As a child, the closest place to paradise on earth was my Nan's house in Peckham. The house smelt of everything and cinnamon: vanilla and cinnamon, curry and cinnamon, detergent and cinnamon. It was sweet, cloying and sometimes overwhelming, but it smelt like half-term hugs and eating so much that there was no room left for blood or oxygen in our bodies. There would be a fridge full of chocolate, stacks and stacks of brand new colouring books, pencils and crayons scattered everywhere and graffiti adorning the walls and fireplace from our previous visits. She would record Dawson's Creek for me so I could catch up on episodes lost during the heavy transfer time between Exmouth and London, and when we'd exhausted all that kids TV had to offer, she'd stick on the Young Ones and laugh along with us.
At night - in an act of unbidden anti-community spirit - she'd take us across the road to feed the foxes that roamed the cemetery gates, before bringing us up blister-inducing, hotter-than-the-surface-of-the-sun chocolate and tucking us in.
Nan was a scatterbrain of the highest order. If she went shopping in town she'd hoard her bags to the bus stop and clamber aboard. The bus stop, handily, was on our way home, which meant that whenever we saw an abandoned mound of plastic, we could pick it up and call her.
"Oh, hello darling."
"Did you go shopping this morning?"
"Where's your shopping?"
Silence. Silence. The sound of someone trying not to swear. Explosion.
"Oh bloody hell! I left it at the bus stop didn't I?"
Forgetting stuff was her forte, actually. Another gem was the dog. She'd get back to the house, bags in hand this time.
"Where's Abbo, Nan?"
Her eyes would roll to the back of her head.
"He's at bloody Somerfield!" she'd cry, her northern accent reaching cartoon strengths as she charged out of the door and back to town.
She'd emerge 20 minutes later.
"Oh for... I left him at Spar."
We had an excellent friendship, Nan and me. We'd text frequently, details of her love life (a success) and mine (absent); her sex life (I won't destroy you with the details) and mine (Whoa... did you spot that tumbleweed?); her career (old people) and mine (strange people). The last text I got from her was a month ago. She was excited about my new job, and told me she loved me and missed me. That message means the entire world to me now.
Three weeks ago today my Mum rang me at work. She was crying.
"Nanny's been in an accident" she said. "It's not good."
Blood spun through my body at a thousand miles an hour, filling my ears like a tide. I went back to my desk and shook, waiting for the phone call that would tell me everything was ok.
An hour later Mum rang again. She managed one word. "Dead."
The next day we met at Nan's cottage. Never has a place been so explosively full of someone, yet so horribly, painfully empty of them. Dishes in the sink, towels in the wash basket, a-by-now-very-dry beef joint in the oven. No one ever expects when they leave the house that they won't come home, and to see that displayed so obviously was a sucker punch to any notions I had of my own immortality.
The house was midway through a makeover, so the contents of the hallway were stacked up in the living room. Boxes and boxes of life. I compiled a mountain of umbrellas that I'd found in the living room and shot a questioning look at John, her partner.
"Nanny collected umbrellas." He said, by way of explanation.
The 100+ ceramic jugs hanging from the living room ceiling and the myriad china dolls upstairs showed what a hoarder she was. She was a play within a play, a collector of collections.
"Did she use them?" I asked, gesturing to the pile.
John looked at me like I was the mad one. "Course not! She bloody hated umbrellas. If it was raining, she got wet." He hugged her jumper a little tighter and sat down on the edge of the sofa. "Course if I was with her, I had to get wet too."
Nan was 68. She was a bold and brilliant, beautiful light and I still can't believe that a character as effervescent and ridiculous as her- someone whose uniqueness could never possibly be replicated again - could have their entire life extinguished by something as simple as a tree through a coach window.
When something like this happens, it takes your whole life and shakes it up like a snow globe, and when the ground settles again everything looks the same but feels different. My perspectives have shifted and I'm not so worried anymore - about my career, my love life, my looks.
I will always miss Nanny Carol, who gate-crashed weddings and fed her dog caviar and who danced in the kitchen and used words without caution, but I'll always have had her in my life, and her wonderful madness is etched, eternally, into my genes.
You never know when the light's going to go out, so enjoy every second and make sure the people you love know just how much they mean to you.Suggest a correction