Phones

Hugh Alistair Burnham 54/365

It’s fitting that Hugh should be the next person for me to call since he is one of two reasons why I have had a blog holiday. The other is his new wife, Karen.

Eighteen months ago, the ultra organised Karen rang to tell me that they were going to get married and would I be her bridesmaid? I was flattered. I am 47 years old I have two daughters with doe eyes and smiles that knock you out, but it was to be me in the lilac dress.

brideys

Hugh facebooked me (arrgghh I’m using facebook as a verb) to tell me that he would call me. I thought that was very generous but he went on to mention that he has a deal where calls to Australia are completely free. Whilst waiting for the phone to ring I thought back to the calls of my childhood. In 1971 we had to ring our grandparents in London via an operator. It felt like we were calling Russia.

The phone rang, it really is a lovely sound when you are expecting the call and know that no one is going to try to sell you anything. Hugh’s deep Australian voice reverberated down the line. He tells me he has plenty of time to call me because he has just had knee reconstructive surgery so sitting in a chair calling friends for free in Oz and watching sport are his main two pastimes.

Last time we spoke was face to face in Leicestershire two months ago when he had given me a massive hug the day after his wedding, and I was setting off back to his land, leaving him in mine.

It’s a long story but I’ll be quick. Four years ago, Hugh lived in a hot New South Welsh town called Hay and his neighbour invited her friend Karen, who is also my friend, out to stay with her. A whirlwind romance ensued between Karen and Hugh and then came the engagement and then the lavish wedding.

H and Bridey

Take one English woman who has been raising her children constantly and relentlessly for sixteen years, send her back to her homeland twelve thousand miles away, drop her into wedding party, throw in a hen’s day in Paris and see what happens. I actually didn’t know that my capacity for laughter, tears and flirting with French firemen was really that great.

Cedric, Christopher and Romain. French firemen moonlighting as tour guides!

Cedric, Christopher and Romain. French firemen moonlighting as tour guides!

I thank Hugh for the brilliant time that I had because he got married. He tells me that the celebrations all calmed down and got a lot more civilised after I left. But the one thing on his mind now, the new celebration, is that Australia knocked England (the host nation) out of the Rugby World Cup. He played rugby to a high level, he still plays rugby. I played women’s rugby at Loughborough University. Rugby and I loved and hated each other. I’m glad I did it because it made me really brave. He said he wasn’t brave but was beligerent during THE match. As the only Australian in the rugby club rooms in Peterborough he made sure he more than made up for a lack of Aussie chanting. But no one was ever going to pick on him, he is six feet of prime Australian country boy strength, patriotic and proud of it. Here he is, number 22.

hugh

He tells me that he does use the phone more than most. I used it a lot at their house to hear my children’s voices on the opposite side of the planet, the feeling of detatchment from them almost made me dizzy as I sat on the stairs playing with the curly wire of the plugged in landline.

I ask him who on earth he possibly calls these days as hardly anyone answers a home phone anymore. He reels off a list of friends all picking up the receiver at work in Australia, and his Dad and his Mum. His voice falters a bit with the last callees. It isn’t easy being so far from home.

Hugh and his mum, Helen.

Hugh and his mum, Helen.

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Brigitte Fessier 49/365

brigitte

Brigitte and I only connected on Facebook a month ago after 15 years out of touch.

She lives in Toulouse in France and our mothers are good friends. She became my summertime au pair when the phones were ringing to the max in 1970 and I saw her as a bit of a genie! She wanted to grant every wish I had and that led to some very spoilt facial expressions from me.

I was lucky to have her to myself as no one else had plans to pamper me, but her ideas for dressing me each day led to one big rebellion. Definitely not the blue dress, definitely not the pigtails with ribbons. Today she was quick to remind me that I took the scissors to the blue dress and made a wrap-around garment for the doll I hated too.

Hearing her voice and her stories brought back so many great memories and made this song ring in my ears.

In 1980 when she was less of an au pair and more of a talking point, she bought this single and played it on repeat for the entire six weeks of her visit. We watched her through glass doors dancing.

Chatting, we cover a lot of old ground. She says my page about (“the very naughty”) Damian Buckley really rang true for a time when the phone never did stop ringing. She remembers standing in the hall with three phones blaring out and knowing that she would have to pick one up and face a patient. The very thought took me right back to moments when I would have to lower my voice and act like I knew what I was talking about too. On that particular occasion, she thought she had done quite well until the patient asked her which part of India she was from.

