Month: August 2014

Lewis Oswald 36/365

 

Lewis Oswald is next on my imaginary friend list. The world that he shows me on Facebook makes me think I have manifested him out of a memory of the seventies, Madonna and the sort of friend you dream of having. Some friends come into our lives for a reason, some come into your life for a season and some come into your life to provide happiness on tap, turned on to the max and never turned off. This is Lewis, partner of James 20/365.

I call on the little used landline. Lewis cues the disco music then answers the phone. I begin by asking him who was over for dinner last night when I rang to suggest a blog post. It was a friend from England feeling down because his friend had just gone home. (To put you in the picture, Lewis’s mum says that Lewis never goes to the shops and comes back as normal, something always happens on the way to the shops, in the shop or on the way back and that story takes on a life of it’s own and runs away.) Such an innocuous question I had asked. ‘Who was for over for dinner last night?’

The leaving party for the friend going back to the UK had taken place in a cottage recently, over a weekend in the Blue Mountains. Lewis had said it would be a low key affair, just a gathering of like minded people, country walks and fresh air.  Perhaps it would be nice to distract everyone away from the sadness by playing the game ‘Bin bags and Balloons’ where everyone makes outfits in a team, and then presents them as a ‘Bin Bag and Balloon’ collection. Lewis wasn’t going to organize anything, just the bin bags and the balloons and everyone could choose their own music to present it in an understated show. Base outfits, underwear and corsetry were fine to hang these from, hair and heels applied.

It was probably the last part of the sentence that got everyone going.

Suddenly Lewis found himself organising bags full of clothes, make up, false teeth, nails, padding, shoes, everything. He threw them into the car. On the way to the small rented cottage they picked up a lighting rig, disco lights, a wind machine, smoke machine and PA system.

They travelled to the party in James’s car when really they needed a small lorry and a logistics team.  Lewis’s seat went as far forward as it would go with his knees right up, the contents of his spare room behind him and the GPS telling him to go left at the next intersection as they learnt the words to the RuPaul song they would be performing to.

On arrival, everyone was really excited to see what he had brought secretly knowing that Lewis would never do low key and he was pleased not to let them down. In the boot he had stored all the best bits and the wigs. He went to open it up. The boot was completely jammed shut and to this day it hasn’t opened. But when all the guests went for a mystery walk, Lewis told James that not getting into the boot wasn’t an option so James pulled every single item out of the boot with a coat hanger through the thinnest gap in the back seat that only ever wedges a set of skis in. When everyone got back, the party began despite James’s bleeding arm and Lewis’s shock.  From ‘Bin Bags and Balloons’ it became extreme drag, couture level, vintage, not costume. Lewis tells me he’ll send me a picture of everything that came out of the boot. Here it is.

lewis

And that’s the story of the man who came to dinner and his friend who didn’t, but who had a very memorable leaving party.

Lewis says that he has yet to find his niche. But is there a niche for talented designer, photographer, dressmaker, toymaker, drag artist, professional stylist, make up artist, comedian, magician, gypsy, Madonna specialist?  I remember in 2000 when Sydney hosted the Olympics, a commentator said that the closing ceremony must have been organised by Australia’s most flamboyant man. No way, because Australia’s most flamboyant man is on my friend list.

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Oh, and this is how he made me look (below) when I did stand up comedy with my Shane Warne Poetry Book. With him in your life, everything is wonderful.

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Ali Beer 35/365

If my husband had married Ali, he would have suggested that they keep her surname, I know he would.

Ali rings me on the mobile as her phone is free after 7. I ask her to call me on the landline, she doesn’t have my number. I much prefer to hang off that piece of ergonomical plastic and my brain remains at the same temperature, no sizzling.

I know Ali through our baby group. Clearly baby groups have had a big impact on my life! We all had little boys apart from one mum who had little girls (with boys names).

Ali speaks with sympathy to me. ‘Poor you’ she says, having to ring up people and make random inane small talk’. And then we launch into an hour long sesh of hilarity, gossip and chit chat. If the quality of my conversations is judged by how many times the correspondent says ‘Don’t put this in the blog but…’, Ali is up there with the best!

