It’s my brother’s birthday. I can’t say happy birthday as he died six years ago. For the last six Novembers I have been in various states of meltdown, dreading the run of family events that start with his birthday and end with New Year’s Eve, whilst trying to keep Christmassy and carry on for my own children.
This year, I’m not in meltdown. I’m doing ok. Time is passing, turning raw shock into gentle sadness. And I’m doing a lot of walking. Since my first hike at the age of eight (rucksack filled with a pack of sausages and a quartet of emergency teddy bears), walking’s been the thing to make pretty much everything all right for me. Now I’m in the incredibly lovely position of getting paid to find and recce walking routes for TV and books. The brilliant irony is that my car-obsessed brother would shake with laughter at any suggestion of walking, anywhere, roaring in his latest VW even the 200 yards up the road to Spar.
I can thing of few things worse than a good walk spoiled by the wrong people. This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to have great company on many trails, including a couple of talented directors, a hilarious camera crew, a bunch of passionate walking guides and Teilo the dog. Conversations have wandered all over the place, from hiking boots to holidays, from politics to pants, and I’ve learnt to supply extra biscuits to the cameramen as they always have the best stories. It’s rare, though, when everyone’s sharing family anecdotes, that I mention my brother, as some things are just easier left unsaid.
Which is why I’ve been surprised to find myself telling two women, in two different corners of Wales, all about him. I’m sure I didn’t mean to, but something about their thoughtfulness and generosity sparked the kind of connection not commonly found on a freezing Welsh hillside. They possibly don’t even remember the conversations but their kindness stays with me, especially on days like birthdays-I-can’t-celebrate. And, for their part, I hope it was welcome respite from listening to the crew talk about pants.
I continue to miss my brother beyond measure. There are still days he’s my first thought on waking and moments when the shock of remembering I’ll never see him again takes my breath away. So here’s to Gareth, up there somewhere, doing no walking whatsoever and driving something very loud. And to Lynne and Jules, my favourite fellow walkers from a pretty special longlist. I have a feeling they’d have clicked straight away. My brother would have hated the walking but – did I mention? – these ladies each have a set of mean wheels.