Sunday, October 11, 2009


Here’s a very recent saga. Pour yourself a drink.

Late last year my good mate John Hughes, Pro Dean in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, decided I should be an Honorary Associate of the University of Sydney - after all, after nine years of Shakespeare Globe, everyone in the Education Faculty thought I worked there anyway. This resulted in some very fancy business cards and embossed letterhead, a free parking sticker (which I have onsold for a bottle of good wine) and, potentially, an office with phone, computer, etc. (more of this later). This didn't affect my paid work at the University.

Then, a few months ago, I decided it was time to update my will - apart from anything else, three of the beneficiaries in the old one are dead. I don't have any descendants, of course, and my nephews and nieces are all doing quite nicely, thank you. I discussed this with John and he jokingly suggested I leave my estate to the Uni. I chuckled, then went away and thought, "Why not?"

When I became a casual teacher in the early nineties, I was struck by the lack of male teachers in primary schools. Even if there was a man, he was usually the stereotype PE teacher. I was often welcomed with open arms just because I was male. What more noble idea than to establish a bequest offering scholarships to encourage male student teachers to enter primary teaching? John was thrilled with this idea and approached the then Dean, Derrick Armstrong, a good bloke and friend.

This meant, of course, having lunch. The Mixing Pot, in Glebe, a short walk from the Uni, is far and away my favourite Italian restaurant in Sydney - a good time was had by all. Now all I had to do was make a will.

Next step was an invitation to the presentation to Education Faculty (Edfac) Scholarship winners - a brief ceremony where I was reunited with my old friend, Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW (drop cutlery tray here) and met a new one, the recently appointed successor to Gavin Brown, Vice Chancellor Dr Michael Spence. Despite being (as is his wife) an ordained Anglican minister, he comes across as yet another good bloke. He is anxious to revive the groves of Academia and move away from the Bob the Banker mode that has prevailed in recent years. I was introduced to him as a potential benefactor and we chatted.

The Alumni Association had proposed the first ever Alumni Ball, in the McLaren Hall. I told the VC I'd save him a dance. As a man who has spent the last several years as a Professor at Oxford, he seemed to have no problem with this.

Now, John H in his wisdom had also made Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton Honorary Associates, for some spurious reason, and now hoped they would grace the Edfac table at the ball. (Law, Medicine and Business Admin. always have their bigwigs, but Education is a bit of a Cinderella.) Alas, they were unavailable. I pretentiously suggested that I invite Sonia, Lady McMahon widow of Prime Minister Sir Billy, mother of actor and TV star Julian and a good friend (Viz: Drinking and Driving). "Scarlett, you're brilliant!” he exclaimed.

Sonia is delighted to accept my invitation - lunch, dinner, parties anytime, anywhere, she's up for it. So on the night the Edfac table is graced by Lady McMahon and this does not go unnoticed. As aperitifs are being taken, a large screen is flashing up a slide show of notable Alumni, and up comes Sir William. "Oh," says Sonia, to anyone who's listening, "I really should do something in Bill's honour". Yes, darling, you should.

After the slide show the new VC was introduced and asked to respond. He told a very entertaining story. While he was at Oxford he got an invitation to speak at a conference in New York. He realised that his passport had expired. He rang the Australian High Commission in London for a hasty replacement.

“Michael Spence?” the official asked.

“Yes,” replied Michael.

“Michael J Spence?” asked the official, for clarification.

“Yes,” replied Michael, a bit befuddled.

“Oh, we can’t give you a passport. The Queensland police have a warrant out for your arrest.”

“That’s crazy,” said Michael, “I haven’t been in Queensland for years.”

“Well, it’s listed here, so we can’t renew your passport.”

“So what do I do now?” inquired Michael.

The official gave him the number of the police station in Brisbane where the case was under investigation. Michael rang it immediately.

“This is Michael Spence,” he said.

“Oh,” said the desk sergeant in Brisbane, “We’ve been waiting to hear from you.”

“Now what’s this all about?” said Michael. The sergeant outlined various charges, dates and places where they had occurred.

“Well, there must be some mistake,” said Michael, “because I’m not your man.”

“Michael J. Spence?” inquired the sergeant.

“Yes,” said Michael, a little testily.

