pete g's pic

Bob Knowles 55/365

bob-photo-300x224

I have Facebook friends waiting to get blogged, but their breath isn’t bated. I hadn’t anticipated the demise of the landline to be this sudden. Catching a friend in their home at the end of a landline is rare.

I saw Bob at a local event. It was on the same day that an article I’d written about the bushfires was published. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/12080588/The-Great-Ocean-Road-bushfire-made-me-so-proud-of-our-local-heroes.html)

He said he’d read it and would really like to see something by me that didn’t have me in it. Well, I could give him my novels for middle grade kids but he needs something more cerebral so I said ‘I’m blogging you next.’ And now I am all too aware of references to myself and speaking in the first person!

We agreed to meet at his house. When I arrived his bass voice called out over the valley and I waited, watching the birds fly round the Otways and the ocean. Then over coffee, unbelieveably good coffee, and surrounded by peaches, we talked.

I wouldn’t be sitting in Bob’s house looking at his strong, handsome face if I wasn’t writing about my Facebook friends. We know each other because we look at each other’s posts and I follow his interviews on local radio with interest. I mention that this blog is really all about what people mean to me, the phone call and the loss of the landline. Yes it hones my writing skills but it begs the question, how well are we all connecting now that it is done through a screen? How exciting is a phone call or a face to face visit now that the human voice is no longer received down the wire on a chunky phone? The phone in his pocket rang three times during our chat. He still gets a lot of calls from his wife and three daughters but he has no landline.

Bob says that on the old phone you would have a tea and a fag and you’d be listening. (Do you remember the smell of the receiver in smoker’s houses?) He says that we are evolving into a different way of connecting, and  as well as keeping us all in touch, it is the perfect distraction. “You think it’s something to do but it’s not productive at all. We are processing the information differently through email, text and Facebook. It means we are getting more information but less understanding.”

And here I am, giving you more digital information on Bob Knowles and my connection. He is a voiceover artist and he recently made an ad for chocolate that is on the TV a lot! At the sailing club his voice hits the water before he does, so deep it is. He has a programme on our community radio station and this week he interviewed the mayor.

http://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-35gcb-5d76c3#.VuO5rQKT5_k.facebook

I was his second interviewee on his first programme (here I go again at 24 mins!)

http://apollobayradio.podbean.com/?s=Annabel

We met when he needed a soprano voice for a song on an ad, so he got on to Facebook and posted on the Community Page ‘I really need to get in contact with Annabel Tellis a.s.a.p’ and I responded saying ‘Shhh Bob, or everyone will know!’ Sadly, it didn’t start a rumour.

photobobknowles.JPG

Bob in his garden. (Above, Bob on the Mic and above that Pete Goodlet’s Otway art, with kind permission from the Cannon family).

 

 

hugh team

Hugh Alistair Burnham 54/365

It’s fitting that Hugh should be the next person for me to call since he is one of two reasons why I have had a blog holiday. The other is his new wife, Karen.

Eighteen months ago, the ultra organised Karen rang to tell me that they were going to get married and would I be her bridesmaid? I was flattered. I am 47 years old I have two daughters with doe eyes and smiles that knock you out, but it was to be me in the lilac dress.

brideys

Hugh facebooked me (arrgghh I’m using facebook as a verb) to tell me that he would call me. I thought that was very generous but he went on to mention that he has a deal where calls to Australia are completely free. Whilst waiting for the phone to ring I thought back to the calls of my childhood. In 1971 we had to ring our grandparents in London via an operator. It felt like we were calling Russia.

The phone rang, it really is a lovely sound when you are expecting the call and know that no one is going to try to sell you anything. Hugh’s deep Australian voice reverberated down the line. He tells me he has plenty of time to call me because he has just had knee reconstructive surgery so sitting in a chair calling friends for free in Oz and watching sport are his main two pastimes.

Last time we spoke was face to face in Leicestershire two months ago when he had given me a massive hug the day after his wedding, and I was setting off back to his land, leaving him in mine.

It’s a long story but I’ll be quick. Four years ago, Hugh lived in a hot New South Welsh town called Hay and his neighbour invited her friend Karen, who is also my friend, out to stay with her. A whirlwind romance ensued between Karen and Hugh and then came the engagement and then the lavish wedding.

