Note: This is a considerably longer blog than usual. It is not really about Autism or mental illness or advocacy. It is a story about a friend, alcohol and how I (eventually) learned to value friendship even if the friend is embarrassing!
I lived in what policy makers refer to as ‘social housing’ some years ago. I had been unemployed (or, in social policy-speak ‘outside the labour force’) since 2001. That being said, I did not choose unemployment, rather I had it unceremoniously thrust upon me after anxiety from my dish-washing job had caused some kind of psychotic episode and a week’s stay in hospital. I wanted more than anything to work but didn’t feel up to it due to worries that the stress of any job would lead to my emotional downfall.
The flat I lived in was small – I don’t know how many square metres it was, but the only access to the bathroom was through my bedroom and the front door opened directly into the lounge room. When I moved in, I was terrified of my neighbours, for the flat was in a block of over 100 social housing properties. I was truly a middle class child let loose in the ghetto. When I moved in the gas stove didn’t work and I had to take three days leave from university to wait for the maintenance man to come and fix it. The first day I moved in I couldn’t find the jack to connect my landline (it was in fact, for some inexplicable reason, located in my bedroom). I called the telephone company from the pay phone in the housing complex, with furtive looks over my shoulder to see if any irate tenants wanted to use the phone.
The second day of my tenancy, some young men who looked like drug addicts (and in fact were, as I later discovered), were kicking a football around. It kept banging into my window and upset me somewhat, but I was terrified to ask them to stop. The third day of my stay, in the evening, just after dark, a young woman knocked on my door and introduced herself and Kaylee. It was the beginning of the end, for while I had started out terrified and wary of my neighbours, I soon become one of the crew, part of the social housing tenants unofficial club, with all the alienation and hopelessness that goes with it.
After a month or so I met Mel, a fifty-something lifetime alcoholic; the mother figure in our gang of desperates and derelicts. I met Mel at Kaylee’s flat (she lived next door). We were all trying to work out how to hook up Kaylee’s new DVD player. Mel was drunk on the cheapest cask wine available. Kaylee did not approve as she had recently converted to Islam – a legacy of her love affairs with most of the single (and some of the married) Somali migrants in the area. Mel had poured some wino wine into a cordial bottle in a vain attempt to trick Kaylee that she was drinking something Halal and not Haram. Mel was loud (and not just because of the alcohol) and had strong opinions as to how to make the DVD player work. Eventually after much frustration the machine did its job and we watched ‘Men in Black Two’. During the movie, I got to know Mel. She seemed very excited that I was enrolled in a course ay Monash University. You could see her frowning with concentration, trying, in her inebriated state to be polite and urbane. I ended up at Mel’s house that night: the first of innumerable visits to her own piece of underclass heaven. Mel had lived in her flat for twelve years, during which her two children had grown and moved out. She had a three bedroom flat for just her and her incoherent, deaf Maori boyfriend. She was very house-proud. While my flat was a breeding ground for cigarette filters, five cent coins and papers, Mel’s flat was immaculate (if you ignored the bong stains on the carpet – a legacy from her eldest daughter who shunned the demon drink but partook with gusto of the evil weed). Mel got steadily drunker as the night went on and poured herself and me copious amounts of white wine from a five litre cask. At around midnight she started crying and told me that she had seen the doctor recently and he had given her two years more to live. Then as the night wore on, she froze, stiff. Kaylee advised me that she had ‘alcohol fits,’ but from the outset I suspected she in fact had ‘attention-seeking fits’ as she responded to my voice and moved her hand closer to me when I started to pull away. In all the years I came to know Mel, her fits only seemed to happen when she was feeling down and in need of some love.
A few weeks later it was new year’s eve. I had no plans – I never trust new year’s eve as it usually promises so much and delivers so little. Mel knocked on my door, tinnies of VB in hand, and asked if I’d like to spend the evening with her. We then went to Rob’s house (Rob being an undiagnosed Asperger’s ex-criminal who scoured the hard rubbish collection for stereos and TVs which he fixed and up either gave to neighbours or took to Cash Converters, depending on how charitable he was feeling). Rob was already half drunk and had his country music on as loud as it would go. He insisted on dancing with me – he always did the same dance steps, so it was fairly easy to follow his lead. Mel and Rob had known each other for some time and got down to the business of complaining about the neighbours. The block of flats it turned out was an incestuous place – apparently Rob had hooked up with the daughter of the older woman downstairs who complained about, well, everything. Mel’s boyfriend, Al, had once been a neighbour too – although they had met at the pub.
