Elly McDonald

Writer


Leave a comment

Avon and Servalan, Paul and Jacqueline – memoirs

Call me Jacks – Jacqueline Pearce in conversation [with Nicholas Briggs] Audio CD

You’re him, aren’t you? An autobiography by Paul Darrow

From 1978 till 1981 the British sci-fi series Blake’s 7 was broadcast on TV across four seasons, 52 episodes in all. Blake’s 7 was originated by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks of Doctor Who fame. He intended Blake’s 7 to be a darker alternative to Doctor Who: Doctor Who for adults. Or a darker Star Wars. It ended badly. I mean that. As a 20 year old fan in 1981, I was so distressed by Blake’s 7’s final scenes that I wrote to the newspapers: Shocked of Kings Cross, Sydney (a neighbourhood where most of us were mostly unshockable).

There were two mainstay characters who did not appear in Episode 1, Series 1, and one of these characters was missing – and greatly missed – in that final episode. The other claims the final shot. These characters are the evil galactic Supreme Commander Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and Avon, first introduced as a cold, self-interested, sociopathic hacker, played by Paul Darrow.

Servalan

The absence of Servalan and Avon might explain why, when I watched a repeat of Episode 1, Series 1 when Blake’s 7 was rescreened in the ‘90s, I could not make out why I’d loved this show so much. Avon and Servalan. They were the drawcards. Tarrant was cute and Cally quite compelling, Vila was amusing and the first Travis had a kind of S&M appeal, but really, for me Blake’s 7 was Avon and Servalan. This I understand was true for many of the series’ 10 million or so (at its peak) viewers.

Servalan, especially, was a kind of perverted role model for me. After a miserable love affair, I cut my hair to a short fuzz, to look like hers. Men wanted to touch the possum fur fuzz on my head. I let them. But I knew I was an alter ego – a lost clone – of the Supreme Commander and that if I chose, those men would be laser blast fragments.

servalan blasts Avon

Having recently re-encountered Blake’s 7, I was curious to learn what happened to the actors in their subsequent lives. I found there is a pop cult industry around the series, a business called B7 and a business called Big Finish, with audio adventures voiced by original cast members and Comic Con appearances. There are autobiographical materials, such as Call Me Jacks – Jacqueline Pearce in conversation (audio CD) and Paul Darrow’s memoir You’re him, aren’t you? – An autobiography.

What did I learn?

I learned that it’s painful to be an actor, that the odds of achieving any kind of success are stacked against acting aspirants, that success once achieved is seldom enough, and seldom sustained, and that the pain of being a has-been and the pain of being a never-was and the pain of finding hollow “success” can be hard to live with.

I learned that Darrow and Pearce are both deeply ambivalent about Blake’s 7, that the 35 years since have seen both struggle with depression and despair, and struggle in other ways. Pearce talks openly, recklessly, about it. Darrow circles around pain and disappointment over and over, looping through themes of ambition and failure, and feelings of anger and envy, till the cumulative effect is of an old actor, deep in his cups, holding forth in a way he hopes is avuncular but in fact comes across as bitter. Not that I’m saying Paul Darrow drinks. I’m talking about how I read his memoir.

Paul Darrow Avon

There are positives. Jacqueline Pearce is painfully open, recounting a tale of talent blighted by mental illness, but her story testifies to resilience and the value of friendships, including a supportive friendship with the late great actor John Hurt. It’s easy to empathise with Pearce’s observations and experiences, and easy to admire her fortitude. Plus, her voice is beautiful, even if her frequent throaty laugh becomes unsettling.

Paul Darrow is an intelligent man and his account of his life attests resilience, too, and enterprise. He writes in short pieces, not necessarily linear chronology, and I wish there’d been a sympathetic editor to hand to help him focus on the interesting questions he raises, and to minimise some of the more indulgent sections, such as his synopses of each episode of every Blake’s 7 series, which could be summarised as “The narratives were crap, the production values trash; if you care about Blake’s 7, the more fool you.”

I don’t think he meant to imply Blake’s 7’s production team, or its viewers, are idiots, but he does imply that, at length. Then he contradicts himself and praises the writers, the directors, the stunt crew, thanks the actors for their friendship and thanks Terry Nation for transforming his life. Like I said, conflicted.

Paul Darrow is an intelligent man. He does raise good questions. Given the plots are ludicrous, the stunts unconvincing, special effects rudimentary and the production values shout low budget, what can account for Blake’s 7’s popularity? This was a show shot on video, not film, shot largely within semi-bare stationary sets (Scene: The interior of a space craft), with quarries and occasional sand drifts for location shoots, and characters who wield what look like hair-dryers standing in for laser guns.

And this: why did audiences relate so strongly to the overt sociopaths, to Avon and Servalan? Why did the sparks of an Avon/Servalan pairing cause salivations? Why, cosmos above, would young women like me imagine Servalan a role model and fantasise about Avon?

Servalan Avon.jpg

Paul Darrow is an intelligent man and in his autobiography he acknowledges these questions. Then, after a half-hearted stab in response (Avon as “a bit of rough”?), he gloomily gives up, as if it’s all too much. Which it would seem it was.

It must be hard, for Paul Darrow, to start out sharing a house with fellow RADA students John Hurt and Ian McShane, and at the height of one’s fame to be touted as a future James Bond (Timothy Dalton got the Bond gig), then to be relegated to pantomime, touring rep (again), and the continuing audio adventures of a character you played several decades back. A character who logic suggests died.

Darrow writes interestingly about typecasting, and he writes about an actor’s need for an audience, for affirmation. He is savagely funny about how he’ll be remembered. As ever, he’s torn, not sure whether anyone will care at all, or whether there’ll be mangled memories and pop culture fan-hysteric tears, or whether some people might consider his career had value. I’m here to reassure him. Paul, you are loved. How could a reader not love an actor who quotes the review that said “Paul Darrow plays Macbeth like Freddie Mercury giving a farewell concert”, and the review that read “Paul Darrow is an actor worth watching, but not in this play”?

It must be hard, for Jacqueline Pearce, to start out as the RADA ‘girl most likely’, directed by Trevor Nunn, hanging out with John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins and Ian McShane (no mention of Paul Darrow), then be ‘demoted’ in the final series of Blake’s 7, omitted altogether from the final episode, then spend most of the next decades with little or no acting work, instead dependent on Housing Benefits and the kindness of friends, with stints as an artists’ life-drawing nude model in Cornwall, and volunteering in a monkey sanctuary in Africa. Plus stints in psychiatric care. And two bouts with cancer.

Servalan Jacqueline Pearce

Live well, Jacqueline.

My own best answer for why Blake’s 7 was loved is this:

In the late ‘70s, the Western world began to understand its supremacy could not last. Throughout the ‘70s there were petrol politics, revolutions, the Irish Troubles, labour unrest, increasing disparity between North and South, and rich and poor. During Blake’s 7’s run, the USA voted out Jimmy Carter and voted in Ronald Reagan. Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Britain.

We weren’t too sure about our heroes – was Thatcher a Servalan? – and we weren’t sure who were the villains (the IRA? Revolutionaries in Iran?).

Paul Darrow points out it isn’t clear whether the crew of the space ship Liberator, the crew who were “Blake’s seven”, were in fact heroes or simply terrorists. He asks, if Blake was trying to lead a popular revolution, why was nobody else rising up? Could it be, possibly, that the Evil Empire was not perceived by its citizens as evil? Could it be that Blake, and his crew, with their talents for destruction, remained criminals even on the Liberator, as they had started out criminals?

In times of change and extreme moral ambivalence the foremost task, possibly, becomes survival. Avon and Blake and the Blake’s 7 crew hurtled through a hostile universe, hunted by omnipresent authorities, unsure of their mission, not knowing who to trust. So you trust the strong man. You trust the sociopath, Avon, because Avon has his eyes on the prize: survival. Or you follow the Supreme Commander, Servalan, because Servalan is also a survivor, and her will to power is second to none.

Pearce and Darrow were good at playing survivors.

Don’t be fooled by that soft velvet fuzz. Servalan will kill rather than be killed, and Avon will, always, be the last man standing.

avon and guards

 


1 Comment

W for War

Becky Sharp and Rawdon Crawley

The office is divided
by corridors: this side
that side
In the centre a common meeting ground
Reception
With its wall-size red logo
W for War
The foot soldiers tramp
through the common area
primed for hostilities
ready to do damage
and die. Metaphorically.
They know so little.

Grunts – writing exercise 2014

Let’s begin with Michael Hutchence’s death. That’s a cynical place to begin, because of course it – any “it” – began much earlier. But this is a cynical tale, so let’s start where Michael ended.

One morning late in 1997 I arrived at my Knightsbridge workplace – the office with W emblazoned above the reception desk – and the tabloids on the foyer table screamed that Michael Hutchence was dead. Found hanged behind a hotel room door. I don’t remember much of that day but I do remember getting home at about 7.30pm and crying hysterically for two hours.

Michael had been an acquaintance, possibly a friend, of mine. He was a year or so older than me and we’d arrived in Sydney at much the same time. In my first week in Sydney I saw Michael and his band, INXS, play at the bottom of a four-band bill at the Stagedoor Tavern. I say “saw”, but the Stagedoor was so crowded, so dark, I couldn’t see the stage.

I became a rock music writer, Michael became a rock star. I interviewed him when the band were unknowns, then when they achieved national fame; I hung out with him while INXS recorded their international breakthrough album Kick, I met up with him occasionally and we nattered.

I wrote him a poem, at his request:

stops at the sound of
his name called by
a stranger – then
recalls
who she is and forgets
himself: it’s you
he smiles (he always means it)
he laughs (and feels abashed)
her eyes mirror his
she is his (they always are)
they are both young
veterans
they both can
remember
moments of belief, of the only kind
he’ll know
all strangers
his kind. He is
kind, or he could be, this singled out
outsider
he takes her
camera and asks
Am I in there?

Someone Famous, With Girl (1985)

In 2014 I wrote a blog about Michael that stops at that poem and bears its title.

The last time I saw Michael was New Year’s Eve 1988. I was at a party at a Sydney harborside mansion. Michael was there, with model-actress Virginia Hey. I was femme’d up – stiletto heels, a satin bubble skirt, ‘90s long hair – and we exchanged formal nods. My heels sank into the lawn and mosquitoes bit my shins.

As INXS conquered the U.S. charts, and as stories about Michael’s jet-setting lifestyle cluttered the tabloids, I came to see Michael as symbolic of “success”: Michael was the one who’d made it. I envied him his home in the south of France, his London pad, his famous friends. I envied him the Good Life with the Beautiful People. Even when paparazzi ambushed him and Paula Yates that notorious Sunday morning on their weekend ‘getaway’ (as if), even as I grew anxious for his well-being, I still saw Michael as representing success, and I still saw success as luxury and celebrity.

That night, after Michael’s death, I had a nightmare that another of my rock star acquaintance-friends, a peer of Michael’s, Marc Hunter, had hanged himself too. (Marc died a few months later, of throat cancer; I didn’t know he was ill). I wore black to work the next day, and a small cross, and Liza Minnelli sad eyes, and I told my boss and another workmate about my nightmare. Michael’s death was all over the papers, or should I say, the papers were all over Michael’s death. I worked at a media planning agency, with 50 young men, two young female media planners, and four admin support staff (all female). Almost all staff were aged under 30. There were jokes about rock star deaths.

Rock star deaths proved such a hit that our Xmas Party Social Committee decided to make that the Xmas party theme: Dead Pop Stars. The 33 year old who headed up the committee announced his intention to go as Michael Hutchence, in blue face, with a rope around his neck. I said that if Dead Pop Stars was the theme, I – the marketing director – would not attend the Xmas party. The theme was amended simply to Pop Stars.

My boss told me other staff complained I was making something out of nothing. They didn’t believe I’d known Michael Hutchence. My boss told me to buck up. I decided to use the shock of Michael’s death to make changes in my life. I took to jogging around the Serpentine in Hyde Park during my lunch break, a short-lived practice.

On about my second run I emerged from the lift and stepped into the office foyer as my boss was waiting to take the lift down. I glared at him; I was embarrassed at being seen in lycra shorts.

My boss asked, “You look at me as if you hate me. But I’m the only friend you have around here.”

That, I think, is a truer beginning.

But let’s loop back just a little, again. Let’s set it in context. First, my boss. I’ll call him Mark (not his real name). Mark was a beacon of integrity in a muddy media landscape. He advocated for transparency in media planning and buying deals. Once, I could have explained to you what that means. Now, I don’t really remember how media buying worked, if I ever did at all. Mark spoke at international conferences on media transparency, quality media planning, media futures (the digital age – the media environment that now surrounds us). He was 39, from Newcastle, handsome, married – to Annie (not her real name) – and he had two young children. Unusually for the English, he had perfect teeth, a blinding white smile. He was Mister Clean.

Then, there was me. I was Becky Sharp, as in Vanity Fair: Thackeray’s Becky. I was on the make, an out-of-towner who’d landed in London as winter fell, in mid-recession, no contacts and no money and who, appalled, clawed and clambered her way out of a lowly hole up several higher rungs towards the glamour of Park Lane. I’d walked out on workplaces where it seemed to me I’d been scorned and mistreated, out-faced people who’d tried to exploit me, slapped down what seemed like an endless array of bored married men, clients and colleagues, who seemed to assume I was cheap meat. Previous to London I’d lived for a decade in Sydney’s Kings Cross, in a lane known as Blood Alley, in honour of a gangster shoot-out in the ‘20s. I swear I had more men proposition me in London workplaces than ever propositioned me on the Golden Mile. Mad Men, indeed.

To get my current job I’d sat out of the workforce for three months, from when I first interviewed – when the managing director stared at me and said, “You really don’t care what anyone thinks of you, do you?” – till several months later, when the CEO, Mark, hired me. Now I had the title ‘Marketing Director’, a salary nearly two and a half times my starting salary in London five years before, and an office to myself with a window view through green trees towards Hyde Park, where I could watch the Regimental Changing of the Guard. Did I hold it against Mark that the process took so long? Truthfully, I did.

Mark supported and encouraged me when I bought my perfect apartment. I panicked and thought I should mail the keys back to the mortgage holder at once. Mark didn’t understand that. You have a good job, he said. You earn good money now.

I did have a good job, and I earned danger money – salaries in advertising and media agencies were high in recognition that the business was cut-throat. Time at the top could be brief. ‘Success’ was contingent on bringing in business and servicing that business so outstandingly that clients were retained, despite constant churn. Mark and I were a team focused on bringing in business. His responsibilities were infinitely more complex than mine, and he had more at stake.

… Or something about the poison of gossip, running like mercury through corridors in glamorous West End offices. I’m thinking of the First Emperor, in Ch’in, whose tomb – legend has it – is lethally protected by a moat of mercury.

Black Cat Crossing – writing exercise 2014

Mark was right. I was close to friendless in that workplace. Close to but not totally. Kate, Anna, Tara, Sarah and Robbie were kind. Notice it’s girl allies, mostly. (The male office manager was also decent.) I don’t doubt I was an affront to my male colleagues, and I was Australian. I was bolshie – aggressive and odd. I claimed to know dead rock stars.

Worse, I was 36 and lonely. I’d been so disorientingly lonely in the past few years that I’d done foolish things. Once I got off a bus outside Selfridges to follow a man in a well-cut coat because I fancied his coat, or what I thought it represented. I shadowed him some way up Oxford Street before I lost him in the winter crowds. I wondered just what I would have done if he’d stayed in sight. Would I really have propositioned him, as I’d planned to?

I’d phoned and written to a man I’d flung with in 1992 for several years after he’d moved on. Fortunately that was resolved by 1997. I’d met him at media events, twice, and we were cool. Thank you, Seumas (not his real name).

I’d formed an attachment to a man who liked me back. But this was a man who, when we first got to know each other, over champagne cocktails, told me the best thing that’d ever happened to him was meeting his wife. That man – let’s call him Amiel (not his real name) – might have been, briefly, open to an affair. But I’d told him it would be a very, very bad idea for any married man to get involved with me as I find painful to let go, and I’d make his – this hypothetical man’s – life hell.

I’d spent 10 wretched weeks living at a Cold Comfort Farm in Kent with an alcoholic depressive in conditions so unhygienic I’d had repeat bouts of food poisoning.

I tried a dating agency, and was temporarily imprisoned by a cult leader (now there’s a story!); lonely-hearts columns, and met a man who turned nasty after one date when I was out and couldn’t pick up the phone next time he rang; and going to public functions, where I met a Young Conservative who suffered what looked like anaphylactic shock when he learned I was 10 years older than him. There were others.

I bought a vibrator in a sex shop off Leicester Square and was followed out into a side street by an Irishman who whispered he could give me the “real thing”.

I’d had one-night stands with a few – a very few – men who were what I considered sluts: men who were promiscuous and single, or reckless with their relationships. None of them men I worked with.

I’d formed a crush not long after starting in my current job, on the man who headed the Social Committee. That’s right, the one who wanted to be Dead Michael in Blue Face. My first week, some colleagues had drinks after work and as he’d said good-bye he’d touched my cheek then kissed me. I was touched-starved. That was all it took. His private office was one up from my private office. One afternoon I went to his office, talked shop, and my hand had momentarily touched his knee. He’d looked shocked.

Down the line, I heard the office gossip was that I’d stroked his penis. Apparently that – direct quote – is what he’d told them. I was also told by a director, to my face, that I was having an affair with Mark. Colleagues froze me out of social contact. The one time I went to the pub with workmates at the table where I sat a colleague jutted his jaw at me and challenged, “Mark’s wife is a really nice person.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I replied. “Mark is a really nice person. Of course he has a really nice wife.”

I didn’t get it.

I went to a corporate event – Robbie Williams performing in Hyde Park – and sat behind the actress Felicity Kendall, beside Mark and his family. Mark’s wife got up and walked away, taking the children. Mark followed. I went to the bar. People I’d worked with previously stared at me and sniggered. I still didn’t get it.

I should have got it. I was not blameless. Somewhere after “I’m your only friend in this place” and me buying my apartment, Mark and I became close. I think this is because we were both, essentially, at risk. The agency was working on an extended pitch, a new business pitch that absorbed six months of effort. We had a major client which was merging with other companies to form a megacorporation. Our part of the business up for grabs was valued at, from memory, close on UKP100 million. It mattered. If we could win this business, it would vindicate Mark’s business strategy: quality bespoke planning, over what we in the business called “gorillas with calculators” – media buying leveraged on high volumes.

If we didn’t win this business, Mark was out.

It would be fair I think to say Mark was the target, the mark, and I was collateral damage. Mark had his enemies, certainly. I’d picked up a few of my own, on a petty spite level. The more under threat we felt, the closer we became. But never that close.

There was a very brief period where I felt as if I were romantically in love with Mark and he might have been mildly infatuated with me. But Mark was a man who loved his wife and kids and I wanted to protect him. I was careless in letting my feelings show. I was careless in words I said that could be construed wrongly.

I have a few memories, and I value them:

Mark offering me a CD of classic torch songs he’d got as a freebie from a client. Me declining it. Him nudging the CD off his desk into a bin. “Oh well,” he said.

Me sitting in a stalled train, thinking about Mark, floating away in a golden gauze reverie. The man seated opposite waking me by asking, “What are you thinking?” Me smiling wordlessly and shaking my head.

Meeting Mark on a railway station platform. Walking towards him. Romantic movie style.

Mark detouring on our way back from presenting to a prospective client in Surrey, showing me the Porsche showroom where his dream Boxster awaited. (It’s still waiting.)

Mark stretched out on the leather sofa in our office, his ankles crossed, his hands behind his head. “No one would believe it of me,” he smiled.

You know where this is headed. We didn’t win the business. The gorillas beat us out. That morning, the entire staff waited in the open plan section of the office and watched Mark through the glass of his ‘private’ office as he waited for the phone call. You’ve heard the expression “still as statues”? We were statues. We waited hours. Then the phone rang, Mark picked up the phone, a brief conversation, he put down the receiver. Then he kicked his desk bin, the one where our love songs were trashed, and he kicked it, hard.

