Month: June 2014

Bernadette Marriner 23/365

Two years ago, Bernadette posted a photo of an intricately knitted dress on her facebook page. She had knitted it herself, it was a skill that I had no idea she had. I had never seen anything like it done on two pins before. I rang her and said ‘I began knitting a scarf five years ago but now it looks like a dog blanket so that’s what I have decided it is but I’m embarrassed by all the holes. I am embarrassed full stop.  Can you help me?’ She is more than happy to help. I tell her that it feels like I’m asking David Beckham to teach me how to catch a ball. It’s perfect that she is 23 on the blog then!

Bernadette has been the most patient teacher you could wish for. I tie myself in knots trying to work out purl, tension and why I have 94 stitches when the pattern states 91. Bernadette’s doorbell rings and in I walk with my pathetic problems around yarn. She doesn’t appear to mind that she has to talk to me like I am nine years old. At the moment I am knitting a skiing hat for James and then I intend to knit a skiing holiday to go with it.

Last summer Bernadette organized a very successful exhibition called Tactile Pleasures. It got everyone talking. Today, when I saw her with a dropped stitch she told me to make my blog about her up but no, I am going to ring her and get the extraordinary story of her trip to Austraia down in print.

She picks up the phone.

‘Are you in bed?’ I ask.

‘Yes and it’s normally only dead people who ring at this hour’ she replies.

‘Dead people?’ I ask.

‘You know, finding out that someone has died.’ I’m relieved, especially in the light of Ruth 22/365’s daughter’s zombie tattoo.

I tell her that my Dad’s death wiped the slate clean with regard to bad news.

Bernadette’s voice starts to crack when she tells me that she will never get over having to tell her Dad that her brother had died. She relives the nightmare too many times.

I miss the intimacy of phone calls like this. We no longer delve into each other’s hearts to this level. Only a landline conversation, with one of the participants in bed can unearth this side of our lives. I’m beginning to think that we could all put each other’s worlds to rights, if only we’d put the phones back where they were.

Bernadette’s parents and brother left Ireland for England, then England for Australia. They didn’t intend to leave baby Bernadette behind. Her maternal grandmother said that at six months old, perhaps the baby was too young to fly. So she stayed in Ireland with her grandparents until she was nine years old. She’d still be there now if her mother hadn’t come over to visit, dressed her in a mint green dress with a black zigzag edging and patent shoes and driven her to see her paternal grandparents.

On the way home her mum turned left to Shannon airport. ‘I’m taking you to Australia to see your father’ she said.

‘No you’re not’ said Bernadette.

‘Well you can get out and run home yourself then.’

So Bernadette got out of the car and began running. She remembers seeing the shine of her patent shoes under her dress and worrying that she might scuff them. Her mum caught up with her and they caught the plane. Bernadette had none of her belongings and never had a chance to say goodbye to the grandparents who had raised her.

When she returned years later and her grandparents were long dead of broken hearts, people would tell her that they remembered the day when her grandmother received the telegram, she opened it in the Post Office. It said Bernadette was now in Australia.

Her grandmother and her aunts had knitted around her as she grew up. Bernadette, with her speciality yarns, does what I call ‘extreme’ knitting.

I couldn’t make it up.

bernadettes dress











Ruth Burrows 22/365

I ring Ruth on her birthday. We have had it planned for ages. She couldn’t speak earlier because she is doing a degree in business and management studies and today, she says, she no longer has to revise. Suddenly I am back in the classroom, its Maths,1983, we are sitting together and I’m looking out of the window! We didn’t fail Maths, the whole class got put down to study for a lesser exam, the whole class! I deserved to be put down but she didn’t. We didn’t mention this in our chat.

She is concerned that this call is going to cost me a fortune. I don’t care, we haven’t spoken on the phone since we were 14! Her voice hasn’t changed and I know that her looks haven’t either because she came along to a small school reunion we had when I was last in the mother country in 2012.

We go all around the houses in our conversation, we have a lot of news to catch up on. I’m kicking myself now for not talking about what happened to everyone in Maths. One of our classmates was having a baby as we were studying trigonometry and I forgot to marvel with her that the baby would now be 31!

