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This is where I write about what interests me.

On My Friend Michelle…

James Stratford

Michelle in Montpellier, 2005

Michelle in Montpellier, 2005

In December of last year, my friend Michelle died at her home in London. She was 32.

I thought for a long time whether to talk about this here or not. This post has been sitting in my drafts since January. A year on from her death, I finally decided to just post it.

I met Michelle in 2005 when I took part in the Leonardo da Vinci programme in Montpellier, France. The first two weeks of our three months there was a language brush-up course. In time, five of us in particular splintered off into a group. Natalie, Elena, Michelle, Kate and I met most Fridays and/or Saturdays and became good friends. If I'm honest, it was a feeling I've seldom felt in my life and I cherish that time dearly.

We met up as a group three more times when we got back: once in Manchester, once in Leeds and again in Birmingham. We were immediately back in our group and it felt great to have the best part of Montpellier back for a few hours. I met Natalie twice in Manchester and in October of last year, just weeks before her death, I stayed with Michelle in London. I'm so glad I went now.

I walked with Michelle to the Shard in London that October Saturday. We had a coffee and a cake in a little cafe in its shadow as a couple had their engagement photographs taken across the street. Michelle was looking forward to a change in her life; she was due to leave her post working for the Home Office and spend time helping children in Nepal and Cambodia. She was so excited. That day, she felt a little tired and made her own way home whilst I continued on to walk down the South Bank a little longer with my camera. I took a few photographs that weekend but somehow I didn't take one of Michelle. How I regret that now.

I've been lucky in my life to have lost very few people dear to me. Usually they have been elderly and lived good long lives. Losing Michelle at 32 really shook me up. She was a friend I knew would be a life-long one, someone whom I'd meet up with many more times in my life if not very often. She was someone whose intellect and morality I respected and valued. We couldn't be described as close as we lived so far apart and saw each other so seldom, but she was part of that amazing time in France and I loved her for it.

I am a hopelessly romantic nostalgic and I know I will think of my friends throughout my life. I will visit Montpellier again one of these days and when I do, I might just buy a glass of red wine at the Café du Théâtre on the Place de la Comédie and leave it on the table in the corner where we all met on those evenings – for Michelle.

In the words of John Lennon: I know that I will never lose affection for people and things that went before. I know I'll often stop and think about them; in my life I'll love you more.

“Meh…” – It's Cool Not to Care. Or maybe it isn't, whatever.

James Stratford

I hate apathy.

I get into passionate debates with people quite often and I love it. Yes, it can simmer over sometimes but I would rather meet a passionate person that I disagree with than someone who didn't give a crap about anything.

I hate the word 'meh.' When someone is so intellectually indifferent that they cannot even be bothered to form an actual word then I want to pull them out of their seat and shake them. Care, damn you!

I see a lack of passion everywhere. Sure, people get angry about things quite easily but how often do they get passionate in a positive way? How often do they wax lyrical about a hobby or a place or a band or a film? It doesn't matter what interests you but the moment nothing does, your brain begins to calcify. And we all have to share the planet with you.

'Meh' people suck in oxygen. They sap you of your own enthusiasm. They are the people that make great things less likely to happen. They're like a nasty bit of gristle in a tasty bit of chicken. They just spoil life's joy.

I don't care what you care about but care about something, or go and chew grass in a field with all the other bovines.

…but I digress.

Courage in Creativity

James Stratford

Displaying creativity is about bearing yourself in public. So many creative people are shy of showing their talent. Their shyness isn’t irrational. The fact is that when you create something and put it out into the world you will get criticism. It’s unavoidable.

That criticism might not be voiced. It might be that you play a song for a group of friends and one or two of them are just thinking you are awful but still politely smiling. When you put such a performance out into the wider public arena, you better believe you’re going to hear some of that negativity.

That means that being a creative requires courage. In effect, you’re saying ‘this is what I have made or what I can do, this is what I think is beautiful.’ There will always be those who don’t agree with you.

I guess what I want to say is that if you are a creative person then be bold, don’t be afraid to be wrong or get criticised. Do your best work, be honest and be proud of yourself for trying and for showing others what you have done.

Whether you are a creative person or not, you will find yourself on the other side at some point, consuming someone else’s work. Bear in mind how hard it can be for that person to show you what they are showing you. Be kind, respect what that took. Don’t be a git. It’s not funny or clever, it’s just an admission of small-mindedness.

Ultimately, we all want to live in a beautiful world and the way it gets more beautiful is by the collective efforts of creative people. It’s in all our interests to encourage each other. Call me naive but there’s no way around that fact. Think about it.

…but I digress.