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Bob Knowles 55/365

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I have Facebook friends waiting to get blogged, but their breath isn’t bated. I hadn’t anticipated the demise of the landline to be this sudden. Catching a friend in their home at the end of a landline is rare.

I saw Bob at a local event. It was on the same day that an article I’d written about the bushfires was published. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/12080588/The-Great-Ocean-Road-bushfire-made-me-so-proud-of-our-local-heroes.html)

He said he’d read it and would really like to see something by me that didn’t have me in it. Well, I could give him my novels for middle grade kids but he needs something more cerebral so I said ‘I’m blogging you next.’ And now I am all too aware of references to myself and speaking in the first person!

We agreed to meet at his house. When I arrived his bass voice called out over the valley and I waited, watching the birds fly round the Otways and the ocean. Then over coffee, unbelieveably good coffee, and surrounded by peaches, we talked.

I wouldn’t be sitting in Bob’s house looking at his strong, handsome face if I wasn’t writing about my Facebook friends. We know each other because we look at each other’s posts and I follow his interviews on local radio with interest. I mention that this blog is really all about what people mean to me, the phone call and the loss of the landline. Yes it hones my writing skills but it begs the question, how well are we all connecting now that it is done through a screen? How exciting is a phone call or a face to face visit now that the human voice is no longer received down the wire on a chunky phone? The phone in his pocket rang three times during our chat. He still gets a lot of calls from his wife and three daughters but he has no landline.

Bob says that on the old phone you would have a tea and a fag and you’d be listening. (Do you remember the smell of the receiver in smoker’s houses?) He says that we are evolving into a different way of connecting, and  as well as keeping us all in touch, it is the perfect distraction. “You think it’s something to do but it’s not productive at all. We are processing the information differently through email, text and Facebook. It means we are getting more information but less understanding.”

And here I am, giving you more digital information on Bob Knowles and my connection. He is a voiceover artist and he recently made an ad for chocolate that is on the TV a lot! At the sailing club his voice hits the water before he does, so deep it is. He has a programme on our community radio station and this week he interviewed the mayor.

http://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-35gcb-5d76c3#.VuO5rQKT5_k.facebook

I was his second interviewee on his first programme (here I go again at 24 mins!)

http://apollobayradio.podbean.com/?s=Annabel

We met when he needed a soprano voice for a song on an ad, so he got on to Facebook and posted on the Community Page ‘I really need to get in contact with Annabel Tellis a.s.a.p’ and I responded saying ‘Shhh Bob, or everyone will know!’ Sadly, it didn’t start a rumour.

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Bob in his garden. (Above, Bob on the Mic and above that Pete Goodlet’s Otway art, with kind permission from the Cannon family).

 

 

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Audrey Vaughan 43/365

Audrey and her dad.

Audrey and her dad.

I used to babysit for the Vaughans. I seem to have babysat everyone! I remember in 1981 having Audrey’s small daughter on my knee watching the Bob Marley celebration concert at way past midnight. Later her husband would drive me home in his formula one car, well it felt like that, compared to my Dad he drove SO FAST!

Audrey’s husband, Martin, and my Dad were partners in the days before the word ‘partner’ winked at ‘spouse’.They were doctors at Measham Medical Unit and with that came celebrity. To add to that, Martin would put on a comic turn at the surgery Christmas party every year, he was born for stand-up, and I cannot get the memory of him wearing a leopard skin thong out of my head. Did I make that up? It must be true because I remember all the staff crying with laughter. Perhaps I could credit him with inspiring me to find a Martin of my own!

I had a long and interesting chat on the phone with Audrey and made copious notes that I find hard to do justice to in a blog post of around 600 words.  She is very enthusiastic about life and has changed direction in terms of her career and hobbies many times, always throwing herself completely into what she is doing. When we met when I was a child, she was mother of one with one on the way and a radiographer. Later she became a mother of three and a counsellor. She is an artist, she drums on an African drum in a group, she is a family tree finder, a cyclist, she has just become interested in the Quaker way of life and through all of that she has been a doctor’s wife and that in itself is a full time job!

Audrey and Martin visited us in Australia and she was the first person to encourage me to join Facebook. At the time people seemed to have very strong views about social media but Audrey put forward all the good points very well. During our 80 minute call we talk a lot about her finding her extended family because of the internet and the abject joy that she has felt from that. We also chatted about her dad, his death when she was a child, and I learned things on the phone that I hadn’t known in forty years of friendship.

I tell her that it was in her kitchen, when my dad was talking to Martin, that I found out (through eavesdropping) that my great grandfather had committed suicide when the second world war was declared; he could not live through another war. My maternal grandmother had only told my dad in the whole world, and when he realised that I had been listening in, he told me to swear to never mention it again. But with the relaxing of stigma towards these things, I did mention it when my dad was in the late stages of cancer but by then he couldn’t remember.

She told me  that she is enjoying discovering all about the Quakers. She likes the way that the Quakers hold people in the light, instead of praying for help for them in the conventional way. She said that she took a bit of inspiration from my blog and is taking one photo of light every day. She comments on my blog being an artistic process; you make a start, you can only plan so far, and as it progresses you come across different aspects that you hadn’t expected and you have to modify your ideas to accommodate the trips and the turns.

I hadn’t planned to spend so long phoning my friends. It isn’t going to happen in a year because I can’t race through all these phone calls and not expect them to have some sort of effect on me. I really need time between each one, so far it’s been too enjoyable to rush.

Audrey and Martin Andrew, baby Sarah and Jonathon, open the Church Fete, Swepstone,  with the vicar on the left (it sounds like the beginning of one of Martin's jokes!)

Audrey and Martin Andrew, baby Sarah and Jonathon, open the Church Fete, Swepstone, with the vicar on the left (it sounds like the beginning of one of Martin’s jokes!)

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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