Sunday 27 May 2012


I flew Ezy Jet to France recently.  They are brutal about size restrictions with your carry-on luggage.  So I adopted a practice I’ve seen others do, donning on my person quite a few layers of clothes.  That isn’t as Ezy as you’d think, with respect to:

a) transiting to the airport during one of England’s first warm days;

b) getting your gear off (and on) to pass through Security;

c) putting up with the extra weight in an over-heated departure lounge which hasn’t yet been adjusted to summer temperatures; and

d) trying to look cool and unencumbered at the Gate when it’s obvious you’re fooling no-one. 

There were, however, a few humorous advantages. 

First, a lady in a coffee-shop was sufficiently amused that when I struggled in my wallet to find ₤2.15 for a pre-flight cappuccino… and could only come up with the grand sum of ₤2.10… she gave me the cappuccino anyway with a 5p discount.  Sweet.    

(Ok, it wasn’t exactly that simple, as I teased her into doing it for me because I didn’t want to break a ₤20 note and be loaded up with lots of soon-to-be-foreign change!)

Then the fun really started. 

I put my coffee down at a free small table.  I manoeuvred my bag to stand beside the table, pondering the fact that I’d latterly discovered the wheels were just too big to fit inside the test-box.  I was on a wing and a prayer with respect to being allowed to carry it on, but it was too late to do anything about it so I may as well enjoy the coffee and take my chances.  (As my dear Mother would attest, this was not the first or last time I’d have to get creative or persuasive about my luggage… and if that failed I’d just have to cough up the extra money.) 

Then I began to peel off the layers.  I struggled first with the denim jacket, leaning down to put it around the back of my chair.  As I stood up, I happened to notice a man several metres away was looking at me.  I thought little of it.  Next I had to take off my fleece, which had been tied around my waist and got tangled with my shoulder bag, so it took a little while to break free.  Finally I wrapped that around my chair.  Again the man watched me. 

Next came a light blue cardigan (I know, but how could I know it was going to be hot in France?)… and then a long cashmere scarf which was doubled around my neck and threatening to suffocate me.  When they were all draped around the chair I stretched a little, flicked back my mane of hair, and tucked my t-shirt into my denim mini-skirt.  For a moment I mused on the desirability of sandals over tights and boots, but as there was no way the boots would fit into my luggage I gave up the thought.  Then I glanced up to find the guy still staring.  In fact he was almost smiling now, in a dozy, dream-like fashion, as if he thought he was looking at me through one-way glass.  I caught his eye this time and smiled.  He looked quickly away, no doubt embarrassed, and I sat down at the table and crossed my legs. 

Over the next ten minutes I drank my coffee and made a couple of phone calls.  Between each change of activity I found my admirer looking in my direction.  At one point I looked over my shoulder to see if there was something interesting behind me, but when I looked back – as if to tease him I was aware he was watching me – he had looked down.

It was amusing.  He was good-looking, well-built, and with dark-rimmed, piercing blue eyes.  He also had a neatly trimmed beard which added a dimension of maturity and distinction to an otherwise young countenance.  This fact alone interested me, as I wasn’t ordinarily drawn to men with beards, and he was the second man with a beard in a short space of time whom I’d found attractive. 

When I left a voicemail message for a girlfriend, I couldn’t resist the urge to tell her that a cute guy was a few metres away staring at me.  I giggled and hung up.  Then reaching into my bag for a piece of fruit I laughed aloud because I realized it was a banana I was about to eat.  Sorry, but anyone who has watched Sex & the City knows what Samantha would have done at this point!  I was tempted… it might have been a lot of fun to tease him… but despite feeling cheeky I couldn’t quite drum up the audacity.  (Anyway I was already a little smitten with the other beard guy, so felt no need to be provocative.)

Instead I just caught the handsome guy’s eye and smiled.  This time he smiled back and gently nodded.  I ate my banana demurely (breaking it into pieces), and sorted out a few bits and bobs in my bag.  By the time I began to think about moving toward the Gate, I looked up to find him looking straight at me - this time with more of an open smile and no intention of turning away.  If I wasn’t born a flirt I have certainly been trained (as an actress) to come in on cue.  So I lifted my hand and covered my eyes, moving it away quickly as you do with a baby when you play peek-a-boo.  This made him laugh, and the ice was broken.  

