Suzy was my best friend. We met whilst training to be teachers at university and like everyone I immediately gravitated towards her enormous personality. She lit a room with her laugh. A natural storyteller, she had everyone in stitches with her anecdotes. In our Friday pub sessions, we’d drink her stories like Irish whiskey.
When Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer, she began a battle that would last four years. She fought like a warrior. And won. When the cancer returned, she continued to fight. Never letting that smiling façade slip, she shrugged off cancer like an unwelcome guest at a party. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, mastectomy. Nothing could bring down that smile. She blazed on, right to the end.
It was an honour to write a poem for Suzy’s memorial service yesterday. I’ve copied it below. The poem begins with Suzy in front of a class, the natural teacher. Here she is explaining the rule of three, the sentence-structure. The line about ‘indigo dots’ refers to the tiny dots that are made on the body in preparation for radiotherapy. The reference to ‘Beechwood’ is a reference to Beechwood Cancer Care, a support centre that Suzy took a lot of strength from. Suze showed her support for the centre by taking part in the Butterfly Ball and other events, and there is a reference to that in the poem too.
The line about falling into the poet laureate is a true story, as is everything referenced in the poem. Suzy invited me to a gala event at the Midland Hotel in Manchester as part of the Children’s Book Festival. Carol Ann Duffy was at the event and I was itching to speak to her. Suzy introduced us, but only after several glasses of Dutch courage. As we approached Duffy, who was sat looking regal, fanning herself, Suzy slipped and rolled into her! Chaos ensued; Suze, unphased, spent the rest of the evening with her foot in an ice bucket, which she unceremoniously took from the table. Note – at the service I hastily replaced the line ‘arse over tit’ with ‘head over heels’ as, though Suzy would’ve laughed, the vicar might not have.
The poem ends with an unfinished triple, to reflect how we all feel – left, mid-sentence, mid-story.
Remembering Suzy Boardman
She stands before the class and casts her net.
Ideas, futures catch.
That’s the rule of three, she says.
As is love, live, (that) laugh.
As is whiskey, water, no ice.
As is beer gardens, sun, wine.
As is Beechwood, Butterflies, life.
As is indigo dots, constellations, victory scars.
Consultations, writing scripts in Christies, making last orders at the bar.
It’s a bench in Conwy, watching boats on a river, letting time slide just to honour it.
It’s the Midland, wine, falling arse over tit into the actual poet laureate.
It’s mohicans to wigs, ghost stories, singing at our kitchen table.
It’s Simon & Garfunkel at three in the morning, Irish coffee, waking the neighbours,
It’s bliss, not just nights on the (beer), it’s theatre, kitchen sink drama.
It’s sudden sunlight on a grey day, that laugh at the end of the phone,
it’s one more story, one for the road, not wanting you to go home.
That’s the rule of three, she says, as is
But as is
Suze (left) with myself and Alannah, another great friend from Uni.
Left to Right: Myself (note the wine-stained teeth), Alannah, the poet laureate in question, the mighty Suze.