Joe did his TRI for TCF

6.30 am, its still dark and the day does not look promising.   Leaden skies hang low over the sea front and Joe and I have got lost in Brighton’s oneway systems.    The marina, venue for this years triathlon, is further out of town than we thought.  With just minutes to go before the off, we’re hustling through another 130 wet suit clad athletes in a rain soaked Asda car park, just in time for a briefing by the guy who claims to be in charge.

Despite the weather, the crowd is good natured and responds heartily to the head honcho’s attempts to liven them up with a few jokes about the Olympic spirit still dripping over us, a bit like the rain.   I didn’t get it but then I didn’t yet understand what drives people to get up so early and dive in the sea.    Neither did I quite understand the level of organization needed to put on an event like this.    Nor it seems did the folk supposed to be doing the organizing.    Start time, the starting line and the starting signal had clearly been predetermined – like ‘ go jump off that there harbour wall’, but nobody seems to sure of where the finish might be.

So off they go, 200 flailing arms churning up the less than appealing waters of the marina (I notice more than one dead sea bird bobbing about on its oily surface).    By the time the field returns to the pontoons, Joe has forged through the pack and is in the lead bunch.   I’m gobsmacked – I knew he was fit but really, that fit?    We have some seriously sporty alpha males here and Joe’s up with the best of them.    This event was turning out to be more of a heart thumper than I’d expected.   Instead of sloping off for coffees at Macdonalds while the lads head out over the downs (downs in Sussex are really ups) on their bikes, John (a friend of Joe’s who has also braved the weather to support the goodness of this cause) and I jump into his car and follow the riders as they start the climb on the first of two laps of a 20 km circuit.

We are now TEAM JOE/TCF!   Leaning out of the side window I take a few photos and scream encouragement.  John as driver does a good job in helping to pace our boy.     Not that he needs our help; Joe has found two other riders to ‘draft’ with and they are slowly making their way through the field.    The conditions are far from ideal, the rain continues to slant in from the English Channel, the roads are greasy and on the way down Wilson Avenue (40 mph) we notice blue lights flashing at the bottom of the hill ahead.   It looks bad, one crumpled bike and a gurney being lifted into the ambulance.     We decide to stay with Joe as he gets up on the pedals for the start of lap two – this is a safety concern now, as much as support and encouragement.   Joe manages to stay upright but, as he told me later, he had some serious wheel spin on the steeper gradients and his only worry was that having only the ‘team car’ with him might have given him a slight advantage … shiiiiiiiiit … we were having fun.     John and I take a short cut and we’re back at ‘transition’ in time to see the first of the riders enter the car park.

Way out in front is an obvious pro – all sinew and muscle and the skimpiest of shorts.   It’s a long agonizing wait and eight more riders  before Joe slides into the transition area.    However good you are as a swimmer or cyclist you have to get your transition right and that’s a skill in itself.    And Joe is fumbling and fumbling and … fumbling with his shoe laces.    In changing from his bike shoes to his track shoes, he’s losing precious moments in what has been an incredible performance so far – we hadn’t counted for how cold and numb his fingers would be.    Please please don’t blow it now.     There’s no-one looking and I’m about to duck under the wire and give him a hand.     Luckily, any moral scruples I might have about assisting a competitor, are not put to the test.   At last he’s away and charging along the ‘undercliff’ (it actually is under the cliff, not over it ) he disappears into the mist.    This is the really tough bit – only 8 k’s but its lonely out there and by now the field is well spread out.     It’ll be over half an hour before he returns so John and I take it upon ourselves to check exactly where that finish line is.    There are a few yellow jackets about none seem to be too sure … over there? Nah over there.   We follow a guy with a some kind of electronic clipboard and it turns we’ve made the right call.     There’s this high wire fence and a gate that leads to a small construction site with lots of Danger Keep Out signs … this the finish line and few moments later Mr Tight Shorts whizzes past to thunderous ….. well not quite applause, more like a quiet ripple of appreciation from those in the know, which I assure you is not many.     Again a long, long wait.    No 2 comes in, number 3, 4 & 5.   And there he is – our Joe has made up two more places and he strides in with a personal best of 1 hour 48 minutes.

