Saturday, 20 September 2008

If your life had a soundtrack, what would be on it?

1. "Dance with My Father Again" - Luther Vandross

I discovered this song later on in life even though I had always loved Luther Vandross tunes. Or maybe I had heard it before but never really much cared until after my father's death in 2001. The most poignant part of the lyrics for me is towards the end of the song,

"I know I'm praying for much too much
But could You send back the only man she loved
I know You don't do it usually
But Lord, she's dying to dance with my father again"

For me, this song is also associated with a photo I have of my mum and dad dancing to their own singing on their return from a dinner party one Saturday. That photo still takes me back to that very night. I was around fourteen or fifteen. Studying for my mid-term exams on a Saturday; I was at my wit's end, going over the same dates and the same names I had been going over for the best part of the evening when I heard the key turn in the lock. In waltz my mum and dad, more than a little tipsy, I must add, singing a tune from the 60s as they dance in the middle of the room. It was joy, it was fun, it was growing up in a home blessed with love.

My dad passed away two days before my master's graduation. Unexpectedly for me as the fact that he was having a high risk surgery was kept from me until the final hours of his life. Going home, finding the strength to cope with the sudden death of my own father, as well as the strength to support my mother, as an only child, was difficult. For once the woman I turned to for comfort and strength, needed me to give her those very things I was in need of. Seeing her cry for her husband of almost twenty five years (My dad passed away eight days before their silver anniversary) and knowing there was nothing I could do to ease the pain broke my heart. For me, Luther Vandross' timeless lyrics sums up that very desperation at the darkest hour of grievance for one's dad.

2. "Like a Prayer" - Madonna

"Life is a mystery... Everyone must stand alone..."

As soon as I hear the first notes and the lyrics of this song, I unconsciously find myself singing alone, wherever I may be; in the car, at a party, in the comfort of my house. One of the few songs I know the lyrics to by heart, ingrained in my mind from the winter of 1989.

Not only is Madonna's "Like a Prayer" album the first ever casette tape (Yes I am that old, people!), alongside Michael Jackson's "Bad" I bought with my very own pocket money as a little eleven year old girl who assumed herself real "cool", long before the word "cool" came along to define the idea, for investing her very own savings on to American pop, but it also symbolised a new era, new beginnings, new friendships.

I had just started high school as a starry-eyed youngster, full of dreams and fears, fears of going somewhere new, where I didn't know anyone but three primary school classmates, fears of sticking out, not fitting in, looking a fool. Within the first few days of school, as I quickly established friendships with the some of the girls in my class, I realised how unfounded and futile those fears were. Then came along "Like a Prayer" in the winter of 1989 and you could find us four girls singing along every break and lunch time.

'89 was a year of new beginning and "Like a Prayer" became my byword for finding that comfort zone in a new place where I could run to and have friends to call my own and sing with, endlessly, the lyrics we knew by heart.

3. "Don't Speak" - No Doubt

This is the song of getting stuck, letting go and moving on. This song is of heartache, endless hurt, solid friendship.

"Don't Speak" was released in 1006 but was still hot on the airwaves the following year my first serious relationship was fast dwindling away. What was for me the beginning of something so wonderful was for him the end of his freedom.

We had met in a German class in my sophomore year, on April Fools, of all days. It was love at first sight, or infatuation more like. My heart skipped a beat every time I laid eyes on him and he laid eyes on me quite frequently. Within two weeks we were dating. Within two months we were inseparable - until he went home to Cyprus for the summer and all of a sudden stopped calling. On his return I could sense that something was just not the same but like any woman in love, I was being a foolish girl, refusing to see what was right before my eyes. It took some tough love from a concerned girlfriend, a few words of wisdom from my mum and a lot of courage on my part to finally face him on a bleak December morning. Never the one to settle down for grey areas in life, I had to have my answers in black or white. And finally, a definite answer he did give me: it was over, he felt I was getting to clingy.

It took me a week to stop crying over him, a month to start smiling again, another three to hold my head high when I bumped into him on campus. Yet anytime "Don't Speak" would play on the radio, my heart would break into a thousand pieces. My best friend at the time, Mehtap, recently snubbed by a guy she had fallen for, shared the same sentiments. Any time the song came on, we would either change the station or turn off the radio. Until one day in the early hours of Saturday, driving around town - as we often used to after parties - we parked the car by the Bosphorus, put on the 'No Doubt' tape we had discarded to the back of her car boot and braced ourselves.

