Grae is the Colour

Written by Grae Westgate 

37752300_10156424348361203_152554790222561280_n.jpg

As long-running musical comedy drama, Grae is the Colour, shuffles towards what promises to be one of its most moving mid-season finales to date, we take a look back at the highs and lows of season 32 so far.

As any good writer knows, allowing a show to stagnate in one location for too long can, after a while, cause audiences to lose interest and, inevitably, a drop in ratings despite the best efforts of a strong cast. After almost five whole seasons of multicultural educational adventures at ETC International College, the producers of Grae have decided to follow in the footsteps of Fear the Walking Dead and Doctor Who, giving the show a soft reboot by moving our eponymous lead to an entirely new environment.

Towards the end of season 31, we saw our hero finally land a place on a PGCE course, having spent the last few seasons wandering somewhat aimlessly through life. Prior to this, there had been an obvious sense of creative fatigue from the writing staff, and it was nice to see the show heading in a new, positive direction. It gave some much needed hope to what was rapidly becoming the empty shell of a formerly great show. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, the first half of this season has felt very much like filler, stretching out rather lacklustre storylines over the course of six months while the creative team have spent their time concentrating their efforts on a stronger second half. Hopefully this tactic will pay off, giving, as the producers promise, one of the most exciting story arcs to date. In a new environment with a plethora of new cast members, perhaps we’ll get some more interesting interactions. After all, there is only so much we can take of the age-old “Grae can’t sleep” and “Grae feels a bit pants” motifs. The college-based episodes have become repetitive, and despite the best efforts of the ever-watchable Oliver and Patsy, along with Tilly (finally promoted to “also starring” this year), it’s definitely time for the show to move on to pastures new.

That’s not to say that season 32 has not had its highlights so far. After a few cast changes towards the end of last season, with Everton and Jack both leaving the show, audiences were slightly concerned. The Troy and Abed relationship between Grae and Everton had become a fan favourite in recent years, and since moving the show to Bournemouth, Jack had provided the much-needed younger brother role previously provided by Luke and Harry during the series’ Croydon and Durham-based seasons. Fortunately, comic relief was provided by newcomer Chad Echakowitz, whose Peter Pan-like antics have charmed younger viewers whilst providing much-needed eye candy for older gay fans of the show. Sadly, it was recently confirmed by Entertainment Weekly that Echakowitz will be departing the show due to creative differences early next half, so we can only hope that amongst the influx of characters currently being cast, a worthy replacement will step into Grae’s much-needed “nerdy buddy” role.

There have also been some great side stories this season; Ben’s bizarre relationships with ladies from the continent have continued to cause much amusement, reaching a hilarious high point when it was revealed that Grae and Dan’s former nemesis, now working alongside Ben, had taken a shining to him. Ben remains one of the most bizarre characters on modern television, and one can only imagine what the writers were smoking when the character was born. The recent “show within a show” entitled The Nether also proved to be a smash hit with critics, showcasing some of our cast at their very finest.

Despite certain amounts of complacency on behalf of the production staff, Grae still manages to pull off a few innovative styles; the show’s use of social media as a way of keeping fans up-to-date with former characters has proved a great hit. It’s amazing to know that the writers still care about their babies and continue to remind audiences of much-loved characters that many other shows would have simply allowed to disappear into the ether. Random events such as Lacey’s engagement, along with updates of Pia’s adventures at medical school create a real legacy feel to the show, and prove that the writers, much like the fans, continue to care deeply about characters that they have created. Few teams could pull this technique off quite so seamlessly, and credit has to be given to the writers for their world-building abilities.

There have also been some big-name guest stars this season. Along with getting previous characters such as Everton and Jack to make occasional cameos, the producers have really pulled out the stops when it comes to star power this year. The Walking Dead crossover episode proved a massive hit, with fans delighting in Grae finally getting an on-screen hug from long-time crush Christian Serratos, as well as the further development in the relationship with recurring guest star Michael Cudlitz, who continued to play his mentor role with graceful charm. Other highlights included the Torchwood cast making their first appearance on the show in ten years, along with a surprise cameo from Batman himself in the shape of young David Mazouz. Sadly, internet rumours of an appearance by voice-acting legend Jim Cummings proved false, but the producers will hopefully manage to get a cameo from him at some point over the next few seasons.

With less that a month now until the midseason finale, audiences should prepare themselves for some big changes. Due to the reboot, we’ll be saying goodbye to a number of fan favourites including the ever-lovable Patsy, along with everyone’s favourite “colleague, NOT friend”, Oliver. It’s gonna be a tear-jerker, ladies and gents, but, hopefully this will be a change in the vein of Woody and Rebecca joining the cast of Cheers, rather than that of Michael J. Fox leaving Spin City.

The Grae is the Colour midseason finale airs on August 17th, with the second half premiering on September 3rd.

Starring: Grae Westgate, Manami Tsumita, Dan Withey, Ben Rogers, Oliver Monckton, Patsy Pett

Also Starring: Paul Nelson, Tilly Dick, Chad Echakowitz, Alex Wadham, Michael Dickinson, Timothy J. Howe

With: Lydia Westgate, Luke Westgate, Harry Westgate and Martin Westgate

Music: Adam Duritz, Bruce Springsteen, Barenaked Ladies

Country: UK

Year: !986-Present

Episode Run Time: 24 hours

No. of Episodes: 11,803

Extract VIII

Written by Melissa Booey

 Photograph by   Liana Mikah

Photograph by Liana Mikah

You’ve gotta give the people what they want. You’d better yell something good.

I sat there and tried not to get mad. I figured, “well, we’ve made it this far, anyway, suppose we can make it a bit further.” I’m sure my buzz and batch of benzos I’d been unknowingly slipped were wearing off, but I know I looked directly at the bone. It was protruding from my wrist and had split open through my “YoHo” tattoo. The wound was slightly held in tourniquet by my elastic hair tie, and as I raised it beneath the moonlight to examine it closer, I laughed. I laughed and screamed at the Escalade who put on their brake lights and kept going. I laughed at the houses who didn’t turn on their porch lights, laughed harder at the ones who did, but didn’t come outside. They say if you’re being raped, yell fire - like you’ll fucking remember that. Literally. When you crash your car into an orchard and are stuck for four hours, yell something. Don’t impatiently break your ankle trying to get out like me.

Extract VII

Written by Melissa Booey

drink-alcohol-cup-whiskey-51979.jpeg

Growing up, whenever my relatives traveled anywhere and asked what I wanted them to bring back for me, I would ask for a shot glass. Even as young as seven, or eight, I liked collecting them. So when my sister took a cross-country trip, she brought me back souvenir shot glasses from each and every state she visited. My favorite was the Kentucky shot glass, because it was in the shape of an actual, tiny gun-handle and all. I took it to my friend's one night, and proceeded to drink an entire bottle of Captain Morgan Rum chased with green olives. Once I blacked out, I had somehow misplaced the small glass pistol, and was convinced that someone at the party had stolen it. I took an empty Corona bottle and broke it over the countertop, threatening the entire household that no one was leaving until I got my Kentucky shot glass back. My best friend tried to wrestle the bottle away from me, but it proved difficult within the confines of the busy kitchen. Afraid I’d stab myself or someone else, he choked me out and put me to bed. I woke up the next morning and heard tales of my antics. Still drunk, I rifled through my purse for my phone, ready to send some apologies and take some names. There, at the bottom of my bag and perfectly intact, sat my Kentucky shot glass.

Extract VI

Written by Melissa Booey

 Photograph by   Adam Smigielski

Photograph by Adam Smigielski

Sometimes it feels like a furious fixation, but the more often it occurs you realize that your instincts can sniff out that which will never make it to your table. And not that piece of shit you’re eating off of while you sit on the couch watching Bob’s Burgers and smoking bowls, or your great-grandma’s wooden chest she brought over from Lithuania in 1898, not even your lame-ass countertop with the faux wood and cheap coasters, I mean the table you get for your first home-your first real permanent something or other. That table.  

You always knew they’d never make it there.