Mark exited that day. That week, a new junior employee was moved into my previously private office and I walked out. The managing director, Robbie, and one of Mark’s allies, Tara, came to my apartment to talk me into returning. I lay on my sofa and looked out the window at the green leaves of a tall tree. It couldn’t work.

Robbie “had a word” with corporate senior management to arrange for me to have a more generous severance payment than my contract specified. I think he persuaded them a pay-out would pre-empt legal action on my part. Legal action had not occurred to me. I’m grateful to Robbie for trying to make things better. I spent a large part of the pay-out on designer fashion purchased at the West End boutique where I took a casual job. The rest formed the core of my pension fund, my superannuation, such as it is.

Last week I heard a radio discussion about personal sledges on the fo♣otball field. I sent a text: LOL you think appalling things aren’t said in corporate environments? Vicious gossip is used as a weapon.

The radio team read that twice: Vicious gossip is used as a weapon.

W for War.

Western_Logo


1 Comment

Eulogy by my sister Cathy for our father Angus’s wake – draft

I was with Dad when the surgeon said the cancer is inoperable. Dad smiled and asked, “You don’t think it’s worth looking around for a new car then?”

The next day he went out with Mum and bought a new car for her because he wanted her to be safe when he was no longer here to protect her.

He had an amazing capacity to manage setbacks with humour and I think he learned it from when he was very young growing up in Mt Gambier during the Great Depression and World War 2. His parents Angus and Edie were born in the 1890s and already parents when World War 1 began. Dad’s sister, Ila, was one of thousands of children who caught polio around 1917 and she suffered the effects for the rest of her life. His cousin Des also grew up cared for by Dad’s family but by the time Angus was born Des was leaving home. Dad’s father owned a shop called The Spot for Menswear and it’s there that Dad began his career in retail, learning from his own father the skills he needed to be a manager and later director at Myer. I think the first photographs he took were of his house and family and the shop.

You will all recall Dad out and about with his camera. Photography was his special past-time that got him out into nature, the sunshine and the inevitable conversations with all the extraordinary people he met. Soon after he received the bad news, he decided to prepare a slide show for today. I helped with the technology and he chose the images. This proved complicated because he has 45,000 photos on his computer. Not long after we started work on the slide show his computer completely froze. I took it to Matt at Apptech who said he’d never seen that happen before but Dad’s computer was completely full. We had to delete some obsolete files. This was tricky because Dad doesn’t see any of his things as redundant.

Dad wanted the slide show to reflect his great love of Mum and family. He wanted images of all his friends: those who have already passed and those here today. We found images of him at school, including a special one of the football team showing him and Hugh Edwards who would later be brothers-in-law. There are his dear friends from uni who I’ve known and loved all my life. There are the amazing people from the community at Point Lonsdale who have shown so much love and support for the family.

Dad was so worried about Mum left alone but just seeing all the kindness that has been extended towards Elizabeth relieved him. Thank you to all of you who have dropped off food and equipment, who have chatted on the beach, phoned, and given your attention to our family in the last few months. That solidarity is much appreciated.

I sidetracked there a bit, so back to the slide show.

There are the tennis players, the Point Lonsdale Raqueteers, who awarded him legend status just in the nick of time, as seen in the photo on today’s flyer. You will see the Optimists from the Optimists’ Club, who have lunched together once a month for years, and his mates from Probus. Mum and Dad were very proud foundation members of the Combined Probus. There are old friends from interstate.

However, we didn’t fit every one Dad cares about into the slide show because I wanted images of Dad. Now, he is happy to take photos of everyone else, but there are not so many images of him. Most of the ones he chose were taken by Mum when they travelled together. One of my favourites is of Dad dressed up as Father Christmas with his sister Ila and his Auntie Maude, both of whom he looked after as they aged. It was a huge responsibility for him to drive through Melbourne on Christmas Day dressed this way because children in cars everywhere spotted him and waved. He waved back to them all.

Last year, I researched the connections between memories and photographs for an artwork project for my post-graduate studies in art at Deakin. I based my work on a photograph of the Point Lonsdale front beach by Dad. You will have seen his images of random families on the front beach that he took originally to decorate the guest rooms at the Point Lonsdale Motel, which Mum and he ran during the 1990s. Later, he couldn’t throw them away, so they hung in their house at Cheshunt Street. We discussed what his photographs actually recorded. He told me that he recalled he heard Louis Armstrong singing A Wonderful World as he pressed the shutter button. When you look at Dad’s images they all show his love for people and nature and for being alive.

Angus loved music and played it constantly. If he could hang out with Bing, Louis, Frank, Dean and Sammy he was happy. He decided to make a soundtrack for the party, to start after these speeches. He wants to dedicate all these love songs to Mum. Like Dad, I find great consolation in the stardust of a song.

He also chose the songs for this serious part of the proceedings. Amazing Grace is for Mum because Dad is grateful to her for all the grace she has shown him over the years. He wanted the Dennis Walter version but we couldn’t find the single to buy so Elly tracked down Dennis’s brother. Fred said it wasn’t available as a single but he sent Dad a homemade disk just for today. Dad chose St Louis Blues because he loved the joyous jazz funeral processions he saw in New Orleans.

He chose Jimmy Durante because there couldn’t be anyone more lovable to sing about love and Dad decided that love was the most important part of his life.

Stardust captures the bitter-sweetness he feels at leaving behind his loved ones. You might be surprised that he chose When Irish Eyes are Smiling when his ancestry is so Scottish, but Elly sent a sample of his spit to be DNA tested and it turned out he was nearly 50% Irish, down the female lines of course. This amused him no end, as his favourite son-in-law is an O’Keefe. He gave Peter his green polo shirt to wear today and chose the song, an Irish song, to celebrate the news.

Isa Lei is a Fijian farewell song. Last year, for his 85th birthday Dad took us all to Fiji. Mum and Dad took Elly and me there for our first trip overseas as teenagers. It is a special place for our family and we had the most marvellous times there. I have video of Dad’s birthday dinner aboard a sunset cruise, being serenaded by waiters. Then we all got up and danced the night away.

Looking back at my childhood, I am grateful I had loving parents but even more so that I had parents who loved each other. I remember sometimes sneaking out of bed to the top of the stairs because I could hear music playing and seeing Mum and Dad dance together alone in their own bubble of love. The last song Dad chose is Save the Last Dance for Me.

Adam Lindsey Gordon, one of Australia’s great poets, incidentally also lived in Mt Gambier. He wrote a poem that sums up how I see my Dad. It’s known as Froth and Bubble – a good name for a racehorse.

Life is mainly froth and bubble

But two things stand as stone

Kindness in another’s trouble

And courage in your own.

angus-with-liz-in-fiji-2016


1 Comment

Angus in his own words

angus-mcdonaldI have a strong sense of history. You see, my great-grandfather would now be 215 years old, my grandfather would be 175, and my father would be 125 and my mother 125. Even my sister would be 104. There is frightening evidence of longevity. All four of my grandparents had died long before I was born but because of this my parents told me a great deal about them and anecdotes of life in their time, including voyages by sailing ship from Great Britain, the goldrushes, Ned Kelly and the life of 12 kids on a 160 acre farm, floods, droughts, bushfires, horse-drawn vehicles and all.

I’m not lying. My great grandfather was born in Scotland in Glencoe in 1802. My grandfather was born in Adelaide in 1842. My father was born in Yando in 1890. I don’t have to invent stories, they fell in my lap. I have been privy to hand-me-down stories dating back before Ned Kelly. I’ve selected a few from the distant past and some from my own personal experiences. There’s a bit of a mixture of humour and pathos, such is life; and hopefully some insights into human nature. I’m reaching an age where recollections are almost more important than new experiences and frankly I’ve already decided that I will ignore Facebook and a good deal of the goodies of the IT revolution. In fact some of the behaviour, such as the lack of eye contact because people have their focus trained on iPads and iPhones etc, and the pathetic use of mobiles just to fill in time, makes me quite angry on occasions.

Well, times have certainly changed. I imagine the percentage of regular church-goers has dropped from 80%-plus when I was born to maybe 2% now in Australia. My dad told me that when he was a kid they were let out of Sunday School well before the adults came out of church and he and his brothers had taken all the horses out of their shafts, turned the jinkers and the buggies around and re-harnessed the horses on the other side of the fences. The kids were hoping this would see them banned from Sunday School but all it did was result in a thorough belting from their father.

Dad saw World War 1 coming and from 1911 he was in the volunteer Light Horse. He was also in the town band so he became their army bugler. He told me they had a visiting colonel from England came to inspect them, a very self-important gentleman. During a field exercise the colonel called on Dad to “Sound the assembly!”

“I don’t know it, sir,” Dad said. The colonel was unimpressed.

“If you whistle it I’ll play it,” said Dad.

“Good God!” said the colonel. “Well at least the man’s got some brains!”

My dad Angus and two of his brothers were in World War 1. As farm lads they were all excellent horsemen and deadly shots with a gun and they were in the 4th Light Horse. Uncle Les saw more of the fighting, in Lebanon, Egypt and France. He was gassed in France and although he survived, it certainly shortened his life. He died in 1952. I also knew he had been hospitalised, wounded, for five months. I had always assumed it was a bullet but when I searched his records it was a surprise to discover he had been kicked in the groin while shoe-ing a mule! It may have saved his life by keeping him out of the front line for half a year. Uncle Jack told me a story of a soldier mate of his who woke up one morning in a dead funk and sweat and told him he knew he was going to die that day. He had never been anything but brave in all kinds of situations but this day he was petrified. My uncle went to their commanding officer and explained the situation, and he said, “I’ll send you two behind the lines to get ammunition and this will take him out of harm’s way, a mile away”. Jack said they took a wagon, each riding one of the horses. At the gate Jack dismounted and presented their authority to proceed. When he returned his mate was lying on the ground with a bullet between the eyes from a sniper who had infiltrated the lines.

At the end of the War they were reallocated horses and rode as Lighthorsemen in the Victory Parade in Paris down the Champs-Elysées. In the polishing and preparation for the event one of the men discovered he had been issued a sword which was bent; although it would come out of its scabbard OK it was extremely difficult to put it back. It was too late to get a replacement but nobody liked their sergeant-major, who was an arrogant bully, so the lads all agreed they should replace the damaged sword with his – a simple swap. Imagine the scene on the big day. The sergeant-major is out on his own in full view of the crowds. The detachment is at the trot and he gives the order as they approach the saluting base: “Withdraw swords! Present swords!”, and – after they pass the President of France – “Replace swords!”

The sergeant-major rode for the rest of the journey unsuccessfully trying to get his sword back in the scabbard. After the march he singled out our boys and said “If this bloody war wasn’t over I’d have you all shot!”

Les went on to ride at the London Victory Parade and got his just deserts when his horse slipped on the wet cobblestones and they slid into the crowd outside Buckingham Palace. One selfie he’s glad he didn’t get.

Back to farming for two of them.

I had twin aunts, Fanny and Florence, who married farmers in the Yando district on the River Lodden. The eldest brother was Jim or James. He had to earn a living off a tiny farm, 200 acres. He left school at 14 and somehow got himself to Tasmania and worked in the 1890s on the newly-discovered Mount Lyall Mine near Queenstown. The work conditions were so dangerous and appalling that he joined the union. Some years later he was running the whole movement in Tasmania and in 1915 entered parliament as a Labor MP. With his lack of education it is amazing that he became Minister for Education, then Mining and then Attorney General. Dad went to his funeral in 1947. It was a State funeral and still holds the record for the number of mourners.

Dad became a retailer, which he had been in Camperdown when the War started. He worked in London Stores (in Melbourne) then Hamilton and then Mt Gambier, eventually setting up his own highly successful men’s wear business, known as The Spot for Men’s Wear. He became a town councillor for 30 years, an alderman, president of the South-East and Western Districts Football Association, The Adam Lindsay Gordon Literary Society, a Rotarian from 1928 to 1977, president of the town band, and he opened branch stores in Naracoorte and Millicent despite the headwinds of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

I was born into the depths of the Great Depression in 1931. Nobody saw me coming and pretty soon nobody will know I’ve been here. 1931 was quite a dramatic year. The New York stockmarket had already imploded and the unemployment rate was over 30%. Adolf Hitler was gearing up to seize power from a democratic government which had become feeble. Josef Stalin had harnessed the false hope of Communism and killed 10 million of his own people. Tojo had control of Japan and invaded China’s province Manchuria, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was about to launch the New Deal in America, Chiang Kai-shek ruled China but Mao Zedong was taking advantage of that Japanese invasion to carve out a power base for a successful revolution, Mussolini was planning military aggression against France and Abyssinia, and in Spain, the monarchy was removed and replaced by a republic while General Francisco Franco watched, shocked, and waited his moment.

My father saw the inevitability of World War 2, and so when I woke up on my birthday in 1938 he had given me a .22 rifle and bullets as a present: “You’d better learn to shoot, son. It could save your life.” I was 7 years old and I did kill lots of hares and rabbits and won cadet shooting competitions. Luckily I missed World War 2, Korea and Vietnam.

During World War 2 my father was appointed chairman of the government fund-raising for the War for the south-east of South Australia and chief Air Raid Warden for Mt Gambier and District. In this capacity he had a brush with American allies. The USA had taken over and expanded our airfield and had a squadron of Aerocobras stationed there along with other installations. They had compulsorily acquired five or six local garages for storage and supply depots and on one night at about midnight Dad received a call from an Air Raid Warden to say that one of these depots had a major light over the forecourt, in contravention of the blackout, and the officer in charge refused to put it out. He got out of bed very angry, probably just sufficient whiskey to prompt direct action, and he arrived outside the offending building and confronted the officer in charge. There was the light, 60 or 70 feet above the ground, and the Yank said, “We’ve come here to protect you, Aussie. If you want the light out, you put it out”.

“Right!” said Angus. “Can I have that sentry’s rifle?”

“Sure, Aussie, sure.”

Dad cocked the rifle and took aim and blew the globe to smithereens.

The Yank looked on and said, “You know, Aussie, I think we are going to win this war between us.”

I turned 12 in 1943 and I distinctly remember the day I became convinced we would win World War 2. The news in that year was bleak. Hitler was at the gates of Moscow, Rommel’s panzas had reached El Alamein and Tobruk was under siege. In the Pacific, the Japanese were everywhere. But on that day a flight of 20 or so Aerocobras came to my home town. They hedge-hopped at phenomenal speed over the paddocks, even up and down our main street, less than 20 feet above the ground. And then they would hit the thrusters and let out an ear-piercing whine and hurtle vertically up into the clouds. We had become accustomed to Avro Anson trainers flying at 110 mph and these dare-devils thundered across our skies at 400 mph and, like the Yank from the story of the shot lamp, I said to Dad, “We’re going to win this war!”

The great turning point came in that year with the Battle of the Coral Sea, on Australia’s doorstep; the break-out from El Alamein across the North African desert; the Russian victory at the gates of Moscow, St Petersburg and Stalingrad; and the beginning of the thousand bomber raids over Germany. I recall a cartoon in The Argus: “At the going down of the son (S.O.N.) and in the mourning (M.O.U.R.N.I.N.G.) we will remember THEM – Hitler-Germany Mussolini-Italy Tojo-Japan THE AXIS!”

I had some really great bosses during my working life but I think the best was Basil Glowrey, who was managing director of Myer in South Australia when I was there. He joined Myer after the War but only after he recovered from being a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese. He came back from Burma weighing 5 stone but when I knew him he was again a robust 14 stone. Glowrey was shot down over Sumatra. He was patrolling solo in a Wirraway and got sighted by three Zeros – not a fair fight. They took him to Changi in Singapore and like many others he was transferred to the Burma Railway. He was in the same camp as Weary Dunlop and witnessed some appalling scenes. If you haven’t seen Bridge Over The River Kwai you really should.

One of our Myer directors, Geoff Errington, was another ex-serviceman. He had been a bomber pilot in New Guinea and told me when they were stationed in Milne Bay a crew with a fully-loaded bomb-load took off on a mission from the short air-strip beside the heavily forested hills. It failed to climb fast enough and blew apart when it hit the hillside. The crew were all their close mates and they went up and surveyed the scene. No one was alive and there was a flying boot with a severed foot in it and helmets and jackets mixed with human flesh. Supplies were so short they salvaged everything they could and reused them when required. This became a practice and reusing dead men’s gear out of their lockers was usual.

Geoff told me he and some of these pilots from New Guinea came back to Australia and were stationed at Laverton and Point Cook as instructors. One day they were sitting in the bar and a trainer aircraft took off. It stalled and crashed back to earth and burst into flames. Geoff raced to the phone and contacted the control tower. “Who was the pilot and who was the instructor?” he asked.

It was one of his best mates. The boys in the bar followed tradition and went to his locker and each took a piece of clothing or boots and retired to the bar to have a farewell drink to their mate. Suddenly the door burst open and this guy waved his hands and shouted, “Put it all back! Put it all back!”

Their mate had been thrown clear and he knew exactly what they were doing, saying goodbye to him.

“Not yet,” he said.

He had resilience, like the old Jewish lady crossing the road. An aggressive motorist flashed by and knocked her flying. As she began to get up he stopped and leaned out the window and shouted, “Watch out!”

She shouted back, “Whatsa matter? You coming back??”

Friday 14th August we celebrated the end of WW2 Victory in the Pacific. It’s worth thinking about what life would be like today had we lost!

When my family – my wife Elizabeth and our daughters – lived in Adelaide we were adopted by the American ex-pat community, most of whom were engaged in oil search Delphin Santos as they found and developed the SA Moonie oil field. They were extremely active in the Australian-American Association and Liz and I were each year guests on that table, a huge square in the middle of the ballroom. We were the only Australians with several dozen Americans, mostly engineers and their wives. One year I was seated next to a guy from Oklahoma named Tom Manuel. His company actually sold the drilling equipment to Delhi and he was the US consul for South Australia. Tom was a man of few words and although I knew him quite well we really didn’t converse very much at the table. All of a sudden at midnight the double doors were thrown open and an American brass band from the visiting aircraft carrier came striding in playing Colonel Boogie and other Yankee tunes and precision marching up and down the aisles between the tables. It was really very exciting but Tom turned to me and said, “Don’t these Yanks give you the shits!”

Back in 1967 the term ‘marketing’ came into widespread use and I was lecturing at the South Australian Institute of Technology and flew to Sydney to the first conference of the Institute of Marketing. The key speaker was Professor Britt from California. Part of his lecture was to define ‘marketing’. In doing so he told us this:

“I was flying out to Australia to address this conference and our flight followed the Tropic of Cancer across the Pacific to Japan and then on to Singapore and Sydney. The crossing of the Pacific became very hairy when we hit a typhoon. Before that however I was chatting with my neighbour in the next seat who was a bishop, he told me, and who was wearing his bishop’s vest and clerical collar. He enquired what I did and I explained I was a professor of marketing. He pressed to find out what this was all about, and so I explained there are those such as salesmen and sales managers whose job it is to sell but marketing embraced much more, such as advertising and broader policy issues including product innovation, and then on top of that there was in the company hierarchy the term ‘management’ – people who oversaw the whole structure and process of general management.

“About this time we hit turbulence and the plane began to thump and bump and shake unbelievably. Passengers started screaming and crying and several were injured. A young lady broke free from her seat-belt and raced up the aisle. She spotted my companion the bishop and grabbed onto him and pleaded ‘Father Father save us!’

“He turned to her and said, ‘I’m sorry, my dear. I’m not in Management. I’m only in Marketing.’”

Here’s another aeroplane story.