We had to do it. We had to let go and move on. Hand in hand, with clasped teeth, fighting back the tears, we made to the end of the song... and exhaled.

That night, that song stopped being the song of despair and became to song of survival. It stopped being the song of a broken relationship with a man, became the song of a strong friendship with a soul sister. That night, as women often do, we walked through the pain, hand in hand, and came out smiling at the other end.

4. "My Getaway" - T-Boz

It was the spring of 2001... It was a Saturday... And we were on our way to Chessington, Suby and I. We had only met a week ago after a number of e-mails and four hour long chats when he had come down to London to take me out to lunch. That very weekend he had said. "You know I am gonna marry you one day," and I had retorted, "You are not my type." Yet, drawn to the sense of ease and comfort he exuded, I went to see him a week later, wondering why such a wonderful person failed to ignite the chemistry I felt was needed for me to consider getting into a relationship with him. I spent the night at his place in Swindon, for most part of the night we talked, for the rest of it I lost sleep trying to fight his hands off me while he lost sleep over trying to cuddle me.

In the morning we were off to Chessington where I had made plans to meet up with my friends. On the way there, on the tape he later pinched off me was T Boz's "My Getaway" playing.

"When you don't
Know what to do
Wanna play
And have some fun
Gotta find a place to go
Just you and me alone."

Just Suby and I, finding a place to go and have some fun, on a glorious Saturday. Just two friends on a journey, on an escapade.

"Let's go on a escapade
Just follow me and
I'll lead the way."

Seven years, many tears, many laughters, many fights, a wedding later... Just Suby and I, husband and wife, lovers, friends, on a journey to last till the end of time. And for that very reason, every time I hear this song, I think of how we started out as friends, just how comfortable I felt in his presence from the very first day, and how we grew up and grew stronger together.

5. "Black Coffee" - All Saints

This song simply reminds of London, more specifically Camden. Camden. My first stop in London in this journey of life. Having lived in the urbanscape of Istanbul for twenty years, London felt like second skin from the moment I arrived, my second hometown. It still is after so many years.

When I first moved to London, All Saints were on the charts with "Black Coffee" and every single day as I walked past the quirky shops and little greasy-spoons of Camden on my way to the tube station to catch my train to work, I would hear this song slowly fill up the street as the shopkeepers sweeped, dusted and cleaned for yet another day. And every single day, through the sunshine or the rain, the joy or the pain my new life in my new hometown brought along, I would sing along to the four girls belting out:

"Wouldn't wanna be anywhere else but here... Wouldn't wanna change anything at all."

For me "Black Coffee" is "Black Coffee Mornings of Camden", of London, my hometown. (

6. "No More Pain" - Mary J Blige

After all these years, this song still has the power to make me cry. The first time I heard this song was the summer of 2002 when the single was released in the UK and aired on Radio 1 for the first time.

On a gloomy summer evening on Green Lanes, coming back home in Suby's car, as soon as I heard the lyrics, tears started flowing, quietly at first, then accompanied with sobs. As Mary J Blige sang, she spoke to my heart, she sang the story of the last two years of my life. I had lived with a few shady flatmates, dated a few bad boys, got played, got burnt, got hurt... Suby and I were in a limbo - I had fallen for him, yet he would not commit... In two years' time, I felt like I had been through ten years' lot and I was at the end of my tether. When Mary sang, "No more pain" I felt the pain, when she sang "No more games" I sang with her, when she sang "I don't wanna cry no more", I cried all the harder and when there were no more tears to cry, I promised myself the very same promise, "No one's gonna make me hurt again".

And to this day, whenever I suffer emotional pain, I go out for a drive, put Mary on full blast and make myself the same promise because as she says,

It's up to us to choose
Whether we win or lose
And I choose to win."

7. "Who Knew?" - Pink

This song reminds me simply of F, my golden girl.

"If someone said three years from now, you'd be long gone
I'd stand up and punch them out cause they're all wrong"

It was the winter of 2000, I met F; possibly the craziest, kookiest, most fun person I have ever met. F was everything I wasn't: she was the bubbly to my gloomy, the bold to my shy, the soul of the party to my wall flower. We were a friendship made in heaven.

We bonded over late night chats comfort eating breadsticks dipped in Nutella, Friday nights dancing away to cheesy pop at the student union, day trips to London suffering rail works and dodgy fast food and gloomy days after heartbreaks.