We talked tattoos. She tells me that she went for a fifteen pound tattoo from a guy in his upstairs spare room. She hoped for a rose, but left with a swallow (!)

Years and six hundred pounds later, she had it removed. She tells me to Google her daughter’s tattoo which Ruth is not pleased about. There’s a storm outside and the electricity keeps flicking on and off. I was sitting here a moment ago googling ‘don’t open dead inside’ and now I am completely scared rigid!

For an hour on this, her birthday, we talk about her cats killing moles (cats are mean like that, I say), the dog bites on her legs that I still remember vividly, M&S cocktail pork pies, M&S knickers, the Australian accent being based on both Essex and Suffolk, Literary Speed Dating which I did at the weekend, Castleton in Derbyshire, why we called our children what we did, our classmates, going back to work and her son’s imaginary life that he used to describe aged 3.

As we sign off I tell her that I’ll send her a link to a TV programme about a boy who was born knowing minute details about the life of an American pilot who died in the war. It was thought at first that he had an imaginary life with a vivid imagination but now they believe that he is the reincarnation of the pilot. Now she is freaked out!

It’s just like being at school!

Here we are with our dear departed form teacher Mrs Webster in 1980, Ruth is top left, I’m far right.



Susan Nicholls 21/365

You thought that was the end of it didn’t you?

The phones stopped ringing for a little over a week, it’s true. Bronchitis and panic over being ill-prepared for a literary event put paid to the phone calls. I missed them. I missed the excitement! Was it really that exciting every day when we used them all the time? I think it was.

I will catch up, I have to catch up, I’ve promised Adrian 1/365.

I spoke to Susan down the line during the week off. She asked if I was overwhelmed. I said I was ill. She says that her Facebook friends are a great bunch of people and she is proud of her collection!

The unfortunate thing is that I made notes during my hour long phone call to her and now I don’t understand a word of them.

Hang on, I understand the bit where I wrote ‘you always remind me of my Mum’, that is self-explanatory. Susan has the same colouring as my mother, grey eyes, dark red hair, Welsh skin. Not many people have that in Australia. Both are linguists majoring in French. Both make me laugh out loud then carry on talking as if I’m not laughing and wonder why I am.

Philosophising is at the head of my notes followed by…

Seeing TV in a new way, blinkers are off, why do that scene when, Full Brazillian  (oh yes, the World Cup, that thieved part of my time), daughters could do that, (not sure what that means), could go to Ethiopia, wax lyrical, fairy story, like modern art, can you watch without the commentary? (!), gorgeous Italian footballers (I will have said that).

One of my previously blogged friends suggested very helpfully that I should reflect more on the experience (for me) of phoning different people everyday rather than going into depth about each friend. She said she couldn’t relax knowing I was note taking. Really though, I find note taking to be a necessity because of memory loss from too many nights out in my twenties with her! And then someone else, non-Fb friend, said that she loved getting an insight into my friend list and said how lucky I was to have such lovely friends. All of them are ‘worth knowing.’

Look, I’m sorry, I wasn’t feeling well when I took these notes but I don’t think I’ll call Susan again and ask her to elaborate. I talk to her at least once a week as it is. She makes my phone ring regularly and thank God she does! My world is a much better place for it!

Here are all our children.




James Natt 20/365

I call James. I have warned him that I will and he knows it is going to be me.

‘Does anyone ever call you at home?’ I ask.

Not since his parents have learnt to use Skype. He just gets calls from charities wanting money on a Saturday.

James has a wonderfully warm and kind voice. I met him in 1996. I had just begun courting my favourite Australian who took me to see Frank Black in Concert with James. I was looking forward to meeting the friend he had known since he was a baby. James grew up at house 99 and Martin at house 100.

At the concert, James was very handsome in black and throughout the evening he and Martin had gentle, knowing, six foot four conversations at eye level. I gazed up at them thinking, ‘Well if they’ve known each other this long and still hold this amount of affection, they must be pretty special.’ They both had a spell in the mosh pit!

When they were small, Martin would wave at James over the road. They secretly lit matches together, went on holidays with their families together and tormented James’ little brother Phil by pretending to be Dr Mental. They also got caught smoking and reading age-inappropriate magazines together.

