Photograph of Jane Forshaw

Jane Forshaw (20 Nov 1972 – 25 Apr 1994)

It was the first week of our final term when Jane fell backwards down those stairs.

Her death changed my life. Stopped me in my tracks. Then it led, over the years, to the life-affirming work I’m doing today. In her father Roy’s words: “Everyone gets something from tragedies as well as jubilations.”

 There were six classicists in our year at Newnham…

We were six young women who appeared to think translating Homer from the original Greek on the steps of King’s College in the heart of Cambridge could be a good thing. I hasten to point out a) this was not for fun and b) I was pretty appalling at it. Partly because I’d only done Latin A level but mainly because my brain just wasn’t big enough.

We also studied filthy Roman texts, analysed emperors’ spin and propaganda, wrestled with Greek philosophers, and argued about the Elgin Marbles. Seriously. It was brilliant: totally surreal, but brilliant. Classics was the perfect training in how language, art, and societies work, as well as how ancient worlds shaped and continue to influence our own.

The absence of blokes is because Newnham was one of the University’s all female colleges (not that that stopped men looking sheepish in borrowed dressing gowns during fire alarms). This was a problem for Jane at the start (the all female bit, not the fire alarms) as Newnham wasn’t her first choice of college, just as it wasn’t mine, but both of us grew to love it.

‘How common and cataclysmic was famine in antiquity?’

As wonderful as our subject was, Cambridge’s lack of reality and occasional pretension could still get to you. Whenever an essay title such as “Do the amoebean Eclogues have any claim to be considered as A-R-T?” became overwhelming my reaction was to buy an Asterix cartoon book, whereas Jane’s was to make mobiles out of wire and razor blades. Does that tell you all you need to know?

I still remember laughing in despairing horror when asked to write about famine in antiquity. All I knew for certain was the world wasn’t quite perfect yet, people were starving in Africa and I wanted to do all I could to change it. That was when I decided to get five or so years of ‘transferable training’ with a multi-national company before putting my skills to work for a charity.

That was the idea, until I realised what really matters in life.

The final term

Jane was unconscious in hospital for a week before she died.

The term was idyllically hot as we desperately focussed on our Finals and clung to each other and to our sanity. It was only when the post-exam celebrations began that my mental world started to fall apart. Our close knit group had strong friends and an even stronger Director of Studies in Mary Beard. Chances are you’ll have seen or heard Mary letting off well-directed steam about modern life with an ancient twist in her blog A Don’s Life, A Point of View on Radio 4, or asking us to Meet the Romans on television. There isn’t space to say all she did for us here but she really couldn’t have done it better.

Thanks to the support I was narrowly able to avoid a breakdown and decided I wasn’t going to spend five years of my life preparing for anything. I was going to get on with doing whatever I could now.

Cherry tree in the gardens of Newnham College, Cambridge University. Dedicated to the loving memory of Jane Forshaw (20 Nov 1972 – 25 Apr 1994)

Jane’s cherry tree in Newnham’s wild garden

“You can change things in six hours or six seconds”

Jane may well have rolled her eyes scathingly about many things but she shared much of my anger at the world back then and had joined in my work in the homeless nightshelter. I know she would love how we work with women in Styal and our plans to work in other prisons, with men, and in the community.

When I chatted to Roy about our coaching last week he said: “This idea of six hours… If we had another six hours with Jane it would make a difference. You can change things in six hours or six seconds.” We can also take some of our energy from those we love who have died. They are always with us. And that’s what keeps me going.

Today would have been Jane’s 40th birthday.

So, this is for Agnes, Roy, Anne, Fergus, Hannah-Jane and Harriet. It’s the least I could do. Your fabulous daughter, sister, sister-in-law and aunt is a constant source of inspiration for me. I’m so very glad to have had the pleasure of arguing, laughing and mangling Homer with her.

Just six seconds

So, what could you do if you took just six seconds out of your day to change your world or someone else’s?

If I were you I’d start with smiling and move forwards from there. But I’m not you. You’ll have much better ideas.

Let me know how it goes?