Lacking English reserve, I got up, walked over and introduced myself.  He did the same, and we both laughed.  What could he do?  He’d been caught out.  And it seemed silly not to openly acknowledge each other.  He then invited me to join him and we chatted and shared a humorous time.  Unpacking the little incident he said “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help it” as apparently I was the only thing in his immediate eye-line and “the taking off of the layers, one by one, like a striptease” had put him into a kind of trance.  Sweet.  For, as he seemed genuine and said it without a hint of salaciousness, it could only be flattering.  In fact he still seemed rather surprised we were actually speaking.     

The next thing you know we were both running through the airport to our Departure Gates, still talking, and with me trying to explain why the man in the lift had insisted he knew me when he really didn’t - a hard explanation to make when you don’t want to mention the old soap-opera you used to be on, you’re running late for the plane, are dragging luggage, and have on too many layers! 

We both made it just in time: me for Toulouse; Shaun for Nice, where he was headed to the Formula One in Monaco.  We shook hands, quickly kissed each other European style on each cheek, and parted with a big smile and nice holiday energy. 

Ezy Jet were calling Final Boarding and about to close the Gate.  As I was rushing, flustered, and near to last in the queue, they glanced only briefly at my bag and I was through.  Phew.  When I fell into my seat on the plane I got the giggles again.  Rather than let the friendly couple beside me think I was a lunatic, I had to tell them about the flirtatious exchange.  The lady liked the banana bit.  The guy went into a trance. 

Friday 25 May 2012

Sunshine & Strangers

I smile at people I don’t know.  I chat with strangers in a shop or park without a moment’s hesitation. So does my Mum so it could be genetic.  But my British friends tell me it’s more commonly an Australian characteristic; due to the relaxed feeling sunshine, board-shorts and thongs (aka flip-flops) create.  Personally I think they’ve watched too much Neighbours and Home and Away, but I take their point. We all tend to be more approachable and light-hearted when the sun is shining. 

There are exceptions of course: good humour doesn’t reign in New York when the temperatures soar.  Indeed the city gets so aggressive, summer is the only season I won’t visit.  Well, not since a lady pulling five dogs in conflicting directions across the pavement, wound me in multiple leads until I tripped and fell into a pile of construction rubble.  In the debilitating heat neither the lady, the dogs or anyone else bothered to help me up.  So I struggled in vain to brush off the dust and stem the flow of blood.  Ok, they were only scrapes on my arms, but they hurt!  And I wanted sympathy!  Or at least some manners! 

Shortly after, I found myself locked out of the apartment I’d borrowed on W72nd St, wearing a tank top, no bra, high-heeled sneakers (yes, they were fashionable at the time), and a pair of shorts so skimpy that anywhere outside Central Park I looked like a hooker.  Indeed if a man in a Homer Simpson t-shirt hadn’t taken pity on me as night fell (my wallet also locked in the apartment) I might have slept under one of Manhattan’s famous bridges.  Instead the gentle Long Island Dentist took care of me until my aberrant flat-mate picked up her messages and came to fetch me.  

My point is that I’ve met many kind strangers in my travels.  Sweet people who’ve given me directions, comforted me after a robbery, or provided somewhere to sleep when I found myself homeless.  Once, for example, I missed the last flight out of Charles de Gaulle on route to visit my brother in Albi, near Toulouse.  I was skint and had no choice but to crash in the airport lounge until morning.  Another passenger who’d missed his flight, heard my distress and insisted I be chaperoned to the closest Airport Hotel - where he promptly booked and paid for a room up the corridor from him and his five-year-old son, and then invited me to join them for a late supper.  I didn’t know this German gentleman until the moment he extended his hand in friendship.  He didn’t put the hard word on me.  He was just a genuinely good person.  (Ok, later he put the hard word on me.  But that was after we had stayed in touch, gone on a few dates, and he’d made me a rather unexpected proposal of marriage… so that’s another story. )   

At any rate, when the sun came out gloriously in London this week I had hopes of burgeoning bonhomie.  I’m afraid, however, that after just one innings my score with strangers hit an all time low. 

