Living Big

Wednesday was a beautiful day. Beautiful like Ella was beautiful. The sun shone on, and the sky was bluer than ever. And I told myself that Ella would want me to appreciate the beauty – through my sadness and blurry vision due to the tears.

I have had such lovely pieces of advice, and touching conversations with people since then. Elspeth’s mum, Emily, sent me “love without any annoying unnecessary comments. Just love”. And Alex told me to “live big” for Ella. And Sarah told me to “hang out with my emotions – to embrace them”. And Gina and Amandine helped me eat an entire tub of icecream, which although wasn’t a piece of advice, was certainly helpful and appreciated!

And the overwhelming feeling I’ve gotten from talking to the people that knew Ella, aside from the fact that she was loved by everyone that ever met her, is that this is a chance for us all to really appreciate what we have, and the world around us, and each other, and that we had the privilege and joy to have known Ella. There is a sense of optimism too, alongside the sadness, and a feeling that Ella would want us all to keep living life – to “live big”.

For now, I think we’re all getting by, and we have the knowledge that this will get easier, and that we have each other, and shoulders to cry on, and funny stories to laugh at, and I am so grateful for that.

Ella, I feel so lucky to have known you. You are already missed. Thank you for being wonderful.


Fabulous Friday

I love the way a day can start as a complete disaster, and turn out to be one of the best days ever.

I woke up Friday morning at 9.28 – my first class starts at 9.30. Given I live half an hour from uni, I gave up on even trying to make it. I decided, as I wasn’t going to try to rush, that I’d have a leisurely breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, read the news, look at the time, see it’s 10.15, realise that making into my 10.30 class is also going to be a stretch, due to the reason given above. Fine. I’ll write postcards and send things I’ve had sat on my desk for probably over a month. Realise I’m missing a load of addresses so can’t do that either!

THEN, this is when things start to improve. Get a text from Tara asking if I want to go to the biosphere. YES, get myself together, hop on the metro. It was a beautiful day. I got out and just marvelled at how beautiful it was, how clear the sky looked and the feel of the sun on my face and the slight calm from being outside the city (ish).

The biosphere is an environmental museum, looks at different aspects of everyday life and how it affects the environment. It’s inside a bucky ball, designed by Buckminster Fuller, it’s an impressive structure. I could easily have spent an entire day there, but me and Tara were both starving, so we looked around and then decided to find food.


We went to Chinatown, and found this place Tara had been once before (we were reluctant to go to the same place twice, but she said it was so good I should probably get the chance to go!). We had veggie dumplings and a tofu noodle soup to share. I love Chinese food! SO good!

After eating we wandered the city and walked vaguely in the direction of McGill – after walking for a while, we realised we’d way overshot – the perils of walking and talking! Can’t focus on both at once! Tara had to pick up her bike, and I had to catch the metro, but as we were leaving Tara got a call from a friend asking if she wanted to go climbing later, she invited me and we decided to play it by ear.

After 9.30 it’s cheaper, and we decided we’d regret it if we didn’t go, so I headed to meet Tara, and we cycled through the city drinking coffee from her thermos (I love cycling at night. The city looks so pretty) and, after a small issue finding the place, met her friends there. Today and yesterday I have achy muscles where I didn’t even know muscles existed! My forearms? That’s a thing? Bruises on the inside of my knees, how did that happen? My armpits? My back?

I love climbing. Love it and hate it – more hate my body for not being able to do it. I haven’t got the strength and half way up the wall my body is screaming, and my arms are aching and my legs are shaking uncontrollably, and my mind is saying “We can’t let this wall defeat us! Go Maya go!” So I sit on the rope for a while, and climb a bit more, and then look down, and the legs start shaking and I don’t even feel scared, just tired, but the legs are still shaking and I have to focus to stop them. And then I pause again. And then look up, and tell myself there’s not that much further, and keep going. And get to the top, and then look down and this is the best bit. Letting go and knowing you’ve done it, and then bouncing back down, where your arms are so tired you can’t even undo the knots on your harness!

And then a cycle home in the dark and COLD. And then home to sleep. It was a wonderful day!

Love to you all!


Some quick observations of Montreal

Fire engines seem to move in herds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one by them self, I came out of uni yesterday to find about eight on campus. I’m fairly certain that the fire didn’t require 8 fire engines. Another time, we were sat in a park somewhere and all these fire engines turned up, and then the fire fighters sort of milled around, stood chatting, and ONE of the fire engines got their hoses or whatever it is they do and looked busy. Maybe the others just came along for the fun of tearing through the city with their sirens blaring.

