Of non-school related routines, there are probably two which are stuck in my head from my childhood. One is of going to see my grandmother after school and on a Sunday morning. Of playing on a blue plastic motorbike in her garden and 'cooking' with a small pan and a large plastic pineapple which for some reason was hollow and used to contain plastic soilders. I'm not entirely sure why, and clearly I never thought to ask, but it did. The other is, and this must be a pre-school routine, of going to see my 'Aunt' Lesley on a Wednesday. Don't ask me how I know it was on a Wednesday, my brain just tells me it was on a Wednesday and it's another thing that I don't seem to question. She lived in a flat at this point and I can vividly recall playing in the fields next to the building with her children in Summer, or of sitting in her kitchen eating oven chips in winter. The first memory has long since been parcelled up with my childhood, folded neatly away when my grandmother died eight years ago. Today was the second memory's turn to be packed away; this morning Lesley died.
Of course Lesley wasn't really my aunt, but she was much more part of my childhood than many of my actual blood relatives. During his twenties my dad had done that now most cliched thing of creating something of a urban-family; they'd lived in a house in inner city Leeds, which - by all accounts - seemed to have something of a lax attitude to houseguests, throwing away newspapers and doing the washing up. And the urban-family of sorts subsequently became part of my extended family. So now it seems odd that part of it is no longer there.
Whilst we were all aware that Lesley had cancer and that the prognosis wasn't fantastic I think everyone had assumed it wouldn't be this quick. She'd been ill during chemo before, and whilst she was ill again everyone thought that she'd have a few more months at least. That she might get to the summer. My dad had even spoken to me at the weekend about sending her a programme and suchlike from SSoB when it had finished as she'd asked to see one.
It does seem unfair. For the fact that she was the same age as my parents, that two of her children are younger than I am. And I feel the same sense of impotent anger that I always do when someone dies of cancer. Survivor's guilt maybe, that my brush with the disease was ultimately brief and in the great scheme of things something of a non-starter. But for others it isn't. And when you've sat in those wards, those clinics, surrounded by people on drips having their blood counts read out to them, seeing their faces as they get the good or bad news, it's not something that you can easily forget.
I guess today marked another piece of childhood, wrapped up in tissue paper and tightly packaged, being moved into the loft.