We got drunk, we got foolish, we kissed a few too many frogs, fell a little too hard too soon for boys, had our hearts broken, broke a few hearts, lead parallel lives; in the end, we went through it all, hand in hand. We did years' worth of growing up all rolled into a few years. We grabbed life by the throat. We were the 'terrible twosome', the 'soul sisters', the 'kindred spirits'. If someone said back then, she'd be long gone, I would have really stood up and punched them out.

"I wish I could still call you a friend
I'd give anything"

Then we moved away, got back together, drifted apart. Through the years we accumulated sisterly scars in unspoken quarrels we had never aired, until that day in 2006. Two whole years ago, my best friend, my kindred spirit, my soul sister had the mother of all fights two women can ever have and parted ways. I just felt I had to walk away from it all in order to start again, like I had done before. But I left it too late to walk back and say sorry. By the time I was ready to put our fight behind and walk back across that bridge, I found it was well and truly burnt.

"I keep you locked in my head until we meet again
I won't forget you, my friend."

God only knows if F and I will ever meet again. Since we parted ways she has got married and recently had a baby. It breaks my heart to know I was not there to share those moments in her life and will probably never get to share many more still in store for her. Maybe we will meet again, maybe we won't. Maybe we'll sit in a Starbucks like in the good old days and start again from where we left off, maybe we won't. All I know is I will never forget my once soul sister.

8. "Stay Down" - Mary J Blige

Who says one can't have two songs by the same artist on a soundtrack? It's my soundtrack and I do what I wanna...

If I have learned anything through two years of marriage is to expect the unexpected. We take relationships for granted, we take love for granted, we take life for granted. There comes a time when the Universe presents you with a test when you smugly think you've got all the answer; you hit that one unexpected hurdle that makes you fall just when you think you're on the final stretch ready to cross the finish line, with your head high.

For me, "Stay Down" is the very expression of love, stripped bare from all pretence, rose-tinted shades and butterflies. It is the most real love song about intimacy, commitment and passing those tests the Universe throws at you just when you think you've been through it all and you can't ever fail.

So when Mary says, "One day we'll look back on this, we'll be like remember this? And it's gonna make us smile 'cause in the end, we stayed down" I remember all the tests and the failures and the obstacles and hope from the bottom of my heart, one day he and I will look back and be like "Remember this?" and it's going to make us smile.

9. Bonus Track: "Golden" - Jill Scott

Simply because... Is there any other way to live life?

Monday, 18 August 2008


Matthew 7:24-27
The Wise and Foolish Builders

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

Another wedding season is almost over. Over the last four weeks, I have attended as many weddings; as a photographer in two, a guest in one and a bridesmaid in the last. What I love about weddings is the exuberance, the enthusiasm, the excitement - the mere of joy of witnessing two becoming one. A wedding is the ultimate celebration of the holiest bond between a man and a woman, as they embark on a journey of a lifetime. A wedding offers hope of everlasting love, romance, partnership in a dismal world where so many relationships fail, so many couples walk their separate ways, so many unions are shattered through lack of communication, incompatibility and worst of all, betrayal. A wedding is the ultimate celebration of mankind's faith in mankind - that a man will not fail his wife, a woman will not fail her husband.

At one of the weddings I had the opportunity to witness, the pastor reminded the celebrants of the parable of the two builders, drawing on lessons to learn for couples embarking on the journey that is marriage. As I recounted these words of wisdom I couldn't help but muse on just how blessed I was to be in the marriage that I am. Getting ready to leave the church at the end of the ceremony, Mr O. nudged me ever so slightly to hand me the Order of Service I had so desperately wanted to grab off his friend. The question, "How did you guess?" almost escaped from my lips, but I already knew the answer.

Here was a man who had stuck with me for better or worse in the last seven years. A wise man, a wise builder. He had shown calmness for every fight I had put up, tenderness for every worry that had clouded my face, patience for each self-doubt, forgiveness for each trespass, and wisdom to know that two people do not just meet, fall in love and live happily ever after. No, in reality, two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after only if they make the conscious decision to work at their relationship every day, through thick and thin, through the storm, through each and every single rock they hit along the way. In the seven years we've spent together, each time I wanted to give up, he carried on; each time I despaired, he kept the faith; each time I threw in the towel, he fought for both of us. In time I got to learn that each fight was a building block of that mansion we wanted to live in for eternity. Each time my shovel hit a rock, I was ready to quit. Yet he kept shoveling. Until one by one, the rocks crumbled down to little stones, stones to earth. Until what we had in front of us was the mansion of our union - tall, strong, rock solid. Then came the rain... and the streams... and the wind... But we had worked so hard, our mansion was so strong; we did not crumble down, we did not fall, we rode the storm. Only because standing by my side is a wise man, brave and strong. A wise builder - one who never quits, one who perseveres through all that life throws at him. One I have built my house with, one I trust with my whole being, one who I know will never let me down.

