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Journey From Venice : Popular Penguins - Ruth Cracknell

Journey From Venice : Popular Penguins

Paperback

Published: 29th June 2009
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The Serene City beckons, promising Paradise regained for Ruth Cracknell and her husband, Eric, as they set forth on a carefully planned holiday.

What they are seeking is time. Time to think, time to gaze, time for each other. But from the moment the holiday becomes an uncharted journey, their time is measured.

Journey From Venice is confronting yet deeply comforting – an acknowledegment of the miracle that is unconditional love.

Author Biography

Ruth Cracknell was born in Maitland, but lived most of her life in Sydney. She was educated at the North Sydney Girls' High School, and began her professional career at the age of twenty. She travelled to England in the fifties to further her career and worked with the BBC before family reasons caused her to return home in 1954. Her professional life from then on happily coincided with the rise of serious theatre in Australia. In theatre she was known for her interpretations of both classical and contemporary drama as well as her particular flair for comedy. She worked extensively in film, television and radio. Ruth passed away in 2002.

The house wakes. She lies there listening for a while - reluctant to take the first step. Merely getting out of bed today seems beyond her. The past three months have depleted her.

But it is not just that. The day itself has no predecessor, is shrouded . . . an isolated fragment . . .

Shrouded or not no amount of lying in bed will make it go away.

On the morning of the opening night of a play I have always risen with a sense of something ominous surrounding me. More than nerves. More important than nerves, somehow. When I make the bed on that day there is a little ritual, the same words running round my mind - 'When I fall into you tonight it will be over.'

The foolishness sustains me somehow.

Absurd to be thinking these words today. They belittle the occasion.

I remain in bed as long as I can, postponing any ritual. Where is the cat? Taken herself to the basket she rejected two years ago probably, and which she has scarcely left since Monday night.

It is Friday.

The clear, treble twittering in the second bedroom announces Celeste's entry into the day. Celeste, the youngest grandchild, and Madeleine, the eldest, along with their mother, my first born, have been staying with me.

I hear them wandering into the bathroom, the kitchen.

Then Anna is at my bedroom door. 'Do you want tea, Mum?'

'No. No. I'm getting up.'

Which I do, in a moment. Hug the children, on the way to the kitchen . . .

The tea and the cereal and the toast and the clearing up and the showers and the dressing 'special outfits waiting' - it all proceeds, moves them forward. Someone arrives to take Celeste away for the day; my son, Jonathan, arrives with his partner, Lisa; my other daughter, Jane, and her husband, Phillip, with their two girls; and Anna's husband, John, with their two boys.

Five children here now. Sons-in-law; Lisa; my two daughters; my son. The men suited. Formal.

Grandchildren pick bunches of wattle from the tree he and I planted a couple of years ago and which drove him to distraction with its Jack in the Beanstalk propensities. But such a bloomer of a tree! It is in full flood this July high day of sunshine and wind.

I worry that one of the boys is not warmly enough dressed. 'He needs a jumper, for heaven's sake!'

The doorbell rings again and again. Flowers are still arriving.

Through it all the women proceed to apply make-up. Madeleine's hair is being arranged. Three generations stand at the bathroom mirror.

Forty-one years on.

Four reflections.

Four similars.

Then all but my three children are gone. We will travel together. The four who journeyed to Venice ­and back.

Incongruously, I am sitting at the dining-room table in front of a typewriter trying to read my daughter's handwriting - 'This is ridiculous. Why am I doing this now?' - as the knock at the door announces Kristian's arrival.

'Our car's here. Don't worry. He's early.'

I finish typing the words Anna will be reading later.

One more glance in the bathroom mirror and we gather at the door. I look at my children and not for the first time marvel at their fortitude. I am bereft and overwhelmingly proud at the same time.

Minutes later they are driving along the M2, Jonathan next to Kristian, she with her daughters either side. Silence till ­

'I feel sick!'

Why had they all forgotten Anna's fatal propensity for car sickness.

'Don't vomit on me!'

Kristian nervously states the obvious. 'I know we can't stop here!'

'Why didn't you sit in the front seat?' from Jonathan ­ equally in the line of fire.

