A very brief out-take from the life of Rosalie Cochran. The year is 1993 and she finds herself on tour in Australia when Christmas comes along...
22nd December 1993. Perth, Western Australia.
Rosalie Cochran’s dislike of Christmas hadn't changed once her son was old enough to embrace the madness. The tour wasn’t over yet and she just wanted to get home to London so Ricky’s eighth birthday might be spent at home.
December was summertime in Australia and it was incredibly hot. The air conditioning in her suite at the Hyatt was working overtime but could only make the atmosphere “Barely Tolerable”. She had a sackful of mail to go through before heading to the Perth Concert Hall for rehearsal and sound check but she struggled to concentrate in the heat.
Richard was usually an all-weather child. Having grown up on the road, variety was normal and it took a lot to bother him. Now he was grumpily staring out of the window.
‘I want to go outside,’ he moaned, swooned dramatically over the back of his chair.
‘It’s too hot.’
‘It’s dangerous. Sit on the chair properly, please.’
In reply, Ricky pulled his knees to his chest and rocked back and forth, and he began to hum a tune she didn’t recognise.
She looked up from the latest bit of fan mail. ‘What’s the song?’
‘It’s not nothing. Is it new?’
‘Made it up.’
‘It’s very nice.’
‘Yeah.’ He stopped rocking and slid off the chair onto the floor. ‘I’m bored.’
‘Read a book.’
‘Don’t want to.’
‘Don’t want to.’
‘Swimming pool downstairs.’
‘Don’t want to.’
‘Then don’t do anything!’
‘I want to go home.’
Rosalie’s patience snapped. ‘Get on a plane and go home then!’
‘I’m only seven!’ he retorted.
‘More than old enough to cross the globe on your own.’ A smile tugged on her lips. ‘Or be sent down the mines. Don’t think I wouldn’t.’
Richard cracked a slight smile. ‘I’m bored.’
‘I know, love.’ She’d grown used to boredom over twenty years on the road, but he had no such experience. ‘Why don’t we go and see a movie? Cool Runnings is showing nearby.’
‘Saw it in Singapore.’
‘What about The Three Musketeers.’
Ricky shook his head. ‘Melbourne.’
Rosalie could cry for him and guilt stabbed at her for dragging him along on such a life. Perhaps Bobby could find something for him to do.
A phone call later, Rosalie and Ricky were on their way to the Concert Hall early. Bobby reported that they were holding a Christmas party for the employees’ children and when they arrived it was gearing up.
‘Welcome, welcome!’ A woman with very tall blonde hair and an incredibly ugly Christmas sweater ushered them into a room where dozens of children sat at a long table. ‘Richard, is it? Come on in, love.’
Rosalie watched as her son joined the noisy, happy party. He made friends far more easily than she ever could and within minutes he was chattering happily with ginger twins close to his own age. A blue paper hat sat crookedly on his messy hair.
The good people of the Concert Hall had seen many a famous face, and Rosalie was nothing particularly special. She settled down with the supervising adults and watched as a magician enthralled the children into near-silence with sleight-of-hand tricks.
She’d only ever seen one party like it before, when she was a similar age to Richard. Her uncle Tony worked at the Daily Mirror and had invited Rosalie to join his children at their works party.
The late 1950s had not been a time of great abundance. The decorations had been simple, handmade affairs made from cheap card, the paper hats were made of newspaper and the presents had been simple.
Her cousin Charlie told her that he was most looking forward to the satsuma in his stocking, but his sister Ann preferred the walnut. They had a deal to swap so he would have two satsumas and she two walnuts.
She had not realised that those other children were wearing their very best clothes, nor that a piece of fruit and some nuts were luxurious presents to them. She didn’t know that her father and his brother lived in very different worlds now, though they lived only a mile apart.
In 1958, Rosalie had not understood that her mother was a snob who made her husband cut almost all contact with his family.
In 1958 she hadn’t understood why her parents had an almighty row when she returned from the party with her newspaper hat, a trinket from Father Christmas and a new vocabulary of rhyming slang.
In 1993, she realised that it had been one of the few Christmas moments in her young life that she held fondly.
In 1993, her heart ached to see that Ricky was missing out as much as she had, that she was maintaining the attitudes she’d hated in her family.
Later, as she sat being made up for the show, she asked Bobby a favour.
‘I need you to find some people, if you can.’
‘I can but try, Rosa.’
She twisted in her seat and the make up artist tutted. ‘Tony, Charlie and Ann Cochran.’
‘Family?’ His eyebrow quirked with surprise. Everyone knew Rosalie didn’t have any family left.