Edited on 27/05/2018 by Author's Request

Extract V

Written by Melissa Booey

spring-leaves.jpg

I remember when we started writing together, and how sacred the setting of the cabin was to him, it became like another character in the act. I loved hearing him talk about this magical place, this safe haven he held so dearly and so close to his heart. It was the only physical place he said he’d ever felt at home. He promised he’d take me there one day. In retrospect, I suppose it makes sense that I never made it up there. Six and a half years and he never made it happen.

Sometimes I’m just mad at myself for not admitting it, since I knew it in my heart all along, but I couldn’t say it out loud. Sometimes I still can’t say it out loud, but there are days when the rain hits the palms and I pretend that they’re pines and I can smell the Yosemite wilderness on a crisp, Spring morning. I can smell freshly cut wood in a roaring fire and Irish whiskey poured.

I can almost smell you.

Edited on 27/05/2018 by Author's Request

Extract III

Written by Melissa Booey

Dirty-sofa.jpg

Christian was not the kind of person who opened up. We at least had that in common. He and I often bantered and with drinking and smoking no one was ever surprised when it escalated to malicious. I maintained that he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. He was a veteran weed grower and supposedly graduated to making wax; he caught fire in his kitchen and underwent second degree burns, but anyway, that was later. Back in 2010, “before the war” as we once called it, he and I were considered worthy adversaries, flirting more than anything, but we’d never admit it, so it was just easier calling it shit talk.

One night, everyone else had gone to bed, but he and I stayed up drinking and smoking and talking into the night. Minus the rest of our friends and our bull shit facades we were able to show compassion and understanding towards each other. I saw through his arrogant sarcasm on a daily basis, but this was the first time I noticed his indisputably mild-mannered nature. He usually saw through my overly independent hostility, but this was the first time he witnessed my Wendy Bird, Tinker-bell hybrid the other boys swore I was.

He cried to me on the bong-water-stained sofa as the sun rose outside. Hot, hushed tears flooded my eyes as I listened to his heartache. He had been broken, and he was hardened, perhaps permanently. The truth of it seemed to empty him, and watching his evolution throughout the tale terrified me; what would happen when I fell in love? For real? Both ways? Legitimately? One of the guys burst through the door at six AM. I can’t recall where or even who they’d been, but I do remember that it seemed more normal than Christian and me sitting so close on the dingy couch, hands intertwined, foreheads touching, both trying so hard to wipe their tears the moment morning light hit the floor. I wonder if Edmonds remembers. Pretty sure he’s graduated to selling meth to the outskirts of town.

Edited on 07/05/2018 by author's request

A Cluttered Life

Written by Olivia Goldson 

 Photograph by   John Sekutowski

Photograph by John Sekutowski

There is a chair; I’m sitting on it. It’s one of those office-like swivel seats. I’m at the desk. It’s IKEA, but then again everything in this room is IKEA. The printer to my right works although I know that a green vase of sunflowers isn’t supposed to live on top of it. I don’t have anywhere else to put them. They’re the only sunshine I get. I can see the stapler and the hole-punch. The three together look like a still life waiting to be drawn.

The wall I’m staring at between sentences is blank, apart from the little circles of missing paint. The wall to my right is busy and colourful, my assignment list reminding me of the work I should be doing. A few photos line the edge of the desk, the people in them all have smiling faces: more reminders. A pile of paperwork lies to the left of me, I’m finding it hard to type with it sat there, but there is no room for it to go anywhere else.

The kitchen trolley is full, and out of place, it’s from IKEA too. My treasured possessions and my book, the one with the felt spots on it fill the trays. My life literally, crammed into three shelves.

The wall beneath the window makes for a makeshift bookcase; unread National Geographic and the Wanderlustmagazines wilt in the damp. Some still in their plastic postal covers. A few books on how to write non-fiction are there too. They’re useless to me now.

That mood light that we haven’t used has managed to find a shelf on top of the unread magazines, the Argos catalogue providing a sturdy base. The extension cable I can see out the corner of my eye, the one I hate, becomes my primary focus. Between that and the missing paint, it isn’t any wonder I’m getting nothing down on paper. 
My bed is unmade - unsurprising really. It’s the only clear space I have.

There’s condensation on the old window frame, but it’s not raining.

Our cupboard is full, not with my clothes but with his. I loved him. He’ll be home soon, and this room with get even smaller. He fills the space with what I thought I wanted.

I hear the door shut, he’s home. Those are his footsteps on the stairs. Unmistakable. He’s talking to me; I should stop typing.

I’m surrounded by clutter. I can’t stand it. Letters from the bank and the taxman are strewn across the floor with the underwear he was wearing last night.

I hear people talking outside my window. They may as well be inside. Their conversations are clear; they’re almost refreshing.

I can see through the window of the church across the road. This country is claustrophobic. I’m living in someone’s pocket while someone else takes up residence in mine.

Between the clutter, him and the people talking there’s no peace. He’s piling more paperwork onto my desk; more letters from the taxman.

The two Gin and Tonic glasses from the beginning of last week are still on the floor. I bet the lemon is mouldy.

He has put candles on the mantelpiece. This room is already too small and cluttered for ambience. More flowers are taking up the last little corner of space. Dead now. They were beautiful, once, like this room.

Extract IV

Written by Melissa Booey

02182015-laketapps-1020x665.jpg

Fifty-three days after I crashed my car into a tree I got out of my wheelchair, and that April was one of the best months of my life. I was preparing to finally go away to college, and I was falling deeply in love for the first time. He and I had spent my handicapped days writing scenes between two characters, Joe and Gwen - an honest attempt to dissipate the sexual tension between a handsome young gentle-wolf, and a crippled rapscallion.

We performed the final scene at a showcase in front of our peers, and everyone knew we were in love; everyone could see it. One of the final lines was his character, Joe, yelling at me, Gwen, because he knew she was scared of how strongly she felt for him, and that he was afraid too.

After that he took me in his arms and kissed and me, our first real, full-fledged, passionate kiss; I didn’t know it then, but that was our last moment onstage together. He took me up the mountain to “Wild P” as I called it, and we spent Friday nights dancing on the lake. I didn’t know what I had, and like precious grains of sand he gradually slipped through my post-traumatic, alcoholic fingers. But not before we inflicted irreversible damage on our paradise. Last I heard they drained the lake.

Extract II

Written by Melissa Booey

pexels-photo-145512.jpeg

He pretended he didn’t remember, but I reminded him the next morning that he had thrown up in her sink. I wonder if it was the same sink he washed his face over and looked in the mirror at after he slept with her. He made me feel so insane as I walked into the kitchen and caught him with his arm around her. He was so apologetic - it was a shame to see. He wanted so badly to have his cake and eat it too, because he thought he could be “happy” with her. Should have given that more time. I guess he did have his cake, and ate it too. After all… I took him bacK.

Extract I

Written by Melissa Booey

 Photograph by  Krista Mangulsone

Photograph by Krista Mangulsone

I have recurring nightmares that haunt my daily life. After experiencing trauma, often times one tries to cope with said trauma through their dreams during sleep. I went from a few familiar sequences to an entire outer cerebral hemisphere when I closed my eyes. It became so real - seemingly more relevant than that which occurred in my reality: dark waters; free falling from high-rise overpasses in an uncontrollable car… accepting horrific fates seconds before submitting to gravity - a plunge I’ve somehow always landed. I had a nightmare that he’d stopped loving me - suddenly, unforgivingly. It was our last blissful moment, that summer night. When I awoke the next morning, I was somehow fully aware of the stakes of my situation - I knew what a precious thing I had and it became too terrifying to accept. My fear made me despise him, persecute him, ridicule and abuse him. I blamed him for the sins of others, of all men and all nightmares. He became my scapegoat. I became his trauma. More is contagious than we think.

No Strangers, Only Friends not Met Yet - Part I

Written by John Rogers

There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet”, said the Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

The truth of this I found during my visit to Montreal towards the end of summer, in late September 2016. My purpose was mainly to go to the annual Osheaga Music and Arts Festival and get into the music but it proved to be much more of an experience.

The adventure started with a conversation with two happy youths, Brody and Julian, in their mid-twenties on a stuffy train stuffed with indie-rock music fans heading for the Festival in the Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île Sainte-Hélène.