Then she reels off our number 70699; we all had a soft spot for it.

I was Godmother to her younger daughter and over the years we have had great reunions for family milestones. Cecilia (Missy) has taken the family skill in dancing to a new level, Kizomba! Here she is in Paris.

We finish our conversation with a lot of love bouncing off the satellites between Australia and France; very appropriate for this ANZAC day blog because everyone is feeling it.

Rene Knaap 48/365

Rene 2

Rene and I have spoken quite a lot on the phone recently, the real phone, you know, the plugged in one. It feels a bit like going back in time because when we were small we seemed to be phoning the local Anglican priest a lot; church was at the centre of the village and the centre of our lives in the 1970’s.

My playground was the graveyard that surrounded the church until swings arrived in about 1976. Having the gravedigger as a close personal childhood friend and swinging my legs in the hole as he sank deeper and deeper into the earth is one of my most precious childhood memories. Later, when he had gone, we would have competitions with friends to see who could jump over the hole- lengthways! It was fine with some of the little old ladies, but Sid Sumner, never. The invention of plastic tarpaulin ended that great game. And I stopped going to church regularly in my twenties.

Rene and I met in real life in a cafe because I had asked him to be a referee for me. I sometimes wish someone would come along and blow a whistle and instruct me to sit on the bench but Rene would never be that kind of referee.

We had chatted for about an hour and a half when I told him how hard it is catching people on the landline now and then I announced that I was going to take his photo and turn this chat into a blog post. I’m not sure if that is breaking the rules or not but with the next page 49/365 being dedicated to my lovely French nanny/friend whom I haven’t spoken to in 15 years, I could do with a quiet number 48.

I then begin taking notes which Rene looks unsure about. I try to make it look less like a dictation by writing just the odd word (illegibly) and the focus of our conversation turns towards the phone. Rene tells me what he thinks about the modern use of the phone, ‘it’s all so immediate. People rarely chat, they are more often than not giving messages’ and I chip in that most people now say ‘don’t phone, text!’ They even leave spoken messages telling you to do just that. It’s putting a strain on our talking time but not our voices.

I tell him, as if he is my counsellor (which I suppose he is), that I now really only have two or three friends left to phone in England, it’s all about Facebook now. He calls it ‘The Long Goodbye. You emigrate and expect to keep in touch via modern means but really it’s just prolonging the inevitable.’ He explains that when his parents emigrated from Holland, it was for good and apart from airmail letters you had to cope with having said goodbye for ever. I do visit my homeland in my dreams and my dad used to spend hours on google earth ‘driving’ round his practice after he had emigrated too. And thanks to modern aviation, I shall visit it in person later this year when I am going to be a bridesmaid for a friend outside London. Yes, that’s right, I have two beautiful daughters but my friend wants me as her bridesmaid!

We discuss weddings and Rene tells me that there has been an 80% drop in the number of weddings held in churches. However, there is a couple in New Zealand who went on google earth and thought that our town was the prettiest they had ever seen so he is marrying them in the church later in the year; they have never been here before!

Two coffees, one tea and one hot chocolate later, we head back into the street. I have to tell you that I went to four church services over Easter, Rene and Brett put on such beautiful and peace-loving services, I became addicted. I never thought I’d find a church like my old one back home, and I haven’t, I’ve found a new one and it’s really good.

Offspring on Swepstone Church wall. Dad's ashes are here.

Offspring on Swepstone Church wall. Dad’s ashes are here.

Brett and Rene.

Brett and Rene.

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!)

Kara Harrington 31/365

Kara and I met in the heady days when we both had our babies; her first baby and my last, both boys. We were at opposite ends of the fecundity spectrum. She, at 19  was old enough to be my daughter, but let’s not let age get in the way of a good friendship.

She kindly phones me as her calls are free in the evening and you just don’t know how long these things will go on for. Her voice takes me back to the kindergarten room where five of us sat round with babes on our laps, laughing. As the boys grew up they spent their kinder years in that room, I say room but I mean garden. Kara’s Matt and my James were mad on Aussie Rules so, thanks to their enlightened teacher, they spent four hours outside, three days a week in all weathers, kicking a bright oval red ball back and forth to each other when other three year olds throughout the country were being told to sit down. They both still hold dreams of playing for a top team.

