From Boy To Man: RIP Josh Willis

It’s surprising to realise that Josh Willis, played by Harley Bonner, has only been in Ramsay Street for just shy of three three years. He’s been involved in so many key storylines, since the Willis clan arrived, that you’d expect to be recalling at least a decade’s worth of memories. During the first day of what was arguably the most dramatic week in the history of Neighbours, viewers sobbed as Josh passed away, when his injuries, caused by the Lassiter’s hotel boiler explosion, were pronounced too severe for him to even be taken to hospital. I can’t promise that I’ve included every single Josh story in chronological order in this trip down memory lane, but let’s have a look at some of his most significant moments.

Josh arrived in Erinsborough a boy, but definitely left as a man, and a brave, heroic one at that. Many viewers remarked this week that they weren’t keen on Pool Boy when they first saw him on screen. Singularly focused on his goal of becoming a medal-winning swimmer at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, he soon found himself the centre of attention from the doe-eyed Amber Turner. Amber was set on making him her boyfriend. Josh’s twin sister Imogen, always one for plain speaking, warned Amber that swimming would always come first for Josh. Ever since the Willis family had recognised his talent at an early age, their home lives had been organised around Josh and his training. Brad had even given up teaching to become his son’s full time coach. All the focus on his swimming had led to Josh being rather self-absorbed and oblivious to the needs and feelings of others. It was this Josh that we first encountered.

I found myself getting continually angry at schoolboy Josh, for treating Amber so casually once they had started dating. He was extremely thoughtless, and at times, conceited. But let’s remember that he was only seventeen and if everyone is telling you that you will become a champion swimmer, it’s easy to let the adulation go to your head. Josh’s mother, Terese, tended to spoil him, which was a bone of contention with Imogen, who often felt pushed out. And with his handsome, chiselled face and athletic body, it wasn’t surprising that girls were clamouring for Josh. I always believed that there was a softer, as yet undiscovered, side to him, but this wasn’t evident before he had to learn a very hard lesson. He took up a stupid dare from friend and foe Mason Turner – the two were often in conflict with one another – and Josh’s big ego just couldn’t prevent him from trying prove a point. He paid a heavy price for his stupidity, with an accident and a career-threatening injury. And he was already losing his appeal for Amber, who was falling under the spell of recent Ramsay Street arrival, happy hippy Daniel Robinson. Unlike Josh, who was dismissive of Amber’s interest in a photography career, Daniel encouraged it. The two tried to deny their feelings, but couldn’t keep away from one another and they began an affair. But when the full impact of Josh’s accident became apparent, Amber, feeling guilty, dithered, and didn’t end things with Josh. Although it didn’t stop her seeing Daniel on the sly, either.

We saw Josh become addicted to strong painkillers whilst in rehabilitation, so desperate was he to make a full recovery and regain his chances of making it to Glasgow for the games. And we saw him hurt and humiliated on discovering Amber in a clinch with Daniel in the photography darkroom. I did feel a bit sorry for him. He had genuinely loved Amber all along, but hadn’t treated her properly. Now he had been dealt a double blow. He was never going to swim competitively again, and Amber loved Daniel. After the initial impact of this, Josh seemed to be moving on with his life, and he consoled himself with an older woman – Naomi – which made for some popular, comic scenes. He and Naomi kept their passionate encounters a secret, and that was initially part of the attraction for the pair. Naomi pressed the stop button in the Lassiter’s lift, giving them time to enjoy a little between-floors action. However, they hadn’t bargained for Naomi’s mum, Sheila, waiting to greet her ‘poor little daughter’ after they were ‘rescued’ and mistaking Naomi’s disheveled look for being panic-stricken rather than just having been pleasured by a young man with a hot bod.

Then there was gnome-gate. Or, maybe that should be Noames-gate. Viewers will long-remember Naomi desperately pushing Josh’s head under the water in the hot tub as she attempted to have a mundane conversation with Sheila, who had turned up unexpectedly. (They never seem to learn not to take such risks in Ramsay Street!) Who can forget Josh’s dash for home when he was inevitably discovered, and the horrific look when he encountered his sister en-route, whilst wearing, well, nothing. Sheila’s gnome came to the rescue of Josh’s modesty, and this scene was reminiscent of the Henry Ramsay-style naked runs of early Erinsborough comedy. Given that they are a couple in real life, Harley and Ariel Kaplin (Imogen) must have found it a hilarious scene to film! Another favourite moment of mine was when Imogen’s bra had gone missing, in the midst of Bossy the dog’s underwear-stealing phase, and she asked her brother if he’d seen it. Josh, deadpan, declared that, yes, he had borrowed Imogen’s bra, leaving the viewers chuckling.

Josh’s alcohol intolerance, and the awful night when he floored Chris Pappas with a coward punch, were two issues that the writers clearly wanted to highlight. Both were handled very well. Despite the awfulness of the coward punch, I felt empathy for Josh. Naomi had ended their fling, and he was hurt and feeling sorry for himself. Amber was by now happy with Daniel. Josh knew he shouldn’t have drunk alcohol, his intolerance having already been discovered. But he was at an all-time low. No career, no girlfriend, totally directionless. He was immediately horrified when he realised it must have been him who had caused Chris’s life-changing injuries, not Chris’s boyfriend Nate who was a suspect, and so he turned himself in to the police. One bad decision when under the influence of drink, and Josh was looking at a potential jail term. He was so remorseful that it made me want to cry for him. His beautiful blue eyes, once indicative of an air of arrogance, conveyed genuine sadness. After Chris had pulled through, Josh began to try everything he could to make it up to him. Chris wasn’t ready to forget, initially rejecting Josh’s help. Eventually, the pair reached a level of understanding and closure before Chris departed for New York, but the friendship was never the same again.

Relieved to have avoided a jail sentence, Josh’s personality shifted, as he accepted his community payback order. He became a better son, a better brother, and a better friend, throughout the dramas he encountered, including the breakup of his parent’s marriage. However, despite having accepted that Amber was marrying Daniel, he felt compelled to comfort her, on her wedding day, in the Lassiter’s wedding suite, when she believed she’d been jilted. Thus, another setback for his character: Viewers didn’t much enjoy discovering that the supposedly reformed Josh’s ‘comforting’ meant the pair had slept together. Of course, this being soap-land, Amber and Daniel reunited once she discovered that he hadn’t run off with best friend Imogen after all. They had simply been trapped down that notorious well. Neither did viewers much care for the look on Josh’s face when paternity tests revealed Amber’s baby to have been conceived during Josh’s ‘comforting’ of her. Josh looked smug, but on reflection, can you blame him? Of course, he and Amber had behaved inappropriately, and it wasn’t nice to think that he had taken advantage of her distraught state of mind. But beneath this, we could sense that Josh was still in love with his ex. And he was only human.

The lead-up to the birth of the baby was fraught with worry. We learned that the unborn child had CDH, a life-threatening condition. The Turner and Willis clans, already in the throes of conflict, were torn further apart by differing opinions on the best options for treatment. The infant could have a pioneering operation, in vitro, but performed in America, at huge expense. Josh was keen to support Amber’s choice to go ahead, desperately trying to find ways of raising funds. Again, he risked jail, as he got involved in selling illegal peptides. Silly boy, we shouted at the TV. Thankfully he avoided prosecution, and although he didn’t like Imogen’s interference at the time, or the fact that Amber blew the whistle on his whole mess, he would be thankful for it afterwards.

Daniel, unlike Josh, didn’t want Amber going to America. Eventually, relations became so strained that he could take no more and he and Amber ended their relationship. Cue Josh getting the wrong idea, believing he could win Amber back. Again, we became frustrated with Josh when he began posting under the guise of being another mum, on the CDH support-group site which Amber had joined. She had banned him from accompanying her to antenatal classes but Josh wanted to find a way to be involved in the baby’s welfare. We wanted to stop him making such a fool of himself; it was obvious that once Amber found out, she wasn’t even going to think about getting back together with him.

It seemed that whenever Josh was back on the road towards mature, responsible behaviour, something else came along to stop him getting over the finishing line to adulthood. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with working as an exotic dancer to provide for your unborn child, but it was never going to be his forté. Aaron Brennan invested endless time in training Josh, so they could become a double act, only to be left high and dry by another of Josh’s muddles. Josh was feeling low again, upset that Amber wasn’t involving him enough in her pregnancy. His old fling, Naomi, was also low, having become engaged to Paul Robinson, more by accident than design. An evening together, with Naomi getting very drunk, ended in being a night of passion. As soon as Paul Robinson found out, you knew revenge would be round the corner. Despite Paul’s apparent acceptance of Josh’s apology, planted peptides in Josh’s rucksack, and the subsequent complex battle to prove his innocence, meant that his dance days were over. Although, being propositioned to be a male escort by lonely, middle-aged Sue Parker ought to have been enough to put him off pursuing that career!

But we warmed to Josh again with his latter storylines. Seeing him so keen to be a good dad but suffering from male postnatal depression/anxiety was sad to watch. Being a parent at any age is huge commitment, but a situation like Josh and Amber’s was especially frightening, given what they and the baby had been through. Amber almost gave birth, prematurely, in a burning building, but thankfully arrived at hospital in time for a C-section. The baby came through the vital operation successfully and Josh became involved in his daughter’s care, only to be rather cruelly admonished by Amber for falling asleep and rolling dangerously onto young Matilda. Poor Josh, we thought, he was trying to help by letting Amber get some sleep, and whilst falling asleep that way could have had tragic consequences, Amber went way over the top in her criticism of him. Josh became convinced that he wouldn’t be a good dad, and it took a lot of persuasion for him to accept that he just needed time to adjust to fatherhood.

Josh’s relationship with his pop, Doug, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, has been emotional to watch. Josh was tender, caring, and sensitive about his grandfather’s failing memory. He showed a great deal of maturity in making sure Doug didn’t feel stupid or patronised whenever he got confused. Although covering up for Pop’s car accident probably wasn’t the best idea he’s ever had, given that he was yet again risking a jail term for claiming responsibility! We were seeing the emergence of selfless Josh, who put others first. This he did right to the end.

Daniel Robinson, who has apparently morphed into a mini version of his uncle Paul, ruthless and career-driven, was pretty nasty to Josh shortly before the Lassiter’s explosion which ended Josh’s life. Whereas the younger Josh might have held a grudge, when he learnt, as he was laying under the fallen pillar, that Daniel could be saved if the pillar was lifted, he told Doctor Karl Kennedy that the rescuers should go ahead lift it. Daniel was by now the on-off boyfriend of Josh’s twin Imogen, and Josh knew his sister was in love. So, in a heartbreaking episode, we saw Josh saying goodby to his family who were told that he could not possibly survive. We saw a video call to Amber and Matilda, and Josh telling Amber that his daughter needed to know she was his last thought. The only one missing from this sad posse was poor Piper. Watching Brad breaking the news to Piper that she’d lost her big brother was heart-wrenching. Piper will no doubt be riddled with guilt that she was at a counselling session and so hadn’t responded to messages in time. That’s a pretty hard thing for a sixteen-year-old to deal with.

I will miss Josh more than I could ever have envisaged when he first strode in to Erinsborough as a cocky schoolboy. There were times when I wanted to slap him for his attitude and behaviour, as he went from swimmer to angry young man. But, bit by bit, he turned into one of the finest young men ever to grace Ramsay Street. I wish that his character had not met such a terrible end. I wanted to see him go to Perth and to hear news of him, Amber and Matilda, perhaps even that they became a proper family in the end. Now, there is a baby who will never know her daddy, who was born to a mother mourning the untimely loss of her own father. Tragedy repeating itself.