As I look back at the rocks we have hit along the way and the storms we have survived, I thank my lucky stars, the universe and the Creator for the man who is by my side. And I thank him. As I reach out to take the Order of Service, as I close my eyes to go to sleep at night, as I wake up to a new day, I thank him and say:


- being my Northern star - whenever I lose sense of direction or doubt myself, for showing me the way, guiding me through the dark vales of worry, doubt and insecurity.

- being my Knight in shining Armour - whenever I am weak or forlorn or desperate, coming to my rescue, whether it be spending a whole two months with me in the hell-hole of a house-share circa 2003 or sneaking in home-made food when I was in hospital for four days back in 2005 and hated every minute of it or coming to carry me out and rush me to the hospital like the knight in shining armour you are when I fell down at work and injured my knee (There is a reason they say "in sickness and in health!")

- being my biggest fan - whenever I suffer from low self-esteem or wallow in self-doubt, for pushing me forth, and standing on the sidelines cheering me on, constantly shattering my blinkers and shoving me out of my comfort zone to strive for bigger and better things, teaching me to think positively and dream big, whether it be getting out a flat share back in 2003 or getting my writing published or becoming a photographer in my own right.

- loving me - with passion, with tenderness, with faith, even when I am at my least lovable. Knowing every little quirk about me, knowing how I bite the skin on my fingertips, knowing how I'd want that Order of Service, knowing that I'd ask for the blue napkin/book/dress (replace as appropriate), knowing I'd want to read The Observer on a Sunday morning, knowing how I'll cry when I hear 'Dance with my Father again', knowing how I sulk when I don't get my way, knowing how I make a mess of the living room with my glossies. Knowing me inside out, taking the time to get to know me and still loving me with all my quirks. Knowing I will never have Scarlet's lips, Shakira's hips, Halle's cleavage but loving every inch of my B-cupped, big-bootied, thunder-thighed 5.5 of me. Loving me not unconditionally, but on the condition that I love myself.

- being you - the wonderful, the amazing, the incredible you - the man who has faith in everyone, who always sees the glass half full, the man who sees his unborn children in my eyes, the man who is kind, tender, patient; the man who goes for gold and never quits. The man I`love like life, dearer than life. My homey, my lover, my friend... The wise builder I am proud to call my husband.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Cycle of Life

This is something I wrote on the evening 25 May 2006, two day before my wedding, outside in the garden enjoying dinner at twilight with my folks from back home. Two years on, I still feel the same way about all life has to offer, all that life throws at us... There are days I stumble, days I fall and I feel like I will never be able to get up again, days when I cry rivers... When I do dry the tears away, and finally muster the strength to get up, this is what I stil remind myself of.

As I sit here in the blue-tinted semi-darkness, listening to the melodies of nocturnal birds chirping triumphantly in the face of the night, the breeze, the distant thunder of traffic; I look up and say a little prayer for being here, now, in this very moment, being me - in my own skin.

As I listen to the distant remembrances from the sepia pages of the manuscripts of my memories, locked deep down in the caskets of the memory, I contemplate. Life... love... heartache... death... pain... 'All that the flesh is heir to'... What remains of these but the faint tracks in the dusty field of memories?

As the night clouds gentyly drifting in the sapphire sky, all that does come, indeed will pass. This life, too, shall pass in due course. Like the summer sun that fades away into the gloom of dusky autumn skies. Like the endless floods of fall, the bitter bite of winter, like the silent, stealthy rise the daffodils soon after...

I look to a time - in the dreamy distance - when I will hold my little girl in my arms and tell her nothing in this life is worth her precious pearls of tears. Only death perhaps - and that, the tears won't wash away regardless.

Saturday, 29 December 2007



  1. The process, act, or faculty of perceiving.
  2. The effect or product of perceiving.

    1. Insight, intuition, or knowledge gained by perceiving.
    2. The capacity for such insight.


  1. The act or process of judging; the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation.

    1. The mental ability to perceive and distinguish relationships; discernment: Fatigue may affect a pilot's judgment of distances.
    2. The capacity to form an opinion by distinguishing and evaluating: His judgment of fine music is impeccable.
    3. The capacity to assess situations or circumstances and draw sound conclusions; good sense: She showed good judgment in saving her money. See synonyms at reason.
  2. An opinion or estimate formed after consideration or deliberation, especially a formal or authoritative decision: awaited the judgment of the umpire.


