Celebrating special friends: only the good die far too young
Recently I have been sorely missing my dear friends Peter (aka Pierre) and Vicki, both of whom died well ‘before their time’. On 31 May this year, Peter would have been celebrating his 58th birthday. I longed to chat with him again and enjoy our crazy wonderful raves from long ago. I was thinking also how he would have relished all the technological advances since his death…for instance, what an avid texter and internet user etc he would have been. In 1986, he tragically died of complications brought on by AIDS.
Peter on our own genre film set in NYC – the vital public phone scene
Peter and I very happily shared a house in the 80s for a while, shopping and partying hard, and going out on the town to nightclubs etc. We would sometimes have rather unusual competitions …
Relaxing at Rainworth before the credit card incident
Peter’s bank manager once called me, requesting that I cut up Peter’s credit card in front of him so that he would finally recognize that he had to stop charging any more purchases on it. They had already started to debit his large debt directly from his pay. I did remonstrate with the smug bank manager for tempting young men like Peter with glamorous credit card deals, blaming the bank directly for his charging like there was no tomorrow. However, I did perform the dramatic slashing ritual, which made for a very traumatic day for such an inveterate consumer. Ironically, and predictably, that bank and others kept sending him tempting new credit cards anyway.
Every morning we would ask each other in quavering voices, ‘Are you still alive?’ – we had heard a dear old couple say on the radio that they always checked this way with each other every day, so we decided that was a nice comforting ritual to follow. (This probably only happened in actuality for a period of a couple of weeks – it is funny what little things loom large when you are reminiscing about someone). We also would speak only French one day a week, in order to keep my fast deteriorating French alive. If you don’t use it, you lose it. As a former French teacher (aeons ago) I hate to admit that I haven’t kept up with French at all well.
On a darker note, Peter also saved me twice from severe injury /near death, for which I am eternally grateful – once from an intruder with certain evil intent, and the second time from a different kind of intruder, a killer Sydney funnel-web spider which had found its way into my shoe. Peter was living on the edge of a scenic forest at the time… Luckily he just stopped me as I started to put my shoes on, making me check inside…and behold the lurking funnel-web spider, the stuff of nightmares.
Travelling to the four corners of France…
Back in the late 70s, Peter and I travelled all over France together with some other friends, such as the gorgeous Vicki. As I am thinking about Peter, I am sitting here naturally grieving for her also. In her late 20s, she was struck down by a dreadfully crippling stroke; she lingered and suffered unimaginably, dying in her early 30s. Both Vicki and Peter were not only very bright company, but also brilliant with languages, so it was terrific travelling and socializing with them, making their loss all the more poignant.
Vicki could speak French and Greek fluently, and, on our return from Europe, we both enrolled in Italian (our next planned trip was to Italy) at the Institute of Modern Languages, only to find that everyone else in the so-called Elementary class was a rather pushy Italian wanting to brush up on her/his elementary grammar. In frustration, I left the class after a few weeks (no refund) but she soldiered on, becoming quite fluent despite the ridiculous pedagogical situation. Like Peter, she was a natural.
A working class boy from Oxley, Peter was fabulously gifted with languages and could speak fluent French, German and Dutch – so much so, that people from those nationalities found it hard to tell that he wasn’t born there – quite a feat. I recall a Dutch guy becoming mystified and even frustrated with Peter’s perfect Dutch, totally unconvinced when Peter told him he came from Australia and had taught himself Dutch when he was studying French and German honours at Uni. He also could speak Spanish, Italian and Japanese well, along with several Scandinavian languages, although not quite as impeccably as his main three.
Dix Ans Apres – et Quoi?
On our trip to France, we unexpectedly found ourselves sheltering in the basement of a Greek restaurant around midnight on the Left Bank in Paris, New Year’s Eve 1977/78. This dramatic event was of course on the cusp of ‘Ten Years After’ the upheavals caused by the fiercely fought 1968 revolution in France, Germany and many other countries throughout the western world.
We had seen the So What? graffiti and signs everywhere building up to that day, calling on disheartened radicals to protest on the streets at midnight, heralding in 1978 with a bang, and demanding more change. The organisers were very frustrated, vehemently questioning what had actually been achieved in those ten years since the promise of 1968. For, despite the rhetoric of politicians and other people in power, very little progress had been made, particularly with regard to failures in the education system and other pressing social justice reforms affecting youth, workers, and the left generally.
When we went to the Rodin Museum during the day, we had observed the buses full of geared-up riot police ready to strike later in strategic parts of Paris. French riot police are very scary indeed and certainly not to be argued with. Still, while we were very sympathetic to the protesters, we also wanted to enjoy our New Year’s Eve in Paris, and so we headed to the Left Bank, blithely into the potential eye of the storm.
