of wartime London, my Grandpa’s aim was to protect and conserve life. A Methodist lay preacher, he stood by the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, in the face of what must have resulted in great social stigmatisation. He didn’t talk about it, and neither did we. Nor did we really talk about the fact that he planned to leave his body to medical research, until it had to be discussed. Even now that he is no longer with us his care for others continues.

Grandpa claimed the only “heroic” event in his life was when he was a six-year-old page boy at his cousin’s wedding dressed in a white satin suit. The dressmaker – either by design or accident – left a row of pins in the trousers and everyone thought Grandpa was such a good boy to stand so still, although the truth was he had no choice.

But Grandpa, as far as I am concerned you were a hero through and through. If I can try to live up to your standards and be even half the person you were, I will have done well. Thank you for everything. I will miss you so much.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol