Fragments of Stephen

At this time of year, as Spring takes hold and everything bursts into colour, I always find myself thinking about Stephen Vickery, my friend who isn’t around any more. There is a Stephen shaped hole in the world; there’s so much he’s missing out on, and so much we’re all missing by him not being here.

Inevitably I look for comfort from the things I have left of him; as he was a talented writer and artist and we got to know each other before the digital age, that’s much more than it might be otherwise, and I’m so grateful for that.

Letters from Steve

Of course there’s his poetry (collected in The Sun is Often Out), but there are also all the postcards and notes, the strange story he gifted me for my 17th birthday, the carefully curated mix tapes and CDs with handmade artwork, the fax (fax!) with a hand-drawn map with directions for me to meet him… it’s fading now; whatever redundant technology produced faxes (fax!!) wasn’t designed to create monuments. Every time I dig it out, I think ‘I should preserve this somehow, make a copy’ – but I never have. Maybe one day it will be too late and I’ll be left only with the vague memory of what was on that thin paper.

fax from Steve

Stephen turned me into a vampire for my 17th birthday. It was in a story he wrote for me, dispersed in fragments within a box of presents (including a CD of Kenickie’s John Peel Sessions and a home-made Kenickie t-shirt, a Blondie badge and a Pikachu keyring) which arrived on the morning of my mock History exam. I’d been so glum that morning, but I was transformed within moments, grinning madly as I read his beautiful, funny words.

“And now it’s today and your exams will be over soon. You can leave your home 1 year older, dreaming and thinking… The future beckons, you’ll get on the bus, pass the exam and people will say how completely fabulous you are.”

Steve's vampire story

These handwritten notes, hand crafted artefacts, are so precious to me – prompting memories of things half-forgotten. “Stripped of his present and future worries, his hair was longer, his skin translucent, and he ran past lines of traffic into quiet streets where his breath and fast steps were the only sound he could hear. Stripped of his present care. And his guilt of being slightly lazy.” I talked with Stephen from when we first met about the difficulties of writing, my fear of being lazy. He told me to stop worrying and just get on with it. I still haven’t quite mastered that…

Emails just aren’t the same as letters – though the other day I did look through some of our digital exchanges. Neither of us can spell or type particularly well, and they are quite funny as the content is so brash and conversational; I’d forgotten that as well as loving highbrow art and literature and having super-cool taste in music, Steve loved Sex in the City. He even sent me a link to a quiz to determine which of the characters I was most like, with strict instructions to “answer truthfully, or it won’t work!”

Mostly, when I want to remember Stephen, I put on one of his brilliant mix CDs, dip into his poetry, have a look through those postcards. Looking at his distinctive handwriting, I can just about replay his soft voice in my mind, asking me what I thought a particular line from a Belle and Sebastian song meant or gently mocking my Kirsty MacColl infatuation.

Steve's mix tapes and CDs

Stephen enriched my being so much. When someone goes without explanation, there will always be unanswered questions and sadness. I will always miss him. But more than that, I will forever be grateful to have known him and had him in my life.

(He’d have been deeply thrilled that Patrick Wolf would one day make this tribute reading of one of this poems.)

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