Melnik was born in
leaving school she studied commercial illustration and graphic design. After she
divorced, Jennifer spent several years bringing up her daughter alone.
this time she attended university and gained a nursing degree while working part
time as a high school parent liaison officer and nursing assistant in an aged
care home. She then completed a degree in education.
graduating, she taught at a primary school and worked as a home tutor in
Arrival (part sample)
phone beside the bed woke me and my eyes began to focus. The travel clock
displayed the time as seven thirty. In a stupor I picked up the receiver.
Jenny? John Davies. Just checking you’ve arrived. I’ll come by and pick you
up later this afternoon. You’ll have to get used to the new time zone here.”
My groggy reply must have been obvious. I’d been sleeping soundly in a central
that morning I left the hotel to cash all my traveller’s cheques at a Bureau
de Change in the
returning to the hotel room I tried to connect my laptop to the telephone line
in the hope of sending some emails back home. No luck … the computer stalled,
then froze, I couldn’t close it down and I panicked. Remembering that there
was a computer store called
young salesman seemed slightly amused, but sympathised with my problem. He
called for assistance from his colleague and after both of them debating over
what should be done, managed to close the stalled program down and gave me a
free disk for my new internet provider. It wasn’t completely fixed, but it was
the best they could do.
afternoon I checked out of the hotel. Casually waiting in the lobby was a short,
scruffy-looking man wearing sneakers, or trainers as they call them in the
Australian, an older woman,” he said, “through Start Agency.” I guessed
then that he must be John Davies.
older woman? Some may see me as too old, when approaching the wrong side of
forty, to be leaving the security of my sunny Australian home to work in dreary
months ago, the holiday I spent in
stayed at this very hotel, a lovely grand art deco building in the centre of
over there,” she’d said abruptly and unsmilingly, looking at me as if
she’d been approached by someone so rude and unrefined as to have the
effrontery to simply walk up to her without
waiting until she was ready. I looked around to where she’d indicated,
and noticed a sign that read Queue here. I had in my jetlagged state, not actually seen the sign,
but to the woman I’d shockingly disregarded the rules of the hotel and had
expected immediate attention. Who did I think I was, someone important?
was irrelevant that we were the only customers there. The rules must not be
flexible for anyone, especially to those that looked like they’d travelled
from the colonies.
made me stand there like a naughty school child, waiting for several minutes
while she shuffled papers around on the desk in front of her.
I help you?” she said finally, looking at me with suspicion.
not really, I thought, I’m just enjoying standing here, tired with lots of
luggage, passing the time of day in a hotel lobby.
arrived too early, she told us. Check-in time was at ten and it was now only
eight. They would however, allow us to leave our luggage with them, if we wanted
to go and do something else. We could come back in around an hour to check on
our room availability if we wished, but they couldn’t guarantee it would be
ready before ten. She then summoned the porter with another flick of the hand,
who took our cases into a secured area and gave us a ticket.
was a sunny, but bracing winter’s day in early December. Office workers were
walking briskly down the street carrying briefcases and shops were beginning to
open their doors and shutters. Homeless souls, covered in blankets and
newspapers were beginning to wake up. Rubbish was piled in big black plastic
bags on the footpath in front of restaurants and the big red double-decker buses
we’d seen from the air as we flew over the city on our approach to
day after we arrived we walked down to
taken trips to Stonehenge, when it was cold, wet and windy, to beautiful
spent one week that Christmas and New Year with friends in
day after Boxing Day we took the local bus to
Country, the area where John Constable grew up and painted was picturesque, even
in mid winter.
had to come back. I needed a change in my life. Now I was here in
He took my suitcase and we crossed the busy road to the parked car.
can always tell the Aussies,” he smiled, “they always try to get in on the
driver’s side.” He obviously had the mistaken idea that Australians drive on
the right-hand side like Americans, but I was heading for the passenger door
anyway. I smiled and didn’t bother putting him straight.
chatted amiably, giving me a sightseeing tour of the landmarks of
seem to always miss her, as on a previous trip to
familiar Houses of Parliament loomed ahead of us, where we had once queued for
twenty minutes to watch a session in parliament from the public gallery in the
House of Lords. There again, towering above, was the most famous clock tower in
the world, Big Ben. It was all very familiar to me, memories came flooding back
and I was feeling relaxed about this big change in my life.
cityscape soon turned into residential and country scenery as we travelled
know you’re going to Stanford-no-hope, that’s what they call it,” he said.
I wondered why it had such a derogatory name, but he didn’t explain.
we came nearer to our destination, John phoned the family I was staying with, to
get directions to the house, as he was getting a bit lost.
you came off the main road in Stanford there was a confusing myriad
of streets winding around like a labyrinth, with compact brick houses all
looking the same. We eventually arrived at a neat, mid-terraced home with a
little flowering garden at the front in a quiet cul-de-sac. The front door was
open and a short, slim woman around the same age as me came outside to greet us.
men,” the woman, who I assumed was Shauna announced bluntly, hardly giving me
time to get out of the car. Did she mean there were no men around, or I wasn’t
to have any male visitors? What a strange way to greet someone.
bags arrived yesterday,” her husband Geoffrey added. “It was orwight,
because I was ’ome. If it’d been Saturday I wouldn’t ’ave been ’ere to
take ’em upstairs.” He had an oh my god, what have we got here, look on his
face. I think they were expecting a younger woman.
showed me to my room,
had to buy a new bed. The teacher we had staying here before you broke it. She
used to go into
offered me a cup of tea. Her parents were downstairs waiting to meet me and
check out the new guest. They were all very friendly and we chatted about
very brave, I couldn’t do it,” Muriel said.
no, I couldn’t,” Shauna agreed, shaking her head.
left me to unpack my things and I tried to connect up my laptop again.
came upstairs and stood in the doorway.
ordered a new phone line for you,” he said, “it’ll be done next week.
