Guest post courtesy of Katie Archibald.
Me and Hannah Dines wore the same helmet at the biggest races of our respective lives, in Rio. I know because Hannah tweeted me a picture of the helmet, with my name still on the box and hers newly printed in gold lettering on the hat itself. At the time we both had purple hair, which made me childishly happy, as though it was something the helmet was drawn to. The wand picks the wizard, after all.
After that race, and my allotted time in the helmet, I moved back to Glasgow. That’s when we met: my new gym coach, Paul, also worked with Hannah. An aside with no relevance to our story: Paul is wonderful. Details that are relevant to our story: he told me Hannah was ah… how would you say? Someone not like everyone else, ehm, eccentric I guess? Yeah, she’s an eccentric woman. But Paul being something of an oddity himself, I didn’t pay much heed. Typing that now it feels obvious I should have used the same logic to reason the opposite. But hey.
One day, Hannah stopped me in the foyer and told me she’d read something I’d written in the newspaper and she loved it and we should get coffee and hang out and talk about writing. Her whole manner, so forward and so unselfconscious, confused me. Rarely had I encountered someone as uninhibited, I assumed she was asking me on a date. I tell you this to paint something of Hannah’s character, but I can’t deny it says something of mine that I said yes.
And just like that we were friends. It was so simple.
Hannah is one of my people and I one of hers. On the outside, we consume the same culture, laugh at the same jokes, argue the same politics. But inside we’re very different. Hannah is a good friend and an optimist, with her heart on her sleeve. I’m a bad friend, a pessimist, and the more I feel the less capable I am of expressing it. And yet a craving for good books, for good writing, and for good arguments, overrides our differences.
Hannah has a lot of space for love in her heart. I have twice introduced her to people who are now much closer to her than to me. She makes friends of people that to me would stay strangers: staff in coffee shops, other cyclists, that woman she met on the beach in Brisbane and ended up going on a road trip with.
She has a lot of space for love in her heart and we fight about it all the time. About how unruly and non-discriminant her ability to see good is. She sees it everywhere. After dinner one evening I let out a howl, a despairing moan, hearing her tell someone they were the coolest person she’d ever met. It was the third person that evening Hannah had given this crown to. Your barometer is broken! Your scale is whack! You are not so lucky as to be surrounded by all of the coolest people alive! Hannah, the measuring instruments in that jangly brain of yours are broken... She laughed. I rolled my eyes.
Hannah was one of the first people I knew to be scared by the coronavirus pandemic. I’d just returned from Berlin when UK news stations started filling with confirmed cases, and I’ll admit with shame that I reflected more on how lucky it was that I’d gotten home than on the looming wave of disease shadowing the country. She was sick with fear, smart enough to understand what was happening all over the world and was about to happen here. She told me she was afraid of people dying, and afraid of the people she loved dying. It’s, of course, a blessing; her capacity to care and to connect with so many people. But in current climes it carries a curse.
She’s afraid but she’s still Hannah, managing to see how amazing and cool people are wherever she (now in the virtual world) goes. Unfortunately I’m still Katie, dismissing her capacity for wonderment and shirking off her compliments as fast they come. Because, you see, I’m one of the countless people Hannah sees good in. She hounds me to write more, says she misses my tiny cycling column and, worse, my ridiculous blog. If we all had cheerleaders like Hannah for our work, there'd sure be a lot of crappy writing online, but I suspect we'd all be happier.
It’s her birthday today. On today of all days it would make sense to finally tell the person that somehow sees good in me all the good I see in her. All of the energy and hilarity, all the oddities, all the vibrancy and the joy. But it’s old dogs and new tricks.
Instead, let me simply attach a footnote to this post. A short birthday letter to my friend, Hannah.
Happy Birthday. To celebrate, I thought I’d draw your attention to a few words I’m finding particularly pleasurable to run in my mouth at current, in the hope that you might find similar satisfaction. Please see below and read aloud at will.