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firstperson: Pamela Nash, 17; I feel like telling teen pals to be grateful when their mums make one is waiting for me.

Byline: Anna Smith

WHEN I hear my teenage pals moaning about their mums making demands on them, I feel like turning around and telling them to be thankful.

There is nobody waiting up for me if I get home late.

I live alone in the house where I grew up as an only child with my mum giving me everything she could.

But in January, my secure world came crashing down.

As fierce storms lashed Scotland, my mum and her fiance John Spiers were killed when a tree fell on them outside the Perthshire hotel where they had just spent a romantic weekend.

Mum was just 44 and John was 42. John was killed instantly, and mum died the following morning, with me by her beside in the hospital.

I was just 17 and studying for the A levels that would be my passport to Cambridge University. There was no option but to face the toughest challenge of my life - just get on with it and make myself someone my mum would be proud of.

I've just returned from a project helping to build a school in Africa.

You certainly get a different perspective on your own problems when you see how other people are living.

Every morning when I wake up, what happened to my mum on that fateful January day is the first thought I have. It is a terrible feeling, but the only thing I can do is get on with my life.

While most girls my age might be out clubbing or planning their holidays, I've had to learn fast how to run a house.

At our four-bedroom home in Chapelhall, Lanarkshire, I cook, clean and try my best to keep the house the way it was when mum was here. Only my bedroom is a typical teenager's bombsite.

It's as though my mum went away for the weekend and never came back. The house feels empty and half the time I keep thinking she will walk through the door and it was all just a nightmare. But I know it is not.

A COUPLE of weeks ago I had a dream that there was a plane crash in the village and I was trying to get my mum out of the fire, but I couldn't wake her up.

When I woke up, I was glad it had been a dream - then the reality hit me that she is really gone and what happened to her. It was a very bad day.

But I can't allow myself to completely break down because there is so much that I want to do.

I just take one day at a time and try not to think of the future because I don't know how I will feel about everything that has happened in a few months time.

When I was at school, I had to organise meals in advance for coming home at night and sometimes I would cook things to keep in the freezer. I get a lot of support from aunts, uncles and my grandparents. Sometimes I go to my gran's for dinner and she's great with me. My dad lives a few miles away and I see quite a lot of him as well. Everyone has been brilliant helping me out, but at the end of the day I have to close the door in my own house and just get on with things.

I gained straight As in my five highers while in fifth year in St Margaret's Secondary, Airdrie, and just weeks before the tragedy was given a conditional acceptance for King's College, Cambridge to study anthropology - if I achieved the right results in my advanced Higher exams, the equivalent of A Levels.

I was also accepted for St Andrews University but after spending a time at the open day there, I felt the place was elitist and chose Cambridge because I was made to feel welcome.

At the same time, I was busy fund-raising after winning a place on the Lasallian Developing World project as one of only three Scots in the party of 12 from all over the UK to work in Africa.

The charity project run by the De La Salle Brothers builds schools for under-privileged children throughout the world. Back then, I felt lucky that my life was going so well and was delighted that mum had found love with John, a council worker, after 14 years on her own since she split with Dad.

The weekend break in the Hilton Hotel in Dunkeld was a Christmas present mum had bought for John.

As they made their way by car up the hotel driveway during raging storms, a fallen tree blocked their way. They got out to walk the rest of the way when another tree collapsed, pinning them to the ground.

I remember the police arriving at my door with the awful news.

ALL they could tell me was that John had been killed and my mum was in hospital. I was on my own in the house and it was as if I just went into automatic pilot.

I phoned family and one of my friends to come round. I remember being shocked, but it was as if it didn't sink in. I honestly don't know even if it has sunk in yet, or whether it ever will.

I went to the hospital with my aunts, and my mum was unconsious. She never regained consciousness and died. I remember coming back from the hospital and going straight into school. It was as if I had to get some kind of normality, some structure into my life, and going to school seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.

The teachers and all my friends were great and helped me a lot.

John and my Mum couldn't be buried together, so we had the funerals held simultaneously. John's was in Renfrewshire and Mum's in Chapelhall.

I managed to read from some love poems they had sent to each other. It was hard to do, but I wanted to do it for my Mum because I knew that is what she would have wanted.

I thought that once I was back at school I would be able to get wrapped up in studying for my exams, but I found it really difficult.

The house was empty all the time, yet I couldn't concentrate. Every time I sat down to work, my mind just filled up with thoughts of what had happened.

I got through my exams, but I felt as though I didn't do nearly as well as I had hoped.

We contacted Cambridge University and told them of the circumstances, and they were very understanding. They said they would take it into account if my exam results were not good enough. They have now told me that under the circumstances I will be accepted next year if I re- sit the English exam, which I certainly plan to do.

I could get into Glasgow University or St Andrews with what I have at the moment, but the idea of studying at Cambridge really appeals to me. I have my heart set on it.

Going out to the Lasallian Project was the most remarkable experience and it left quite an impression on me. It was really good living with so many different people and having someone to talk to all the time.

You don't feel alone when you see for yourself there are other people with bad things happening to them all the time.

THE street children were an example. I saw young children who have nothing. They are living rough and are high on glue all the time. You would see a child with a bottle of glue up his or her sleeve all the time, and that is how they live.

The secondary school I was staying at Nyeri, near Nairobi, has a street children programme. They stay there permanently and the school pays for half of their education.

While there, I was involved in helping build an extension on to the staff housing and assisting with repairs at a nearby primary school.

It was a great experience and a privilege to be able to help people with such obvious needs.

We also visited the shanty homes of some of the local people who were working with us on the project.

On occasions, we would go home with them for dinner and it was only then that you realised that what they were living in were basically sheds.

It was quite sobering to discover that there are a lot of people in the world who are worse off than me, and I hope that working on the project will help me to become less selfish in my outlook.

The trip was also a chance to meet, live with and understand people from a totally different culture than my own .

By the time it was finished, we had become great friends and I miss them already.

There were a lot of opportunities for discussion and reflection, and I was able to talk to people on a one- to-one basis about my own experience.

Before I went to Africa, I thought I would consider getting some professional counselling to help me deal with the trauma of the past year.

I have never really felt the need for it so far - and the Africa trip was a very worthwhile distraction - but I think that perhaps it would be a good idea to talk it all through with an experienced professional.

For the moment, I just am trying to work out how I can re-sit my exam that will get me into Cambridge, as well as my plans to return to the Lasallian Project next summer.

It was a fantastic experience and it was great to think of other people and do something to help make their lives that little bit different.

l As told to Anna Smith
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Title Annotation:Vital
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 28, 2002
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