Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Month: April 2011

Joanne Pullan 1970-2011

Last Thursday, at a loud and chaotic Euston station, I received a phone call from my wife to tell me that our friend Joanne Pullan had died the previous evening. Jo had been found collapsed in a park by a bystander, after suffering an asthma attack while walking to the shops. She was taken to Lewisham General Hospital, but was declared dead there.

At the time, then, I could scarcely comprehend the words my wife was saying. As I type these words, now, nearly a week later, it’s still no easier to accept that she’s gone. To lose anyone is hard; but to lose someone whose entire second half of their life was yet to be lived, is harder, doubly so when it’s to a cause that seems both trivial and preventable.

(Of course, it’s not trivial, as Jo’s death so tragically demonstrates. Asthma kills. If any good can come of her passing then it will be from people reading these words, and the many others that will be written about her, and treating asthma with more fear, and respect, than they had previously done so.)

My wife and I are going to miss Jo tremendously, not because she was perfect, but because of the ways in which she wasn’t. How could I describe Jo? There are as many ways to describe her as there are days in the year, but the words that come to mind now are that she was often mad and frequently exasperating, but always fun, engaging, warm and compassionate. Some people live life with its accelerator mashed down hard against the foot-well, careering through corners in a manner likely to cause a certain degree of consternation in those friends and family following on behind. Jo was one of those people.

Jo was my wife’s friend before she became mine. They met in the early part of the last decade when they both worked for the League against Cruel Sports and having become firm friends (my wife described Jo as her “vegan sister”), they stayed in close contact as their professional lives moved on.

After working for Leonard Cheshire Disability and Médecins Sans Frontières, Jo ended up at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, where she worked in fund-raising. Unlike my wife, I never worked with Jo, but I know she was very highly thought of, with her charm, intelligence, diligence and professionalism being the perfect tools for persuading people to donate generously to the organisations she represented.

Animal welfare was a cause close to Jo’s heart, as her choice of employers indicates. If someone close to her had an elderly cat that needed rescuing, it would usually end up with Jo. And she was a devoted step-mum to our own little four-pawed bundle of canine joy.

But when I think of Jo and animals, it’s her dog, Claude, who I think of. Claude was Jo’s closest companion for all of the years in which I knew her, and she doted on him. He might have had four paws and a flat nose, but he was very much her little baby, and this showed in the dedication she displayed when facing the health problems with which he suffered over the last years of his life.

Claude suffered not only from diabetes, but a number of other ailments. Keeping him on four paws was neither a cheap nor easy undertaking. He required twice daily injections of insulin, made harder by the fact that he also suffered from – as one vet put it – “small dog syndrome”. Add to this pills, inhalers and operations to restore his eyesight, and you had a monthly bill of significant proportions. But it was a bill that Jo never hesitated to pay. When Claude finally reached the end of his time on this world a few months ago, Jo was devastated. But sad as his passing was, it at least means he’s not faced with a life without his mummy.

Jo had an eye for taste and style apparent even to someone such as myself, universally acknowledged as something of a style desert. She always looked good, even on those occasions where she was convinced she didn’t. And each of her homes were not so much decorated as designed. Where the rest of us might think in terms of what colour to paint the walls, Jo would see a room as one big art, craft and design project.

This didn’t involve lots of money When it came to decorating a home, Jo could make a budget stretch further than anyone I know, although being Jo, that budget would still be slightly larger than the sum of money she had available. She had an eye not only for a bargain, but for a bargain that with a bit of work, a sand, a repaint, or a replacement cover, could be transformed into something fabulous. She was a demon ebayer, buying and selling, although I fear half the things she was selling were things she had previously bought. My wife would often return from a visit to Jo’s with a story of finding a new sofa or bed or floor, justified by the previous one being slightly too big, or too small, or just the wrong shade of whatever. (The story’s telling would usually end with an exasperated cry of, “But there was nothing wrong with the old sofa/bed/floor/curtains/rug/house!”)

I met Jo before I met my wife, at a London Vegans event, which she’d attended with Paivi, a mutual friend of hers and Jules. It was entirely down to those two that I met my wife. Thinking I might be right for their friend, they arranged for us to meet at a small party hosted by Paivi. It all came from that: dating, moving in, getting married.

I couldn’t say that I own Jo everything, but I owe her and Paivi my wife and soulmate, and if that isn’t everything then it’s not far off it. Initially, Jo was my wife’s friend and I was her friend’s other half. But gradually, imperceptibly, and with what I’d like to think was the ease that marks all true friendships, Jo became my friend too, and I’m pretty sure I became hers.

That Jules and I are going to miss her terribly is a truth so obvious it scarcely needs saying, but some truths deserve to be spoken, and this is one of them. Jo was not a person to pass though a person’s life unnoticed. She occupied a place in my wife’s life and she occupied a place in mine, and in her passing she leaves a Jo shaped hole in both of those lives.

We’re going to miss her terribly, and while time will blur the edges of that hole it will always remain, a gap in what could have been, and a missing part of what should have been. Jo might have gone before we were blessed with the children she so wanted us to have, but if time does bless us with those children they’ll grow up knowing about their Auntie Joanne. We will never forget her.

Jules and I were apart when we heard the news, she with her mother in Yorkshire, and myself travelling to Eastercon (the British National Science Fiction convention). My first thought was that I should abandon Eastercon and head to Kings Cross to get myself on a train to Leeds. But Jules told me to stay at Euston and head for the convention. Eastercon was where I needed to be if I wanted to meet with agents, writers and the people who will hopefully end up buying my books. She reminded me that Jo had always been one of my writing career’s biggest supporters, always urging me to stay confident, always declaring her conviction that I would one day make it big. She told me to go, that it was what Jo would have wanted.