Her voice also transports me right back to perhaps the most dramatic night of my mothering years. Kara was standing under the blades of an air ambulance helicopter as James and I went in, up and away to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

I had roasted a chicken (no the helicopter wasn’t for the chicken), and I had added a lot of watery stock to the bottom of the roasting dish. Then I had put on my trainers and run off to badminton.

My husband took the chicken out of the oven and put it in the uneven hob top, James wandered over, put one finger on the side of the roasting pan and the whole thing fell on him.

I had played a game and then saw that my phone was ringing. It was home.

I told a friend to call the local First Aiders and ran back. I have written a novel for girls that is doing the rounds with agents and publishers and is called ‘The Nurse in a Purse’. Six years ago I had forced my Dad to sit down and tell me all he knew about First Aid for my book, and burns had been high on his list. He had said that a lot of damage can be prevented just by holding the skin under cold running water until help arrives. So James and I stood under the cold shower for five minutes and I watched all the skin on his chest melt away.

Kara was between badminton games when she heard the helicopter landing outside. She related this conversation to me when we were huddled together as the paramedics got James ready.

‘What’s going on with the helicopter?’ she had asked.

‘Oh that will be for Annabel’s little boy’ some one had replied.

She did an exact impression then of her next sentence.

‘I said “What happened?”‘  But she didn’t just say ‘What happened?’ she said ‘What happened?’ with total love for James in her eyes like this, you try it, ‘What happened?’

I remember her big, glassy eyes against the dark of the night sky and having her there made all difference; her calmness and her care as the wait chipped away at my sanity. Then I jumped into the helicopter and we took off. The happy ending is that James’s chest healed really quickly and I don’t want to sound glib but it was hard not to enjoy skirting the ocean to the city in a flying car, my damp eyes making the twinkly lights into a kaleidoscopic laser show.  The next day we met footy legend Wayne Carey and James saw the sharks and the meerkats that live at the hospital. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m just describing the sort of dream you have when you’re pregnant.

Kara had three children in four years and we talk about her own dashes to hospital, through the Otways in the middle of the night.

She is now doing a dental hygiene degree at La Trobe University and has left the area for a while. We agree to meet on the beach in the summer holidays for a marathon kick to kick. I miss her.

kara Wayne Carey If My Dad were a dog banner ad

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
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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.

Satchwell

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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Wayne Williamson 27/365

Wayne comes in at number 27. He wants to be 27 but doesn’t say why and I forget to ask. We have been friends since he was the one on the far left in the hand knitted blue V-neck and I was seated four along the second row.

Wayne in the blue in front of Mrs Rothwell, me in the smock, seated fourth from the left.

Our friendship is 41 years old and his voice hasn’t changed in sound, just in pitch. When he answers the phone he reminds me that we weren’t very close friends at Snarestone C of E primary school (thanks) and I tell him that he used to get on my nerves (you’re welcome).

I think he means that it is quite startling that, with the help of the instrument of Facebook, we are closer now than we have ever been. In 2012, after Wayne and I had spent a year on messenger, he organised a reunion of old mates. It was on the evening after my Dad’s memorial service and was like the cherry on the big medical cake- me chatting to old friends about what my dad had cured them of and remembering when, without anaesthetic, he had freed Wayne’s willy from his zip.

We both have crystal clear memories and catching up on them has been a scream. I can ask him to name the type of car that Geoff Eaton (father of our close mutual friend, Toni) was driving in 1973 and he would remember the registration. I could ask him what type of transportation  Norina’s Italian mum wore dangling from her ears and he would say ‘Silver ships’, wouldn’t you Wayne? And what did she use as a pet name for us all? My baby.

I tell him that I was always in awe of the naughty kids. When I stayed at Toni’s we took over the streets of the village of Snarestone, played ‘Knock-a-door-run’, rode our bikes round in circles in the road, and drank bottles of pop secretly stolen from the village hall. We did impressions of Terry Ashmore buying cigarettes, ’10 number 6 and a packet of matches’ and got chased by the same drunk man outside The Globe repeatedly. We did some other things that are just unspeakable, but it’s not as if any of us got killed is it? Yes it is.

I’m glad when the topic of our friends who have died comes up early in our conversation. In a school where there are only nine in a year group, losing two before they are adults is life changing for everyone. Wayne was in the year above and was close friends with Norina through village life and would have been protective over Roger because of their shared impish streaks. They were all such live wires. In the picture, Norina is three to the right of me and Roger is two down from her.