“Born in 1958?”

“No, 1959.”

“Oh, well, indeed you’re not our man”.

“So now what do I do?”

“You got any tattoos?”

“Certainly not,” Michael replied.

“Well don’t get any,” advised the sergeant, “This guy’s covered in them.”

He got his passport renewed in time.

I decide to relieve the VC of his dancing obligations with my good self and he seems quite grateful. A grand night ensues, fine food and wines, good music and taxis at midnight. Note, at this point I have not yet made a new will, nor has anyone enquired as to what my "entire estate" might amount to. I haven't mentioned reverse mortgaging.

So now that Sonia's in the loop, the ball is passed to Dr Andrew Coats, DVC External (which means bringing in the money) and of course, we'll need to do lunch. So after a private tour of the Great Hall and the Nicholson Museum, it's off - by car, of course - to the Mixing Pot again (also, as it turns out, one of Sonia's favourites) - Dr Coats hosts myself and Sonia, John Hughes and Jan Hupfau. (By now John is seriously considering making a modest bequest himself, having seen the fringe benefits.)

Another fine lunch with two bottles of wine (John barely drinking, as he has to go back to a curly meeting). John duly departs, and not long after Dr C picks up the tab and excuses himself, leaving me and the two girls.

"I'll call a taxi," I say, being keeper of the vouchers.

"Oh," says Jan H, "I thought I'd shout us another bottle."

"OK," says, Sonia, "and I'll get the next one." We laugh.

But we drink Jan's bottle, then Sonia's. Those girls have got stamina.

Meanwhile, the new VC has got word of this and wants to host a lunch for Mr O'Keefe and Lady McMahon in his private dining room. Dates are mooted, but what with Melbourne Cup and other major matters, it's difficult to settle on a suitable date. So that's on the back burner until next year.

But the show's not over yet, folks.

There's the annual Challis Bequest Lunch coming up and not only does Mr O'Keefe score an invite (sans Sonia, she hasn't coughed up yet) but he also scores a separate invite to morning tea with the VC prior to lunch. John doesn't, and is not happy. He makes enquiries and is informed "that's only for special donors". Pity.

So I find myself in the VC's boardroom with about 15 old biddies and several walking frames. God's waiting room. Another youngster of about my age introduces himself. He is Paul and is leaving his entire estate to vet science, because they saved his dogs. Hmmm, I'm thinking - no wife, no kids, just dogs, about my age (and as even my young straight friends will tell you, my Gaydar is appalling). Then he tells me he is taking thirty friends to Bangkok for his 60th birthday. More hmmm. We discover we live near each other and when I mention that I live in Kingsley Hall he says he had a friend living there, the late Ross McGlynn. I say, "Oh, I knew Rose", and the wrists start flapping. Strangely, Ross's flat is the one John now occupies, so I graciously introduce John as we enter the main event in the Great Hall. Turns out Paul Bryde has a town house in Darlinghurst (with the dogs) is a great cook, loves entertaining and has a $20 000 wine cellar he is anxious to share. Bingo!

Roll on 2009.

Oh, yes, I have signed the will. Would you believe I couldn't word it to encourage more male teachers in primary schools - that would be sexist. Instead, I'm addressing gender balance. Thank you, Germaine.

Over Christmas word came through that Dr Coats is leaving Sydney and returning to the UK. So it seems that we better have a farewell lunch – why not? This time Dr C. hosts us at the Boatshed, a highly-regarded seafood restaurant housed above the Sydney Women’s Rowing Club, a building owned by the University. The oysters are superb and so is the recommended snapper pie that follows. Glad I’m not footing the bill, though. But neither is Dr C. He has brought his colleague, Gavin Thompson, from External Relations, who picks up the tab. We surmise that as he is retiring, Dr C. no longer has an expense account.

So, I’ve made a will, Dr Coats has been farewelled and I haven’t yet helped Paul Bryde with his mighty wine cellar, as Paul has suffered a few setbacks, including being molested by one of his beloved dogs. But the Annual Challis Bequest lunch looms next month, so we might get the gravy train up and running again.

And yes, I now have office space at the University of Sydney, my own desk, computer and access to support facilities – otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.

No comments:

Post a Comment