Last week saw a series of events that led to a major debate on perception/judgement between a friend and me. She was of the ‘perception’ (i.e. opinion) that ‘perception’ (i.e. insight gained by perceiving) was somewhat akin to, or even synonymous with, ‘judgement’ (i.e. the formation of opinion after consideration). She was of the opinion that people should not rush to judge each other after a single conversation or two, and I was debating the fact that ‘judgement’ and ‘perception’ are two different matters; just because people perceive others in a certain way does not mean that they are hastily judging or labelling each other.

Now... I am an English teacher. I make a living out of words strung together to create art, poetry, prose. I can debate the definition of words with the best of them. Yet, I also know which battles to take on and which battles to leave alone.

In my heart of hearts, I know that we all perceive those around us in sometime overly simplified ways; it is just the way in which the human mind processes information. When I go to a party, the only way you will stand out in my mind and be remembered is through my perception of you as so-and-so’s eccentric friend in the bohemian Sienna Miller style or the argumentative guy whose head is so far up his behind he cannot see past his nose, let alone my point of view. The next time I see you I may choose to befriend you or keep my distance based on the perceptions my brain has received in the course of our first meeting.

Judgement, however, is a matter of arriving at a decision based on initial perceptions. Judgement is when you take the information filtered through your perception, analyse it, and arrive at a decision, regardless of how flawed your analysis might be. Judgement is passing the verdict that the eccentric friend of so-and-so’s is a head case, based on initial impressions and no more than a few remarks that came out of her mouth, or deciding the argumentative guy is an arrogant tosser who does not deserve another second of your acquaintance, thereby dismissing these two to the black hole of memory’s oblivion.

I pride myself on being a non-judgemental person but I am also aware of the fact that one has to be super-human in order to avoid perceptions of varying degrees. We all perceive our surroundings and fellow humans in our own way, as they pass by the peripheries or venture a minute longer into the spotlight of our perception; that is the only way we, as humans, know how to cope with the world and the daily deluge of sights and sounds that crowd us. I cannot put my hand on my heart and honestly say I do not have any perceptions of people around me, God knows, they have perceptions of me; they have had perceptions of me all my life. CQ the cold one, CQ the quiet one, CQ the aloof one... In fact, their perceptions of me has coloured my judgement of myself so much so that even today, as bubbly as I am in social situations, I still think of myself as aloof and quiet.

Over the last fifteen years of my life, I have made a conscious effort of using the perceptions those people who were honest and courageous enough to share with me, in order to mould myself and develop the way I present myself and hence am perceived. Do I seem arrogant? What can I do to show people I am not? Do I seem too lacking in self-esteem? Is it the way I carry myself or the sound of my voice when I speak? How can I work on myself so that the next time I walk into a room I exude nothing but confidence and strength?

I believe other people’s perceptions help build us whereas their judgements hinder us. I try to keep my distance from judgemental people as I believe as soon as you’ve judged me, you have decided in your mind not to give yourself the chance to get to really know me. As far as I am concerned, if someone is not willing to make the effort and have already pulled the shutters of their mind down, they are not worth the breath I waste in talking or the sleep I lose in thinking about them.

Our friends, true friends, do not judge us – or at least, they are not supposed to. But they are, if they are indeed true friends, supposed to tell us exactly how we are perceived in the outside - and not often friendly - world, so we use those perceptions as building blocks towards self-knowledge and self-development. The first step of that journey, however, is acceptance – not denial, not self-defence - that indeed every word we say, or even the way we say it creates a perception, and there may be some perceptions of ourselves we may not always be 100% comfortable with.

When I open my mouth to speak my mind, I do so with the intention of treating friends the way I’d like to be treated: with honesty and caring. Yet as much as I can debate definitions with the best of them, I know – or I learn along the way – which battles to take on and which ones to leave alone.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Art of Saying Goodbye and the Wisdom of Saying a Prayer

If you have to ‘google’ one name today, make sure it is Stephanie Williams; if you have to read one book in the new year, make sure it is ‘Enter Sandman’ by Stephanie Williams, published only weeks before her death from terminal cancer at the age of thirty two.