My main connection with Ali is that she kindly offered to look after our small animals whilst we travelled round Europe in 2012. She already had one of our guinea pig’s offspring, Damian Parsley, and offered to have his mum and her friend, Rainbow and Genevieve and our anti-social rabbit, Mushroom.

To make things easy, she put them all in one big pen. For some time it went really well and then disaster struck- she messaged us when we were half way through Switzerland. Damian and Rainbow had produced a baby and Damian had committed suicide, although there was a slight chance he had been murdered.

However she was delighted with the completely inbred baby and when everyone, including us, had gone home, she sat him free in the garden and he is still there. He’s called Free Range. Not long ago she bought another guinea pig to keep him company.

‘What did you call that one?’ I ask(Ali is one of my most creative friends)

‘Free Range’ she laughs.

Ali runs a very successful business from her kitchen table sending home made soaps, lip balms, hair accessories and jewelry round Australia. She can’t understand where her time went before she took on this venture. I feel the same way, since doing this blog and taking a job as an actress at a lighthouse, I look back at the days before May as though they were in a bygone era.

I tell Ali what happened today. I arrived at the lighthouse and the chef was tearing out her hair over two tabby kittens she had caught. Cats are forbidden from National Parks in Australia and they had to go. Suddenly, and without warning, I heard a voice say ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a home for them.’ It was my voice!

‘Just make sure the children don’t give them names’ she replied.

So when everyone tumbled into the car after school, they looked into a big box, expecting food. What they found were two spitting, swearing, blue eyed, feral, miniature moggies and each child burst into tears because they had never seen anything so cute.

Now in the warm dark of evening, I wonder what on earth I am going to do with Konichiwa and Salamat Danang.

Cats ali b

Mandy Jane Hill 34/365

Well, now that I’ve calmed down from my five minutes of fame on BBC Radio 4, I can concentrate on my mother’s God-daughter, second cousin nothing removed, Mandy.

Mandy first came to my attention when she and her brother arrived for a weekend when I was three. We went sledging and I remember a disaster ensued when her brother fell into manure instead of snow. It’s all coming back to me now.

Mandy shocked the village but mainly me when she visited again, aged 13, and rode round the streets of North West Leicestershire on my pony, in a bikini (Mandy was in the bikini not the pony).

She answers the phone early in her morning and straight away we are talking about the mysteries of life. That and the hilarious nights we had at the Dover Street wine bar in our twenties. She calls us ‘Little Northern rebels.’ I remember her greatest rebellion being getting on the tube and forcing people to talk to her politely and she reminds me of the night I walked up to George Best. He was propping up the bar, all blue eyed and hairy and I asked him ‘Are you George Best?’ He said ‘I was once’ and then gave me a big kiss.

Mandy is related to Graham and Damon Hill and I like to think that as I look more like Damon Hill than she does, I am too.

A discussion that I can’t remember us ever not having (probably since the pony and the bikini) has been about the fact that the path of true love never did run smooth. We dedicate an hour of this phone call to that topic. We don’t actually get anywhere with it, of course.

Our grandmother’s were sisters. Hers, Lilian, was the one with the red lipstick and the glamorous job, mine, Marion, was the one with the mashed potato and the poetry book. She reminds me how much I doted on mine and I remind her that she did the same. Lilian died on my wedding day. In honour of the red lipstick and the coiffed hair, I went to her funeral in a scarlet suit. Out of two hundred people paying their respects, I had been the only one not wearing black. ‘Well, at least you’re wearing black shoes’, Mandy’s brother had said sympathetically and everyone looked down at them. They had ladybirds on.

In her forties Mandy went to university to study the dramatic arts and came out with a sense of confidence and a 2:1. She tells me to look at her show reel. Her grandmother would have laughed adoringly all the way through it. I love it (click on it below).

I’m looking at my scant notes now and see that at one point she said a quote from Picasso. “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

There you go.

Fellow strawberry blondes, one observing shoes.