Harley, your pedigree inherited from your lovely mum Carla has stood you in good stead and you’ve established an acting career in your own right. It’s evident that she’s extremely proud of you, and rightly so. Good luck in your next venture, and thanks for bringing us Pool Boy, we’re all going to miss him. Josh may not have won a medal, but in our eyes, he’s Neighbours gold.

© Carol Ann Wood
April 2016

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An open Letter From Nate Kinski

A few words from a man of few words.

What if Nate Kinski, played superbly by Meyne Wyatt since 2014, put his thoughts into an open letter, before slipping quietly away in one of the infamous yellow Erinsborough taxis? He’s never been the type to wear his heart on his sleeve but if we – and Ramsay Street residents – were to read his innermost thoughts, they might go something like this.

“Alright, so by the time you guys get to read this, I’ll be on my way to Darwin. I know I didn’t get the chance to say a proper goodbye. But it all happened so fast. I had to make a snap decision when I got the go-ahead for re-enlisting, and there was no time to waste. And you know me. Don’t like a fuss.

“I know I haven’t been the easiest person to get along with since I rocked up in Erinsborough. Karl and Susan, I reckon you thought I was a bit odd. I wasn’t in a good headspace back then. If you’d seen what I’d seen, been where I’d been, believe me, you’d have known why. And you’d have known why I didn’t talk about it much. Death was a daily thing. Civilians and soldiers being blown up. You lose one army mate, then another, then another. That’s why I was here, a mate’s funeral. Anyway. That was then.

“I didn’t know you Kennedy guys before I came to stay. What can I say about you, Susan? You’re the best. You even forgave me for nearly burying you alive. That’s PTSD for you. You think you’re done with it, then it comes back to bite you. But Susan, you really helped. I should’ve thanked you more, but I’m not one to be demonstrative. Well, not unless it involves a remote control car or a game of cricket. Then you’ll see me get emotional alright! Yes, I owe a lot to you both. And Karl, you’re alright, apart from the music. And the MAMIL gear you wear on the bike. I liked living with you, except for that blue box stuff. I’m all for a bit of sauce if it’s a spunky guy in a high vis vest and not much else, but when you catch your aunt by marriage and the local doctor dressed as … Wait, enough. Let’s not go there.

“Yup, I’ve made some good mates in Erinsborough. Had a couple of big romances too. Shame they didn’t work out. Chris, he was just desperate to be a dad. I wasn’t. I’ve seen the horrible things that can happen to kids, I couldn’t cope with having one of my own and worrying about them all the time. And Aaron, well, I hope you know I love you, dude. But you choose family over me. And I suppose I get that. You’ve got two brothers in Erinsborough. You reckon you’ve got a career going. Though, come on, mate, I don’t see being a PA to a girl of sixteen and a crim like Paul Robinson as a career. You need to find your own path, just like I have. One day you will.

“I needed to come to Ramsay Street, to work out what I wanted out of life. And now I know. Aaron, we had our good times. We got off to a rocky start, didn’t we. There was the Boys In A Box thing. Not one of Naomi’s best ideas. I felt like a total jerk, but I can laugh about it now. Then there was the time when I tried to make cocktails to impress you. I made a right pig’s ear of it and you didn’t even like cocktails, as it turned out. But we got on the beers and had a good night, once we’d got rid of the olds. Karl just doesn’t pick up on signals when he gets chatting about The Right Prescription.

“Aaron, I know you don’t totally get why I had to go away last time. Well, there was one reason but that’s between us. And by the time I came back, you’d moved on. You didn’t know where you stood with me, and you had every right to have fun. But now I’ve seen that guy, Tom, the one you thought was dead in the explosion, I know he’s a phoney. Please stay away from him, he’s trouble. I’ll miss you lot, Aaron. I’ll miss your cute smile, your crazy ideas, hell, I’ll even miss you calling me ‘Eyebrows’. And not many people could get away with that!

Sheila, I’ll even miss you. You’re a bossy old coot, but you’ve got a good heart. You didn’t like it when I was your boss for a while, though. You thought you knew better than me how to run a bar. I’ll let you into a secret, Sheila. You do. But I never told you that, cos I didn’t want you getting big headed. You always stuck up for the gay customers, and I appreciate that. You even became a gay icon. But Sheila, what you know about being gay you can write on a beer mat. You stereotype us, which is a bit daft when you remember that I’m an army guy. You won’t catch me acting camp or wearing bright clothes. You’ve taken on a lot looking after that granddaughter of yours. I know you miss Kyle and it fills a gap. Kyle’s another person I liked. We had some laughs. I feel sorry for Amy being dumped like that, but he must have still been in love with Georgia, all along. Sheila, you should think about yourself a bit. You’ve got to take care of your ticker. Rest up and don’t be a martyr.

“Tyler, me and you have been great mates. We have that man bonding thing, if that’s what you call it. I guess you needed a buddy, and before Aaron arrived, you only had Mark. Mark, you’re a good guy but you can be a bit stuffy. You should chill more, instead of fussing about cleaning and putting the spice jars in a neat line. Surely a cop wants to relax off duty. But then again, you’d lost your girl, and you haven’t exactly had much luck in love since, have you.You need to find the right woman and have a few kids, then you’d stop worrying about mess.

“It didn’t matter that I was running from my army past, I still saw a lot of loss and destruction in Erinsborough. A tornado, a car accident, a school fire, and now an explosion. They were the worst ones. Jeez, I’m gonna tell everyone I meet, if you want a quiet life, don’t go to Erinsborough. I feel a bit bad leaving right now, what with people going through such a tough time. Poor Sonya, you’ve only just dealt with Toad being paralysed and getting mobile again, then Steph rocked up. No offence, Steph, but you do have baggage. And now this Walter. I know Toad will look after you, Sonya, but just watch yourself, don’t get taken for a ride again.

“I don’t suppose Paul will get to read this. I’d hedge a bet that he’ll be behind bars by the time I’ve got my combis back on. Can’t say I have much sympathy there. You all know what a bad time me and Aaron had over trying to find out what he was up to before he went bankrupt. Maybe his past has caught up with him at last. I can’t see who else could have caused that explosion, to be honest. Amy, I’m sorry, I know it’s harsh, but I think you’re going to have to get used to jail visits. And Steph, you believe he’s innocent, but you’ve got to think about yourself now, and getting your boy back for good.

“As for you Willis folks, I cant tell you how sorry I am for what you’re going through. You’d dealt with enough already, but losing Josh and Doug, that’s just awful. I’m glad that Chris and Josh made their peace after Josh coward punched him when he was out of his tree on grog. Josh was a decent guy. Got himself in a few sticky situations but, hey, we all make bad decisions. I wish I’d got to say goodbye to him. Should be used to that, shouldn’t I, not getting to say goodbye. This is it, then. I’ve learnt a lot from Ramsay Street and I won’t lose touch, what with Karl and Susan living there. The army was calling me. And maybe that’s just it. I left the army, but it never really left me. It’s a gamble. But I know it’s the right thing to do. And I owe you folk of Ramsay Street for helping me get my head straight.

“So long. And for God’s sake, no more disasters. Stay safe.”

I know I’m not the only viewer who will really miss Nate. He’s been a very different character to any others I remember. I would love to think that he might pop back in the future, with his comical expressions, his monosyllabic responses and his droll sense of humour. Thank you, Meyne, for dealing with some very heavy storylines in such a sensitive way. Good luck in whatever you do next. Don’t forget about Nate, though, because the viewers definitely won’t.

S’long, ‘Eyebrows’.

© Carol Ann Wood
June 2016

Index of Posts:

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Carol’s football-related blog: Levelling the Playing-Field
NOT Just Saying: Carol’s comments on feminism, fashion, food and folly
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Brad’s Eye View

Brad Willis muses upon his life and relationships

Always my fault, apparently. Brad Willis, father of five, a failure at relationships, a failure in my career. Well, that’s the way that Terese has written the story anyway. I admit, I haven’t always done things the right way. I haven’t always done the right things, even. But I’m not a totally bad person. Terese would have you believe that I’m a philanderer, but seriously? I’ve been faithful to her up until now, for twenty years. It was probably a mistake to come back to Erinsborough in one sense. That was down to Terese being offered the manager’s job at Lassiters of course. But how can I regret coming back when it’s led to knowing about Paige? I can’t wish that had never happened.

Lauren and me, we go back a long way. I loved her, but I was a bit mixed up at the time.I felt torn between Lauren and Beth. I probably shouldn’t have married Beth, as we weren’t really suited. We found that out pretty early in our marriage. That’s where Terese came in. I loved her enthusiasm and the way that she’d come from a pretty poor background and worked her way up. She was strong, feisty and ambitious. Before we knew it, the twins were on the way, and I had to think about what I wanted to do to earn money for my family, plus I’d already got Ned to provide for. That was when I fell into teaching. It was steady, as Terese often said. I think she saw me being a school head one day, rather than just your average PE teacher. And now what am I? A whiteboard wiper!

When we realised Josh was so talented at swimming, we wanted to put our hearts into helping him every step of the way. He was so keen, and so focused. A bit like his mum, in that respect. Terese was enjoying her rôle at Lassiters and it seemed sensible for me to give up my job and coach Josh full time. That’s what was happening when we came back to Ramsay Street. The place had changed a bit, but there was Lauren, with her blonde hair and her familiar smile, and it was like stepping back in time. I knew Terese felt awkward about mine and Lauren’s past, and so did Matt. I admit when I first met Matt, I was surprised that Lauren had married someone like him. He saw everything in black and white; everything was right or wrong. Which is why he was a cop, I suppose.

You could see that Lauren had always been a loving mum and that she’d been quite content, but from the beginning, I felt that there was something she wanted to say to me, something she wasn’t quite telling me. We kept having those ‘moments’ when she was about to open up but then a customer would come into the Harold’s or Terese would appear from behind a tree, as if she was waiting for me to slip up. When the bombshell hit, that I was the father of Lauren’s first child, and that the baby had been adopted out, well, it was such a shock. Why Lauren never told me about the baby I don’t know. Things might have turned out differently. But I’m not saying I regret having Ned, or the twins and Piper, not at all.

Terese was weird about us searching for Paige, and Matt wasn’t happy either. But we needed to do this. Our daughter had been stolen from us, and underhandedly at that. Lauren would never have willingly given up her baby, no matter if I was around or not. She thought at one time that she couldn’t have children. That was partly my fault too, but let’s not go there. Matt came to accept things because he loved Lauren. It was hard on everyone but I tried to be there for Terese and take her feelings on board too. Lauren and I were about to give up searching for Paige, when that kiss happened. I felt guilty and so did she, but it was just an emotional moment and we got carried away.

When the truth about the kiss came out, all hell broke loose. Terese never trusted me again after that. I wondered if she ever had done, the way she reacted. Matt nearly lost his temper, but to be fair to him, he did calm down eventually. If they hadn’t had all that financial mess, he’d never have gone off to Sharon Canning’s room. And then if I hadn’t gone after him to have it out, we’d never have been in the road having an argument, would we. I owe the guy my life. Look after Lauren, he said, as he lay there. Yea, I know, he didn’t mean like that, but then again, in his heart of hearts, Matt knew that Lauren had always loved me and she’d never quite let go. So maybe he did mean it like that.

