Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Christopher Nolan made a movie called Memento. Guy Pearce starred, playing a bloke who wrote messages on his body as he couldn’t remember things.  It was a difficult narrative to follow, but I liked the pretext and the film’s ideas have stayed with me.

In my last blog I talked about memories and the way they scramble or reboot over time.  Perhaps that’s why we like mementoes.  It brings memories closer.

Around me now in my new apartment are a scattering of collected mementoes: sunflower cushions; an olive-themed tablecloth which I bought after seeing my friend Rachel’s in Volterra; and a straw hat from Firenze.  It’s hanging on a hook on the wall, as if to say ‘wherever I hang my hat is home’.  Yet in my case it isn’t a cliché.  It really is the way I’ve lived my life.  In Melbourne I had a black fedora.  In London in the 90s a slouched cap (like Eponine wears in Les Misérable).  In Tuscany a turquoise hat a dear friend gave me, which was large, bright and attracted attention and introductions.

Sadly I’m not so keen on the straw hat anymore, as the man I was with when I bought it turned out to be cruel and reckless with my heart.  But in time those scars will heal, please God, and I’ll still have the hat… and memories of my favourite restaurant in San Lorenzo where a colourful character called Antonio always used to get me up on a chair to sing for my supper.  

If you think I’m joking, I’m not.  I had two restaurants in Tuscany where I could get a free meal or free drinks if I pulled out a few tunes, that one in Florence and another in the middle of Chianti.   And whenever I dropped in I received the kind of warm welcome you get in a sitcom like Cheers… making me feel less like a visitor in a foreign country.

Also around me now in my apartment in Clapham Junction are two paintings from St Paul de Vence in the south of France.  I picked them up in a charming gallery while travelling with my mate Fiona; aka Little Fiona or Fifi, as I have two important friends called Fiona so need to differentiate.  (I also have two great friends called Jacqui but that’s another story.)

The mementoes on the bookshelf include a pair of beautiful wine glasses from David and Linda, a gift after they stayed with me in Tuscany.  I love to drink from them because a) they’re a cheerful blue, b) they feel exquisite, and c) they remind me of my escape from the Smelly Cat in the blog Sensory Terrorism.  Even now I’m grinning to remember David was on my side re wanting to kick the cat, whereas Linda, sweet soul that she is, found sufficient empathy to stroke its manky fur.   Also often around my neck is the green Murano glass necklace they brought back after a weekend in Venice, and it never fails to make me smile or think fondly of them. 

What else can I see?  There are pictures of my lovely friends Sue and Virginia who do not think or look AT ALL like women of their age (go girls!) and who never fail to inspire me with their wisdom and kindness.  There are bottles of perfume from my generous friends, Jane and Emma, a ceramic jug from my sailing holiday in Greece, and the children’s books I published in a series created by my confidant and Neighbous co-star, Felice Arena.  There is a baby-suit hanging on the back of a chair, waiting to be wrapped for little Max who has come into the world after his parents struggled for years and years with IVF.  God love him.  Not far away there’s a photo of another miracle baby, Kiki, my smiling God-daughter and precious child of the friend known in Italy as ‘the other Fiona’… and on the laptop a recently posted clip of Charlotte making googly-singing-noises with her grandma, Mazza.  Grant and Hayley know I’m missing their little daughter, not to mention them, while they’re off in New Zealand and not around the corner as I’m accustomed to finding them… so I’m loving You Tube this morning, a great place for mementoes.

While on the kid theme, beside my bed is a blue plastic Smurf holding up a red heart.  He has wings on his back and an enthusiastic little expression, and I love him to bits because he brings my niece Frankie and nephew Harry right into the room with me.  We have a whole Smurf Obsession Thing going on, a Penguin Thing too, which has brought hours of joy and innocent playfulness between us.  I miss them terribly but I like to picture them leaning over my Smurf Collection and moving the characters around.  I unearthed the collection last year (soft toys, plastic figures, houses, the lot!) when the new film came out, having stored them in a box since childhood.  Oh, ok Rebecca, that’s my sister, I wasn’t exactly a child when I collected them… and yes, I am a big dag… but they did come back into fashion and now I’ve got the originals which if I didn’t love so much I could sell on e-bay for lots of money.