Islands for me have always held a fascination since I spent two years in Tasmania as a Disc Jockey when I was in my early twenties.  It seemed it was a long way from Australia, as indeed it was, nearly two hours flying time from Sydney to Hobart. It was my first real time leaving home and it was time to grow up after nearly two years in country New South Wales, two hours by road from where I had lived with my parents and siblings and easily reached if I got homesick (as I did for the first year after leaving).

However, there’s isn’t any real mystery with Île Sainte-Hélène. It is actually two islands, the other being Round Island, both in the neck of the Saint Lawrence River. Five minutes by train from mystery-dispelling downtown Montreal, there is no real sense of being isolated and away from civilisation.

The separateness, I think, is actually in the mind and comes from getting away from urban life to play for a while. In this case I was going for immersion in music and the celebration of music and performance.

Back to that stuffy train at Sherbrooke metro. My chat with Brody and Julienne on the platform was triggered when I spotted three-day passes for “Osheaga” in lanyards around both their necks. With my own two-day pass around my neck (I had not managed to get a pass for the third day) I was deliciously, but not frighteningly, nervous about being on my own. I thought if these two guys are going there, I’ll talk to them and tag along at least to the entrance gates of the festival site.  Brody and Julienne were more than excited, they were pumped up and keen to talk about what the festival meant to them, which bands were at the top of their must-see list. Always useful to know other people’s preferences because they may know something you don’t or something which affirms your own choices.

Brody, an electrician from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and on a two-year visa to work in Canada had only recently got in to indie-rock music and was open to exploring new bands of the genre, as was I.

Julienne is a theology student and musician studying at a Montreal College and also counsels young people in a non-denominational church.

Sensing my knowledge would be of bands of years before he was born, Brody asks me why I am going to a festival of music very much of the past two decades, the implication perhaps being that he thought my "bag" would be 50's through to the 70's.

I tell him my story is one of discovery which started in the past five years with hearing alternative Nevada rockers The Killers on the BBC Radio Two Breakfast Show and their exciting, pounding drums-to-the front, lyrically intriguing song "Human" inspired by a line said to have been written by Rolling Stone magazine contributor Hunter S. Thompson.  He had in a critique of the American way of life, commented that America was “raising a generation of dancers”, people who follow a pattern and choreography instead of thinking for themselves.  The Killers’ songwriter, Brandon Flowers, put a twist on that, using the singular, “dancer”, asking “are we human?”  Not long before I heard "Human", a light had turned on for me with another song.  On the verge of retirement and freed from thinking about the discipline and strictures of speech-writing, I had heard the inspirational and glass-half-full lyrics of "One Day like This” by Manchester alternative rock band Elbow. It had come at a time when I was nearing a crossroads, about to leave a lifetime of writing for the next stage of my life in which I needed to have other creative activities to fulfil me.

Of course I didn’t go into as full an explanation as that. Brody’s eyes would glaze over quickly I would expect. It was sufficient to pique his interest that I mentioned The Killers and London indie rockers Noah and The Whale both of whom he was familiar with.  As part of this developing conversation of temporary bonding musically, Brody asked “You must have seen some great bands?”

“Yeah, a few,” I said with a smile.

As a 25-year-old radio journalist with Australian rock radio station 3XY I had seen The Rolling Stones at the Kooyong tennis stadium in Melbourne on a sweltering hot day.

“2.30pm SATURDAY 17TH FEBRUARY 1973” - stated the ticket. Ten years before as a teenager I had seen The Beatles in Sydney, seen being the operative word because of the wave of screaming which started from the moment they came on stage to the end of their set as they walked off.

I vividly remember the Stones. It was the only time I was to see them on stage.  Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman (guitars) Charlie Watts (drums) with Nicky Hopkins (keyboards) and Bobby Keys (saxophonist) were sheltered from the sun by a canopy while several thousand fans sat in the open on the tiered stadium seating waiting for the front man, the main actor to come forward. The group had kept us waiting after the opening act, Melbourne’s progressive rockers Madder Lake had finished their great set including their current hit, 12lb Toothbrush (I have no idea what it was about, maybe it was nothing) stretching it from nearly five minutes to more than nine minutes long.

We were mesmerised and aurally assaulted by Mick Jagger and the boys. They were still in their 30s then and in their rock ‘n role prime, we expected they would go on for years but the thought of them in their 70s still rolling was as remote as commercial rocket flights to the moon.

I still have the stub of my ticket -Section 18 Seat X13 - to that concert and smile at the note on it that declares clearly in capital letters there was no chance of the weather making any difference to the concert schedule: “RAIN or SHINE – “WE PLAY”.  It was certainly shining that day, the relentless sun taking the temperature to the high 30's in the shade.  The stands of the stadium were populated by people and their red Esky ice chests crammed with cold drinks and ice, lugged there for the long afternoon by rock fans, me included, wearing flared jeans, tie-dyed shirts and floppy felt hats.

Only the day before I had sat alone, wearing shirt and tie, in those same stands as a reporter for radio station More Music 3XY, writing a 30 second “scene-setter” for afternoon news bulletins.  It was a “colour piece” in keeping with the “with-it” youth image of the radio station. The appearance of The Stones on the stage, Mick in white bell-bottom jeans as I remember, was met with a roar of cheering approval which swelled as the band kicked off their set with "Brown Sugar".  We all sang and rocked along as Mick strutted the stage.  The poses he struck would continue, little did we know then, as part his trademark performance for the next four decades.

The band finished with "Street Fighting Man". Someone else who was there said Mick threw rose petals from a bucket and yelled “we gotta go, we gotta go”.

At the mention of the “fab four” as they were dubbed by the media, Brody’s eyes had widened, “wow, you saw The Beatles.”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t hear them above the screaming of the audience.” I said.  His eyes told me that this did not diminish his admiration for the fact I had been there at a history-making time.

I, and my sister who had come with me to the concert at Sydney (New South Wales) Stadium, on a trip organised by a radio station, did not realise the importance of the occasion, and like many there only realised that in later years. The memory has become increasingly rosier.  In my mind’s eye, I can now see us sitting in the Sydney Stadium, or at least we were sitting while the other acts on the bill entertained us, until The Beatles came onto the stage. From then on we were on our feet.

Fresh-faced youthful, wearing their specially-made suits, they plugged the guitars they were carrying into the amplifiers. The opening chords of "I Saw Her Standing There" kicked off the set list I believe, although I doubt anyone heard it over the deafening screams of the audience enveloped in Beatlemania. My sister and I were both swept up in the hysteria, for that was what it was, as the Liverpudlians swept through ten songs, winding up with the Little Richard classic, "Long Tall Sally".

I’m not sure if the crowd quietened even a little for the two ballads, "Till There Was You" and "This Boy", perhaps they were too carried away for that. Then it was over, the four boys had left the stage with a simple “thank you very much” from Paul McCartney.

Half an hour later my sister and I were back on the bus going home.  I wrote a report on the concert for the school newspaper, nervous that I would be told off by the headmaster for taking a day off from school without permission. However there was nothing said, the headmaster either turning a blind eye to my report or not reading it at all. I prefer to think it was the former.

Brody was talking to me again on the Osheaga festival-bound train. As if he had tuned in via some portal to some thoughts of mine from a week earlier after seeing an interview with John Lennon touching on drummers in bands, Brody wants to know what I thought of Ringo Starr’s drumming.

“I saw an interview with John Lennon”, he says.  “They asked him who he thought were the best drummers in the world and would Ringo be one of them”?  Lennon laughed and said “he wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles”. He was referring to McCartney’s drumming which started and developed like his playing of the piano during the musical growth of the individual Beatles.

I thought Lennon had been needlessly unkind and he could have been less candid, but then Lennon did not pull punches and never had, behaviour which stemmed it seemed from a troubled childhood and teenage years.

