Letters from boarding school
Thursday, 15 January 2015 12:29

I've enjoyed reading Jill Sanguinetti's memoir School Days of a Methodist Lady (Wild Dingo Press 2014). Jill was a boarder at MLC in Kew from 1958 to 1961. We met last October at the Coal Creek Writers' Festival, and we swapped copies of our respective teen-year memoirs. Jill writes about how her mother's letters sent from their home at Kyabram were the product of her mother's love for her, and if the regular weekly letter from her mother was not forthcoming, she felt devastated. Jill includes in her book a letter to her mother dated March 1958, in which she describes her upset at not having received a letter: 'Dearest Mummy, I was extremely disappointed and a bit worried when I went down to letters [sic] and there was nothing from you again. That makes it ten days since you have written to me. I know you are terribly busy but I think you could at least spare a few minutes over the weekend to drop me a line'. Jill says the moment she posted the letter she was plunged into guilt. She thought about the sacrifices her mum made for her, her long hours in the shop, late-night cooking and dressmaking. The next day she wrote a 'letter of weedling apology' in which she said she did not know what had got into her 'when I wrote that letter telling you to write. I suppose I was just a little bit homesick that day but anyway I did not mean it. Please do not take it to heart. Only two days, ten hours and 19 periods and I will be on the train for home. Hurray Hurray.' Jill's passion for receiving her mother's letters made me reflect on the many wonderful letters which my mother wrote to me at boarding school, twice each week for seven excrutiatingly long years. Not a week went by that I didn't write back (I have a box full of my letters home, cringe cringe!), but, still, I didn't manage to write two letters a week back to Mum, as she did to me. But then, Mum didn't have classes to attend or homework to compete with letter-writing. Still, I acknowledge that Mum's letter-writing (and mine in reply, however lame mine might have been), are the reason why, today, I so love to write; or, as Joan Didion wrote so simply in her book on writing, why we writers are people who love to 'put words on a page'.

 
Renewed connections
Friday, 09 January 2015 19:01
Had two interesting re-connections with the past yesterday. The first was lunch with Tim Murray, who was a teacher at Geelong Grammar in my time. He went on to be Head of two independent schools: Hamilton College and Canberra Grammar School. Over lunch Tim gave me a copy of his book 'Telling Tales' about his life as a schoolboy at our school. Interestingly, we both were in the same junior and senior boarding houses, Tim referred to lumpy porridge just as I did in 'Jackaroo', and he confessed to shooting his 303 in cadets at the wrong target! I worked out well after my schooldays that I'd been using the wrong eye through which to line-up the sights. Then, on my walk back to school, Glenn Wheatley returned my call, and agreed to help push the screenplay to Jackaroo, as well as listen to my CD. One of my top and most memorable career highlights was in 1991, after I recruited Gaynor Wheatley to the development committee at MLC. Gaynor became instrumental in getting John Farnham to do a concert at Hamer Hall (Melbourne Arts Centre), where he sang four songs with the brilliant, semi-professional MLC string orchestra, three songs with the 28-girl madrigal choir, and four Christmas carols (which I chose) with the 250-girl 'Farnham Choir', which Director of Music Jane Elton Brown had put together in her usual amazing way for the concert. Not only was it a totally magic night, but we netted $32,000. Glenn also helped us to get a corporate gift-in-kind worth $600,000 from what was then called Telecom, but that's another story. Such is life!
 
Staggering about
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:36

Sunday 11 January. 5pm. Dizzy, I stagger to and fall in a heap on the couch. Hey, what's going on? No, I haven't been drinking! My spinning head is worse if I move it even slightly. I don't want to call the kids, because I hate being a burden to them. As a precaution, I key '000' into my phone, and I wait, hoping things will improve. Dark comes, and things have worsened. The slightest head movement sends my head spinning, and painfully. The biggest worry is how to let the ambos into my apartment? Arjay is worried, but too far away to help. Instead, I phone Richard, who drops everything, fetches and takes me to the Epworth Hospital. An inner ear infection causing acute dizziness and loss of balance is blamed. I'm admitted to a ward, but not before a long needle pierces my behind. I vomit for the first time in probably thirty years. Monday passes. Lying still is best. Arjay is worried, but too far away to help. Tuesday, feeling slightly better. I take a shower. My balance is improving, slowly, but too slowly to be allowed to go home. The thought of being discharged and walking to a tram and taking it to the other end of Richmond causes more than mild panic. But then a phone call comes from a new friend who just happens to be a well-known actor and who says she's just finished reading JACKAROO and how much she enjoyed it -- earmarked many pages -- and how it ought to be a movie and a talking book. Her call buoys me enormously, making me want to spring back to life as soon as I leave here. On Sunday morning, just before all of this happened, I read an article in The Age about a talent manager and her director husband (Paper Planes), and had shot off email No. 501 asking if they would read both the book and screenplay. As Churchill said, famously, "Never give in, never give in; never never never never!". My fear is losing two potential financiers who have indicated their willingness to each tip in $1,000,000 to fund the movie. Crowd Funding and Angel Investors might be the way to go. (Amazing how he's swung a post about an inner ear infection into a story about funding Jackaroo -- the movie!!!)

