For A Friend

I don’t remember how I met Betty, and she couldn’t recall meeting me, either. Perhaps eight or nine years ago, she materialised the way friends do online. We collided, and there was a spark. I remember being charmed by this lady who seemed to live inside a perpetual ghostly tea party. Purple was her colour, lurid against black and white chequers, like a hanging garden inside a ballroom.

Betty and I had similar health challenges. We bonded the way soldiers do, proud of our scars, joking and sympathising. Betty walked me through open heart surgery because she’d already been there; I was there to commiserate when Betty needed another soon after, air-lifted to hospital with her usual bravery and good humour. 8am cardiology appointment? Betty would be there in my phone, laughing with me as I bumbled around like a zombie, looking for an open coffee shop. I could tell Betty every mad morphine dream I’d ever had, and she would have plenty of her own.

When you’re wading through circumstances beyond your control, having someone who truly understands is more valuable than anything. Even when there’s an ocean between you, it feels like wearing armour.

If you ever chatted to Betty – and I know many of you in our shared circle did – you’ll have seen her art. The world of Gossamer Tearoom straddles mediums and disciplines. It’s a rich vision of galleries after dark, of tea taken in gardens foaming with purple flowers, charming epicurian ghosts, and antique toys with busy social lives. Drawing, collage, digital, model building, assemblage, cookery, botany, writing… I’m struggling to think of a medium Betty didn’t work with. I can’t think of anyone else who’d go to the trouble of learning haute cuisine, producing it in pristine miniature, and laying a full table of tiny places for a dozen ancient dolls lovingly restored by her own hand. Gossamer Tearoom is a fully-realised dream world that is unmistakably hers.

When I was recovering from my heart surgery, she sent me a doll she’d sewn by hand: The Ghost of The Giant Squid. That was Betty’s brilliant mind – whimsical, spooky, deeply caring.

We lost Betty two weeks ago. I keep thinking she’s going to message me with a fascinating painting she’s noticed, or post photos of her latest tiny antique finds. Every time I stumble across an exciting new artist or read something strange and amusing, I automatically go to tell Betty about it. She was a kindred soul. I miss her, I miss her, I miss her.

Towards the end, I had the chance to tell Betty how much her friendship meant to me. That’s a privilege – I’m old enough now to know that, more often than not, we don’t get that chance when someone we love dies. Communicating through her brilliant husband, Victor, I sent her pictures of a French restaurant I’d been to lately. Theatrical and gilded: just the sort of place she’d fit in. She told me she’d like to go to lunch with me there. I said I’d hold her to that; we’ll try the ice cream sundaes. I meant it.

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