At an exciting time in the history of Myer I was appointed team leader of a selected group of eight directors and senior representatives tasked with reorganising the company nationally. This did not include Target but it embraced McWhirters in Queensland, Western Stores and later Grace Brothers in NSW, Myer Melbourne and Southern Stores in Victoria, Myer South Australia, and Bairds and Boans in Western Australia. At that time I seemed to be on an aircraft five days a week and wouldn’t you know the economy had a nasty downturn and all directors and others used to First Class travel were sent a Board instruction not to travel First Class to help the company economise. Which we all did. Several weeks later I ran into our chairman Ken Myer in the departure lounge bound for Perth. When the seatbelt signs came off a hostess came to me and said, “Mr Myer is sitting five rows back and would like you to join him”.

I walked up the aisle and found Ken sitting by the window with a spare seat beside him.

“Gee,” I said. “You were lucky to get an empty seat on such a full flight!”

“Oh,” Ken said. “As chairman of the Board I carefully oversaw the wording of that edict about travelling economy class. You will notice it does not prescribe how many seats you can have. I always buy two.“

“I’ve got long legs,” he said.

I’ve always been keen on tennis but no champion. In 1958 I married Liz and moved to Melbourne from my dad’s retail business to become personal assistant to John Young, one of the pioneer Australian management consultants.   Must have boasted to him of my tennis powess when I found he was president of Kooyong Tennis Club and Lawn Tennis Australia Victoria hosting Davis Cups. He asked if Liz and I would come down to his Portsea house for a barbecue and tennis day and of course we accepted. On arrival he said there were four couples and suggested the men play a set before lunch, now!

The others were twice my age but I quickly found they were no pushovers. John Young was partnering me and I said, “I’m getting sick of this old guy down there on the backhand court, keeps returning my serve with ease and he’s giving me the shits!”

“Okay,” John said. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce you. That’s Harry Hopman!”

In Adelaide our neighbour was a close friend of Lew Hoad and he came over and stayed with them and I saw a lot of him. By then he was almost out of top tennis and was coaching in Spain. One day he showed me his problem from thumping his foot down as he served – his right foot and ankle was cold and solid like pottery. He had to have shoes made to fit and yet that week he played exhibition tennis with Rosewall, Sedgeman and John Newcombe.

Incidentally John Bromwich retired down here where we live in Victoria and used to play a little with his wife Zelda and two beautiful blond daughters. John had severe arthritis and could scarcely move about the court and died many years ago.

Later I had a chance meeting on a plane with Peter McNamara, who with Paul McNamee won the Australian Open men’s doubles and two Wimbledon men’s doubles. His knee was cactus and he had the management of the Pro Shop and brand new stadium in East Melbourne. He was trying to stir up interest in business for the courts and I formed a group to play there each week because Peter offered to play with us. We did this weekly for about five years and sometimes Paul McNamee showed up too. One day Peter was partnering me and said I would do a lot better if I watched the ball. I told him I was helping to partner him but I was too old to be coached!

On another day I asked him if he preferred me or McNamee as a partner. He said, “Well, McNamee is boring, because he’s so predictable. You? You’re not!”

He told us that when he and Paul McNamee won their first Wimbledon doubles at a very young age, they were totally nervous the night before the final and decided to go to the club house, have a lemonade and sneak to bed. When they came into the bar there was their idol Lew Hoad propped up on a stool. McNamee pulled his shirt and said “Don’t go near him, people will think we’re trying to get some tips”. But Hoad had seen them and beckoned them over to him. Sheepishly, they approached and Paul couldn’t help himself. He blurted out, “Lew, what are we going to do?”

Lew looked at them both and said “It’s all in your serve”.

“What do you mean?” Peter asked.

“Just throw it up and hit it like shit,”

And that’s just what they did.

Champions don’t need coaches.

 


Leave a comment

Elly’s planned eulogy for her father’s wake – Sunday 5th March

499family-pics-by-cathyapple-301

Dad and I were sitting out on the porch one day when I noticed something unusual about the tree branch hanging over our back fence.

“That tree has a NUT in it,” I said.

Quick as a flash Angus responded, “Must be one of our friends dropping over for a visit!”

Thank you for visiting. Thank you for being our friends. And thank you for being here today.

Dad was very quick witted.

After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a visiting friend made a somewhat socially awkward remark about playing a harp outside the Pearly Gates.

“What will YOU be playing in heaven, Dad?” I asked.

“Tennis,” he replied, with a Cheshire Cat grin.

I am so lucky to be the daughter of Donald Angus McDonald. I have valued his wit, his warmth, his intelligence, his fierce opinions, his protectiveness. I have valued his endless curiosity about life, other people, current events, fingerprint technology.

I’m not joking there.

In the last week of his life Dad and I spent a precious hour or two finding out everything we could about fingerprint technology: its uses, its failings, its future.

A day or so later I said to him, “I feel a little guilty that I used time we could have spent talking about the things that have mattered most to you in your life talking instead about fingerprints. But then I read an article which discussed gossip and trivial conversation from an anthropological perspective, in terms of social bonding, as a process of affirming relationship, like monkeys grooming each other, picking nits out of each others’ hair. It doesn’t really matter WHAT we’re talking about. It’s the act of conversing that matters.”

He smiled a Sphinx smile, which I hope means he agreed.

There’s no question Angus loved conversing, and loved his friends, his visitors, loved social bonding – and, truth to tell, loved a verbal tussle.

We had nitpick conversations about etymology. Most recently, the origins of the surname Bassingthwaite. We don’t know anyone with the surname Bassingthwaite, but we thought it worth exploring, for the sake of exploring.

Which brings me to travel. Angus didn’t travel overseas until after he’d reached 40, but he made up for lost time. His interest in other people extended to an interest in other cultures.

Dad was a child in World War 2. All his life, World War 2 was a reference point, the most charged period within his memory and study. When Angus, Liz and I drove the Nullarbor together in 1985 we drove past a bicycle, alone on the highway, with panniers and a rider in a French Foreign Legion cap, and with a Japanese flag flying optimistically from the back wheel rack.

Dad overtook, carefully, then said, “He is taking a big risk flying the Japanese flag out here. There are still motorists who might take that as a provocation.”

And yet, when Angus visited Japan he fell in love. I think he made five visits to Japan within about 10 years, and there’s no questioning his very real admiration and respect for Japanese people and culture. He was capable of embracing new information and adopting new attitudes.

Speaking of love: my father loved my mother. When he was ill, he was clear she was his first priority. In the last day, when he was dying, it was her name, Elizabeth, he said repeatedly, even after very few words were coherent. Other words that were clear were “Cathy”, “Peter”, “Pelly”, “Family”, and “Love”.

Dad loved us, and we loved him.

After all the words are said, all the words explored, those are the words that count.

Daddy, I love you.

I’ll leave it at that.


3 Comments

Diary of my Dad’s dying

When my father was dying, across the Australian summer 2016/17, I wrote frequently on Facebook about what was happening.

I am very aware that there are people who consider it completely inappropriate, abhorrent, to post on Facebook about intimate family matters. There are people who find it distasteful to post about deaths.

I am, obviously, not one of those people. I use Facebook to post to my friends about my daily life. My daily life across those months centred on death – my father’s.

One of my friends, John Power, who has himself since died, asked if I was collating my Facebook posts as a diary. He said there was a book in it.

I have no urge to write that book, but there will come a day when I delete my Facebook account, and unless I collate those posts elsewhere, the record of those months will be lost to me.

This is not a blog post intended for a broad audience. This is me ensuring that what I wrote and the images I selected during these crucial 11 weeks in my life, the 11 weeks of my father’s dying, are retained.

A NOTE ON FORM: Perversely, I have set this in reverse chronological order. Like Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal – in my beginning is my end.

3 September 2017:

“I have two favourite children. Guess what? You are one of them. I have adored you both always! Angus”

Love you this Father’s Day and always 💌

Indians

29 May 2017:

Funnily enough, reading this article at the reference to Lear I immediately thought not of Shakespeare’s king but of Edward Lear.

Dad and I sat together every day, and he, too, quoted Lear:

“We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness.
So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon ’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies.”

My father had 11 weeks’ notice of his death and, although he was not religious, his and our preparations were very much as Phillipe Aries describes, minus the overtly religious elements.

We certainly would not have preferred a quick, sudden death, or a medicalised death ending in hospital.

Sorry not sorry to anyone bothered by me harping on about my father’s death.

15 May 2017:

Angus’s “proper” plaque is in situ. Cathy has planted pigface.

Visiting with offerings of Rocky Road. Now I’ll have to eat it on his behalf, here in the autumn sunshine with a cold sea breeze.

Plaque

12 May 2017:

Digital art by Cathy McDonald – ‘Sisters’ series

 

 

 

 

 

9 May 2017:

To Melbourne to see the family financial adviser about my legacy from Dad. Feeling entirely awful and exhausted beyond belief. My psychologist suggests the exhaustion might be grief.

I’ve been reading H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s remarkable memoir of grief (and birds, and history, nature, poetry, photography), but my ability to concentrate is not great. The upside of today is that as of this week, my usual restricted cashflow is unchanged but my broader financial setup is suddenly quite grown-up. Possibly for the first time ever. Strange.

24 April 2017:

The NBN installers are due any minute. I have a flu-like cold and Liz, Cathy and I have a lawyer’s appointment this arvo about probate.

More nightmares: a final year English exam, to be done in our own individual apartments in a kind of grand hotel, except I’ve just moved my belongings into mine and it’s piled high with stacks of books and a dog knocks the pile where I put the exam paper and I can’t find the exam paper again and I can’t find an invigilator and I only wrote one sentence and I don’t know how long I’ve got and it’s so unfair because I know the texts backwards and the questions are a doddle, if only I knew what they were, in the absence of the paper, the paper that is lost…

Exam

18 April 2017:

Note from my reclusive octagenarian retired GP neighbour discovered today scrunched up and wet in my letterbox (the note, not the neighbour).

Despite 1/3/17 date, I could swear it hasn’t been there previously.

People are strange. Sometimes wonderfully 💝

John's letter

… strong possibility: he put the letter in Unit 1’s mailbox, and no one clears that mailbox because Unit 1 is a holiday rental, but it’s been cleared now because a buyer’s contract has just gone through.

16 April 2017:

Liz has Angus’s wearable clothes prepared for the Op Shop and has offered me my pick.

Not the best night to do this. Tired and sad.

She’s worrying a nuclear bomb will drop on Hong Kong while we’re there 😯

Angus clothes

I formally ended my friendship with my first ever ‘best friend’ after Dad’s death. She was the first person I contacted with the news of his diagnosis. She responded with a breezy text about everyone having to go at some time and said she’d find a time in her busy schedule to be in contact later. 20 weeks later she texted me happy birthday greetings (my birthday is the same week as hers). I told her in the meantime Angus had died at home in my arms, was dead, buried, there’d been a commemoration, and I was so disappointed I hadn’t heard from her. Nothing since.

I remember sitting in the Bayswater Brasserie in Kings Cross carefully composing a letter to her father when *he* was dying 30 years of so ago.

the day after Dad’s death I Unfriended a longtime FB friend in the U.S. who I’ve never met but who I like(d) very much. She has difficult life circumstances and mental illness and quite frequently posts suicidal thoughts or about hospitalizations. I always sent prompt responses I hoped were supportive and appropriate. My bro-in-law the shrink abd my sister would point out how aggressive it is to post suicide threats and attempts on FB, and how distressing for readers with issues of their own, and had been advising me to Unfriend her for some time.

That day she posted that she had razor at her throat. I didn’t see her post till hours later and I was blunt: Don’t kill yourself. Today I watched my father die in my arms spewing black blood. Life is precious.

She wrote a long response about how some day, some time, the inevitable ultimate ending to her story MUST be that she kills herself. No reference at all to my father’s death.

I told her I wished her well but I cannot remain her friend.

Very, very grumpy today. Watching Cats v Hawks (Cats bloody better win) and just adapted a line from The Rocky Horror Show, “There’s a spar-ar-ar-ar-ark [sic] BURNING IN THE FIRE PLACE” … remember breaking into that over dinner with parents one time and them both staring, and Dad saying, “Whatever THAT was, DON’T EVER DO IT AGAIN”.. 😻

14 April 2017:

After an uncharacteristically work-filled week it’s hard to get up, get dressed, and get to Geelong for church.

But after attending last night’s Tenebrae (Maundy Thursday) service – after a late shift – I’m reminded of the Christian significance of Easter by the words of minister Peter Gador-Whyte: “He shares our frailties to restore our dignity”.

Seems I’ve lived this recently.

Pieta

How empowering is it for me to put myself in the place of Michelangelo’s Mary 💛 (That’s not a question)

… going to church dressed as an Italian widow. Some of us are incorrigible. (An Italian widow in sheer see-through fabric; limited black options in my wardrobe 😎)

8 April 2017:

Happy birthdayI am 56 today and last night my sister gave me a birthday card from my Dad.

It reads: “I have two favourite children Guess what? You are one of them I have adored you both always! Angus”

Cathy bought multiple cards when Dad got sick and asked him to write birthday and Christmas greetings into the future in them. He never got round to it. So she trimmed a note he’d written on scrap paper and stuck it inside a birthday card for me.

When it’s her birthday, I’ll transpose the love note to a card for her 👭

Favourite children

25 March 2017:

I dreamt my Dad wasn’t dead.

Instead he was entangled in the doona on my parents’ king-size bed, not well, but bright-eyed and smiling.

“Hello,” I said. “I thought you were gone.”

Angus interim plaque

19 March 2017:

Sisters 👭

Sisters

16 March 2017:

All is well. In fact all is good 🌞

Enjoying cappuccino catch-ups with friends who live locally. Back at work at the Gallery. Gardening. Swimming 🐋

Thank you for all the well-wishes (and the fishes)

Go to the beach

6 March 2017:

Yesterday’s celebration of Angus was everything we could have hoped.

I cannot express how grateful I am to my FB (and real life) friends who were able to be there: in no particular order: Penny, Jen, Lou, Heather, Ian W, Ian R, Adrienne, Gail and Sonia, Vikki and others who are not on FB but who I love very much and whose presence is appreciated. I hope I haven’t dropped out anyone’s name. Please forgive me if I have.

I also very, very much appreciate all the care and patience other FB friends have shown me over this past 3 months since Dad’s diagnosis. I won’t name you. You know who you are. I am very thankful and I will not forget.

Much love to you

Angus portrait

We’re embarrassed that some people who planned to be there stuck with the initial tbc date 12 March and didn’t see the subsequent notices advising 3rd March. There were 150+ guests, maybe 200, with standing room only, and it really wasn’t possible to update individuals ahead of time, but sad some people – like Dad’s favourite of Cathy’s exes – missed out 😯

3 March 2017:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 March 2017:

Singing this on the way to the crematorium.

Previous song was Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold singing I Remember It Well (from Gigi), which made us cry

3 March 2017:

Liz has tidied Angus’s closet. It never, for one moment, looked REMOTELY like this in his lifetime 😂

Angus's closet

2 March 2017:

https://ellymcdonaldwriter.com/2017/03/02/cathys-eulogy-for-anguss-wake-draft/

2 March 2017:

Flowers and card from my workplace

Hand delivered by my wonderful colleague, Lydia Cover, who had me sing the Aaronic Blessing for her 💗

Flowers from my workplace

1 March 2017:

https://ellymcdonaldwriter.com/2017/03/01/angus-in-his-own-words/

1 March 2017:

Notices from the Geelong Advertiser and flowers from our family dentist 🌞

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers from Dentalspa

… and also in The Age

 

 

 

 

 

1 March 2017:

The alternative history – a tribute
https://ellymcdonaldwriter.com/…/01/the-alternative-history/

28 February 2017:

The format for the wake on Sunday has Peter as MC, short eulogies from me, Cathy, then Liz, lots of food and drink and conversation, and all Dad’s favourite music, with slideshow visuals of family.

This is a draft. It’s short. I’ve told Cathy she can do the timeline history of etc.

Anyone and everyone is very welcome – details published with Angus’s death notice in The Age and the Geelong Advertiser tomorrow (Wednesday)

27 February 2017:

Seems the wake is now confirmed as THIS Sunday, 5 March – 2pm at Point Lonsdale Bowls Club. All welcome.

I need to get that eulogy written, fast.

The private funeral is 11am this Friday.

Wake

There won’t be any religious element – just Peter as MC, short eulogies from me, Cathy and Liz, the music he most loved, eating, drinking and socializing.

26 February 2017:

Donald Angus McDonald
b.30/10/1931
d.26/2/2017 at 1pm

at home with his head on my lap and his family around him.

… I think Cathy and I were feeling pretty good relatively speaking except since Dad’s death mum has been difficult and Cathy lost it with her and Hugh has been harassing us with multiple phone calls about his planned visit and taking us to task for how we announced the death (an email I wrote sent in Liz’s name) and our arrangements for the funeral and the wake and even accusing us of misinforming people of the date and time Dad died. Pretty sure it was 1pm Sunday; I was 100% present. I was holding him, I took his pulse, checked his breath, cleaned his body. Hugh thinks it was 3pm Saturday and somehow thinks his opinion matters.

I was so angry by Hugh and his partner’s 6th phone call within 24 hours I had to remove myself.

I’m trying to not let it affect me. But he’s coming for a week and now that Dad’s gone there’s no reason for him to stay at Cathy and Peter’s rather than in Lonnie and removal will be hard. The saving grace is with the wake now so soon NEITHER he nor Athena will be there. (I presume)

24 February 2017:

We watched cricket together. Lots of sleeping.

Angus plays cricket

24 February 2017:

Daddy’s girl

Still waiting for paramedic vehicle to bring him home

Update: he’s staying in hospital on a morphine pump, might come home on pump in the middle of the night, might not

Angus w Elly 3

 

 

 

 

 

Liz w Elly

24 February 2017:

Angus and Liz young

24 February 2017:

Cathy, Peter and I have spent the afternoon in St John of God emergency dept but in keeping eith Advanced Care plan Angus is now being sent home dosed heavily with morphine.

I went ahead to locate after hours Palliative Care contacts but CANNOT FIND the palliative care info folder or A.H. tel’s

Will be off FB for a bit now xxx

Palliative care manual

… the home visit nurse on Friday took it with her. It’s back now

24 February 2017:

It’s agreed: I will sing the Aaronic Blessing to my father’s coffin before it exits.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious unto you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace.

It’s only 19C and overcast, but it’s low tide (I wrote ‘tired’) and Dad has been dry retching sputum and blood and shaking violently, so I am heading to the sea for a swim 🏊

Photo taken by Angus on Wednesday when he and Cathy drove down the Surf Coast.

Angus's last photos

 

24 February 2017:

Family getting-to-know you meeting 11.15am today with my friend Michael Nolan, in his capacity as celebrant for Angus’s funeral.

Dad has micro-managed the wake. Properly speaking Mum gets the deciding say on things to do with the private family part, at the funeral. Dad got a little over-anxious a few days back and started dictating the details but I think, based on how well we’ve been doing, we’ll have consensus xxx

… he was really, really sick this morning. Too sick to participate. Community nurse arrived about an hour ago.

1 February 2017:

Liz’s friend Bev got knocked down by a kelpie on the beach and will need 6 months rehab to repair torn ligaments. She won’t be back at the beach.

Some of Liz’s beach friends whose dogs have recently died have decided they’re too old to walk dogs and are not getting replacements. Liz is very sad that her supportive beach network is evaporating, just as she most needs it.

Kelpies

21 February 2017:

Elly’s nightmares:

Heather you and I were to appear on TV and I didn’t have a thing to wear. Here’s how we decided to style me:

Pale primrose granny-pants, worn as hot pants
Sunshine yellow singlet, worn without bra
Mauve Isadora Duncan scarf
Dark red chunky plastic Pop Art ring

Minutes before we were due in the studio I was worried strong camera lighting might be unkind OMG 😨😨😨😨😨

Elly's nightmare

19 February 2017:

From Liz’s hidden photo albums – Angus 1972, and the first photo I ever took, Angus 1972 or 1973 building the retaining wall in our Adelaide back garden.