Bonding with Paige has been such a wonderful thing for me and Lauren. Who could deny us that chance? Paige is artistic like her mum, and she encouraged Lauren to start drawing again. And that sketch of me, I’d no idea that Lauren had kept it all those years.  Being creative is something Lauren and I always had in common. Following our dreams, not just being career-minded. That’s something Terese could never understand. She either just mocked me, or wanted to take over everything I was into. I feel like my dreams have been crushed slowly over the years. She was always reminding me of how much she’d achieved and pointing out how much I hadn’t.

She’s blaming her drinking on me. She says I wouldn’t listen when she wanted to chat about our marriage. I did nothing but listen, but all she ever did was shout at me. And she did even more of that once she started knocking back wine as soon as she got home from work. She says I didn’t give her enough support over Ezra, but she wouldn’t talk about it so how could I? She says I didn’t understand how devastated she was over Nick’s behaviour, but she just refused to see what he was really like, for years. Every time he spoke to me, it was to put me down, and she never backed me up. Not once. Well I don’t mind saying I’m glad he got put away. I’m sorry for what he did to Paul, even though Paul’s not my favourite person. He’s interfered in our marriage more than once, and that’s hypocritical, given that he’s been married five times already.

Well, I’ve got to work out what’s for the best now, I guess. I will always care about Terese, but she has made herself unlovable lately. I’m starting to find out what Lauren’s really thinking. She’s already said she had feelings for me from day one, rekindled feelings. What do I feel? I suppose I let my feelings get rekindled too. We were pretty young when we were first together. Bad timing, Lauren always says, that’s what we’ve had. I think if we’re meant to be together, it will happen at some point. She wants me to move in with her. I know it’s a bit soon but we’ve already crossed the line and I’m not sure there’s a way back now. And I’m not sure either of us want a way back. Maybe the timing could finally be right.

© Carol Ann Wood
October 2015

Index of Posts:

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Carol’s football-related blog: Levelling the Playing-Field
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Pappa Was A Rolling Stone

Why being a child of Brad Willis isn’t plain surfing

Brad Willis, played by Kip Gamblin since 2013, has never had an easy relationship with his children. When the family first arrived in the street, we saw only two of his offspring, twins Josh and Imogen. Younger daughter Piper was apparently ‘on a school exchange programme in Canada.’ (A convenient ruse when the writers want to introduce a new family member at a later date.) But long-time viewers also knew of an older son, Ned, whom Brad had fathered with his first wife, Beth. That marriage ended when Brad had an affair with Terese, who he subsequently married. Before his marriage to Beth, Brad had had a brief affair with Lauren Carpenter. Are you keeping up? We then learnt about, and were introduced to, the child of that union, Paige. Brad knew nothing of Paige’s existence until she was twenty, whilst Lauren believed that neonatal death had snatched her daughter away. The revelation of Paige’s existence, together with the back-story of how Lauren’s mother secretly, and illegally, handed Paige over for adoption, brought about one of the most emotionally gripping and tense familial storylines in recent years. And the fallout continues.

In the aftermath of the recent Lassiter’s explosion, Brad has to be afforded some empathy. After all, he and estranged wife Terese have lost their beloved Josh, whilst Brad has also lost his father. But it’s clear that Brad never really found it easy to relate emotionally to his children, and that some of his past decisions would come up and bite him on the bum at a later date. We could understand that he was immensely proud of Josh and his potential to be a champion swimmer. Josh was committed to his goal but having his father as coach led to conflict and misunderstandings between the two. And Imogen felt neglected. She expressed several times during her time in Erinsborough, that whatever she achieved, it seemed to pass her father by, so hell-bent was he on getting Josh to the Commonwealth Games. That was never to be achieved, of course, after Josh’s accident which rendered his swimming career over. Brad arguably should have given his distraught son more support, but by the time Paige was on the scene, his attention was turned to this new daughter and by association, to Lauren. Brad doesn’t often get his priorities right!

Clash of the half-sisters

With Paige’s arrival, Imogen once again felt pushed out; the half-sisters clashing repeatedly, whilst eventually settling into a more amicable relationship. Then, a year ago, younger sibling, Piper, came home. Independent and strong-minded like Imogen, Piper had been used to making decisions for herself during her remarkably long stay in Canada. But it didn’t mean that she wasn’t vulnerable. Still only sixteen, she had arrived back to one big mess, her father about to leave the marital home to live with Lauren. She was understandably upset, and carrying a burden of her own, which we later discovered was a love affair in Canada with Brodie, a guy her father had coached alongside Josh, until Brodie had implicated Josh in taking illegal steroids. When Brodie came back on the scene and the fact of his and Piper’s meet-ups in Canada was discovered, Piper needed her father’s understanding and guidance. Brad, however, seemed unsure of how to handle the situation. Again, he seemed to have his mind elsewhere. It isn’t that he doesn’t love his children, but he tends to fail to notice when each one, in turn, is having an emotional crisis.

During Josh’s tragic death scene, we saw Brad and number two son say their sad goodbyes to one another. Brad surely must have realised at that point that he needed to shape up to being a more consistent father in the here and now. Cue the arrival of oldest son, Ned. Whilst Ned believed his dad had taken little interest in him when he was growing up, viewers knew that his mother, Beth, had deliberately prevented Brad from seeing Ned. But you have to question just how hard Brad had tried to fight for access. It is typical of Brad to attempt to avoid conflict at any cost. This mess was largely of his making, and running away from the problem caused greater heartache. In Ned, we saw an angry young man, resentful that his father had, in his eyes, abandoned him and his mother, and started a new family without so much as a second thought. Not only that, this was his first meeting with half-sister, Paige, slightly older than him, with her feet now firmly under the family table. Ned felt like an outsider, felt let down by Brad, and wanted to let his father know it.

The angry young Ned

It’s fair to say that Brad wasn’t in the best emotional state when Ned, played by the super-sexy Ben Hall, arrived. But again, instead of making any attempt to talk frankly with Ned, Brad flounced around apparently not knowing what to do or say, serving only to cement Ned’s view of his father as irredeemably selfish. Quite why Brad didn’t try to put the record straight about Beth’s blocking his access to Ned, goodness knows. Ned grew angrier and acted out, sabotaging his father’s Citizen Of The Year award ceremony by replacing the selected video with CCTV footage of Brad and Lauren kissing. Ned, you could argue, had reason to feel resentful towards everyone. To his half-siblings, because they’d had their father in their lives whereas he hadn’t, to Terese, for stealing Brad away from him and his mother, and to Lauren, for causing the family further pain. He acted-out his resentment, even trashing Josh’s grave because, for reasons best known to Brad and Terese, Josh’s headstone commemorated him as sibling of Imogen, Paige and Piper – with no mention of Ned. Viewers could readily understand Ned’s anger.

Again, instead of noticing Ned’s pain, Brad’s mind was elsewhere, in the quest to get justice for Josh’s death. And Ned’s attention turned to Lauren. Neglected by the amount of time Brad was spending comforting Terese, Lauren’s surrogate step-motherly kindness towards Ned started to confuse him. He saw it as something more. Not that Lauren wasn’t partially complicit in Ned’s obvious flirting. Ned is without doubt an extremely attractive young man. Rippling muscles, smouldering eyes, sexy smile, slightly mysterious. He has sex appeal writ large. And Lauren was definitely flattered by his attention. Why else would she manage to find so much time outside of running a business to sit by the pool sketching, all of a sudden? It might be that Ned reminded her of a younger Brad. (Although he reminds this viewer of what a younger Matt, Lauren’s late husband, might have looked like.) Ned had started to get to Lauren and he knew it. Did he really think that his father and Terese had hooked up again in secret? He claims he did, but was it just an excuse to win Lauren’s attention, or even worse, get revenge against Brad?

I like to think that Ned is basically a good guy, even though we were told he’d been in trouble before, belonging to a notorious criminal gang, and even being an accomplice in a robbery at his grandparents house. He seems to be genuinely remorseful for this act, though. Hence, Doug’s ploy, with Josh’s help, in bringing him to Erinsborough before just before the explosion. Doug was desperate to see Ned and Brad reconcile. Ned’s proven to be a popular character, not least because of his looks, but also because he’s complex and interesting. I have come to the conclusion that he genuinely believed his dad was neglecting Lauren, from whom he was receiving mixed messages. That slightly-too-long pause before she turned away after he’d ‘accidentally’ dropped his towel, causing a lot of viewers hearts to beat very fast! The way that she didn’t exactly pull away immediately when he went in for the kiss, showed us that Lauren was tempted alright. Thankfully for all concerned, she came to her senses just in time, although some viewers were rather relishing the scenario, one which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t been tackled before in Neighbours.

Clan Willis: torn apart again

The revelation of the illicit kiss, which, to give him his due, Ned took full responsibility for, has caused further ructions in the already-torn apart and tortured Willis clan. But even Brad has realised that he can’t put all the blame on his son for this latest crisis. He might need to do a lot of soul-searching now that Ned has gone back to Sydney, having been totally honest and explaining that he does still have feelings for Lauren which he needs to get over. If Brad had perhaps been more honest in the past himself, then he might have had a better relationship with all of his five children. He recognises that he can’t condemn Ned too much for his actions, because it would be hypocritical. And having lost one of his children, he has to face up to his own shortcomings and ensure that he scores higher on the parental scale from now on.

Neighbours fans have been very taken with Ned, so are hoping desperately that Ben is invited to return. We don’t mind if Ned causes more friction in the family, or if he takes up with a new love interest, just as long as he returns. And after all, Brad needs Ned just as much as Ned needs Brad. Currently, Brad is at risk of being as neglectful a father as Paul Robinson, and perhaps Ned is the one to turn that around. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Ned’s stay on Ramsay Street, and surely there is plenty of scope for his character to be developed further. Thank you for your acting, Ben, and we hope this is just ‘see you soon’, not ‘goodbye.’ Keep your mobile on loud, for when the call comes!

© Carol Ann Wood
June 2016

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The Doppelgänger

Neighbours Fan-Fiction

Simon stared in surprise as the horrified woman looked at him, turned, and ran away. Strewth, he knew he was hot – he had always had a way with the ladies – but he hadn’t ever had quite that reaction before. So hot that he’d overwhelmed a rather pretty brunette with curvaceous figure and beautiful eyes! Well, who knows, maybe she thought he was a film star or something, and had gone off to tell all her friends. Quite a few people had likened him to various film stars so it was plausible. But he mustn’t let himself get distracted. He was always getting distracted by women, which was probably why he hadn’t managed to hold down a long-term relationship. But recently, he felt the need to put down some sort of roots. He’d never really felt he belonged anywhere. Now he was in this place called Erinsborough, suburb of Melbourne, and he immediately liked what he saw, for some inexplicable reason. Maybe he’d hang around, see what work was going, and make a new life for himself. The death of his mother had altered his outlook on life. Yes, he definitely should hang around, it had a certain vibe to it, this place. Not that Simon had ever believed in vibes before.

Terese thought she must have been imagining things. But it it looked like him. Rationally, she knew it couldn’t be. And Terese had always been a competent, level-headed woman, good at business and running things. True, events over the last few months had left her in a bit of a state. All that business with her brother, Nick, who had done something so awful that even her family had never thought him capable of: Conned Paul Robinson into believing he had leukaemia, in order to persuade him to vote for the financing of a cancer research centre. Paul was a lot of things but he hadn’t deserved to be given chemotherapy under false pretences. And he hadn’t deserved to develop pneumonia as a result. He was recovered now, but Nick could have killed him. Terese had always been loyal to her brother, to whom she had looked up, but the cruel words he had spoken to her and her family before he was charged had made her begin to see the awful truth.