Fellow strawberry blondes, one observing shoes.

Mandy’s showreel

Michael Milton 33/365

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And the gold medal winner for shortest phone conversation on this blog so far, is Michael Milton.

It’s fitting that he should break the record. He’s the fastest Australian skier ever on one or two legs and the fastest person of all time in the whole world, on one, reaching 216 km per hour. He has a drawer full of gold medals.

I message him on Facebook, he messages back but I don’t have his landline number. My husband texts him and he calls back on the mobile. Perhaps that’s why the exchange is so quick, I can feel my ear heating up and he can feel the bill increasing.

Whenever I speak to him I turn into an everlasting eight year old and say ‘Michael, is it true that you are the fastest Australian skier of all time?’ He nods. ‘And is it true that you are the fastest one legged skier of all time?’ He must be thinking ‘Annabel, we’ve been over this,’ but he nods and smiles and I shriek with delight to hear him confirm it.

This might be the first time I have ever spoken to him on a phone. His wife and I normally cobble plans together. He rang to tell me that he is on holiday but then we agree that we might as well have a speedy blog chat. He’s staying in Threadbo, the ski resort, in a flat the size of a cupboard with his wife and family.

We met when he came to stay at our guesthouse to make a film called ‘The Art of Walking’ about The Great Ocean Walk that clings to the coast here. He brought his wife and children and our three year olds fell in love. Did I mention that he broke the Guinness World record for running a marathon on crutches?

He’s coming down to our neck of the woods in October to bike around the forest in the Chase the Dog challenge.  I remember that he competed at a top level in cycling too. ‘Michael, is it true that…’ Yes, he went to the Paralympics at Beijing but wasn’t placed. His greatest achievement was just getting there, coming back from a second battle against cancer, and winning, just months before.

It is great to hear his voice and I’ll get to hear a lot more of it when he’s here in October, if I can just make him sit down.

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Alice Wheeler 32/365

Alice’s voice takes me back to when I could hold my first child in two hands. She has a lovely Scottish lilt and a calmness that is catching.

We were brought together by the National Childbirth Trust in 1999. There were eight of us who had given birth at the same time in our pocket of London, and we were invited to take our babies out of the house (out of the house!) and drink five different types of tea in the lounge of a kind person who had offered to be a host/waitress for us. And then we were all set free and had to play host to each other. That meant tidying up the house once every eight weeks and stocking all teas but English Breakfast.

I wish I could remember details of the conversations intermingled with the shock, hilarity and quiet insanity that was laid on the carpet with the baby in those first tea groups. I remember being praised and tutted at for being the first with a baby who slept through the night. I remember that one of us was bringing along her second baby and we looked up to her as if she was a Goddess for managing to have kept another baby alive until it was seven.

Alice took the whole thing in her stride. We were given a list of everyone’s details but I called her first. We spent our babies’ first and second Christmases together and our daughters bonded like twins. We bonded like twins. She was so easy going and laid back and I would flop on her couch knowing that my toddler could touch everything. She had a Danish mum who was a jewelry designer and Alice would throw jewelry parties on her behalf until my jewelry box was full and purse empty.

One day she told me about her fifteen minutes of fame as a child on the TV show ‘Why Don’t You…?’ It was one of my favourite shows and my sisters and I loved the irony of a programme telling you to ‘switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead.’ Alice said that she went on the show aged nine with her large collection of plastic bags from shops. I had to stop her there. I said ‘Yes, I remember, you were sitting in your bedroom and you showed us bags from all around the world, some of them were on your wall, they were all very different and colourful.’ Her fifteen minutes of fame had been remembered by this little smock wearing nine year old! She was a very confident and enterprising child and that streak has stayed with her.

Not long after I had my second baby, I called Alice in the morning as usual to arrange to meet in the park and she wasn’t there. Much later she called me from Scotland. During the night she had taken the decision to move to Glasgow and had gone. It’s a long story that ended happily. A year later, in 2002, we went to her beautiful Scottish wedding where her daughter was the bridesmaid, and that had been the last time we spoke until today.