“Okay, Ringo wasn’t a great drummer,” I said, “but his four-on-the-floor style, left-handed with the sticks was very much part of the texture of the Beatles’ sound." If you listen to pre-Ringo Beatles, with Pete Best’s drumming, the sound was pretty colourless beat-wise”.  It was the main reason why George Martin, the Beatles record producer told their manager Brian Epstein that Best’s drumming was not regular enough for him to do further work on developing the group. Martin says in his biography All You Need Is Ears that he decided a session drummer Andy White could come in and he would do a better job than Best, which Epstein accepted, knowing the group had already been talking about dumping their drummer. I know the timing of this has been disputed. But in the end, on the first single by the band, Love Me Do, it was Ringo who played drums. An alternate version with Andy White drumming was not used. I recalled Martin’s comments that Ringo was “a good solid rock drummer with a super steady beat… above all he does have an individual sound… a definite asset to the Beatles’ early recordings.”

 “Yeah, I like Ringo’s drumming,” Brody responded, “Charlie Watts in the Stones isn’t an exciting drummer either. He’s a reliable, dependable beat in the mix, central to the sound.”  We were on the same page. He had obviously listened to a lot of music and not just from the present day. I was impressed and so was he, it appeared.

Our train was nearing Parc Jean-Drapeau.  The conversation was petering out as we began anticipating the excitement of the rest of the day. There was no time to chat further to Brody or to Julienne about his counselling or ambitions.  But the time had been well spent I thought as I disembarked from the train with hundreds of other fans of music intent on a good time to head for the Osheaga festival site.

To be continued

No Strangers, Only Friends not Met Yet - Part II

Written by John Rogers

Osheaga-2017.jpg

To read Part I, click here


The train to the Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal disgorged its passenger load. Hundreds of determinedly excited alternate rock fans, infectiously laughing and talking, crowded out of the station and into the sunshine at Parc Jean-Drapeau towards the festival site entrance.

My head went back to the head-spinning days of my twenties; not much more than a teenager, to rock concerts in the 1970s in Melbourne and Sydney.  Further back, to folk music clubs in Hobart where folk and blues artists of the day paid their dues interpreting some of the master musicians of the genre.

We sat on the floor. Our bums or ‘butts” as we call them now, were more resilient then to hard surfaces for prolonged periods.  In a large darkened room, with barely any furniture, we breathed in air tinged with a pungent smoke which I realised, even though I had not smelt it before, was from marijuana. I couldn’t see any “funny cigarettes”, as they were colloquially l known, being smoked but they were certainly there somewhere for sure in the mouths of the audience who kind of shielded their faces. I learnt later that the “weed” was certainly being sucked by the performers backstage.

The bands would come on, slowly, shuffling perhaps, but intently focussed, plugging in their guitars, brushing long hair away from their faces, scratching beards, tuning up. The lead guitarist or singer, it would have been Matt Taylor in the case of Chain, a top Melbourne heavy blues band, would make a brief comment about being glad to be here. They were glad to be anywhere earning money from playing music in those days. Then they would launch loudly into a blues track which might be familiar or obscure. It didn’t matter really.

It was a long time ago but the memory was fresh. Here in the now, “I NEED TICKETS” is the first thing I see as I approach the festival site gates.  The plea is shouted in big capitals on placards waved hopefully by several people who obviously haven’t planned ahead and booked. So they don’t have tickets and they think people who have had foresight and booked ahead are going to sacrifice all that forethought effort and sell their tickets? Well, good luck with that, I think. I am definitely not one of those people, having bought tickets online from Australia six weeks before. 

I walk on, smiling, not gloatingly you understand, just happy that I have tickets for the first two days of the festival. It is not as good as a three-day pass with the third day to include The Strumbellas, a Canadian band I had first heard back in Australia on the ABC Radio National afternoon program, The Inside Sleeve, but that’s ok. Their music has been pigeon-holed as “alternative country”, “indie rock” and the somewhat intriguing and tortured “folk popgrass”. Alas I would not be seeing them but their musical relatives, near and not so close, would be appearing on the other two days.

Through the security gates where bags are checked for whatever they check bags for these days. “I’m too old to be a risk,” I say with a small smile, risking a more thorough examination and maybe even a frisking. The security woman gives me a small smile and waves me through.  They look for signs of nerves or shiftiness and I showed none of those with plenty of experience at airports. “Just look like you know the business and don’t get irritated”, I think.

The festival site takes in six stages spread out across the island reached by walking paths ranging from tarmacked trails to dirt trails through trees, over bridges and through clearings. Underfoot the walking seemed easy. But it was deceptively challenging and tiring, a tiredness which creeps up as audiences swell in front of the stages:  RiverMountainGreenTreesValley Stage and the Zone Picnik Electronik or Electronic Picnic.

The first cab off the rank at the Valley Stage is Canadian indie rockers Elephant Stone, a band from Montreal who had taken their name from a song by British rockers Stone Roses.

I was curious to see and hear what they had to offer because the front guy Rishi Dhir, the bass and sitar player had once said he wanted to “make the perfect psychedelic pop record”. I wondered whether or not that it would be achieved. I was familiar with psychedelic bands of the 1960's and how guitars, drums and sitars could be played and mixed. How would Dhir achieve it?

Three guitarists and the drummer led by Dhir bounce onto the stage energetically. One of the crowd of several hundred who apparently had seen the band perform late on the previous night in a Montreal club yells “I saw you guys 12 hours ago”. Dhir grabs the microphone and yells back “we’ve had two hours sleep since then.” I am wondering how they will perform. I need not have worried or even given it a thought.  Nearly forty years younger than me, their energy is far greater, especially perhaps with sleep shortage.

Elephant Stone launch into a number from their latest album Ship of Fools. It is a blend of western psychedelic rock with traditional Indian music played on sitar, tabla and dilruba.  It is sometimes heavy and dissonant.

Miles Dupire, the drummer gives out with a steady rock beat. It sounds different to me but I can’t quite figure out why.  It is solid and supportive and that is what matters.

 The Elephant Stone set climaxes with what is usually a seven minute song, Don’t You Know a heavier-sitar drenched number stretched out to ten minutes. I hear the echoes of George Harrison but this is a long way from the opener on Side 2 of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - “Within You, Without You” by George and his friends led by Ravi Shankar. I can sense them looking on as I look up to the clouds above in a hot blue sky.

The drone of the sitar fades. Elephant Stone exit stage left to make way for Jack Garratt, British singer and songwriter and player of several instruments.

As a child, Jack said (in one interview) that he enjoyed making noises so much so that his parents, (perhaps to get him out of the house) enrolled him in music lessons.

“I really enjoyed the reaction that I got from making those noises,” Garratt said.  As he starts to growl on the microphone and play his drums in a kind of fever up on stage, I can hear what he means about noise. There is something melodic in the synthesised piano sounds coming from off stage, plus some strangulated soul and what sounds like a drum machine.  But for some reason I am not impressed. It’s a pity because Garratt’s influences include the blues, not that all blues influenced artists produce good music.

I am not an expert in what works for blues music but generally speaking, it’s not inaccurate to say that every guitarist who plays the blues, first immersing themselves in the greats such as Muddy Waters, does not become Eric Clapton. For every blues influenced rock record making the charts in the 1960's there were scores of failures for records not even making the Top 100's, not even “bubbling under” as the DJ language goes.

I had read recently some comments not by Garratt but about him by the acting music editor of Britain’s The Independentnewspaper, Emily Jupp.   He was, she said, now “on the cusp of fame” having done “a few years of graft” since he was 14 years old when he finished last in the 2005 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. His music now “ticks all the boxes for record producers” because he plays all the instruments (fewer problems with split fees between a team of writers and producers apparently) and "live’ gigs are really now where it is at.  But the songs are still not ones easily recalled and they fall into lots of genres, often creating an electronic soul sludge”.

But Garratt has years to hone his music. Give the guy a chance. I am thinking Julian Lennon was criticised for the “banality” of his first songs in the 1990's, criticism to which he responded, not quite as sharply as his father would, that not everything his dad wrote as a teenager was brilliant. That came later for John Lennon with lots of hard work, albeit underpinned by sheer talent and the ability to learn not only from his partnership with Paul McCartney and the guidance of producer George Martin but from the cream of rock and rollers who came before him.

So, hungry for more and different music if possible, I move on and head to the Green Stage.

The crowd, undeterred by the hot sunshine, is swelling quickly as South African singer and songwriter Jeremy Loops makes his entrance clasping a mouth harp.  Yes, this is different.