 

 

 

 

 

Those pants are towelling.

19 February 2017:

I’m due to meet up with an old friend from teacher training on the beach in 55 minutes but I cannot quite get vertical. (Nightmares again.)

I haven’t seen her since ’04 but saw her name as purchaser on the paperwork for the sale of my car.

Then family lunch.

I drank coffee

Parents’ house deluged with phone calls yesterday from WA family – from Perth, from Paris, from Texas. Hugh isn’t seriously sick. Low numbers on prostate count and no spread.

16 February 2017:

Birds sing

16 February 2017:

Clan McDonald sign up for their final resting places (Indigenous: weerona – the name of my great-grandfather McDonald’s property near Campbelltown).

Angus and Liz are the big upright rock (centre); Cathy and Peter are to the left; and I am the small irregular awkward stand-alone (right). I expect future vandals to pick me up and fling me. Plaques to come.

Moonah Walk

It’s beautiful. We’re thrilled. There’s a beautiful sandstone bench where a person can sit and reflect by our stones 💚

Moonah Walk, Point Lonsdale cemetery

Moonah Walk viewing

15 February 2017:

It’s official: my family ARE THE BEST 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖

We have agreed on everything for Dad’s cremation, and the wake, and have got through all that other Very Tricky Stuff.

It’s ok to congratulate us now 💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐

The reason life works

14 February 2017:

https://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2011/03/fall-down-seven-times-get-up-eight-the-power-of-japanese-resilience.html?fbclid=IwAR0fKN_WZPM4WNROL2Y__Kkwm8rHBYd4UWFgWtmpA6h-YRB4Wi-09LV

13 February 2017:

It’s been a very intense and painful few days with family issues as Angus gets more ill. On Friday Angus and Liz visited Kings Funerals to discuss the funeral pyre and came away with a long list of questions such as: What will Angus wear? Do we want to view him? Who will wheel the coffin? Et al

We’ll have a family get-together this week to sort through all this.

We’re a long way from being on safe ground.

Dad has decided to include a couple of religious elements after all, one of which might be Psalm 23 and another might be my friend Michael Nolan, a former Catholic priest who once explained to me the role of a parish priest is similar to being the donkey in a paddock with horses: there to help calm the skittish ones.

Very very hard to stay ok but fortunately have a few horse whisperers to hand.

We’re racing ahead on suggestions for What Will Angus Wear? Rather than playing a harp in Heaven he says he wants to play tennis, so I suggested tennis gear. Angus rather fancies being buried in full Essendon Bombers supporters gear: then we could say the Essendon Saga killed him. It would have the dual benefit of disposing of the Essendon scarf I knitted him with decency.

 

12 February 2017:

[During family turmoil I won’t record here]

Laughing while watching Mulan:

Mushu: “Hey, c’mon, you did it to save your father! Who knew you’d end up shaming him and disgracing your ancestors and losing all your friends…”

You did it to save your father

5 Februay 2017:

Cathy did an icon-making workshop this weekend and made this icon of St Mary (me) and St Elizabeth (Cathy) hugging each other.

She wanted to make St Elizabeth’s robe blue but the specialist told her Greek Orthodox symbology requires that it be green.

We look very worried.

Sisters icon by Cathy McDonald

The other images are from the Nag Hammadi Library and a copy (the darker one) in St Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, Roanoke, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

1 February 2017:

Things turned pear-shaped shortly after this pic. Very bad day. Angus off to GP.

Angus with Bella

Feels like a turning point. We’re poised for the down slide. Dad has apologized in advance to me and Cathy for when he’s angry or short-tempered over coming weeks.

We had a Monty Python moment where Cathy was trying to talk up how well he is and Dad and I were having Absurdist paroxysms lol

He was [calm and at peace in this photo]. He’s calm most of the time anyway, doesn’t have the energy to get agitated. As opposed to Liz, who was a nightmare yesterday. I had an awful day and an awful night and now I’m lolling in bed just dreading a future with my mother. Luckily Adrienne expects me paddle boarding with her at Barwon Heads at 9am so I have a distraction.

31 January 2017:

Since I keep having these horrible nightmares, I’m pondering what I can do with them creatively.

Take last night: my dream about Sarah. Sarah is a little person, a dwarf. But she has some kind of cultic significance that’s causing her to be hunted down to enrol her against her will in an ominous ritual. Sarah is trapped in a large house that’s designed to maximize surveillance, with mirrors, peepholes, angled corridors all set up to ensure she never escapes visual monitoring.

Someone remarked, “Imagine what it means to someone who’s been stalked all her life to be in this environment”. It was a voice in my ear, from outside the dream, and I thought, how TRUE!

Dad is envious of my nightmares because he never dreams. We discuss guided dreaming; I don’t think that’s the correct term but it *has* a term and it means developing the ability to direct the narrative within our dreams.

Hmm

Infanta

31 January 2017:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-31/artists-impression-of-saccorhytus-coronarius/8225534

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-31/wrinkled-sack-with-huge-mouth-no-anus-could-be-oldest-ancestor/8225528?fbclid=IwAR1k-eD-Le5fJY4G3Dthr8534fzwR0qrb6VsLdPW8pUUM4LBanIBfih4p98

Dad and I were chuckling over this when suddenly when suddenly he became Saccorhytus and threw up very loudly for what seemed an eternity, whole body shaking. Mum is upset it was so loud the neighbours must have heard. Very distressing for everyone 😦

28 January 2017:

if you're lucky enough to get old

26 January 2017:

My sister left this card for me. She knows I’m seeing bands tomorrow – Jo Jo Zep and Sports at Melbourne Zoo – and staying over in Melbourne in hopes of doing it again on Saturday, Peter Garrett and Kev Carmody. Finances permitting.

Also tonight I’ll be on Dad’s arm as his date at his tennis group’s Australia Day barbecue 🎾

You know you're getting old

Angus waves the flag

Angus waves the flag

26 January 2017:

Reports of Angus’s weight loss are greatly exaggerated. He’s not 48kg, he’s a much more robust 63kg. Seems he leaned against the bathroom sink bench while weighing himself 😂

I did think a 27kg loss in 8 weeks was improbable, and he looks more solid than I did when I was an anorexic 47kg lol

25 January 2017:

Centrelink has lost my application for Carers Payment, mailed to them 18 Dec. So far I’ve been on hold with them for 40+ minutes and counting.

I am doing gentle yoga asana, all the seated poses and prone poses I can think of, moving into standing now. Had another ocean swim this morning and did aquaerobics too (auto spell suggests aquaerotica, which I might try another time) 💚

Boromir on Centrelink

26 January 2017:

Water dragon

23 January 2017:

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, People’s Choice Winner 2017

Mario Cea, The Blue Trail

Mario Cea, The Blue Trail 2017

Rainbow Wings, by Victor Tyakht

Victor Tyakht, Rainbow Wings 2017

21 January 2017:

Nightmare in which I performed a Wednesday Addams version of this accompanied by werewolves howling.

Marginally less scary than previous night, when radioactive tentacled indigo creatures from outer space caused people to fling themselves from top floor windows of a haunted house, in vain; and it was revealed my mother had had an affair with Vince Lovegrove.

I do not think this happened 😉 Dad’s facial expression response to my nightmare was priceless.

I think that came out of a conversation Dad and Mum and I had a few days back discussing the insurance liability implications of Grant Page dunking women from the foxline into Gill and Ron’s pool New Year’s Day 1970, 71. Reckon Liz found being dunked by Grant a bit of a turn-on 😂

20 January 2017:

Driving Dad to imaging appointment. He is a passenger seat driver.

We have marvelled at the discovery “40 zone” rhymes with “cortisone”.

We have agreed there should be a TV series called Braking Hard.

Dad has begun a verse that includes the lines ‘My underwear hurts me / course it does’ – corset does, geddit 😉 – which may go on to include the references to cortisone and school hours traffic limits.

He’s bright as a button, lots of entertaining conversation 💘

 

 

 

 

 

The GP just phoned to say x-ray shows no bowel obstruction, nothing bad. He said he knows the deal was he was only going to phone if it was BAD news but he didn’t want to leave us dangling. Dad so moved by that he cried.

We have agreed he will not only leave me a birthday card for my 56th birthday (he’ll be gone before April) but will write me a time-capsule birthday card to be opened on my 86th birthday. Currently he’s considering “You expected something profound? April fool”. I think he can do better.

… last night we (parents + me) were reviewing a butcher sheet filled with my writing c.1990 with headings “Angus – I like” and “I *don’t* like”. He got all happy at the “I like” list then sad at the “I *don’t* like”. I thought the lists were mine (they were all things I *would* write), but Liz and Angus believe they were lists where I acted as scribe on Liz’s behalf, mediating to save their marriage after he’d disgraced himself. Somewhere there was once a corresponding list about Liz, by Angus.

Then at bed time Mum left a card on his pillow with “Je t’aime” printed on the front and her message inside “Sleep well / Love you”. Dad and I joked today she couldn’t quite bring herself to say “*I* love you”, in English 😈

18 January 2017:

Dad and I tried to play #top10booksthatshapedmeasateen but he insists no books have influenced him, except economic theorists and the Scottish Enlightenment.

We tried #top10filmsthatshapedmeasateen but again, Angus says the only film that’s shaped him is On The Waterfront, which he saw aged 20 or 21.

I could immediately come up with one Ridley Scott (The Duellists, seen on my 17th birthday) and no less than 3 Scorseses seen as a teen (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz), but despite a youth misspent at the Valhalla Richmond I couldn’t think of others that I could say “shaped” me in teen years.

A little indie film from Canada I reviewed for The Nation Review in 1978, called Outrageous?

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

17 January 2017:

Shout out to all the plants

16 January 2017:

Angus with Bella and Liz

Angus with Bella and Liz 1

One might wonder, why is Elizabeth holding a breakfast tray in front of her face. Answer: she is using it to prop up her newspaper cryptic crossword 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

16 January 2017:

Angus has dropped from 75kg to 48kg. We’re feeding him carrot cake 💜

He has zero desire for food but more particularly, he can’t tolerate many foods, or much food. He either throws it up or has horrible digestive issues. He says he has a visceral instinct for what he can’t eat.

Angus

“Bleeding that takes place in the esophagus, stomach, or the first part of the small intestine most often causes the stool to appear black or tarry. Your doctor may use the term “melena.”

Bleeding in the upper part of the GI tract will most often cause black stools due to:

Abnormal blood vessels

A tear in the esophagus from violent vomiting (Mallory-Weiss tear)

Bleeding ulcer in the stomach

When blood supply is cut off to part of the intestines

Inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis)

Trauma or foreign body

Widened, overgrown veins (called varices) in the esophagus and stomach.”

Pretty sure I saw a small segment of blood vessel in his black stools yesterday 😦

Angus with Liz watercolour of motel

15 January 2017:

I so much enjoyed being at church this morning that I’m thinking it might be good to schedule regular weekly activities away from family and Point Lonsdale as part of my self-care program.

My initial doodles play with me having maybe a Geelong day every Friday, so I can sing with Wesley Singers Thursday evenings then stay over at Cathy’s ahead of singing with the Acabellas Friday mornings. That would mean lunch and early afternoons Fridays would be available for catch-ups with Geelong friends, if anyone feels inclined.

I might also designate Wednesday as a weekly Melbourne day, partly so I can catch films at the Nova I’d ordinarily miss out on and also art exhibitions. It would mean, too, I could do catch-ups with Melbourne-based friends on Wednesdays, it that suits. If I stay over at Cathy’s the previous night I could do a Yoga Dojo class Tuesday evenings. Alternatively, Tuesday could be the regular Melbourne day (Wednesday works better for cash flow).

In Point Lonsdale, Maureen Crawford has invited me to ocean swim with the Mermaids whatever mornings I can make it to the Springs for 7.30am. [Ian] we might be due a light lunch or coffee or a walk, too? Will message you xxx

Mostly we don't remember

Guys, I exhausted myself making plans. Will do what I can when I can [angel with wilting wings emoticon]

14 January 2017:

From the poem “Survey” by Elizabeth Willis

Survey by Elizabeth Willis

13 January 2017:

Point Lonsdale Racqueteers tennis group formally farewell Angus – Beach House, Barwon Heads.

 

 

 

 

 

Liz and Angus (lanyard reads ABSOLUTE LEGEND)

Liz and Angus

It was a lovely occasion 💗 Liz had an afterglow through till bedtime, which is wonderful.

Happy Liz

Glad people are actively supporting Liz now rather than waiting.

Mum was on a high all day. Dad had to stay in bed all [next] day but it was worth it 💕

 

 

 

 

 

The photo Dad wanted me to delete

Sad Angus

11 January 2017:

Angus’s DNA results are in! Amazingly, Donald Angus McDonald has DNA 46% Great Britain, 45% Ireland – 91% British Isles.

3% Scandinavia (but no Finland or northwest Russia), 2% Italy or Greece.

There are “trace results” (less than 1 percent, insignificant and possibly an artifact) for western Europe, eastern Europe, the Iberian peninsula and Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan).

We’re having fun imagining him as part of the Golden Horde but… no.

Zero from Africa, America, Pacific Islander, West Asia, South Asia, East Asia and all sub-regions thereof.

White bread everywhere

10 January 2017:

January 2017

4 January 2017:

Deep breathing at the Heads

Port Phillip Heads 4 Jan 2017

4 January 2017:

Jen Clarke thank you for that beautiful letter you wrote Angus, in the beautiful card.

The back of the card says, “It is said that the kind of dog you own says a lot about your personality. […] Bill Clinton owned a labrador named Buddy.”

Which may explain Bill’s inclination to hump everything in sight?

Dad and I discussed what our dogs say about us, which led to reminiscences of all the dogs we’ve ever owned.

We discussed who and what my next dog might be.

We agreed Joshua is a little beaut. Then Dad joined Josh in Dad’s bed, with the Tosh boy graciously making room.

Btw sadly Dad can’t drink red wine, has a visceral aversion now to any alcohol (or rich foods, or almost any foods). But he will enjoy the shortbread, in delicate-sized helpings.

💜💜💜

Angus with Josh

3 January 2017:

ECG at Cardiology, Geelong Hospital.

Earworm.

Lovin this CD. There There.

ECG completed and I”m happy to report my heart is a rodent: tough as 💞

2 January 2017:

Elizabeth has found a book we think my paternal grandmother Edie had when she married in 1913: ‘A Friend in the Kitchen’, by Mrs Anna L Colcord.

Mrs Colcord was a Seventh Day Adventist advocating vegetarianism, passionately.

The little essays throughout the book are gems. There2 a 4-page essay arguing the religious, moral, social case for vegetarianism.

Dad says Edie was impervious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 January 2017:

Land art, stone circle mandala by Katie Griersar, ‘everything changes, nothing is lost’ (2014) #womensart

Katie Griersar, 'everything changes, nothing is lost' (2014).jpg

31 December 2016:

Obviously, 2016 has had its challenges. It’s obvious 2017 will have, too.

Cathy has a practice now of asking before she goes to sleep each night, “What can I do tomorrow to be kind to myself?”

My friend Michael asks www: What went well?

I gave my mother a book for Christmas called How to Hygge – “hygge” (pronounced “hugger”) being a mode-ish Danish word that loosely translates to comfort, contentment, cosiness, safety.

We’re not big huggers in my family, but recently we’ve been trying it out. It feels good.

I thought maybe this coming year I might aim for a hug, and a hygge experience, every single day.

Other than that, I hope it’s a year of birds and flowers.

I wish you hugs, and hygge, and birds and flowers, too.

Much love

Hygge

31 December 2016:

AMAZING!

The CDs I selected to live in the car-that’s-now-on-loan-to-me-from-the-parents fit PRECISELY into the Japanese box I never quite found a use for!

It must be meant 💘

Car CDs

Dad has gifted me his immense collections of vinyl, CD and cassettes. He thinks I might get $$ putting them on eBay. Meanwhile I have all the vintage 30s-70s stuff I could ever hope for 💘

It’s a random chaotic mess, like all his stuff. Eventually I’ll do an inventory 😊

31 December 2016:

“Black cockatoos are somewhere under the sun: / Down with the mattocks, let the wild couch-grass run. / Take the gully-road, slide on the sticks and stones/ And wait for the artists of Heaven, the crested ones.” Francis Webb

Black cockatoo

29 December 2016:

Words with no direct English translation, describing states of happiness 

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/the-glossary-of-happiness

28 December 2016:

25 December 2016:

Cathy and Angus consider dessert

Elizabeth (in the nightie we gave her for Xmas) with Cathy.

If Liz loses any more weight we’ll mistake her for mistletoe 🎋

Small white plastic beads from the Op Shop 😉 

We went for a beach walk – while Mum was still in full Op Shop finery – and several people she’s known for years failed to recognise her in her Sunday best. Might be because she’s got so thin.

The bag in the background reads: “For Xmas lunch. Do not eat or damage.”

Angus cops a shelf of trophies for Xmas: Best Story Teller, The One and Only, Most Loved Dad Ever, Favourite Father-in-law, Point Lonsdale Racqueteers Best Player Over 85… Spottiest Frog

Angus trophies

Angus and Liz eating toast and marmalade and drinking Earl Grey tea while watching Yogi’s First Christmas on TV, Christmas morning 2016 🎄

Merry Xmas 4 2016

24 December 2016:

Today is a new day

How to get up and get dressed

23 December 2016:

Elly McGrinch gives Xmas a two-fingered salute.

 

 

 

 

 

23 December 2016:

Merry Christmas all 🎄

Dad can’t drink and Cathy/Liz/I won’t but there’ll be champagne tonight when the McDonalds join [people] for Christmas dinner at Queenscliff marina.

I roasted a turkey last night and had turkey with cranberry sauce, corn cob and salad solo for dinner last night. Cherries for dessert. Turkey 2.84kg so it’s cold turkey with Angus and Liz for lunch today and probably a few days to come 

It’s actually rather beautiful when we as a family get to be together. Yesterday seemed like there wasn’t a moment without phone calls, visitors, appointments – way too much, constant responding to other people, and way too much of it creating anxiety, frustration snd anger. Peace on Earth? Like, yeah.

22 December 2016:

We have MORE interstate visitors arriving any minute. These ones will be in Point Lonsdale 3 days. CAN’T THEY LEAVE IT ALONE LONG ENOUGH FOR ANGUS TO REST? And for me to clean the house.

No one welcome 1-4pm. Piss off.

Things found randomly in my Dad’s study.

fb_img_1482377218061.jpg

7 days. One of these people I have never met, or even heard his name. Angus introduces me and he replies (to Angus), “Very attractive”. I am thinking WHAT’S IT TO YOU, DICKHEAD?

The other, the bi-polar guy given to manic grandiosity, lurches in for a hug and I am like a 7 y.o schooled in Stranger Danger: MY BODY IS MY OWN. BACK OFF.

I decline to offer them tea.

20 December 2016:

To escape having a cold, and general malaise, I am time travelling: via Justin Hill’s Viking Fire, the second novel in his Conquest Trilogy, one of The Sunday Times’ books of the year, focused on King Harald Hardrada of Norway.

Last night I was 15 years old, wounded, trekking across winter mountains from Norway to Sweden. Then I was in my 20s, gifting a leopard cub to an Empress.

I know it won’t end well, but what a journey!

viking-fire-justin-hill-elly-mcdonald-writer

20 December 2016:

Whoever gave me a cold for Xmas, I hate them for eternity. I can’t see my Dad in case he catches it. It’s been one day and he says he misses me. My mum says it’s ok, he’s robust; but he bloody isn’t.

Don’t know don’t know don’t know. Will see how I am tomorrow

18 December 2016:

Beach village desperation.

fb_img_1482377194217.jpg

17 December 2016:

My father shocked me today when he asked if pogroms predated Hitler. He seemed to think anti-Semitism started in post-WW1 Germany. I can only think this is cognitive slippage in old age and illness, as Dad, having been a child in the ’30s, went on to be a student of economics, politics and modern history.