We both feel really bad that it has taken us until now to pick up the phone. She talks about how lovely it is to see everyone on Facebook but in my heart of hearts, I really don’t think it is any substitute for a phone call. Alice tells me that her daughter is musically gifted and is at the Scotland’s top music school. She hadn’t mentioned that on Facebook! She said she doesn’t like to boast. If Facebook is the glossy holiday brochure of our lives, we all perhaps have a tendency to be miss out the information of the top resorts and the slummy dives for fear of appearing full of ourselves or unfriendworthy!

In the spirit of ‘Why Don’t You?’, Alice has opened her own shop in Balfron near Glasgow, selling the beautiful jewelry that her mother and now she, makes. It is called ‘Wonderland’ so, at work, Alice answers the phone by saying ‘Alice in Wonderland!’

We agree to speak again soon, for jewelry orders (mine all went in a theft) and priceless chat.  ‘Wonderland’ well describes those days we spent together with our newborns, fourteen years ago.

Alice in the red, me in the white, and friends and babies.

Alice in the red, me in the white, and friends and babies.

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Kara Harrington 31/365

Kara and I met in the heady days when we both had our babies; her first baby and my last, both boys. We were at opposite ends of the fecundity spectrum. She, at 19  was old enough to be my daughter, but let’s not let age get in the way of a good friendship.

She kindly phones me as her calls are free in the evening and you just don’t know how long these things will go on for. Her voice takes me back to the kindergarten room where five of us sat round with babes on our laps, laughing. As the boys grew up they spent their kinder years in that room, I say room but I mean garden. Kara’s Matt and my James were mad on Aussie Rules so, thanks to their enlightened teacher, they spent four hours outside, three days a week in all weathers, kicking a bright oval red ball back and forth to each other when other three year olds throughout the country were being told to sit down. They both still hold dreams of playing for a top team.

Her voice also transports me right back to perhaps the most dramatic night of my mothering years. Kara was standing under the blades of an air ambulance helicopter as James and I went in, up and away to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

I had roasted a chicken (no the helicopter wasn’t for the chicken), and I had added a lot of watery stock to the bottom of the roasting dish. Then I had put on my trainers and run off to badminton.

My husband took the chicken out of the oven and put it in the uneven hob top, James wandered over, put one finger on the side of the roasting pan and the whole thing fell on him.

I had played a game and then saw that my phone was ringing. It was home.

I told a friend to call the local First Aiders and ran back. I have written a novel for girls that is doing the rounds with agents and publishers and is called ‘The Nurse in a Purse’. Six years ago I had forced my Dad to sit down and tell me all he knew about First Aid for my book, and burns had been high on his list. He had said that a lot of damage can be prevented just by holding the skin under cold running water until help arrives. So James and I stood under the cold shower for five minutes and I watched all the skin on his chest melt away.

Kara was between badminton games when she heard the helicopter landing outside. She related this conversation to me when we were huddled together as the paramedics got James ready.

‘What’s going on with the helicopter?’ she had asked.

‘Oh that will be for Annabel’s little boy’ some one had replied.

She did an exact impression then of her next sentence.

‘I said “What happened?”‘  But she didn’t just say ‘What happened?’ she said ‘What happened?’ with total love for James in her eyes like this, you try it, ‘What happened?’

I remember her big, glassy eyes against the dark of the night sky and having her there made all difference; her calmness and her care as the wait chipped away at my sanity. Then I jumped into the helicopter and we took off. The happy ending is that James’s chest healed really quickly and I don’t want to sound glib but it was hard not to enjoy skirting the ocean to the city in a flying car, my damp eyes making the twinkly lights into a kaleidoscopic laser show.  The next day we met footy legend Wayne Carey and James saw the sharks and the meerkats that live at the hospital. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m just describing the sort of dream you have when you’re pregnant.

Kara had three children in four years and we talk about her own dashes to hospital, through the Otways in the middle of the night.

