A writer without readers eager to devour his books must surely have occasion to question the point of putting pen to paper.
As a blogger, I don’t even have anything to sell; there can be no monetary purchases of my words to help me feel validated and give me the confidence to believe that I might be doing something right.
Of course I may simply be writing for me – a rather public diary; Lest I Forget, and all that.
But I’m not, not really.
I write for the sheer joy of writing, certainly, but I also write in the hope of providing a little entertainment: an anecdote here, an amusing turn of phrase there, an opinion to be shouted down or heartily agreed with, a glimpse into the inner workings of stranger’s life that facilitates a few moments of escapism for whomsoever might feel the need.
And when someone takes the time to write a little something in the comment section, it goes an awfully long way towards reassuring me that I am succeeding in at least some of my aims.
Since I started Status Viatoris in March 2010, readers have come and readers have gone, but there are a dedicated few who joined me back in the early days, and whose kind consistency in letting me know they are still tuning in has been invaluable in keeping my will to blog alive.
One such person was the Lovely Lesley Porter.
Initially I was in ignorance of the vast extent of her loveliness: yes, I greatly enjoyed her affectionate and encouraging responses to whatever I had posted that day – especially when beloved collie dogs, Obi and Fly, took charge of her keyboard in order to chew the fat with my equally beloved Strauss. I also appreciated her humorously candid turn of phrase when talking about matters of the heart and late motherhood, amongst the other slightly more angst-laden topics.
But it was only when, after several years of Status Viatoris, there was a sudden silence; weeks and weeks and weeks with not a single manifestation of Lesley, that it dawned on me just how important her constant and cheery cyber-presence had become.
So, with the slightly nauseous anxiety that I might be doing something horribly invasive and utterly inappropriate, I tracked her down on the dreaded Facebook, and wrote to her.
She wrote straight back.
It wasn’t good news – she had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and was awaiting treatment. But with the indomitable, funny and honest attitude to life that I had come to recognise as all her own, Lesley declared herself ready to kick cancer’s butt.
From that moment, our relationship took on a more personal note; the blog comments continued to flow, but we also wrote privately – her messages often appearing in the middle of the night as the gruesomeness of the cancer treatment stole not just her hair and her appetite, but also her sleep.
Burning her wig on the toaster, farting at a nurse – if only Lesley’s brand of hearty irreverence were obligatory, I am convinced society would be a far more congenial collection of folk.
And then it struck me that it might be in my power to offer an additional morale boost with something more personal than the ubiquitous bunch of blooms or bag of grapes: surely a cuddle with a favourite internet pooch would brighten her day. So with the help of Steph (much-loved daughter extraordinaire, also run to earth via the dreaded Facebook) we started to hatch a plan to spring a surprise on my next trip home.
Sadly, the premature loss of Strauss put an end to such plans. But despite the fact that I was rendered unable to spring the best of surprises, I simply couldn’t suppress my own yearning to meet my cyber buddy, so the Mothership and I decided to set off on our road trip to South Wales regardless.
(I sincerely hope it was surprise and not horror I saw on Lesley’s face the day Steph ushered us into her living room.)
Even if it was horror she disguised it heroically, and, armed with cups of tea, the chatter flowed, only pausing with the arrival of the scrumptious Will who kindly broke off from his nap to come and grin disarmingly at us over the rim of his bottle and give outrageous lie to his besotted grandmother’s pre-Will declarations that she would be leaving all baby adoration to husband Howard, while she walked the dogs.
Time was short and Lesley and I found that we had an awful lot to say to each other – far too much to cram into a couple of hours perched on Steph’s sofa. But she was exactly as I had imagined her: all ferocious energy, laughter and life. Then Howard appeared – the man who once promised her, after years of failed pregnancies and heartbreaking disappointment, that he would make her a mother if it was the last thing he did.
And he did, first with step-children (and a seemingly endless stream of youngsters who Lesley took under her wing at various times), and then with Steph, whose arrival led to her mother missing out on a ski trip – I’m guessing she was worth it!
I like a man who keeps his word, and apparently so did Lesley judging by the declarations of her love for him that were worked into many of her blog comments.
Best friends, husband and wife – what could be better?
We parted bemoaning the brevity of the meeting, but I was left with their assurances that the large soon-to-be camper van parked outside their house would be chugging its way to Italy sooner or later.
And we continued exchanging our news: Will was crawling, then walking and talking, Steph was looking for a wedding dress and trying out a new range of soaps in her little gift shop. Lesley was thrilled to be back in a small size 14 and that her locks were at last growing back in most fetching Mia Farrowesque fashion.
She was one of the very first people I announced my pregnancy to, and, a few months later, one of the very first to know that my bump cradled a baby girl. Happily, she was then able to completely trump that announcement by getting herself declared free of cancer!
But then she wrote to tell me of her devastation that adored elder sister Beryl – the one she was so proud of for having paved the way with what was then a pioneering breast cancer treatment – had herself been felled by cancer again, this time inoperable. Beryl had brought Lesley and her brother up from the age of 10. She spent her life helping and improving the lives of others, she was witty and intelligent and had a fabulous sense of humour.
To my ears, Beryl sounded uncannily like the person describing her.
Lesley’s family surprised her with tickets to see Bon Jovi (a wish from her bucket list of the previous year) – she cried because they had remembered and then danced and screamed like a youngster at that concert; declaring Bon Jovi still a great singer, and with the dance moves to boot, but plastic surgery and over whitened teeth ensured he was only attractive from a distance. What a shame. She wrote to tell me how wonderful Steph’s wedding to Allyn had been, and how stunning they had all looked – Steph, Allyn and Will. Such a superb and happy day. Her words.
But the words Lesley hadn’t written to me were that her own cancer had come back. The dreaded Facebook imparted that news, and when it was already too late to respond.
What complete sadness.
My heart goes out to Steph, Howard, Will and the rest of the family. They have lost a most remarkable and beloved woman: their best friend, their mother, their wife, their grandmother.
And I find I have lost the person I most often had in mind when I put fingertips to keyboard. The person for whom I sought to provide a little entertainment: an anecdote here, an amusing turn of phrase there, an opinion to be shouted down or heartily agreed with, a glimpse into the inner workings of new friend’s life.
I imagine most writers have a muse, and mine was the Lovely Lesley Porter. I shall miss her more than I could ever have imagined possible when I read her very first words to me over four years ago, but I shall always be so very grateful to her, and for her.
It is the memories of your wise words, your fabulously unwise words, your love of life and your quickness to laughter that will have to be enough keep these fingers zinging over the qwerty.
Goodbye, lovely lady.