Montrealans DO NOT KNOW HOW TO FILL A METRO. This is a moan rather than an observation. Here’s a radical idea… that space between the seats, you can stand there! Controversial I know. Instead, they get on and stand at the door, so the hundreds of other people on the platform can’t get on the train, and then they probably wonder why we all glare at them as the train pulls away, leaving us standing forlornly on the platform! Even Brits, with our personal space that extends in a metre radius from the body (hence handshaking and awkward hugs, rather than the kisses on both cheeks) can manage to cram onto a rush hour tube.

Montreal drivers are scary, but Montreal cyclists are stupid. Yesterday I was stopped at a red light and this cyclist shot past me and almost crashed with the driver whose right of way it was. Ummm… hello? Red lights are there for a reason… If it’s the middle of the night, or the road is empty, sometimes I go through a red, or don’t stop at a stop sign, but IF YOU CAN SEE THE CARS COMING TOWARDS YOU, probably better to stop. Just sayin.

OK, that’s all for now. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more sweeping generalisations I can make about the city…

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of Friday!



This is Cora’s rather beautiful response to hearing about Brandon.

The news i got
was bad today
so bad in fact
i ran away

i hoped to find
on my journey
my mind revived
and balance restored

but there was something wrong
with the autumn leaves
the grass so green
did not seem right

sadness, oh sadness
you will not keep me
no indeed this shall pass
this too shall pass

no shame falls in my tears
i have no need to hide
my wheels move ever on
my feet walk only forward

Cora Singer Hobbs


This was my response, I wish I could be as poetic as Cora. I wrote this yesterday.

Yesterday I went out and danced, and every time I thought of the unfairness and sadness connected to Brandon’s death, I danced harder. I my head, I was dancing for him.

Today, I have no more dance in me. Today I want to curl up under the duvet and cry and shout and curse about how fucked up it is that Brandon is not here anymore. In the same way that Edna seemed too alive to ever die, Brandon is the same.

I am angry and sad and a bit flat.

And I know that this will ease as time passes. And that Brandon will not be forgotten. The change he made in this world will be here, and the poems he wrote and the writing he did will continue to have meaning.

But that doesn’t change now. Now when the love for him is still pouring in on facebook, and the shock is making me numb.

I didn’t know him well, but I loved him.

And you. I love you too.

Three Inspirational People

This is a blog that has been in the writing for probably almost three weeks. It always takes me longer to write about feelings than it does to recount an awesome weekend, or a day at uni.

This is a blog about three remarkable, inspirational people.

Over two weeks ago now, I had a conversation with Alanna, who was Elspeth’s best friend when she was here. She was at the McGill cancer society table on campus that was making luminaries. You write the name of someone who’s a cancer survivor, or someone who’s going through it now, or someone who has died from cancer on a paper bag, and then they fill it with sand and put a candle in it and when it gets dark they light them all and spell something out.

I made one for Ella, because I think she’s inspirational. She has been fighting cancer for over a year, and every time I’ve seen or spoken to her throughout the entire treatment she was the same amazing, upbeat, funny, clever smiley Ella that she is. I know that, obviously, she isn’t like this all day every day, but it’s made me think how I’d be under the same circumstances. I don’t think you can know how you’d react until you’re there, and then you’re just getting on with “day to day living, and then some” (Ella’s blog, which is beautifully written; frank and honest, but also the same Ella that it’s always been). I would hope that should I ever have to deal with similar circumstances, I take it on with as much grace as Ella has and continues to. Even with the horrible diagnosis she received almost two weeks ago, Ella has been not only looking out for herself and her family, but also giving us all a helping hand. She has made a set of rules (you can see them on her blog – scroll back a few) for how we should all behave, and just by writing the blog is giving those who don’t want to ask, or don’t know what to say, a way to know what’s going on.

The topic of cancer got me thinking about other people I know who have had cancer, and I thought about Edna, who died on Christmas day two years ago.