Yet knowledge of modern history *is* vanishing, replaced by Hollywood distortions (Inglourious Basterds), denial, and a galloping cynicism that buys into conspiracy theories and a belief that everything we’ve been told is propaganda.

When I was 22, in 1983, I went to an adult education course where my classmates included 3 older women, post-WW2 Jewish refugees. Two spoke with heavy accents and the third, after 35 years in Australia, barely spoke English at all. Her friends explained she rarely ventured outside the Jewish emigre community.

I asked if they’d encountered anti-Semitism in their early years in Australia.

“Oh darling,” one woman laughed. “No. People here didn’t know what a Jew WAS.”

I suppose part of the problem is when we can’t admit our ignorance, and *think* we “know” the stranger.

Openness to learn is more important than ever. But in a media age, what media do we trust?

17 December 2016:

Angus has met up with the palliative care doctor and the palliative care nurse. The doctor, David, thinks Dad will make it to February, and says medication can manage the pain with Angus remaining lucid most of that time.

Meanwhile both Angus and Liz are suddenly quite skinny. We need to keep them eating.

Gotta get [Liz] to EAT. I think it’s vitawheats and tea unless there are guests.

I think as a family at the moment we feel like we’re doing well 💚

But it’s not ok. This is palliative care for terminal untreatable cancer.

17 December 2016:

fb_img_1482377176897.jpg

15 December 2016:

Dad took Mum’s old Hyundai in for servicing ahead of it being handed on to me.

He pulled the “terminal illness, no time to hang about” line to make sure he could pick up the serviced car by lunch time.

When he got back the car was ready and there was this note:

fb_img_1482377162815.jpg

Louise Eggleston, Dad was so moved by your letter, which I won’t make public. He burst into tears and said “I wish people weren’t so NICE! I can handle anger and aggression, but I HATE kindness!”

Translation: He loves you like a daughter.

15 December 2016:

Dad is very firm that palliative care should include checking out a time of his choosing.

He says he feels sorry for me (and Cathy, assuming Peter dies first) because we won’t have family around us when we die. But he got quite angry when I told him Cathy and I both plan to check out early; not having kids and a husband means there’s no purpose in me sticking around.

He said I can stick around as long as I like: not having loved ones dependent does NOT determine the value of my life.

On a similar note:- we’ll none of hang around “because there are books to write!” Uncle Hugh is trying to convince Angus to write a memoir about dying, because “it could help others”. I told him (yes! We’re speaking!) Dad could not be less interested. Interested in writing about his childhood, his youth, his birth family, his birth home – but not about death or dying.

14 December 2016:

Someone made a reference to their after-life, playing a harp by the Pearly Gates.

I asked, “What will you be playing, Dad?”

Angus (immediate, with gleeful grin): “TENNIS!”

14 December 2016:

Sudden overwhelming need to contact my friend Lou Benson, who I grew up with in Adelaide. Thanks to the magic of Google and LinkedIn, mission accomplished.

fb_img_1482377150243.jpg

13 December 2016:

In my ‘Death & Dying’ reading list I have now read Australian writer Cory Taylor’s Dying: a memoir.

Cory Taylor investigates the big ones: Life, and Death, and Family, and Home. Oh, and Art and Time and Desire and Love. The relations between Body and Consciousness.

At times it’s a soap opera. At one point I put it down and thought, Is that all life is? A soap opera? Then she’ll make gold thread connections. I’m not doing her justice, I’m making her writing sound portentous when it’s delicate, sensitive.

She resolves it as a screenwriter would: Fade to black.

cory-taylor-dying-a-memoir

13 December 2016:

Reading Max Porter’s novella Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which is both a response to poetry (Ted Hughes, Emily Dickinson) and is poetry.

“We are all agreed the book will reflect the subject. It will hop about a bit.”

What between the bat-shit crazy allegorical Crow and that large tub of Macha Green Tea White Chocolate Wafer ice-ceram (how did I only see “green tea”?), I am finding it hard to concentrate. The book lets me peck at it.

grief-is-the-thing-with-feathers-max-porter

12 December 2016:

Today my cousin Petrana, her two kids and my aunt Marilyn made Angus and Liz – and me and Cathy – very happy by visiting from Sydney.

Noah and Liv brought artwork as gifts for Angus: the portrait is by Noah, the thing-where-the-first-letter-of-each-line-spells ANGUS is by Liv.

The sun shone and Angus laughed and Liv and Noah went swimming in the sea and took turns walking Bella the poodle.

 

 

 

 

 

12 December 2016:

Two years today since Toby’s death.

fb_img_1482377110699.jpg

11 December 2016:

The well-being room: featuring Dad’s exercise bike (gifted), step, Swiss ball, off-road bike, yoga mat, block and bolster, relaxation CDs and Bach cello suites, exercise shoes, my Great Gatsby party costume for Friday (Lord how I do NOT want to do that), Andrey’s painting, Cathy’s watercolour, Leeanne’s print, the Japanese painted hanging screen, and Doctor Who on the DVD player in the corner.

Haven within home.

fb_img_1482377099863.jpg

10 December 2016:

The McDonald Xmas tree. Decorated by Cathy.

fb_img_1482377080007.jpg

8 December 2016:

In an ambulance being driven to hospital. Suspected heart attack. But probably not.

I hear the paramedic say, “I gave her more morphine. It made her worse.”

7 December 2016:

Another task off Dad’s ‘To do’ list:- new shade sails installed.

There was a bit of a ruckus coordinating with the neighbour over the timing of the tree surgery, won’t go into it but Dad got very, very upset, which made me very, very upset; our kind friend Greg is liaising from here.

It was very not good. V distressed Tuesday night. Yesterday much better for all.

fb_img_1482377065439.jpg

Josh has gained a kilo when he should have lost 2kg. He has pronounced thickening on his back right knee joint which will be bothering him. Business as usual – Loxicom for the pain and Synovan as his 6-monthly anti-arthritis treatment program. Vet is under instruction to make sure Josh outlives Dad; Angus couldn’t bear Josh dying.

The betting is on Angus going first 😦

6 December 2016:

Mum and Dad’s new car. Er, Mum’s new car.

Dad left a note in the trade-in car for the new owner, because he thought the CD system might be a bit complex: “Press LOAD and insert a disc while READY indicated in green”.

fb_img_1482377052390.jpg

5 December 2016:

SO EXCITING!!

The current owners of the grand house where my father was born and grew up have replied to my letter with a wonderful email updating us on their plans to landscape the grounds and restore some of the house’s original features.

They made Dad so happy by telling us they see themselves as custodians rather than owners, and that it seems to them EVERYONE in Mt Gambier knows and loves this house.

Angus has responded by immediately writing long-hand notes recounting further house tales.

mt-gambier-house-c1936_2

Dad says this was about 1946, and that during WW2 the maintenance on garden and house fell away. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer not long after, she made it a project to revive house and garden.

4 December 2016:

Wonderful to have our very dear friends Mary Christie and Seb Dickins visit from Sydney this weekend: it meant a lot to all of us.

A few local friends are dropping by without phoning first expecting Angus to be in shape for visitors any time. They bring casseroles. Angus is barely able to eat still – or yet – and Liz frets about freezer space. Lots of love though, and I’m grateful.

Angus was so happy to have Seb and Mary here, and he held up well yesterday, but today was difficult. It’s very confronting to see how unwell he really is.

2 December 2016:

Bringing Young Angus home from hospital in 15 minutes.

[My short story Old Angus] won The Australian’s 20th Anniversary Short Story Prize for Young Writers (under age 25) in 1984.

One of the judges – an old school newspaper editor – told me he liked its naturalism. “A lot of the stories weren’t stories,” he said.

Old Angus was 86, not 90. Edie wasn’t mad: she was sometimes angry. Ila is reconfigured as Laura, as a nod to Tennessee Williams’ Laura, his fictionalised sister, in The Glass Menagerie.

1 December 2016:

I turned into a viper last night and was still baring fangs and lashing this morning.

Fortunately my very kind friend Heather complicated her day by driving to Point Lonsdale with cappuccino and brownies, and spent time in the sunshine being companionable.

I am lucky to have caring friends. Thank you.

Pictures: Viper. Sunshine. One of these is healing.

 

 

 

 

 

30 November 2016:

Our beach is, still, strewn with bluebottles.

One of hundreds.

fb_img_1482376982523.jpg

30 November 2016:

Angus plans the playlist for his wake.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m spinning out a bit today. I’m particularly pissed off at a person who I told to phone or email if she wished but not to visit, for good reasons I won’t go into. She phoned Liz today and asked to visit.

[Later] The surgeon has phoned to say the operation went well. Angus is just coming out of the anaesthetic now. Tomorrow he’ll meet with the palliative care team and then Liz and I can collect him and bring him home.

[Later] Angus won’t be coming home today due to raised blood pressure. We don’t want to worry Liz with this.

So happy [our friend Mary] and Seb and Millie are able to visit us 💚 There’s accommodation at my place for any or all of [them] and also at Cathy’s, 30 mins down the highway.

Angus pre-surgery

30 November 2016:

Tidal (1984)

In the laundry we found a postcard

Victorian erotica

a woman with blancmange buttocks and

a tentative smile

like her

malleable curves, bovine

eyes: a Gibson

girl, in sepia tones, her body

all graceful billows, as

rich as her husband’s wheatfields

her breasts, white as orchards in bloom

heavy

featured honey-lips and now

decades later, her country child

wades through pock-coral tidal pools

compulsive

he still finds relics

of a ship smashed by the bay

shards of pottery

pitted like daguerreotype

shattered, once-sharp edges smoothed

now aged, in submarine silence

he assembles the fragments for

mantelpiece display – a voyeur

caressing

he holds them with the tenderness

of her remembered

touch

angus-snr-edie_2

29 November 2016:

Angus update: Dad will have surgery at 6pm tomorrow (Wednesday). The bile duct has been closed by the tumour in his pancreas pressing against it; bile is not draining, Angus has turned yellow, his liver is collapsing.

A metal stent will be inserted via a tube to enable bile to flow as it ought. If this operation is successful it will have zero effect on the progress of his cancer but he will be able to eat again.

I’ve just eaten a mega-bag of Smarties and I feel sick… but Dad tells me he’s had fish and mashed potatoes, orange juice, ice cream and jelly as his hospital dinner, and so far no probs, so that’s pretty good 

He said he felt emboldened to tackle the meal as in a hospital environment he has expert support. Also, yesterday when he said he was sometimes dizzy and was having trouble concentrating I pointed out he’d barely eaten for 10 days and was starving.

Smarties really crap idea. I am stacking on heaps weight and have gone up yet another clothes size. Eating for two?

I’m a bit wrecked – woke up c.1.30am and only slept patchily after that. Bloody Smarties 😉

28 November 2016:

fb_img_1482376896231.jpg

28 November 2016:

fb_img_1482376885206.jpg

28 November 2016:

Angus goes into St John of God’s cancer ward at 11am Tuesday to have a stent surgically inserted in his blocked bile duct Wednesday afternoon, so that he can hold down food.

He is yellow. Angus, but yellow.

25 November 2016:

Angus main street Mt Gambier

No concerns about going public: a Probus club member knocked on the parents’ door just now and asked Angus, brightly, “How are you?”

Angus: “I’m dying. No, really. I have aggressive, inoperable pancreatic cancer.”

So the cat’s well and truly out of the bag.

fb_img_1482376835738.jpg

There was a friend he met outside the local store who he was updating when an acquaintance walked past and overheard. The acquaintance immediately burst into tears and flung herself on Angus, sobbing and trying to hug him. Friend A has to prise the interloper off.

24 November 2016:

So. Angus has an extremely aggressive pancreatic cancer which is untreatable. Palliative care only for the short time remaining.

He will have surgery next week for a blocked bile duct on his gut which has meant he can’t keep food down.

People who know Angus and Liz: please don’t contact them just yet.

Angus will be doped up quite soon, and his time-frame is short, so friends who know him and Liz and want to make contact while he’s still compos mentis, I will let them know today. […]

I’ve arbitrarily gone public: feel free to contact them from tomorrow on liz.angus@**** or (+61) 03-**** **** – if phoning, please don’t 1-4pm when he sleeps, or after 7pm AEST. Thanks

Also, if speaking to Liz, be aware there is a touch of dementia, which she does not acknowledge, and quite a bit of anxiety and depression.

I’m thinking of moving the agave [Lou] gave me (which I found, in my garden) across to the little sun-garden outside Dad’s bedroom, which Peter and Cathy are doing a makeover on to make appealing both to look at from the bed and also to sit in ♡

24 November 2016:

Initial test results for Angus very, very scary. Prayers please.

LOL Cathy texted to say on the admissions form under ‘Existing conditions’ they forgot to fill in “prostate cancer, emphysema, asthma”… and Alzheimer’s?

He’s handling it well right now.

21 November 2016:

Supposed to be 39C today, with high winds. Dad’s with the doctor, Mum has another cardiologist consult tomorrow. The dog isn’t moving. Don’t know what to do with myself.

Ahmo's picture of Elly and Toby 2002

Angus back from GP appt where various tests were done, more scheduled, imaging appt in Geelong tomorrow alongside Liz who was already booked for imaging.

Dad has a 9.30am appt Thursday to find out what his tests showed. The test process this morning he describes as torture. He still throws up if he tries to eat and has other gastrointestinal probs too. Liz was told the risk of stroke if they try to correct her arrhythmia is too high so if she feels better on the medications then that’s all that’s required. Liz says she has a greenlight to go to HK. Angus is anxious about his test results.

Glam factor not high.

20 November 2016:

Beautiful lunch for Cathy’s 57th birthday at Gladioli restaurant in Inverleigh, followed by Angus throwing his guts up out the car window by the side of the Hamilton Highway.

Peter and Cathy drove back so Peter could do an immediate medical check. Angus is rugged up with a water bottle and paper towels and we cleaned off the mess. Peter says he needs to see his GP asap tomorrow. He has no appetite and for the first time ever almost no capacity for alcohol. He was very unwell this morning but we didn’t want to cancel Cathy’s birthday lunch.

I can’t see how they [Angus and Liz] can possibly go to Hong Kong 😦


1 Comment

Old Angus (1984)

Every Sunday, he used to stand by the front window and yell abuse at churchgoers. Sometimes he stood on the lawn and shook his fist at them. Directly across the road, a small Roman Catholic church lies meek in the face of aggression, its whitewashed walls shadowed by an Anglican cathedral towering alongside. Old Angus has no interest in the Anglican cathedral; his fight is with the Roman Catholic god.

He knows he’s losing. After a twenty year battle he’s all but yielded sight; now, his being is demanded. Knowing he’s dying, Old Angus resents it. He rages. For hours he debates unhearing politicians – they on radio and television, he in his solid, ancient bed. A spent force, he is unforgiving.

“I’m ninety”, he tells Young Angus. “If I were a cricketer, I’d have to say I’d had a good innings.”

Not being a cricketer, he doesn’t believe it.

Young Angus sits by his bedside and worries, caring so much he can barely listen.

“D’you remember”, says Old Angus, “That tale about Johnny? How you used to tell me about your girls?”

Young Angus, tired, looks blank.

“You remember, lad? I’d laugh at you. You know the one. In Scotland, the son would come to his dad and say ‘Dad, I’ve found me a perfect lass’. ‘Aye, aye, Johnny?’ the dad would say. ‘Father, I mean to ask her to marry me!’ Johnny tells his dad, and his dad says ‘Aye?’ Maybe she won’t have me’ worries the son, and ‘Aye’, says the dad, ‘Aye, aye’… You remember, lad?”

“Oh, aye”, Young Angus reassures him, truthfully. “I wanted to marry Beth, and you told me about Johnny. I’m glad you never told me what to do.”

“I thought you’d be disappointed again”, Old Angus sighs, shifting uncomfortably in his sheets. “I thought she’d be scared away by Laura. I though maybe Evie might scare her away.”

“Evie never scared anyone but you”, Young Angus reproves him, rearranging the bed clothes.

In the other bedroom, Beth is dying Emma’s hair with Laura looking on. Emma’s triple image, reflected in an old, three-way mirror, commands all eyes. The girl herself perches stiffly on the bed, her self-conscious, fifteen year-old body stretched regal and long. A scheming princess, arrogant neck destined for the block, she notes with satisfaction the way her hair rests in damp curls, piled up away from her face. (Emma, immersed in vanity’s haze, recalls an incident from early childhood, taunting as she yanked a playmate’s pigtail: “I have hair like a princess”, sneered Emma, “And you have hair like a rat’s tail!” Soon after, her blonde began to darken. Old Angus, gazing down from his superior height and seeing only nutmeg, had tussled the strands, saying “Never mind, lass – not every princess has golden curls”.)

“You look lovely!” grins Laura, and Beth beams back at her. Emma, coppoer-brown and all but naked in sheer underclothes, says nothing.

“Here”, says Beth. “Throw on a dress and go in and show Old Angus.”

Old Angus guesses at Emma’s dislike. The young, he reflects, would prefer not to have to acknowledge old age. Emma shouldn’t have to confront death yet.

“You look just like Evie”, Old Angus tells Emma, who momentarily feels insult and fright. Evie, to her, is a mystery madwoman only referred to in furtive whispers. Emma juts her chin.

“Evie was your age when I first saw her”, Old Angus recalls, disregarding the distance between this child and him. “She was fourteen, and I thought she was beautiful. The boss’s daughter, you know? I had to sweep the shop and the verandah, and I’d loiter outside, waiting to see her come home from school. her father couldn’t stand me.”

Emma remains silent, but she’s listening.

“Well, what was I but trash? And Catholic, too! We were shanty types – Scottish Catholics, and fifteen kids! We lived in a riverside shack that flooded when it rained. We’d eat the fish left tangled in the furniture. We couldn’t read or write. Or the others couldn’t, anyway…

“But I wanted more, and I wanted Evie. She was a dream, that girl! A beautiful, round-faced, round-eyed dream. By that time I owned a store of my own.”

He smiles across at Emma, and reaches out his hand. She takes it awkwardly, not knowing what to say.

“He’s telling you about Evie?” asks Beth, balancing a laden tray as she pushes through the door.

“I was telling her how we first started out, before Laura”, Old Angus says. “Her whole family was against us marrying, but she always had a will, had Evie. I remember years later when we got that car. A terrible contraption, a car – it had me beat, alright! But Evie, she was determined to master it. She took it down to the paddock behind the house (this was when we still had the old place), and she forced that thing to work the way she wanted. It fought! It ran amok all over the croquet lawn. But she got the better of it, finally, and it never gave her a problem again.”

“Yes”, Beth smiles, seating herself beside him and carefully handing him a mug of warmed milk. “Yes, Evie was a brave one.”

“Aye”, says Old Angus, meeting her eyes quickly. “She was brave. She was brave with Laura. It wasn’t like she had a soul on her side.”

“Tell me”, Emma Frances demands. Her initials are E.F.M/, like her grandmother’s were.

“About Laura?” asks Old Angus, spilling some milk down his chin. Beth gently mops his neck with a tissue, mentally dismayed at how fragile his skin is.

“Better not”, Beth cautions, quietly.

“Why not?” The old man turns on her. “Why not let her know? I’m not ashamed of Evie. She was worth a dozen of any other person I ever met.”

“Go on, then”, Beth sighs, and he hunches over his mug, cloudy-eyed stare trained on Emma.

“She was, you know”, he nods. “She was worth a damn sight more than what she got. It’s not Laura’s fault. Laura was born a normal child. It was illness that did it. Illness and doctors. First polio, then meningitis. They put her in plaster. Imagine a child’s legs locked away in plaster, for a whole year! They said it would stop them trembling.

“She trembled worse, and her legs were so stunted she could hardly walk. Couldn’t talk properly either. And something happened to her brain.