We talk about James’ partner Lewis who is my most flamboyant and talented friend and I can’t wait to call him! I forget to ask him how Jackson, their tiger-like cat is. Our conversation topics are Eurovision (United Kingdom doomed never to win again), drag artists, skiing, the English countryside, Graham Norton and my husband.

He said he likes my blog and I tell him that I went on Google to see whether anyone else had called all their Facebook friends on the phone. When no one came up, I started! We talk about my writing, his parents, our families, and his god daughter, my middle child.

James was an usher at our wedding. We got married when top hats and tails were costume de rigeur. When the hats arrived, Martin’s father tried his on and it was way too big and made everyone laugh when his head disappeared. He took it back. What hadn’t been realised was that his and James’ hats had been accidently swapped. But James carried it off!



Derek Whetton 19/365

I am one away from twenty posts. What better way to end the teens than to talk, for an hour and a half, to Derek Whetton; Newton Burgoland lad, fellow school bus passenger and childhood friend.

The last time we spoke, we were at the end of our teens. He was going into accountancy, I was wondering what on earth to do with my life. It was 1986. A lot of water has gone under the bridge at Help-Out Mill since then.

‘Miss Tellis’ he says as he answers the phone.

I’d like to share in detail what we talked about but I didn’t take any notes. We talked ten to the dozen, not having heard each other’s voices for twenty-eight years. The last time we spoke, middle age was what happened to other people, computer games came on tapes and Simply Red were Holding Back the Years.

My phone runs out of battery half way through the call. I run downstairs to pick up the plugged in version, he hasn’t taken it as an insult and he rings me back before I can redial.

He tells me that he thinks I should make this blog into a book, then at least I’ll be sure of selling 364 copies. I tell him that I have just heard that  42,050 copies of ‘If my Dad were a Dog’ have sold and now that it’s coming out in Mandarin Chinese, I hope to be calling him next time from my 40 foot yacht. He hasn’t heard of my book! Where has he been? Everyone else is sick of it and waiting for a new title!

He is a Grandad. What? So many of my school friends are grandparents. I have a seven year old closer in age to Derek’s grandchild than his children. He tells me that he went on Facebook to keep in contact with his wife’s friends because as a teacher, she wanted to steer clear of it. And after 28 years of trying to forget all his Ibstock/Ashby friends, we all rush him on the internet. Now we have Facebook chats as if we are all under the ever watchful eye of the librarian at Ashby Grammar School.

We talk about the sad loss of Rik Mayall yesterday, Derek watching Ade Edmonson playing folk music, his career changes, my career changes, life being an eventful journey and he asks if it was me that worked on a phone sex line.

‘Not me’ I said and then I went on to tell him about a job I went for when I was backpacking round Australia. The job description was really deceiving. It was as a… no I won’t tell you that story. I told Derek and, when the school librarian wasn’t watching he put up a post on Facebook saying:-

“To the wonderful Miss Tellis.
What a pleasure to catch up after 28 years. Don’t leave it so long next time.

I will always think of you as a little hand maiden in training!!”

I would have hit him with my pencil case if I could.

Here he is on the school bus. The boy next door.




Suzanne Martin 18/365

I am over excited as I dial Suzanne’s number in South Africa. We were thick as thieves in London before romance completely dictated our lives. And then came the babies and then came the moves to separate continents.

She has a very mild South African accent and I wonder when my Aussie one will kick in. We haven’t spoken for five whole years. She calls me ‘Annie’, I call her ‘Zannie’ and that will never change.

I can’t believe she is 44. That makes me 46!  To me she will always be in her mid twenties with me cruising forever at 27. On her Facebook photos she hasn’t changed a bit and her figure is as enviable as it ever was. I forget to mention the time when she arrived in a black bikini top and shorts to watch my almost boyfriend (who is now my husband) play Aussie Rules on Clapham Common . None of the players could concentrate on the game and they lost!

She was the one driving my mini Metro when my almost boyfriend first got in it. I sat next to him in the back and she and a random Australian male sat in the front. They got out to check out a party and I turned and said ‘Shall we get out or shall we kiss?’