Edna was unlike anyone I have ever known. She was a shiner, relentlessly upbeat and enthusiastic, thoughtful and loud and sassy as hell. She had the most amazing accent, I can’t even begin to describe it. According to Nigel she’d go to meetings where she had to look smart, so she’d wear something formal, and underneath her smart skirt she’d be wearing bright red tights. Or purple shoes. She gave Judith the poem “When I am old I shall wear purple” and upon re-reading it, it’s a fairly good description! She was curious, about everything and everyone. She wanted to know everyone’s story; mine, Cora’s, people she’d met in passing, friends of ours she’d meet at family parties. I think she quite enjoyed gently questioning authority, and pushing the boundaries of social norms. She defined living in the moment – no, appreciating the moment, but with an insight and thoughtfulness that I can only hope to achieve. She was so full of love and light and life and laughter and I miss her.

And then, this morning, I woke up and found out via facebook that Brandon Lacy Campos, who is a close friend of my god-family in Minneapolis, and who I stayed with a few times in New York, died last night. I cannot claim to have known him well, but his blog, My Feet Only Walk Forward, is amazing. His facebook page is awash with people who loved him, it’s overwhelming. It’s also beautiful to see how many lives he touched, the number of people for whom he made a difference; the love on that page is palpable and fierce.

It feels incredibly unfair. Elspeth pointed out to me that this gives us a chance to step back from our day to day lives for a minute and really appreciate what we have. I’m trying to be better at this, at noticing that it’s a beautiful day out, or smiling at people when I walk past them in the street, remembering that there is a huge network of people out there that I love, appreciating the feel of the earth through my feet, noticing the kid making faces to himself in the window of the metro. And also telling people about the difference they make to your life. Sarah from the MOC and I had a conversation on the bike ride two weeks ago, before any of this, about how she tries to tell people when they’re awesome, because often times we don’t. And amongst this, also remembering that this is a chance to learn and grow and grieve, and not to forget that we are loved.

So much love to you all.

Here is Ella’s blog:
Brandon’s blog:

And Edna’s poem about wearing purple:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

Two busy weekends

So, here is an attempt to put a lot of things in a relatively short post – otherwise I’ll go on for pages!

Last weekend was one of the most lovely I’d had in ages. Cycling, camping, hiking, beautiful views, beautiful people, heart-warming conversations, awesome costu
mes, good food, the list goes on. Friday consisted of hiking in the dark for an hour or so up to the top of a peak in the Laurentian mountains. We ate dinner and pitched our tents on rock, so had to put our bags – and ourselves – inside to keep them weighed down! And when we woke up it was to the most amazing view – not seen the night before because it was dark!

Saturday we cycled through the mountains to the MOC (McGill outdoors club) house, which was a tough, although very enjoyable. We partied there – it was the Halloween weekend – I went as David Attenborough, who, it turns out, is not well known in North America. The poor people! They’ve been missing out! And then Sunday we cycled back to Montreal. When I got back, I went to return Pascale’s bike (mine got a flat about an hour before we were supposed to leave – not the most relaxing hour of my life…) and was greeted by Manu and Leo and coffee and a muffin. I’ve been told I didn’t make much sense! I was very tired!

In a flurry of organisation on Thursday, a group of seven of us booked a car and a hostel, and on Friday took off for Quebec City. We hired a big seven seater – I can’t believe I drove it – it looked like it had been pumped up on steroids! And with all of us crammed in and music playing it was a fun drive! We wandered around the city, checked out the view over the river, hopped from pub to pub and then danced from club to club. Then, as any good night should end, got poutine and headed back to the hostel.
This morning, somewhat groggily, after breakfast at the hostel, we set out to explore. Anouk had planned a route, so we headed off to a market, where I got the most amazing almond and chocolate pastry. Yum. Then on, statues, fancy buildings, nougat, a ferry, canons, play equipment, buskers, and everywhere the most adorable cobbled streets. It’s a very pretty city!

The drive home was eventful, after stopping at a waterfall, and a disastrous trip to a McDonald’s drive thru (not me, I got a subway, and thus avoided the confusion) I took over the driving. All good until Montreal was almost in sight, when we discover the route we needed to take is blocked. Not only are the detour signs confusing – there were three different ones, they seemed to take us round in circles, and then abandon us to our own devices. To add to the confusion, every time we passed the part that was closed, the sat nav would tell us it was recalculating the route, and then take us in a loop back to the same place… After asking a construction worker for directions, a U-turn, an unelegant 3-point turn, a whole load of shouting (at the sat nav, each other, Canada in general, other drivers) some slightly panicked yelling as I completely missed a stop sign and sailed on past, and eventually hysterical laughter we made it past the road works and back to Montreal. Hurrah!

Lots of love to you all!