She is now doing a dental hygiene degree at La Trobe University and has left the area for a while. We agree to meet on the beach in the summer holidays for a marathon kick to kick. I miss her.

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Cate Thomas 30/365

Cate rings me. We have already arranged a time and I think she’d like to give my phone bill a break. I delight at the sound the ringing. She tells me she is scared. Cate, scared! And then she reminds me that she is shy.

As the days and blog posts begin to mount up, Cate had started to worry that she would be lost in the hundreds. Even coming in at 30/365 she wonders if that is something to be proud of. I think I need to talk to all of my ‘Tangible Allis’ Facebook friends about this. The order that you appear in does not correlate with how dear you are to me. Adrian Marriner 1/365 is not Numero Uno in my life (sorry, Adrian) and Stuart Fleming, who has asked to be 365th is not my least favourite person. This is not a pop chart of favourite friends. I might also take this moment to say that this blog is highly likely to overrun the allotted year. Does anyone have an issue with that? Adrian, as my appointed Blog God, do you? I am finding the phone calls fascinating and the blog posts mesmerising and I have to give them time.

Now, when it comes to whom I call, when, something about you on Facebook might catch my eye and next thing we’re talking like we last did in 1979.

Cate posted a link about a Chinese man who had been trapped in a collapsed mine for 17 years and had just been found. It reminded me of her optimism, I messaged her and here we are at 8pm.

Cate looks a little like both Liz Hurley and my sister, defying the clock. She called me when she was working in the Neighbourhood House, here in Apollo Bay. ‘Would I be interested in running a writer’s course?’

When I went in to meet her she was wearing a beautiful black dress and high heels as if she was about to be asked to dance. I quickly told her I was pregnant. I was and I didn’t want her to think I’d eaten all the pies, although I had (with Coke, and cake.)

The next time I saw her she was in a wetsuit effortlessly gliding along the waves on her board. It was then that I realised that I was living in an Australian mini-series.

When Martin and I decided that the time had come to sell our other baby, ‘The Aire Valley Guest house’, Cate went into super hero real estate agent mode, as is her job now. I remember that she walked into the house, picked up a brush, swept the floor and sold it.

This meant that when we went back to England to bury my Dad’s ashes, we were able to tow caravan from old car and visit eleven European countries in seven months. We had such a good time that by the end of it we were able to recognise each other’s Uno cards from the scratches on the back.

Cate is very well travelled, particularly in South East Asia and is training to be a yoga teacher. She grew up in a big family of four kids. She was particularly close to her older brother Paul (Possum). He was a policeman and a climber and he doted on his smallest sister. Once, when they were young, he took her on the tram in Melbourne and she remembers slipping a plastic ring onto her ring finger, just to let all the other girls know that they were married. She was only five!

When we moved to this area, people were still coming to terms with the loss of Paul. His heart had given way when he was 500 metres from the summit of Mt Chooyu in Tibet. Former Police chief Christine Nixon had moved mountains to get a Russian helicopter into Tibet via China to bring Possum home.

Cate takes Tibetan prayer flags to his grave here in Apollo Bay. As they disintegrate, the threads take the prayers to heaven. His headstone reads ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’

At the bakery this morning Stuart Fleming (you know 365/365) asked whether there was a common theme running through my phone conversations. ‘Death appears a lot’ I said, ‘and love.’

Cate has been married (to the same person) for 21 years. He’s Kris with a K, she’s Cate with a C. It was a whirlwind from engagement to wedding and when it came to organising the big day, Cate didn’t know what she wanted and didn’t know what she didn’t want either. ‘What colour flowers would you like? What colour bows on the flowers would you like?’

‘Oh I don’t know,’ Cate remembers saying, ‘whatever you like.’

Cate clearly had bigger things to think about

I’m so glad that when I made the outrageous suggestion that I was thinking of ringing every friend on my Facebook list over the course of a year Cate said ‘Do it, blog it.’

And here we are.

cate thomas
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Martin Satchwell 29/365

It is 6.30 am. I am half an hour late as I dial England.
Martin answers the phone before it rings.
What a nice life I have, getting out of bed that has one Martin in it and phoning another who I haven’t spoken to since 1982.
‘It’s been a long time between drinks’ I chirp.
And he says something unrepeatable.