As Terese made her way home after the ‘sighting’ or whatever you could call it, she wondered if she should tell anyone. What on earth would Brad think? That she was cracking up completely? She would feel rather silly and no-one was going to believe her. She certainly couldn’t tell Lauren. Besides, Lauren was a bit of a thorn in Terese’s side these days. Oh, she felt sorry for her, what with losing Matt, of course. But did Brad have to spend quite so much time with his ex-girlfriend? Brad had said that Matt’s last words to him after the accident were that he must look after Lauren. Terese felt a little ashamed about even thinking this, but she had even wondered if Brad had made it up, in order to justify the time spent at the Turner house. Brad and Lauren were bound by so much history: sharing a daughter – one that Brad had had no idea had ever been born until last year – and whom Lauren thought had died at birth; and now Paige had been found, and was a member of both families, inextricably linking them for ever. What with that and now the revelation that Brad and Terese’s son Josh was the biological father of Amber Turner’s unborn baby, Terese had been a little stressed recently.

Shopping. Supper. Terese didn’t like cooking much, apart from breakfasts. At least she prided herself that she always sent her loved ones out to the day on a good breakfast. She grimaced as she recalled the way that her father-in-law Doug had always praised Brad’s ex-wife Beth’s culinary skills. He hadn’t made a secret of the fact that he and his wife Pam had preferred Beth to Terese. But never mind Beth. Beth was in the past, and Terese had an important job at the hotel to fill her time. Why should she have to compete with an ex-wife, she thought. As usual, she felt too tired to cook supper, so she popped into Harold’s, only to bump into Sheila on the way out.

“What’s the matter, Terese, love?” Sheila remarked, seeing Terese’s flustered body language, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

Well, Terese could hardly say yes, that might actually just have happened, could she? Especially within Lauren’s earshot. She made some excuse about it having been a stressful day at work and hurriedly picked some dishes for supper, not wanting to have a long conversation with Lauren, who was serving at the counter. She was always seeing Lauren when she least wanted to. Ex-lovers and ex-wives of Brad seemed to continually pop up, either physically, or in Terese’s thoughts.

“How’s your day been?” said Brad, absent-mindedly, at the Willis home, pouring them both a glass of wine.

“Oh… yes, it was okay, a bit tiring, and the receptionists had to deal with a lot of complaints today, but nothing I couldn’t sort out, of course,” replied Terese, carefully rearranging a vase of flowers on the dinner table, and trying hard not to convey any sense that she thought she was going mad and seeing dead people walking around Erinsborough. But it was on her mind all that night.

It was only half-ten in the morning, but Simon needed a drink. It had happened again. This time it was a hippyish-looking chick in a kaftan holding the hand of a toddler. Not quite so interesting for him, but he had certainly caught her attention. She’d looked, looked away, and looked again, then scooped up her child, who was pointing at him, and hurried off. What the hell was happening? It had to be that he looked like some new singer on the scene, or something. Having moved around quite a lot lately, he hadn’t quite kept track of the latest stars, which had proven a bit of a disadvantage when chatting up younger women. He was getting on a bit, and he realised that the women he was interested in were often almost young enough to be his daughter. That’s if he’d ever settled down and had a daughter, but he hadn’t, of course.

Making his way to a bar on the hotel complex, not far from where he’d pitched up his camper van, he caught his reflection in the glass. He might be getting on a bit, but he was still a looker, that was certain. Rugged, with the slight beard, defined muscles, what with the workouts, and nicely tanned body from the surfing. Let’s see if this was a friendly place or not. You could always tell how friendly a place was from the local bar. He’d learnt that a long time ago. If the bartender was chatty, they could tell you a good few things you might need to know to determine whether or not you wanted to stay. He had this strange feeling of having been here before. He was sure he hadn’t been here before, yet it was somehow familiar. Maybe he’d rocked up in another suburb a few years back with another hotel bar, similar decor. Well, hotel bars weren’t all that different from one another, were they?

Sauntering through the empty bar, Simon saw a blonde female bartender wearing an overly floral dress. A bit too middle-aged for him, he thought. Simon’s thoughts were never far from whether or not a woman might be ‘his type’. The woman had her back to him, putting some glasses onto the shelf behind the bar. “A pint of your best beer, love,” he said, cheerily. It never did any harm to make a good impression, even if they weren’t dating material. With that, the woman turned around abruptly, regarded Simon with a look of horror… and fainted. What the freaking hell was going on? Simon rushed round to her side of the bar, first making sure that she hadn’t hit her head as she’d fallen.

“Can you hear me, love? You fainted. I’m Simon. We’ll get you on a comfy chair and see if you need a doctor. Hello? Love?”

The woman was coming round, but seemed confused. She was mumbling that something or other couldn’t be possible, and that she must be seeing things. And she was rambling about someone called Matt, and that some chick, Laura, or was it Lauren, couldn’t know about this. Helping the woman to a chair, Simon fetched her a glass of water. He hadn’t meant to make her faint. Hell, he must look like some very famous person for people to be reacting like this.

The woman took the water, and stared hard at Simon. “This can’t be happening,” she said. For one minute he thought she was going to conk out again.

“Look, love, I am sorry that you seem to have had some sort of shock,” Simon said, “But I’m not sure why I frightened you so much. It’s happened twice before since I rocked up here yesterday. I had two women on separate occasions take one look at me and both of them ran off in a hurry. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m just here checking the place out to see if I want to stay for a while. Settle down a bit. I’m not doing anything wrong, I promise. I might be a bit of a babe-magnet but I’m not a bad egg.”

The woman still looked confused. “So… you’re really not Matt, then?” She asked him, her voice a bit wobbly.

“No,” Simon laughed, “I’m Simon. I don’t know who Matt is. But maybe that’s who the other women thought I was yesterday? Anyway, maybe you’d like to tell me your name?”

“Oh… yes… the woman began. “Well, I’m Sheila. I’m the bar manager here. Matt is… was, a local policeman. A lovely man. He died a few months ago, in an accident. So sad. His poor wife and family are devastated. It’s hit everyone hard, actually. But you look the spit of him. I mean, a real doppelgänger. That’s why I was so shocked. I thought I’d seen a ghost. But I don’t believe in ghosts. And you’re obviously not one yourself!”

“No, Sheila, love, I’m not,” Simon laughed. Although, underneath his laugh, he felt a bit uneasy. Did he really look the spit of someone who had lived in this place, someone who was now dead? It was surreal. Maybe the people here had been so traumatised by this Matt’s death that they were all in a state of shock and wanted to think they’d seen him come back from the dead? That was weird. He felt like he was in the middle of some creepy horror story. Maybe it wasn’t such a good place to hang around.

“I know this might seem odd,” Sheila was saying, “But you really do look like Matt. Only he didn’t have a beard. Well, not until his last weeks when he took leave from the force. He went downhill a bit. Oh, not that your beard makes you look as if you’ve gone downhill!” Sheila stopped for a minute and looked flustered.

“We have to make sure that Lauren doesn’t see you,” she went on. “If Lauren sees you, she’ll think she’s going mad like I did just then, and whoever else it was who saw you yesterday must have thought… I’m sorry, love, but you’ll have to leave, because it’s going to be too tricky for you to stay.”

Simon sighed. “Well, at least let me have a drink first – that’s if Laura, or did you say Lauren – isn’t about to come in any time now? Look, I’ll sit quietly and discreetly in the corner, I won’t let anyone who comes in see my face, and then if you honestly think I’m going to be upsetting people, I’ll be on my way. Shame, as I thought this looked like a nice place to stay. In fact, look, I’ll put my shades on, that will disguise me, so I don’t look like the bloke who died. I’m sorry to hear about the loss, by the way.”

Sheila got up to pour Simon a drink. “No, sit down, love,” he said, “In fact, why don’t you come and sit over in the corner with me, keep me company, while you recover. You had a shock, I feel a bit responsible.”

For once, Sheila did as she was bid. He seemed like a decent enough man. But she still couldn’t get over the fact that he was so much like poor Matt. The same chiselled cheek bones, the lovely eyes, everything was so familiar and yet somehow different. He even sounded a lot like Matt. Now that was odd. The man poured himself a beer, and took that and Sheila’s water over to the corner table.

“So, can I ask what you are doing in our little old suburb?” Sheila enquired.

Simon took a swig of beer. “I’ve been travelling around the country a bit,” he replied. “I’m from Queensland. I wanted a bit of a change, I had a few things to think about, you know how it is. So I took to the open road, to give me some space.”

“Oh,” said Sheila, forgetting the uncanny resemblance for a minute, as she loved a good natter –which is what made her so good at her job – “I have a friend, well – I don’t know him that well personally but he’s from these parts and came back to visit recently – he did the same as you. He’s travelled around for a good few years now. But he’s retired. How have you been surviving, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Inheritance.” Simon answered. Sheila put her hand to her mouth.

“Oh, I’m sorry, love, you’ve had a bereavement too, that’s sad.”

“Well.” Simon said, “to be honest, we weren’t that close, me and my old mum. She was disappointed in me because I never married and gave her grandchildren. Dad died a long time ago. I never wanted for anything, they weren’t rich but the house, that was worth a few thousand dollars, and I’d been in a dead-beat job over in the Northern Territory so I thought I’d take off. Nothing to stop me. And as I said, I needed to think about a few things. So, if you don’t mind me asking, if it’s not too painful, what was this Matt bloke like, who I’m apparently the spit of?”

“Oh,” smiled Sheila, “Matt was a good egg. As I said, he had a few problems before he died. But he was a good egg. A bit shy for a policeman, very definite ideas of right and wrong, loved his family to bits. But they’d had a few dramas in the time leading up to his death. His wife, that’s Lauren, well she found out her first baby that she had with Brad – he lives in the street with his wife Terese – the baby hadn’t died after all. Lauren’s mother had her secretly adopted out, and let Lauren think she’d died. And Brad hadn’t even known she’d ever existed up to that point! I know, it’s crazy isn’t it. Anyway, Lauren and Brad went looking for the daughter. And they found her. So now she’s here with her mother and her sister. Well, and her half brother and sister, that’s Brad and Tereses’s twins.”

Wowza! Simon struggled to keep up with Sheila’s chat. It sounded like a bit of a mess, and now the poor bloke Matt was dead. And he’d thought that this seemed like a sleepy place where nothing ever happened!

“I’m adopted too,” Simon told Sheila. “I only found out after my mother passed on. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to get away. I had to get my head straight. To think about whether or not I want to find my birth family. I still can’t decide. It’s a brain-ache. One day I think I do. The next, I say what if they don’t want to know me. My birth mother might not want to see me. She might be married with other children and never told anyone about me. She might be dead, I guess.”

“Oh, you poor love,” said Sheila, sympathetically, “That must be a real conundrum. Do you know anything about your birth family? Or haven’t you checked anything out yet?”

“Nope.” Simon shook his head. “Still not sure if I want to or not.”

A thought was starting to form in Sheila’s mind. No, it was too far-fetched. It had to be coincidence that he looked like Matt. But he looked so much like Matt. Sheila had never remembered Matt mentioning that he’d been adopted. But then why would he? No one in Erinsborough knew much about Matt’s family. He never mentioned them much in conversation. She gleaned that they hadn’t been that close. This Simon, he couldn’t be Matt’s long-lost twin. Could he?

