2012: Friday Walks, Walking with Rachel

For Rachel Cheetham

In a time of sorrow there is comfort in ritual, in doing the familiar. 

Our friend from New Jersey, Rachel, has often seemed to be out on our walks with us. As we’ve filmed them or photographed them to show to her during times when, as she’s said ‘My world is so much smaller now.  I spend so much of my time dealing with all things cancer, so I need to hear about the kinds of experiences that don’t involve doctors, hospitals, tests, treatment or otherwise.’ So we have shown her Liverpool and the Wirral and further afield, as we have regularly gone out walking and camping over the last year. Last week, in fact, as well as the photographs you saw in my walk report, we made a film for Rachel, to cheer her up when, as we confidently expected, she emerged from yet another hospital experience. Well, obviously, she never got to see that one, as she died in hospital this last Monday from metastatic breast cancer.

Leaving the house

So today, with Sarah being over in New Jersey, I decided to continue with our tradition of ‘seeming’ to have Rach with us, by taking her on a walk I don’t think we’d ever shown her.

This walk is called ‘The Docker’s Steps’ (we’ll get to why) and takes place entirely within Liverpool.

As I set off, the day was slate grey and steel cold. I like it being cold in the winter, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Down our road, across and along Smithdown, turning into Ullet, and past the park.

Past the park

Then along Ullet, Croxteth, right into Kingsley, to get to my beloved Granby. This is one of Liverpool’s most deprived areas, which has slid into dereliction over the last twenty years, ’til now there are just four of the original streets left. Sixty or so people live in them, and 130 of the houses are bricked up and empty. Over this last year, along with those people and other willing outsiders, I have put my heart and soul into helping the Granby Four Streets to have a future. And we’re now increasingly confident that it does.

New growth, in my beloved Granby

Which the determined residents have planted up, like it’s their garden

Then across Princes Avenue, to the Welsh Streets, built by Welsh builders and all having Welsh names. Street after empty street, with a very uncertain future.

The Welsh Streets, empty and uncertain

Madryn Street, the house where Ringo Starr was born

Ringo was rude about Liverpool a couple of years ago, so he’s not popular with everyone!

Then right into Admiral Street, and down the hill our next destination looms.

To the Cathedral to light a candle for Rachel

In the Cathedral I sit for a while and watch Rach’s candle burning. As you may know, I’m not a religous person, but there is something so elemental in the lighting of a candle, that for the first time since she’s died, I feel some peace. And look tenderly on the candle like it actually is the light of Rachel I’m seeing there. Comforted, I walk on.

Towards the River

Down the Docker’s Steps

These are a precious piece of Liverpool working class history that have miraculously survived, though the docks they helped the dockers to get to, from their houses at the top of the cliff, are long gone. Until very late in the day, all Liverpool dock work was done as daily, casual labour. With men queuing at the dock gates each morning to see if they’d be taken on to work that day. So every time I walk down here I hear the footsteps of my ancestors. Who fought relentlessly for justice and fair pay. And at the bottom of the steps there is this wonderful mural about the history of my people, the Liverpool working class.

The Liverpool working class mural

This is a legendary Liverpool character, Yozzer Hughes. ‘Hughes’ hmm?

And so we reach the River. Fiercely cold down here today, with a very high tide. Too cold to sit and drink the tea I’ve brought with me, and contemplate things as I’d planned.

Down to the River

Up to Lark Lane to Greendays

For lunch, warmth and colour

At Greendays I tell our friends Carole and Ronnie, who run the place, about Rachel dying. They have heard a lot about her over the last year and are deeply shocked, and deeply tender with me. They send their love across the ocean to Sarah, and I walk on, full of vegetarian comfort.

Past the lake

And across the park

Along Penny Lane

Back home

a sense of place

A long walk, maybe seven or eight miles with the Cathedral detour added into it. But a deeply satisfying ritual. And back home now, writing this, it’s the sense of ritual that most strikes me about my day. Someone you love dying throws your life into chaos. And since Monday I’ve literally not been able to think straight. So, time passing and a ritual was what I needed. As I write, it’s been four sleeps since Rachel died, and some peace started to return today. Because of lighting the candle, because of friendship, and because of the ritual of walking around places I love. The grief is nowhere near over, but one foot in front of another, I am walking on.

Mostly my walk was silent. But in Greendays there was music. Bob Dylan when I arrived. But then, I think understanding me, Carole put on the glorious, formal grace of Leonard Cohen. ‘Oh the sisters of mercy they are not departed or gone…’ I’m off to listen to some more.

7 thoughts on “2012: Friday Walks, Walking with Rachel

  1. rhosie57

    Amazing stuff, Ronnie. Just amazing.

    This will make Sarah cry for sure, as it is beyond profound.

    It is a beautiful prose, and makes me think of my favourite Beatles song, and how it sums up lots of things, like how I feel about Liverpool; like what I think you and Sarah have, that eludes so many people; and at this time of loss for you both, maybe how you both feel about the part Rachel has played in your lives. Just rambling thoughts, but ones I wanted to share quickly with you.

    There are places I remember
    All my life though some have changed
    Some forever, not for better
    Some have gone and some remain

    All these places have their moments
    With lovers and friends I still can recall
    Some are dead and some are living
    In my life I’ve loved them all

    But of all these friends and lovers
    There is no one compares with you
    And these memories lose their meaning
    When I think of love as something new

    Though I know I’ll never lose affection
    For people and things that went before
    I know I’ll often stop and think about them
    In my life I love you more

    I never thought those purple Liverpool wheely bins could ever look beautiful, but in those Granby pictures they do.

    The candle thing I get, as an empathetic catholic, and today’s blog is just about as spiritual as it gets.

    Thank you, Ronnie. Be strong, and speak later.

    Rhona x

      1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        And thank you again, so much Rhona, for the long conversation last night. The Ceremony was so engaging and emotional, as you saw – and I watched it with Twitter on, so it felt like I was sitting here watching Sarah, Gayle and everyone,with all of Rach’s other friends who couldn’t be there. But after ‘Walking on Sunshine’, when the live stream went off, I felt the sudden loneliness of being sat in front of a screen, at 9:00 on a Saturday evening.

        And then the Skype noise happened and you turned up on the screen. I was lonely no more. And we set the world to rights, including finding the causes of most major cancers. So many thanks and much love. Maybe I do know what Skype is for again. xx

  2. jbaird

    This colourful walk is beautiful beyond words, Ronnie. Including the purple bins. What a tour, what a spiritual and emotional journey. Maybe a magical mystery tour? It’s still a mystery how we lost Rachel so suddenly. Glad to learn the service was incredible. I look forward to the recording somewhere on the blogosphere and so wish I could have seen even a part of it. xoxo Jan

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      The week has been a spiritual and emotional journey Jan. But after this ritual walk to set right the chaos of death, and particularly after the ceremony (where we found that every single one of Rach’s family and friends is eloquent and passionate) I’m feeling the beginnings of acceptance. But I’m sure I’ll walk with Rachel for the rest of my life. xx


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