Ruth Tillson 45/365


I lie in the half-light at 5.30am trembling with excitement that I am about to call Miss Tillson. Many colourful memories come flooding into my head in anticipation of the call, most would be hard to translate and several unrepeatable

I am so distracted as I dial the number that I dial my own. Then I compose myself and tap out the code to the south of England and Ruth answers before the phone has rung once.

‘Hello’ she says in her deep evening voice, and we laugh at nothing tangible, just the collection of shared memories that dance around our heads and that are about to escape.

We met in the heady days of teaching-in-your-twenties. Ruth was blonde and funny, I was dark and laughed a lot so for one term, we created the highlight of both our teaching careers. Then she got swept away to a school down the road and we could only meet socially, not professionally (she would laugh at that).

It wasn’t that we were unprofessional, more that we loved the fun that was forever floating round those multi-cultural classrooms and we tapped into it as often as we could, much to the chagrin of our serious colleagues. We would get out the guitar, veer off onto a side topic spontaneously, see if the hall was free for impromptu drama games, and we were both as bad or as good as each other.

On Thursdays she’d stay over at my shared house, taking a day off the London to Brighton commute, and I remember once, on the way back to Clapham in my Mini Metro, she explained that she had just tried to teach the children about electricity. The only problem was that she herself didn’t know how electricity worked, it was like magic!. She had thought it might just come to her and had held up a circuit board to the children, flicked the switch, the lightbulb had lit up and she had said , ‘isn’t that clever, Look, you flick a switch and the light goes on! Now lets get out the pencils for some drawing time!

We delight in reminding each other of our rebelliousness. She laments that we couldn’t go off at a tangent now, there are really strict guidelines in place for teachers and a new curriculum. We remember a time when everyone smoked in staffrooms and there were candles and jossticks burning into the mellow atmosphere of the school.  I find that Ruth’s memory has unfortunately improved. She went through a stage when she was having babies where her brain turned into swiss cheese with gaping but beautiful holes and now it’s all coming back, to shock me!

She reminds me of the time we got up late, raced into school with our full cereal bowls on our laps in the Mini Metro and she said ‘ I don’t suppose you have a paracetamol in the car.’ I said that I thought I’d seen a lone tablet recently on the car floor. She searched through all the paper, shoes, underwear etc, found it and popped it in her mouth. It could have been anything!

The outrageous times that we recollect cover scabies, boyfriends, being stopped by the police as we drove over speed humps with 8 people in the Metro (the police laughed it off), unfortunate diseases, anaphylaxis, the unbearable cliquiness of the Poetry Cafe and also the father of a child in her class who went into the countryside to ask Haile Selassie for a name for his new baby daughter and came back with the name ‘Tellis’!

She recalls the weekend that I spent with her in Brighton. We had invited my friend Renee to come too, and my new boyfriend and his friends were going to join us. Ruth, Renee and I watched as the lads all got out of their car in flares, platforms and wigs and then we spent the night at a rave in an underground multi-storey car park, dancing in puddles. The next day they went home, I drove home with Renee and we stopped off at a party she knew about in Tooting Bec. It is there that I saw my husband for the first time and mentioned to Renee, that I was going to marry ‘that tall guy over there, but,’ I continued ‘I had imagined him to have more hair’. And, I did.

I am finding it hard to write this blog post because I am still too excited. I left it for three days hoping that I would simmer down and get some distance from the phone call. But it’s no use.

Perhaps it’s that I have this song playing over and over in my mind. Ruth and I also shared my room with a New Zealand supply teacher one night, Roger, and before we went to bed we had danced on the sitting room furniture for several hours, most memorably to this.

Today I changed my profile on Twitter to ‘author, blogger, teacher, poet, smiler’ because I can’t stop.


Will Cox 44/365


It has been hard to pin Will Cox down for his chat. I get it in my head that a certain person is next and then it can take weeks to find them within an arm’s reach of their landline. He thought a chat to me via his mobile would suffice but NO! I put my foot down. It can only ever be a landline or skype chat or else the intimacy is in danger of being lost. There is also nowadays something quite mysterious for the rest of the family, seeing someone talking on a landline phone. Who else would they be speaking to but their mum or a telecommuniations company? And why are they laughing?

They are laughing because talking on a landline is so lovely. Will said to me that it would be great ringing up all your friends. He said ‘you must be calling people that you know just so much about and then learning about other parts of their life that you didn’t.’ He could have been talking about him and me. Our paths have meshed and twined over these last years but it was only when his family decamped from Apollo Bay to live nearer the city that I felt we knew each other well. And looking down my notes I said ‘you are everything that I thought you were, the family man’ (with the matinee idol looks of course!).