Sheila and the man, Simon, who was the spit of the late Matt, stared at each other.

“You don’t think …” Simon began, then stopped short.

“Look, I don’t know, love,” said Sheila, “but there is a chance. I don’t know much about Matt’s family. Even if you wanted to find out, now isn’t a good time for a complete stranger looking exactly like Matt rocking up on the Turner’s doorstep. All I can say is this: if you do want to find out, lie low, make sure you aren’t spotted, and don’t come too near Ramsay Street until we’ve checked out a few things. I can get Lauren to chat about Matt in a nice way, remembering the happy times, and maybe ask around a few other people. There’s a woman, Susan Kennedy, she’s very good at finding out things.”

Sheila paused for a minute, before continuing. “Between you and me, Susan’s a bit of a sticky-beak. Nothing like me, of course. I always know when to mind my own business. But I could get her on board. That’s if you want. Because, you sure do look just like Matt. Remember though, the Turners might not be able to deal with it right now. Oh, and the daughter’s preggers with her ex’s baby as well, that’s Brad and Terese’s boy. They’ve got a lot going on.”

Good grief, thought Simon. This family – or should he say those two families – sounded like pretty dysfunctional ones. He still hadn’t quite got his head around all of the ins and outs of who had been married to whom, babies, pregnancies, lost children. It was like one of those soap operas his mother had been so fond of watching!

“Sure thing. I get that,” Simon nodded, looking at his now almost-empty glass. “I won’t shoot through. I’ll hang around, but lie low. If this all turns out to be a coincidence, I’ll move on, I don’t want to upset anyone. Tell you something, it feels odd to think I might have had a twin I’ll never know. I can tell you something else too. I can’t shake off the fact that I feel at home here somehow, almost as if I belong. That’s weird. I don’t really believe in all that stuff. But if I did have a twin…”

Sheila exchanged mobile numbers with Simon. What an extraordinary morning, she mused. It seemed that Simon had been spotted by Terese Willis, and then by Sonya Rebecchi: one apparently apparently ‘ample up top’, the other ‘wearing a kaftan thing.’ No mistake there then, Sheila thought with a smile, although she knew this was no laughing matter. She was going to have to get Terese and Sonya together. She remembered then that she’d seen Terese looking a bit startled when she ran into her in Harold’s the day before. Strewth, she must have hit the nail on the head by saying Terese looked like she’d seen a ghost!

“It’s me, and it’s very urgent and top secret,” Sheila said to Terese, on the phone. “I can’t tell you what it’s about until I’ve got you and Sonya together. But you have to believe me, this is between us three for the time being.”

“I can’t think what’s going on,” Sonya said to Terese, on the way round to Sheila’s place that evening. “Sheila sounded very worried when she phoned. I’ve had to get Susan to babysit, as Toadie’s playing pool with the others.”

“I know, it’s odd,” Terese agreed, in a disgruntled tone. “And I had to rearrange my plans too. It’s probably about something trivial, but you know Sheila. She likes to make something out of nothing. Look at how she nearly started World War Three when one of her gnomes went missing!” Sonya giggled. That was true of Sheila, she was fiercely protective of her gnomes, and some of the neighbours had taken to moving them around for light entertainment. Terese didn’t articulate her thoughts to Sonya, but she was feeling edgy that she’d been ‘summoned’ when she’d planned a quiet, and hopefully romantic night in with Brad. Brad wasn’t very good at enjoying his own company, and she really didn’t want him popping over to check on Lauren when she was out. Sooner or later, Lauren had to learn to cope without him.

Sheila knew she’d have to keep quiet until she’d spoken with Terese and Sonya. Hopefully, both of them could keep it under their hats and then, maybe they could include Susan in the discovery. But certainly no one else, not yet. She hoped that she was doing the right thing, by discussing it with Terese and Sonya. But evidently, they’d thought the same thing as her, and it needed dealing with before poor Lauren saw this man Simon for herself.

As Sheila related what had happened in the bar that day, Terese and Sonya looked at each other, and at Sheila, in horror. “I know you both saw him too,” Sheila said, “and that you separately both thought you were going mad, seeing a ghost. That’s why I fainted when he walked into The Water Hole. It was such a shock!”

“But-what-so?” Sonya gabbled, trying to get her head around the idea. “So, this guy, Simon, he knows he’s adopted, and maybe Matt was adopted too, you’re wondering? And Matt might have been the twin that Simon never knew he had?”

“That’s about it,” Sheila nodded. “We need to work on a way of getting to the truth without upsetting Lauren. Sonya, maybe you could get her talking. Or do you think Lucy Robinson would know anything? She and Lauren were pretty close when they were young. Did they stay in touch after Lauren went to live with her mum? Lauren might have told Lucy stuff about Matt when she first met him.”

“Yes! Yes! Maybe.We have to do something.” Sonya said, still rather flustered. “And I’ve just thought of another thing. Nell doesn’t really understand about what happened to Matt, I mean, she’s too young to know about death, and, well, when we saw this guy, she was yelling to him, ‘Hello Matt!’ I’m scared that now she’s talking more, she’ll go and say to Lauren ‘We saw Matt!’ or something. Oh, this is a nightmare!”

Terese’s head was spinning too. Of course, she was relieved that she wasn’t going mad and seeing apparitions of dead police officers. But she knew that a discovery of a possible twin of Matt’s could have repercussions for Lauren. And who would Lauren lean on in this latest crisis? Yes, Brad. Maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe this guy just happened to look a lot like Matt. Terese hadn’t seen him all that close-up, and in some lights, people looked similar. Sonya was a bit airy-fairy and so she might be fooled. But then, Sheila must have seen him close up, and seemed so sure. Sheila was one for straight talking: she wouldn’t say he was the spit of Matt if he wasn’t. Although, she was fond of exaggerating over some things. She once complained that a customer was ‘practically groping her’ when the poor man was only swatting away a bee that was about to sting her. Terese sighed. She didn’t really know what to think any more. This was alien to Terese, not knowing what to think. She hated not being in control of things.

The women agreed that they should Skype Lucy, on the pretext of catching up with her and with Chris, who had followed Lucy to New York and was having a ball, by all accounts. They had to wait until a lot later in the evening, so that it was breakfast time in New York, but Sheila said this couldn’t wait till the next day. Terese was becoming a bit anxious, and aware that she was gulping down her wine at a faster rate than she knew was sensible. An evening in the company of Sheila and Sonya wasn’t her idea of fun at the best of times. Should she text Brad to say she was going to be a bit later home than planned? Or would that look as if she was checking up on him? She decided against it but she knew she wasn’t being unreasonable to feel suspicious, given the past.

Lucy was, understandably, astounded at what she was being told. Unfortunately though, she didn’t have a clue about whether or not Matt had been adopted. “It’s a long shot, surely?” she said to her Erinsborough friends. “I know that Lauren mentioned once that Matt’s mother was a bit older than the average mum. So, she might have been in her early forties when Matt was born. Other than that, there isn’t much I can help you with. Matt’s dad had a drink problem when he was growing up. I know his mum died a few years ago. But his dad’s still alive. He’s not that well, I don’t think. He probably wouldn’t be ready to talk about anything to do with Matt, so soon after losing him. He and Matt weren’t especially close, but I know the old guy was devastated when he got the news.”

Sheila, Sonya and Terese looked at one another. This wasn’t what they’d hoped for.

“Then maybe we need to get Mark on board,” Sheila suggested. Terese rolled her eyes. Sheila had a fondness for Mark Brennan, and still had hopes of him and her daughter Naomi getting together for good. They’d dated but it was a very on-off thing. Sheila ‘just knew’ that Mark was the one for Naomi, if only her stubborn daughter could see it too. She had long despaired of Naomi’s choice of men, and she was cross that she seemed to have let a good one slip away. Any excuse to get Mark Brennan on board in a ‘good turn’ scenario would be a chance to show Naomi what she was missing.

Mind you, Terese thought, Mark was clever. He was a detective by rights, and at heart, and the fact he had returned to the police force in the rôle of constable didn’t mean that he wouldn’t win back a promotion to his former status. This type of investigation was bound to appeal to him. Why not get him involved? He had mentioned last week that he was taking a trip to Queensland to visit family, so while he was there, he could call on Matt’s dad. He could make the excuse that he wanted to pay a tribute to a fondly-remembered colleague. Get the old man talking and he might just let something out of the bag. Sonya was in agreement – she was a big fan of Mark’s too, and she knew he’d conduct things in a sensitive manner. He’d be easily persuaded. One cuddle from Nell and he’d be onside in no time. Where Sonya and Toadie’s toddler daughter Nell was concerned, Mark was a big softie.

Everyone in Erinsborough knew that you had to run anything past Susan Kennedy before you went ahead, thought Terese. It didn’t matter if it was what you wanted to cook for supper, the choice of colour for your new sofa, or discussing a relationship crisis; Susan was the wise woman of the street with all the answers, and she wouldn’t take kindly to being kept out of the loop. Besides, she was as sharp as a knife and she’d know if something was going on behind her back. The only thing she hadn’t ever known about before it happened was her own husband’s past indiscretions, Terese thought with a wry smile. But that was behind the Kennedy couple now. Karl was heading into late middle age in a more amiable manner, and his only unfulfilled dream was his ambition of becoming a world-renowned singing star with his band, The Right Prescription. Susan relished being involved with neighbours’ conundrums, and she might come up with some sound advice. Yes, Terese thought, maybe including Susan in all this was a good thing.

Simon had taken on board that he needed to lie low in case he was spotted. He found a place to park his camper van away from the immediate area, but the women he’d encountered had promised to keep him on board with any developments. Jeez. He was gobsmacked by all these possibilities. What an odd bunch they were in this place. Although, maybe not all of them were odd. He’d caught a sneaky glimpse of that Sheila’s daughter when he was in the bar. She hadn’t seen him looking, but he had to admit, when she rushed in during his chat at the corner table with Sheila and shouted something about ‘Sorry Mum, can’t stop, got to go and check out that designer handbag,’ before rushing out again, he had to look again. She was an attractive girl, alright. If she was up for it, he wouldn’t mind a date with her. If he could ever get this odd mystery or mix-up sorted, that was.

Soon, both Susan and Mark were in on the secret of Simon. In fact, pretty much everyone but the Turner family knew about it. Erinsborough was a small community, and news travelled fast. But they took care of their own, and there wasn’t a soul who would want Lauren or her children to have a dreadful shock, not after the bereavement. It had happened once before, to poor Kate Ramsay, when she thought Mark was dead and it turned out he’d been in witness protection all along. How ironically sad that Mark hadn’t ever been dead, and then Kate’s life was to end so abruptly after their brief reunion.

Mark agreed to call on Matt’s dad in Queensland. “But, Matt’s dad’s an old man,” he reminded everyone. “We don’t know what state of mind he’s in. I can play it a bit more personal and make out I knew Matt for a bit longer than I did. I’ll tell him what a good man his son was, and give him a story or two about catching a crim, you know, get him onside. There’s no telling it will encourage him to say anything about Matt’s childhood, though. Matt mentioned a few times that his dad was a man of few words.”

“Maybe he wasn’t adopted then,” Sheila remarked, “that sounds so much like the Matt we knew and loved. A man of few words. He even got stuck for words when we had the public speaking event.”

