A celebration of Nick’s life

A few months ago, Alex and I decided to hold a celebration of Nick’s life, an opportunity for all those who couldn’t attend his funeral to get together to honour his memory.

I was so relieved when Alex offered to organise it; that sort of thing stresses me out. She has a friend who manages a bar in Harrogate, so that was the obvious venue, it would be held a week before the anniversary of his death.

I travelled to Harrogate on Easter Sunday, only to hear on my arrival that Nick’s brother had died the previous evening; so cruel that they both left this life within a year of each other.

During my first week Belle and Immy were on holiday from school, so I made the most of the chance to spend time with them, swimming, going to York, visiting Harlow Car gardens and generally spoiling them, as grannies are entitled to do.

The second week I took Immy to and from school, to give Jean and Doug a break, as well as catching up with lots of old friends. Kieran joined us on Wednesday, he was definitely in need of a holiday.

The day of the memorial arrived. I woke at 5am, suddenly aware that the niggling feeling, in the back of my head for weeks now, really had to be addressed; I was going to have to say something to our assembled guests, to give focus to the event and thank them for coming. Not something I’m used to doing, I felt quite sick at the prospect, but if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that we can all do anything we put our minds to. I made some notes – I thought it was quite acceptable. However, Gemma is very talented at this sort of thing and, not being able to join us for the day, was feeling quite left out, so I sent it to her for tweeking. It came back infinitely improved, but too long now for me to learn by heart in the hour before we had to set off.

Alex had had loads of photos of Nick printed, which we hung around the room and which were added to by friends when they arrived.

At 1pm they started to pour in; people I hadn’t seen for years and years, old friends from the children’s school days, Nick’s work colleagues, people he’d cycled with; they came from all over the country, London, Oxford, the Lake District, one friend even flew over from Northern Ireland. 

The atmosphere was lovely as we reminisced about old times and shared our favourite stories about some of the crazy things Nick had done over the years.

I managed to get through my speech without bursting into tears, unlike each time I’d practised it, so once that was over I could begin to enjoy myself.

By 7.30 everyone had left and we went home, exhausted, but happy to know that the event had been a success and that everybody seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

A group of us met up for breakfast in a café in Harrogate the following morning; we had so much to talk about that breakfast ran into lunch, then continued to afternoon tea and cakes; we finally left after 3 o’clock, when they asked us to move as our table was booked for another group. 

On Monday I took the bus to London to stay with my brother Peter and his partner for a couple of days, before heading home on Wednesday. Happily the weather is warmer here – I was frozen most of the time I was in Harrogate – must be going soft in my old age!

Frustrating bureaucracy

If there were a competition to see which nation could come up with the most senselessly complicated bureaucracy, I think the French would win hands down.

It’s so bad that in recent years a new department has been created; France Services, which exists for the sole purpose of helping people with their paperwork. I think the people who work for France services are specially chosen; I’ve now met quite a few of them, not one of them has been the typical “fonctionnaire”, beloved of those who want something to moan about, and with a reputation for being as unhelpful as possible. No, the people working for France services are, in my experience, charming, patient, knowledgeable and extremely helpful.

I knew I had to change my address with several bureaucratic bodies, so I set out to find the local France services office, which in St Paul turns out to be a mini bus every Thursday morning, in the marketplace. It doesn’t seem to matter how early I get there, there’s always a queue, but it’s a chance to chat to people as we wait our turn in the sunshine or the rain.

When we tried to change my address on the income tax site, it wasn’t working (a remarkably common problem here); never mind, said Marie (yes, I’ve been there so often now, we’re on first name terms!), we’ll do that when we do your tax form.

Then came my carte de séjour ( proof of residence). Even though it’s only in my name, it transpires that I have to declare Nick’s death as well as changing my address. I’d taken all sorts of papers with me, but not a death certificate, so was sent home for that. On my return the site crashed. The following week I knew what papers were required and , fingers crossed, it seemed to work. I don’t know how long I have to wait for a new carte, but one day I’m (nearly) sure, it’ll arrive.

Then there’s the carte grise, which proves ownership of a vehicle. As my name was with Nick’s on the original, I hadn’t done anything about it, but it seems this was illegal and had I been stopped, I’d have been in bother. But I wasn’t stopped, so I asked Marie to have it put into my name as well as changing my address. The first week the site wasn’t working; she could only change part of the address, so having spent over an hour trying, she gave up and I came home. Week 2 she managed to change the address and send off all the necessary documents, or so it seemed. Midweek I received an email to say that there were documents missing; I know we sent everything on the list, but went back again a third time and she re-sent them all . Last week I had another email to say there was another name on the proof of residence, so again I went to the bus; the French continue to use a woman’s maiden name for certain things after her marriage, so we thought that as my proof of residence is in my married name and the carte grise people have my maiden name, that must be the problem. We sent off a copy of my carte de séjour, which is in both names. So this afternoon, when I got an email from them, saying that my proof of residence was in the name of Sylvie Lataste, I thought I’d explode!

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