I was originally going to stay at Eastercon until Tuesday morning, and then head straight to work, finally meeting up with my wife on the Tuesday evening. But we altered our plans so that Jules picked me up from the convention on the Monday afternoon and we drove home together.

That evening, really for no reason other than wanting something to take her mind off things, Jules got onto the web in search of the new kitchen table she’s been unsuccessfully searching for over the last couple of months. She found something on Gumtree that looked perfect, and having texted the owner and received a reply, we found ourselves driving over there to take a look at it.

On the way, Jules asked me if I thought we were doing the right thing. We didn’t actually need a new table, and this perhaps wasn’t the best time for us to be making decisions. Maybe we should check around a bit more, she said, and see what else was out there, or perhaps just stick with the one we had?

I only needed a moment to consider what she’d said, because the answer was clear. What better way was there to remember Jo than for us to make an impulse purchase of a table we didn’t actually need?

After all, it was exactly what she would have done.

Signing Response Mail: Too Self-Depreciating?

I received today an email from one of the Illustrious (Eastercon 2011) organisers saying that my name has been given to her as an author attending the con, and asking if I would like to attend any or all of their three author signing sessions.

Here’s the reply I’ve just sent to her:

Hi Meg,

Thanks very much for this. I would be interested in doing a signing, but given the crushing disappointment to my ego a signing usually involves, I think it would be best to restrict it to just the one session.

If possible, could I have the final session on Monday at noon? That gives me the maximum possible time to get to know people in the bar on the previous evenings and then silently guilt trip them into buying my book if they’re unwise enough to walk past the signing table and catch my eye. (I’m not joking. That was how I made my one and only sale last year at Odyssey. Poor Rob. I think he was only trying to get to the art show.)



What do you think? Too self-depreciating? Or just honest and realistic?

Eastercon: Illustrious 2011

Next weekend I’ll be at the NEC Birmingham for this year’s Eastercon, Illustrious 2011. This will be my fourth Eastercon, having previously attended Orbital 2008, LX 2009 and Odyssey 2010, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Last year I had a really great time, so much so that I wrote it up in a long, but hopefully interesting con report.

Like the Olympics, Eastercon (which is the British national SF convention) is held not at a fixed location by one set of organisers, but is instead hosted by different committees from different regions who bid for the privilege. This year, it’s heading to the Midlands, to the same Hilton Birmingham Metropole where Jules and I attended Discworld 2010 last August.

It’s probably a bit late to be booking hotel rooms, but if you’re in the Birmingham area you can join on the door, either for a day or for the whole four-day weekend. Click here for rates.

If you want to catch up with me, then the best way to do so is to drop me a message on Twitter, to @jonnynexus. Alternatively, I’m one of the two co-hosts of a vegan / vegetarian meetup happening on Friday night at 10:30pm in the Churchill room. It doesn’t matter if you’re aren’t of the veggie persuasion: if you’re around, feel free to drop by and say hi.

Looking forward to seeing any of you who are attending. See you there!

Why Brighton & Hove Fans Are Happy To Be Moving

On the way home last night, a few stops from Brighton, my train was invaded by a bunch of good-natured fans of Brighton and Hove Albion, our local football team, also known as the Seagulls. The fans, who were heading for an evening match at the Withdean stadium, had reason to be good-natured: they stood last night on the threshold of promotion to the Championship, the second-tier of English football. A few hours later, after a  see-sawing 4-3 victory against Dagenham & Redbridge, they sealed promotion, and look set to follow that by clinching the League Two title.

But that’s not all: they will play next season not in their current Withdean stadium home, but in the £93 million, brand-new, out-of-town American Express Community Stadium at Falmer, situated on the A27 bypass, adjacent to Sussex and Brighton Universities. Now such a move generally leaves football fans with mixed feelings at best. Sure, a new stadium’s nice, but it means leaving behind history and tradition, and exchanging something with character for something possibly more souless.

I knew that Brighton fans were strongly in favour of the move, but I was still a bit surprised to hear the following snippet of conversation from the two fans sitting opposite me:

Fan 1: [Musing] Do you know… this will be the last evening game we ever go to at the Withdean.

Fan 2: [Emphatically] Good!

That might seem a strange reaction – until you read a little of Brighton and Hove’s recent history.

From their formation in 1902, the club played at the Goldstone Ground, opposite Hove Park.

Unfortunately, the then board sold that to developers in 1995, and after the club’s eviction in 1997, the site was transformed into this.

The club were forced to groundshare with Gillingham FC at their Priestfield stadium. This doesn’t sound too bad until you realise that Gillingham is 73 miles away from Brighton.

After two years in exile, the Seagulls were able to return to Brighton, as tenants at the council owned Withdean stadium. I think that perhaps the best that could be said of this was that it wasn’t 73 miles away.

It was an athletics stadium, complete with running track, had mostly temporary stands, and was even declared to be the third worst football ground in Britain by the Observer (interestingly enough, their previous temporary Priestfield home came in at number one).

And now they’re movin to this:

I’ve seen it several times as it’s being built, while taking the dog to nearby Stanmere park, and it looks absolutely stunning, both in its architecture and its location. I can’t wait to visit it once it opens.

I can see why the fans are so happy to be moving. I think they deserve it.

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