Mark felt awkward as he approached the house in Queensland a few days later, having been given the address discreetly, via a bit of digging from Daniel Robinson, who would do anything to protect his girlfriend Amber from any hurt. Mark wasn’t even sure what he was going to say to Matt’s dad. Poor old bloke, he’d just lost his only child, so he could hardly come out with ‘A man turned up in Erinsborough who’s the spit of your dead son and we wondered if they were twins who’d been adopted,’ now could he? Mark loved detective work, and this was something he was doing out of the goodness of his heart. However, he also hated being underhand when dealing with people who weren’t criminals, just ordinary folk caught up unwittingly in some complex situation or other. He rang the doorbell, and after a minute or two, a man perhaps in his mid to late seventies answered. He looked broken, sad.

“Mr Turner, you don’t know me but I was in the area and I’m a friend and colleague of your late son, Matt,” Mark began. “I know this might be difficult, but I just wanted to pay my own personal respects to him and say how much we miss him in the neighbourhood.” He paused, and hoped that the old man would invite him in.

“You’d better step inside I suppose,” the man replied, not giving much away by his expression, other than the grief that the past few months must have brought him.

“Cup of tea?” Matt’s dad offered. “ I’m not sure I’ve got any sugar, if you like sugar. But if you’ll take it as it comes, then you’re welcome. I’m afraid I haven’t got biscuits either. I don’t get many unexpected visitors.”

Mark found himself searching the old man’s face for any signs of similarity to Matt’s. Surely they had the same eyes? The jawline looked similar too. Maybe this was all a big mistake, and the fact that Simon bore an uncanny resemblance to Matt was just chance, nothing more.

“He didn’t visit regularly since they moved to Erinsborough,” the old man said, setting two mugs of tea down on the kitchen table, his hands trembling a little. “I’m Matthew senior, by the way. Bet Matt never talked about me that much?”

“Er, well, he didn’t give much away about himself, ” Mark began cautiously, “but that was part of his nature.”

Matthew senior chuckled. “Chip off,” he said. “We Turners don’t tend to do small talk. Always was an awkward child at conversation. You didn’t need much out here. There are open fields, and animals, so what need is there for talking? My Lorna, she could talk, mind you. She made up for me and Matt. Maybe we men couldn’t get a word in.” He chuckled again, and then looked saddened.

“What I’d give for a bit of small-talk nowadays,” Matthew went on. “I used to like chatting on the phone with the grandkids, but they’re so busy these days. And now Matt’s gone, Lauren doesn’t know what to say to me.”

There was no adoption, Mark could tell. This man was definitely Matt’s biological father. You only had to look at his mannerisms for a few minutes and you could see the likenesses. Mark felt a bit of a low-life, drudging up painful memories for a bereaved old man. Only one way to play it now and that was to ask genuine questions about Matt’s childhood that might give his dad a shred of comfort. After all, until the last few weeks of Matt’s life, he had indeed been a wholly good and upright man with a sense of family and right and wrong. Matthew really looked like he needed to hear this.

“Did he always want to be a policeman?” Mark enquired. “He made a good cop I can tell you. He always said he learned his values when he was very small.” (This wasn’t quite true, as Matt had never said a lot about his past, but it didn’t hurt to bend the truth just this once.)

“Oh yes, since he was about seven,” Matthew said. “I’ve got some photos somewhere, he used to play cops and robbers and he once pretended Lorna was a robber and shut her in the outhouse till she had to bang on the door for me to come let her out. Full of imagination, that one!”

Mark smiled. This chat did seem to be cheering Matthew up and Mark felt a bit better about it. Besides, it was actually nice to hear things about Matt that he’d never known. Mark and Matt had had their differences, but he had genuinely liked the guy. And Mark knew for himself just how painful loss could be, and how in time, it helped to talk about your loved one.

“He caught Alan Thompson taking sweets from Rhona’s Stores once, and he tried to make a citizens arrest on him,” Matthew said, visibly relaxing a bit. “They were both nine. He got a shiner for his troubles, but he was determined he wasn’t going to let crime get out of hand in the area, that’s what he said. We did laugh. But he meant it.”

Mark could well believe this of Matt, and smiled again as Matthew continued, “Lorna tried to over-protect him a bit you know, but Matt wasn’t having any of it. He was very independent. Shy, but independent, and didn’t seem to need lots of friends. Lorna was always scared that he’d grow away from her. He was all she ever wanted. She couldn’t have one of her own, you know.”

Mark sat bolt upright in the chair and nearly spilt his mug of tea. “Oh, so… you mean, Matt was adopted, then?” He said. Maybe there was something in this whole story after all.

“Not exactly,” Matthew replied. He sighed, looking weary. “It was messy. I didn’t behave well, I know. Early on in our marriage, we went through a rough spell. And later, I strayed. Though I do regret it, I don’t regret the result. You see, Matt was born to the girl I had a quick fling with. She wasn’t from round here, she worked in the local hotel. When her parents found out she was pregnant, they sent her to a mother and baby home. You did in those days. To avoid the scandal. When Lorna learnt about the affair, she was heartbroken of course, and I was very sorry. Then we got to know about the baby through someone working in the hotel, and it all seemed to make sense. The girl and her parents were in agreement. We put the wheels in motion and at least I could give Lorna what she really longed for, a baby. And we could make our marriage work. I think trying to have a baby and failing had pushed us apart, so this was our chance to be happy. When Matt was three months old, we picked him up from the mother and baby home and that was that. But we never told him about Lorna not being his real mum. She made me swear not to. It was the least I could do in the circumstances.”

These revelations left Mark longing for a stiff drink but, knowing of Matthew Turner senior’s past battle with alcohol, he thought better of suggesting it. So, Simon could have been a twin? Had Matthew and Lorna known Matt had been a twin? Mark tried to think on his feet. How could he possibly break this to Matthew if he didn’t know already? It could give the poor old guy a heart attack if it wasn’t handled properly.

If Mark hadn’t known about Matthew Turner senior’s past battle with alcohol, he’d have loved a stiff drink right now. So, Simon could have been a twin? Had Matthew and Lorna known Matt had been a twin? Mark tried to think on his feet. How could he possibly break this to Matthew if he didn’t know already? It could give the poor old guy a heart attack if it wasn’t handled properly.

“You did the right thing,” Mark told Matthew. “Matt said he had a happy, country childhood. He clearly had loving parents, and no one is perfect, so I’m sure he would have understood if he’d known about your fling.”

This seemed to please Matthew, so Mark thought maybe he’d risk moving the conversation on a little.

“Look, Matthew, I know this might sound like an odd question, and you don’t have to answer it and I’m sorry if you think it’s too nosey… but, are you sure the girl, um, Matt’s biological mum, had one baby? She didn’t have twins?”

It was Matthew’s turn to look shocked. “How the devil did you guess?” he said. “As a matter of fact, she did. But the other one died, apparently. It often happened back then, twins didn’t have the same chance of survival as they do today, and they were born two months early. Shame, as we’d have had both babies. But that’s life for you, eh?”

So what on earth could Mark say now? He could hardly say, actually, I think the other baby might not have died but been adopted by another couple. Too much. God, what was it about babies being adopted when people thought they’d died? Only last year they’d had all the drama in Ramsay Street with Paige Smith turning up. Mark had got to know Paige well, on a few occasions. Very well, in fact. And there was certainly no-one more alive and kicking than feisty Paige!

Mark knew he’d have to try and find out the rest from Simon’s side of the picture. Which mother and baby home Matt’s real mother had been sent to, official records, all that stuff. He couldn’t take this any further with Matthew right now. Sure, Simon had a right to find out about his real family, but this was going to cause such a tremendous shock. And Mark Brennan felt as if he had been landed right slap bang in the middle of it all.

This writing is unauthorised fan-fiction based upon the Australian television serial Neighbours. It remixes characters and places from pre-existing Neighbours narratives with new characters and plot-lines to tell an original story. It is not a copy nor an adaptation of any known story-line(s) from that serial.

The author makes no claim that any rights-holders of Neighbours – in particular FreemantleMedia Australia Pty Ltd and FreemantleMedia Operations BV – have made any any endorsement whatsoever of this writing.

This story and original characters are © 2015 Carol Ann Wood, all rights reserved.

Originally published May 2015

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Perfect Blend

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Remembering Matt Turner

The ‘Perfect Blend’ not the ‘Perfect Bland

I’ve watched Neighbours for most of the thirty years it’s been aired, apart from a brief spell during the late 1990s when our family first moved to Cambridge, UK, from rural Norfolk, and I was in a period of personal transition. I stopped watching a lot of TV for a while, in order to reassess my personal ambitions and to get my creative mojo back on track. Well, that sounds impressive doesn’t it, but in reality, I was unemployed and kidding myself that I wrote for a living. Mostly, I didn’t make a living, and in order to contribute to the family coffers (or fund my shoe habit and my Chelsea FC season-ticket) I went back into the workplace. Then, after finishing work one day in the early noughties, I absent-mindedly flicked through the TV channels, and suddenly, there were my ‘old friends’ of Ramsey Street. There were newcomers to get to know, but some of the characters were just as I had remembered them when my children were young, and the show seemed to have retained its quirky charm. No other soap opera, to my knowledge, has featured a dog’s dream, or involved quite so many comedic episodes of characters getting locked out of their houses when naked. And although man-with-no-pants is a recycled scenario, it never fails to make me smile.

A fondness for one character

But I’m not writing this piece about Neighbours as a whole. With the thirtieth anniversary episodes in full flow, I’ll leave that to others. I want to talk about the fondness I’ve felt for one Ramsey Street character since his arrival in the spring of 2013, and why Cambridge will probably run out of boxed tissues when I watch the sad death of Senior Constable Matt Turner – formally Sergeant Turner until the force demoted him for a minor misdemeanour. (I was incensed, of course.) At first, Matt, played by the lovely Josef Brown, didn’t feature heavily on my radar for a couple of months. I remembered that Matt had been referred to at various points over the years by Lou, but only in passing as Lauren’s other half, and he’d had at least one name change, as is the norm on Neighbours. It’s a long-running joke amongst the stalwart fans that the writers have little regard for continuity of name or age if it gets in the way of a good story. We refer to the ageing as SOPRAS. (Soap opera rapid ageing syndrome.) Well, I say Matt didn’t feature on my radar, that’s apart from the ‘Wow, Matt has gorgeous eyes, and a lovely smile when he isn’t frowning, and he looks great in uniform’ reaction. Hell yes. Let’s be honest here, Matt, (or should I say Josef, really) is easy on the eye!

More to Matt than met the eye?

We soon discovered that the oldest Turner child, Mason, was in what the Aussies quaintly refer to as ‘Juvie’ (which makes juvenile detention sound like the next educational step after ‘Kindie’ (Kindergarten). It was revealed that Mason’s incarceration was the result of Matt shopping his own son. Youngest child Bailey was also involved in the crime but Matt had apparently covered for him. Matt initially seemed so straightforward but you could see that this story had legs. This was proven to be the case when we first saw a very bitter and angry Mason arrive on the street – the tension between father and son was played out perfectly by Josef and Taylor Glockner. Whereas some Neighbours viewers still insisted that Matt was ‘boring.’ I have always tended to think beyond this basic premise, and am more inclined to believe that ‘boring’ characters are written and played that way for a reason. Perhaps their character will develop and change. They might have a secret or a side to them which has not yet been revealed. Maybe that’s because I’m a creative writer myself, because I’ve enjoyed taking part in amateur dramatics, or perhaps because I work in a university, supporting students in drama and film. On one module, the lecturer had worked on the production of Neighbours: I learnt a lot about soap characterisation and casting, as well as the technical abilities required to create successful and long-running TV drama.