I was adopted by the Australians in London, and then I stole the best one to take travelling around the world. Whilst I was away, she snuggled up to the London based South African fraternity and on the day we arrived back, engaged from our odyssey, she had just that night hooked up with a new crowd who would be her friends for life. Then while I was making Anglo-Aussie babies she was clubbing and bringing me photos in the back of one of those new-fangled digital cameras. Suddenly she got pregnant with her daughter and we were in the same boat again.

We talk about how we packed up and left our favourite city for a better upbringing for our children. I left first. I remind her that one of the reasons we left was because my oldest had hearing difficulties and the class that she was about to join had 35 four and five year olds.  In Australia we joined a class of 6 children and she could hear everything. Suzanne apologises for not being more understanding at the time but I don’t know what she is saying sorry for, she was always a good friend and we were often both frazzled from the pace of the city.

She moved to be near to the father of her daughter but maintained a separate life. Now she is married to a hunk six years younger (of course she is), has a son  and she and the fathers of both babies get on like a house on fire. Her friend who is a divorce lawyer tells her that she uses Suzanne’s situation, with everyone muddling along happily, as an example to divorcing couples. ‘Get over your shit and get on with your life’ she tells them.

Suzanne has been helping the father of her eldest choose a flat. They all rocked up for a tour of an apartment with the two guys, Suzanne and young family and  the agent had to stop them half way through the viewing to say ‘I’m confused.’ They explained and she said ‘How refreshing!’

We talk at length about the decisions we have made over the years, the people we were and the people we have become. We talk about the loss of both her parents and the loss of my Dad.

I say to her ‘The only ‘thing’ we really have in life is time and the only ‘things’ we really remember are friends.’ She tells me to write that down.



Toni Rooke 17/365

I am falling behind on my homework. Throw a couple of late nights, midnight driving, a friend in need and a dinner date into a blog and the keyboard is left with its tummy untickled.

I took the liberty of speaking to my friend and boss, Toni Rooke, face to face at work tonight. I tell her she shares the name of my first best friend. She laughs at the pommy pronunciation of Toni, Toe-Knee (in Australia they say Tone-ee)!

She is in charge of the youth club here and I am a casual youth worker. I love it, it is like teaching without the teaching! More than once I have compared Toni to Dr Phil, she shows such insight when dealing with the issues facing the young people in our area. She was telling me this evening that out of imperfect relationships can come real beauty.

The evening was going well, dinner had been served, half of the youths were tucked up listening to music under duvets and half were playing basket ball.

I ask her if I can speak to her about my blog and we sit opposite each other at the long white table in the kitchen. I mention that I like her Facebook photo, she is in a wetsuit, sticking her tongue out and she said that she thought it was the one picture that summed her up.

I ask her when did we first meet and she takes me back to the dizzy days at the Aire Valley Restaurant and Guesthouse. Danni, a mutual friend had thrown her engagement party there. It was a hilarious night we agree.

I say ‘and then I saw you through Kellie and through Danni many more times and also through our kids. I have always been impressed with the way you were so open about Dean.’ She sighs. ‘I don’t have to mention Dean, if you don’t want me to’ and she insists I do as he is so much a part of their story.

Her partner, Dean was a jockey. Horses became his passion in his mid teens when everyone else was smoking and drinking. He was soon a well known part of the racing fraternity, riding in some big races and helping to train the famous horse, ‘Saintly.’ However, when he reached 6 feet tall he struggled to get his weight down to the 56-60kg range and had to accept that he couldn’t compete.

Toni and Dean had a son and lived together above stables, by stables and near stables. In 2004 they had a daughter, born early and with complications. Toni recalls that during a desperate moment Dean had said in prayer ‘What can I do? Don’t take the baby take me.’

In October when the baby was a month old, Toni woke to find Dean not breathing. He had died of an unknown cause and the doctors had said that it was as if the lights had just been switched off. It was their anniversary.

Toni reflected on the times when she knew Dean had been for a visit since he passed away. Once she was preparing food and she could feel him giving her a big hug. He had appeared to her in a dream and she said to him ‘Dean, where have you been? Everyone thinks you are dead.’ Dean had said that everything was alright and they had even fixed his crooked finger.

