Phone

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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Ellen Begely 26/365

ebEllen sits down and asks ‘So what is this all about Annabel Tellis?’
I feed her the line that I have just told Bettina 25/365. Ellen tells me that she did something similar in 2011. She blogged on Facebook for a hundred and one days. She chose to write about 101 different recreational activities that would add to her fitness as she prepared to go to The States.
She asks me to remind her of the name of my blog.
‘Now that the phones have stopped ringing.’
‘Poignant’ she replies and begins looking for it on her phone.
‘Oh, just google Annabel Tellis 365’
‘Not so poignant.’
Ellen reaches into her bag, gets out and puts up her purple good luck cocktail umbrella. It sits on her phone. She tells me that her friends know she doesn’t communicate through Facebook anymore.
‘But we arranged this meet-up through Facebook.’
‘Oh not messenger, I’m always on that’ and now I’m the confused.
Our conversation runs off in different directions over vegetable juice. Most of it is, I’m sorry, off limits. She tells me ‘You don’t lose, you learn’ that life is all about ‘tests of strength.’
I tell her about my beaver. It’s a fur coat that was left to me and I decided to get it out of its bag this morning after I’d seen one on eBay for 1,800 dollars. She tells me to wear it. It is from the 1950s and is almost too real and shiny to be seen dead in.
Ellen is planning to move to L.A. but because of messenger we will not be out of touch for as long as one of us is still alive. She loves the vibrancy of California. Having come from a coal mining area in the U.K., I think our town, Apollo Bay is vibrant. She says she worries about it because progress is slow.
I met Ellen when she set up a pop up-up coffee shop in town with her friend Tamara. They made the most painstakingly beautiful coffee for four months and then they popped it down again. I miss them both. Ellen’s friends think she should have her own show as a chat show host, like the other famous Ellen. I agree. She is funny and not afraid to ask awkward questions.
Somehow we jump to me giving birth to my first baby in London, right opposite the Houses of Parliament. I had a billion dollar view from my room at St Thomas’s hospital but frugal care. On Day Three of my labour (note capital letters), Martin was at the ‘making bad jokes’ stage. I had been put on a ward with pregnant women who were well enough to be watching telly, and I was providing the ear splitting sound effects of what they would go through in a few weeks.
Suddenly my friend arrived.
She had been looking after our dogs and waiting for the phone to ring. Sixty hours of wondering passed and she jumped on the train and came in to find out for herself. She found me, writhing around in agony, leaping off the bed every three minutes, screaming with every contraction and she immediately said ‘I’m going to phone your dad.’
He was a hundred miles away. He drove down with my mum and as soon as they arrived a couple of the doctors recognised him, and everyone began leaping around to help. They discovered I had a kidney infection (so that was why I was screaming) and the baby arrived thanks to a very handsome doctor who had studied under Dad in Leicester. One week later my dad had a stroke.
‘Why didn’t you phone him?’ Ellen asked.
‘What?’
‘When you had been in labour for sixty hours and your dad is a doctor, why didn’t you phone him?’
And we sat there in complete silence for some time, because I don’t know why.

Anna Morton 24/365

I think this post will prove to be quite popular as sexually transmitted diseases are almost the last taboo. Has that got your attention?
I am not ringing Anna, I am going one step further and meeting her for coffee. She made my door bell ring last December after my jewelry box had been stolen. I opened the door to the tall and statuesque silhouette on the doorstep. She was clutching a small black velvet bag full of necklaces.
We order great big bowls of coffee and I take notes as she speaks. She finds this entertaining as she is usually the one taking notes as her patients speak. She is a doctor at Melbourne Sexual Health Centre. And no, I won’t be sharing any history, not with you anyway. I talk to her about G.U.M. and she laughs. In England, Genito Urinary Medicine would be the sign to follow at the hospital, is it called G.U.M to make it appeal to youths?
She tells me about her one full day a week of colposcopies (you know, taking samples from the cervix) and she really enjoys all aspects of her work. Sex workers come to see her and they say ‘Your job’s disgusting,’ which she finds funny.
I thought this was going to be a really long page in my blog and I have been working up to it. It has been the school holidays, the world cup, I have had a chest virus and shinnanigans in my life and all the while that I haven’t been blogging I have thought I must give Anna’s page my best shot with all those notes I took.
I have just turned over the first page on my notebook and there is only one word on the second. It is Gardasil. Anna spoke about the incredible effect Gardasil has had on lowering the rates of the HPV virus. They are down 95%. An Australian developed the vaccine and Anna took part in the first trials. She calls it an amazing cure.

