Great Ocean Road

Leah Madden 53/365


And so we turn to Leah Madden, mother of four and feet-on-the-ground farmer’s partner. I dial the number and know this is going to be a long call; it’s almost local and late on a Friday night, the perfect time for a real conversation. She has had two more babies since we last spoke. Her eldest is the same age as my youngest and because I was a geriatric mother and she nearer paediatric, there is almost a generation between us! This did not show when we were thrown together in our baby group and it’s not showing tonight either.

I am excited to hear her voice but she is nervous, wondering what I’ll take away from this exchange and post. I tell her that most people tell me stuff I can’t repeat. It has been so long since they have spoken on a landline, they let rip!  She complains that with Facebook being our main communication tool, we only ever get to see the good in peoples lives, or the very bad; we both miss the everyday chat.

My children are playing football in the downstairs corridor, the dog starts barking. She laughs that nothing has changed and she is glad to hear that the madness just continues unabated.

The last time we saw each other was at our mutual friend’s funeral. He was the local clairvoyant and a flamboyant character. He died of natural causes early in the morning when he was in an online chatroom. I always wondered if anyone ever replied to the person he was chatting with to explain why Geoffrey had suddenly gone cold. If he’d been talking on the phone, he’d have dropped the receiver. But he just lay back. His funeral was unusual in that the undertaker apologised for the lack of a sound system and felt that Geoffrey was to blame. She said that as soon as his body was brought in, there was lots of activity in the funeral parlour with articles moving round and random items dropping to the floor. His body went off for an autopsy and the activity stopped, then he returned and the activity began again. She spoke about him as if he was there listening, so sure was she that he was.

I was telling my friend Kellie about it in our kitchen straight after the service and the microwave blew up there and then. How many places can you be in at once when you have died?

Leah said that she thinks of Geoffrey a lot. He had told her that she would be pregnant at the end of the journey. She had wondered what he meant by the journey. But there in the funeral parlour, she was pregnant at the end of his.

Our conversation then flits between shared memories, children, friends and she talks about enjoying life for what it is because you won’t come this way again. I tell her that I have just washed a book in the washing machine with a mixed load and all my clothes are covered in paper pulp. We are both washing for an army at moment. Hers has more soldiers but mine are bigger. We lament about laundering hidden tissues and disposable nappies and the effect it has on our lives. It is fitting that the book I washed was ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’

Sticking with the domestic life, she tells me that when the Blue Gum forest was cut down behind her house, fifty thousand mice moved in and would congregate on the middle of the sitting room as if they owned the place. I love talking about things like this and Leah has a knack for remembering the comic. She reminds me of when we met and I hadn’t been able to find anything to tie my hair up in so had used a pair of my children’s knickers. I’m pleased to say they were clean. Leah always had daring shoes and looked after hair when she just had the two children. I wonder if she’ll resort to the knicker bobble now that she has four.

Two hours later, we say ‘let’s talk again, let’s talk soon’ and put the phones down. It’s not over. She is coming to camp in our garden in the summer with all her babes. The washing machine will just have to cope.

'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' washed to bits. Nevermind.

‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ washed to bits. Nevermind.


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.

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!

Cate Thomas 30/365

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cate clearly had bigger things to think about

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

And here we are.

cate thomas
If My Dad were a dog banner ad

Kate Wagstaff 28/365

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

choir prac

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

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.
‘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.