We’ve got cable.”
Thanks,” I said, relieved that I didn’t have to use their phone for the
have to pay for the calls. I’ll pay for the installation,” he added.
computer was vital in maintaining regular contact with family and friends, but I
needed help to connect to an ISP. Geoffrey obliged by phoning for information
and taking me around to computer shops.
following week I was back online.
taking Shauna’s mum and dad to Saarfend tonight to look at the lights. Would
you like to come?”
doesn’t get dark until nine o’clock in the summer, so we all piled into the
car and drove down to
the school you’re teaching at?” Shauna asked me one evening over a meal of
sausages, chips and baked beans. This meal was also repeated the following night
and became my staple diet for the next four months.
Primary,” I replied.
me, the name Avelly had conjured up images of streets lined with sturdy oak
trees, a quiet quaint village in a valley, gentle, friendly people and
picturesque country houses with thatched roofs.
a lovely little village with quite a bit of history. It’s near the biggest
shopping complex in Europe,” the head teacher had told me at my phone
far away is it?” I asked them.
and Geoffrey looked at each other.
long way from here. The first teacher we had staying with us taught in Grays.
She was with us for seven months. She walked to the station, then took the train
and then walked to the school until she bought a car. The one we had before you
all went off in Geoffrey’s car after breakfast the next day. Armed with a map
is Avelly,” Geoffrey said as we drove down the high street through a lovely,
but somehow sombre-looking little village.
the school.” It was a brown brick building with a couple of large trees at the
front entrance. On the side of the tallest part of the building was a red clock,
with white dots for the hours and white hands.
looks nice,” I said hesitantly.
took us thirty-five minutes to drive to Avelly. There was no direct bus or train
service from Stanford-le-Hope.
don’t know how you’re going to get here every day,” Geoffrey added.
was thinking the same thing myself, but with careful planning I was sure it
wasn’t going to be impossible. I had to manage; there was no turning back now.
I was a long way from home and I had a twelve month working visa.
and I poured over bus timetables and maps during the week. I was very
appreciative of all his suggestions and help and he began to spend an increasing
amount of time talking to me about the days’ events and his business trips to
neighbour worked as a delivery driver and it appeared strange that he was
continually bringing boxes to the house at night. Geoffrey would then store them
in his hall cupboard. I was offered a CD player for £10, with a vague and
evasive response given when I questioned its origins. Phone orders from friends
were a regular occurrence and I suspected the goods had not been legitimately
the week before the start of term, I called three local taxi companies for a
quote to Avelly each day. The first two said:
only do school runs, we don’t take individual fares at that time of the
I thought, children being taken to school by taxi every day, who pays for this?
Don’t they cater for teachers? Why can’t the parents take their children to
school, couldn’t they walk, or catch the bus?”
third company was willing to pick me up at 7:15 every day to Avelly for £10 a
day. In the afternoon I would then take the bus from the school to Grays’
train station, take the train to Stanford, then walk the twenty minutes home. A
total of one hour travelling time each afternoon.
following weekend I accompanied Geoffrey and Shauna to a giant boot sale in a
large vacant acreage at
give you £6,” said a prospective customer. Depending on whether the seller
wanted a quick sale or not, the original price stood. Later in the day however,
you could be guaranteed of a generous price drop.
left my hosts to wander together among the throngs in the now scorching midday
heat and found a secluded spot under the shade of some trees.
yer like yer fortune told?” I turned to see a plump, colourfully-dressed
elderly woman sitting at a table, gently shuffling a pack of pictured cards. Her
piercing eyes stared hopefully at me.
readin’s are £8 today for fifteen minutes,” she added. Why not, I thought.
sat down on the collapsible chair opposite her and shuffled the cards in
you got any child’n?” she asked.
daughter, yea? She’ll do alright. Is she working? Her work will be alright,
turned to her husband. “Can you get me some water darl? Thank you. Have you
got a husband? Oh. Parents yea? They’ll be alright. How’s your health?
You’ll be alright. No health problems, yea?” At this point her mobile phone
darl, yes can you bring it over, that’s a good lad. Did you go into town?
Okay. See you soon. That was my son.”
you working? What doing? A teacher, yea? That’ll be alright. Look there’s
lots of red cards. Hi darl, I’ll be with you in a minute,” she turned to
another potential customer.
take a seat and there’s some mag’zines for you to read.”
darl, any questions?” I didn’t bother asking, as I knew whatever I asked she
would say it’ll be alright. I paid the money and wished I bought something
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