Both of us remember Roger’s death as if it was yesterday. I remember the stripy socks I was wearing and the cream phone in Scotland that I took the call from Toni on. He remembers the look on the face of the neighbour who came to say that Roger had been knocked off his bike by a motorbike and had died.

Five years later, in 1984 I was in bed fretting about exam results on the 24th of August and my parent’s home help came in to tell me what she had heard on the radio and Norina had died after falling off the back of a motorbike.

Wayne and I discuss their funerals. Children weren’t at Roger’s. My mum went and gave me a minute by minute run down of it all. I remember the hymns and all the details as if I was there.

Norina’s funeral was packed. It was held in the tiny church that we attended as a school and again, nothing is forgotten. I tell Wayne that losing those two has sent my life off in directions that I would never have dreamed of because, at a very impressionable age, I learnt that life can be over in a second. And if it can end that quickly, what are we waiting for?

Wayne was clearly in a hurry to make the best of his life. He has three children and ten grandchildren (you heard). He is his own boss, he follows his passions of football and formula one and he wrestles daily with the vivid memories that make him who he is.

At Norina’s funeral the vicar stood up and, in his dramatic Welsh voice, said ‘Every single one of you will be sitting here now asking why. Why would God take away a young life such as this? Why would a caring God take back one whom we all loved so much?’

We listened as if our lives depended on the answer.

‘And the answer is…

we don’t know.’

me and w roger

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.

 

Bettina

Karen Halsey 5/365

She answers the phone; her voice is exactly the same and it transports me back to the smoke.

I can’t imagine Karen sitting in a room that isn’t thick with itI Not only did all the grown ups in her house smoke, they also never opened any windows. We would head upstairs to her impressive doll collection and I would gaze out of the window at the little girl, Toni, over the road who eventually became my best friend. Both Karen and I could remember Toni’s wardrobe of clothes ‘do you remember her little kilt?’ I asked and she said ‘yes, she always wore it with that thin jumper’ and I knew we were both on the same page. Karen was my sister’s best friend at primary school and I would do what I could to find ways to tag along.

We haven’t spoken since I was 7. The saying goes ‘Show me a child til they are 7 and I will show you the wo/man’ (that’s the girl power version). So Karen knew the hot off the press grown up version of me and then we lost touch when she went to secondary school. She thought I was quiet but I was completely in awe of her, being as she was, the first May Queen.

The first and main thing we talk about is my Dad. He was the doctor in the area and that made his three daughters minor celebrities, a label which we tried to shake off constantly. I mean, your father’s profession really isn’t a choice you make, we just answered the phones and wrote little messages to him about chicken pox.

Karen tells me that she remembers him so clearly driving round the country roads with his classical music blaring out of the open sunroof. I’m suddenly sitting behind him on the back seat, asking if I can put my head out of the roof and then not being able to breathe with the rush of air.

I ask, bravely, whether her parents are still alive and she is pleased to say her mum is, and I’m quite amazed. She said she hasn’t given up the fags and can’t see the point at 84. Her dad died a while back. She said that my Dad was with him at the end. They had been expecting him to die for some time and my dad said ‘let go, just let go’ and he died.

I didn’t know that my dad said those words to his dying patients, but, in the hospice, that is exactly what I had said to him and he died.

I told her where his ashes were buried in Swepstone. ‘If you stand in the circle of stones opposite the church door and face Snarestone, he is at one o’clock (lunch time of course).

She told me of the death of her older sister, Diane, and that was a shock. That’s a problem with Facebook, you only know the facts that have been made public and if you aren’t on the phones anymore, these things can be missed. I might have been awestruck by Karen but I was always still able to say something. With Diane, I would gaze at her feathercut, her yellow platform shoes, her brown mini skirts and I became speechless.

I was pleased to hear news of her brother who was so popular and so naughty at school. (We didn’t mention the stink bomb that was set off during a screening of ‘Around the World in 80 days’ in the school hall and we didn’t mention the Southern Comfort incident either, best left.)

We talk about work and I tell her that my Dog book is coming out in Chinese. I laugh that the local famous Chinese restaurateur of Ashby is on my mind quite a lot and she tells me that he lost his empire in a card game, someone has taken over the restaurant and it’s still good.

Everything is still good. I’m on the phone talking to Karen, I haven’t spoken to her for 40 years and we are both grateful for the eventful and loving past that we shared.

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