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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.