I spent Christmas eve leafing through old issues of Glamour magazine and came across Stephanie’s article ‘Saying Goodbye to My Life’ in the October 2004 issue, published only days after Stephanie’s death. Written from the heart, yet without sentimentalising her illness and the aftermath, the article charts Stephanie’s journey through life from the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer, only a few weeks after her thirtieth birthday. After ten years of working hard in New York City, she had recently landed a six-figure salary as a senior writer for SmartMoney magazine and had met a wonderful man on a blind date and found herself in a serious relationship within just four months. It was a week after her return from a trip to Egypt where she had spent her birthday climbing Mount Sinai overnight with her mum and a friend to watch the daybreak over the horizon, Stephanie found a lump in her breast. She spent the next two years undergoing, chemo-therapy, being tied to oxygen masks and swallowing a range of pills. Her cancer was incurable. She begins her honest reflections on living with cancer with the question, “What does it feel like to know that you don’t have long to live?”

In her quest to provide the truthful answer, Stephanie details a magical holiday to Milan she shared with her boyfriend, Daniel at the end of her first year of treatment. Until then, Stephanie had considered cancer to be a blip she would over come. It was on the third day of this magical holiday as a ‘normal’ couple, Stephanie mustered the courage to make that one important phone call home to find out whether her year long battle with cancer was in fact a blip. The results of a recent blood test, however, were shattering – the ‘tumour markers’, the by-products of cancer detectable through blood tests, were rising, suggesting the presence of cancer in her body.

Stephanie describes the rest of her trip as a daze, walking around Milan, sitting at the Sforza Castle with Daniel’s arms around her and calling her mum and her younger sister Laurie and hearing despair in their voices. Then Daniel and she decided to make the most of their holiday, aware that it may be their last. On the last day of their holiday, lying in bed with Daniel in her arms and staring across Lake Como, Stephanie told Daniel, ‘If I could fall asleep right now, I could die with no regrets.’

Her time on earth wasn’t up though, not for another two years. On her return to America, she started a more vigorous round of treatment which left her exhausted, nauseous and in pain, as well as menopausal. As she got too weak in body and in spirit to go out and spend time with friends, Stephanie took up writing her novel. Enter Sandman kept her fears about the imminent threat of death at bay as she focused on the plot and the two characters she absolutely adored. As her plot and her characters developed though, her relationship with Daniel was at a standstill, both of them acutely aware of the possibility of not growing old together. He would still visit as often as before, but they stopped calling each other ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’, as they had ‘quietly realised that the dream of a life together wouldn’t happen’.

Once Stephanie accepted that she was no longer moving to Providence with Daniel who was due to take a post there, she set out to make herself happier in New York City, first finding herself a garden apartment in a neighbourhood she loved, furnishing it in warm, cosy colours of orange and khaki, and adopting Gus, a mixed-breed dog with a broken leg whom she nursed back to health. It was only in her illness she realised that most people wait a lifetime to start their lives.
It was not just her physical environment though, as she notes, that had changed. As she slowed down her pace of life, she had noticed a change in her outlook on life as well: ‘For once, I have time to get to know people rather than zooming past them.’ She now had the time to sleep late if she wanted to, to watch TV all day long without feeling guilty, to see her friends in Providence, Rochester and Baltimore. ‘For what it’ worth, and it’s worth a lot,’ writes Stephanie, ‘I’ve had two great years of really living.’

The beauty of bearing her heart open in her writing is that it is clear to see Stephanie does not gloss over the losses she has suffered as a result of cancer, in a bid to focus on the positive. Perhaps the very strength of her writing comes from her dignified acceptance of loss – of a relationship which would have ended in marriage and a brood of kids, of the intense bond she has shared with her mother and her sister. As any honest writer and any honest woman would, Stephanie is also aware of the loss others will have to endure, the pain she will cause them in her departure.

As you read through the final few paragraphs, you can’t help but feel her pain and admire her strength in celebrating the last two years of her life and the bonds she had shared. As you reach the end and find out she passed away shortly before the magazine went to print, you can’t help but contemplate the transience of life, of love, of pain – of any human experience in this fleeting world. This is the story of a woman who thought she had it all at the age of thirty and that life was full of promises. This is the story of a woman who went through a painful ordeal and fell victim to a fatal disease. This is the story of a woman who wanted to be remembered, not just by Gus who used to run to her side to lick her tears away whenever she cried, or by Daniel who she accepts will one day be dancing with someone else at their wedding, or by her family – her mum who had spent the last three years caring for her, her dad who considered her his inspiration and her sister who would lament that they’d ‘never be little old ladies together’, but ‘by as many people as possible’.