I lay in the grass in Marble Hill Park for a couple of hours on Tuesday, longing to feel the sun on my freckled skin.  Mooching to a riverside pub about 6pm, I found it crowded with a terrifically ebullient atmosphere.  Lucky to score a bench-seat with my back to the wall on a medium-sized balcony, I contentedly sipped a pint of lager.  With papers spread on the table before me I began to do some work, but regularly my gaze settled on the river.  I was immensely happy and the world seemed innocent.  

Anon a man came and stood beside me. I felt him staring. When he asked if he could rest his glass on the edge of my table I replied: “certainly, no problem”.  The slightly drunk and scruffy chap tried to engage me in conversation.  We exchanged pleasantries but instinct told me to keep it short.  Then he announced (ask would be a stretch) “move your bag so I can sit there beside you”.  My skin crawled as the seat was only big enough to share with someone with whom one wanted to be cosy.  I suggested: “please feel free to take the chair from here (on my left) and move it to where you’re standing if you’d like to sit down.”  He grumbled but pulled it around to my right.  A few minutes later, seated at my table, he interrupted with: “are you a school teacher or something?”  (I find it strange but, the world over, if you take work with you into a pub people always say that… ask any freelancer who needs to temporarily escape his/her four walls.)  When I looked quizzical he added: “don’t worry, I’m not trying to pick you up. I’ve got plenty of women…”.  “Yes and I’m Henry VIII”, I thought to myself.

Some quiet bliss followed; only to be disturbed by him blowing smoke in my direction.  I hate smoking.  Yet as it’s less common Down Under than in Europe, Australian’s who smoke usually have good etiquette.  After several puffs in my face I said: “excuse me, but would you please be kind enough to exhale in the other direction… as I really don’t like smoking”.  In my world of manners I absolutely expected an apology.  He’d joined my table after all.  What I got instead was a scowl and reports about how many women were desperate to sleep with him.  This pock-faced, short man was clearly delusional.

Alarms bells should have started ringing when he subsequently conducted a conversation on his mobile about a friend who had (only) six weeks left in gaol.  Yet I was well into the throws of my work and wanted to complete it before indulging in a second pint and risk losing my coveted position.

Eventually an acquaintance engaged him in conversation.  Moving to my left and pulling at the remaining chair to prepare to sit he said: “can I sit here love, do you mind?”  In the exact moment I looked up the new guy blew smoke in my face, and the following words tumbled from my mouth: “actually, as you’ve asked so nicely, I’m afraid I do mind.  I really don’t want to be sandwiched between two smokers… could you perhaps move the chair from there to the other side, so as to speak to your friend without having to lean over me?”  He was stumped for a moment, processing this request, but then began, to my relief, to do just that.  I started to say “thankyou for asking so politely, I do appreciate it…”, but Mr Pock-face with the mate in goal and an abundance of lovers, dived into the void and began to exorcise his demons.   

In increasing volume he abused me with insults such as “slag”, “bitch” and “f**king scrubber”.  The other chap tried once to quieten him, then stuttering “sorry, I didn’t mean this to happen”, pushed through the crowd to make a quick getaway.  Ordinarily I’d stand up for myself, but I was stunned by the bitter surprise and force of the little man’s aggression. And he simply wouldn’t stop.  There was nowhere to move without coming physically closer to him, so after a failed attempt to reason I quickly realized further attempts would only make it worse.  I sank into the table and feverishly drained my beer.  He stood over me, railing against me, Australians in general, and all f**ing women until I could no longer contain an overflow of tears.  He mocked me then, throwing insults over his shoulder even as he pushed his way through the crowd, down the stairs and out onto the street.  People stared.  Conversations stopped.  No-one offered comfort, assistance or comment.

Then the uncomfortable moment passed and the happy hordes went back to their own business.  I was alone.  Mortified and shocked that abuse of this nature could be hurled at a woman without a single person doing anything to stop it.  That is an ugly side of our world unfortunately; people’s failure to step up.  And the weight of that, against the beauty of the sunset and the sanguine peace of the day, was a heavy load. 

I gathered my things, made my way out the opposite side of the pub, and then burst fulsomely into tears and cried for twenty minutes.  I felt horrible for a few hours in fact; all the time knowing the jerk wasn’t worth it, but struggling to throw off the cruelty.

The White Swan in St Margarets used to be my local.  We’ve carved fond memories, so the belligerent loser won’t stop me going back.  But it certainly put a dint in my enjoyment of the sunshine. 