“Well, you know country towns, and it was worse back then. People round here didn’t understand. They said Laura being struck down was an act of God, that Evie and I had brought it on our child. They said Evie and I must be to blame. Said it was Evie, acting like a man. Too forward, they said; too bloody ambitious.

“She’d dived into politics, Evie-style. Talking feminism, socialism… ‘isms’ we’d never heard of till then. She aimed to be a town councillor, and women could vote here in South Australia, so she wouldn’t let anyone tell her what was what. Unnatural, they said. The children of bad mothers always come to harm; bad mothers like Evie deserve it.”

“That’s not true”, protests Emma, and Beth – taking in her city-bred, modern daughter – wonders if Emma will develop into someone Beth can point to proudly and boast “Yes, that is the child I deserve”.

“The Church believed it”, Old Angus glowers. His hands shake, and milk splashes. “Laura wasn’t allowed to attend mass. They said she was simple, and couldn’t understand. Like she was a dumb animal. So, that was it between the Church and Evie, for all she’d tried so hard to fit in with those women. She’d worked herself to rags on their goddam charities…

“Restaurants, too – they said Laura and her trembles turned people’s stomachs. The said it wasn’t right to feed her in public, the way she slobbers and sometimes spills her food. But she wasn’t any worse than someone old, and I’m still a person, aren’t I?”

Beth takes the mug from Old Angus’s grasp. There are tears of frustration in his clouded eyes, frustration unexhausted after sixty years.

“It’s okay, Dad”, Beth reassures him. “We’ll always look after her.”

“I gave Evie a rough time”, Old Angus continues, trying to wipe his eyes on a pyjama sleeve. “She was hurt, you know. It made her strange. She got so odd, so set in her ways! She was always stubborn, always fighting. I remember when she found my whisky supply – I’d hidden it in the woodshed, ‘cos she wouldn’t have alcohol in the house. I could have killed her. I nearly did! I chased her all around with a knife for twenty minutes, and Young Angus hid up in the big tree and cried.”

“Young Angus thinks the world of you”, says Beth.

“He was a joy, that one.” Old Angus smiles fondly towards the open window. “When we still had the big house, I used to dress up as Father Christmas every year for the town pageant. All the children would climb on my knee and tell me what presents they were angling after. Young Angus clambers up and whispers he’s hoping for a big hunting knife, for when he goes rabbiting with his uncle Jock. Well, says I, I reckon your dad might decide a hunting knife’s too big for a small boy. Young Angus, he looks at me. ‘You look like my dad’, he frowns, ‘But my Daddy would give me what I want’. And bless him, I did. I always did. We spoil the fruits of our old age.”

That night, Young Angus keeps Old Angus company. Quiet pervades the room.

“How do you want to go, Dad?” Young Angus asks his father, low-voiced.

“I don’t want to go at all”, Old Angus snaps back, somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

“No, Dad, I didn’t mean it that way. The old ones in the family are planning the funeral. They want to know if you’ll do it Church or not.”

“Which church?” Old Angus glares.

“Dad, don’t make it hard for me. They want to see you reconciled. They want to see you return to the faith.”

“I’ll not return till they give me back my Evie, and that won’t happen in this world.” A fierce old man, blind and sunken-faced. He considers a moment, then asks more kindly “What seems best to you, lad?”

“I don’t know, Dad. There must be a compromise.”

Old Angus and Young Angus sit shoulder to shoulder, the old man supported by a pile of pillows. Suddenly Old Angus laughs.

“Yes!” he chuckles. “There’s a compromise of sorts. Next to the church, there’s that new cathedral – the C-of-E number. If we book me in there, we can ring our funeral bells all through their mass, and hold up the pious with our funeral procession! If we’re canny, we can clog up their carpark with our mourners’ carss. That’s having it both ways! Can you do it for me, lad? Can you fix ‘em?”

Young Angus would do, could do anything. He kisses the damp flesh of the old man’s head.

“Aye, aye”, says Young Angus, and hugs his father.

angus-snr-edie_2


2 Comments

Schleswig-Holstein

Hello to the current residents at 22 Jardine Street

My father, Angus McDonald, was born in 22 Jardine Street in 1931 and grew up there. He sold the house on behalf of my grandfather Angus McDonald in 1974.

My dad Angus was diagnosed yesterday as having an extremely aggressive, untreatable pancreatic cancer. He’s unlikely to see out the year and will probably spend much of his remaining time heavily medicated, in palliative care.

He wrote this short piece about the history of your house as he knows it quite some time back, but felt shy about posting it, and considered it unfinished. (It could never be finished. He has a rich trove of memories of that house and his childhood.)

I am mailing it now on his behalf as I think he’d be thrilled to think the current owners care about the house’s history and its past residents.

I hope the house is as happy a home for you as it was for Angus and for my sister Cathy and me as visitors throughout our childhoods.

Best regards

Elly McDonald

My father writes:

My name is Angus McDonald. I am 85 years old and I grew up in your house, 22 Jardine Street, which my parents Angus McDonald and Edith McDonald (nee Gibson) purchased in 1928 and moved into with my older sister Ila.

I wondered if you might be interested in the history of the house as I know it and some photos of its earlier incarnation? I can email jpeg.

22 Jardine Street was built in 1909 for Mr Jens and his wife, who owned and ran Jens Hotel. They had two daughters and a son, Dr John Jens who practiced in Ballarat. It was built – on the wrong north-south orientation, from a European architectural draft – to the design of a castle-style grand house in northern Germany and was originally known as Schleswig-Holstein after the north-west German state. During WW1 this name was changed for obvious reasons. My mother renamed the house ‘Gazebo’. Huge 16 foot high cypress hedges formed the boundaries on Hedley and Jardine Streets.

My mother Edie was a ferocious and skilled croquet player, so the area which I believe is now a pool was then a croquet lawn, with thick cypress hedge on two sides and purple hydrangeas in the flowerbeds alongside the house. The formal dining room overlooked the croquet lawn and had a small ‘butler’s room’ adjacent. My mother had a mahogany dining suite with the chairs upholstered in red and white striped satin, with a mahogany and glass cabinet to display crystalware, and an upright piano lacquered black. My mother and her sister Maude were both enthusiastic pianists. On the walls were Edwardian idyll pictures of the flower gardens overlooking the lakes in Northern Italy, Como or Bellagio.

The bedroom on the south-west corner, alongside the dining room, was my sister Ila’s, then later, after my mother died in 1957 and my aunt Maude moved in to keep house, it was Maude’s (“Ainee” for Aunty). During that period the famous ‘Green Lady’ exotic Chinese beauty print hung there (The Chinese Girl painting by Vladimir Tretchikoff, 1952).

In the large foyer area with the stained glass dome, two porcelain orange and white cocker spaniels stood guard along the fireplace. In the front bedroom, overlooking the path winding down to the front corner gate (Jardine/Hedley Streets), tall pictures of cranes in white and pink and turquoise tones flanked my parents bed, which had a white bedspread with pastel blue and pink embellishments, marzipan-style. I was born in the front (north) bedroom.

The porch area out front had a waist-high wall and overlooked the rose garden. My father Angus was a very keen gardener and also maintained a thriving vegetable garden alongside what was then the driveway. Edie did most of the planning and he followed instructions.

An extension was built at the kitchen end of the house which had a toilet, a laundry, lower-bedroom (Ila’s for a time) and a cellar. The concrete floor was painted emerald green. Ila was very colour-sensitive and went through phases where she was, in turn, passionate about green, then mauve, then bright yellow. She updated her décor to suit her favourite colour. The huge courthouse to the south-east of the house was a cellar used as storage (for instance, for the manual lawn mower) and a wood-shed and loft overlooking the lawn. My young daughters found my father’s Digger’s slouch hat in the loft one time and were fascinated.

Ila had been physically disabled by the polio epidemic of 1921-22. She never married and remained sharing 22 Jardine Street with Angus after Maude moved to Melbourne and through to when the house was sold in 1973. Angus and Ila downsized to a more manageable home just around the corner on Hedley Street. Angus died in 1977 and in 1982 Ila came to live in Point Lonsdale, Victoria, where my wife and I live. She passed away in 1994.

My father Angus was an Alderman and member of Mt Gambier Council for 27 years and was a committed Rotarian. My mother Edie was active in the Presbyterian church and, of course, her croquet club.

In 1950 Jardine Street was an unmade road or track from Mitchell Street to Crouch Street, and Hedley Street was merely a survey plan. Mitchell Street north was a cattle track down to the sale yards in North Terrace. Schleswig-Holstein sat on 4 acres of grazing land below the hillside between Hedley and Crouch Streets.

On his death, my father gifted land which was then pastoral (despite being on the main through highway) to the Council for the purposes of building a visitor information centre. That land is now developed. This area was known as the Frew Estate. He also sold land 2.5 acres as allotments on the north side of the highway across from the boundary greens.

[unfinished]

angus-guarding-schleswig-holstein


Leave a comment

On love. And not being able to speak.

When I left London and came back to Australia I promised myself I’d return for a visit within 18 months. I needed to make myself this promise, or I wouldn’t have been able to leave the places, and the people, I loved.

At almost precisely the 18-month mark, I booked a return Melbourne/London/Melbourne plane ticket on my credit card and flew ‘home’ to London, where I’d arranged to spend a few days initially staying with a friend and her infant daughter. I must have been the worst guest ever: I immediately came down with an ugly cold virus. Everywhere I went inside Evelyn’s flat I trailed cloud-mountains of used tissues, soggy and snotty and seemingly endless. Evelyn insisted this was fine; she said she had a cold herself, and contributed a few snotty tissues to the mountain range in solidarity. I bought an over-the-counter medication containing pseudoephedrine to drain my internal swamps and thought I’d be able to tramp on regardless.

I was wrong. I had a reaction to the pseudoephedrine, manifested as a total loss of appetite, mortifying the evening Evelyn and her man took me out to dinner at a local African restaurant and I couldn’t eat a thing. Then my voice went raspy, and eventually, after I’d moved on from Evelyn’s and was staying as a paying guest in a private home in my old neighbourhood, my voice started cutting out altogether.

I’d arranged to meet one of the people I loved for lunch.

“It’s Elly,” I croaked over the phone.

“You sound like a horror movie monster,” the loved one replied. It was too hard to talk. I let that one go.

At Waterloo Station I stopped at a pharmacy and when my turn in the queue came up, I made pleading eyes at the sales attendant and gestured urgently at my throat. He was momentarily nonplussed, then handed me a medication he thought suited.

“I hope whatever happened to your voice gets… better,” he said, sympathetically.

“Thanks,” the horror movie monster croaked. People behind me in the queue shifted uneasily.

By the time I reached the loved one’s workplace I could barely make intelligible noises. This was unfortunate, as he attempted introductions to various colleagues. They smiled and were gracious; I rasped at them.

By the time we reached the upmarket restaurant my friend had booked, I was reduced to making pantomime faces. The waiter came to take our order.

“The rabbit,” I said. He heard, “Rrr rrrrrr.”

The waiter looked at my friend and raised his eyebrow.

“She wants the rabbit,” said my loved one, completely calmly, as if bringing a desperate semi-mute to lunch was an every day occurrence, and as if he could see no problem whatsoever translating my intentions.

My intentions, as it happened, had been to tell my friend how much I had loved him. I felt defeated.

“What’s wrong?” my loved one asked.

“Rrr rrrr rrr rr,” I replied. Which he heard correctly as, “I can’t talk.”

I looked at him with soggy eyes. You know the tragic face in a silent movie? That one.

I think my friend reassured me that was okay, and we proceeded to lunch as best a pragmatic CEO and a snot-filled silent movie grotesque can in a glamorous restaurant. My vision of us talking, earnestly and intimately, about how we’d felt and why we were not together dissolved in a mist of cold virus microspray.

My loved one assumed immunity as we hugged farewell and I rasped my goodbyes.

“Rrrrrrrrrrrr”, I said, with feeling.

He smiled kindly.

It was somehow unfulfilling.

My plan to declare love was almost certainly foolish. My friend knew I loved him. Or he didn’t. Either way, that should have spoken for itself and been sufficient. There are few things more irrelevant than a love whose moment has passed.

Possibly.

In my blog posts, I’ve spent an ungodly amount of space considering the ethics of when to name names and how to label emotions. I’ve tried to explore emotional bonds: how we form strong feelings for a person; when strong emotions are ambivalent; how we situate those feelings within our life narratives. Sometimes I’ve self-censored, thinking it’s not for me to put words out into the world about particular feelings and experiences, in relation to particular people, especially when those people very likely would tell the story of our shared experiences differently.

In other words: My friend of the London lunch might not have had the ‘L’ word – the four-letter one – in mind in relation to me. Ever. I can’t know because we never directly discussed this. That’s why I’d wanted to speak The Word on this occasion.

As I get older, and as people I love age and die, I find I am getting reckless with words and emotions. Fling ‘em out there. Speak up. Just say it.

Two years ago I wrote a series of blog posts I thought of as my ‘Five dead rock stars’ pieces. They were eulogies for five people, now dead, who at important points in my life were significant to me, about whom I had strong positive feelings. Just say it: these were love letters – they were people I loved.

I’m not saying they loved me. Maybe they did, in differing ways, some of the time, at least. The important point is I loved them.

Some people really didn’t like my ‘Five dead rock star’ pieces. They didn’t think I should co-opt and name other people within my highly personalized narratives. They didn’t think I should name my feelings about those people. As they see it, I don’t have that right.

Maybe.

But the way I’ve come to see it, love is too important to leave unnamed. It’s a mystery to me why one day this other person is just another person, then the realization hits: what I feel is a form of love.

Yesterday, I read an article in a newspaper, an interview with an old friend who has been confronting his formative years and writing about his extremely troubled past. I admired his willingness to try to tell it like it is, to try to uncover his truth. And I realized, I don’t want to wait till this person is another dead rock star to eulogize them. I want to publicly name the place he had in my life, as someone I loved, in my way.

Decades ago, a female friend and I were jaywalking in Kings Cross when we bumped into my troubled rock star friend. We chatted briefly, then we parted.

My female friend turned to me and said, “That was amazing. You lit up like a Christmas tree!”

I did. That was love. I can’t turn it down, or off, or suppress it. It persists.

And halleluljah. Thank God for that. What a gift it is, to be capable of long-lasting, irrepressible, life-changing positive feelings for a person, even if those feelings are not reciprocated or are returned inequitably. It’s a cliché, but love gives meaning to life.

So why am I not naming the loved ones in this piece? And the others who I love, who shaped my life and helped create meaning?

Our lives are now disparate, widely diverged and widely divulged. I guess they know I loved them. Or they don’t. Maybe they do and they’d rather I hadn’t, rather I didn’t. Too bad.

Love shows up and does its thing then settles into my soul. It’s not that it doesn’t dare speak its name. Through life’s inarticulacy, it makes itself understood.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

rabbit-02


2 Comments

Statement of poetics (1985)

Poetry and Gender: Statements and Essays in Australian Women’s Poetry and Poetics – editors Davids Brooks and Brenda Walker, St Lucia University of Queensland, 1989, p.57/58

It’s very strange to re-read this after 30 years. I remember I was asked to write a Statement of Poetics for this study early in 1985, in my first term enrolled in English at the University of Sydney. I had no idea what a “Statement of poetics” should be. I knew nothing about gender theory in Literature. I took my draft to my Term 1 tutor, who as it happened was an aspiring creative writer too. She didn’t like me and she did not like my draft. I remember her wrinkling her nose. I also remember that when the writer Helen Garner visited that term, my tutor and a number of students joined Helen for a drink, and I hoped my tutor might introduce us. Of course I should have simply introduced myself. A short while after, Helen contacted me, by handwritten note, requesting a copy of my poetry book, Other People (and other poems). I was thrilled by her interest, and I told her I’d been present that evening at Sydney Uni. Helen wrote back saying it’s frustrating how often people she hoped to meet tell her they’d been somewhere in her proximity but had been too shy to introduce themselves.

The other thing I note is my bullshit. My poems did not have an “male/female, overtly sexual context”? My relationships with women and family were “more complex than my relationships with men”? I wrote “most often about female friendships”? No. No and no. Fact is most of my poems were autobiographical, and most concerned a particular male/female relationship, and I was embarrassed to own that. For the record: Other People (and other poems) was memoir. You know who you are.

Nearly all my poems are records of conflict; I write as a means of clarifying emotion.

The only reader I initially had in mind was me; for years I never considered poems of mine might be publishable. I was writing highly-codified, deceptively simple lines that read like printed lyrics to songs. The music was built-in: I relied on rhythm, and rhythm is still the lynchpin of my style. I actually regard some of my poems as songs for the inner-ear, though I’m aware that rhythms that seem to me insistent are not always obvious, comfortable or even apparent to some readers.

Repetition is another hallmark of my style. I like to play with a word, and its puns and variations and rhymes, in such a way that several meanings may be suggested. Punctuation in my poetry is a guide suggesting mental pauses like musical rests of varying value. I seldom use conventional punctuation, believing it forces too narrow a reading. Ideally, multiple meanings should bounce off each phrase. Lines often have a particular meaning taken by themselves that adds another dimension to their sense in the context of the whole sentence or verse. I like that. I think of it as texture, as verbal cross-weaving. It’s also an intellectual game, a form of self-amusement like a cryptic crossword. I once wrote a six-line poem in which the lines and phrases could be read in any sequence and still convey sense.

However, until quite recently it never occurred to me these games might be accepted as ‘real’ poetry. Real poetry, I thought, was based on metaphor. More abstract, more structurally complex and more dense, real poetry was rife with adjectives. My poetry became very wordy, which in itself I don’t consider a fault – writing is, after all, about words – so long as the words are used to effect. I do think, though, that in poems written during this phase I was cramming in too much, too clumsily.

Because I feel strongly about their subjects, my poems often have an impulsive, obsessive quality. Where poetry is concerned, I’m just not interesting in exploring anything but the politics of personal relationships. The relationships I have with other women and with my family have proved more complex than my relationships with men, so I write most often about female friendships, current and past. These ‘friendships’ have often been problematic, ambivalent; the poems are correspondingly ambiguous. (Some poems that may appear to address a man in fact involve a woman.)

Up until now, stalemated power-struggles have been the dominant recurring theme, and the image of the doppelganger stalks through much of my work. The doppelganger reflects a too-close identification with my perceived (female) ‘Enemy’: almost an exchange of identity. The doppelganger might be the Enemy as Self.

The doppelganger stares back from mirrors. Frequent references to mirrors in my poems are not intentional symbolism, but now I’ve become aware of them I’m sure they relate to a childhood conviction that mirrors are the bridge between the land of the living and a phantasm zone. Quite a few poems of mine are re-lived nightmares, or slip midway into nightmare sequences.

A sense of displacement, of dislocation, is also something I’m increasingly aware of as an element in my writing. The poems’ subjects are usually an Outsider – or an outcast, a misfit who’d choose to be accepted. More often than not, the Outsider’s survival is in jeopardy. The context is hostile, unknowable: strangers, people not recognised, mistaken identity and identity exchange recur.

These recurring elements have not been consciously endowed with significance, and I don’t fully understand their implications. Explicit meaning is not a high priority; my poems are not plotted in advance. When I sit down to write, all I usually have is a mood demanding expression. I may have a character, a specific situation and perhaps a key phrase or metaphor, but for the most part the first draft resembles automatic writing. I write till the words take on some kind of form, and then I examine what may have emerged. Invariably these days it requires re-working, but the first draft is the model.

I hope my work reads as distinctively female. Its focus on relationships in other than a male/female, overtly sexual context and its concern with inter-personal nuances are not, to my mind, typical of male writing. For me, poetry is close focus. I believe there are infinite kinds of feeling, forming all degrees of human bonding: variation on feeling seems to me a subject demanding close examination.