Her son, at the age of five, had related a very detailed description of a dream he’d had. His daddy had called round and taken him for a drive in his Commodore. They stopped at a beautiful golden stairwell that led to a shining gate. Dean had told him that this is where he would be waiting for him one day, but not now, and then he had gone inside and shut the gate behind him.

2004 was the hardest year of Toni’s life, the loss of her brother to cancer in the February, the worry around her daughter’s arrival in the September and the loss of Dean in the October.

We talk about when she came to Apollo Bay. She had initially wanted to run away immediately but felt comfort in her familiar surroundings and didn’t move for two years. She came here to move on.

She is a well known and exceptionally pretty face around town. Her son says that she has three voices, her Mum voice, her Dad voice and her Youth Leader voice. She works for the local health organisation and lives opposite her doting parents.

This morning when I had walked my dogs to the harbour, the sun was rising behind the sails and masts and I had turned and said to my friend, ‘How lucky are we to live here? This is like heaven.’







Mandy Cosgriff 16/365

I called Mandy at 9pm. Kellie (11/365) had said I needed to call someone ‘easy’ for 15 minutes, as I looked tired.

I met Mandy in the first few weeks of our arrival to the area. She worked in tourism which was handy for us, as we had just bought the Aire Valley Guesthouse and she was a font of knowledge. She also had a daughter the same age as ours and she introduced me to everyone in the Kinder.

I was invited to join a collection of mums who were prepared to make an exhibition of themselves, performing a play and a song to the children and parents at Christmas.

The practice and sock-puppet making, was at Mandy’s house and we let off steam singing and dancing until someone, perhaps a neighbour, shouted at us all to ‘Shadddupppp!’

For the performance, which we really hadn’t dedicated enough quality time to, Mandy got up and sang ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ in red fishnet tights, that’s all she and I can remember of her outfit! The play, which was ‘The Night before Christmas’ performed by sock puppet mice, started badly with all the children shouting ‘we’ve heard this before’. Two of the sock puppets accidentally broke a cardboard chair prop which brought on gales of laughter so we just continued to wreck the set for the duration, fighting and throwing the furniture and the decorations into the audience. We would have loved to have seen it.

Mandy is the big-eyed after-thought of a farmer from the Heytesbury region and his reluctant wife. She spent her evenings after school chopping wood and feeding cows and longed to sit on the bonnets of cars with the townie kids outside the milk bar. But now she is grateful for her summers of carting hay, motorbike riding at 8 years old and camping.

She asks me why we came to this region, of all places, and I tell her how much I had wanted to come back after a trip here in ’92 for a day, when I had galloped a horse called Budget along the beach. When I had an asthma attack in London in 2003 and couldn’t shake it off I lay awake at night waiting for a breath for about 30 seconds. With a very light head I would  plug in my nebuliser and lie there wondering how to make my life stretch beyond that night. I had two small children and when I remembered that the actress Charlotte Coleman had died of exactly the same symptoms, we knew we had to escape the pollution. Air is important. The air at that blew on to the Aire River was straight off the Antarctic, only the penguins had smelt it before we did. I no longer have asthma.

It is lovely speaking to Mandy. She has a warm, comfortable, empathetic tone to her voice. I could talk to her forever!  We discuss tough love with our little ones, teaching them about taking the consequences for your own actions and how justice begins at home.

She tells me that she still has the fishnet tights that she sang in that Christmas, they are a reminder of the good times but now the good times involve staying at home with her family and talking on the phone to people like me for TWO HOURS!


Nicola Busby 15/365 (Lady Strawberry)

The bar was raised very high when fresh-faced and glowing Nicola, spinster of the parish of Appleby Magna wed Lord Strawberry of Chilcote. Not only was he a dashing young farmer of the soft fruit variety, he was also a gun on the rugby field and devilishly handsome.

I have always hoped I’ll get round to writing an out of date romance novel one day.

I call Nicola in England. Her son Harry, who is also on my friend list, picks up the phone. I have woken him up and suddenly I panic that this is the middle of their night. It is actually the middle of their day and he explains that he has just had a teenager’s weekend. I am about to ask him questions when Nicola arrives home and he quickly hands her the phone.