Bettina Terry 25/365

As Bettina breezes out of the café, two hours after we began, I tell her that I don’t know where to start with this.
‘In the middle’ she replies and pays for the coffees.
I’ll cut to the chase. That’s a good metaphor to use in a blog about Ms Terry, she’s the fastest and fittest person I know. When I don’t have problems with my chest (stop it!) we go to the same circuit class and I watch her give the guys a run for their money. (Some people in town think that I’m married to her husband whose surname is Tallis and I like that.)
Bettina is exasperated. She stopped me outside school and asked if I could give her a little coaching session about Facebook as I seem to know what I’m doing. So I, a Facebook-sceptic am giving her, a Facebookphobic a lesson on Facebook, within a blog about Facebook.
Bettina feels, quite strongly and with hilarious exaggerated facial expressions, that she is running down her very interesting path of life, communicating with people in exactly the same way that she did 15 years ago, and over the hedge she can see immense activity in another paddock, the one they call ‘the online world’. She waves over the hedge and no one wave back, why? She even has solid proof that no one is waving because when she joined up five years ago, she put a faux birthday date on her page and no one says ‘Happy (non) birthday’ to her.
Her profile picture shows a little tent perched on a cold hillside. Is she in it? I’m writing this blog a day later and I text her to ask. Her timeline shows lovely pictures of Bettina and friends that her friends have uploaded but she herself hasn’t posted anything since 2008! She says she is a troglodyte, I think she means Luddite.
She hates Facebook, she hates the competitiveness, she hates the glossy brochure of one’s life being laid out in everyone’s houses. She hates the emails. The emails? She shows me her emails. As far as the eye can see there are messages from Facebook Facebook Facebook to tell her every single subtle nuance that has taken place on everyone else’s pages in the whole world of newsfeeds! She feels like Facebook has taken over her life and yet she never looks at it. I tell her that in two clicks that will all stop.
Bettina wants to learn about netiquette. It’s a hard one to teach, you learn it along the way, sometimes the hard way. I tell her that I garnered everything I know about Facebook in a half hour lesson from my 19 year old godson. He told me to avoid the newsfeed button because it’s a complete waste of time. I half took on his advice and limit myself to looking at the top three posts in the morning. Last night my friend’s brother’s house blew away in a tornado and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that bit of news.
Bettina wants me to tell her about the significance of the ‘like’ button and I say “Well you can completely dislike something and ‘like’ it. ‘Like’ means ‘I see what you’re saying’ or ‘I hate that as much as you do’ or ‘I’m sorry to hear that’ and also it means ‘I like that.’ I suppose the word ‘acknowledge’ was too complex for the planet.”
She often punctuates our conversation with the question ‘Why are you doing this blog?’ I keep finding it hard to put in a nutshell, and we get distracted. In the end I say that I want to address why the phones have stopped ringing and what effect that is having on us all. For the first time in our animated conversation she takes on a distant look. We talk about the deaths of our fathers. Her father worked from home and put a new phone line in Bettina’s bedroom when she hit the teens to keep his phone from ringing. Like me, the phone is wrapped up with her dad.
I confess that sometimes the police would ring our doorbell to say that my dad, the doctor, couldn’t be contacted and he’s needed in an emergency. He’d pick up the receiver in the kitchen to hear me on the other phone discussing the comparative merits of John Taylor and Simon Le Bon with Julie. Then he would race out of the house to the accident/heart attack/birth giving me plenty of time to plan distracting conversation topics for dinner time.
We talk about growing up with very active and now departed fathers. Bettina had a brother but always felt she needed to show her Dad how strong, clever, fast she was. I tell her that as the last of three girls I fell into the lad of the family role, racing bikes and short hair. I felt I needed to acknowledge the Alexander that I was until I popped out. I tell her that my Dad never ever said that he wished I’d been Alex afterall, healthy babies were everything to him. His patients, on the other hand, used to say they wished I’d been a boy to my face, they still do!
My grandfather, as the only boy in his family, having had one boy, my dad, must have felt a bit short changed. Even though we were very close, he did turn to me in the nursing home and say ‘Isn’t it a shame your dad didn’t have any children!’
I tell Bettina to have a laugh with Facebook and don’t try to understand it. She says that she wishes people would stop shortening words like ‘See you’ to C U. That reminds me of a text that Pookah Choo 14/365 sent me in the days when we were both learning to use our mobile phones, years ago. We had been to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the musical, and she had texted me to say ‘Lovely 2 (I’ll write it in longhand) See You N Truly Scrumptiousnesses.’ That had stopped me in my tracks.
I look at my phone. Bettina still hasn’t texted back about being inside the tent on the rocky hillside.

Four hours later, she lets me know she’s in there.



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.



Susan Nicholls 21/365

You thought that was the end of it didn’t you?

The phones stopped ringing for a little over a week, it’s true. Bronchitis and panic over being ill-prepared for a literary event put paid to the phone calls. I missed them. I missed the excitement! Was it really that exciting every day when we used them all the time? I think it was.