H and Bridey

Take one English woman who has been raising her children constantly and relentlessly for sixteen years, send her back to her homeland twelve thousand miles away, drop her into wedding party, throw in a hen’s day in Paris and see what happens. I actually didn’t know that my capacity for laughter, tears and flirting with French firemen was really that great.

Cedric, Christopher and Romain. French firemen moonlighting as tour guides!

Cedric, Christopher and Romain. French firemen moonlighting as tour guides!

I thank Hugh for the brilliant time that I had because he got married. He tells me that the celebrations all calmed down and got a lot more civilised after I left. But the one thing on his mind now, the new celebration, is that Australia knocked England (the host nation) out of the Rugby World Cup. He played rugby to a high level, he still plays rugby. I played women’s rugby at Loughborough University. Rugby and I loved and hated each other. I’m glad I did it because it made me really brave. He said he wasn’t brave but was beligerent during THE match. As the only Australian in the rugby club rooms in Peterborough he made sure he more than made up for a lack of Aussie chanting. But no one was ever going to pick on him, he is six feet of prime Australian country boy strength, patriotic and proud of it. Here he is, number 22.

hugh

He tells me that he does use the phone more than most. I used it a lot at their house to hear my children’s voices on the opposite side of the planet, the feeling of detatchment from them almost made me dizzy as I sat on the stairs playing with the curly wire of the plugged in landline.

I ask him who on earth he possibly calls these days as hardly anyone answers a home phone anymore. He reels off a list of friends all picking up the receiver at work in Australia, and his Dad and his Mum. His voice falters a bit with the last callees. It isn’t easy being so far from home.

Hugh and his mum, Helen.

Hugh and his mum, Helen.

Leah Madden 53/365

leah

And so we turn to Leah Madden, mother of four and feet-on-the-ground farmer’s partner. I dial the number and know this is going to be a long call; it’s almost local and late on a Friday night, the perfect time for a real conversation. She has had two more babies since we last spoke. Her eldest is the same age as my youngest and because I was a geriatric mother and she nearer paediatric, there is almost a generation between us! This did not show when we were thrown together in our baby group and it’s not showing tonight either.

I am excited to hear her voice but she is nervous, wondering what I’ll take away from this exchange and post. I tell her that most people tell me stuff I can’t repeat. It has been so long since they have spoken on a landline, they let rip!  She complains that with Facebook being our main communication tool, we only ever get to see the good in peoples lives, or the very bad; we both miss the everyday chat.

My children are playing football in the downstairs corridor, the dog starts barking. She laughs that nothing has changed and she is glad to hear that the madness just continues unabated.

The last time we saw each other was at our mutual friend’s funeral. He was the local clairvoyant and a flamboyant character. He died of natural causes early in the morning when he was in an online chatroom. I always wondered if anyone ever replied to the person he was chatting with to explain why Geoffrey had suddenly gone cold. If he’d been talking on the phone, he’d have dropped the receiver. But he just lay back. His funeral was unusual in that the undertaker apologised for the lack of a sound system and felt that Geoffrey was to blame. She said that as soon as his body was brought in, there was lots of activity in the funeral parlour with articles moving round and random items dropping to the floor. His body went off for an autopsy and the activity stopped, then he returned and the activity began again. She spoke about him as if he was there listening, so sure was she that he was.

I was telling my friend Kellie about it in our kitchen straight after the service and the microwave blew up there and then. How many places can you be in at once when you have died?

Leah said that she thinks of Geoffrey a lot. He had told her that she would be pregnant at the end of the journey. She had wondered what he meant by the journey. But there in the funeral parlour, she was pregnant at the end of his.