We talk about her lovely old fashioned and clever parents whom I knew and who died within six months of each other in 2012. Her Dad had trained in mountaineering with Edmund Hillary and was also the Professor of Maths at Monash University. I tell her that I feel a bit embarrassed because I had always thought that Monash was an acronym for something like ‘Melbourne Organisation for National Academia Southern Hemisphere’. And it wasn’t until we went to the Somme battlefields that I found out Monash is credited with turning round the First World War.

We cover lots of topics that would never be aired on Facebook and perhaps would only ever be told face to face.

She tells me that she had a cycling accident which could have killed her, in her twenties, and still has some double vision when she is tired.

But we seem to keep going back to sexually transmitted diseases and in the end I almost envy her her job!

I tell her about the time when, as an 18 year old I had gone into the chemist and bought cheap purple-ish hair dye. I spent the afternoon in the bathroom then sauntered down the stairs all mauve to show those gathered in the kitchen. A friend of the family loved the gentle purple hue that shone from my black mop of hair and she asked me the name of the colour.
‘Chlamydia’ I said and almost felt the heat of shocked facial expressions.
It was ‘Clematis.’

The beautiful, inside and out, Dr Morton.

Anna Morton

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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Kristin Smyth 13/365

I have just got off the iPad and a two hour Skype conversation with Kristin Smyth.

At the end she said that she thought that my blog was a good excuse to have a lovely long chat. ‘Facebook just isn’t enough.’ She also went on to say that nobody could possibly fit this length of conversation into a normal routine, she looked exhausted.

My husband’s family and Kristin’s family are close family friends. Together they share jokes from the past which they have to ruin to explain. The laughter that is emitted between both is old laughter.

Several times during our conversation I see my tonsils in the little rectangular mirror box on the screen, because of the laughing.

We talk about the musical instruments that the children have chosen to learn, we talk at length about Alexei Sayle, we talk about me finding my voice out of a crisis and how something good always comes out of something bad.

She is sitting in the box room in her flat in South London, surrounded by books. I ask if I can take her picture but she says no because of the bed hair. I promise I won’t.

Friends arrive and I shout for the children to come and talk to her. I go and make a tea, sit down with my friends and forget completely that I am meant to be on the ‘phone’. Half an hour later, I jump up and run back to the iPad. Kristin was asking my kids what was the highlight of our trip in a caravan around Europe in 2011.  One said ‘The Somme and all of France’, the other was more hesitant.

‘It could be a place, or a feeling that you remember’ Kristin said with encouragement.

‘I feel pleased that I am never going to have to travel in a caravan with my family again.’

Kristin laughed. I said ‘I’m back and she said ‘I’m just going to go and make myself a cup of tea.’

I sat looking at all the books on her bookcase then decided to take a screenshot without her in it. She suddenly sat down and I managed to get one of tea without her knowing.

We then got on to the best conversation topic that could ever be, travel.

My husband and I travelled surface from London to New Zealand in 1996. We had only known each other for 3 months but I was going to my cousin’s wedding in Auckland, I was going by train, and he decided to come too. Kristin and her partner did a similar trip so we talked about Blinis in Siberia and Mackerel caught and smoked by the Trans-Siberian Railway in Lake Baikal. She and her partner are now planning a trip to Hawaii.

Today, she is going to an Australian Literary Festival in London. The first speaker is Tony Wheeler.

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I ask her if she has seen my bit of news on Facebook today. Last night I tweeted The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne when they put the call out for a topic for discussion. It was for the Emerging Writer’s Festival  with the hashtag #discuss.  And this morning, my words were on a blue plaque hanging on the wall of the Telstra shop in Bourke Street! The Wheeler Centre is named after Tony Wheeler.

‘Small world’, she says.

‘Massive cup’ I say.

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Sharon Crafter 12/365

I ask Sharon Crafter, over Facebook, if I can call now. She is on the phone to her Grannie.

‘You still have a Grannie?’

‘She’s my best friend.’

My Grannies never really took to the phone. It was mainly for relaying important messages, they much preferred face to face chat.

I turn to my husband. ‘I am going to break another rule on my blog.The door bells have also stopped ringing so I’m round the corner to Sharon’s house. Do you think it matters that I am bending rules?’

‘It’s your blog’ he sighed.