Elly_McDonald_Writer Ian Greene headshot 1985

Headshot taken for inclusion in poetry anthology 1985 (pic: Ian Greene)


Leave a comment

Be Alright (1986)

She and he
are sitting in a public place. They’re smiling. They’re
talking. Her fingers rest on his forearm and
their profiles overlap. They might
be kissing, but in fact
they’re talking. They’re smiling, and it’s all
alright

She and he
stand watching, observing themselves from the foreground.
A shared smile, turned inwards
her hand on his shoulder, long-held
hopes in her touch. See? She turns to him
softly – in this dream
they might be kissing. They might in fact
be talking, be smiling – they might both
be alright


2 Comments

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. By Daffy Duck. (10 June 2014)

Image

Last week I was listening to a radio program where the guests being interviewed had both recently published memoirs. One person, radio broadcaster and Australian arts identity Sian Prior, had published a memoir exploring the issue of shyness through her personal experience and research. Her book is called Shy. The other, Bev Brock, had written what she sees as essentially a self-help book, titled Life to the Limit.

Besides being intelligent, adult women who are published authors, these two have this in common: they are former partners of famous men acclaimed as Australian cultural icons. Sian Prior was for nine years partner to Paul Kelly, the much-loved Melbourne-based singer-songwriter. Bev Brock was the long-time partner of motor racing hero Peter Brock; Bev adopted his surname and the couple had three children.

I knew Paul Kelly in the ‘80s. Not well, but enough. He was the brother-in-law – and for a time, the housemate – of a friend and neighbour. I’d interviewed him in my capacity as a rock music journalist and I’d reviewed his records. In the early ‘80s I was a regular at his band’s gigs, where I loved to dance and sometimes hang out with the band afterwards.

I never met Peter Brock but I did know one of his girlfriends. What she had to say about Peter confirmed the sour opinion I’d had of him since the mid-70s, when his second wife claimed he’d battered her from the outset of their marriage, leading to her suicide attempt.

The interviewer, ABC Radio’s Jon Faine, asked both authors challenging questions about, essentially, the ethics of writing about famous others. He grilled Sian Prior on why in her memoir she chose to give her ex a pseudonym rather than using his real name. They’re both public figures, most Australian readers will know who she means, so why not name him?

With a degree of graciousness I have to admire, Sian pointed out she gave pseudonyms to all her friends mentioned in the book. She pointed out that her book, Shy, is about shyness. If she were to use Paul Kelly’s name, people would assume it was primarily a memoir about their relationship, which it is not.

Bev Brock explained her book explored emotional issues and challenges and needed to be truthful. The truth was, Peter was a shit (I paraphrase).

I was surprised by how tough the questioning was, especially the questions put to Sian. People who disclose unpleasant aspects of our idols are often censured. But the reality is, we, the public – listeners, viewers or readers – experience a frisson when the shadow side is revealed. Hypocritically, we might wag the finger of reproof. But we listen up.

I was even more surprised when I went online at my local library’s website to request a copy of Sian’s book, Shy. It was released two weeks ago, and 22 people had logged a borrow request and were on the waiting list. I live in a small town. My small town has the nickname “Sleepy Hollow”. It’s possible 23 of us jumped at the chance to read a book about shyness immediately on its release, but I’m guessing we’re mostly motivated by prurience: a chance to peek inside Paul Kelly’s private life.

As I was listening to Sian and Bev, the program host interrupted the interview to report the death of another Australian icon, Doc Neeson, frontman of the band The Angels. I knew Paul Kelly only in passing, and Peter Brock only through hearsay, but Doc I’d known as a friend. I was prompted by news of Doc’s death to start writing a series of short memoir pieces I’d been considering for some time; over this past week I’ve written five short tributes to five people who I cared about deeply and who mattered in my life.

I think of these linked pieces as my Five Dead Rock Stars series. That’s sounds callous, and doubtless is. It’s a nod to my friend Vince Lovegrove, the fifth of my Dead Rock Stars, who planned to call his memoirs Twelve Angry Women.

Engaging with the writing, inevitably the ethics of writing about people who are famous arose. Sian and Bev wrote about intimates; I was writing about famous people I thought of as friends but whom others might say were acquaintances – certainly, there are many people better placed to write more insightful accounts of my subjects’ lives, having known them longer or more fully. My pieces were not biographical; they were personal reminiscences, and fragmentary.

There was a lot I left out. It wasn’t needed, or it didn’t fit. Or it was impertinent. Or best forgotten. Or I am not ready to write about it yet.

In writing about our experiences, we process them anew, and sometimes gain clarity. I read – then re-read – a paragraph I wrote about myself at 21, accepting a handful of white powder backstage, Angel Dust or PCP. I can’t remember much of the events of that night, but I remember trying to walk home, through suburban Melbourne, from the bayside red-light district St Kilda. I could have died that night. I could have died during that horrible aftermath of strangulated breathing and turning blue. I could have died – as another young female rock writer did, in Kings Cross in the ‘90s – if a rapist-killer had spotted me vulnerable in the night.

If I had died, the futures of the bands who played at that venue that night might have been very different.

Reading that paragraph, I remembered another occasion, in 1981. I was visiting a musician friend at the house he shared with his girlfriend and a couple of Class-A drug dealers. I wasn’t taking drugs; I did drugs on four occasions across a 12 year period and that night was not one of those four nights. Someone OD’d. I remember one of the other people present, not the musician, urging the others to dump the unconscious body in an alley. Whatever happened, it could not be linked to them.

Happily, I can report this suggestion was rejected. The suspected OD case was revived and life when on.

For obvious reasons, I’m not willing to name names when writing about this incident. But as I read my own account of the night I almost OD’d, the chilling realisation hit me that the people backstage that night might readily have dumped my body in an alley. I was writing about the dread I had at that time, the dread that people I thought were my friends, were not. As I read back what I’d written, I knew, and I knew that I knew then: Of course these people were not your friends – how could your “friends” have let you stagger off into the night, alone?

How could I have continued in contact with those people, knowing I knew? Knowing they didn’t care if I lived or died, as long as I didn’t die at their gig, backstage? Of course I must forget.

As I tossed and turned, literally, unable to sleep, remembering what I’d forgotten, I started getting feedback on the memoir blogs I’d posted. I got no comments whatsoever, from any one from that period, on the first three blogs. But the fourth one, the one which recounted the incident with the white dust, that one drew comments from two old friends.

They were angry comments.

I’d written about my reaction on hearing of the blog subject’s death: since we’re not naming names, let’s call him Mickey Mouse. I wrote rather histrionically – “self-dramatisation”, as one commenter opined – about my shock at logging onto a news site and seeing a headline reporting his death. Except the headline didn’t name him, not by his real name nor as Mickey Mouse. The headline referred to him as the drummer in x band (not x, let’s call them Bedrock, in honour of the Flintstones). There had been several Bedrock drummers, so for a moment I had the wild, savage hope it was not my friend who’d died, that it might be another. Let’s call that other Donald Duck. In my blog I used Donald Duck’s real name.

I am told the use of his real name was callous and indefensible. I was told I suffered moral blindness, a failure to imagine the pain his family and friends would suffer, when, inevitably, they read my blog.

I don’t see it, myself. For starters, who is actually reading my blog? I can count the comments on the fingers of one hand. More to the point, if a septuagenarian veteran muso is traumatised reading that, given the choice between his death and her friend’s, some stranger would rather he had died, just hand me a dose of white powder right now. I don’t know Donald Duck, but I strongly suspect he’s old enough and ornery enough to cope.

In writerly terms, using the name was a harsh counter-note to the sentimentalism immediately preceding and following. It’s discordant. It’s nasty. And I never said I was nice.

I have however removed the name. Not because I think the use of the name has magical properties that could harm the person named. Not because my friends called me names. I removed it because the piece was intended as a tribute to someone I thought I loved, and I did not want what I consider a nonsense issue to detract from that.

I removed it with regret. I think the paragraph, and the piece, is weakened by not having that moment of authentic nastiness.

I remain perplexed that people who have been important to me could read all that I’ve written this past week, without comment, read the incident where a young girl is abandoned while seriously drug-impaired (though they might discount this as self-dramatisation), yet a few paragraphs later hurl into moral paroxysm over two words: the real name of Donald Duck.

But I guess there are multiple categories of people, quite apart from cartoon characters. There are famous people, lovers, acquaintances, friends, and “friends”.


Leave a comment

Vince Lovegrove. Legend. (8 June 2014)

Note 14 December 2016: The ‘Five Dead Rock Star’ pieces were written when I was depressed. I’ve left them to stand in their original versions, but they could be written very differently.

golden-star

Vince Lovegrove told me once that he planned to write his memoirs and title them Twelve Angry Women. Only twelve? I asked.

Vince angered a lot of people in his life. He was confrontational. Combative. Phenomenally passionate, with an immense capacity both for love and hate. Vince valued loyalty and yet too many of his relationships – sexual or otherwise – ended badly. He believed in living life on the edge; life without adrenalin was no life at all.

Vince is remembered, rightly, for his massive contributions in two domains: he was a champion of Oz Rock, the Australian pub rock music scene and its bands who went on to success internationally; and he raised awareness of AIDS, becoming a public symbol of tragedy and hope. I remember him as a hero who first appeared in my life when I was age eight, and who, of all the people I knew in my teens and 20s, I most trusted, could say with certainty was solidly my friend.

I turned eight in 1969, when Vince was singing in a Perth-based pop group called the Valentines, sharing vocals with Bon Scott, future lead singer of AC/DC. I met Vince the summer of 1970, not long after he moved to Adelaide, when he was dating the woman who became his first wife: Helen Corkhill.

It’s strange, writing memoir pieces. Every so often, just as a life threatens to flatten into a chronicle of years and events, a name or an incident will come alive as I type, spring up with vitality, and make me pause, and smile. The thought ‘Helen Corkhill’ does that for me. Helen was glorious. She was a drop-dead gorgeous, strong Aussie sheila who hailed from Broken Hill, the mining town BHP built on flat red desert in the Outback, in far west New South Wales. She’d come to Adelaide to train as a nurse, forming a tight clique with a bunch of other gorgeous, glorious girls: among them, Gill Harrington and Gill’s Adelaide cousins, Mary and Ully Christie.

Mary had been one of my mother’s students. She baby-sat me and my sister. She became a close family friend. My parents liked to party, and Mary introduced into our lives a bunch of party people, among them Helen and Vince.

I remember Vince at a party, telling me earnestly as long-haired hipsters milled around, “You are way too clever for a child of eight. You are too clever by half. You are scary clever.”

In 1973 my family moved to Melbourne. Vince and Helen, with their baby, Holly, moved to Melbourne in 1978. Vince had been working as a rock journalist and producing and presenting music television and radio shows, including, that year, Australian Music to the World. In Melbourne, he produced the top-rating variety show, The Don Lane Show, and was youth issues reporter for A Current Affair.

But his marriage to Helen didn’t survive. I left home and moved to Sydney in late 1979, and early in 1980 (a year earlier than Vince’s Wikipedia entry states), Vince moved to Sydney too. Vince and I shared an overnight car ride between Melbourne and Sydney. We dissected the hit singles on the car radio. I liked Linda Ronstadt’s single from Mad Love, How do I make you? I loved Tom Petty’s Refugee. We fell silent as Martha Davis from The Motels sang their hit Total Control. We talked and talked and laughed a lot and bonded.

I hasten to point out the timing was coincidental. It was coincidence, again, that I rented a small flat in Paddington close to the Paddington townhouse Vince rented with his girlfriend Daina. But that did prove handy. I was often at Vince and Daina’s place, for company and morale-boosting, and I baby-sat Holly when a babysitter was needed.

In Sydney, Vince hung out with his rock scene mates who included Cold Chisel lead singer Jim Barnes and the other Chisel band members. In the early ’70s Vince and Helen ran a booking agency in Adelaide called Jovan, which managed AC/DC at that band’s inception and also managed the embryonic Chisel, at that time – in the words of rock journalist Anthony O’Grady – a “hard rock jukebox”. By early 1980, propelled by original material by keyboards player Don Walker, Chisel had two successful albums to their credit and were preparing to record the classic Oz Rock album, East.

Again by coincidence, Cold Chisel were among the few people I knew in Sydney who I had met prior to relocating. Vince tutored me in the back-stories – personalities and music industry politics – of the people I met as I started out as a rock writer. He helped me navigate some of the risks, steering me well clear of drug use and watching out for me as I fielded predators. Because Vince had my back, I felt able to stand up to bullying. Because Vince had my back, I was targeted less viciously, perhaps, than I might have been otherwise.

I do remember standing in the kitchen at Vince and Daina’s place with a group of people, drinking, while a record producer on the ascendant sneered at how I was dressed.

I threw it back at him. “My skirt is $18 from Target. My shoes are $10. The shirt is from K-Mart. The earrings are $300 from Manila.”

Vince thought that was hilarious.

At about that time Bon Scott died. Vince loved Bon. After the Valentines, they were bandmates again in Adelaide, in the Mount Lofty Rangers, then there was the Jovan-AC/DC relationship. I remember the night we heard Bon was dead. It hit Vince hard.

When Vince’s relationship with Daina ended, he moved to a dilapidated top floor flat on or just off Womerah Avenue, near Kings Cross. He was rock music columnist for the tabloid newspaper, The Sun. I was there with Vince one day when I heard the wooden stairs that led up to his flat creaking as a visitor climbed up to join us. I heard the visitor sing, soft and low, no hurry, her voice languid molasses. I was startled by that voice, so distinctive. I stared at Vince. He was ready: he’d anticipated the question.

“That’s my new girl singer,” he said. “Her name is Chrissy Amphlett.”

Chrissy became the lead singer of the band Divinyls, who were managed by Vince in their early years. In her autobiography Pleasure and Pain, Chrissy writes at length about how Vince influenced the Divinyls’ sound and stage act. He believed rock’n’roll should be explosive, should always feel threatening, never safe. He insisted Divinyls gave their guts, every time. Vince’s drive and aggression doubtless took its toll on individual band members. But it got them to America and it bred hits.

In the States, Divinyls were signed to Chrysalis Records. Vince got involved with a Chrysalis publicist. I spent a few months in Los Angeles in 1982 and Vince’s friend, Eliza, was hospitable. She moved to Australia to work for Divinyls with Vince but it didn’t work out, professionally or romantically. She saw herself as a skilled professional who’d been demoted to answering phones. On his home turf, Vince’s macho traits were less attractive. By late 1983, Eliza had a new man, a young New Yorker called Chad or Chip or Chuck, and Vince was increasingly appealing to me to divert them away from him, to keep them occupied socially. I tried. It was complicated by Chad or Chip’s occasional violence. When Cold Chisel split and did a final tour, I was not thrilled at once again being asked to baby-sit, this time for Eliza and Chad/Chip. On New Years’ Eve 1984 I abandoned Eliza at a beachside pub, at a round table of drunken journalists. She never spoke to me again.

I worked for Divinyls with Vince myself, for one day. At the end of that day we tacitly agreed I had no future answering phones.

Vince’s relationship with Eliza overlapped with the early phase of his relationship with his second wife, a thin brunette New Yorker who called herself Suzi Sidewinder: Sidewinder, both for the venomous rattlesnake and for the short range air-to-air missile. Suzi had danced with New York club act Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Vince was entirely enamoured of Suzi and once she moved to Australia, we stopped being close. I found her abrasive and I thought in her company he was doing too many drugs. I might have been wrong. One time when I was climbing William Street, up towards Kings Cross, I saw them in my favourite pizza shop, waiting to collect their takeaway pizza. I tried to engage in what I considered normal conversation, but what met me was glazed eyes, giggles, and that odd knowing stare that says, “I know what you’re up to. Don’t think for a moment I trust you.”

Next time I saw Vince I remarked on his strange behaviour. He countered that I was the one who’d been strange.

Vince and Suzi had a child, Troy, and married. The bride wore black. Within months, I was hearing gossip. Suzi at a party, asked about her baby, flinging back, “Vince’s baby. Not mine.”

After Troy was born, Suzi had shingles. If you’ve had chicken pox, chances are the virus is lying dormant and may be reactivated as shingles, a painful rash, at a point in your life when your immune system is vulnerable. Usually in old age. It is not usual for a healthy young woman to have shingles. Testing showed Suzi was not a healthy woman. She was diagnosed in 1985 with HIV/AIDS. Further testing showed Troy had HIV/AIDS too.

Vince told me Suzi felt gut-wrenching guilt over Troy’s condition. Her seeming rejection of her baby was the grief of a woman who thinks she’s killed her kid. In 1985, AIDS was thought of as a ‘Gay plague”, confined to male homosexuals. Many people saw it as a consequence of an immoral lifestyle, of promiscuity and, specifically, anal sex. The other high risk group was intravenous drug users. Vince and Suzi rejected any suggestion Suzi injected drugs. As one of the first women diagnosed with AIDS in Australia, Suzi presented a face of AIDS that shocked the heterosexual community: a young mother – a beautiful girl connected to celebrity, her life ahead of her.

Suzi’s life after diagnosis was short and painful. I visited Vince in the large house moneyed friends had rented for them. (Some of their friends, like Jim Barnes, were generous. Others disappeared.) Vince and I talked for a long time. I was hesitant to go upstairs and visit Suzi; Vince told me she did not want strangers to see her as she was.

Suzi died in mid-1987. A documentary, Suzi’s Story, was screened on Network Ten and caused widespread reaction, from concern to consternation. The documentary won awards. At about that time the notorious ‘Grim Reaper’ AIDS awareness advertising campaign ran, delivering the message that anyone was vulnerable. As it happened, during that period I knew the advertising director who created the ‘Grim Reaper’ campaign, through our mutual involvement with a seminar-based, personal effectiveness organisation in Sydney. I knew Vince was flailing, caring for Troy and trying to think through what his own future might hold, so I invited Vince to an information evening held by this organisation to promote an upcoming “transformational” seminar. Vince came simply because I asked. Because we were friends.

Vince was broke and embroiled in legal actions. He was doing his best by Troy and it was killing him. Troy spent countless hours in hospitals, undergoing countless medical tests and procedures. Vince told me Troy would scream when they headed to hospital; what Troy went through looked to Vince like torture. Troy had contracted AIDS in utero and there were few similar cases in Australia. Vince’s baby was effectively a medical guinea-pig.

The public interest in Suzi’s Story meant people recognised Vince in the street. People he didn’t know were constantly coming up to him and sharing their responses, sometimes clumsily. People wrote to him. Some saw him as a hero for his fundraising efforts on behalf of AIDS research and for going public with his family’s tragedy to raise AIDS awareness. Some saw him as a hero for attempting, as a widower, to care for a child born with AIDS. He received marriage proposals by mail.

I asked Vince whether he planned to continue his involvement in AIDS activism after Troy died. Vince was adamant: once Troy died, he wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted his life back. If he couldn’t have back the life he’d had, he wanted a new one. He wanted to go somewhere far away.

Troy lived longer than expected but died in 1993. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) screened a documentary called A Kid Called Troy. Vince wrote a book, A kid called Troy: The moving journal of a little boy’s battle for life. Once that was completed, he was a man unanchored. Fortunately, his friends cared.

Jimmy Barnes, who had established a successful solo career after Cold Chisel split, invited Vince to manage a European tour for him. This was generous of Jim but proved confronting for Vince, who told me years later he was shocked, on the tour, by the state his friend “Barnsey” was in. It’s no secret, now, that Jim descended into a hell of drug and alcohol misuse before getting sober in 2001, a sobriety he’s maintained. In the early ‘90s, Vince saw his friend in a state of self-loathing. Vince didn’t want that to be him. He wanted his new life.