We both had a brilliant day.     Why?   For me, I was well proud of Joe.  He’d trained hard, committed to the
cause, and raised over £1000 for The Compassionate Friends, a charity we’d never have got involved with had it not been for our Josh.     For Joe though it’s as much about honouring his brother as anything else.    Since staring at Fight for Peace, Joe has learnt more about what it means not to give up.    You can always put in a little bit more effort, go better than your best.    And Josh is always with him as a reminder that there are still great rewards to be had in life, even though we miss him so.

If you haven’t already done so, there’s still time to make a donation to the TCF – its easy peasy – click on Joe’s JUST GIVING page and hit the donate button.      But so many thanks to all those who have given so generously – the total to date is a massive £1131.00

And for the complete photo story of Joe’s Tri, feast your eyes on our GALLERY PAGE




Journey to Jura … (with Joshua)

This summer Jane and I visited Jura, that enigmatic Hebridean island just to the west of  the Mull of Kintyre.   Jura is perhaps best known for  its ‘paps’, three breast shaped mountains that dominate its skyline, and from whose summits you can experience some of the most spectacular views of Scotland’s highlands and islands.

Possibly lesser known is the fact that, in the years after the 2nd World War,  George Orwell found refuge on Jura and it was here that he wrote 1984.   (Orwell changed his original title for the book ‘Last man in Europe’  simply by reversing the last two numbers of the year he finished the book 1948)   I guess its debatable which of Jura’s illustrious visitors, Orwell or St Colomba who passed by on his way from Ireland in 563 or thereabouts, to spread the Christianic message, had the greater impact on modern life.   At school I read 1984 from cover to cover – can’t say the same of the bible.

You could say that both are now outdated.   There are just two churches left on Jura and one of those has been converted to a holiday home, which is where Jane and I stayed while we were there, along with our good friends Alison and Aggie.

As always Joshua was with us.  Here are some words and pictures that reflect our time on Jura.







You stand alone
Above the track
Between one house and another.
From across the bay
I can see only mist
Swimming towards the dawn
That will always change with the tide
Of  being.

You float in the must of strange weeds
Drifting upwards like strings of
Broken, dispersed and afraid of
To the swarm that begins and ends with
Every dying

It must have been an age
Since last you
Spoke to those who cared
To hear the news of distant wars
Perhaps sixty years or more
When Orwell wrote
Eighty four

He said when he found Barnhill
At the end of the path
Past deserted forests of a thousand
Crucifixes hung with children
Blindfolded and redacted
Forbidden from
Crying out
Pain to pain

Baptismal whirlpool
When Colomba came with the child
On the way to Iona
Was it already mute
Never to be mine
Never to be yours
Never really to make it
Through the night

Beinn an Oir
Barren, broken breast
With your crusts of scree
Mecca for many and I
Who would break an ankle
For just one peek
Your veiled

Watch me boy,
Watch me dive below
Dark brown blackish
Waters of Jura’s lochans
Stain glass shards slipping through my fingers
Naked now
Pulling me closer to that
Cloistered void
Called death




















The TCF weekend … collective remembering and ritual


How is it to openly share your grief and your pain with others; others, who like you are also recently bereaved.    I had wondered what it would be like to spend the weekend cloistered away with parents whose children had also died.      What would be it be like to be in a room potentially overflowing with grief and sadness, a room full of so many other tragic stories, a room where dry eyes would be the exception rather than the rule.

The short answer is a weekend full of kindness, much patience, understanding, even laughter, and an extraordinary sense of safety… but also very, very draining.    This is what Jane and I experienced last weekend at The Compassionate Friends annual gathering.

The Compassionate Friends has been going for over 40 years in which time its work of supporting bereaved parents has answered a need right across the globe.  If a charity has a USP it will be its ethos of honouring and remembering each child by name and in helping the parent to develop and maintain a ‘continuing bond’  with the dead child.    And unlike other charities members of TCF are all bereaved – it is not run by people who ‘don’t know’ telling us how to cope.

TCF has local support groups up and down the country that meet regularly, but once a year there is a “gathering’ for a weekend of collective remembering and ritual.