‘Well face to face communication has to be one step better than phoning as far as human interaction is concerned. And maybe George Clooney might want to be on my blog, in which case he can fly me to Lake Garda for my chat, face to face.’

‘He’s already got a girlfriend.’

 

It is freezing outside. Sharon shouts for me to come in.

If Kellie Desmond is Mrs Tittlemouse, Sharon Crafter is Mrs Tiggywinkle, hanging sheets around the house at 9pm having just got out of the ambulance (it’s her job, she’s not the patient).

Her enormous Golden Retriever, Artie, greets me on his hind legs and the three of us recall when my dogs spent the weekend at theirs. Artie is so pleased to have news of them on my clothes but Sharon says that Harry had regarded Artie suspiciously for the weekend, saying ‘I don’t do 35kg fur balls’ and Sparkler pretended he wasn’t there.

She begins telling me that they went to a birthday party for a Golden Retriever last week. Twenty six Golden Retrievers were there and a Mr Whippy ice-cream van to feed them all.

We spent a very relaxing evening talking. I often thought to myself that if it wasn’t for my blog, I wouldn’t be here laughing. We cover the topics of the clothes for children she is making, her work in the ambulance service, her business, she brings up my Dad, (note I did not bring up my Dad), we talk about quilting, bushfires, burns, horses, people from our shared past as Artie listens in.

She said that someone was mad as cut snakes, she said that ‘water finds its own level,’ she says that if life gives you lemons make a tart. She shows me a picture of a dish of risotto and calamari from a local restaurant and describes it so well I want to go out and order it. She sums it up by saying that risotto is either success or failure and never in between. I like that observation and think she could be talking about herself because she doesn’t do things by halves.

I leave at almost midnight and we both agree that we should make the doorbells ring far more often too.

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Kellie Desmond 11/365

Kellie said to me, ‘Well now that we’ve spoken, you might as well write about me tonight, it will save you phoning anyone else.’

‘But you phoned me, and anyway what will I write?’

‘Write about all my awesomeness. Write about what a great friend I am. You know me, just write a tribute. I’ll send you a good photo.’

(I am going to have to make sure that this blog doesn’t turn into 365 obituaries for the living.)

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I saw Kellie for the first time on the 20th November 2004, lunchtime. She was talking to a friend in a loud voice saying that it was her birthday today. I wanted to butt in and say, ‘It was mine yesterday,’ but I didn’t have the nerve. She was hippy and homespun and I was still in my Marks and Spencer’s wardrobe.

Then I saw her again when I dropped off my little one at the kinder. A baby with rosebud lips was attached to her in a sling as she rounded up two boys through the door.

We exchanged ‘hellos’ and I complimented her children on their home painted hats. All her children were very striking and one had Downs Syndrome. I told her that a distant cousin of mine is Damon Hill, the racing car driver, ‘and he is president of the Downs Syndrome Association is the UK.’ She smiled broadly as I spoke. Was she listening to a single word I said? It was as if she knew something that I didn’t.

What she probably knew was that she and I would be like naughty sisters for the next ten years and then ten more.

It is hard to write about someone you are close to, from a distance.

Kellie and I lived in a remote valley, here in rural Victoria, two doors down from each other, which was a mile apart. She and her partner were raising their 4 children and we had 2. We became like the big extended family I had always wanted to have. When I had my last baby, the early months and all the angst around newborns never happened, because of her presence.

We had our own business and she worked tirelessly in that. People say ‘never work with friends or family’ but if they are Kellie, you can!

I simply could not have done it without her.

She’s an Australian Bush Flower practitioner, she takes two items of clothing and makes them into one, she loves everyone and everyone loves her back, she’s a photographer, she wants to change the name Down’s Syndrome to Up or Angel Syndrome, she makes coffee with honey, she knows my house better than I do and I can sit in hers for hours when she’s not there and she won’t mind, I can raid her fridge, she can raid mine, she doesn’t own a bra, she tells me what not to wear, she sees snakes coming, she drinks and sings, she smokes and laughs, she wears her skirts tucked into her knickers, she is Mrs Tittlemouse -ever tidy, she rings everyday, I ring everyday, she believes in me more than anyone else ever has. She’s Kellie Desmond, 1963-the present, she’s my friend.

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Carolyn O’Connor 10/365

We are so excited to speak to each other, We haven’t spoken since we left the sixth form of Ashby Grammar School, which was a comprehensive school with delusions of grandeur, 28 years ago!