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15 Responses to Jane

  1. Those eureka moments stay with us forever – I can relate to this so well. Thank you for sharing one of yours. Sometimes, when what we try to do is more difficult than we could have imagined, holding tight to that moment and sinking into it can restore and refresh. What we do matters. Keep blogging!

  2. Avril says:

    Heartfelt,inspirational personal blog – thank you x

  3. Jules says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Clare…This touched me and reminded me of of the importance and beauty of friendships. A lovely way to remember and honour an old friend. x Inspirational x

  4. Roy Forshaw says:

    On behalf of all the family Clare our warm hearted thanks and keep up the good work at Styal.
    Your blog reminded me of one occasion when Jane was at the shelter she phoned to say there was a young adict there who was coming up to 21 and who had been in care since the age of 4 and he had not had a birthday card for many a year.We were asked to mobilise friends and relations to send the young man a card,needless to say he got them by the sackful.That was our Jane.(Thank you)Love Roy Agnes & family.xx

  5. Peter Mills says:

    You’ve inspired me to do something today. x

  6. Mark Annison says:

    So moving. Thank you.

  7. Fiona MacCallum says:

    Thank you for this beautiful piece, Clare. Was thinking about Jane today but you’ve expressed it so much better than I could. Love Fi.

  8. Shazza says:

    Such a heartfelt reminder of how much good we can do even in a short space of time x well written xx

  9. Legal Lemur says:

    I think this post alone really captures the spirit of the blog. All it took was a short phone call from one clearly passionate person to one family member, who could pass on another short phone call to ask people to spend ‘six seconds’ making one persons life instantly better.

    Thank you Clare for this post, and thank you Roy for sharing this lovely memory.

  10. Stephen says:

    I really liked the personal resonance for me in this line: ‘We can also take some of our energy from those we love who have died.’ When pop died, I had this overwhelming sense of him handing me a baton to keep pushing for what mattered to him (even though it took me a while to work out what that was and longer that I agreed with him). It’s quite poignant reading this today because I was told by my boss, in reference to something that was plain unjust, that I could never change anything for the better in the organisation and I should keep my opinions to myself. It took me roughly six seconds to reply, if we all keep our opinions to ourselves then nothing will change for the better.

  11. Claire says:

    Clare, you texted me yesterday to prompt me to read this. Thank you. You warned me it was ‘sad. Very sad.’ Forgive me, but I’m not sure that’s what I take from it. Yes, losing someone we love before their time is one of the most difficult things in life we have to bear. Unfortunately I know this from personal experience and the grief doesn’t diminish in intensity with each person you lose. But your blog is marvellous because it reflects what Jane gave you and all who loved her in her short time with you. And you are so right, our lives are richer for having had those loved ones in them and, I agree, we do carry some of them with us as we continue on our own journeys. Thanks for the prompt. Keep blogging. And smiling! x

  12. Jonathan Spicer says:

    Jane was a beautiful person, and thinking of her I idly typed her name on the web and came across your piece above.
    Jane & I were at 6th Form together and overlapped at Cambridge.
    She is much remembered and is always missed.

  13. Ellie Simons says:

    Just read this, after bumping into another mutual friend. Thank you, Clare, for this beautiful tribute to Jane. I will never forget that final term at Cambridge. I still often think of Jane, at all times of the year, and this brought it all back, in a good way. Love Ellie.

  14. Catherine McGinn says:

    Jane was in my year at senior school – I didn’t know her well – she was in the A stream where as I was in the middle. i recall she was bright, quiet, very petite & pretty. I heard what happened some years ago. She has often crept into my thoughts. So very sad and tragic Clearly she had a sweet nature and genuinely cared for people.. A lovely article which I am glad I found X

  15. vikki brocklehurst says:

    Too many peoples lives are cut short leaving behind family and friends left to grieve. If they managed to change the life of just one person as I`m sure Jane did then their life has stood above the test of time and the life which is all too short has made a massive difference.We should strive for this now as Jane did because we never know when our time will come to leave this world.. Make a difference TODAY.

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