Every night I walked to our closest phone box and dialled 809 409, Janet’s phone number. I hopped up on the bench where the phone books were kept and steadied my feet against the opposite glass wall. I was quite comfortable sitting there and could easily talk for three quarters of an hour as long as adults didn’t come along trying to make a call. I ignored them for as long as possible and relied on my dog Scooby to dissuade them from banging on the door. I can’t for the life of me remember the things we talked about, but I suspect we told each other the minutiae of our day and made plans for the Elvis movie we would watch on the weekend. All this was mine to enjoy for 5c.
We alternated the weekends we spent at each other’s places. Janet would come to my place, and I would spend the next at hers. We had to take two trains and walk a good 15 minutes to half an hour at each end to arrive at our destination, but we didn’t mind.
I loved going to Janet’s place. She had a brother who ignored us most of the time, but her parents accepted me into their house and always made me feel welcome. Her mum, Gillian, was the kindest woman I knew and spending time out at Blackburn made me feel part of a real family who did things together. Janet and I walked her dog, a corgi called Melody on Saturday afternoon while her brother Ian, walked his beagle ahead of us.
Janet’s place was ordered and predictable. It felt like a real home. There was a rhythm to the family’s weekends and for the most part, the house was relatively calm and everyone got on. Their lives ran like clockwork. Saturday lunch was a tin of tomato soup with toast and on Sunday there was roast chicken. Janet’s parents were always there in the background, absorbed in their adult world but it felt like a real family. Their house was light filled and comfortable. Janet’s room which would have once been a sunroom, had large windows facing the backyard where majestic Elms provided shade. I loved waking up on the camp stretcher looking out into their lush garden.
My weekends were generally stress free in those early years with Janet, but my weekdays were rather drab and unexciting. I was generally home by six when my father arrived home, he cooked, we ate and then headed to the pub. After that we watched a cop show and went to bed. This was repeated every weekday. Life at Janet’s was quite different. Their house seemed abuzz with her dad listening to the Goons on the radio every Saturday, her brother Ian playing the Beatles behind closed doors and her mum out in the kitchen humming while she did some household chores. Even the dogs were allowed inside. The contrast couldn’t have been greater to my place, where my dad listened to easy listening radio turned down low while he fixed handbags in the dining room that had become his workshop. Meanwhile I played Elvis on my record player at the other end of the house.
On weekends at Janet’s, we went for drives in the Dandenongs where we often saw lyre birds put on a display in the temperate rainforests. Then there were the tall mountain ash forests that were so very different to the woodlands of my childhood. No matter how peculiar these trees were, I had the same feeling of protection when I was amongst these stately, smooth-bark trees.
Janet’s family actually went out together. I remember going to Belgrave and taking the Puffing Billy to Emerald Lakeside station. The train snaked its way across wooden bridges as we sat in open air carriages that made me feel part of landscape. We walked to the perfect picnic spot, sat under a tree and enjoyed each other’s company. Eucalypts with their pungent citrus like smell permeated the air and I took slow deep breaths to saviour the moment. The sprawling Australian bush with its thick, untidy undergrowth was beginning to grow on me and feel like home.
When Janet came to my place in Elwood, we spent a lot of time listening to records in my bedroom and in the afternoon or evening we would watch a rerun of an Elvis movie. It didn’t worry us whether that was Clambake, Speedway or Viva Las Vegas. We were delighted when Elvis sang a romantic song at some implausible moment to yet another beautiful woman on the screen. I just wished it was me in his arms. We madly wrote down everything that happened in each scene and then dissected the movie scene by scene, talked about the girls he was kissing, the songs he sang and how he moved when he danced. Elvis was an endlessly fascinating subject for both of us.
One Thursday night, our television broke down just before it was Janet’s turn to stay over. As luck would have it, Double Trouble was going to be on TV that Saturday night. Neither of us had seen this Elvis movie as it wasn’t one that graced the screen too often. Looking back, it is not hard to see why. Not even Elvis could make Old MacDonald Had a Farm sound anything but trite. Regardless, we were keen to see it.
‘I know it’s Janet’s turn to come over, Papa, but we really don’t want to miss this Elvis movie. Can I go to her place, please?’ I begged.
‘Can’t the two of you do something else for once?’ he asked, slightly annoyed at my obsession.
‘You know I wouldn’t miss an Elvis movie for anything!’ I said, pleading now.
The next day, my father came home a little later than usual. He was carrying a 13 inch black and white TV under his arm. The screen was much smaller than our last TV but this one was less bulky and more modern. After giving my father a huge hug, I raced out to the phone box to tell Janet the good news.
While I was delighted that my father had solved our problem, I also recognised that this was quite reckless behaviour. It was the kind of behaviour that would have driven my mother crazy when they were still together. I knew we were a couple of weeks behind on our rent at the time and no doubt other bills were piling up. I wondered what he had hocked to buy that TV. Without noticing, I was beginning to take on the financial concerns just like my mother had done while she was with him.
5 thoughts on “Janet”
That was such a lovely piece. I was once allowed to go to Janet’s with you during the summer holidays. I think it was on Elvis’s birthday. We watched a special screening of a Presley film by his local fan club. For some reason I thought they had two corgies. There is no way I could forget how lovely the Barralets were.
I also recall your Dad’s generosity.
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I had completely forgotten about this event until you reminded me. Good Lord, we were such dags!
What a great friendship…and your father was so caring of you…so hard for him..a moving description viki ..
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Janet is a gem! I can’t believe we still manage to keep up with each other after all these years.
This captures the nuances of youth as well as the love for a daughter.
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