When I was twenty-six, a friend of mine introduced me to his new girlfriend - Juliet. Juliet and I immediately fell in (platonic) love.
Juliet had wild, untameable red hair and freckles, and she crackled and fizzed with an energy which was tangible. She was fiendishly clever, and fiercely loyal and, like me, she smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish. When I was with Juliet I felt more. More attractive, more witty, more alive.
I should have known then that a flame that burned so brightly would inevitably die young.
Juliet and I would go to smart restaurants and talk until the waiters started putting chairs on the tables around us. We'd finish the first bottle quickly and Juliet would wave it at a waiter crying "excuse me, my man, could we please have one exactly the same as this, but full?" and she would tip back in her chair and guffaw with laughter.
We would spend long nights at her flat or mine, dancing like no-one was watching to the anthems of our youth: Duran Duran, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Toyah Wilcox. We read poetry to each other. One of Juliet's favourites was John Betjeman's 'Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough.'
We'd promise that we would never end up as grey faced automaton's like those in the poem, rather we'd be eccentric old ladies dressed in purple velvet and mink, terrorising youths with our walking sticks and drinking Martinis with abandon.
Juliet was ferociously fearless (when drunk. When sober she was riddled with insecurities), and persuasive. She would always manage to convince someone that she was 'perfectly able to drive'. She was, she'd say, a brilliant driver and, in fact, even better after a few drinks.
One day, after we'd all been to a wild weekend country house party, she decided she was perfectly able to drive home rather than stay the Sunday night like the rest of us. We let her. She crashed her car on the M1.
Mercifully, no-one was hurt, but it shook her up big time. She realised she wasn't invincible. She ditched the high powered consultancy job she hated and moved out of London, away from temptations, to live more soberly and follow her dream of writing. She wrote the way she lived - with great gusto, originality and humour. Her e-mails were side splittingly funny. My husband read some of them out at her memorial.
I'm ashamed to say that, wrapped up in the self-obsession of youth, I didn't speak to Juliet as much as I should have done after she left town. In the year that she was away I never once went to visit.
One night Juliet had a friend over. He wasn't yet a boyfriend - I think they were just 'testing the water.' They got drunk. She wanted to buy some cigarettes, but - having holed herself up in the countryside - the nearest shop which would be open was several miles away. She spun the usual line about being an even better driver when drunk.
Juliet's car careered off an empty country road and ended up upside down in a ditch. The bloke was trapped for hours, dressed in his pyjamas, next to her corpse. She wasn't even thirty years old.
Many years later, the husband and I were driving in Africa with #1 and #2 (who were then a toddler and a baby) in the back. The visibility was terrible - lashing rain and fog. I fell asleep. In my dream I saw Juliet, as clear as day. She shouted at me "WAKE UP!" I woke to see that the road was splitting into a dual carriageway. The husband hadn't noticed and was heading straight towards two lanes of oncoming traffic. I yelled. He swerved. I honestly believe that Juliet saved our lives. I wish I'd been able to save hers.
That's the thing about the wine witch. She cuts brilliant lives short, and ensures that others are only half lived. She makes children grow up thinking it normal for adults to drink all evening, every evening. She fixes it so mothers are woken up in the middle of the night by a stranger telling them their only child was found dead in a ditch, next to someone she barely knew.
So, I'm not just doing this for me. I'm doing it for my children, and I'm doing it for my feckless, fearless, flame haired friend - Juliet. I will never forget you.
Love SM x
If you have a friend, or relative you'd like us to remember, please do post in the comments section.
Related posts: When the wine witch wins. Part 2