Cheering and clapping greet Loops as he warms up, alternately blowing on the harp and stirring the audience with shouts of Osheaga. Getting deeper into the harp, he is accompanied by a thumping electronically generated beat. I’m not a fan of electronic simulation of drums, there's something not natural about it, but make an exception for Loops as he discards the harp and picks up an acoustic guitar.  I am curious though that he doesn’t play the guitar but starts to sing in French and English with the beat continuing underneath him to the end. Hey this guy is bluesy! 

Time to bond with the audience and gee them up. That’s how a performer works to keep the pot boiling. For Jeremy Loops this is his first music festival in Canada and tells the crowd “we’ve travelled a long way to get here”. Cue for a big cheer and whistles as the rest of his band, one with an electric guitar and another with drumsticks join him on stage.

“If you know the words, don’t be afraid to sing your fucking arses off,” he shouts. The crowd roars back “yeah”.  I smile at his enthusiasm reflecting but only briefly on how far performers have come, or not with their vocabulary since the last time I attended an open-air rock concert.  Anyway the band is on fire. Jeremy plays the guitar and the mouth harp. No need for a backing track now. It’s all musicians and more like I am used to, not that I am complaining.

At the back of them on a big screen, fish-like creatures created digitally flash up and start swimming. The music is Sinner, country rock, bouncing along drenched in mouth harp with just a little hard edge, as it might be described if it was on a restaurant menu, a song I know only and recently, from a video clip on the Internet, has the audience in Jeremy’s hands.

The fish on the back screen disappear to be replaced by views of Jeremy’s feet to go appropriately with the next song My Shoes, going much stronger and bluesy now, less country, with mouth harp leading in to a rap rock mix. The difference is exhilarating even to me who heard but passed on rap or hip-hop as it was also known. It came too late to engage me by the late 1970's and by hip-hop’s second coming, or second wave in the mid-1980's, I wasn’t listening to radio stations which played that music or going to places where a new style of Disc Jockey “scratched” and jerked vinyl discs under special pick-ups to spur dance club-goers into frenetic dancing.

On the screen behind Loops there is a change of scene as a tiger crawls forward through assorted trees and leaves and drawings of railway lines which a child would recognise.  The singer is pumped and so is the audience. “It’s good to see you Montreal, how ya doing?” If there is anyone there who wasn’t a fan of Mr Loops before, they are now, collectively pumping the air with their hands to show their approval. Fine sprays of water pumped from hoses at the front of the stage give us a drenching to keep us cool.  The sun has begun to shine more strongly. The drenching is welcome.

With a final plug from the singer for his new LP – “it’s on vinyl and it’s awesome”, the band exits stage right to make way for the next act, US rapper Goldlink. But watching someone, no doubt an expert, playing mix tapes is not my ‘bag’. Turning away I see my two friends from the train, Brody and Julian on the other side of the fenced off enclosure at the front of the stage. I give them a shout and surprisingly over the noise, Julian hears me and looks across. He grins, nudges his friend. They wave. Both are grinning and giving me a thumbs-up for the experience we have just shared, we head in different directions for other venues.

With my program displayed on my electronic tablet (backed up with a scrunched paper copy in my rucksack) I trudge in the mounting heat and along grassy and dusty paths, pounded and scuffed by thousands of feet, towards the River Stage.

On the way it is time for a pit-stop and a bite to eat to refuel.  The first is not easy to achieve.  Hovering balloons indicate where the toilets are so finding them is not the problem. It is the queues which are challenging to say the least. Younger queuers are secretly envious I fancy of seniors getting into line. “I’ll bet they are wearing pads”, I can almost hear them thinking. Well, maybe not. The odd one or two younger people do however allow a ‘senior’ to move in front of them. A kind of chivalry is still alive here. 

I smile to myself but soon after I am a little saddened when I walk past a man in his twenties wearing a thought-provoking T-shirt. Not the shirt itself but the slogan on the front, declaring the wearer’s religious, or more correctly non-religious beliefs. “Fuck God – Believe in Yourself”. Now even if you don’t believe in God, is it really necessary to be as strident as that?  It is more likely, judging from the “look human” on-line ordering website that the shirt is what they call “edgy and naughty” appealing to “atheists, agnostics, and people who want to be cool” or to deconstructing Christians or aetheists.  I do not stop the wearer to ask him but perhaps, and here I take a broader view, his slogan is a kind of tongue-in-cheek reverse declaration meaning the opposite of what it says? Pity I don’t have time to have what would probably be a deep conversation distracting from the excitement of coming here.

After a delicious vegie burger which according to the food franchise van poster was not cooked in animal fat, I arrive at the River Stage where Los Angeles band Silversun Pickups are soon to perform their brand of alternative rock. I have read that this group whose music I am unfamiliar with apart from some online listening,  brings to mind an “alternate universe Smashing Pumpkins” updating a “gauzy heavy rock”.  Unsure exactly what that means but recalling my son as a teenager liked one of the band’s records I thought Silversun Pickups should be given a hearing.  

The music commentators say this band is: “shoe-gaze” or “dream pop”.  I wonder if “shoe-gaze” is the equivalent in the second decade of the 21st century of the sometimes indulgent blues style music of the 1970's where, as mentioned earlier, the performers engaged more with the floor than with the audience.  Is it fuelled by the same substances as then?  Somehow I think not. But what do I know?

Silversun Pickups’ got their name from a liquor store in Silver Lake and playing in clubs. The front man for the past 14 years, and out front singing today, is Brian Aubert. He is a bearded 40-year-old but he appears a decade younger.  Aubert is energetic as he pulls chords and riffs from his Gibson guitar fretboard, jumping up and down and posturing a la Mick Jagger.

The band is unusual, underpinned by solid low-end bass player Nikki Monninger who also sings.  Nikki appears to be uneasy on stage and smiles nervously as the band belts out their songs. Bad Dreams. There is no nervousness from the drummer Chris Guanlao with his long black hair flailing as he attacks his kit in a fierce solo. This is hard driving rock and blues which I had read owes something to distortion heavy rock of the 1990's associated with Radiohead.  The words, something about “bad dreams” are almost buried in the mix but they don’t seem important, it’s the energy and vibrations man.

In between songs from their latest album, Aubert stirs up the audience, calling out to them that Osheaga is hands-down our favourite festival in the world… because it’s the best one”. Well, I guess that depends on what else you’ve seen. But no matter, the crowd roars approval and what would I know, this is my first alternative rock festival anyway.

I join some of the crowd moving on and heading for the River Stage where a band called The Wombats is due to play in the early evening. Perhaps there’s an Australian connection? But the band is from Liverpool, England and the only Australian echoes are in the name and strangely in the long shorts worn by the Matthew Murphy, the lead guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist, a la Angus Young of AC/DC. But their music also has the hard edge of AC/DC and maybe tinges of Easybeats. “Maybe it’s the English Summer, maybe it’s the atmosphere” sings Murphy as he leaps around the stage pushing out English Summer from their latest album Glitterbug. The songs have melody and rhythm, but with a definite hard edge.

It is late in the day and from the corner of my eyes I am alerted to a disturbance in one section of the crowd. People are getting tired. A woman, hardly out of her teens, and a man who is probably her boyfriend, are arguing or at least they seem to be.  As the band on the stage ramps up the aggression in their music, the couple raise their voices.  The woman is pleading with the man not to go deeper into the audience at front of stage. He walks off and after a very short while she shrugs her shoulders and walks after him.  No doubt they’ll sort it out. The dying rays of the sun slash across the smoke haze hanging above the crowd and I call it a day too, heading for the rail station to return to my Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Yes the Bed and Breakfast in downtown Montreal’s Sherbrooke West district was in among the variety of B&B establishments to be found, indeed to be on the alert for, on the variable Airbnb website, papered with photographs of varying accuracy as to quality.

I had a room, part of a rabbit warren of rooms called apartments above a restaurant.  It was certainly handy to the metro and I had a room to myself albeit created by a sliding partition but with a gap at the top letting in light from a kitchen about twenty feet away. The bed was comfortable but only just and there was a desk and a lamp by which to write on my laptop.  For $40 it was not “flash” as country folk say and I should not have expected it to be. “Clean and comfortable” I believe is the expression people say as faint praise without wishing to offend.