Perhaps this kind of experience makes one more grateful for positive encounters?

Perhaps I attract strays and am bound, therefore, to get the occasional mutant? 

Perhaps it was random and I shouldn’t over-analyse? 

I am reminded, anyway, of a phrase repeated by so many it’s hard to correctly attribute authorship: “don’t let the bastards get you down”.  

Not when the splendid summer is finally arriving and there are more potentially kind strangers around the corner…

Tuesday 22 May 2012

I hate 2nds

There are exceptions, but generally speaking I hate 2nds.

2nd interviews.  2nd auditions.  2nd bills.  2nd dates.  2nd choices.

I’m neutral about 2nd cousins because actually I don’t really know who they are. 
(Are they the children of cousins or is that 1st cousin once removed?)

But 2nd interviews suck.  I have been waiting for a 2nd interview for a job for days now. Yet despite the recruitment chap promising to get back in touch and saying he’d try hard to make a time early this week, nothing’s happened.  So again I’m left hanging.  It’s probably worse because I waited nearly a fortnight for the first interview, but it leaves me in an awkward position. I’m reluctant, you see, to accept another job I’ve been offered as it’s not my style to say yes and then let someone down (which is what I’d have to do if the 2nd offer were to come through as it’s more in line with my skills, experience and projected bank balance, all of which is important when you're a freelancer). 

Before I spread my wings into management, there were other 2nds which weren’t great: 2nd auditions.  You waited for your agent to call, on the edge of the seat until he/she did, and then five minutes after being told you had a “call back”… you were torn between already spending the money and the torture of knowing your competition was someone more famous or more likely to get the part than you were.  So, only validating to a point. Whereas by the 3rd and 4th audition you felt like you genuinely had a good shot, and could relax and enjoy it more. Well, until the 5th or 6th audition by which time you dreaded the possibility of being 2nd choice!

That’s another 2nd I’m not fond of: understudy.  You stand in the wings, rehearsed and ready, keen to get your chance to go on… but it rarely happens like Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street.  Once I was even in the costume having the wig put on, when the star arrived and they threw me out of the make-up chair because it was two minutes before the half-hour-call (which was as per union rules but brutal for an understudy who was so ripe by then it was pathetic).  Took years before a kind, older actress, explained that particular girl would never have gone off sick when I was so perpetually eager.  In fact I recall when I spilt tea on her she asked if I’d done it on purpose?  No!  Seriously, it was an accident.  Well, consciously.  Whatever, it seems I lack the subtlety of a 2nd. I can’t play the politics of a corporate ladder well either - biding my moment with Machiavellian objectivity and rationality.  I’ve never been sufficiently cool to feign indifference. 

And what about 2nd bills?  They are never nice.  They use language like “reminder” but you know the debt collector is dusting off his hat ready to threaten you.

I was nearly a 2nd wife once, too, but to be perfectly honest the role didn’t sit well with me.  

2nd dates aren’t my favourite either.  You presume you’re both interested enough to have a closer look, but can you be sure he’s genuine?  Is it romance or friendship?  Is he a player?  Is he smart, kind, sexy enough?  You notice things you hadn’t noticed before and, as we’re all human, the rose-coloured glasses may strain a little.  Whereas by the 3rd or 4th date you’ve been talking to your girlfriends about how cute he is and whether or not you’re going to kiss.  Much more fun. 

On the other hand, I’ve never turned down a 2nd glass of wine and I’ve always been a fan of 2nd base. Not the baseball variety: the sensually exhilarating, joyful phase of a new attraction. No risk. No worry. No commitment (necessarily).  Love it.

I also admit to quite liking 2nd helpings; though often regret it later.

And 2nd class was pretty good. Mrs Buckley was one of those intuitive souls who could see the difference between spirit and bad character.  She diligently made us recite our ‘times tables’ and I never once saw her use the ruler she carried. Shame my High School Principal didn’t take a leaf out of her book (for that particular Nun thought I was definitely destined to join the rebellious Archangel in the 2nd place, the hot place).