I drank more beers than I usually would – would I become an alcoholic while I lived here I wondered to myself before cracking open another can. At midnight we were still in Rob’s flat, admiring a coffee table he had painted with swirls and dots. He had also painted his fridge all over with green leaf-like shapes – it was quite impressive. After we’d bidden each other a rather slurred ‘happy new year‘ and Rob had tried to kiss me (not Mel I noticed), Mel and I walked over to her flat. She insisted we feed ‘the puppies‘ and collected lamb bones to give to the two ferocious dogs that guarded the derelict factory across the road from the block of flats. I had been surprised by these beasts barking at my the first week I moved in – they were both huge Rottweilers and looked more than capable of ripping your face off. But Mel was apparently on first name terms with them (‘Roxy and Bruce’) and fed them scraps whenever she could. She insisted that they were friendly and said I should give them a pat. Trembling (and a little too drunk to disagree) I patted the female dog, Roxy, who amazingly did not rip my hand off! Mel stayed at the factory gate, talking to the fierce dogs as if they were little puppies, while I longed to go back to my flat and bed. I didn’t get home until well after 3am, and spent the early morning in Mel’s flat, listening to the best of the ‘70s mix. I hate 1970s music and many of the songs I didn’t know, but Mel sang along and urged me to do so too. I walked across to my flat and went to bed, drawing a disparaging look from my long-suffering tabby cat, Tilly.
Mel soon started inviting me over for dinner – she loved to cook. It turned out that Mel’s story was quite a sad one. she had been adopted as a baby into a ‘good’ family. Her mother had been a teacher at the local school and Mel had grown up with positive role models in the form of her parents and their friends. When she was quite young she was raped and fell pregnant. She wanted to keep the baby and gave birth to a little boy. Sadly the baby died soon after he was born. Mel told me he would have been the same age as me. Showing some impressive resilience, Mel got herself a job. She met her husband as well. They owned a country pub together – him serving drinks and she cooking counter lunches for the hungry patrons. Her husband turned out to be a thug and beat her repeatedly. One time he tried to kill her, but she escaped and called the police. Mel was never the same again and took to drinking to dull the pain of all the tragic events she had lived through. The pub was sold, leaving Mel with a large sum of money. This was spent at the pub or on the pokies. Eventually Mel moved into the Office of Housing property and became part of the furniture. She had a sister who was a senior public servant, who found it hard not to judge Mel’s lifestyle. Her mother was elderly and kind and helped out if Mel was in trouble financially. Mel showed signs of her previous prosperity. She respected people like me who went to university. If ever she met any of my uni friends she would be on her best behaviour. But she didn’t entirely remember how to behave and often said something inappropriate. To her credit she was not at all prejudiced against people from other countries, refugees, Indigenous people or gay people. Se took people on their merits and did not judge. She would tell any of her visitors that I was gay, regardless of whether I wanted them to know that piece of information, but there was no malice in it – she simply didn’t think that anybody would be judgmental or bigoted.
Mel loved cooking and would often make a roast and invited me over for lunch or dinner. There would always be the ubiquitous cans of VB beer or cheap white wine. It amazed me how Mel could cook so proficiently when she had been drinking beer since getting up at 9am. (One time she put some potatoes in the oven and fell asleep. The resultant fire alarm and smoke emanating from the windows caused the attendance of all the emergency services – police fire and ambulance. Poor Mel awoke to find a burly fireman looking at her with concern and two police officers standing around.) I was often hungry – a result of my poverty and studies, for I prioritised buying art supplies for my course over buying decent food. Meals at Mel’s house were a lifesaver. She also had a constant stream of leftovers which she would feed to the stray cats that lived under the flats, but often I would go over and she would offer me the leftovers. She was a wonderful cook and the food was always delicious, although I was grateful for my strong constitution as hygiene wasn’t a particular concern for Mel and chicken would come out of the freezer, thaw and go back in on several occasions before being cooked. Amazingly, Mel never got sick and neither did I.