The Smurf theme continues actually, in pictures on the walls which the kids did the day before I left Australia.  Harry did a picture of himself with a long-bearded Pappa Smurf.  Oscar drew a remarkably good tree with a message that is too grown-up for his years: “we hope you have a great time in London and we hope to see you soon”.  Molly and Frankie drew themselves with me as Princesses in pretty dresses. Molly has her arms spread wide with a thought bubble saying “I love you THIS MUCH”, and Oscar added a big castle until the temptation to join Darcy and Angus in the garden for rugby got too much. I treasure these pictures, and the special cards they have given me, and not a day goes by where I don’t feel my nieces and nephews close to my heart. 

Moving right along before I get too nostalgic... the Smurf is not the only plastic memento in my house.  I also have two plastic figures I picked up in Rome in 2009.  They sit to the right of my desk, one bright blue, the other fluorescent pink.  Wrapped around each other in an embrace, they are made from bendy rubber material, typical of the old Flatsy Dolls.  Funnily enough that comparison only came to me because my brothers used to use the song from the tv commercial to tease me I was flat-chested.  Happily they were proved wrong, but the catchy tune has never left me.   Anyway late one evening I was browsing in a trendy shop just off Rome’s gorgeous Piazza Navona (as you do), waiting for a date who was late knocking off work, and the figures simply made me smile.  They reminded me of the twins, Molly and Oscar, inseparable as they were at that age.  Then over time they came to represent my imaginary audience, the people to whom I was talking when I wrote.  And I found I could endow them with character, as I played around with ideas, testing out whether or not my stories were hitting their mark.  At any rate they were always smiling, agreeably reflecting back at me whatever I wanted to hear.  So I’ve kept them.  And for whatever reason they encourage me to get past the blank page and to write…  

I have mementoes with me too of Australian beaches – shells collected from my beloved Kiama, and others from Pearl Beach where I’ve oft stayed in the stunning home of pals, Nick and ‘the other Fiona’; or ‘Big Fiona’ because she’s tall.  These shells have travelled to London via Tuscany and no doubt they’ll move with me again, like the tide.  Every so often I hold them and stroke their smooth surface, their familiarity soothing. 

Also beside my bed is the cylindrical container of opals given to me by my dear friend Adam.   It was such a thoughtful gift, quintessentially Australian, and, if I’ve been moved to think tenderly of him every time I’ve picked them up since 2008, they are even more special now, since Adam’s unexpected and sad passing. 

Many Australians were alienated from the opal in the 70s and 80s when the fashion in jewelry led to chunky, garish settings.  Yet they are incredible stones, which especially glisten when wet.  Peeking at me now from within chalky, unpolished edges are hues of turquoise, green, midnight blue, lilac, olive, lemon, acqua-marine and purple…as changeable as the colours of the Australian ocean and landscape.  I love them.  And they act like a metaphysical hug from Adam, and from the people and things I value about Australia. 

As we approach Christmas… and the first anniversary of my brother’s death, which I still seem so far from being able to process or accept… I suppose mementoes get inevitably more sentimental.  Yet at any time of year we are rather like turtles, who, John le Carré famously said, carry their houses on their backs… for our houses are our memories… the only thing we carry with us to the end. 

So perhaps dear Molly’s present to me the Christmas before last has its own wisdom… the last Christmas, as it turned out, that my siblings would all be together… a tiny porcelain statue of a turtle… which she gave to me with a big smile and her usual warm embrace… carrying with it all the love we shared and the memories we hold dear. 

Now that’s a nice memento.