Sadly last week we lost our ace Annie Caulfield. Her sister Jo pays tribute. As do we.
Some of you will already know that a big contributor to the magazine, Annie Caulfield, passed away this week. Her writing was always full of humour and humanity. I have picked this piece as you can hear her voice so strongly and also, how happy she was in the life she had made for herself.
She always said, if you want to be a writer, then write, write all the time.
She was also a wonderful big sister.
When I Grow Up…
From dazzling crime detection to emergency ballet, Annie Caulfield’s childhood teemed with fantasies of heroism. But nothing compared to her reign as Queen of the Birds.
Oh no. Another week’s gone by and I haven’t changed the world. I hate it when that happens, don’t you?
When I was a kid, I imagined my grown-up weeks would be filled with world-changing antics. I’d have foiled some major robberies and caught assassins. I wouldn’t fly in through windows wearing a cape, nothing silly like that. These were realistic ambitions. I’d just have a way of looking at people to make them think: “Oh, crime and evil just don’t pay, she’s right.”
I would stroll into laboratories and say to scientists, “That cure for all diseases should have a bit more of the purple stuff in it.”
And I’d be right.
I would arrive at the ballet and hear the lead ballerina had broken her ankle. I’d say, “I had a few classes, maybe I could try…”
Then I’d leap on stage, barefoot, and be astounding.
I would turn out to have a natural genius for most things.
And I would of course be displaying this genius while wearing diamond shoes and swishing my beautiful long blonde hair.
These imaginings filled my head at around the age when I also suspected that I might be Queen of the Birds. I don’t know why birds specifically, except that we had a home festooned with house martin nests the summer of my sixth birthday and a tree in the garden topped with some other kind of nests. Birds of all shapes and sizes hopped around our lawn in the mornings and dive-bombed the trees at night.
I remember my mother commenting on the rush of birds to our house that summer.
“I’ve never seen anything like it; next door has a bird table and they don’t get this level of bird harassment.”
Little did she know. I thought about telling her, quietly, modestly, that the reason for the bird population was the presence in our house of the actual Queen of the Birds; but I felt she wouldn’t understand.
Just recently she bought a stone birdbath for her garden and when she showed it to me she said, “I thought you’d be pleased, what with you being Queen of the Birds.”
Then she told me how she used to find my regal notes to the birds scattered all around the garden. “I’d collect them up and save them. I must still have them somewhere.”
As Queen, one of my duties had been to write to the birds every day. I’d fold the notes and push them into the cracked brick outside my bedroom window. I was sure the birds were taking them, thus confirming my queenly status. It didn’t occur to the six year-old me that they’d fall out of the brick, be blown around the garden and subsequently be scavenged by a nosy mother.
I couldn’t remember what I’d been telling the birds. But my mother did: “Oh you were only six so they were mostly along the lines of, ‘Dear birds, hope you are well. I had chocolate custard today, your Queen.’”
I’ve no idea where the Queen of the Birds notion came from, or went to. I now have no interest in wildlife and as for being a diamond shoed superhero?
I don’t even have beautiful long blonde hair. It’s short, peroxide streaked and more like a bird’s nest than something belonging to a bird queen.
I live a contented but fairly unspectacular life.
The childhood me would be disappointed. Childhood me would be tutting and writing to the birds, “Dear birds, yet again she’s had a boring week. No chocolate custard, hope you are well, your queen.”
Part of grown-up me would like to be more spectacular but then again, spectacular lives seem tiring, dangerous and involve missing a lot of good television programmes.
Am I a disappointment to myself? Not really. For one thing, I no longer have all that pressing responsibility to the birds. Who never, it has to be said, showed any gratitude by flying down and carrying me away from school as I’d ordered them to in many, many notes.
In fact, all they ever did for me was let my notes fall into my mother’s hands. The bird notes made her worry I was lonely and she forced me into the Brownies. Which I hated. So thanks birds, don’t come tweeting to me when you need help, you’re on your own: I have more important things that I’m not doing to worry about.
“Annie always said, if you want to be a writer, then write, write all the time.”
Standard Issue’s editor Mickey Noonan writes:
It’s such a horrible loss. Annie was an absolutely kick-ass broad and hugely liked by all of us.
I speak for all of the SIM team when I say how much I admired her attitude. Annie struck me as a woman who grabbed life by the balls and made it dance to her tune – you’ve got to love that.
Through Google Analytics we can see where people are reading SIM around the world. I remember me and dep ed Hannah Dunleavy seeing a lone little beacon blinking in Africa and knowing that was Annie. It made us insanely happy.
Annie reflected everything Standard Issue stands for – and I mean that as a huge compliment to us.
Annie, you’ll be massively missed here. This piece on the importance of friends is one of my favourites, and I know you, quite rightly, always had a load of really good ones, ready to throw things in your defence.
More Annie articles here.
The Royal Literary Fund caught her spirit:
Annie Caulfield 1959-2016
Playwright, Non-fiction writer, Radio/TV/screenwriter
Travel writer, dramatist and broadcaster, Annie Caulfield liked to tell stories, whatever the form. She published regularly in newspapers and magazines. Her travel books explore Australia, Benin and Jordan. Her most recent Irish Blood, English Heart, Ulster Fry tells of journeys through her homeland, Northern Ireland. She was researching a new book on Cambodia.
Annie made documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and appeared on From Our Own Correspondent and Crossing Continents. She was also a frequent guest on light-hearted discussion shows such as Radio 4’s Off the Page. Although beginning her career as a joke writer for Lenny Henry, Annie wrote quite sombre radio plays for the comedian, including the BBC Radio 3 biography of Paul Robeson, Still the Same Paul.
Her radio drama After You’ve Gone, about the African-American singing duo Layton and Johnstone, received a race-in-the-media award. Annie was awarded a Peggy Ramsay bursary for her stage work. Her play for Clean Break Theatre Company, Didn’t Die, about women in secure units, won a Time Out magazine award.
Annie’s children’s book, Katie Milk Solves Crimes, was shortlisted for the Glen Dimplex award and longlisted for Ottakars’ book awards. Annie created the Grim Tales children’s series for Channel 4, scriptedited The Real McCoy comedy series and wrote episodes of the cult show This Life. Her Radio 4 drama Dusty Won’t Play, about Dusty Springfield’s 1964 stand against apartheid, was a Tinniswood prize finalist and a film version was commissioned. Annie lived in London and Granada.
Please consider donating to the Macmillan tribute fund set up by Jo in Annie’s name. https://macmillan.tributefunds.com/annie-caulfield8574 Views
Standup comedian. Comedy writer. Crime fighter. Happy drunk.