My first outing with Mel happened shortly after I met her. I had recently purchased a DVD player which wasn’t working very well – the picture kept flashing and skipping on certain discs and I was fairly sure that this wasn’t supposed to happen. Mel offered to come into town with me to take it back, seeing that it was under warranty. We caught the bus and soon we were in the centre of town. The electrical goods shop where I had bought the DVD player from was some way away from the bus stop and we needed to catch a tram. However, on the way to the tram stop was Mel’s favourite drinking hole – The Post Hotel: a dingy pub with little charm and a regular clientele of alcoholics, all of whom Mel was on first name terms with. As we passed the pub, Mel couldn’t take her eyes away from it. She slowed down and looked in . ‘Who’s in today?’ she asked me (at this stage in our friendship I didn’t know any of the regulars at the pub, but I soon would). Mel suggested going in for a beer. ‘It’s 10am!’ I said and Mel couldn’t see why that was a problem. When we finally got to the electrical goods shop I explained to the clerk that my new DVD player didn’t work. To which Mel said, quite loudly ‘You shouldn’t have put it on the floor then should you!’ At that moment, I completely understood the expression ‘I can’t take you anywhere’, and wished I had left Mel at the pub and done my errand on my own. Thankfully the clerk didn’t think my placement of the DVD player had caused the issue and took it in to be fixed.
Mel was friends with every alcoholic and petty criminal in town. The odd thing was that they all had strange and oddly appropriate nicknames: Santa Claus; the Lizard; the Old Fart; Black Bob; and many more. They all met each other at the Post Hotel and jovially disliked each other. Their conversations centred around who had died recently, who had come into money, who had been in hospital, and the fact that the disability pension didn’t pay enough, all interspersed liberally with swears and insults. The other drinkers seemed to dislike Mel immensely but she still went into the pub at every available opportunity. On Centrelink payday, Mel would catch the bus into town, have a beer at the Post, catch the tram to the supermarket, buy food and then go back to the pub. She would usually play the poker machines, and generally she lost a fair amount of money, although occasionally she won. I soon became a part of the payday ritual. I earned less money than Mel as she still had a payment every fortnight from her dead husband’s superannuation. Mel always despaired over the small amount of money I spent on food. We would go back to the pub and have a drink with all the other alcoholics, trading insults and drinking up their pay. At first I found it hard to drink a beer in the mid-morning. However after a few months I could down a couple of cold ones at 10am and go back to Mel’s house and drink some more. I was an accepted part of Mel’s circle of sad friends. The bus drivers and bar staff got to know me: I was part of the drinking scenery.
About a year after I met Mel, her mother developed a terminal brain tumour. I learned from this that Mel had a very philosophical attitude towards death, for she must have seen a fair number of her drinking friends pass to that place where there are no Centrelink payments where every poker machine is a winner and the beer is free. About two months after she was diagnosed, Mel’s mother passed away and Mel and her respectable sister inherited $80,000 each. Presumably Mel’s sister put the money on her mortgage or went on a holiday. Mel could quite easily have put a sizeable deposit on a flat for herself, but that was not something within her sphere of experience. Instead she spent a year going out for dinner, playing the pokies, drinking and buying appliances (a new fridge, a big TV and TV stand and a new display cabinet for her ‘heirlooms’ – a number of crystal tumblers and unpleasant china). Mel was not particularly generous with her windfall but within a couple of years it was all gone. My middle class sensibilities were horrified, for if I inherited that much money I would have surely put a deposit on an apartment and found a job. Mel’s attitude to money and how one obtained it was quite telling. She thought that the only ways to have any income other than Centrelink payments was to either inherit it, win it on there Lotto or have an accident and sue a company for negligence. There was no concept that woking was the optimal way to ensure a steady income.
These attitudes were a little incongruous given that Mel’s boyfriend Al worked full time as a carpenter and earned quite a good income. Al brought home around $1000 per week. As far as I could tell, with this sum he paid for beer, meals out, put a little in for bills and played the pokies. When I started work in the public service, Al and I earned roughly the same amount of money, but I saved a large amount of it towards a house. At this point I learned something about class. For Mel and Al had a similar income to me, as a public servant, but what they chose to spend it on and their attitudes towards it betrayed their class attitudes (and mine too I suppose). I learned that you can have money and be socially excluded.
After knowing Mel and Rod for around eighteen months I started to notice that I had a far higher tolerance for alcohol than I used to. I enjoyed being drunk and often found myself staying up until all hours drinking and waking the next morning hungover to go to university cranky and tired. I was completely accepted by the drinkers, both at the pub and in the apartment complex. Mel saw me as ‘one of the crew’ and I valued her friendship (with a few caveats). Part of me worried that I was an alcoholic – I even took myself to substance abuse counselling at a nearby rehabilitation centre, feeling out of place amongst the addicts and criminals. who made up the rest of the clientele. I didn’t want to drink too much, but alcohol was everywhere in my life. I would go to Mel’s flat or Rod’s with a six pack of beer, determined not to drink more than that but then we would end up at the pub or Mel would offer me more beer from her stocks – ever the generous drinker.