Next time you look in the mirror and complain about the excess baggage on your thighs or the extra four inches on your waist; next time your significant other fails to call you first thing in the morning or the last thing at night, or the next time you check your bank balance only to find out you are flat broke to last till the next pay day, remember Stephanie. Say a little prayer for her, and say a little prayer that all your worries amount to one single phone call, or a few inches or a few hundred pounds.
p.s. This post is dedicated to Positive Girl who puts life into perspective through her positive posts.

Monday, 17 December 2007


How many moons have passed since you last received a love letter from me? It is not that I do not feel for you the way I used to anymore, or that I do not have the time or the inspiration to wax lyrical about how I feel for you... It is just that, in every relationship, there comes a time where people slide into an acquired comfort zone, that very phase of a relationship where you can sit around in comfortable silence without having to say a single word, or you look one look at the other and realise exactly syllable for syllable what is going through their mind. In that very phase we sometimes get so caught up in the day to day hustle of life, we tend to forget to express our feelings and let the other person feel just little bit more special for having our love.

This is exactly what I realised when I woke up this morning to the immense feeling of loving you, my husband, my homey, lover, friend. My hero... confidante... best friend... soul mate... partner in crime... The very one who knows me better than I know myself; the very one who loves me even when I hate myself...

I love you more than life itself. More than any word, any letter, any sound in any language can ever tell.

Looking back at the last seven years we have grown together gives me pride as well as joy, seeing just how far a journey we have taken together, hand in hand. I remember how we would spend hours on the phone, you running up your phone bill to exorbitant figures, me dragging myself to my dead-end part-time job. We’d stay up all night to chat. Sometimes we’d fight, you’d tell me some bitter truths about life, and I’d slam the phone down. I think of that April day when I met you for the first time and how you made me laugh at a time of my life when laughing was a distant memory. I remember how when you dropped me off that day you told me you’d marry me one day, only to have me turn around and say ‘not in a million years’.

I think of another April day, a year later, when I decided to take a chance on you, knowing you were still attached to someone else, knowing you were flat broke, knowing how you got my last nerve at times. I thank God I did. I thank God for that April day.

We’d share our last fiver so you could look for a job at the internet cafe while I went out to work and had enough change left of a fiver to buy my lunch. We’d eat egg and bread. We’d buy fake Chinese videos when I got paid on Fridays so we’d stay home and watch movies instead of wasting money at the cinema. Remember those Saturday mornings we used to have to get up early to move you car and keep on moving it around every two hours so you wouldn’t get a parking ticket? Or the time the bed in my box room came crashing down in the middle of the night and we spent the whole night and the next few weeks after that sleeping on the mattress on the floor? Or the time we were having a fight and I dropped the lid of the pot of stew on the floor and burnt a lid-size circle on the lino and had to raise £300 deposit? It wasn’t a walk in the park but we managed. You made it fun. You made every single minute of it worthwhile.

We would lay down on the bed at night, you caressing my hair and me daydreaming of a day in the future where I could have a decent room in a decent house share and you would tell me to dream big. ‘Why just a room?’ you’d say, ‘Why not our own house?’ and I would laugh.

When my dream was a small room, your dream was a six bedroom house. When glass was half empty, your glass was always half full. When I despaired, you dreamed...

We moved into our own place a year later, perhaps the first time I realised the power of dreams. After a whole year of angst with flat mates and weekend trips to Milton Keynes which had in time become my safe haven away from the stress of London, I had finally made the move to Milton Keynes for good and taken that giant step towards life-time commitment by moving in with you.

It was the same year I got my first teaching job. After three long months of self-questioning and soul-searching, I had finally got my first full-time job. All those sleepless nights worrying about how it was all going to come together, you were there to hold me tight and kiss the tears away. All those days I used to come home, exhausted and clueless as to how to survive a job I wasn’t formally trained for in a department where I was being bullied by the head on a daily basis, you were there to offer a warm plate of food and a back rub. All through the months of self-doubting, you believed in me and encouraged me to go on. You believed in me more than I believed in myself; you believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Then it was time to face my mum... She wasn’t happy about my choice of a future husband. It was not easy for you to patiently wait until I summoned the courage to confront my mum, yet you waited – quietly, patiently, without judgement or bitterness. When things came to a head, you hugged me tight and told me everything would be fine. And guess what? They were in the end... despite the worry, the pain and the heartache. You taught me to have faith in life and its power to sort itself out.