She begins to make lunch for a lot of people with the phone tucked into her neck. I listen to her opening cupboards as she speaks and suddenly I am homesick for exposed beams in the ceiling.

We have a lot to talk about; off the scale bad things and off the scale good things, loss and love.

Just hearing her voice reminds me how strong she is and how dear she is to me. We are godmothers to each other’s babies. I remember meeting her at Ibstock High School when she arrived in the second term of the second year. She never had a friendship group, and that made her very popular as she flitted from one gang to the next, laughing and teasing. To me, even when we are 94, she will always be ‘new’!

She calls a spade a spade and she calls a strawberry a way to make a living and a cake. I call her Nicola, everyone else calls her Nicky. I will not move on this one.

In 1992 I came to Australia to travel and Nicola, who had been here before,  gave me two tips that I have never forgotten.

“On the flight, don’t watch the tiny plane on the monitor in front of you. And, when you go to a supermarket and the person on the checkout says ‘How are you?’ Don’t say ‘I’m very well thank you , how are you, have you had a nice day!’ Just say ‘Good thanks!'”

I think of her all the time.

At the back of the church sat a dark, curly haired young mistress of the parish of Swepstone. Her heart sank as the wedding vows were spoken. Lord Strawberry, gone from her dreams. But reader, I shall share with you this, she could never know that in just a few years she herself would wed a rather tall and perfectly suave gentleman from the Antipodes.




Pookah Choo 14/365

Pookah Choo, or Ruth Sandford-Smith, is not making a big deal of Facebook. She has five friends on her page, all overseas, but in the real world she has plenty. Perhaps, when we are all out and about, we should start wearing a badge stating the number of friends we think we have!

She rings me, for a chat, nothing to do with the blog and I say ‘I’m taking notes’. I always refer to her as Miss Guatamala when we first speak and she calls me ‘Lady Trell,’ short for Trellis. In my eyes, she was the Guatamalan entry for Miss World in 1995 when we were travelling around South America together, on account of her hat. But I accidently call her ‘Miss Guacamole’ this time and I worry that it might stick.

We talk about the demise of the communication methods that we were brought up with and I am beginning to feel that social media is a very good pole for keeping people at a distance, During my calls, friends have revealed things to me that I would never have guessed just by looking at their pages. ‘Don’t write this down,’ they say, ‘but…’ I am beginning to feel privileged to be part of their actual world, for thirty minutes.

She says that people only put up information that puts them in a good light, Facebook is a great big marketing tool for the self(ie), a brochure of the good times. I tell her that some of my friends are venting their spleen as I scroll down, and some admit to having been crying for hours.

Ruth and I have been close friends since we were at University. Everyone kept saying that there is another girl from Leicester in our year. We spoke and found out that our father’s paths often crossed as he was an eye surgeon and my dad sent him patients. However, our shared Geography and Pa’s work were soon taken over by our shared sense of hilarity. We enjoy reminding each other of when we had not been able to control ourselves in places like church, or a gallery café.

I forgot to mention the time when she and I went to a beautiful church in Oxford with an aging congregation, last time I was over. The offertory hymn was playing so we reached for our purses. The children had been picking wild garlic the day before and it was still in my hand bag. As soon as I undid the clasp a great whiff of old rotting garlic was released and Ruth turned, frowned and signalled that I had burped. The rest of the service was spent with me looking at the world through held-in tears.

Then there was the Egyptian photo caper x2. One involved my Mum and the Reverend Greenwood, another involved Ruth and her friend John. I need to provide photos to illustrate these and will try to when I find them. Ruth spent two years teaching in Egypt and I joined her for a while, to hang out and to have one of my best life experiences, galloping round the pyramids on a racy pony at sunset.

She is my eldest child’s godmother and I just hope that my daughter finds a friend like Ruth when she is at college, it makes life a lot more enjoyable.

We chat about Roger O’Keefe who is the brother of Aussie TV presenter Andrew O’Keefe and whom Ruth had a couple of dates with. I really like Andrew, he is famous for ‘Deal or No Deal; the deal was never on for Ruth and Roger.

I realise that I have made very scant notes and have filled the page up with happy faces, big eyed and smiling.


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