When the actor understands the character

Wondering quite why I was so intrigued by Matt (hunk factor aside) I made a point of listening to, and reading, interviews which Josef had given about playing him. Aha! I was right. Having had an extensive career as a dancer as well as other acting rôles, Josef explained why playing someone like Matt appealed. He clearly had great insight into Matt’s character. Matt, Josef explained, saw things in a very black and white way. He had a strong sense of justice, and could sometimes be very stubborn. He was a strong believer in family values and would do anything to protect and nurture his clan. His stubbornness was often an annoyance for his loved ones, and sadly, his misguided pride was what finally caused him to slide into a dark world from which there would be no way back. I’m not sure how much Josef enjoyed the spectacle of Matt going down this uncharacteristic path in his final weeks, (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t keen on Matt’s liaison with Sharon Canning) but it serves to show how anyone can be tempted to act against their better judgement when a financial and emotional crisis looms large.

Give me a regular guy

Personally, I have never been a fan of the all-out bad-boy character in soaps. I regard  Stefan Dennis as a fine actor, playing Paul Robinson, and I understand why soaps need those characters, but I’ve never thought, “Ooh, he’s so devious, what a cheat, but you can’t help love him.” I’ve learnt that this sets me apart from a lot of other soap viewers. I guess, for some, soap is pure escapism, to alleviate life’s boredom or frustrations. These viewers want excitement, so they’re not going to be gripped by Matt discussing how best to discipline Bailey, or by Lauren tutting if he’d forgotten to call in to the butchers to get supper ingredients on the way home. (Butchers? We have never seen one in Neighbours and I don’t imagine non-carnivore Josef would have been impressed if he had to be seen in said butchers!) So, contrary to some viewers, I enjoy a portrayal of a good-at-heart, loving family man, with all his faults and well-meant but sometimes misguided words and actions. Much like someone we probably all know and love in real life, but who can also make us cringe. (Matt asking Bailey if he wanted to ‘hang out’ in the garden shed and make his mother a spice rack was one such moment. Er, Matt, no, he doesn’t!) Those moments are sweet, touching, and provide us with realism. And not all realism always has to be gritty to be watchable. Similarly, the time that Matt simply put his arms around his daughter when she had messed up her love-life was tear-jerking. That’s what you want your dad to do in a crisis. Yes, Matt was disappointed in Amber’s actions, but he wanted to show her that he was there for her. Tender Matt was also exemplified when the story emerged that Lauren had previously had a baby with Brad, her ex-boyfriend, twenty years earlier. It was awkward enough for Matt living across the street from his wife’s ex-lover, but for her to have kept secret the birth of a child? What partner wouldn’t have been shocked? True to form, Matt went moody and silent, unable to process his emotions, until his love and loyalty towards Lauren shone through. Oh, that scene on the veranda! I was in bits! But Lauren also discovered that her baby hadn’t died, as mother Kathy had led her believe, and instead was swiftly (and unofficially) adopted. Matt had to face the fact that Lauren and Brad would want to trace this daughter. He was hurting, and probably felt threatened by the new dynamics. A few Neighbours fans commented that surely Matt should just accept this new situation without question. Well hang on, emotions are a bit more complex than that. I reflected on the ‘what if’ that I had once discussed with my husband. What if an adult child had turned up announcing that he was their father? What if the mother was someone I knew had been his first love? I’d always said I’d be generous and accommodating, but on reflection, the reality might have been different. Ultimately though, generous-hearted Matt was able to put his own misgivings aside and give Brad and Lauren the go-ahead to search for their child.

Just a kiss?

Then came That Kiss, in Brad and Lauren’s search for their daughter. Oh my! And as this is Soap-Land, Matt, and Terese, Brad’s glamorous business-minded wife, would doubtless find out. “FFS!” wrote someone on a Neighbours Facebook page, “It was only a kiss. Can’t Matt and Terese get over it?” Okay, they are actors playing rôles, but what the writers are doing here is trying to replicate real life. And in real life, if you discovered your partner had kissed their ex-lover, albeit in an emotion-fuelled moment which they both regretted immediately, you probably wouldn’t ‘get over it’ without questioning your relationship. You might feel feel hurt, betrayed and threatened, at least until you’d worked it through. In fact, Josef himself felt compelled to write a very forthright response to this storyline for the fans, because of the attention it received on social media. Again, great insight and reflection from the actor. For me, one of the most heart-wrenching scenes, after Matt learned of the betrayal, was when he said he’d known he was ‘lucky to get Lauren’ and had always thought he loved her more than she loved him. It wasn’t just the script that was moving, it was the look in Matt’s eyes. Sad, soulful, hurt. And that’s ‘dull’? In my view, the whole scenario was beautifully acted by Josef and by Kate Kendall, and was indicative of how devastating the affects of something like this can be.

Cops just want to have fun?

Matt came across as someone who wanted to let his hair down a bit more but, when you’re a neighbour, friend and serving police officer to the whole street, that must be a difficult balance. And he had to put up with a lot of criticism from the likes of Paul, who always saw him as some country bumpkin plod, which made Matt even more defensive and uptight. I always felt cross when he dismissed Matt in this way. I would have liked for Matt to have nailed Paul for something during his tenure, but sadly that is not to be, other than in my fan fiction. I think that the writers might have developed Matt’s character further if he hadn’t been killed off. I liked the humour involved when he agreed to be a life model for Lauren’s art class, thinking that she would be the only artist present. You just knew where this was going and that Sheila Canning would definitely be in the front row, sizing Matt up and having a good old oggle. My husband, not a viewer, watched that particular scene and remarked on how well it was acted. He knows little about the characters apart from the basics but noted Matt’s priceless facial expression, sweat dripping off his brow, realising he would be revealing his ‘all’ to quite a few female residents of Ramsey Street. Until Bailey found out and set off the Community Centre fire alarm. (Spoilsports, writers!)

A slice of life

I always appreciated how the writers conveyed Matt’s (endearing) awkwardness through use of somewhat old-fashioned language. Matt once commented to father-in-law Lou “I know you think I’m strait-laced.” What others thought of him was of great importance to Matt. I believe there was a phrase akin to ‘bibbity-bobitty-boo’ once, too. It’s am embarrassing parental expression that many of us can identify with. As someone who once ran up to a young Premiership footballer (freshly-arrived from Nigeria) shouting “Oh Baba,” (a nickname derived from his family name) “I love you!” causing my then-teenage son major embarrassment, I understand how this happens. I felt sad for Matt when he tried to show his romantic side, coming home with a bunch of flowers, only to be met with Lauren engaged in an intense discussion over the latest teen crisis. There he stood, smiling, waiting to be noticed and for Lauren to thank him for the flowers. She didn’t. He slipped off dejectedly and went to put the flowers in water. And this is a slice of real life. Haven’t most of us had moments like that, when you’re so preoccupied with something that seems important, and overlooked the feelings of a loved one? I know I have. Pre-internet, I once interrupted an anniversary meal in a restaurant to phone a friend. I’d overheard a woman at the next table say that the then Chelsea FC manager had been sacked. (And yes, I did feel suitably ashamed afterwards.) Matt was always eager to please. He had secretly arranged the renewal of his wedding vows, unaware that Lauren was busy kissing Brad and wishing she hadn’t. Poor, sweet Matt. He’d struggled to write a poem after Karl had given him advice on song lyrics, but then he eventually came up with his own words, poignant and heartfelt. Unfortunately, we viewers knew that Lauren had a guilty secret and that Matt was going to be hurt. Again. The time when he learnt to dance, too, was an indication of how much he sought Lauren’s admiration. He was determined to show her that she made the right choice in marrying him and that Brad was firmly in the past. Maybe it was as much to reassure himself. Brad could dance, but Matt could learn. How funny it must have been for Josef with his esteemed dance career, to have to play the part of a ballroom novice!

Always the protector

I once asked Josef during an online Q and A if he would like Matt to have more of his backstory revealed. He replied that he would, as he thought it would be interesting. Alas, we won’t ever know any more now, unless Lauren reveals it in a future storyline, or she has a visit from one of her late husband’s relatives. All we did get to know, which arose when Bailey had a drink problem, was that Matt’s dad had a drink problem when Matt was growing up. I ‘filled in’ the gaps, because I think that’s what a writer always wants to do. In my imagination, Matt joined the police force because he was looking for some kind of stability and purpose in his life. He had not always had a close relationship with his dad, and at times he felt that he should have protected his mother from his dad’s dark moods whenever his drinking reached crisis point. He felt that by joining the force, he would be looking out for others and protecting them. Since then, it’s been his main aim in life – to look out for  his family and the community in a way that his father failed to look out for him and his mum. Ultimately for Matt, that sense of wanting to be the protector and the main breadwinner led to his downfall and untimely death. If only he hadn’t felt such a sense of failure because he ‘couldn’t provide’ for his family. Initially, he reluctantly accepted that the house had been bought by Kathy, albeit to appease her own guilt over Paige, and put into her grandchildren’s names. But as soon as the cat was out of the bag and his children knew they owned the property, that dratted pride took over and drove him to desperate acts. In my Neighbours Facebook chat group, they insist on no spoilers, and I’ve always respected that, although I am personally not adverse to knowing stories ahead. It is a long-running joke in the group that I have great affection for Matt. When the story screens in the UK, the regular chatters will be wondering how I’ll react. Some of them have already noted my lack of comments about Matt’s current plunge into despair and guilt over his dirty money gained from working for Dimato. They are probably wondering why I’m not screaming “No! Matt, this is all wrong, you can’t do it!” Or, “I am going to get the writers to bring me in as a hit woman who kills off Dimato.” I’ve gone quiet on Matt but those who don’t read spoilers will soon know why.