Our conversation then flits between shared memories, children, friends and she talks about enjoying life for what it is because you won’t come this way again. I tell her that I have just washed a book in the washing machine with a mixed load and all my clothes are covered in paper pulp. We are both washing for an army at moment. Hers has more soldiers but mine are bigger. We lament about laundering hidden tissues and disposable nappies and the effect it has on our lives. It is fitting that the book I washed was ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’

Sticking with the domestic life, she tells me that when the Blue Gum forest was cut down behind her house, fifty thousand mice moved in and would congregate on the middle of the sitting room as if they owned the place. I love talking about things like this and Leah has a knack for remembering the comic. She reminds me of when we met and I hadn’t been able to find anything to tie my hair up in so had used a pair of my children’s knickers. I’m pleased to say they were clean. Leah always had daring shoes and looked after hair when she just had the two children. I wonder if she’ll resort to the knicker bobble now that she has four.

Two hours later, we say ‘let’s talk again, let’s talk soon’ and put the phones down. It’s not over. She is coming to camp in our garden in the summer with all her babes. The washing machine will just have to cope.

'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' washed to bits. Nevermind.

‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ washed to bits. Nevermind.

David with Vicky Vardo

David Freedom Rose 52/365

I didn’t realise how quickly the home phone would be disappearing as I documented my friends. It has been alarming to find that so many friends would now be off limits to me, down the blower, if I wasn’t doing this blog. I remember a time when the phone was new, quite a luxury and many were too shy or embarrassed to use it. They are no longer a luxury but we’re shy again!

I am not one bit embarrassed to be phoning ‘man in a million’, David Freedom Rose. He isn’t at home so I try the mobile. He is racing through South Australia to get to my call, so I tell him to slow down and I’ll call him on the landline in half an hour.

I feel as if only I could ever have a friend called ‘David Freedom Rose.’ But no, to date, 325 people have and they’re only the ones on Facebook!

Here’s the story. It is short, sweet and from the recent, lightly painted past.

David stepped out of his converted ambulance on the beach and into my life one spring morning two years ago. He stretched and smiled at me and my dog. I thought he was a construction worker with his big high-vis jacket and deckchair. He was an artist, of course, an artist in residence in the world.

The dog and I invited him over for coffee and cake later and he went back to the ambulance afterwards with a bowl of risotto. After that he came round for many afternoons to sit in the armchair and laugh at me, with me. He was like my own personal fully qualified gypsy comedian, his face alight with good advice borne over years of adversity and joy.

Then one day he suddenly left town. He banged on the front door at 7a.m. to tell me he was in love and leaving. I handed him our three week old kitten in a birdcage, with milk and a dropper. We wrestled the wild kitten out together and wrapped it in a towel to calm its hissy fit and David preached to me about the kitten’s rights and how this incarceration in the bird cage was cruel. The kitten quietly nodded her head at everything he said. With David, it’s all about the freedom.

Our whole phone conversation was a grand catch up. David has had many breakthroughs since we last spoke. He isn’t anxious or smoking. Was he? Did he? I didn’t realise at the time, I just thought he was mercurial. We talked at length about family and the bigger picture. We bring out each other’s English accents, he from Doncaster until the age of ten, my midland flat vowel sounds occasionally being heard to twang now. I was pleased to tell him that we ditched the bird cage when he left.

On reflection, this very conversation was one that I have dreaded having. With social media and the illusion that we are in touch, David and I will continue to watch each other live and comment. But unless we organise to go out of our ways and cross paths on purpose, like so many people that I have yet to ring, David and I might never speak again.

Maybe that’s the reason it has taken me so long to write up this post and why I am finding this blog to be a wrench at times, it is so hard to say goodbye.

David

PS. I had forgotten the name of David’s ambulance so called him just this minute, it’s called Vicky Vardo. We have arranged to cross paths at Christmas. Reader, ring your friend, don’t be shy, is it harder to say hello than goodbye?

Ann

Ann Briers 51/365

It is time to phone the darling of the P.E. department, the uncrowned queen of Ibstock ’82, all round sportswoman and general good egg, the sunny Ann Newbold, as was!

Ann has lived in Ibstock all her life so phoning the 01530 code brings on my smile without her even answering. She answers in her 1982 voice, because that’s her voice! It hasn’t changed a note and sends me in a spin. She thinks my voice hasn’t changed at all, but it has, I have the tapes to prove it.

We connected on Facebook relatively recently after she had bumped into a number of our old school friends and they kept telling her that I’d called them. That made her jealous, that made her join facebook and now she is a prolific user.

