Month: September 2014

Bruce Mitchell 39/365

Bruce Mitchell, my English teacher at Ashby Grammar School in the 1980s is often referred to by his more formal moniker, Brucey Babes.

By the wonders of modern aviation, he is not at home, but three hours down the Great Ocean Road from me in Williamstown near Melbourne. His daughter, whom I babysat for when she was five, coincidently married the brother of a friend of mine’s son in law!

He answers the phone and of course he knew it was going to be me. He is draining the pasta with the phone tucked under his chin and we agree to try again in 30 minutes.

In that time I revisit 1986 in my mind, largely because of his distinctive voice which ushers a whole era back  into my consciousness but I remember that he has a subdued telephone voice that doesn’t match his real one.

Again he answers the phone and I whoop about, screaming here, laughing uproariously there, as he carries on speaking as if he is reading the news for BBC Scotland.

I was his prefect. This meant that in the last year of my education I went into his classroom first thing in the morning and took the register. I ask him, like an ex girlfriend, my teenage angst coming to the fore,  ‘Did you pick me as your prefect or were we just thrown together?’ I now can’t remember whether he said he did or he didn’t!

I talk to him about that class of his and he can’t remember them. He struggles to remember who my friends were and thinks I must be over 50! He reminds me that he has taught A LOT of people over the years and now they haunt his facebook friend list. In my notes I wrote down ‘people’ because I think teachers generally say they have taught a lot of ‘kids’. That was what set Bruce apart from the others, we were all just young people to him and he respected every one of us.

Some of my many delusions were shattered in this talk. I have been thinking all these years that Bruce still remembers everything I ever said, just as I remember everything he ever said. I thought he’d be carrying me around in his heart, as I have been carrying him around in mine. He hasn’t and he didn’t.  Perhaps that’s another sign of a good teacher. He made me think that what I thought was important, to him! He remains professional to a tee in our conversation as I chirp wildly about everything from our shared past and almost shock him with the details!

In 1979 my Mum had pointed him out to me on the stairs of the lecture theatre when my sister had a lead role in a DH Lawrence (obscure) play ‘The Widowing of Mrs Holroyde.’ I was twelve. He was wearing red glasses and had been tipped to be the next big thing at the school with his modern teaching methods. I talk about all the books we studied with him and he vaguely remembers teaching them. I tell him that he told us that ‘irony’ is like being run over by an ambulance and he likes that.

I confide in him about a final year Christmas party, which he knew nothing about.  Ten girls went to another, more senior,  teacher’s house. We danced all afternoon with the curtains closed in his lounge, got completely paralytic on sweet white wine (I threw up in his sink, he held my hair) and then we all went back to the school bus stop, to catch the buses home as usual.  When the bus stopped at my house, I fell out and onto the verge where my sister found me on my hands and knees. It was the norm back then!

He tells me that with the dumbing down of the syllabus he found himself teaching French. He sees the funny side in that. I reel off the names of the scholarly French teachers in my day and he says that our conversation is becoming like ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. He reminds me that he was born in 1950 and is enjoying life as a senoir member of our society because so many people stop him in the street to chat. I used to stop him in the street to chat when he was 38!

He has become the director of The Samaritans in Leicester and tells me, ‘if you ever think you have problems, believe me, you don’t.’

I tell him that living in a seaside town in Australia is a bit like living in Toytown (I actually crave a bit of grim inner city grit occasionally). Everything blue and sandy can feel a bit unreal.

But I’m living the dream. I have just spoken to my English teacher and friend for the first time in years and what could be better?

The class that I was Bruce's prefect for.

The class that I was Bruce’s prefect for.

Bruce and me, 6th form party, 1986.

Bruce and me, 6th form party, 1986.

Michelle Kavanagh Cox 38/365

Michelle warns me that when the phone rings in their house, no one answers it. She said that the phone doesn’t exactly ring, but announces the telephone number of the person calling and the Cox family just look at each other and wonder where the disembodied voice is coming from.

I call her and we decide that this isn’t going to be the blog chat because her husband is going in for surgery tomorrow. And then we gabble on to each other for forty minutes. I don’t take any notes and now I can’t remember a single thing that we talked about. Probably children, probably husbands.