The other rooms, I worked out, were mostly rented to university students, some of them in their teens.  I had made the brief acquaintance of 17-year-old Ji Ji, who told me she was from Istanbul and learning English and of course keen to talk to anyone who spoke English.  Letting me in to the apartment’s dining room area when I arrived, Ji Ji made me a cup of coffee and sat with me at the table while I waited for my “host” Valery. After two hours talking, and struggling at times to find something to talk about with a teenager - it had been a long time since I had conversed with someone 40 years younger than myself - a jolly Jewish woman came in. This was Valery who had apparently been in her rooms across the hall. “Oh, I didn’t know you had arrived… you should have knocked on my door,” she said.  Well, I would have if I had known which door to knock on, I thought. No matter.

Valery showed me my room which as I said was basic. I hid my slight dismay at the obvious lack of complete privacy and the fact I would be sharing a bathroom with the occupants of three other rooms divided by thin walls.

“We eat at 7pm” stated a sign in big capitals on the wall. I opted to go down the street for dinner and have an early night ahead of my first day at the music festival.

At breakfast on the morning after, the journey back to my early 30's days of shared houses, continued.   Other students came out of rooms off the kitchen. They nodded and smiled. But like Ji Ji from the previous day’s interaction, that is having little English, conversation was again limited. No-one mentioned, they would have thought it impolite anyway, to say if I had disturbed anyone with my snoring during the night. Not that I would necessarily have been snoring, of course

Valery is a talkative and slightly bossy, Jewish “momma” who tells me how able-bodied and mentally active her ageing mother is and what a fertile garden she has. I took an apple from the basket on the table, presumably from that garden, drank my coffee and left after about twenty minutes to prepare for my day.

Day One of the Osheaga Music Festival has already been worth the price of admission so I am ahead and feeling in the mood for more alternative rock, indie rock, whatever, I turn out for the second day.

It’s a Saturday late morning and with a paper cup of coffee in hand; I travel in again from the suburbs to Parc Jean-Drapeau.

It seems like everyone has had the same idea to start late today after sleeping in.

The trains were jam packed starting at the junction of several lines as festival goers converged on the main line to Osheaga. Laughing, jabbering, smiling, shrieking people standing like randomly distributed sardines. Police and security officials at station platforms keep order and safety, roping us into queues and keeping the lines moving. 

It is late morning when I enter the festival site and already it is hot and the crowds are building, kicking up the dust on the trails to the music stages. There are bleary eyes staring at mobile phone screens, tapping their whereabouts and present lives and thoughts into Facebook. There are yawns from those who stayed on till late last night but the glint of anticipation is still there.

No time for breakfast for some people so the takeaway food outlets were meeting the hunger deficit.  The picture forming is speckled with walking breakfasters carrying food trays in one hand with the other hand waving or punching the air to music from stages already in swing.

First off I buy the festival T-shirt. You have to, don’t you.  Hey it’s the second day so it’s not an impulse buy. I am not under the influence of anything, not the music, just the euphoria of having enjoyed the music and the expectation of hearing more of the same from bands I haven’t heard before, playing long sets, almost full concerts, to audiences of up to a couple of thousand in front of some stages.

Silversun Pickups, on the first day breaking away from the three guitars and drums line up, had been a joy to watch and listen to.

Today I am going for Montreal band Half Moon Run who I hadn’t heard of. That’s why I’m here, to explore and discover. The line-up is two guitars, Gretsch guitars (only the best), keyboards and two drum kits with heavy percussion and splashes of electronica. They are all multi-instrumentalists, switching instruments and sometimes playing two at the same time for different songs. All of them sing, in three-part harmonies on some songs.  The main percussionist Isaac Symonds moves rapidly from mandolin to keyboard and to guitar. Husky-voiced lead singer Devon Portielje dazzles with mouth harp with echoes of Bob Dylan, on Everybody Wants from their year-old album Sun Leads Me On.

On a country number Devil May Care, a skilful picking of acoustic guitar reminds me again of Dylan in his early years in the 1960's.  On another song, one of the guitarists plays the strings Hendrix-like with his teeth. I can hear George Harrison’s voice in cartoon-character on The Simpsons staring up at a spoof rooftop concert and saying dismissively “ah, it’s been done”.  No matter, “teeth guitar” done well is still impressive. 

This band, together for three years since starting rehearsals in down-at-heel rooms in downtown Montreal, and with appearances at Britain’s must-perform-at Glastonbury Festival in their resume, is at the top of their game and the audience knows it. 

“It’s great to be home,” shouts drummer-singer Dylan Phillips between songs and the crowd roars. “Everybody needs to be somewhere else, everybody wants to be someone else to fit right in” sings Phillips but it doesn’t apply to this audience.  They are at home here.

Call me in the afternoon from the band’s first album shows influence from the heavier side of Californian country rockers, Eagles, which goes down well with me as a big fan of the group for these many years past.

With a light show – greens, oranges and blues – flashing across the stage, I felt complete and visually and musically satisfied.  Half Moon Run is a band I will be on the lookout for back in Australia should they make it down under.

Moving on through the festival site, walking past green shrubbery surrounding lay-byes furnished with seats for people tiring as the day goes on, I overhear snatches of conversation.

Two young men are talking in English about separatists, maybe the Quebec sovereignty movement since we are in Montreal? But maybe that is not the subject since one of the men, with a Glasgow accent mentions “Brexit” and “mother-fuckers”. He is obviously passionate.

Coming upon a bench with a vacant seat, I sit down. Opposite me are two young women eating hamburgers. We exchange smiles and I take out my exercise book and pen.

“I’m Beryl, this is my friend Alee.  What’s your name…what are you writing?” she asks.

“John… a journal of travel and music... and things I hear and see,” I say.

“Ah, secrets, I knew it” Beryl says. 

We talk. Beryl is from the central Canadian province of Manitoba and her mother, like me, was born in Wales. It’s a small world. Beryl and Alee are both in the fashion clothes industry.

I had been reading about precious stones for a radio program theme I did recently back in Australia, so “Beryl” has a ring to it, metaphorically that is.

Beryl’s name was picked by her mother who also knew about precious stones.  “Some days are diamonds,” she says, quoting a line from a John Denver song, songs which are a million miles away from what we have been hearing for the past two days at the festival.

That’s as far as the conversation goes and after eating a veggie burger for my late afternoon meal, I say goodbye to Beryl and Allee.

Walking away I reflect that many people are precious stones. Sons and daughters are precious, generally speaking, to their mothers and fathers. Continuing my internal conversation, walking towards the rail station, “Mums and Dads are precious, valued by their children, certainly when they are growing up”, if you get my point.

The music here has been crafted by the artists into their gems or precious stones. The audiences have been entertained and have revelled in the music. For my part I have heard music which was new and fresh to me. I have delved deeper into alternative and indie rock, decades away from the music I enjoyed as a teenager and over the past forty years. Through British rock and pop, starting with Cliff Richard, moving to The Beatles, going into the late 1970s with US West Coast country-rock from Eagles and singer-songwriters Jackson Browne and Carole King, it has enriched my musical appreciation and without exaggeration, my life.

The sun is going down as I reach the rail station. People arriving to swell the night concert audiences are getting off the train as I board to return for my last night in Montreal.

Dusty Dog: an Autobiography

Written by Louise Wildman

unnamed.jpg

I don’t remember the first two years of my life too well, but I’ve never forgotten how cruel children can be. The petting farm I was part of allowed children to grab my paws and drag me around, and throw me in water. I’ve never lost my fear of these small humans.

I grew so afraid I was no use to my masters, so they threw me away to a pound.

A young woman who worked there took me away from that. I was so happy I’d found someone who treated me with kindness, but she wasn’t around for long. When she left, the man she had sex with took me to another home, and I found myself with his parents. They didn’t hurt me, but I felt I was in the way.

The man also had a sister. I was moved again into the place where she lived.