I will catch up, I have to catch up, I’ve promised Adrian 1/365.

I spoke to Susan down the line during the week off. She asked if I was overwhelmed. I said I was ill. She says that her Facebook friends are a great bunch of people and she is proud of her collection!

The unfortunate thing is that I made notes during my hour long phone call to her and now I don’t understand a word of them.

Hang on, I understand the bit where I wrote ‘you always remind me of my Mum’, that is self-explanatory. Susan has the same colouring as my mother, grey eyes, dark red hair, Welsh skin. Not many people have that in Australia. Both are linguists majoring in French. Both make me laugh out loud then carry on talking as if I’m not laughing and wonder why I am.

Philosophising is at the head of my notes followed by…

Seeing TV in a new way, blinkers are off, why do that scene when, Full Brazillian  (oh yes, the World Cup, that thieved part of my time), daughters could do that, (not sure what that means), could go to Ethiopia, wax lyrical, fairy story, like modern art, can you watch without the commentary? (!), gorgeous Italian footballers (I will have said that).

One of my previously blogged friends suggested very helpfully that I should reflect more on the experience (for me) of phoning different people everyday rather than going into depth about each friend. She said she couldn’t relax knowing I was note taking. Really though, I find note taking to be a necessity because of memory loss from too many nights out in my twenties with her! And then someone else, non-Fb friend, said that she loved getting an insight into my friend list and said how lucky I was to have such lovely friends. All of them are ‘worth knowing.’

Look, I’m sorry, I wasn’t feeling well when I took these notes but I don’t think I’ll call Susan again and ask her to elaborate. I talk to her at least once a week as it is. She makes my phone ring regularly and thank God she does! My world is a much better place for it!

Here are all our children.




Mandy Cosgriff 16/365

I called Mandy at 9pm. Kellie (11/365) had said I needed to call someone ‘easy’ for 15 minutes, as I looked tired.

I met Mandy in the first few weeks of our arrival to the area. She worked in tourism which was handy for us, as we had just bought the Aire Valley Guesthouse and she was a font of knowledge. She also had a daughter the same age as ours and she introduced me to everyone in the Kinder.

I was invited to join a collection of mums who were prepared to make an exhibition of themselves, performing a play and a song to the children and parents at Christmas.

The practice and sock-puppet making, was at Mandy’s house and we let off steam singing and dancing until someone, perhaps a neighbour, shouted at us all to ‘Shadddupppp!’

For the performance, which we really hadn’t dedicated enough quality time to, Mandy got up and sang ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ in red fishnet tights, that’s all she and I can remember of her outfit! The play, which was ‘The Night before Christmas’ performed by sock puppet mice, started badly with all the children shouting ‘we’ve heard this before’. Two of the sock puppets accidentally broke a cardboard chair prop which brought on gales of laughter so we just continued to wreck the set for the duration, fighting and throwing the furniture and the decorations into the audience. We would have loved to have seen it.

Mandy is the big-eyed after-thought of a farmer from the Heytesbury region and his reluctant wife. She spent her evenings after school chopping wood and feeding cows and longed to sit on the bonnets of cars with the townie kids outside the milk bar. But now she is grateful for her summers of carting hay, motorbike riding at 8 years old and camping.

She asks me why we came to this region, of all places, and I tell her how much I had wanted to come back after a trip here in ’92 for a day, when I had galloped a horse called Budget along the beach. When I had an asthma attack in London in 2003 and couldn’t shake it off I lay awake at night waiting for a breath for about 30 seconds. With a very light head I would  plug in my nebuliser and lie there wondering how to make my life stretch beyond that night. I had two small children and when I remembered that the actress Charlotte Coleman had died of exactly the same symptoms, we knew we had to escape the pollution. Air is important. The air at that blew on to the Aire River was straight off the Antarctic, only the penguins had smelt it before we did. I no longer have asthma.

It is lovely speaking to Mandy. She has a warm, comfortable, empathetic tone to her voice. I could talk to her forever!  We discuss tough love with our little ones, teaching them about taking the consequences for your own actions and how justice begins at home.

She tells me that she still has the fishnet tights that she sang in that Christmas, they are a reminder of the good times but now the good times involve staying at home with her family and talking on the phone to people like me for TWO HOURS!