We walked past each other in ‘Boots, the chemist,’ in 2011 but she didn’t stop me because she had expected my hair to be long (I had just had it all cut off) and my friend radar wasn’t working!

She sounds exactly the same. We talk immediately about the good, the bad and the indifferent sides of Facebook. I tell her that when I had the idea to do this blog I googled ‘phoning Facebook friends’ and Google said ‘What? Annabel, you’re completely mad!’

I remember her telling me she was going into nursing all those years ago. One of our other friends was doing it and she thought ‘I might like doing that.’ She is still doing it and is clearly very good at it. She works at Ashby Hospital, right opposite the school as a district nurse. Why do I keep imagining her in one of those 1950’s nursing uniforms with cape and an elegant selection of hats? Maybe the delusions of grandeur made it over the road in my mind.

I am trying to get a handle on ‘manifrestation’ and ‘the universe’ having a hand to play in the timing in some of my blog posts. Out of 365 friends I had selected her this Tuesday evening and  while we were talking, she said that there was a meeting going on to decide the fate of Ashby Hospital. My heart sank. My dad, (there he is again, he won’t go away, ‘Dad, get some sleep’) had campaigned tirelessly to keep the hospital open in the nineties but he knew that this day would one day come. It has all come down to funding. This morning I read that it is to definitely close.

Dad would be irate. He would say that the decision to close doesn’t take into account the community feel of a place or the expertise of the staff or the trust that people hold in them; that can never be replaced and he thought it crucial to patient recovery. Carolyn’s chatty voice would make anyone feel better, for goodness sake. My mum pushed me out in that building in the presence of my Godfather Peter Corkey (don’t worry, he was a doctor), my Dad and Sister Mould (don’t ask)  with, I imagine, very little pain relief. The next day my Mum had asked for an omelette and the nursing assistant brought her fish cutlery to eat the omelette with.

I should have told Carolyn, so I’ll tell her now,  about the night when there was a big march to save the hospital and it ended up in a completely packed Ashby Town Hall. I went next door to The White Hart with my friends as the hall was crammed full. Someone then came into the pub laughing and told us that a man had stood on a table to address the crowd and slowly, gently the table had fallen over and the man fell into about fifty pairs of arms, then he got up onto another table and carried on! I had a feeling I would know that man they were talking about, very well. It is such a shame that no one is able to catch this special place as it falls.

We talk about old friends and what they are up to, some are much nicer, some have stayed the same and some, like Carolyn haven’t changed at all and didn’t need to. She told me she was always shy at school but I said I remembered her more as thoughtful, kind and easygoing. She is pleased to say that her children are the same. I tell her that she was always so reasonable, the voice of common sense in our mad lives.

She admits to being the glass half full person that I always knew she was. She is going to have to maintain that mindset to keep cheerful as she is sent to work in another hospital, a long way from the Grammar School that wasn’t, and this fabulously successful author’s birthplace.

 

The bright young things of the Grammar School Sixth Form

sixth form

 

Pete Goodlet 8/365

It’s my turn to be the excited one when my phone rings and it’s Pete Goodlet; he the eighth child in the enormous and happy Goodlet family based here in Apollo Bay.

I had asked for his landline number, he said he’d called me on mine. The number that flashed up was a mobile and I immediately decided to relax the rules.

He is calling me from his home in Murwillumbah. The area is used for filming the British reality series that I was glad to escape from ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!.’  Murwillumbah was also used as the location for the film Lou (2010) starring John Hurt, who went to the same school as me!

I said that it was really nice to hear his voice, never having spoken to him on any gadget before, and he said he found it ‘unusual’!

I thanked him for being my second man as I had only done one man so far, he sniggered and said ‘men are shy.’ Thankfully Pete is an exception to this rule, or he hides it well.

I tell him that I need to catch up as I’m already behind on my homework. Yesterday I didn’t phone anybody, it was the end of the Dad season, so I can stop talking about him so much now. In May he occupies all our thoughts as he went into the hospice on his birthday, the 17th in 2011, and died eight days later. I had just felt a bit quiet. I’ll call two today.