I think Mel saw me as a surrogate daughter – I soon found myself spending a lot of time in her flat and meeting everybody in her life. This did have its drawbacks, such as when she went to threaten a neighbour and asked me to ‘back her up’. She was most annoyed when I didn’t but I was never much for being a stand-over and didn’t see myself in that way – I was a n Honours student at Monash, not a sordid alcoholic with violent tendencies. I was actually, with the benefit of hindsight, balanced between being an underclass alcoholic and a successful graduate – it could have gone one way or the other. However, I did notice that I had to put on an ocker, Jeanette-from-down-the-pub voice and my middle class polished English was what I naturally spoke. Mel didn’t know this though and thought me just like her.
During my friendship with Mel, I wrote a book. It was an autobiography and the first publisher I sent it to agreed to publish it. Secretly, I knew this could well be my ticket out of poverty and underclass society, but I didn’t mention it to Mel. She was very proud of me and quite excited, but I was finding myself caught between two worlds – a phenomenon which had happened a lot when I was younger. I was to have a book launch and Mel and some of the other neighbours would have wanted to come, I knew it, so I simply didn’t tell them about it. This was far preferable to the time I had an art exhibition opening, attended not only by my lecturers and fellow students, but by a small number of my neighbours. It seemed wrong – they were enjoying the free drinks more than the art, then felt out of place and left, but I was mightily ashamed of having people like that amongst my friends, at least in public.
Before long, I had met all Mel’s family and friends. She had two daughters – Jenny and Lisa. Jenny was married to a Muslim man from Lebanon and had two young children. Her son loved me for some reason – maybe because I thought smacking children was not an appropriate punishment and Jenny and her husband quite obviously didn’t agree. Jenny and her husband owned a home in Broadmeadows, in outer Melbourne. The mortgage payments were not much more than rental would have been but Jenny’s husband had a strange attitude to work – he often lay in bed all day and didn’t go. The only reason he had a job at all was that h worked for his cousin, but the mortgage payments were not made regularly. I never found out whether the bank foreclosed, but Mel was a guarantor for the loan – at the time I thought it foolish for somebody with no assets to guarantee a loan.
Jenny’s son, Ahmed was five the last time I saw him. From an early age he;d demonstrated fair evidence that he may grow up to be gay. He loved pink sparkly things, wore his sister’s clothes when he could fit into them and was a beautiful sensitive soul. I wondered how his conservative father would take the news if he did bring a Kevin or an Ibrahim home, instead or a Jane or a Fatima. I had a lot of time for Ahmed – he was a lovely natured boy and it made me sad that his parents seemed so overwhelmed by the world and incapable of having time with their children – for they spent very little time playing with the kids and I never once saw them read a book. When Ahmed and his sister were at Mel’s house, all the adults would smoke and drink beer – hardly a suitable environment for young children. I wondered how many other kids in Australia had this kind of upbringing.
But Jenny and her husband’s lack-lustre parenting was nothing compared to Jenny’s sister Lisa’s attitude to her children. Lisa. Lisa and her partner Ray were petty criminals. Ray was constantly drunk and angry. Lisa was constantly stoned and communicated with, well everyone, by yelling. Mel disliked her eldest daughter Lisa and made no secret of it. When I first met her, Lisa had just one daughter, Britni. Britni was eight and was the most lover starved child I had met. I would spend time talking to Britni, letting her play imaginative games where she would be a fairy princess or a famous jockey. This was discouraged by all the other adults who seemed to see Britni as a chore rather than a blessing. Her reading and maths ability was very poor for a child her age, but her parents were incapable of assisting her, being functionally illiterate themselves. After a couple of years, Lisa worried her relationship was at stake (having stabbed Ray wand thrown him through a window), so she decided to get pregnant. Little Billy was premature and severely underweight. As long as I knew them, he never spoke – he was almost three the last time I saw him. he demonstrated all the d=signs of a developmental disability and his parents seemed incapable of dealing with raising a child with disability. I almost cried when I thought of the future these two children would have. At ten, Britni was demonstrating signs of an eating disorder and told her mother she wanted to grow older so that she could play the pokies when she was older. I hoped there would be same intervention to help these kids and longed to escape this stultifying world of poverty in which children were not valued.