Michelle is one of the main inspirations behind my children’s novel that is doing the rounds with agents at the moment.  I began stealing a few of her sentences and her general way of going about things after I went to see her in her role as diabetes educator. The main character in my book, ‘Nurse Perfect’ is self assured, glamorous (in the old sense), intelligent, funny and 2 cm tall. Michelle is all but one of those, you’ll have to guess which one.

We met when we first moved to this area. Our children were all doing gymnastics together and Mich and I rolled around on mats and chatted; she was pregnant and I hadn’t got any good excuses for going out where I should have gone in. Five years later she measured my waist at a local agricultural event and I agreed to have a series of long chats with her about diabetes. I have a lot to thank her for because she definitely had a big hand in turning my health around.

So I put the phone down and looked forward to speaking to her after her husband’s operation. That was two weeks ago. The days started rolling by and soon it will be months. I saw her last weekend at the theatre (as in play theatre, not hospital theatre) and we chatted about doing the blog chat but it has taken me until today to pick up the phone again. She isn’t in, or if she is she is just looking around, wondering what the noise is.

 

Flora (1)purse nurse sketches004Nurse Perfect (1)

Thanks to Marion Lindsay for these illustrations. I’ll ring and write part two with Michelle soon!

mich

 

Part Two

Of course Michelle knew it would be me when I called again yesterday. Only her mother-in-law or ‘weidos trying to sell her something’ use her landline.

We again have a similar chat. We only ever contact each other through Facebook and it is just lovely to hear her voice pronouncing words. It’s as simple as that!

We talk about how easy it is not to speak often to old friends now. She lived in this small seaside town for eleven years but has moved closer to the smoky city. I miss her style and her down to earth take on life that only nurses have!

I tell her, as she is diabetes educator extraordinaire, that I am trimming down slowly and want to be able to get into a specific bridesmaid’s dress by August 2015. My good friend is marrying in Leicestershire UK and the combined age of the bride and three bridesmaids is 200. We don’t want to match that in inches around the waist!

I realise that again I have taken no notes, just enjoying the banter with Mich. We agree to talk in person the next time I go east and thanks to this blog and that phone call, we will!

Benjamin Gravestock 37/365

I have known Benjamin Gravestock since day one, his day one.

He ‘s the son of one of the doctors who worked with my dear departed dad. His Mum would turn up at our house and it was the perfect excuse for me to stop revising, the arrival of ‘favourite baby.’

I became his babysitter. Evenings were spent with me listening to endless corny jokes from a big joke book feigning laughter for him. I was good at that.

He has been a policeman for five years and is just about to plod on to the next career as an engineer.

Since our last conversation, when he rang to tell me his wife was expecting identical twin boys, he has become the daddy. They will be one year old in November.

‘Are you excited?’ I ask as if I am talking to the five year old Ben.

‘You should know I don’t do excited!’ he replies.

That’s right, I was always the excited one.

We chat away about the years when he was little and I was thinner, we talk about our pasts, our shared experiences in teen/childhood and the year he came out to Australia to live and learn.

He came to work with us here but I found him a job in the nearby Lighthouse. He spent all day washing up in the café and then he came back to us and washed up. The ‘hands in sink’ approach to ironing out egos seemed to work and over a short period of time his arguments lost a lot of their bite.

In this phone call he apologised to me saying that he was ‘monumentally shit at a lot of things in Australia’, he was ‘not a very nice person’ and ‘thank you for your patience.’

Really he didn’t have to apologise or thank me. He was 19. I sent him to a hairdresser forced him to be civil, made him do the ironing and brought him kicking and screaming into the adult world. I know what it is like to be the child of a high flying father, the expectations mixed with the sacrifice. It hits hard when you begin to think that you aren’t adding up to much. Everything can crumble.

He tells me that he has copped a few comments at work on account of his ‘sad resting face.’ He doesn’t feel sad, it’s just that everyone surmises that he is not enjoying himself when he is. (I think how funny it is that he follows Lewis  in this blog, with Lewis’s resting face being everyone else’s party face!)

We cover religion and family at length. We talk for over an hour. I doodle away on my notes. And when we say ‘Goodbye’ I tell him he can ring me whenever he wants.

During the last few months I have been working at the lighthouse as the historical actress. I went into work and made everyone guess who I had been chatting to early this morning. We were laughing but it stopped me in my tracks when the chef told me that I was basically the court jester at the Lighthouse. I’d just been drawing jesters as Ben spoke, never having drawn a single on before.

jesters blog ben g 1