A Sad Goodbye to a Very Fine Poet

 I was very sad this week to learn of the death of Sheila Templeton. Ours had been one of those friendships where you stay in touch online and meet up only very occasionally - but it was nice to know that she was there.  I've lost a couple of other friends and colleagues this year, and sometimes have to stop and remind myself that they're no longer in this world - but it's still hard to believe. Sheila was such a fine poet, such a wonderful talent. It was always a privilege to hear her read her own brilliant work. And she was an inspirational older woman who simply could not be ignored! 

But since whenever I think about her she's smiling, I have a couple of stories about her that I want to tell here. 

The first was when we found ourselves at the same gig, in a quirky Glasgow tea house (alas no longer with us either) organised by a mutual friend, both reading our work, along with various other writers, most of them Very Young Men. We were allocated ten minutes each, and Sheila and I stuck scrupulously to that, although to be honest, I could have listened to Sheila for hours. All the young men, without exception, mounted the stage with sheaves of paper, and proceeded to read for at least twenty minutes, sometimes even longer. Some way through the evening, Sheila leaned over and whispered in my ear, 'Do you think any of them can count?'

The other tale is even more characteristic of Sheila. Some years ago, we were asked to judge a competition for a writing organisation - she was judging the poetry and I was judging the short stories. There were many entries and it was a big task, but one that Sheila undertook with her usual enthusiasm. We decided that, although we had the final say about our respective tasks, we should each look at the other's entries, and compare notes, just to make sure that we weren't overlooking anything. We spent a long afternoon in a quiet corner of a cafe, going through the entries together, giving each its due. There was some excellent work, but what was both fascinating and reassuring was that - independently - we had reached the same conclusions about the various winners and 'highly commendeds'. 

Cue forward some weeks to the award ceremony. The organisation had kindly given us accommodation in a lovely little inn, not too far away from the venue. Arriving after the event, we had a drink in the bar but soon retired to our respective adjoining rooms. This was a small inn, with a single row of  bedrooms above the main bar and restaurant, with a door to the carpark at the bottom of the stairs.

At about 2am, on a chilly night, somewhere outside Edinburgh, the fire alarm went off.


I threw on shoes and a warm coat, grabbed my handbag, and met Sheila heading for the stairs. We were soon joined by a middle aged man in a dressing gown. We three were the only occupants. The bar and restaurant area were deserted, and the door into the body of the hotel was firmly locked. We stood outside for a while, shivering. The wind whistled around the car park. That was deserted too. There was no smell of smoke, which was probably just as well. 

'Where are we?' yelled the man, above the deafening racket. He explained that he had been attending a business meeting and had been dropped off at the hotel quite late in the evening. Nobody had told him where he was. 

My phone had no signal. Sheila's phone had no signal. Nobody came. The man, wandering about the car park with his dressing gown blowing in the wind, did finally manage to pick up a signal, and dialled 999. All the while, the fire alarm rang on. 

Sheila and I agreed that we were very glad we were together. 

Some minutes later Lothian's Finest appeared. They couldn't get into the body of the hotel either but suggested that we at least take shelter in the little lobby at the foot of the stairs, since it seemed that nothing was actually burning and we were freezing. A little while after that, somebody from the hotel turned up with the key. The brigade checked everything out. There was no fire. Something had tripped off in the kitchen.

Just before we were allowed to go back to our rooms and our sadly disturbed sleep, Sheila nudged me. There we were, two middle aged/elderly females in our nighties and coats. She nodded at the fire chief. 'Would you look at him!' she said. 'I wouldn't mind being rescued by him, Catherine. Would you?'

She was, of course, right. He was as tall and handsome as a firefighter in a movie. At breakfast, we agreed that it had definitely been worth the sleepless night. 

I could say rest in peace, dear Sheila - but after you've had that wee rest, do keep an eye on us. And send us some of your inspiration and your brilliant creativity and your remarkable positivity.

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