This little porcelain calf ornament is another one of the china animals from my collection that I’ve kept for sentimental reasons, even though this one was not a gift from a relative or friend or anyone else: I bought it for myself, on a sixth form college student union trip to Copenhagen when I was 17. The sentiment is for the friend I went with, who sadly is no longer with us. Today would have been her 55th birthday, and I have spent this lovely spring day going through the meagre collection of letters and photos that remain from our 40 year friendship, a friendship that began at nursery school and only ended with her untimely death aged 43.
Michele was a sweet child who loved animals, always out walking her dog Judy on Barnes common because her parents wanted her out of the house. An unwanted and unplanned child, born late to parents who had already raised one daughter, the lack of love in her life had tragically predictable consequences. But I loved her, and I miss my old friend deeply.
We went to the same nursery school, primary school and Sunday school, but we didn’t become close friends until a mutual love of pop music brought us together at secondary school. By the time we were 16 we were going out to see bands together, much to my parents’ disapproval: they saw Michele as a bad influence, which, in a way, she was, an influence for which I remain eternally grateful. I was a pony obsessed goody two shoes until, in my 15th summer, a DJ saved my life, and it was Michele who took me under her wing and mentored me through this new world of fashion and pop.
We were regulars at the Kensington music pub, though we had just missed the heyday of pub rock when the likes of Dr Feelgood and Brinsley Schwarz played there. Unlike me, Michele had a record player in her tiny bedroom in one of the railway cottages on Beverley Path (council houses then, millionaire’s residences now) and we would line up the latest singles from Fleetwood Mac or David Bowie or Santana and sing along as we prepared for our Saturday night out. One favourite was the Rolling Stones’ Miss You which she bought when it was released and played over and over again. We dreamed of leaving home, getting jobs and sharing a flat, so that we could go out every night to gigs and parties just like our older friends did. By the time I went to sixth form college to study for my A levels, Michele, not being the academic type, had already left school behind for a full time job at Hammersmith council, and she grew up fast. By the time I reached my 18th birthday, finished my A levels and planned to leave home, she had beaten me to it, and moved in with her musician boyfriend, a man 16 years older than her who had played bass with many of the greats (I remember seeing him on Top of the Pops, backing Dusty Springfield. My mate’s boyfriend on TOTP!!). He didn’t like her going out with her young friends, so we didn’t see so much of each other, but we stayed in touch. Sadly he was the first, and by no means the worst, of several men who controlled or abused her in various ways for the rest of her life. There were plenty of happy times, the memories of which I treasure, especially when she had her adored children. But eventually life took its toll, and we lost her that tragic Whistun bank holiday weekend in 2005.
But before all that, we did have this one brief teenage holiday together, a few days on a ferry to Denmark. It was really a 4 day party on a boat, and we had a lot of fun, especially in the disco bar: Michele loved to dance. We befriended a gang of boys who were real clowns, and kept us entertained with their antics, which included streaking around the boat (well, this was the 1970s). We stayed friends with “King Kev and his Merry Mooners” for some time afterwards, they even came to my 18th birthday party later that year, dressed in kilts in honour of its being St Andrews’ Day. The friendship eventually petered out, and I sometimes wonder what became of those crazy guys.
We had just 3 hours to explore Copenhagen when we got there, which included a tour of the famous porcelain works. Despite my new interests I had not yet outgrown my childhood collection of china animals and I spent ages choosing a new one, with a few pounds I had saved from my Saturday library job. I chose this sweet little calf, which I named Heidi. Michele chose a tiny mouse sitting on a cube of Swiss cheese, which, as I watched in horror, she quietly closed her hand around and slipped unseen into her bag. I was scandalised – she actually stole it! But that was Michele: no shame, no fear, but a heart of gold. She kept her little china mouse for years, and when she died, I inherited her pet, a silver grey gerbil named Pearl who had the run of my flat for the last year of her life. I’m glad I still have Heidi the calf to remind me of our teenage adventures.
Happy birthday, Michele. Girl, I miss you. X