You can score with 2nd hand clothes, providing you wash them well.  Curries and Spaghetti Bolognese on the 2nd sitting are often better than the first.  And of course what kind of world would it be if we didn’t get 2nd chances?  Or for that matter 3rd and 4th

But overall, I have to say 2nd is not a place I like to be.  It reminds me of the mean Professor who spoiled my academic record by giving me one mark short of a straight hand of High Distinction results in my Masters.  It irks. 

So, having said all that, do you think the recruitment guy will ring for the 2nd interview?  Or do I have to accept my 2nd choice of job and make the best of it?

This is evidence of greed, I know; ego, idealism and impatience too.  But when you come from a big noisy family where you have to fight to get attention, you grow up determined to be anything but average. 

No wonder I quit the orchestra when they offered me 2nd trumpet.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Trivial Pursuits

Since the Facebook craze began I’ve been a sceptic.  Why would I want to spend hours in front of a computer when I already spend much of my day writing?  What lights my fire is genuine socializing – where you can touch, see, smell and hear.  Skype’s a little better on that score, and certainly avoids mounting phone bills, but for a few months I conducted a love-affair that way and actually it was immensely frustrating (not least because my partner was Italian and it’s hard to video-Skype and check your grammar on Google Translation at the same time).

I also have a fear that our growing reliance on social media means more serious things, sensitive topics, will be discussed on FB when what is really needed is direct contact.  Several times in 2011 someone shared information with me on FB which was complex and sad.  As I was thousands of miles away, and the person they wrote about was very dear to me, the impact was extremely impersonal and alienating.  Indeed I only have an FB account because my great friend Hayley set it up for me while I opened another bottle of wine and shouted complaints from the kitchen like “but what happened to real communication?!.... I spend hours and days alone writing, I want to really hear from someone if they are thinking of me".

I know I’m a Luddite; a word, BTW, which few people under 30 understand.  I’m comfortable with that; sharing, as I do, an artisan’s bohemian view of the world.  However this week I have to admit to being dragged into the 21st Century.  I have become a little active on FB, putting a few notices on my wall and uploading some photos.  (But can anyone tell me why that takes so long?)  I have also set up this blog and started to Tweet.  Incredible really, when a few weeks back “being followed” meant you had a problem with a stalker. 

So I’m going to pursue such trivial pursuits for a while and see where it takes me.  There is a real danger I’ll confuse private and public messaging and get myself (again) into all sorts of strife.  I am also already wishing Twitter and FB had a breathalyser attached so I wasn’t tempted to return from the pub after a few pints and attempt to be witty.  For, as my brother Damian has commented, twitter is very close to twitty. 

Thus far, however, I am rather enjoying this alternative universe.  It’s a little voyeuristic; also self-promotional and inclined to be indulgent.  But isn’t the point of new toys the indulgence, the fun?  It’s cheaper than a Ferrari, you can dip in and out without first putting on your make-up, and if it lies in the corner ignored for a few days it doesn’t beg to be fed.  Well, not audibly anyway; for that cry is merely the addictive part of your personality provoking you from the inside. The key to co-existing in the Twitter/Facebook/Social Media zone, I suppose, is to remember it is a toy and not ‘real life’ - where frankly, nothing will ever replace reaching out to hug the person who has just said something endearing… or falling back onto your chair after delivering the punch line to your story and being bathed in well-timed laughter or ribbing.  

For what it’s worth though, I am currently enjoying the little thrill of picking up new followers, without having to debate whether or not to get completely involved or give them my real phone number - which BTW has got increasingly more difficult to fudge because any self-respecting man of the social media age doesn’t fall for that trick anymore… he’s typing the number into his phone in the same instant you utter it so you’ll be caught out in the lie face-to-face if your phone doesn’t start ringing.  Oh well, it was never a nice thing to do to anyone anyway.  Yes, far better to say thanks but no thanks, even if in Italy that usually means another thirty minute discussion as to why you aren’t interested when your admirer thinks you are so fantastico e molto bella.  Twitter can also be more than conversational flirting.  If you follow organisations and debates of interest, you can learn a lot by being directed quickly to relevant articles and online information.  In my first week on Twitter I won two free tickets to the preview of Ragtime at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, which made me feel quite chuffed even a Luddite could be in cyber space at exactly the right moment to have her finger on the pulse. 

