On May 9th Marie Bernadette Maher would have been 72.
We met in Hampstead in 1969. She from the Wirral me from London.
We went to the Wimpy Bar in Golders Green and talked through the night. She puffing on a small cheroot and me mesmerised by her sophistication. She was a strawberry/reddish blonde, drove a Mini Clubman and was as sharp as a pin. If I brought a boy home to our shared flat, I was immediately dumped and she was asked out for a date. She was sassy and cool and on waking would suck her contact lenses clean and bung them in her eyes. When young she’d learnt the eye chart by heart fearing she would be thought dumb, and ended up nearly blind. She never left the flat without makeup and, along with her ridiculously handsome brother, turned heads .
Then she went to Manchester University to study how to work with the deaf, she met her husband at the bar. A donkey-jacketed fellow with the kind of looks that puts George Clooney to shame. They were the sublime couple that everybody envied. And why not indeed?
They moved to Galway, where he became an architect – designed and built their house whilst she brought up three children in a caravan.
Time passed and her brother died of leukaemia, when Marie got breast cancer she never told her mother, quietly had reconstructive surgery and took up the Tango.
She put on discos with a thumping bass and disco lights for her deaf pupils. When she retired she started writing poetry and true to form the woman won awards for her brilliant poems. I have a CD of her reading them.
Ten years after she’d been given the all clear her cancer returned and two years ago she put down her pen. We didn’t make the funeral but we did visit Galway one month before she died. When I kissed her goodbye on her soft, cool cheek, I knew that would be the last time I saw her.
Her husband still lives in his hand-built house. He’s retired but keeps as busy as ever. Swimming every day and replacing parts of his body that have broken down.
Three days ago we talked, East Sussex to Galway, we talked about the virus, the now grown up children, and life without his coffee mornings. Miley Cyrus has put a stop to them.
The road signs in Southern Ireland have a less authoritarian bent than ours. At a T-Junction the sign does not say STOP it says YIELD. And so it is with their language for Miley. It’s not called SELF ISOLATION instead it’s called COCOONING, by far a gentler way to keep people indoors. Maries husband described his approach as DISCRETIONARY COCOONING. Keeping his distance from his pals but still dipping into the empty waters of Galway Bay.
So many of us now know somebody who has had Number 19, knows somebody who knows somebody who has died from it. Marie Bernadette Maher would have written a scathing sonnet, or a plaintive poem, choosing the appropriate words then flying in the face of it all she would have sucked on her contact lenses, bunged them in her eyes, pumped up the music, danced a Tango and puffed on a small cheroot.
I shall play her CD and listen to her lovely voice. Happy Birthday Marie.