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14 April 2005

Ah, what can you say about days like these? Peter Sarah died on Friday. Peter was chief exec at the Theatre Royal, our big city stage in Newcastle; he took it over when it was in trouble both financially and artistically, turned it around in both directions, made a major success of it. For us he started as a new broom, became a good thing, developed into a useful contact, then a generous supporter (free tickets and wine for every opening, bless him) and was just poised in that interesting gap between someone you know well and a genuine friend. And Friday lunchtime, he was just in the theatre cafe for a meeting when he had a massive heart attack and died.

Itís opera season, and Gail and I are in the theatre yesterday, today, tomorrow. The sense of shock is palpable, and the sorrow too.

On Sunday, we were in Durham for the New Writing North annual writersí awards, which arenít prizes so much as cash, grants for specific projects. And I was given one, to work on my beloved Taiwan novellas, hurrah! (Oh golly, what, good news? Whatís going on?)

And this week, Iím trying to juggle my own work with organisational stuff for The Write Fantastic, and very aware too that Peterís funeral is on Thursday - tomorrow, but probably today by now - and so is the launch of an art project, a collaboration between an artist and my old friend the writer Julia Darling; and Julia is desperately ill and only hoping to be there, so of course everyone who knows her is hoping to be there also, and 'everyone' is the only acceptable definition of the people that Julia knows, so itís going to be a mad, sad crush of a do.

And I go to the opera tonight - Don Giovanni in a new production from Opera North, austere minimalist set and a witty translation, punchy singing and a tight band, I liked it; itís interesting, though, how it takes an English version to underline just how utterly charmless Don G is, because the music will seduce you every time - and Iím walking home thinking about Peter and thinking about Julia, wondering whether itís worth skipping the Rossini tomorrow to try to get a word with her sometime during the evening; and I come in and there are messages on the answerphone, to say that sheís died already this afternoon.

It could have happened years ago, when she first got cancer. It could have happened any time this last couple of years, since the cancer recurred; or these last months, these weeks, these days, when sheís been getting sicker and sicker. Itís like Zenoís paradox, sheís actually been living in half-lives that have been getting shorter and shorter. But the trouble with Zeno is that you get to recognise the pattern, and then you start to believe him, you forget that the world doesnít actually deal in paradox and think that the actual moment will never actually come. And then, of course, actually it does.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.