PS I'm awfully pleased with the latest version of the screenplay, especially page one. I feel (a) I've found my voice as the writer so quickly in the story, (b) It's incredibly punchy, and (c) it's almost a teaser story on its own the way it all happens on one page: eleven teenage boys and one wealthy woman: very visual, very moving, two voice overs and two lines of dialogue. Yes, I am well-pleased. The thought of compiling my section of the guest list for the premiere will be the BIGGEST thrill of my life, a way to thank and honour my loyal and wonderful family and friends.

PPS Arjay and a fellow student have just won a major Metro Manila Film Festival award for a five-minute movie restricted to being shot on a cell phone, an amazingly powerful script which Arjay wrote and for a competition for which hundreds of entries had been submitted. Plus, there's a cash prize to share among the pair and the actor who they recruited to play the solo role. A fantastic achievement.

 
Power outage
Monday, 05 January 2015 15:34

Tuesday 30 December. I sit at the dining table (rudely) writing on my iPad alongside Arjay, his mum and dad, and two of his four elder sisters. They are chatting away in their native Tagalog. I'm not involved in the discussion, so my tap-tap-tapping is not impolite. Another eight adults and kids are scattered throughout the house, which is located on a distant island from the main island of Manila. The power is out, rain is bucketing down like you wouldn't believe (not the kind of thing Aussie wheat growers would want right now, just prior to or during harvest time), and dinner will be eaten in candlelight. The expected typhoon might come, or it might not, such is the uncertainty of, and somewhat carefree attitude towards weather forecasting in this developing country. All I know is we are stranded here three days longer than we'd planned. The time is 5pm, and it's almost dark. (Filipinos don't understand our concept of summertime daylight saving.) No one seems able to give me, or know how or why to give me, a direct answer when I ask if we might be able to put the car on the ferry tomorrow. Days come, days go; such is life. We Aussies take so much for granted. Menfolk here lug twenty gallon containers several doors away to the community water point, where early in the morning I've counted no fewer than thirty containers waiting for the moment an authoritative figure releases water, so people can shower and wash. I despair also at what Filipino parents allow their children to watch on television. These beautiful yet humble people seem only to know about TV programs portraying constant violence (kids as young as five watching it, what's more). I yearn for a Maggie Smith film to appear (anyone would do). Cigarette packets too are yet to depict on their face graphic, full colour photos of cancer-ridden lungs, like we have. Today at lunch I watched on as Arjay devoured unsightly chicken feet and gallbladders. I told him never again to expect a kiss. Thank goodness for the sudden power outage: no crap TV, but also no karaoke, worst luck. Despite my many visits here, I have new reasons for wanting to win Tattslotto. Earlier today, between downpours, we visited the high school where Arjay's second eldest sister is acting principal (acting, that is, until she completes her master's degree). I've resolved that with the lotto proceeds, I'll bowl over the entire school, and build a new one like the one where I work, including state-of-the-art facilities for the 60 boarders. Oh! And it will have running water and flushing toilets, as well.

PS. Wednesday 31 December. We awoke this new day to find more rain bucketing down. By 10am the road just outside was flooded;, so we took the car to higher ground. At 4pm, the water had subsided and we drove to the ferry terminal to ask if the ferries will run tomorrow. Perhaps, came the answer.

PPS. New Year's Day. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 7am. Blessings of all blessings, after again paying the six separate fees (starting at $1), we were ushered straight onto the waiting ferry. At 9.30am we arrived at the mainland. This time, as we drove through the terminal gates and up the hill, I actually counted the trucks and lorries waiting to board: 284. Some drivers had done their week's washing, which hung between trucks on makeshift clothes lines. One-third of the way back to Manila, family members began talking anxiously about a car which no longer was following us, fearful the car might have been car-napped! This country remains full of surprises. Cheerio.

 
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