Grief is a weird emotion.   If only because it is actually very hard to pin down and it means so much more to different people.    It is now 19 months and 27 days since Josh died and in that time we have experienced more ups and downs, more conflicting and confusing feelings and thoughts than I would have thought possible for the human psyche to bear.   There have been times when I have completely and absolutely forgotten that Josh has died, only for that “harsh reality” to come crashing back into my consciousness.   There was a day recently when, after a long cycle ride with a friend, I realized that I had gone a whole eight hours without thinking of Josh at all.      What meeting with other bereaved parents does is to reaffirm that guilt, anxiety, loss of confidence, extreme recklessness, bad manners, are all normal behaviour of all human beings, only exaggerated big time for people who mourn.     The TCF provide a space for that excess to be contained and to be made safe.

Jane and I were met at Norhampton station by Anna, a young 23 year old whose sister Jessica had been killed crossing the road five years ago.   As I sat in the back of the car, listening to the ease of her conversation with Jane, it became apparent that Anna belonged to that generous section of humanity, that was good at listening, people who on first encounter would ask “…and who are you here for?”

One of the problems that face bereaved parents in particular is how to find acceptance among their friends and family for such extreme emotions and behaviours which will last perhaps for the rest of their own lives.  When a child dies we as parents are fundamentally and radically changed, but this is not perhaps recognized, particularly in the culture where death is so often not talked about, where the funeral is seen as closure rather than as a rite of passage to a new and difficult period in our lives, and where mourning is seen in terms of a discrete time zone, something that we go through and then ‘move on’.

So when Jane and I walked into the hotel for the TCF ‘gathering’ we left all this behind.     We were joined by our friends, Amanda and Gillian whose sons. Conrad and Bruno lost their lives in a coach crash in Thailand last year.

At times I did find the atmosphere intense but there was always space to get away.    The weekend gave us focus with TCF providing a number of variously themed discussion groups .. death by suicide, sudden death, death abroad, the symbolism of tattoos– there was a fathers only group which I made a bee line for.    Men as we know find it difficult to express painful emotion, and women are often left shouldering much of the burden of grief.

The sessions were perhaps a little short, discussion sometimes had just got going when it was time to move to the next event in the programme.

But in a way the specifics of any one session really didn’t matter.  Whatever the subject, they all equally gave opportunity to meet talk and share.     In the afternoon Jane and I co-hosted  a discussion on losing a child abroad, in which we showed our film of Joshua’s funeral.   A tenuous link perhaps between the importance of creating meaningful ritual and the issues arising from a death on foreign soil, but we all found common link in expressing the pain of loss and in discussing ways to survive it.

The TCF is primarily a parents support group but it has of late been trying to develop its services for those whose brother or sister has died.    Although small in number, it was this sibling group who for me made two of the more significant contributions to the weekend.      Adam Fouracre gave the keynote speech in which he outlined the work of his charity  “Stand Against Violence”.    Adam’s brother died in a drink fuelled attack late one night and the charity now campaigns in schools and young offender institutions.    Using his powerful film depicting a reconstruction of the attack Adam is trying to raise awareness among young people of the choices they make when ordinary youthful high spirits turn to deadly violence.

The closing session of the weekend was a bit, shall we say, old fashioned, a beautiful candle lighting ceremony for all our love ones as their names appeared on the screen.    Then a second contribution from the siblings.    They’d spent the previous afternoon creating some very wonderful poetry which they read out in unison and to quite powerful effect.   Finally it was a bereaved brother, Ben whose song with its words, ‘its OK its OK its OK…’   brought me closest to emotional breakdown.

Film and website win award ….

Beyond Goodbye, this website and the film, have won the award for “best internet resource” at the Good Funeral Guide Annual Awards held in Bournemouth last weekend.        Josh’s brother Joe was on hand to receive the trophy – nothing fancy, (a small coffin made from MDF)  but an honour none the less.

For a full list of the winners click here

As Charles Cowling who runs the GFG and put the show on, says in his blog “We were conscious of three things above all when we devised this project. First, that it would celebrate the work of a lot of incredibly nice, deserving people who are wholly overlooked. Second, that it was likely to attract the sort of publicity that would redress some of the reputational damage the industry has suffered in the last year. Third, that it risked dashing hopes and creating unhappiness.”


Parts 1 and 2 it seems were achieved but there will always be winners and losers and some went home empty handed … but there is always next year and hope these awards are the start of a new tradition for the funeral industry.



Congratulations to the organisers; and of course to all the winners


Jane to take part in radio series ….