Around 11.30 pm, things started to become heated, and some protesters began to run through the streets, causing some mayhem and smashing shop windows. Nervous restaurant owners were closing their doors, ordering disgruntled patrons out onto the streets. Our group, including Vicki, Peter, me and a few others, were sitting in the window of a pleasant enough French restaurant, hoping we could stay there and shelter from the fracas. However a gaggle of drunken men, on spying the women in our group through the window, lurched into the restaurant seeking New Year’s embraces and very sloppy tongue kisses.
As a result of this, despite our resistance to such unwelcome advances, we were thrown out for causing a different kind of fray, one not at all connected with the radicals. Thus we were bundled out onto the street, just as the riot police started coming on strong with batons and tear gas. Luckily, Vicki spied a Greek restaurant down a side street, and we rushed in, even though they also were attempting to close early. Being very beautiful and speaking fluent Greek, Vicki charmed the maître de into letting us shelter there for a while. One of the waiters was much taken with her, and, brave girl that she was, in order to save us, she flirted pretty outrageously with him in Greek, persuading him to be our protector and guide us safely back to our hotel, which was quite a distance away.
The Metro system had closed down and, finding ourselves caught up in the protest once again, we had to run, dodge and dive with the students, breathing in the awful tear gas and attempting to escape the batons of the advancing riot police. Finally we managed to avoid arrest, scrambling back safely to the hotel; but of course there was one very frustrated young man when Vicki said a firm but polite good night, as any good Greek girl would.
Aside: Sadly I have mislaid photos from that trip…and funnily enough, by coincidence, I was present again in Paris with different people for New Year’s Eve 1987/88. This time there was no demonstration for Vingt Ans Apres – et Quoi? However, the ubiquitous creepy guys touching me up, this time on the Champs Elysees, hadn’t changed at all…
And now for something completely different – RIP pets
This section is also about missing and reminiscing – this time about some pets who were of course also friends…and who have now gone where all good pets go. I was inspired last week by a post on Facebook from one of my FB friends (thanks Alex!). Here is the link in all its wonderful glory. I couldn’t help but think how much like my old huge ginger cat Charlie the photobombing cat is. Please check it out – it is a lot of fun, even if you think you never want to look at another online cat pic again. Everyone has a favourite shot.
After circulating this to old friends and family, triggered by memories of cheeky Charlie, I was urged to write about my sadly departed pets in my blog, so here goes…
In Loving Memory of Charlie, Chloe, Oliver et al.
Don’t panic, I won’t go on too much about these characters..just a few little blog anecdotes and pictures to enjoy.
We found the tiny ginger twin kittens at the Vet’s one evening when we rushed our dog Ollie there, as he had yet another tick embedded in his back. Somehow we were persuaded by a silver-tongued vet that we needed two cats as well. They were being cared for by a huge but gentle German Shepherd dog owned by the vet and we had fantasies of the cats and the dog living side by side in peaceful harmony forever – which sadly didn’t really eventuate.
Some time prior to that momentous event, we had chosen the puppy Oliver at the dog pound with Dorothea, who picked her puppy Spot at the same time.
Oliver loved his walks, and he was rather difficult to lock into the yard. A certain neighbour who loathed dogs was always complaining. He was very clever at finding new ways to escape. Sadly, he never seemed to have any luck with female dogs on heat in the neighbourhood, and after a while we realised that he and the Labrador seemed to be exhibiting distinct signs of being a happy gay couple. There was also a rumour that the two of them were seen travelling on the Rainworth bus several times, and even had been spotted hanging out together in the CBD – but somehow they were sitting innocently back in the front yard when we came home from work. An urban legend indeed.
When the marriage broke up, custody of the animals had to be sorted, which was pretty traumatic for all concerned. Under caution as a repeat offender by the BCC pound, sweet mischievous Oliver finally had to go and live in Boonah, seeing out his days peacefully in a country residence.
This was a great relief for the cats, as they were always being herded up by Ollie and made to behave. However as they grew older, Charlie started to terrorise Chloe more and more, and she often had to spend her days up a tree.
Some of my male friends suffered at the teeth of Charlie also, as he simply didn’t like men, and usually bit them on the ankles. One, a peace activist, claimed after seeing the photobombing link, that ‘Charlie was much, much more than mischievous. He was evil incarnate. Nonviolence ended at the point of Charlie.’ Strong words after all these years. I met a dog recently whose female owner told me that he also apparently only picks on men. Go figure.
Here are photos of two other lovely dogs I have been very fond of in recent times – also sadly no longer here. They belonged to close friends, but also touched the hearts of many of us.