My first job after I left the navy was fixing aircraft radios at Heathrow with occasional trips over to France to repair satellite systems on ships. I hated the job and quit after just 3 months. My next big idea was to learn software engineering and I signed up for an adult education class in Whitechapel, London.
The class next door was a Women into Technology class and our two classes hung out together at The Lord Rodney on the Mile End Road. I got on well with a Maltese girl named Rita and we decided to get a flat together in Stepney. By the time we moved in, we decided that we only needed one bedroom.
Fast-forward a year and we both got jobs in the City of London but Rita was a restless soul and she moved on and I found a new flatmate.
A few months later, Rita knocked on my front door.
I’m not feeling so good. I’m getting headaches and I keep forgetting things. Do you mind if I stay with you for a few days?
The next day, Rita went to the doctor to get checked out and the doctor sent her to the Royal London Hospital where she had a scan. Rita had a brain tumour — a glioma. Rita’s best friend from school, Rosa, came to visit and Rosa called Rita’s parents, Edward and Maryanne, to tell them the bad news. A few days later they arrived from Malta and they stayed with me in my tiny flat too.
Rita was unable to form new memories which made for some heartbreaking moments.
Can you explain to me why I am in hospital? Why are my parents here from Malta? It must be serious, right?
I explained, over and over, that she had a tumour pressing on the part of her brain where memories get made and they couldn’t remove the tumour because the operation was too dangerous. Each time I explained her situation, her heart broke a little more but she was determined that she would recover and began radiation treatment soon after. They told her that her hair would fall out and Rita asked “Would you do my legs next?”
Over the next few weeks, it seemed like all of Rita’s relatives from New York came to visit. I’d never known anyone with so many aunts and uncles. We all kept vigil around Rita’s bed in the hospital with occasional sanity breaks at The Lord Rodney. I introduced Edward to proper English beer and we even watched a few live bands together. The Burns Brothers were a favourite. The Lord Rodney was a rowdy pub and everyone danced on the tables while the sax player marched along the bar, kicking glasses out of the way while playing One Step Beyond.
Rosa, too, spent many long hours and days with us at the hospital. One day, Rita’s sister Georgina came to visit from Malta and Rosa and I went to pick her up from the airport. I gave up my bed for Georgina and her boyfriend, and I slept on my flatmate’s floor for a week.
Georgina idolized her big sister. She got to see Rita while she was still relatively well but after Georgina left, Rita started to decline quite quickly and soon drifted off to sleep and didn’t wake up again. After some terrifying days in intensive care, Rita was transferred to hospice and died a few weeks later.
The bureaucracy after someone dies is oppressive and is multiplied by ten when the funeral is in another country. But we all made it to Malta eventually. Rita’s funeral was unbearably beautiful and the church in Marsa was overflowing.
A few of Rita’s friends from London came with us to Malta and Georgina was our guide, taking us on a tour of Valletta and to the beach at Sliema. One time we were waiting on the bus from Floriana.
Georgina: Does anyone want a newspaper?
Us: No, thanks.
Georgina: Really? Nobody wants one?
Us: No, we are good thanks.
Georgina: Well, I do!
We got off the bus to buy The Times for Georgina to read on the beach.
This became a theme in our lives where Maltese people don’t like to ask for what they want and make you guess from obscure hints that you have no chance of interpreting correctly. It never ended as well as that first time.
Since we were honoured guests, Maryanne wanted to cook us a special dinner and sent Edward to bang on neighbours’ doors and ask if they had any rabbits. He came back with a paper bag full of rabbits and put them on the floor in the kitchen. When the rabbits escaped, we had a fun time catching them and putting them back in the bag. A few swift whacks on the back of the neck and we soon had a delicious rabbit stew. “I think I am eating Flopsy” said Mike. The rest of us wiggled our noses the way Flopsy might have done if she wasn’t in the stew.
On the days when the sadness became too much, I went out on the tarazzin to play my harmonica. Georgia on my Mind was a favourite and I played the Billie Holiday version.
Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still, in peaceful dreams, I see
The road leads back to you
As I played, Georgina poked her head out of the bathroom window.
You are playing my song.
We kissed later that night.
Georgina was pretty beaten up at losing her sister and we decided a trip to England would do her good. Her mum was not happy.
I already lost one daughter who went to England. I am not losing another.
