Today I get up at my usual time and stumble round the flat for a couple of hours trying to get myself organised to go to Newcastle. I’m suffering from what I call an adrenaline hangover, a consequence of the need to stay alert and in control enough to drive for eight or nine hours at a stretch three nights in a row. I think I’ve done a pretty good job as I set out around 10.30 am for the train station and it isn’t until I’m well on the way that I remember I’ve left the tickets for the VIP party tonight, after the opening of The Real Film Festival, behind. They’re folded inside the festival program that’s sitting on the arm of the red chair and there’s nothing I can do about that.
I have a beer in the Great Northern before climbing the hill – called ‘The Hill’ – to meet Ella after school. She’s with a group of others outside on the assembly ground doing a dance class with Mrs Edge and looks all pink and happy when she sees me. We walk the rest of the way to her home, where she lets us in with her key (I haven’t yet learnt the knack of opening the big heavy door to Florence Court and may never do so) and then settles down to do her after-school things . . . mostly playing with her friend Myah, who lives next door. A series of messages come through from Maggie asking me, or us, to meet her at the Town Hall but I won’t do that. I just want to sit here on the deck and watch the sun setting over the Pétanque Court.
At 6.30 we go down to the Clarendon Hotel to pick up Glenn and Suzie and walk them across to Greater Union where the festival opening is . . . stand around in the foyer waiting, without refreshments or anything else to divert us. Maggie says she hasn’t eaten all day so I get her a chock-top and some salt and vinegar chips from the candy bar. Glenn is a writer who has come up from Sydney to do a workshop on Transmedia; Suzie is a film maker too and, it turns out, studied dance at UWS with Maggie twenty years ago; and that’s how long it is since they saw each other last. Suzie tells me about doing some of her growing up at Milne Bay in PNG where her father was a Methodist missionary and I say a bit about my Dad’s war – I always thought he served in Rabaul but, since receiving his records, have realised it isn’t so.
The movie’s called 50/ 50 and it’s about . . . cancer. I don’t like victim movies of any description but what can I do – I’m here in the back row of the front section sitting in a collapsed seat with my bum bones scraping the stained carpet below me while the speeches drag on . . . a radio presenter, the head of Screen Hunter, a local State MP, George Souris, who is also Minister for Arts. Everyone thanks everyone for everything, over and over, and I quickly lose count of how many times the word ‘Newcastle’ is said. The two dykes sitting next to me snort with disgust and leave, perhaps they’d come to the wrong cinema? The rest of us settle in for the movie . . .
. . . which turns out to be pretty good. Highly manipulative, of course, but with a knowing, half-rueful, half-gleeful, take on its own, rather successful, play at our emotions. There are lots of people sniffling, some crying outright, but then there’ll be a joke that makes someone snort with laughter. Predictable – yes; though someone told me afterwards they actually shot two endings; needless to say the one we watch is Not the Death Ending but the Other One.
Afterwards we go back to the Clarendon for the VIP party where, because all the names are on a list at the door, it matters not a jot that I left the tickets behind. I talk to Glenn on the way down about the exigencies of staying true to your idea when all around want you to change . . . can you give me an example, he asks, and I say, wait till you’ve seen the film on Sunday night, then I’ll tell you. Suffice to say that I gave in on a crucial point three or four years into the project and have never felt the same about it since. Glenn has, however, so far as I can tell, stood up for his current screenplay and I feel encouraged by that. I mean that my own failure might be redeemed by another’s success. However odd that sounds.
At the party I get drinks for Maggie and Suzie then station myself by the food table and begin to browse. Annette from Screen Hunter comes up and introduces herself, promising to email me a running sheet for Sunday night. I feel weird about introducing a film I didn’t end up writing (or only the first hundred drafts) and don’t really like but there it is, I am. After Annette drifts away I spend a long time talking with Elena, a Canadian stills photographer, of Russian descent, who’s sharp and funny and very good company. After her catch-up with Suzie Maggie joins us and I see Elena’s eyes widen with appreciation, even perhaps desire: I can’t quite figure you out, Maggie, I hear her say as I slope off to listen to the music outside.
Later, as the crowd thins, we meet a couple called Dave and Alison who are somehow connected with the music and spend a happy half hour talking with them before walking home. Maggie goes to pick Ella and her car up from the babysitter while I ramble alone through the park full of Phoenix Palms. I see her white Yaris beetle up the hill and turn into her street but when I get back to Florence Court find we are locked out . . . can get into the building, not into the flat. Ella is whimpering and Maggie looks panicky. She still has the key to her garage so we go in there to look for a ladder that might reach the balcony. The one we find is derisory, only good for looking on the top shelf in the kitchen, but it’s our only hope. I take my shoes off, Maggie holds the ladder and I climb to its highest point, from which I can just get my hands over the lip of the deck. It’s touch and go but, using my toes to grip in the corrugations of the roller door to the garage below, and what upper body strength I have left, I manage to heave myself up and over the rail.
Even though I’ve had a few glasses of red wine I don’t feel in the least bit drunk; in fact, I’m totally clear-headed: at no point do I think I’m going to fall and, if I had thought that, I wouldn’t have tried. Half an hour later though, when I’m lying in bed, I can still feel my heart going like billy-o. I’m going to have to stop smoking again.