So in 1994, Vince moved to London, where he returned to writing about music. I’d moved to London in 1992 but I didn’t learn Vince was living there until 1998, when I saw articles he’d written about Michael Hutchence’s death. Vince was writing an unauthorised biography of the INXS singer, which came out in 1999. We had some long phone conversations, where Vince talked through how he saw Michael’s life and death; we’d both known Michael and this was personal. The Hutchence biography came out in 1999 and resulted in immediate law suits initiated by Michael’s partner Paula Yates. In his book, Vince contended that Paula Yates ensnared Michael by falling pregnant. (I don’t recall this as one of the “Michael life theories” he floated with me. I would have warned him off.) The libel case was settled, with an undisclosed sum paid by the publishers in Sydney and London and by the UK tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, which had serialised extracts.

Beyond discussing Jimmy Barnes and Michael Hutchence, Vince and I talked about his life in London. He was newly single, his third wife having left him the previous year. He joked, “I’m always left with the baby!” Lilli-Rae was maybe three.

This was when I heard about the Twelve Angry Women.

“How come all the women I get involved with turn out to be psychos?” Vince demanded, with what sounded like genuine perplexity.

We discussed meeting up. But we didn’t meet. I’d heard something in our conversations that made me worry Vince might hope we’d get together romantically, which had never happened in the past and was not something I saw in our future. I did not want to turn psycho. For his part, Vince might have heard the same echo down the phone line, and might have drawn the same conclusion. He was 50, fat, bald – no longer the brutally handsome heart-throb.

Vince returned to Australia with Lilli-Rae and settled near idyllic Byron Bay in northern New South Wales. Holly and her son Arlo lived nearby. In 2011, Holly gave birth to Marlon, a second grandson for Vince.

In late March 2012, as I was sitting in an office reception area waiting to negotiate a return to work plan with my employer, following an injury, I flicked through a newspaper and saw a headshot of Vince staring out at me. Vince was dead. His Kombi Van had left the road, rolled and exploded in flames in the small hours of the previous morning. Positive identification was yet to be made.

Vince’s death was reported in the media. His loss did not go unremarked. But somehow, to me, it did not feel enough. Vince was bigger than that. I felt like a bigger noise should be made at his passing, a much louder keening.

So here’s my attempt:

Vince Lovegrove was a legend of Australian rock music. He started as a pop singer, managed bands who remain Oz Rock icons, knew everyone who had any kind of profile in ‘70s or ‘80s Australian rock, had his byline as a rock writer in mass circulation publications, and produced landmark music television shows. In the troughs between successes he always returned to writing about music. When he died, at age 65, he was due to start work in a few days’ time at a small regional newspaper, with a minuscule daily circulation.

Vince could be pugnacious. He laughed like a pirate. He was foolish and wise, all at once.

He was loved.

Vince Lovegrove Elly McDonald

Vince Lovegrove

 


Leave a comment

For Steve Prestwich – Take me to the river (7 June 2014)

Steve Prestwich Elly McDonald

Steve Prestwich (Pic: Sydney Morning Herald)

Note 14 December 2016: The ‘Five Dead Rock Star’ pieces were written when I was depressed. I’ve left them to stand in their original versions, but they could be written very differently.

golden-star

I want to write about Steve Prestwich without writing about Cold Chisel and that’s not possible.

I wrote about Cold Chisel, a lot, between 1979 and 1984, when I was a young rock music writer immersed in Oz Rock – the Australian pub rock music scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was a fan. I was more involved with Cold Chisel – its music, its band members, its trajectory – than with any other band I wrote about. Cold Chisel is why I moved to Sydney. Cold Chisel is the reason I became a rock writer.

There was a night, in suburban Melbourne in 1979, when I was in a speeding car with hoons – okay, young male tradies, only slightly drug affected – with the car radio playing. There were too many of us in that car. I was squatting in the well of the back passenger seat, curled up to fit, squeezed in. I could hear on the radio the opening notes of a song that stopped my heart. There was a keyboard line – the same notes a metal wind chime plays – and there was a percussive build, a drummer getting jittery with his high-hat. That drummer was Steve Prestwich and that band was Cold Chisel. The song was Conversations, from their second album, Breakfast at Sweethearts.

I interviewed the lead singer, Jim Barnes, and the keyboard player and songwriter, Don Walker, a few months later, as designated music reporter (only very slightly drug affected) for a student radio station.

It wasn’t a great interview – Jim later pointed out my interviewing style was seriously stilted – but next time the Sydney-based band were in town, I interviewed them again, this time as a writer for the indie rock magazine Roadrunner. I interviewed Don Walker and Steve.

Mostly I interviewed Don. The interview was at 2pm, in the hotel room they shared, and Steve hadn’t quite woken up to the day. He was awake: he just wasn’t out of bed, and he wasn’t clothed. In anything. Just sheets. He stayed under the sheets, mostly keeping quiet, while Don and I talked.

Don and Steve encouraged me to move to Sydney and Don Walker always encouraged my writing – my rock journalism and also, later, the creative writing (poetry and short stories) I published across the mid-‘80s. My friendship with Don Walker had highs and extreme lows. His support for my writing endeavours was constant.

But it’s Steve I’m writing about.

I learned from that hotel interview a little about Steve. I learnt his father had been a drummer who played at the Cavern, the Liverpool club where the Beatles built their following. I learnt he came from a large family of boys and had a lively – and sharp – sense of humour. I think I understood from the outset that Steve was a straight talker, a ‘what you see is what you get’ lad, with no time for posers.

Steve was always Steve. He didn’t waste energy on pretension. Not long after I moved to Sydney, I was in another speeding car with hoons – this time, Cold Chisel, heading back from a gig at the Dee Why Hotel on Sydney’s northern beaches – and once again, that car was too full. I was squeezed against the rear passenger door, seated alongside Don Walker and his partner, rock writer Jenny Hunter-Brown. Steve was in the front passenger seat. The car radio was playing Top 40 soft pap: Babe, by Styx. The lyrics go like this:

Babe, I’m leaving, I must be on my way
The time is drawing near
My train is going, I see it in your eyes
The love, the need, your tears

Steve was making retching noises.

But I’ll be lonely without you
And I’ll need your love to see me through
Please believe me, my heart is in your hands
‘Cause I’ll be missing you

Steve by now had the passenger door open and was hanging out into the highway, poised to jump.

That was so Steve.

He was the guy who would chat with young fans, approachable and friendly, then break off mid-sentence to say, “Whoa! Railroad tracks! Get a load of the metalwork on YOUR TEETH!”

Steve didn’t do tact.

When I had a one-night stand with the guitarist, Steve made it plain he thought it laughable. There was an awkward few minutes when he teased me backstage. Jim Barnes, whose relations with Steve could be combative, stepped in, demanding ‘What’s this about?”

“Steve’s giving me a hard time because I fucked Ian,” I snivelled.

Jim looked from me to Steve then back again.

“Jesus, Elly,” he snorted, “I wouldn’t fuck Ian. Do you want me to beat Steve up for you?”

It might be only night in my life I had men fight over me.

There was another night Steve stood over me, laughing. That was the night I accepted white powder from a support band and had a kind of psychotic collapse. I don’t know what I actually did, as I had (and have) little recall. It must have been massive, as the fall-out was horrific. What I do recall is sitting on a chair just outside the change-room, sobbing hysterically, with Cold Chisel’s soundman Gerry Georgettis trying to comfort me and Steve standing by: in my memory, laughing. I’d like to think Gerry put me in a taxi but he didn’t: I know I was walking in stilettoes for two hours or more, with the sun rising over the Melbourne suburbs. I know that when I reached a friend’s house I hyperventilated for an hour or more and the people who looked after me say I turned blue.

That episode threw me. I was already tussling with the terrifying thought that the people I valued might not value me. That the people I thought were my friends, were not. For a long time, that image of Steve standing there, laughing, chilled me. Now when I think back, I acknowledge the fragmentary memories from that night might be inaccurate. I also recognise Steve laughing may well have been a default response to a ludicrous situation: whatever I had done was ridiculous, laughable – as ridiculous as fucking the lead guitarist.

This is not to say Steve was not sentimental. He believed in love. Real love, not the soft pap media drivel. Not long after we met he started going out with Jo-Anne, the woman he married, with whom he eventually had two children, Melody and Vaughan. Jo-Anne when I first met her seemed shy, which baffled me, as she was classically beautiful – tall, elegant, with high cheekbones. The two held hands. She sat on his lap. They nuzzled. Steve told me he believed in the wisdom of the phrase, “my other half”.

“Jo-Anne is that,” he said. “She is my other half.”

Steve wrote beautiful love songs. His melodic sense is often remarked on, but what I notice is the minor keys. Steve’s songs were wistful, poignant. They spoke of loss. Steve wrote Cold Chisel’s biggest hit single, Forever Now, and its most covered track, When the War is Over. With Don Walker, he wrote Flame Trees, a song about small towns and times gone by that I sing to myself, in the small town where I live.

I’ve never written a novel. But I have written an extended novella, and its opening line is “When the war was over…”

“When the war was over, the true terror began.” Thank you, Steve.

In the mid-80s, when my poems began to be published in literary journals, Steve asked me if I could help him get some of his mother’s poetry published. He gave me a sheaf of her work. Freda’s poems were good. It was a simple matter of formatting them and sending them to literary journals. I was happy for Steve, and for Freda, that some appeared in print.

Steve and Cold Chisel parted ways during a disastrous European tour and in 1983 the band broke up. Fifteen years later they came together for a “reunion tour”, which blew up in an explosive fight between Jim and Steve. I saw every one of Cold Chisel’s farewell concerts, and I’ve twice seen Jim Barnes live as a solo artist in the 30 years since then, but I’ve never been to a live show by any of the other band members or listened to their post-Chisel music.

I regret that. I would have liked to accept Steve’s invitation to be in the audience when he played at the Basement in Sydney. Except that I live 950 kilometres away. I did suggest we might meet up when I visited Sydney one time. But Steve was living in New South Wales’ Southern Highlands by then, taking sensitive photographs of nature, listening to wide-ranging music, and making a life with a new love. We were Friends on Facebook, so I could see he was happy.

He could see I was not.

“You sound depressed,” he messaged via Facebook. “Are you okay?”

Not long after, I received a Facebook invitation to ‘Friend’ a second Steve Prestwich page. Steve explained in the accompanying note that he was setting up a page specifically for family and personal friends, separate from his public page where fans could post.

I teased him, telling him he’d finally grown pretensions.

A few weeks later when I logged on my pc, I saw a sidebar headline on a news site: Cold Chisel drummer dies. My heart seized up, like it did that night in 1979, when I heard the first notes of Conversations. Please God, I thought immediately, let it be one of the other drummers who filled in with Cold Chisel after Steve was sacked. Let it not be Steve.

It was Steve. News reports informed me he had died during surgery to remove a brain tumour. I learned for the first time that he’d had surgery for a brain tumour 18 years earlier, while I was living in London. I read that he’d suffered head pains while rehearsing for a planned Chisel reunion tour and had recognised the symptoms. Cold Chisel band members had been with him as he was wheeled into the operating theatre.

I can only imagine how Steve’s death impacted Don, Jim, Ian and Phil. I can’t begin to imagine its impacts on Melody, Vaughan, Jo-Anne and Victoria. I know I felt wrenching grief.

When Steve asked was I depressed, asked me what went on, I told him I felt I was at a crossroads. He responded that crossroads are a good place to be: you get to make choices, you get to journey, new horizons open up. I can’t say for sure those were his exact words, because after Steve died, I Unfriended his Facebook pages. I couldn’t bear Facebook’s yearly reminders each time it was his birthday. I didn’t realise that by Unfriending his page, I would lose the messages he’d sent me.

Nearly two years after Steve’s death, I was at a writers’ workshop. I hadn’t written a poem since 1987 – 25 years. We were given thirty minutes to write free-form, and I was not the least surprised to find that what I wrote was a poem, For Steve:

Time was, you set the rhythm.
You kept the beat.
Singing, all the time, your head
Nodding to a melody line.
Your feet forcing out that beat.
You kept
The best memories, the ones that made me
Laugh. And smile. And grow pensive.
And now
I cry for you. Cry me a river, jazzman.
Let that river run through
A cavern, where the beat boys
Burst into the night.
Take me to that river.


17 Comments

Marc Hunter – Forever Young (6 June 2014)

Marc Hunter Elly McDonald

Marc Hunter (Pic: Sydney Morning Herald)

I understand Marc Hunter could be cruel. I remember him for his kindness.

We met cute and we ended poignant. Marc’s parting words to me were among the kindest words I’ve ever been gifted.

But that was far down the track, ten years or more after Marc and I first met in late 1979.

I was 18 and I had just moved to Sydney from Melbourne. I was slightly overweight and not the least bit cool. That’s as it should be, as Marc knew what it was to be a fat teen and I don’t think he ever gave a rats about cool.

He was sitting on a bench by a bus stop on the overpass above William Street, where Victoria Street crosses Darlinghurst Road. These days the Cross City Tunnel toll road runs beneath this spot, and a high-rise building asserts itself where blue sky once was. The area immediately around the bus stop was dusty, with some rubble: a neglected spot with a semi-derelict bus shelter where junkies would shoot up.

As I walked across the overpass, on the pedestrian pavement, I saw Marc Hunter and I recognised him at once. Marc had been the lead singer of Dragon, a New Zealand band who achieved chart success in the late ‘70s. Like almost every other teen in Australia, I watched the TV show Countdown every Sunday evening, and I knew Marc Hunter as a very tall, willowy exotic, with strong features and fierce green eyes, whose costume was influenced by ‘70s glam rock and prefigured the New Romantics of the early ‘80s. Which is to say, Marc dressed somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and the Matrix. (On this day he was dressed down.) I knew the words to his hits, I could name bandmates, I could visualise their publicity posters. I hadn’t seen them play live. I didn’t yet know that a Dragon live show was stronger, more menacing and wilder than their pop hits might suggest.

I did know that Marc was no longer with Dragon. I knew he had been sacked by the band, who included his older brother Todd, in consequence of his drug and alcohol abuse and his unpredictable behaviour. I knew he’d released a solo album called Fiji Bitter. I knew he had spent some months in London, and travelling, and that he had only very recently returned. It’s possible I’d read an update in the paper that week.

So I had the advantage. I knew something about Marc Hunter. What he saw was a young girl in boots, striding towards him.

As I walked past, he said, “You’re very pretty.”

That stopped me in my tracks.

“If you were offered money, would you pose for Playboy?”

I considered, watching him.

“It’s just that we have a friend, a friend of our band, who was offered money to pose for Playboy.”

Playboy had launched its Australian imprint in February 1979. Media magnate Kerry Packer secured the rights and launched it as Australian Playboy, through Australian Consolidated Press (ACP), his magazine stable.

I gave the proposition a moment’s thought. “No,” I replied.

“Why not?” Marc asked me.

“Because I don’t know who I want to be later in life. I might want to go into politics” I said.

Marc reflected on this, and smiled.

I don’t know who raised the prospect of sex. Probably Marc. That would be a typical Marc gambit: say something outrageous, throw someone way off guard, and see how they react, how they reassemble.

I reacted the way I always have: by going on the offensive.

“If you want to have sex, we can do it here and now,” I countered, doing my update of a film noir femme. “Look. There’s a bus shelter.”

Marc backed right down. “My friends are collecting me any minute,” he said. “Their car will be along any minute now. Perhaps another time.”

We nodded at each other, and I walked on.

The next night I was partying at the Manzil Room, the legendary (and tiny) Kings Cross venue that served as a late night hang for musos. I think I was with Cold Chisel band members. Marc walked in with his partner Annie Burton, a well-known Sydney-based rock music writer, whose flatmate at the time, Jenny Hunter-Brown, another well-known rock writer, was Todd Hunter’s ex-wife and had recently begun a relationship with Cold Chisel’s Don Walker.

Marc was wearing a jaunty peaked cap, a Robin Hood hat. As I was introduced to him, he doffed his cap and gave me a slight bow. His eyes sparkled. Marc loved games. Score 1 to me.

I became a rock music writer. Dragon – without Marc – split up in December 1979. In 1982 the band re-formed – with Marc – to pay off debts. In 1984 they released an album, Body and the Beat, that was worthy of their talents. The single, Rain, was a joyous burst of energy co-written by Todd Hunter and his partner Johanna Piggott, who had played together over 1980/81 in the indie pop band XL Capris. (Todd had sounded me out, briefly, one night in the Manzil Room, for a job as the band’s wardrobe mistress.)

In 1985, keyboards player Paul Hewson died.

I did not like Paul Hewson. We had clashed. I’m not going into that story here. What was significant to this story, my story of Marc Hunter as I knew him, is that Paul’s death affected Marc deeply.

After Paul’s death the tabloids went wild. Perhaps not coincidentally, the next Dragon single was Speak No Evil. Reviewing that single, I pondered in print: “Is Marc Hunter going to sound 22 forever?”

Next time we met Marc remembered. “Thank you, “ he said. After his death, from throat cancer, at age 44, a collection of his solo recordings was released under the title Forever Young.

I was assigned to write a cover story on Dragon for RAM (Rock Australia Magazine). I put a lot of effort into writing that story. I had, if anything, an over-abundance of material, given Dragon’s astonishing – and tragic – history. And Marc had opened his heart to me. He had talked with little prompting about Paul Hewson, the band’s earliest days, their hardships, their reputation, their aspirations, his temperament. He spoke with passion. I remember him saying, with feeling, that rock’n’roll is designed to strip performers of poise. His heroes were the great interpreters of American popular song, performers like Ella Fitzgerald, whose poise seemed effortless.

The Hunter brothers contributed two pieces of life advice I continue to use as touchstones. The occasion was a Dragon gig at Sydney University. I had arrived early, backstage, and I did not know their road-crew. I felt their crew were disrespectful to me. When Todd arrived, I bleated a protest.

“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke,” Todd advised.

Marc arrived. He looked at me appraisingly. “Stick out your tits and walk.”

When I feel someone’s trying to put me down, I recall that line: “Stick out your tits and walk.”

There are things I’m not including as I write. There were moments between Marc and his partner I witnessed, and moments between Marc and his girlfriends, that are nobody’s business. What was curious to me is that Marc seemed unconcerned when I blundered into his personal conversations. He was alternately completely calm, or amused.

The only time Marc savaged me was once in 1988, and he was so right. I had become embroiled in a quasi-cult, a “personal effectiveness” organisation. Participants in one of that organisation’s programs were assigned the task of creating a project as a vehicle for their personal “transformation” – as a means to “breakthrough”. Several participants threw their energies into a project designed to bring together members of Sydney’s Indigenous communities with white Sydneysiders. The key event was a fundraiser rock concert headlined by Dragon.

I danced all afternoon. The gig was great. Everything was cool until I mentioned backstage how (as I saw it) that concert had come about. How some of its organisers were part of this quasi-cult.

Marc never cared for cool. He exploded.

“You mean, this is part of SOMEONE’S FUCKING SELF-TRANSFORMATION?” he roared.

He was furious. He lashed out at me as an idiot for being involved with that group. Like I said, he was so right.

I’m glad that was not the end of our story.

Eighteen months later, my life had imploded. The quasi-cult had wreaked a reverse transformation. Instead of breakthrough, I was in massive breakdown. I was a danger to myself. I made painful plans to return to Melbourne.

This was the hardest time of my life – it has competition, but I think it was the hardest. I gained a lot of weight and was acutely depressed.

A short while before the sale of my home was completed and my belongings packed, I walked along a pavement and saw, through glass windows, Marc seated at a restaurant table, watching me walk towards him. He waved me across. He gestured for me to come inside and join him.

Marc was eating lunch with a friend who worked for a top booking agency, a woman I didn’t know. We had a conversation that felt odd, with this woman across the table, oblivious as she was to the emotional subtext. I was dissolving in the slough of alienation, evaporating.

Tenderly, Marc reached across the table and took my hands in his. He drew my hands towards him.

“So highly strung,’ he crooned. He paused. “So highly strung.”

Then, still holding my hands, he said: “You are a fine-bred race-horse.”

I nodded, unconvinced.

He held eye contact, and repeated softly: “You are a fine-bred race-horse. Never forget that.”

I’ve never forgotten.