'I'll be all right!'

Jane, quite safe, gazes out her window.

This day is impossible to anchor in any identifiable reality. No template.

She seems to be outside herself. If she looks through the window she has the impression of her actual self accompanying them. An Arthur Boyd bride.

Veil flying.

The motorway safely, if nervously, negotiated, they are approaching the Bridge. It is one of Sydney's stunning days sunny, harbour scintillating stiff breeze cutting through, making flags perform prettily.

She realises they are very early ­

'Kristian, pull up near Government House.'

The car stops. Anna gratefully escapes, Jonathan next. He is carrying a Bible. An unfamiliar sight. He is to read 1 Corinthians 13 - 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.' He paces up and down towards the Conservatorium, reading, mouthing. Walking in the opposite direction, towards Government House, Anna is rehearsing her words. Unable to contribute anything this day, Jane stands close, with her, near the car. Kristian is standing diagonally opposite, on the other side of the car, gazing at Macquarie Street. They are the figures added to an architectural drawing to give it a sense of purpose and proportion. Or is it a crane shot in a movie? Precisely geometric when the pacers stop. Draw the lines.

Everyone feeling sick as they get back in the car. A slow drive edges them along Phillip Street and finally into King Street, where they pull up outside St James'. People are still streaming in . . .

I see Ann. June. Jenny, wearing green gloves - like St Patrick's Day. Kirrily with all the staff - twenty of them - clustered around her. She will be reading one of the Sonnets. Garry stands apart, reading a handful of notes. He is to present the eulogy, written by Geoffrey.

It is approaching noon. I begin to feel anxious, my theatrical punctuality to the fore. Then, suddenly, there are the grandchildren in the porch, as the last of the stragglers move inside. Someone marshals the children, and they and the wattle disappear as noon chimes.

The rector, Richard Hurford, appears, splendid in full vestments, and we finally leave the car and mount the steps. We are greeted, form up behind him - I am with Jane, arms linked, hands crushing, the other two behind, as the music surrounds us and we proceed.

Too slowly for my taste. 'Faster clip, Richard!' (I cannot stop directing proceedings.) We enter a packed church. Full house. I am delighted - and somehow surprised. Why? Because I've always been the star? We are surrounded by people - a crush of people; there are waves and waves of sound. I am drowning . . .

Mysteriously, silkily, the organ slides from its soaring Processional into a simple twenties ballad.

'What was that! Did you hear that?'

If you were the only girl in the world And I were the only boy . . .

It lingers for a few bars, then it is gone - just a wisp.

And the service begins.

I kneel, rise, slip in and out of reality, as this most beautiful of services moves through its stages. I know how good it is, fuss if it seems to drag for a moment; am at times caught up in an unbearable emotion; but mostly it is all happening to someone else.

Where is Ruth? Where has she gone? Who will find her? Who will soothe her now?

I have one clear recollection - the choir gently singing the John Rutter - 'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace' - while I stare at a coffin heaped with iris and the wattle.

And then it is over. The last hymn thunders forth as the coffin is carried high, high, between the silent pews.

He is followed by his wife, his children, his grandchildren - his tribe. Out, out . . . through the door . . . out into the porch . . .

. . . and the bells are peeling and the wind is screaming and it is pelting with rain and Bill Orr is pouring confetti over me and I am bursting with joy as I hang onto my husband. Ruth and Eric. Bride and groom. Photographers snapping, everyone laughing, a huge umbrella held over us, the wind snatching words away. It is icy, but we do not care. Three weeks to get ready for a wedding and we two are flying high. We're deli­cious! We're the tops!

What we do not know - how can we? (we would not believe it anyway) - what we do not know, he and I, is that nearly forty-one years stretch before us.

'Eric! Forty-one years! Can you believe that! Forty-one years! What bliss!'

Or that the forty-one years will be ending right here on another July day.

When the weather will be fairer.

The day bleaker.

Forty-one years.

With the speed of light . . .

ISBN: 9780143202738
ISBN-10: 0143202731
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 288
Published: 29th June 2009
Dimensions (cm): 18.2 x 11.2  x 1.7
Weight (kg): 18.2
Edition Number: 1