I’m pleased that I influenced her, even from Australia, because we had a healthy rivalry at school, mainly over the hockey bib CF, centre forward. She wanted it, I wanted it, she had the blue eyes and the soft voice, she had the edge on the game, she got it. I had to settle being RH, right half, Ann’s right hand woman.

She reminds me of the time that she ‘bullied off’ from the centre circle, won the fight, and ran straight for goal, scoring as we mortals in our lesser positions just watched on. It’s all coming back to me now. I wondered if they took the ‘bully off’ out of the game and replaced it with a back pass because of daring centre forwards like her. She reminds me that she got a slight telling off for it, which was probably just a shake of the head from our beloved teacher. I hope Mrs Grew is reading this!

For eighty minutes we catch up on our old teachers, two of whom are still walking along the same stretch of corridor that they were in 1982. We marvel at their achievement and carry on a theme that has run through all my conversations with old school friends; how different our lives might have been, had we stayed at Ibstock High School. Unfortunately, the schools in Leicester have a system that differs from much of the rest of the country. You go to primary, middle and upper school and the middle school is somewhere you have to be dragged away from kicking and screaming because it is almost the perfect environment to succeed in. You get to the upper school with high hopes and low morale and everything can feel a bit cold by comparison.

Middle school was like one big family or one small country, with a deputy head as inspirational as Winston Churchill at the helm. He told us that we could do anything with our lives and we believed it. His assemblies were a battle cry for us to go out into the world and show them what we are made of. His name was Mr Cross.

Here he is! Mr Cross.

Here he is! Mr Cross.

And now, because of Facebook, we go straight back to our postions on the field and in the big family when we communicate with each other.  Ann’s two sisters both married boys they met at that school, each are very memorable to me and when I described how I remember them to Ann, she said I could be describing them now. We stalk their facebook photos together, 12,000 miles apart.

I ask Ann if she got my card as if I’d posted it two days ago and she had. I wrote and sent it in 1990 when she lost her Dad through anaphylaxis. That was the last time we were in touch. We hardly need to talk about what life is like to be without your dad because it’s all so still real to us. And she takes the conversation up to the next gear by telling me that the little blond lad who sat at the back of the class smiling, died of a stroke last week.

And so my museum of the phone call goes on. At the end Ann talks about my writing and I tell her that I am either going to be an abject failure or a resounding success but nothing in between! Oh, but I do have some very successful little friendships bubbling away from the start of my life. I could pick up the phone and ring any one of those cheerful people still running round my mind with their hockey sticks, right this minute.

Ann took this photo. I am on the right, hugging our P.E. teacher Mr Brommel.  See what I mean about family!

Ann took this photo. I am on the right, hugging our P.E. teacher Mr Brommel.

merri caravan

Merri Hagan 50/365

Merri arrived in town relatively recently. And its a good job she did because we needed someone to sprinkle a bit of magic dust over us all.

She’s the one person I know who really looks like a Disney princess. She doesn’t mean to, she was born like it. So if she is wearing her wetsuit, or her pajamas, her track suit or her ugg boots, she still looks like she has been drawn and little stars are twinking round her  face.

merri paddle

I went round to her house for a coffee and a blog chat. Sometimes, when I’m ringing people whom I haven’t spoken to in a long time (and soon I will speak to people I haven’t spoken to ever before) I feel like I’m all at sea in a massive boat of words, clinging as it rolls to the capital ‘I’. Forgetting the phone altogether and gathering with one geographically close person round coffee, talking all things bloggy, is a welcome harbour in a rough sea of  emotions. Sorry if I am breaking the blog laws, blog god Adrian (1/365)

The main probem with nipping round to Merri’s was that we chatted away about friends and family and children and life and when we were coming to the end of our second cups, I realised that I didn’t have anything to write about and we couldn’t exactly begin all over again. She said ‘Oh just make it up’ and I wrote these notes…

‘Apollo Bay’s answer to Grace Kelly, taps into quantum physics, main manifester, Nespresso, hopes and dreams, Cirque du Soleil, always destined to marry an American, thoughts create your reality, Cate.’

