plainly jane

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

ONE of the more an­noy­ing things about get­ting older is that one goes to far more funerals than wed­dings. I’ve been to far too many lately. Three women I knew died re­cently and, to add to the tragedy, they took their own lives. Then the Angli­can pri­est who buried them died at the much too young age of 65. I used to speak to him when I walked past his fam­ily house in the morn­ing to catch the train into town. He was usu­ally weed­ing the gar­den or play­ing with his dog, a black dog that looks quite lost these days.

His name was Boak Jobbins — the man, not the dog. He was given this name by his mother (not sur­pris­ingly), who gave birth to him in Amer­ica. She was a bit of a hip­pie in the days be­fore they were called that. Any­way, she called her son af­ter a woman who sang at a club she at­tended quite of­ten. ‘‘ Can you imag­ine how dif­fi­cult it was to come back to Aus­tralia and at­tend the lo­cal school, which was the or­di­nary old Rand­wick High?’’ he told me. I taught at Rand­wick Girls High at one point so I knew what he meant.

But he got through it, end­ing up for a time as dean of Sydney. And now sadly gone.

Of course most of us don’t know when we will be called; we can hope, how­ever, it’s not to hell. I went back to South Africa when my mother died. My sis­ter and I sat in the front pew; she was — is — an athe­ist. When the nuns who had taught us at the con­vent marched briskly down the aisle and sat be­hind us, my sis­ter tensed up. She had no time for the sis­ters be­cause she said they had ru­ined any fun she could have had at school. Fun­nily enough, when they all were seated, the cross on the cas­ket crashed to the ground and we shook in our boots. It was not usual for nuns to go to old pupils’ funerals, but my mother was dif­fer­ent be­cause she taught the girls tennis at the school, so the nuns helped send her up­wards, telling their beads to­gether.

Chil­dren tend to get spooked out if they are taken to church to ob­serve some­one’s last rites. A cou­ple of years ago my grand­sons went to their grand­fa­ther’s good­bye. The older boy asked his mother what was in ‘‘ that box’’. She replied, ‘‘ That’s your grandad.’’ They called him Potsy. The boy went green and his eyes rounded, but his younger brother was not af­fected at all. He had the plan all worked out. ‘‘ Potsy climbed all the way to heaven and went to see God; he found him and told him the news. ‘ OK,’ said God, ‘ climb back to earth. I’ll come down and I will see you in church.’ ’’ Out of the mouths of babes.

Think­ing about such things isn’t ter­ri­bly good for me. I get far too many panic at­tacks. Just the other day I didn’t know where I was and thought I would never get back home. I was on my way to the bank and had no idea which street to take. When I fi­nally got there I couldn’t speak prop­erly. For­tu­nately my hus- band had a seventh sense and called me on the mo­bile phone to ask if I was OK, or just lost again. I was more than happy to hear his voice.

He’s quite a good hus­band, even if I was warned against mar­ry­ing him. A male friend of my now hus­band phoned me from his house just be­fore we were to wed and said to me, ‘‘ Don’t do it, for heav­ens sake, don’t do it; don’t tie the knot.’’ I asked why not, my voice shak­ing, think­ing per­haps he al­ready had a wife whom he had kept well hid­den.

‘‘ No!’’ he shouted. It wasn’t that. He told a story of hav­ing brought his own bot­tle of wine to a get-to­gether and dis­cov­ered that not only did my in­tended not drink wine, there was no bot­tle opener. This was be­fore screw-tops, of course. I took my chance and have never re­gret­ted it, al­though he still is out­ra­geous if I have a sec­ond glass of the grape. I ig­nore his bite and he soon gets over it.

An­other thing about get­ting frail and for­get­ful and old is that most peo­ple make noises at night. You can’t sleep on your back or you snore your head off like Old King Cole, the merry old soul. Men are in­vet­er­ate snor­ers — when my chil­dren were young they liked to climb into bed with their fa­ther be­cause they felt safe with all the noise he was mak­ing. But then he was young — or younger, any­how.

Sleep ap­noea is noth­ing to laugh at but you don’t like to wake the suf­ferer in the goblin hours in case he has a heart at­tack or throt­tles you. So I lis­ten pa­tiently to the blend of sniff and roar and find it quite good com­pany. And I have de­cided to write a book, a Christ­mas stock­ing filler of sorts. The Bed­side Book of Snor­ing should go down like a pipedream.

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