Nevertheless, what’s good to know, is that trivial pursuits of a more direct and human kind continue in the land outside cyber space.  I’m catching South West Trains regularly into Waterloo lately, and there’s a conductor on the line who likes to play Trivial Pursuit with his customers over the intercom.  First he delivers helpful and formal information about the station we are approaching and the direction in which we’re headed.  Then after a suitably theatrical pause – just long enough but not too long – he poses questions to the commuters such as “which bridge was rebuilt over the Thames during World War II?”  He adds teasing but polite comments like “now get out those iphones and google, and I won’t leave you waiting too long for the answer”.

The cabin inevitably erupts with giggles and customers actually look up from the floor or newspaper to engage with one-another: “ooh, he’s a happy chap”… “have you got google on that thing”… “well, well, not what you expect from a boring train journey”.  Generally it’s the tourists who respond aloud, for Londoners tend to be restrained by years of stranger-avoidance-commuter-conditioning.  Universally though, the Conductor with the zest for life makes everyone smile.  And he manages it in a way which enhances, never detracts, from his professional role.  The answer to the question came just as we pulled into Waterloo at 7 minutes to 7 on Friday night: “it was women who rebuilt Waterloo Bridge during the 2nd World War”… and again everyone laughs as we were getting worried we’d disembark without the answer!  Engagement, curiosity and humour… it’s best when humans can see the sparkle in your eye or hear the cheeky tone of your voice.  

So I have Bob Mayhead from South West Trains to thank for bringing into focus the point that, as much as I’m enjoying the trivial dalliance of Twitter, my expectations should be tempered by the knowledge that social media is like the script of a play – printed words on a page until talented actors, designers and directors bring it to life.  It’s a part of the story, but should never be taken for the whole.

Mick the train driver to Waterloo on Friday clearly enjoys being rostered-on with Bob.  Who doesn’t prefer a cheerful co-worker?  So it occurs to me, wouldn’t the international tourists coming to London in 2012 have an exceptionally better experience if we all put on our Trivial Pursuit Happy Faces and look about us for tiny opportunities to engage?  For humour, after all, is the thing which unites us in a common sense of our own humanity. 

Ok, I’m going back to Twitter now.  For even as the addiction grows I realise I’m simply on a quest for the next good punchline.

Well, I can’t help it.  Trivial or otherwise, actors are trained to come in on cue.  

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Good Neighbours

Living back in London after more than a decade is great for English Pubs and wonderful theatre but, for someone accustomed to sunshine living in Australia and Tuscany, it’s not all roses. The rain in London, incessant since I arrived at Easter despite our collective hopes for Spring, has nearly driven me crazy. And don’t tell me they were April showers! I know the song and Judy Garland definitely pictured sun-showers.

Anyway I was content to move a little further out of London recently, to stay for a while in St Margaret’s, Twickenham, surrounded by jogging tracks in beautiful parks and along the Thames. I was hopeful a good fitness regime would help me acclimatise, as well as lessen my tendency to scoff at the radio for going on about droughts when most of us are wishing we had flippers instead of feet.

Enthusiastic about returning to my old stomping ground, I offered to drive my friend to Gatwick. She gave me a couple of opportunities to back out but with my usual energy I insisted. We set off before lunch for what I thought would be a two hour round-trip. WRONG. All went well until Sunbury and the M25 flowed smoothly. But on the M23 we came to a standstill for forty-five excruciatingly long minutes. For another fifteen we limped forward, starting and stopping, but our only sustenance, a bag of cashew nuts, did little to help our physical progress. We were still about three miles from Gatwick; my friend convinced she’d miss her plane. Minutes before check-in was scheduled to close, we saw two airport mini-buses race down the left hard shoulder. As car after car followed in their wake, the temptation to do the same got too much. I’m not generally conformist – coming from convict stock of which I’m proud - and had been patient long enough. I pulled to the left and a rush of good feeling flooded my body as we gained speed and the motorway exit came into view. We were home free. My friend was going to Capri after all. Then the traffic slowed and two policemen stepped out – stopping the last two cars in the break-away contingent. It didn’t matter at least fifty drivers had gotten away with it; this was not my lucky day. And the polite, but inflexible, policeman explained I was to lose sixty quid and three points. Damn. Now I know why Londoners don’t offer to take you to the airport. Oh well, at least Sue was to arrive in Italy in time for aperitivo.