We talk at length about our children and the opportunities that are arising for them, the money that we pour into those opportunities and the reasons why we do it. Will’s family are very much a water-based family and his son whom they used to refer to as a harbour-rat is now surfing on a world class wave close to where they live. We drift off around lots of topics but always come back to the children, he has been a very hands-on Dad and his voice takes on a tone of incredulation when he states (as if he has just realised- it shocks him every time) that his oldest child will be flying the nest in just a couple of years.

We saw a lot of Will during a very exciting week in all our lives. He was in management for Parks Victora, and no, that doesn’t mean that he is a glorified park keeper. The National Park here covers thousands of kilometres of varied terrain and the Great Ocean Walk, which begins here in Apollo Bay, is/was under his wing. As part of a big promotion for the Great Ocean Walk (104 km of stunning coast-hugging walking track) a TV documentary was made to go out to the world. Three presenters were found to walk for the cameras. They were ‘Planetwalker’ and environmentalist John Francis, Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt and fastest Australian skier on one or two legs (fastest ever skier on one) Michael Milton (who is number 33 on this blog). Laird Hamilton, the surfer, was meant to show up too but when the surf in Hawaii became too big for him to leave, Will Cox stepped up to the mark to introduce the world to his beautiful back yard.

Will Cox 2 Will and Michael Will and KaterinaWill Cox

We talk about what a great time that was in our lives. Michael and his family stayed with us at the Aire Valley Guesthouse and some of the filming took place at the house. The TV crew and all the presenters were great to work with, although when I accidently mentioned to Katarina Witt that I used to watch England’s skating darling, Jayne Torville, skate in Nottingham, Katerina suddenly  looked like she was sucking on a lime and replied ‘Jayne Torvill is a very regular woman.’  Now when I want to cheer myself up, doing an impression of Katarina saying that sentence often works!

Will had way more than the usual 15 minutes of fame and took on the part of TV superstar like a duck to water. It was only after they had packed up their cameras and gone that we all bounced back to normality with more than a bit of a jolt. Thanks to social media he is still in touch with all the programme makers and looking back at his photos reminds me of the sense of fun that was ever present.

I’m telling you, life is short and full of joy. Call up an old friend, call up a new friend and hear your own laughter reverberate back down the landline. Just do it. At the end of our long chat Will hopes that he hasn’t come across as boring. ‘Boring?’ I reply, ‘more like life-affirming,’ and he jokily asks that I remind his wife (38/365) of that. But she knows it.

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!)

James Ashley Harriman 42/365

I wanted a memorable reunion for number 42, it’s one of my favourite numbers.

I tried to call several people but things, like Christmas, got in the way. I stopped pushing and felt perhaps that 42 would happen in its own time.

And it did. I put out a post asking for a friend to volunteer and when James responded I knew that this was the one!

James first came into my life when he was about four and I was seven. We lived in neighbouring villages, he was the youngest of three boys and I was the youngest of three girls. We had very similar parents, sensible siblings, all upstanding members of the community but we weren’t about to let that stand in the way of our own rebelliousness.

When he picked up the phone he said he had been dreading this moment and I whooped with delight that his voice hadn’t changed a bit. He reminds me that we last spoke 23 years ago when I walked past him in Brisbane. I was on a  very late gap year in Australia, he was working in construction and when we saw each other, we nodded and  said ‘Ay up’ as if we were in Measham. Then we looked back and laughed, a lot. I remembered that I had a photo of that chance meeting and was pleased as I could only ever remember having evidence of our friendship on my dad’s cine films.

James harriman Bog roll

So there we are in Brisbane in the days before selfie sticks and here we are ( this will shock him) in 1986 in a charity race in Ashby de la Zouch. I found this photo as I was looking for the Brisbane shot. The race was called the Bog Roll and we had to wear fancy dress and push a toilet round a course around the town. We were dressed as fitness fanatics and James just joined in! The winners won with their toilet in a shopping trolley, such a good idea, so light!

James and I talked for 80 minutes about everything that mattered. I urge you all to pick up your landlines and ring up your childhood friends. You will talk about each other’s bikes, the paths and lay-bys near your homes, your unfathomable siblings, your friends in common, Sunday school, the laughs, your streaks and your perms, your mum and your dad, how you fell into what you’re doing and when you last went home. Do it! There will only ever be smiling.

James is still in Brisbane and his parents live not far away. I remember them well and their red setter too. I ask him whether he has any children, it’s hard to picture the twiggy, smirking, wide eyed and great fun boy from the village next door as a dad. He has four children and his daughter is called Annabel. I am shocked and flattered but then I remember that my son is James.

Vanessa Pearce 41/365

It has been too long! Too long between blog posts and too long since I last spoke to Vanessa.The blog took a long holiday because other writing projects got in the way and if I had blogged through it all I’d have (to quote a fellow waitress whom I worked with in The Odd House, Snarestone, 1985) ‘an arse like a carthorse.’ The blog, it has been decided (by me) will take as long as it takes and when it’s finished, I’ll let you know.