While friends with Mel, I completed an Honours then a Masters degree. I wrote a book and was involved in filming for a documentary which later aired on national TV. The documentary was interesting, as the director decided to feature my living arrangements in the movie (much to me dismay and embarrassment). The Director wanted to film me interacting with one of me neighbours and I decided that Mel was the least likely to cause me too much judgement from people I knew watching the film – she could be on her best behaviour when she wanted to. The director turned up at my flat and we walked over the Mel’s house together. Mel offered the director a beer which she declined and we discussed our friendship for the camera. I felt a fraud, given that by this stage I was friendly with Mel more out of convenience and obligation than out of genuine feeling (although this was an interesting point – I was never sure whether I disliked me neighbours or not. I was quite confused about how I saw them. I was more a social chameleon than anything else, so if I was exclusively in the company of my neighbours they would be my friend but if I was with my neighbours plus any ‘outside‘ people, I would be embarrassed. It was not a good state of affairs). The scene in Mel’s house ended up on the cutting room floor – she was mortified and quite angry with me, as if the director’s editing decisions were somehow my fault.
While I was completing my Masters degree – in the final year – I decided to apply for a public service job. It was quite a process whereby I needed to submit an online application, then undertake a timed comprehension test, then have an interview. I didn’t actually expect to be offered a public service job given my lack of professional experience and my ‘interesting‘ past life (which included several criminal convictions). But after the interview and some additional questions relating to my wayward youth, I was accepted. I was delighted, especially as I would be able to live in better accommodation and not have to spend my evenings drinking foul cheap beer with the neighbours. When I got the call, one of the first people I contacted was Mel. She didn’t try to hide her disappointment. Some time ago I had come to the realisation that Mel’s feelings about our friendship and mine were two entirely different things. In Mel’s mind, I was the wayward daughter who had come good. I was going to be ‘famous’, I’d written a book and got an education and now I was going to be ‘rich’. The problem Mel felt about my successful public service application was that I would need to move to Canberra. As far as I was concerned, this was a huge advantage and selling point for me – I could make a clean break from my life in Melbourne, which I had realised was not very edifying and involved too much drinking. I could distance myself from friends I didn’t really like anymore and start afresh where nobody knew me. Mel got very drunk and cried and told me she wouldn’t live without me. She had one of her ‘fits‘ and pleaded with me not to go, but I think she knew that I would be leaving.
I left for Canberra, promising to stay in touch with my neighbours. The only one that I actually staying in regular contact with was Mel. I had some quite mixed feelings about this, but did enjoy her mothering me. I also felt that if I bade Mel farewell and never spoke to her again I would be proving myself to be a bit of a snob. I called Mel every weekend from my new, three-bedroom home which I shared with a strange woman and her cats. On the infrequent occasions that I travelled to Melbourne I would make sure I visited Mel – in fact she would not allow me to go to Melbourne without staying with her, and she wanted me to stay for far longer than I did.
When I visited Mel after three months of middle class living and public service paychecks, her house seemed strangely diminished and foetid. The carpets smelled, the scraps for the cats would get spilled in the hallway and not be cleaned up all day. There was always a posse of mangy cats miaowing at the door for food, and Mel would lift up these pitiful creatures and try to cuddle them, not minding that they usually aimed a swipe at her face with their sharp claws, often. The odd thing about Mel’s house was that I experienced it completely differently now that my circumstances had changed. Because I was apparently ‘rich’, I was expected to buy a carton of beer and shout all the drinks at the pub – and we always stopped by at the pub. The alcoholics who were the only regulars at the Post Hotel seemed even more pitiful now that I no longer moved in such circles, at least, when I was in Canberra.
Mel had a fascination with my family. She wanted to meet my parents, my brother and his children. I was fairly keen for this to never happen, for I was a little ashamed of Mel and didn’t want to be seen in her company any more.
Mel’s attitude to my salary was a bit disconcerting. Mel would parade me to all her drunken friends as ‘my friend Jeanette – she’s a public servant you know: earns heaps.’ This would usually result in me also shouting beers for Mel’s friends, and if I showed any ambivalence to funding the next morning’s hangover of large numbers of people, Mel would dig me in the ribs and say ‘oh, but you’re loaded.’ Mel didn’t seem to understand that I had more expenses now that I was working full-time: I gave to charity; I paid my mortgage; I had to pay full price for health care and dentistry; and I n longer had a concession card, giving me cheap medications and public transport. I resented Mel’s insistence that my money be used to fund her and her friends’ drinking sessions.