She used to smile when she looked at me, but she wasn’t the only person who spent time there. She couldn’t move her hands or arms, or walk or stand or even eat with her mouth. Other people helped her with these things. Some of these people were nice to me, but many weren’t, and would lock me out of the house for hours and hours, and tell me I was a bad dog for shedding my fur. Some would kick me.

After six years there, I no longer knew which way was up or down: I knew deep that love existed, and I knew I had love to give, but I was so afraid. I hated people coming near me when I was trying to sleep, because it usually meant a kick or being thrown out yet again.

Although a few people would make me lovely meals and pet me, I was often hungry.

I didn’t see many other dogs, because I very rarely was taken outside walking, and I grew to hate any dogs I’d smell near the house.

I used to love going out in the minibus. It was pretty much the only time I got out of the house or yard. It was so exciting seeing all the people, movement, and dogs! I wasn’t allowed to bark though. I’d get into trouble if I did.

That was all right. I got to sit next to a child who was also a grown up, who was nice to me. I liked him, although he’d sometimes shut me in his room for too long. In the bus I’d lie down next to him and enjoy the movement of the bus. When he got off I’d be able to get out for a few minutes too and smell all the new smells, before they’d get me back on for the journey home.

I loved television! Well, only with dogs or other animals. Then I’d rush up to it and bark! C’mon - if you’re prisoner in a house, faced with pictures of freedom, wouldn’t you too?

One day a new woman arrived. I was afraid of her, but she kept looking at me and talking softly. It felt so long since anyone had actually really looked at me, I didn’t know what to do.

I went to her, slowly, and with lots of stops to go on my back to show her my submission. She patted me!

The second time, she took me for a walk! I was afraid she was going to leave me out on the street, that as soon as I let her out of my sight she’d vanish. She didn’t though.

She kept coming back.

She came with another woman who couldn’t walk, but this one could talk and use her hands and arms. I was a bit afraid of her though, as she tried to grab my paws. The nice one would stop her. She kept her eyes on me and made sure I was comfortable.

They took me to a big green place where there were lots of other dogs. I saw something moving out of the corner of my eyes, and - I don’t know what it was, but I felt a stirring of recognition. I ran after it. But then stopped, confused.

The woman saw, and she ran after the thing, and kicked it towards me. Again I started to run, feeling an excitement I hadn’t felt for years. But again I stopped. It was too confusing.

I started to smell out for her, and would be at the door when she arrived. She came back more and more. She and the other lady took me to the green place with dogs many times, and I learnt to remember what a football is. I love football.

I started to relax with other dogs too.

After a year, she took me in her car to her place for a night. I didn’t know whether to be afraid or ecstatic. I think I was a bit of both.

Not long after this she took me again. When she took me back, I was ready to get out, but instead she left me in and came back with my bowls, then we went back to her place. When she put the bowls down on the kitchen floor I was so happy.

On the walk after that I was smiling so much my face hurt.

She travelled a lot, but took me with her! AND the minibus we went in was exactly like the one I used to love! HEAVEN! I didn’t mind staying in strange motels and hotels, because I was always with her. I think the phrase she used was “smuggled in.” She was careful to sweep up all my fur each time. I shed a lot of fur.

She’d also play nature programmes for me. Especially dog ones. Sometimes she’d play them on the computer and laugh when I’d leave the images on the laptop to bark at the TV. Seriously? I was telling her I knew where it should be shown!

We had a favourite game. We’d be in the car, and I’d be lying down (passenger seat, no matter who else might be in the car), and she’d tell me there was a dog around! I’d leap up and try to find it. When I’d see it - often with help from her - I’d bark my head off. We loved that game!

I knew I had cancer. I told her when she took me in. It was very small then, and I had three beautiful years with her. I loved her more than any words can ever say.

I’d always known, deep inside me, that this was what life should be, and thanks to her, now it was. I blossomed. My face changed shape! I lost all the tension around my muzzle. My football skills grew legendary. I learnt to sing! She said it was the husky in me. I say it was because I wanted some of her particularly delicious smelling food.

At first I was hesitant to trust her completely, but towards the end I knew she loved me truly and deeply. I’d never have allowed someone to press my belly to help me wee, but I knew she wouldn’t hurt me on purpose. She did a few times, but I knew it was accidental and I knew why she was doing it. I thanked her every time.

As the cancer grew she started feeding me by hand. I loved that. She did too. This time was so precious for both of us. I know I could have eaten many meals from the bowl, but there was no turning back once I’d tasted the first class service. We laughed at, and with, each other as she fed me each tender piece.

When it was time for me to go, she carried me up the road to the Big Sleep. She had to keep putting me down as it was long way. I was a bit wobbly and couldn’t walk. I knew the end was here. But that wasn’t the important thing: I was seen. I was loved! I loved! We had achieved what I’d thought was the impossible dream. And it had become truth. I never knew much about the poet Keats, but he was right: truth is beauty, and beauty, truth.

I know how much she misses me. But I’ll be back. With her. Somehow.

unnamed+(1).jpg

A Day Out

Written by Jean Roberts 

451637331.jpg

So, there I was, at the funeral, well when I say funeral, I actually mean cremation. Now, I’d never been to a cremation before, therefore I’d never been to a crematorium and, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’d been to quite a few funerals over recent years; I’d got to that stage in life when, unfortunately, the parents of friends were leaving this mortal coil, and at least once a year I was attending a funeral.  I think there’s a "seven ages of man" type of thing going on throughout our lives: we start off going to the weddings of friends, then the Christenings of their babies, then there’s the funerals of friends parents  (where I am now) and our own parents, and then the funerals of friends. (There are exceptions to this of course, like if someone dies young for example). Anyway, I digress. As I said, I’d never been to a cremation before, and although I knew roughly where the crematorium was, I didn’t want to get lost and arrive late.  I had this nightmare vision of crashing through huge oak doors that squeaked just as a heartfelt eulogy was being delivered. So I decided to set off a little earlier than I normally would to travel the twenty-five miles; just in-case there was a problem with traffic.

I arrived at the crematorium a good half an hour before the service was due to begin. The car park was empty, and apart from two young women, dressed all in black, who were standing around the side of the building having a smoke, and I assumed they worked there, doing what I couldn’t imagine. Well, the place looked deserted, and it crossed my mind that I was in the wrong place (irrational panic mode about to kick in). Just then, one of the large doors at the front of the grey brick building opened, a young man wearing a dark suit stepped outside, looked around, and then went back inside the building. So knowing there was someone there, I went inside.  The room wasn’t how I’d imagined it somehow, although I’m not really sure what I did expect.

It was a long rectangle shape, with a low ceiling, two of the walls covered in a dark brown wood veneer, and a large window along another wall, which overlooked a covered car port type of thing at the front of the building. Along three walls there was a bank of blue chairs, and there was one small side-table in between a couple of the chairs. It was all bit stark really, but this was only a waiting room and not the room where the service was to take place. There was no music, nothing on the walls, no flowers. Nothing. Oh except for some leaflets about who to contact when someone dies, which seemed a bit redundant really, considering where we were. Now, in a church or chapel funeral there is no "waiting room"; the congregation arrive usually well before the deceased and their family, and sit in the pews in the church (or chapel) where the service is to take place. So I sat there for what seemed like an age. Eventually (probably only about five minutes really), some people arrived who I recognized and they politely said ‘Hello’ as they walked past.  Of course you could see from their expressions that they had no idea who I was, but I said ‘Hello’ back to them anyway. Then more people arrived, and they all seemed to know each other and did the old air kiss to the cheek (the ladies) or a sturdy handshake (the men). Every now and then I’d catch someone looking sideways at me and gently nudging their neighbour, and whispering out of the corner of their mouths:

 ‘Who’s that then?’

‘I don’t know.’ was probably the reply.

Well, the funeral party (is that the right word? Doesn’t sound right somehow, having the word "party" in the same sentence as "funeral") finally arrived, and everybody stood up to greet them. (Greet?  Again, not sure about that being the right word), but anyway, once everyone had said their ‘hellos’ the family were ushered into the main room where the service was to be held. As I stood waiting for everyone else to filter through, I realised how sombre and slightly claustrophobic the reception room was, although it was not a small space. I don’t think the dark veneer walls helped, and the fact that there were no flowers nor anything on the walls just made the place feel… well, not very comforting I suppose. I appreciate it must be difficult to strike the right balance but I think it would have made Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen weep. And, up until now I’d had a preference for cremation over burial, but now, looking at this room, the thought of my nearest and dearest waiting in here, depressed me, it really did. Yes, I know I won’t technically be present, but it’s just the thought of it.