In the Radio 2 show that I was on in August, a few people rang in with their comments afterwards. Most were against social media and said that Facebook interferred with the natural laws of friendship because some people come into your life for a reason, some for a season, some for a lifetime and you just can’t keep everyone. If I had kept everyone, I’d have 20,000 on my friendlist.

Vanessa Pearce covers every one of those categories. She was my sister’s best friend at teacher training college in the early 80’s and we hooked up through Facebook last year. . We have just carried on from where we left off the last time we saw each other. That was when she had just had a baby 4 days earlier, in her own bedroom. She now sends messages to my sister through me

I have just put down the phone to her and we have gabbled away for half an hour mainly about our families, whom we each know a lot about because of this brave new world we are living in. She sounds exactly the same and her voice transports me back to the angsty years when my sisters left home and I had to pour my heart out to my dog instead.

i reminded her of the year she and Helen shared the attic flat of an enormous Georgian house in Winchester belonging to the Bruce-Gardine family. We couldn’t dance to Duran Duran’s View to a Kill single too hard because of the family under the floor.

And did she remember the night we spent watching her boyfriend pace up and down the pavement below? When she finally went downstairs to talk to him, he’d gone, leaving her to pace the pavement for hours below us. We ate ginormous vol-au-vents for dinner then went out and danced in the students union as hard as we liked. A few years later Vanessa married the boy on the pavement, he’s at home today.

Vanessa gave me news on all of their old friends, every single one a vivid memory in my teenage years. I wonder if they would remember me as anything other than Helen’s naughty little sister.

Nothing has changed.

grad helen

Joanne Hickman 40/365

Jo is a good friend who rarely looks at Facebook but unfortunately that has become our only method of communication. How is that good?

I don’t warn her that I am going to call and she answers in her breezy tone and then purrs like the Queen.

She pops into my head often but for the blog, I would like to thank Bruce Mitchell 39/365 for making me realise she HAD to be number 40.

He reminded me of a hilarious evening that Jo and he spent together when she and I were sharing a flat in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in our twenties. Jo had been round at the Mitchells, and Bruce and Julie were getting ready to go out to a dinner party. Julie was tired and didn’t feel like going out so he asked Jo to go instead and together they left the house. On the way up Kilwardby Hill he suggested that they pretend that Julie had left Bruce and Jo was his new girlfriend. Jo calls the night ‘Priceless’.

Please picture my former English teacher and my dramatically talented friend flirting coyly over the dinner table, laughing in all the right places, flush with the joys of having declared their love for the first time. Oh the shocked faces around the table, the candle lit confusion, the pudding the last thing on everyone’s minds.

The following morning Bruce let everyone know that it had all been a joke and to this day, he says, some of his friends haven’t forgiven him. Jo says it was probably the best night of her entire life.

I was very lucky because, at a particularly testing time in my life, my grandpa had invited me to a Labour Party coffee morning at Bruce and Julie’s and Jo was passing round the cake. We hadn’t seen each other since middle school and we picked up exactly where we left off, wisely deciding to forget those years of maturation and revert back to 14. It was so easy.

Jo had rented a flat on Market Street above a travel agents and next to the main pub. It had a spare room, I declared it to be mine. Thank you Jo for letting me in. By day we made up dances, launching ourselves from sofa to coffee table to sofa, Olympic floor work here, swinging from the doorframe there and by night we went out and acted as if we were normal, just about getting away with it. (The travel agents were a bit shocked when they discovered that we weren’t trainee aerobics instructors.)

This song was on repeat for about four weeks.


Jo has been there since I was eleven, we were the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel in the school play long after I should have worn a blue square of material on my head or she, a tinsel halo. She had the complex mum and happy dad, I had the happy mum and complex dad.

We laugh and scream uproariously about things I can’t mention and things I can. I tell her that I find it so comforting and amusing how my offspring give me self-help tips and she says hers does the same but she answers with ‘haven’t you worked out yet that I am beyond help?’

Her son is well on his way to being a professional snowboarder, he was meeting snowboarders from the States yesterday and she says she smiles and taunts him mischievously, saying that she is looking forward to asking them if they say ‘tomay-toe or tomato, potato or potar-toe, falafel or fel-a-fel.’ Imagine the worry on her son’s face, she might do it!

We have had lots of laughs and loads of cries over the years but our friendship has stood the test of time. Jo and her husband are both chefs and for three months in 2010 they came to work with us in Australia. With design help from my clever Godson in England, Jo and I put a cook book together. (See the link below.) It is still not finished, will it ever be? It’s looking perhaps a bit dated but the sparkle is there, as ever- like us.




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!



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





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.


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.



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.

moi drag lewis3