We were determined though and Georgina came back to stay with me in my flat in Stepney. We went to shows in the West End. We went shopping at Bluewater. We went to stay in a B&B in Alfriston and enjoyed the best blues singer ever to sing at a zoo.
We soon became lovers.
Eventually, Georgina went back to Malta and we spent the next year travelling back and forth on Air Malta: three or four trips to Malta; three or four trips to London and a letter every week in between. After a year or so, we wondered where all this was headed and agreed to give it a serious try. Georgina came to London for six weeks to see if we could make it work.
Within a couple of weeks, we hated each other.
One time, we were on our way to meet my workmates at The Three Johns in Islington. Georgina didn’t want to go so I showed her where to get off the tube for Stepney and continued on my own. When I got home my flatmate, Jacko, was mad at me for abandoning her and called me a dick. Georgina threatened to set fire to our Alfriston photos with a lighter in her hand and flames in her eyes.
We agreed that Georgina should go back to Malta on the next flight and we’d never see each other ever again. No writing. No phone calls. Nothing. We would just get on with our lives.
I went back to music and fun times at The Lord Rodney. Life was different but it was OK.
A few months later — a couple of days after Christmas — I went to The Lord Rodney with Tony, Griz & Luke from the Navy to see The Burns Brothers. It was a busy night and everyone danced on the tables, holding on to the low ceiling for support. On the table opposite was a girl in a black dress making eyes at me as we clapped along to Jackie Wilson Said. Tony leaned over and whispered “I think you are going to get lucky tonight”.
I can’t do it. I still love Georgina.
The morning after, I went to the travel agent.
“I want to get married in paradise. Somewhere beautiful.”
“How about Jamaica?”
“Sounds good. Reserve it for me and I’ll confirm in a couple of days.”
The next day was New Year’s Eve and I called Georgina in the evening. She was all sad and all alone as the rest of the family was out on the town. It was the first time we had talked since September.
“We are getting married on the beach in Jamaica. Are you in?”
“Brilliant! We are getting married in March.”
I quit my job and gave up my lease and we met at my mother’s house in Kent just before we were due to fly out to Jamaica. Georgina’s mum called to wish us the best and, a couple of minutes into the call, Georgina said:
“My mum is crying because she can’t come to our wedding. Can she come?”.
Then my mum started crying too.
“How come she gets to come but I don’t?” (sob)
“You can come too, mum.”
We flew to Jamaica the next day, narrowly dodging the hurricane, and our parents joined us a few days later. We stayed at Sandals in Montego Bay and the first order of business was to arrange our wedding. Julia was going to organise it for us.
Flowers? Tropical or Pastel?
Music? Calypso? Reggae? Ska?
Are you sure? Calypso is all boom, shacka shacka! Bing! Bing! Whoo!
Does the nineteenth of March work for you?
Sure. That’s my birthday!
The big day came and Georgina was NERVOUS. Georgina doesn’t drink but our barman thought a Monkey Fiddle, a tropical cocktail with lashings of rum, might calm her down. A few sips and Georgina had to be carried to bed. She recovered just in time for “‘ere come de bride” and her father walked her down the aisle.
Georgina and her mum had made a wedding dress. Most brides get married in white bikinis with matching veils at Sandals and wedding dresses were rare. Most couples didn’t have their parents there either. We impressed the Reverend Whatsisname and he gave us a special service. Most couples get a quick “I do” and “Kiss the bride”; we got the full Book of Common Prayer.
With this ring I thee wed; with my body I thee honour; and all my worldly goods with thee I share.
For as much as Kevin and Georgina have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving a Ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they are Man and Wife.
The band was special too. Three Jamaican dudes with a combined age of 270. One sat on an orange box. Another played a homemade bass with two strings.
Last night I went to de doctor.
To find out what de matter.
De doc he said, “Son!
I think you need a wife.”
Newly married couples at Sandals get whisked off to a special wedding dinner at one of their fancy restaurants.
Welcome, Mr & Mrs Lawrence!
Congratulations, Mr & Mrs Lawrence!
What would Mr & Mrs Lawrence want for dinner?
Can I get Mr & Mrs Lawrence some champagne?
Our wedding in paradise was joyous and we promised to come back for our 25th anniversary.
Dedicated to Dylan and Jazz.