It was the last word that was undoubtedly the reason why she and I rabitted on about nothing tangible for two hours. It was out of a sense of relief. The night before, we had both had little or no sleep, as had few people in our town because Cate’s (30/365) 18 year old daughter and her friend were missing in Nepal in the eathquake zone. At 3am my husband had woken me to say that an ABC journalist had phoned Cate and the girls were injured but safe. The air that night had been so heavy with prayers.

Looking again at the list I made, let me see-

Grace Kelly/Disney princess, same same.

Quantum physics. Merri and I both have a fascination with the notion that your thoughts have power. She can reel of a long list of great things that she has manifested and I brought to the table the fact that I asked my (departed) Dad for a powerful stereo (he was always so good at chosing that sort of thing) and there it was (for free) on the nature strip of the house opposite, three days later, speakers, 5 cd holder, everything! Yes it is permanently on random, but isn’t everything!

So that has dealt with the ‘main manifester’ note, the Nespresso speaks for itself, hopes and dreams all look like coming to fruition, and that brings us to Cirque du Soleil.

merri masks merri caravan

Merri had a very interesting career working for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vagas. I don’t think I need to add to that because you can just imagine how good that would be!

And as a bonus, she also met her lovely American partner at the office, and he wins the prize for most romantic husband ever. Here they are on top of the big top.

merri tent

She tells me all the little things he does, like the flowers he arranges to be delivered (no he doesn’t arrange them!) to the surprise hotel he booked for a romantic weekend together away from the children. It gets worse, he also buys her chocolates and gifts and takes her to choose boots and restaurants and champagne, he leaves little notes and trails to pretty things for her and she must feel like she is in some sort of movie.

But for a girl from Victoria who is a strong believer in your thoughts creating your reality and who needed to manifest a romantic lead prince to go with her sparkle and who had an American flag in her bedroom because she had hopes and dreams… well, it looks as if they are all coming true!

merri and dan merri flag

Brigitte Fessier 49/365

brigitte

Brigitte and I only connected on Facebook a month ago after 15 years out of touch.

She lives in Toulouse in France and our mothers are good friends. She became my summertime au pair when the phones were ringing to the max in 1970 and I saw her as a bit of a genie! She wanted to grant every wish I had and that led to some very spoilt facial expressions from me.

I was lucky to have her to myself as no one else had plans to pamper me, but her ideas for dressing me each day led to one big rebellion. Definitely not the blue dress, definitely not the pigtails with ribbons. Today she was quick to remind me that I took the scissors to the blue dress and made a wrap-around garment for the doll I hated too.

Hearing her voice and her stories brought back so many great memories and made this song ring in my ears.

In 1980 when she was less of an au pair and more of a talking point, she bought this single and played it on repeat for the entire six weeks of her visit. We watched her through glass doors dancing.

Chatting, we cover a lot of old ground. She says my page about (“the very naughty”) Damian Buckley really rang true for a time when the phone never did stop ringing. She remembers standing in the hall with three phones blaring out and knowing that she would have to pick one up and face a patient. The very thought took me right back to moments when I would have to lower my voice and act like I knew what I was talking about too. On that particular occasion, she thought she had done quite well until the patient asked her which part of India she was from.

Then she reels off our number 70699; we all had a soft spot for it.

I was Godmother to her younger daughter and over the years we have had great reunions for family milestones. Cecilia (Missy) has taken the family skill in dancing to a new level, Kizomba! Here she is in Paris.

We finish our conversation with a lot of love bouncing off the satellites between Australia and France; very appropriate for this ANZAC day blog because everyone is feeling it.

Rene Knaap 48/365

Rene 2

Rene and I have spoken quite a lot on the phone recently, the real phone, you know, the plugged in one. It feels a bit like going back in time because when we were small we seemed to be phoning the local Anglican priest a lot; church was at the centre of the village and the centre of our lives in the 1970’s.

My playground was the graveyard that surrounded the church until swings arrived in about 1976. Having the gravedigger as a close personal childhood friend and swinging my legs in the hole as he sank deeper and deeper into the earth is one of my most precious childhood memories. Later, when he had gone, we would have competitions with friends to see who could jump over the hole- lengthways! It was fine with some of the little old ladies, but Sid Sumner, never. The invention of plastic tarpaulin ended that great game. And I stopped going to church regularly in my twenties.