Pete is a very suitable friend for me to talk to on the day after the Dad season. He lost his Dad two years after I lost mine. His sister, Trish, had asked me to go and sing some hymns to their dad in the hospital after I told her that our family singing around my dad’s bed had made him more peaceful.  I went in clutching Amazing Grace and Ave Maria. There was Pete, with his Dad resting on high pillows in bed, and Trish busily looking after him. I imagine that Jim Goodlet will  be the only man that I will meet on the night he dies. He showed me his watch which he got after hitting a hole in one, and I remember telling him how good-looking his children were, and what great carers they made.

Pete and Trish are the youngest of the nine Goodlet children and they said that their Mum had been so glad she had gone on to have numbers eight and nine because they were both such attentive nurses.

Their dad was a Rat of Tobruk, a member of the famous Australian division who held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the German-Italian army.

Thank goodness he came home to father four of my friends, and five more equally lovely people!

Pete reminds me that his dad died on Easter Saturday, kindly leaving Easter Sunday for Jesus and giving them two days to remember him on, always Easter Saturday and always the date he passed away.

We talk about the project he is working on. He is redesigning the interior and gardens of the Sandpiper Hotel, here in Apollo Bay. It is going to be wonderful. I thank him because I can now mention my mum in my blog finally, because that’s her favourite place to stay when she comes to the Bay. (I have mentioned her once already as she’s my cousin’s daughter’s invisible friend in 3/365.) My Dad has been getting all the glory.

We both remember laughing uproariously last time we saw each other. He mentions ‘controlling moles.’ It’s a phrase I really like and he bans me, rightly, from mentioning any names, but I can write the words.

I have a postcard of one of his paintings of The Owl on the Pussycat on the fridge. I tell him I had wanted my niece to read that poem at our wedding but my mum (here she is again, hello mum,) had thought it was too solemn an occasion for Lear. If only we had all lived in Australia for a bit first, anything goes!
I ask him to look at a children’s picture book of mine, Miranda’s Verandah, his artwork would be ideal. He said he’s just been sitting around waiting for an editor to approach him one of these days.

I learn that Pete has worked in at least eight fields of work, which have been perfect for his aesthetic eye… building, carpentry, tourism, nursing, teaching, hospitality, art, permaculture. And with eight practical and down-to-earth brothers and sisters he has links to every skill in the world.

I saw his sister yesterday and I told her that Pete is my next page. We talked about my blog and asked her what she made of it.

‘You’re just deepening friendships’ she said.

I am.

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On re-reading this, I realise that without thinking, I have put the eighth child, with the eight professions and eight brothers and sisters, on the eighth page.

Clara Scarlet 7/365

Waiting, waiting, waiting to speak to my oldest sister Claire, in Verona, Italy. She is and always will be five years older than me.

We made a 7.45am/11.45pm appointment but she emailed me to say that she can’t find her phone number, it’s a long story and the bar she and her husband go to has a lock-in until 3am in which case she won’t be at home anyway. (She was the studious one who never went out.)

I did begin to wonder whether her life had suddenly taken off when she joined Facebook as Ms Scarlet and sent me a link to see her local Italian rugby team dancing.

 

Four hours later we speak.

Claire is lying prostrate on the lounge floor, waiting for the phone to ring.

She seems very excited as she picks up the receiver and I’m not surprised. This is someone who had the home phone wedged between shoulder and ear to the tune of four hundred pounds a month in the old days, and now she doesn’t even know her own number.

We haven’t spoken for ages. We email and she occasionally looks at Facebook. I persuaded her to join but the only Fb friends she has are my husband, Karen Halsey 5/365 and me.  The rest of the time she is mingling with people with animated expressions who are simply mirroring hers.

She sounds so much like my Dad apart from the Australian inflection. He never had  that and neither do I. She has spent six months here in the lucky country, mainly when she became the personal nurse that my dad always hoped she’d be, for him.

I tell her that it is good that she is in at number 7 because that was the house we grew up in. Also at Sunday School and church over the road, 7 loomed large. It’s my lucky number.

She says that she is living her life the wrong way round. I would see her tutting at the breakfast table in her panda slippers when I dragged myself downstairs in my teens and early twenties and now she’s out all night drinking Prosecco, which I thought was ham, and (shout this bit) she doesn’t seem to know what day it is.

She’s rolling around the Italian countryside in a VW campervan, stumbling on rock concerts in fields, eating wild chicken cooked over a fire and she used to lecture me on settling down.

It is exhausting talking to her so I give her my phone number and I tell her to call me more often. She asks me to read back what I am going to write.

“I think I’ll just share a photo of my notes, everyone will see how pleased I was to talk to you”

Clara notes 2