But, I deviate slightly from the events of the day. Now, where was I? Oh, yes…waiting to go into the room for the service. Well, as I said, I waited until I was the last person to go in, and shuffled in behind a lady wearing a very nice black wool jacket, well cut, and you could see it was not off the sale rack in BHS; but the colour of the knee length skirt she wore with it was an assault on the eyes. In all my years, I do not think I have ever seen a pink so pink. Neon. I wouldn’t be surprised if it could be seen from the moon. Once I’d got over the shock, and my eyes could focus again, I followed her along into the row of chairs at the rear of the room, which were all that was left. Providence really, as the individual chairs were those sort of square, padded affairs they use in conferences, and I’m sure a lot more comfy than the wooden pews everyone else was sat on.

Music heralded our entrance, well, I use the term loosely; a CD of Pan-Pipe music, playing, if I remember correctly, Love is all Around, which bore no relation to the Wet, Wet, Wet version, nor come to the think about it, to the original version by The Troggs. It certainly wouldn’t be my choice of music to be sent off with, but each to their own, as they say.

As the congregation shuffled to their seat and settled down, there was the usual mass hushed mumblings of conversation, the music suddenly stopped (let us be thankful for small mercies), and a female vicar in her early forties was stood facing us, behind a lectern at the front the room. All at once there was an audible hush, and we were instructed to stand for the first hymn, in this case, Abide with Me. Organ music began to fill the room as we all started to rise to our feet. I noticed that just to my right, there was an alcove which housed the organ, and sitting at the organ was an elderly, round, jolly looking gentleman, looking very smart in a dark grey suit, and a full head of thick white hair. He really did look as though he was enjoying himself, his fingers ran along the keyboard like a demented spider, and I half expected him to start playing Oh, I do like to be Beside the Seaside, (it’s a song I always associate with organ music. Sorry.) Instead there were more mumblings as people began to sit down again. Someone came scuttling over to the organist and whispered something to him. It took him a few seconds to stop playing, at that point his jolly little face took on the expression of a child who had just been told that there is no tooth fairy.  At the same time I could see that in the front row (where the family were sitting) the vicar and a young man in a suit (who it turns out, was a member of staff at the crematorium) my friend and a couple of other members of the family of the dearly departed, were talking to another woman who was sitting in the front row. I couldn’t really see her very well, but she was definitely causing a bit of a problem, and there were a lot of agitated gestures going on. Well, after a few minutes, the agitated party sat down, with a lot of shaking of heads, the vicar went back behind her lectern, and addressed the congregation:

‘Apologies for the slight delay, ladies and gentlemen. We will now commence with the service. Please be standing for Abide with Me’.

She gave a little nod in the direction of jolly little man at the organ and we stood up. The organ music began, and Abide with Me was sung with varying degrees of gusto, and miming. As we were in the process of sitting down, I could see over the heads of those in front of me, and I could see the woman who was causing all the fuss a little earlier. Well, when I say I could see her, I could see the back of her head, sort of. I saw her black coated shoulders, and a black fedora type hat atop dark shoulder length hair. I could just about make out that she was wearing glasses. I didn’t recognise her though, and I knew most of the family, if only by sight.

Well, the rest of the service was straightforward enough. There were a couple of prayers, another hymn, a rousing rendition of Calon Lan this time. I love that hymn, as do a lot people I think. I’m sure it’s been played at every funeral I’ve been to. Then there were some eulogies from family and close friends. The vicar gave a short, touching eulogy, and there was some gentle organ music, and everyone stood up. Slowly, some members of the family who were sitting on the front pews started to move towards a door in the far bottom corner of the room.

As we all stood there waiting our turn to move forward to the exit, I noticed that the woman in black, moving slowly towards the coffin, which was on a raised platform affair just to the right of the lectern. Like I said, I’ve never been to a crematorium before, and all I did know of them was from the telly, and where the coffin disappears through a curtain in the wall. Well, there was no curtain, and no hole in the wall. As I wondered where the coffin would go, the woman in black walked up to the coffin, and quite unexpectedly, threw herself across it, crying ‘Daddy, I love you!’ and squashing the beautiful flowers on the lid in the process. Well, you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone turned to look at her. Somebody near the front fainted. And to top it all off, the coffin, and the woman in black, began to disappear into the tomb like platform. Suddenly, all that was visible of the woman were her legs, and shoes, flaying madly and pointing skywards. Wails of despair could be heard, but I’m not sure if they were from her or some other poor person for whom it all become too much, and as some people hurried out of the room, three suited men ran over to the coffin in an attempt to retrieve the woman from the chasm. But as they were leaning into the blackness, the coffin and its passengers began to rise to the surface again. At this point, the men managed to disentangle the woman from the flowers, and hauled her off through some other doorway, and she was not seen, or heard again. Not by us anyway. The whole thing was like a scene out of a Carry On film.

The rest of the proceedings went, I assume, as planned. The coffin descended into the bowels of the building, the congregation filed out of the room in a civilised manner, and shook hands and said the polite sounds of ‘lovely service’ or ‘she’ll be missed’. Nobody, as far as I know, mentioned the woman in black, nor the fiasco that had just taken place. I was the last person to leave the room and, do you know, the jolly little man was still playing the organ. He hadn’t stopped, while the mayhem was taking place, he continued to play something soft and soothing. Ironic really. Of course, he couldn’t see the coffin from his little alcove, and I suppose, amongst all the chaos, no one thought to ask him to stop playing.

I offered my condolences along the line of family, and the usual ‘Haven’t seen you in years, you’re looking well’ and by the time I reached my friend, most of the congregation had dispersed, and were on their way to their cars, and heading for a local hotel where a tea of light refreshments was being served. We hugged, and I simply asked if she was ‘okay’. We’ve known each other so long that’s all that was needed. And as we walked back towards my car, she apologised for the spectacle, and said that she, nor any of the family knew this woman. Unfortunately, she’d managed to sneak in to the service through the door by which everyone had left, and had just sat down. In the haze of grief surrounding the family, no one had really noticed her until everyone was seated, and when asked who she was, and that she would have to leave, she began to cry. Under the circumstances, and to save more upset, they decided to leave her be, not expecting for a moment that she would do what she did.

I didn’t go along for the light refreshments. As I said, I didn’t really know anyone there, and the only topic of conversation I had in common with anyone was the deceased, and the events of the fiasco of the woman in black, and that subject was probably better left alone.

I suppose you’re wondering if we ever found out who she was, the woman in black. Well, we did, sort of. My friend and I met up for lunch a couple of weeks after the funeral, and she’d had a ‘phone call from the undertaker, apologising for what had happened. Apparently, our woman in blacks name is Grace Edwards, and she resides in a nursing home about a mile from the crematorium. Well, poor Grace hasn’t got all her marbles any more, and gets a bit confused (to say the least). Although, she has enough of her marbles left to escape from the home on a regular basis, and she usually turns up at a funeral, but is usually very well behaved. Apparently. Breaks the monotony of day time telly and basket weaving, I expect. She also enjoys meeting new people, and really enjoys the ‘light refreshments’ that follow. She gets a ride in a motor car, and someone usually offers to give her a lift home. Grace was definitely having an off day that day, as it was my friends mother who had passed away. Apparently, Grace is under stricter supervision these days. 

I learned a couple of things that day though, one being that not all crematoriums have a hole in the wall and a little curtain, and the other thing being that I’m not sure about how I want to go now. My final ‘hoorah’. I certainly don’t want to be buried (they might get it wrong. The Victorians had the right idea with that bell!) and, I certainly wasn’t too keen on that waiting room at the crem. So I think when it comes to my internment, I think I’ll go out Viking style…on a boat in a blaze of glory, to a chorus of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, with everyone whistling... badly.