Rene and I met in real life in a cafe because I had asked him to be a referee for me. I sometimes wish someone would come along and blow a whistle and instruct me to sit on the bench but Rene would never be that kind of referee.

We had chatted for about an hour and a half when I told him how hard it is catching people on the landline now and then I announced that I was going to take his photo and turn this chat into a blog post. I’m not sure if that is breaking the rules or not but with the next page 49/365 being dedicated to my lovely French nanny/friend whom I haven’t spoken to in 15 years, I could do with a quiet number 48.

I then begin taking notes which Rene looks unsure about. I try to make it look less like a dictation by writing just the odd word (illegibly) and the focus of our conversation turns towards the phone. Rene tells me what he thinks about the modern use of the phone, ‘it’s all so immediate. People rarely chat, they are more often than not giving messages’ and I chip in that most people now say ‘don’t phone, text!’ They even leave spoken messages telling you to do just that. It’s putting a strain on our talking time but not our voices.

I tell him, as if he is my counsellor (which I suppose he is), that I now really only have two or three friends left to phone in England, it’s all about Facebook now. He calls it ‘The Long Goodbye. You emigrate and expect to keep in touch via modern means but really it’s just prolonging the inevitable.’ He explains that when his parents emigrated from Holland, it was for good and apart from airmail letters you had to cope with having said goodbye for ever. I do visit my homeland in my dreams and my dad used to spend hours on google earth ‘driving’ round his practice after he had emigrated too. And thanks to modern aviation, I shall visit it in person later this year when I am going to be a bridesmaid for a friend outside London. Yes, that’s right, I have two beautiful daughters but my friend wants me as her bridesmaid!

We discuss weddings and Rene tells me that there has been an 80% drop in the number of weddings held in churches. However, there is a couple in New Zealand who went on google earth and thought that our town was the prettiest they had ever seen so he is marrying them in the church later in the year; they have never been here before!

Two coffees, one tea and one hot chocolate later, we head back into the street. I have to tell you that I went to four church services over Easter, Rene and Brett put on such beautiful and peace-loving services, I became addicted. I never thought I’d find a church like my old one back home, and I haven’t, I’ve found a new one and it’s really good.

Offspring on Swepstone Church wall. Dad's ashes are here.

Offspring on Swepstone Church wall. Dad’s ashes are here.

Brett and Rene.

Brett and Rene.

Raelene Hyatt 47/365

Rae

I have just been on the ABC radio and I had to keep admitting that my phoning friends blog is going to take some time. It’s all so emotional, you see, 365 days is nothing when it comes to digging up your past (with the receiver of a phone as a spade) and spreading it out across the internet for all to see. And the rush…I get excited that I will be ringing someone on, say, Friday, there’s the build up and then there’s the abject joy and hilarity in speaking to them down the line. Then comes the write up and that’s always packed with a suitcase full of emotion and then there’s the photo and the finished page, which I sometimes don’t want to move on from too quickly.

Damian 46/365, has been up there like a memorial statue to my youth for the last three weeks! It had taken me  three weeks in the beginning, just to digest the call.

Friends, we are losing a lot of sensory activity as the landline disappears into the landfill.

Here is the article. http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2015/04/14/4216203.htm

In the title, Larissa Romensky from the ABC has written that I had endeavoured to ring all my friends in a year but you and I both know I have failed at that! I was saying as much to my friend Raelene after I’d put the phone down to Larissa and she had rung the door bell and walked in with a moist chocolate cake- Raelene, not Larissa!

‘I’m trying to contact my friends but it’s hard, very few seem to be able to get to a landline, I’d like to get to page 50 by May.’ Raelene looked at me with her big brown eyes and told me reassuringly that I’d get there.

Then I said ‘You’re my friend aren’t you?’ she looked at me quizzically. ‘I mean you are my friend on Facebook’ and then I remembered all the pictures I’d seen of her daughters dressed up as fairies, dancing in the local forest. ‘You’re next!’ I said, relieved that as I see her twice a week, I won’t have to run the gamut of my emotions with this one and I picked up my pencil.