I headed back to London avoiding the M25 which by then boasted multiple accidents and delays. Yet every 2nd bus was intent on whipping me off the face of the earth, and the aggression in the pre-long-weekend moving masses was palpable and unnerving. I limped and groaned through a three hour traffic nightmare which made driving in Rome seem like a tiptoe through the tulips. I arrived back in Twickenham, angry, exhausted and desperate for a drink. The round-trip had taken almost six hours. Thankfully a lovely couple joined me in the local pub for a pint which gave me a much needed opportunity to download. The beer went straight to my head so I went home and drank another in front of the telly, before falling asleep on the sofa.

All day Saturday I put off leaving the house for exercise, because every time I opened the front door I was chilled to the bone. Finally at 3pm I dragged myself out the door ready to put in a solid hour’s effort. But a flooded Thames Path, and muscles which simply could not warm up in the bitter wind, had me returning home in thirty minutes. I showered, changed and jumped back into Sue’s Peugeot for a delightfully calm and uncluttered drive to Wimbledon to have dinner with a musician friend.

After a sirloin steak and a few glasses of red, just enough to take the edge off the cold, I approached St Margarets ready to tuck myself into bed. I drove around and around the block, but there was nowhere to park. How do people do this every night, I wondered? After twenty minutes I got grumpy. I drove in a different direction, killing time by passing old apartments, visiting haunts and memories, even the lady’s house to whom I’d sold my piano when I last packed up my life in London to return to Australia to do a Masters. By the time I parked and walked back to the house I was smiling again, familiar faces and scenes coming into focus as if the previous decade were shrinking.

I turned both keys in the lock, nothing. I turned again and again, NOTHING. The door would not budge, and the problem seemed to be the bottom third of the door to which there was no key. Could someone be inside and using the bolt? But who? Why? And wasn’t the bottom lock decommissioned? I performed the kama sutra of key adjustments until my hand landed on the door buzzer. Nothing. Eventually loud sighs and hip-pumps against the door attracted the attention of a neighbour who, thankfully, didn’t have his curtains drawn. I introduced myself and Henry tried pretty much everything I had. Near midnight his wife emerged from the bath and found a can of WD40, to no avail. I called my girlfriend in north-east London, waking her up. Also a friend of Sue’s and familiar with the house, Petronella made various suggestions, until such time as it was clear I wasn’t going to get in the house that night. The good neighbours stepped up and invited the Australian stranger to spend the night in their daughter’s bedroom. It was cold, it was raining, and I couldn’t face the prospect of navigating across Londonto wake another friend. It’s a big enough deal to change countries without losing all your security. I accepted their generosity gratefully. Snuggling into the unknown Emma’s bed, I barely resisted the urge to cuddle her black and white stuffed dog.

Sunday morning a locksmith and Sue’s daughter, Kate, got me into the house and I had just enough time to get organised to go out again for 10.30am Mass. I had been a part of a warm community when I lived in St Margarets in the late 90s, and as I wandered up the road I hoped to meet some friendly faces; lovely people with whom I’d shamefully lost contact. I opened the door to the church foyer and locked eyes with Kathy. Disbelieving, she did a double-take and screamed. As her arms flew around me, her daughter Andrea tugged at my sleeve, and her father Adrian embraced me in the enveloping way the Irish do. Person after person welcomed me back, forgotten names didn’t matter. I moved into the church and took a seat in a pew, it was so familiar, so much a part of me, how could I have been away so long? Between prayers I caught people’s eye, we waved, winked, and later hugged. I even met my old boyfriend’s wife and three children, and soon we were in the church hall after Mass swapping stories and drinking wine. I teased that the quality of the establishment had deteriorated since they’d stopped serving beer on tap, but the grin on my face and tear in my eye told the real story: I was deeply touched to be so warmly welcomed after so many years.

“Good neighbours” don’t always“become good friends” but sometimes they do - and we sure as hell need them to help us out now and again; to allow us to feel connected and cared about. And neighbours don’t need to live next door, they can be anyone who crosses our path and to whom we show kindness or consideration. So, on balance from the May long-weekend, it’s definitely my turn to be neighbourly. And I'll try to exercise it over the June Jubilee Long Weekend.

Ah but when you wake up to a little sunshine, as thankfully I did today, it seems so much easier…