Martin has never left the area where we grew up. He lives on Penistone Street and it was only when I drove my Australian Martin past that sign for the first time that I wished Mr Penistone had adopted another ‘n’.

Martin Satchwell was in my year at school but he was in class 3B. Oh 3B, I can smell the pheromones as I write.
When God (or Miss North) decided on the roll call of 3B, she worked out in advance whose testosterone levels would go off (the scale) at roughly the same time and then bunched them all together and put them in a room, on its own, up two flights of stairs. In anticipation of all the dancing, jokes, filthy language and wrestling, she put the strictest teacher in charge. So the female population of the school had to wade through a waterfall of adrenaline, sex hormones and biscuits, just to make it to the door.
3B boys would be positioned at intervals on the stairs and we would relish delivering a lame message to someone indistinct, just for the pubescent rush and perhaps a ping of the bra straps.

Were you ever on the stairs Martin?

If he wasn’t on the stairs then, I think he is now.
He wonders whether I ever saw him as anything other than the boy whose school bag was bigger than he was.
‘Martin’ I say ‘I was tall for my age, you were short for your age, you were the shy one, I was the loud one, it would never have worked.’

In 1982, Martin wrote this in my leavers autograph book.

Satchwell

It was the sweetest message in there by far. I remember reading my book to the end and saying ‘Martin?’
I must always have been destined for a Martin. Just not this one. But hey, I spoke to him this morning after 32 years and who’d have thought.

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Kate Wagstaff 28/365

In a world where bad news is no longer currency, but wallpaper, it pays to have someone like Kate Wagstaff in your life. As dispositions go, I would say that she is the most sanguine person I know.
Kate lives almost round the corner, give or take a few junctions, and we phone each other up often enough for her to have my name come up in lights on her landline (but it could well say ‘Crazy Pom’).
We lament that the phones have stopped ringing. Apart from close family calling, she never needs to pick up the phone and taps out Fb messages/texts to close friends because that is the only way they communicate now. She misses the hidden treats that a phone conversation brings, a mention about the weather, the tone of a voice.
And speaking of voice tone, Kate was born with an extraordinary singing voice that she never shows off about, and should. In choir we hardly practice her solos and know that the sound she will make on the night will knock the socks off the front row.
I begin relating a story to her about what happened last week when I was nearly squashed by an enormous falling tree on the Great Ocean Road. I had to accelerate under it on the wrong side of the road and it fell behind me. Long story but it gave me such a fright that I rang my daughter’s school an hour away and cancelled their evening arrangements, asking them to make sure my daughters got on the bus. One got a message, one didn’t so I had to drive up in the dark looking at tree tops against the moonlight all the way. At the end Kate reminds me that I told her about it last week in person but says it was quite nice to hear it again. I suddenly feel my age, 46.
Trees falling is an everyday hazard here. Putting small children on a bus and waving to it as it sets off for the 23 km ride to primary school felt like an extreme hazard when we moved to the area. That’s why we chose the school where Kate’s mum was the secretary and her brother the bus driver. We were all spoilt. Having come from London I would have a small panic about my five year old not getting on the right bus home. I didn’t know for almost six months that buses didn’t drive up to the stop, load up with kids and drive away. They were parked outside the school for about twenty minutes and registers taken, but Kate’s mum still went out to check that my lithe little child had sat down in the right place.
Kate then says that she wonders how bad it must be for families in war torn countries to put their children on a boat to Australia. We talk about the nine Tamil asylum seekers that Australian Customs officers trained in how to skipper an orange lifeboat back to India.
Kate says it would be like them giving us instructions on how to sail a ship across the Indian Ocean and I have to admit that sometimes we make a big deal about our pain in reading music.

choir prac

choir cheque
Members of the choir accept our sponsorship cheque from the Bendigo Bank. Singing makes you happy! Kate is the angelic looking one, far right and far left; balanced.