‘You’re a great friend,’ I said, ‘you bring cake and your daughter draw pictures of me!’ What more could I want in a friendship! I quickly took a snap of her and she turned away because she wasn’t wearing make-up. ‘That’s a good one!’ I say, turning it round, and she agrees to let me use it.

She’s number 47, a prime number for a prime friend, she’s a singer, we are sopranos in the choir together- giggling at the high notes, she lives over the road, she’s Anglo-Indian, her husband is part indiginous Australian, she makes balloon animals and sells popcorn, she face-paints and she bakes cakes. She’s Raelene and look, thank goodness for her,  there is no tear in my eye today.

Paige fairy Paige pic
His first bike, my first camera.

Damian Buckley 46/365

His first bike, my first camera.

His first bike, my first camera.

I find writing about relatives hard and writing about close relatives harder. I haven’t spoken to my cousin Damian for fourteen years so with that sort of distance, I thought this might be a breeze.

But Damian wins the prize for most time elapsed between phone call and blog post. Three weeks! I didn’t take any notes because it wasn’t going to be a blog call, it was to be a genuine ‘Are you OK?’ call. Word had got to me that big changes were happening in Damian’s life and my first thought was to Facebook him, my second, to phone him.

We were born just three months apart and he had the cool parents- my Mum’s rebellious brother who worked for Levi’s and the beautiful mother whom I used to dream was mine because we shared the same hair colour. Damian, or ‘Geranium’ as the boy next door called him, was the oldest and a boy, I was the third girl and I felt from a very young age that having him on my team was a good idea. I sometimes called him ‘Daisy’.

When we were three (1970) and at a family party, the adults raised their glasses and said ‘Cheers to the Commonwealth Games’. We thought this was the most hilarious thing we had ever heard, so repeated it over and over until it became our motto.

We visited our grandmother as a pair and she set us on gardening and painting tasks from a very young age, feeding us enough Parkin and Flapjack to sink ships. Unpolitically correctly we spent a great many weekends chasing imaginary Germans around the village and creating bunkers, then we would sit down and  tell each other tall stories and long cumbersome jokes where the punchline had to be explained. We rode our bikes ’til the tyres went flat, played endless board games, ‘Wheel of Fortune’ being the number one favourite and when Damian’s dad came to collect him, I ran next to the car to the end of the road, waving as he disappeared out of sight. After a couple of years of coaxing, Damian’s little sister joined our team and then his very little sister Eleanor (Belham 3/365) but by then we were at the ‘Dallas’ watching stage of our lives and she had to watch us watching telly.

Our grandmother used to tell me that her favourite ever memory was seeing Damian and me at 5 years old, on November the 5th, chatting and carrying a lantern down a dark lane together, on our way to light the bonfire. I knew her life had been an interesting one and in my teens would see her wistful face as she repeated this and I’d think ‘Is that really your best memory, Nanna? Just Damian and me walking along in our duffle coats?’

My chat with Damian lasted an hour but could have gone on for three. It was on a mobile. a rule breaking mobile, because he can’t get near to landline just now. He suggested that I turn it into the blog chat; not as a money saving exercise, I think it was more of a dare.

Talking to him for an hour was like an enormous childhood treat.

I pondered what happened to us that we lost touch so badly having been cousins and close for so long. Children happened, that did have an effect, and also we both moved to different countries- he to New Zealand, me to Australia (cheers to that!). I think Facebook was also a factor too as he had a page but hardly used it and too often we think that everyone is touch via this mini broadcasting means, but they’re not. It can be a very one sided communication option.

Listening to his voice takes me right back to a tme when the phones rang non stop; bells interrupting every activity; adults on constant alert, everyone getting told to shush! Really the phones were another reason for us to get out of the house and play.

We shared revelations and stories as if we were five again and I was on an adrenaline high for ages afterwards, running next to his car in my dreams.

The duffles are gone but the lantern burns just as bright.

Damian and me, matching smiles, back row.

Damian and me, matching smiles, back row.