‘Yes. I don’t know if Uncle Tony is even alive, but… Charlie was a year older than me and Ann two younger. They lived on Wimborne Street, I think. I haven’t seen them since 1958 but… if you find them… write a cheque. A big one.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. They haven’t run to the papers, have they? Don’t make a song and dance of it. But…’
‘Consider it done, sweetheart.’
‘Superman’s giving him a bass lesson.’
‘Only in my world does that sentence make sense. Did he do his maths?’
‘Katharine says he’s picking up long division well.’
‘Good. When does the photographer want me?’
‘Ready when you are.’
The Rosalie Organisation played two nights at Perth Concert Hall, both well received. She did some promotion for the Danaides album on the morning of Christmas Eve but was otherwise finished for the year.
The hotel put on quite a show for Christmas, but for a woman who grew up in the northern hemisphere, to be sunbathing on Christmas Eve was just wrong. The staff made a fuss of Richard, the only child staying there at the time, but she knew he wanted to be at home. Home, though hardly lived in much of the year, was still home.
To console him, Rosalie agreed he could stay up to their presents at midnight. Rosalie, Richard, Bobby, and Larry gathered in her suite and exchanged their gifts. Bobby was delighted with the crystal-encrusted fountain pen, Larry adored his James Baldwin first edition, and Katharine loved the Yves St Laurent scarf.
The majority of gifts were for Richard, who had no intention of sleeping once he’d unwrapped a Lego airport and spaceship. Rosalie allowed it: they would have time to sleep on the plane home.
The phone rang at twenty past midnight and a warm voice purred down the line: ‘Merry Christmas, you gorgeous creature.’
‘Merry Christmas Twain,’ she replied, and winced to see Katharine flinch on hearing his name. ‘Where are you?’
‘Is Sprocket awake? Can I talk to him?’
‘Richard is, yes, but you’ll have a job getting him away from his Lego.’
In fact, Ricky leapt at the phone when she said JD wanted to talk to him. ‘I got a Lego spaceship!’
‘That’s cool, man. Got it built yet?’
‘Nearly! And I got an airport and…’ Ricky listed all his presents in great detail to the patient ear in Bali.
As Ricky chattered, Bobby gave Rosalie a gift in the form of news: ‘I found the Cochrans.’
‘Easy. Uncle Tony alive and well, retired from the print trade. Charlie’s an accountant with a second wife and three children, lives in Broxbourne. Ann died in 1987, car accident.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She meant it, missed the bright-eyed child excited over walnuts.
‘They don’t want your money.’
‘I spoke to Charlie on the phone last night. He wishes you all the best but doesn’t want it.’
‘He’s a proud man. Won’t take it.’
‘How old are his children?’
‘Sixteen, fifteen and ten.’
‘Give him a college fund. He can’t turn that down.’
‘I’ll try. I don’t see why this matters all of a sudden.’
‘Call it Christmas goodwill.’
Richard was done with the phone and thrust it at Rosalie without a word before turning back to Lego.
‘Still there, Twain?’ she asked into the phone.
‘That kid can talk. Don’t know where he gets it from.’
‘Why not? Liam liked it enough to stay a year-’
‘A year? The things you learn.’
‘We’re going back to London.’
‘Screw that. Come to Bali. We’ll have a bonfire on the beach for Sprocket’s birthday.’
‘Dull, grey London or bright and sunny Bali? And the not-insignificant presence of JD Twain.’
There was no denying that Richard would love it, except that it was not home.
‘Bobby, can you change our tickets to Bali?’
He shrugged. ‘I can do anything, but it’ll cost you.’
‘Ricky, do you want to have your birthday in Bali?’
‘With JD?’ His eyes flashed and his smile split his face.
Decision made. ‘We’ll see you then.’
Richard finally drooped twenty minutes later and was put to bed by Bobby.
He then pressed a soft kiss to Rosalie’s forehead. ‘Merry Christmas, Rosa love.’
‘Do you wish you were at home with Jeannie?’
Bobby flashed a grin. ‘Always.’
‘Why do we do it?’
‘The Life? Because the alternatives would drive us mad. Night-night.’
Rosalie stayed awake awhile longer considering those alternatives. Would she have married young, had children young and remained in London? Would she have stayed at the Marquee marking time? Would she have ended up in some suburban cultural backwater where a trip to the nearest “big town” was the highlight of a month? Would Christmas be a big deal because there wasn’t much else to look forward to?
Certainly she wouldn’t have sung for thousands or be going to Bali just because her best friend asked. The Life was exhausting, isolating and often boring… but it was still the only option she could seriously consider.
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