This short post was a very long call to New Zealand.
Eleanor Bellham is my first cousin. She was always referred to as a ‘late baby’, being 12 years younger than her closest sibling. My auntie was made to feel ancient when she had her, at 36 ( now she might be considered in her prime).
We used to play with her as if she were a doll and she had a deep voice that said ‘Catfish don’t like’ to the fish in her brother’s aquarium and ‘Fox no like’ to the really scary stuffed fox in hunting garb, hidden behind a door, and to my Basil Brush. (Arrrrrrgggghhhhh!)
She knows it’s me when I ring because she goes out of her way to receive no phone calls, she says it helps her to appear windswept and interesting. Her voice is higher yet still child-like.
We realize that although I named one of my children after her, we haven’t spoken about it, or been in touch for 14 years! In that time she has married and had two babies of her own, one of whom, it turns out, keeps my mother as an imaginary friend.
Very kindly she has been going over the logistics of my project and suggests that I call family on bad days. What kind of a suggestion is that? No, on bad days I shall call someone that I haven’t spoken to since we were 10.
‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ she says, ‘if you could be totally honest, get off the phone and say in your blog, well today I phoned… say Matilda (you are in Australia after all) and I wish I hadn’t and now I feel really depressed!’ I listened intently. ‘No’ she went on, ‘don’t do that or you’ll lose all your friends.’
‘Why would I feel depressed?’
‘Because she might have just spent four weeks in Venezuela and you might think you haven’t amounted to much,’
We agree that I should write all the bad bits on a separate document and in a hundred years make them public.
It was a long chat with El-Bean, with both of us talking as if we’d spent only two weeks off each other’s dial.
Eleanor being carried on the right, me with the darkest hair on the left.