When you quit your job to take up photography, I had doubts. True to form, I worried, I analysed, re-analysed, then analysed some more. You put your own worries aside to put my mind at ease. When I used to laugh at your dreams of where the business would be in a year’s time, I used to laugh at you, and you used to just say ‘ok o, just wait.’ With hardly any money coming in, with unexpected twists and turns on the journey of life, with the pressure of my worries on top of yours, it would have been so easy to blow your top and lash out, but you never did. You taught me the virtue in waiting and seeing.

There were so many times I scoffed at your dreams; being the natural born pessimistic cynic that I am, it was an unconscious habit to laugh at dreams, bracing myself for the worst. Every time I braced myself for the worst, you would encourage me and pull me up to your level of optimism and big dreams. Every time I beat myself up for each and every failure, you would tell me just how wonderful I was. You never laughed at my fears. What is more you never laughed at my fears. For every single weakness in me I pointed out, you would point out a strength. In time, you built up my confidence. In time, you made me feel stronger than I had ever felt in my life. In time, you taught me how to dream big.

I look back at the person I used to be seven years ago: timid, negative and deeply lacking in self-esteem; and I look at the person I have become in the seven years I have shared with you. Through the ups and downs, through the sunshine and the rain, you have always been there. You have taught me to dream big even when I am living small, to not beat myself up for my failures and to celebrate my successes, to pick and choose the battles I take on; but above all, you have taught me to believe in myself and believe in life no matter what it throws at me.

In the last seven years, we have grown together. And in every single moment of that long journey, at each single step we’ve taken together, you have given me unconditional love and utmost respect. You have raised me up to all that I can be and more; you have raised me up so I can see what lies ahead. What lies ahead is amazing... What lie ahead are a six bedroom house, a coupe cab, four beautiful kids, all the Vogue and Elle covers we can dream of shooting, working together, working from home. What lies ahead is looking back, like we’ve done yesterday after an eight hour shoot, at all that we have been through with a smile, giving ourselves a pat on the back for the journey we have made together, proud of how far we’ve come.

I thank you for every unforgettable moment of the last seven years and for every single moment I look forward to sharing with you. And I thank you for all those times you have stood by me, stood up for me, stood behind me. And I thank you for being the wonderful, amazing you. And I love you more than any word, any letter, any sound in any language can ever tell. I love you more than life itself.

Friday, 19 October 2007


I’ve only recently discovered that of all the banks of colourful vocabulary I use in different situations in everyday life, the smallest I’ve got seems to be that of colourful vocabulary I use while out driving. Although my choice of labels for fellow drivers, shouted out or hissed through clasped teeth, are not necessarily parental advisory category, they are rather un-pc. Furthermore, I seem to have quite a limited range, which consists of ‘idiot’, retard, and saved for the dumbest drivers out there, a-hole. Indeed, I do not pick these words at random, but with particular attention to the category of offence that would validate the un-pc labelling. Let’s just have a quick look at the list of insults with the respective offences that justify their use.

Idiot – possibly the mildest of insults on the list, idiot is generally the first step (whirl?) down the spiral of drawing CQ’s fury one’s way. Idiots can be classified as those who pull out in front of you without indicating, tailgate you when you’re going at a reasonable speed on the motorway, suddenly slow down to make a right/left turn without having indicated at all. As can be seen, many in this category seem to be indicator-disabled wastes of space who should really go back to do their driving tests again.

Retard – The choicest form of ‘retard’ you can get from yours truly is the coined re-turd, a play on the word through the use of a former student’s favourite swear word for lower human forms: ‘turd’) Re-turd is save for those who clearly have chucked out the Highway Code and all the other rules of driving, behave similarly in many ways to ‘idiots’ but with more disregard to other road users. For instance, a driver who pulls out in front of you without indicating and blissfully continues to go over the 30 miles speed limit in a built up area truly deserves the label of re-turd, a level of idiocy mixed with excrement.

A-hole – The last but not the least are the choicest drivers, who deserve to be labelled as an orifice of human anatomy where the aforementioned excrement is exerted from. A-holes are those who have total disregard not just for road rules, other users and laws, but also for the sanctity of human life. The sort of driver who not only pulls out in front of you without indicating, but does it right at the last minute barely missing scraping your body work, the driver who dives into the roundabout without checking first, the driver who storms through a one way road without considering right of way clearly belongs into this category. Having, as the Turkish saying goes, ‘got their license from a butcher’s shop’, these should be banned from driving. For life...
Right, I’ll hit the road now...