I’ve  been interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucestershire as part of a radio series examining what happens to somebody’s social media presence, after they die?

The feature includes interviews with social media experts, and explores the reasons behind keeping someone’s memory alive on-line, after death.

In the case of ‘Beyond Goodbye’, I speak about why we wanted to create an on-line tribute to Josh, and how the website has become a living memorial.

The series will be aired in mid September on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, and hopes to spread awareness and understanding about bereavement and the power of social media.





Ministry of Sound and Cirencester college in talks about 4 week placement scheme in memory of Josh

It’s not been absolutely confirmed yet but the Ministry of Sound are offering a four week placement for a final year student from the Media departments of Gloucestershire colleges.   This is something that Jane has been trying to set up for sometime and has now brought the MOS together with Andy Freeman from Cirencester College.  As many of you may know, Joshua spent the last two years of school at Cirencester College before moving to London where he began work for the ‘Ministry’.  So we’re absolutely thrilled to see this collaboration come off.  It’s still very early days, and we don’t know if the student will be selected, or enter a competition, but the scheme will run annually and hopefully involve colleges and music departments throughout Gloucestershire.

If you have any thoughts about which institutions might like to take part please let Jane know via the comments section below.

We also need to come up with a title for the scheme – any ideas ditto!




Beyond Goodbye – film to be shown to new audiences


Part of me still can’t believe that I’m writing this but our film of Josh’s funeral has found some new audiences.     In the coming months we have been invited to show ‘BEYOND GOODBYE’ at The Compassionate Friends Annual gathering (that’s on 8th September) and at the Dying Matters “Day of the Dead” event in November.      The Compassionate Friends is a support network for bereaved parents and siblings and Dying Matters is a coalition of all sorts of people connected with end of life care.      Each screening will be followed by a discussion.

Are we nervous?   Yes.   Are we pleased?    Kind of.   Does it matter?  Guess so.    But two years ago who could have thought that we would be showing a film about our son’s funeral to audiences like this.   I am sure we will be received with kindness but my stomach sinks when time and again I have to rethink that terrible day we heard the news that Josh had been killed.     For many a journey through grief is essentially a private matter but from the moment Josh died we have needed to reach out to friends and family for support.     Documenting his funeral for what many have found a very moving film, was part of this process.   Josh’s sister Rosa remarked “Josh wasn’t just ours”.    How right she was and we have found real solace in getting to know so many of Josh’s friends both from his life in Gloucestershire as well as in London.

But to take this openness to another level that includes a wider public provokes some pretty weird feelings.    Yes, it is gratifying to be asked to show our film but the idea of sharing our grief on such a public stage is a complex one. On the one hand we  want to share Josh and to share the burden of our grief.    But part of me also wants to keep my relationship with him private lest my memories and all my thoughts about him now become somehow adulterated.    Both Jane (Josh’s mum) and I also have a nagging doubt that going public is a kind of diversion from grief proper (whatever that is), or at least a distraction from the pain of our loss. I know that when we attend these events, many will admire the strength and courage we show, but obviously that’s a bit of a mask, and the actual chaos of our mourning lives will be carefully hidden (or at least held in check) by the civilised practicalities of putting on a good show.

But we have been changed by Josh’s death.  For good or for bad we are who we are now and I’m glad we have been able to open up like this because the rewards have been many.

Now comes the news that we have also been nominated for the Good Funeral Guide annual awards (a kind of Baftas for the death industry) to be held in Bournemouth later this month.      This is for the “Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death in the Media” ….  that might sit nicely alongside my real Bafta, but oh, how I wish our skills had not been called upon in this way.

I’m afraid the Compassionate Friends event is for members only  but if you’d like to attend any of the others here are the details –

The Dying Matters – CELEBRATING THE DAY OF THE DAY – event is on 1st November at  Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1 7HU (near Euston Station).      The full programme is not published yet  but you can keep up to speed by visiting their website here DYING MATTERS .

The Good Funeral Guides Annual Awards is part of THE JOY OF DEATH FESTIVAL to be held in Bournemouth from 7th to 9th September – that’s next weekend so if you want to attend you better get your skates on.   Here’s the link for tickets GOOD FUNERAL GUIDE ANNUAL AWARDS at THE JOY OF DEATH FESTIVAL

Joe will be representing the family at Bournmouth.