I want to write about Gill. My friend who died this week. Everyone knows she was a redoubtable campaigner and a compassionate nurse. That she went out of her way to give whatever she could to people who needed help - unstintingly and often at great cost to herself. I have no doubt that Gill will be remembered wherever harm reduction and the welfare of people who use drugs are talked about. Long may it be so.
But Gill was a remarkable woman in many ways - not least her passion for the environment, for the welfare of animals, for internationalism - and for the truth. I've seen Gill ferret away at a problem for hours, days till she could accept what the facts told her. She had a properly scientific mind, - one that could never be brought over by sentiment. She was as exacting with her own thinking as she was with others. And however hard Gill was on you, you could be sure she'd be twice as hard on herself. She didn't make assumptions - she found out.
And alongside that was a real humility. No she was never a sit in the shade corner dwelling wallflower. In fact the opposite. The woman who earned her living when young in the circus was no wallflower at all. But she was humble. She listened. To experts, to scientists, to doctors and to the people she wanted to help. She was constantly learning, constantly striving to understand more, to see more and from that learning and seeing to do better.
She wasn't afraid to ask questions - and she never shirked her responsibility as a clinician and a human being to speak truth to power. I remember her telling me about a training session she had to attend which was addressed by a doctor from the health company she was working for. I can't remember what the subject matter was, but this guy was talking nonsense. So Gill told him. In the break one of her new colleagues told her to be careful because he was the medical director and an owner of the business. After the break Gill was careful - she took the opportunity to go in just that little bit harder because in her words the practitioners in the room "need to know the facts and so does he". She didn't give a damn about status. And god help you if you ever asked her to proof read something for you.
As a friend, Gill was loving, exciting, exhilarating - and exhausting - at times. Yes going for a walk at 6am wasn't always a great prospect after a late night talking at her farmhouse. But at the end of that walk there would be something exceptional to see, something she just wanted to catch, to show, to share. And a bacon butty made in her warm chaotic kitchen. And a dog or two to share the crusts with. In our pomp as friends we could talk for hours - on the phone, by the fire - about everything and nothing. Because of the way she thought, because of her always impressive brain, she was never dull, there was always a different way Gill had of looking or talking about things - and she could cut through bullshit like her dog Jasper a sausage wrapper.
She adored her animals - Coco, Cally and Jasper the collies and her cats. But she adored other people's animals too. Animals were always welcome at Gills. She had a real respect for their animalness. No over trained subdued beasts for her, but dogs who had freedom and love and a home in which they were always part of the family.
I loved Christmas with Gill too. Don't get me wrong, it was not her favourite time of the year but that didn't stop her making a stocking for everyone. Little bars of chocolate, extraordinary novelties from her travels, weird sparkly earrings and cat toys that looked like weird sparkly earrings. She spent weeks collecting stuff together - and hours on Christmas Eve packing them for her kids. By one am on Christmas day the wrapping would be getting a bit erratic and the conversation louder - interspersed with dancing and pacing and talking, but those stockings got packed full.
Gill was fun, and she was brave, and she was beautiful. She was a good friend and if she heard someone was in need - of advice or practical help, or even a damn good talking to she wouldn't hesitate to be there - whatever the cost to herself. She gave. And gave and gave and gave. And when she was exhausted, so exhausted she could barely keep her eyes open, she gave some more.
Over the past three years or so, Gill and I hadn't been as close as we once were. But i thought of her a lot. Everytime I had a bath for one thing as she was a passionate advocate of the power of a warm bath, a candle and an old guardian supplement (oh the piles of them at the back of her bathroom!). But also when I faced difficult choices or heard something funny or sad or important on Radio 4. I always believed though that as friendships go we would drift back into each others orbit and once again sit up till 4 putting the world - and each other - to rights.
When I heard earlier this week that she'd died, I can honestly say I didn't believe it. Not for a minute. I said - aloud, too often, "but I thought she was indestructible". But of course I knew she wasn't. Anyone who lives their life with such openness, such compassion and such a questioning energetic way with the world is vulnerable. Gill was not a hero because she was indomitable, but because she understood too well the harshness of the world, and yet she still kept working for it to be better, for people to do better.
I know that she had been about to start a new life for herself - in the sunshine, away from the cold welsh winters that drove her insane, even though she still saw the beauty in them. I'm glad of that, glad she was planning and looking forward and hopeful. But I am so fucking sad and angry that shes gone. And I will miss her as much as I loved her. However sad I am that she's dead though, I wouldn't give up one moment of having known and loved her.
May the journey be bright old friend, and may you sail on an ocean of love