Worse still was Christmas, and even Easter, for Mel would expect me to buy expensive gifts for her, Al, both her daughters and their children, even if one of the daughters was supposed to be Muslim. In return, I usually go a $20 Target voucher (and I no longer shopped in Target, and even if I did I was unsure that $20 would be of much use, unless i wanted to buy chocolates). Mel also liked me to be at her house on Christmas morning. She really seemed to think of me as a daughter but as the time went by I realised that I was increasingly reluctant to oblige.
The last Christmas that I saw Mel I spent a couple of days in Melbourne before Christmas day, and of course I was expected to keep Mel company. When I was about to leave to spend Christmas with my actual family, little Ahmed, who was now five didn’t want me to go. He held on to me tight and cried and cried ‘please don;t go Jeanette, please don’t go!’ In the preceding days, Mel had introduced me to a new neighbour, Gary. Gary was a hulk of a man with a grizzled beard. Mel told me he was soon to face court for stabbing somebody. He also gave Mel boxes of ‘discount’ foodstuffs which had ‘fallen off the back of a truck.’ Mel usually had a good sense about criminals and most of her friends were relatively law-abiding, but this man was of a different type entirely. I didn’t feel safe in his company and I didn’t like listening to his conversations about stabbing a friend. He knew he would go to prison and I was amazed he wasn’t’;t there already. I tried to discuss my concerns with Mel but she shrugged it off with a ‘Gary’s all right.‘ So that was that.
I had recently purchased an apartment in Canberra. Mel was very excited. The first day I moved in she called me at midnight. I had been sleeping, after lying awake for some time trying to work out what the various noises were in my new home. I leapt out of bed when the phone rang, wondering if someone had died, but it was just Mel, wanting a chat. I didn’t like this development for she seemed to think that because I lived alone I should be able to answer the phone at any hour of the night. I imagined this happening on weeknights and shuddered. Mel had also announced on several occasions that she wanted to stay with me in my new apartment. I imagined her spending a week drinking and playing the pokies and wondered what I would do while this happened, for Mel and my ideas of a good time were poles apart by now.
When I returned home from that last Christmas I knew what I needed to do. I called Mel, hands shaking and explained that I didn’t feel I could be her friend any more, especially because of the criminals she was associating with. While this was one reason, my main reason was that the idea of hosting a drunk and clumsy Mel in my small flat filled me with a kind of creeping horror and I needed to distance myself completely from her to ensure it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, Mel had just had one of her frequent fallings out with Al and she was already quite emotional. I extricated myself as quickly as I could and then started to become anxious. What if she sent her daughter Lisa’s dubious boyfriend up to Canberra to ‘sort me out’? What if she had friends in Canberra and she would ask them to break into my house and steal my things? What if I came home from work one day to find her standing on my doorstep? I went to work the next day trembling and anxious, and was like that for several more days. I consoled myself by asserting that Mel was more victim than perpetrator – she had in fact called my mother in quite a state asking why I hated her, but apparently had made no threats. Eventually I figured that she was gone from my life, and that did come with considerable melancholy. For Mel had been very good to me in some ways. She had fed me, kept me company, taken me out (even if it was to places I didn’t really like). She had been my surrogate underclass mother and I did appreciate it. It was just that our worlds had steadily grown further and further apart and I no longer felt comfortable with that aspect of my life.
Mel never tried to contact me and I never called her, although sometimes I wondered what was going on in her life. Did Jenny and her husband work out their money worries? Did Al come back to Mel (as he had done on innumerable occasions)? Did Mel still stuff up idioms and mix metaphors in such an amusing way? Was she still living in her three bedroom flat or had the Office of Housing decided that she should move to a smaller property? I often thought of Mel when advising on social inclusion policy. I imagined Mel and how she would react to a program or policy, whether she would participate or feel alienated.
Last year I had a phone call from private number It was Mel’s younger daughter. She called to tell me that Mel had passed away. offered my condolences and felt very guilty for having permanently ditched Mel. Despite the fact that my former friend had supported me when I needed it and hd nothing but love for me, me embarrassment and upward mobility had meant I didn’t speak her or want her in my life. Mel taught me a lot. I still think about her often and wish I had managed to put my embarrassment to one side and stayed in contact with her,