Reading between the lines

In truth, the clues had been there that Matt was probably going to be written out. Firstly, seeing a spoiler photo of him and Brennan, both in uniform. Usually, there’s only one regular Ramsey Street character in the police force. Then when they brought in the new opening credits in the autumn, I noticed straight away that Matt wasn’t in the same scene as Lauren and the girls. Instead, he was seen walking alongside Lou and Bailey. It’s easier to edit out a cast member from such a scene, if it’s a pre-planned exit they want to keep secret for a while. Furthermore, Josef’s references to filming had petered out. I had previously enjoyed reading his tweets about scenes, and he occasionally gave subtle clues about future story lines with an accompanying photo. One such photo was the filming of the Tornado story, when he tweeted that people would be ‘blown away’ by the acting that day. Another was a shot of him looking decidedly dapper in a Bugsy Malone-type suit. Followers were invited to guess what it might be about. Some of his fans guessed correctly that it was connected with Kyle and Georgia’s wedding. Often, I answered Josef’s ‘riddles’ with silly things I knew darn well wouldn’t be the right answer: Matt looked worried because he had just broken the last of the dinner set which had been a wedding present and favourite of Lauren’s. Matt was in the dog-house because he had left the orange juice out of the fridge. It was fun. However, late last year, Josef ceased mentioning filming. Spoilers are obviously against the contractual rules, and all he had said in an interview which he did with co-star Kate Kendall, was that there would be gritty story lines ahead for Matt. That made me fear the end was nigh, although I didn’t yet know what that end would be …

Actors are real people

When Matt’s exit is aired in the UK, I’m expecting comments from fellow-fans who will immediately think “Oh! Carol will be gutted!” I will, of course, miss Matt Turner like crazy. He will always have a special place in my soap-heart. That said, he wasn’t real, and, unlike some soap fans, I can separate the characters from the actors. I’m not going to turn into some crazy, deluded person who constantly implores the writers to “Bring back Matt-who-Is-Not-Dead-But-Just-In-Witness-Protection so that he and Lauren can have the happy ending they deserve.” Characters are fictional, but the actors who play them do not exist solely to entertain us. They live in the real world too, with their loved ones and with their personal life-dramas, ambitions and aspirations. They deserve respect and have a right to privacy. And as the fate of the characters they play is often out of their control, it is also futile to beg and implore the actor to return to a soap. Josef the actor is an interesting and inspirational person who has a lot of beliefs and values that I greatly admire. I am glad that by taking a rôle in Neighbours, he came to my attention. I will continue watching Neighbours, but I am also looking forward to following Josef’s next career move, in whatever direction it takes him. So, Josef, thank you for taking time out of your very busy days to respond to all the Neighbours-related tweets from me and from other fans. Thank you for entertaining us as Matt. And even if, as you’ve said in interview, you aren’t like Matt in every way, I think you’ll take a little bit of him with you for old time’s sake. You did say ‘willy-nilly’ after all, during the backstage video! I hope we get to see you in another TV rôle in the future. But in the meantime, I guess I may have to resort to watching every episode of Neighbours from spring 2013 till April 2015, UK time. Now that’s one sort of Groundhog Day that I won’t mind a bit!

© Carol Ann Wood
April 2015

Edited: Wed 8 April 2015 to replace ‘March 2012‘ with ‘spring 2013’ in the penultimate sentence.

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Bye Bye Bailey

Considering he’s only been in Ramsey Street for just over two years, Bailey Turner, played by Calen McKenzie, has had some pretty interesting story lines. From almost the minute he arrived with parents Lauren and Matt and sister Amber, we had a sense that being a geeky and studious schoolboy was not the sum total of his personality. We learned quite soon that he had been sucked into older brother Mason’s criminal activities and, when you’re the son of a policeman, that’s inevitably going to cause problems!

With his floppy fringe, Bailey sometimes reminded me of a young Brian Cox, astronomer and former pop star. Which is interesting, given the teen’s interest in the stars. Physically, we’ve seen Bailey grow from a lad with a voice in that awkward stage between having just broken but not quite of adult depth, to a more mature-sounding young man. But, emotionally, he’s had a lot to deal with. From failed romances to covering up yet more of Mason’s criminal involvement, witnessing the emotional conflicts of his parents, the discovery that he was not baby number three for his mother, but in fact, the forth child, to a very dangerous liaison with Gem Reeves (Kathryn Beck) a young, attractive teacher at his school.

Forbidden Love

Wow, pretty heavy, then! It’s not the first time Neighbours have tackled the illicit love storyline between pupil and teacher. Libby Kennedy and later, Kate Ramsay, both had dalliances of some sort with a schoolboy. I imagine that this scenario is one that the writers will have thought carefully about in each instance, given the time of day the show is aired in Australia, and the limits on what they’re allowed to do with the narrative. Bailey’s crush on Gem was hard for any fans of his to watch, because we knew, of course, what Bailey had not realised: Gem was manipulative and, as it turned out, mentally unstable, and was using Bailey, first persuading him to cover up her rigging of the school captaincy votes, and taking advantage of his IT skills so she could ruin cousin Georgia’s engagement party. Gem also convinced Bailey that she had withdrawn his application for the trip to China because she couldn’t bear to be apart from him, and poor Bailey fell for it. Oh, Bailes!

Shy Boy

From my perspective, Bailey’s apparent awkwardness around girls was always rather endearing. Maybe I likened him to his father. Matt revealed his own moments of awkwardness, such as the time he had to arrest his wife and stepdaughter for their topless protest outside Lassiters. It is therefore easy to imagine Matt having been awkward around girls at Bailey’s age, too. Hence, I might have surmised that Bailey was a ‘chip off the old block’ in that respect. Whilst Bailey undoubtedly had a cute look which would appeal to girls, his friend, and sometimes ‘frenemy’, Callum, always had the greater gift of the gab. Callum styled himself as the funny one of the duo. First, there was the Josie triangle, with Bailey losing out to Calum for her affections, and then Rani Kapoor. Although Rani started seeing Callum, ultimately, it was Bailey who won her heart, at least for a while. But not without much drama, like the time Bailey nearly died as the result of a fight between him and Callum when he fell into the pool! You felt for Callum when Rani decided she wanted Bailey, of course, but on another level, you wanted Bailey to win out, for once. That, too, was short lived when Rani and her father left for India after the death of Rani’s mother. Bailey had lost again.


I think Bailey always felt overshadowed by his older siblings, and different from his peers, because of his love of school subjects and hobbies they considered geeky. It was nice that, when Paige had been accepted into the family – albeit grudgingly at first by some members – Bailey seemed to have found an ally in his new half-sibling. They bonded because they found they had quite a bit in common, not something which was immediately apparent. Paige being the eldest, and Bailey the youngest, meant that they had more of an opportunity to become close without the rivalry and jostling for position that often occurs in families where several children are close together in age. And of course, he hadn’t grown up with Paige. Paige was starting to persuade Bailey to be comfortable with himself and his interests. She was an outsider too, and it’s a shame we won’t see more of the pair having frank conversations.

Initially, when Alice appeared on the scene, I wasn’t entirely sure about Bailey’s relationship with her. I would have preferred him to grow more assertive. Alice seemed so confident and even a little mean, and for a while he seemed to be under her control. Again I found myself feeling embarrassed on his behalf when she conned him into having a special photo shoot done to boost his Space Camp application. Maybe, though, this showed us that she wasn’t as confident as she would have us believe, and that she genuinely saw Bailey as strong competition for the place. As Alice revealed her more vulnerable, softer side, I did grow to like her, and although I didn’t want to see Bailey leave at that point, I was disappointed that Alice was successful in getting accepted for Space Camp. I would like to have seen if their relationship could develop. Additionally, I loved the character of Alice’s grandma, whom I thought might have made an interesting regular cast member. I could see her and Sheila in scenes together, for example. As I write, we have seen Alice back for a visit, and she and Bailey briefly reunited, but sadly, it was messy, in light of Bailey being in a state of shock and grief after Matt’s death.

Angry Young Man

Bailey’s emotional turmoil after losing his father was beautifully acted by Calen. It must have been emotionally exhausting to do those scenes: Tearful, angry, drunk, and physically violent. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that he had been to blame for his dad’s downhill slide before he was knocked down and killed. After all, it was Bailey who befriended a Russian girl online, who turned out to be a fraudster. It was Bailey who had used Paige’s laptop without permission, leading to the sibling’s bank accounts details being accessed and the money from the house sale to their parents being stolen. And Bailey’s guilt deepened further when Matt took the second job to help meet the mortgage repayments. Bailey saw his father start drinking, unaware that he had also accepted a backhander from Dodgy Dimato and was struggling to come to terms with his actions. We had previously witnessed Bailey develop a drink problem himself. Initially because he was trying to deal with the bullying inflicted by Jayden Warley, son of the bossy, often bitchy, Sue Parker, and then, out of guilt for the problems he had caused his family. Now his dad was drinking too, and things were definitely not rosy between his parents. For a sensitive sixteen-year-old like Bailey, that’s a lot of issues to deal with. All the guilt and self-hatred Bailey was  feeling came tumbling out after Matt died, and spiralled out of control. Should Lauren have delayed the decision to tell her children about the real reason their dad had been granted six months long-service leave? Was that what tipped Bailey totally over the edge? Lauren was still in shock when she made the decision, so with hindsight, she might wish she had kept quiet, at least for a while longer, and maybe Bailey would have been strong enough to deal with it.

As with any young character, there are times when some viewers might have wished that Bailey would grow up/get over it/stop acting like a spoilt brat. Well yes, he did act like a spoilt brat at times. But this rings true for those of us who have brought up teenagers – it’s how teenagers often behave! Let’s face it, it’s darn hard being young sometimes, and as I said, Bailey had quite a lot to cope with! With regards Bailey’s less traumatic scenes, I think one of my favourites was when he set off the fire alarm to spare his dad’s blushes after he’d agreed to pose nude for Lauren’s art class. And of course, to spare his own blushes. I enjoyed this not just because I was a huge fan of Matt, but because it exemplified that feeling of having to deal with ‘embarrassing dad syndrome’. You’re sixteen and your dad is about to do what in front of the neighbours? I can’t even begin to imagine what my own children would have said if my husband had been about to bare all to the people of our street!

Regrets, he’s had a few

I wouldn’t say I have ‘enjoyed’ the angry and grieving Bailey of late, because it really has been painful to watch, although it was probably believable that he should react this way, given his involvement in the loss of the money that led to his dad’s downfall. We need to remember, too, that Matt had covered for Bailey back in Mount Isa on discovery of the Turner brothers’ involvement in a robbery. That has to be a big risk for a police officer to take, and Bailey would have reflected on his dad’s loyalty, making him feel even more remorseful about his own online carelessness. Apart from ringing true, this story has shown another side to Bailey’s character and one which many fans of the show in my Facebook chat group have said that they appreciated in recent weeks.The saddest scene of all was when he spoke at his dad’s funeral. We knew that he was scared of public speaking, so the script writers were spot on when they showed Bailey plucking up the courage to say a few heartbreaking words. Little wonder, then, that he has since been devastated by the knowledge that his dad wasn’t as honest and straightforward as everyone believed. I am only glad that Bailey hasn’t discovered Matt’s liaison with Sharon Canning. He has been emotionally pummelled enough without learning about that.

So, Bailey has gone off to stay with his grandmother, Kathy. The same grandmother who gave away her daughter’s first baby without her knowledge, but who presumably feels a huge burden of guilt herself for the emotional turmoil that the discovery has caused her family. Maybe she feels that she owes it to Lauren to nurture Bailey and prevent him from further criminal actives.After all, he’s already stolen a car, impersonated a police officer and is on the path to alcohol addiction, so it’s probably is for the best that he left Erinsborough. Lauren is struggling to hold everything together, what with Amber’s pregnancy coming so soon after the wedding that never was, and Matt’s death. She currently seems to be at her wits end and doesn’t know how to deal with Bailey. It’s a shame, I feel, that Bailey recently chose to lash out at his half-sister, accusing Paige of using Matt’s death to get closer to Lauren. But you can see that Paige understands his reasoning and doesn’t hold a grudge towards him. At least they parted on better terms.

Leaving like flies?

So we wave farewell to yet another Turner/Carpenter family member. Just Lauren, Amber and Paige left now, as we know that Tom Oliver, who plays Lou, is cutting back on his rôle and won’t be making as many regular appearances. (Before anyone jumps to correct me, I do know that Paige’s adopted surname is Smith, but it wouldn’t have been advisable for her to change her surname to that of her mother!) I am sad about losing Bailey. I liked the Turner family as a unit, albeit a messy, blended, sometimes dysfunctional unit. I know that not everyone was as fond of them, but I enjoyed both the emotionally-charged stories they generated, and the every-day, familial dynamics, trials and tribulations. I want to believe that Bailey will flourish, eventually, and be able to come to terms with everything that has happened. I want him to gain self-confidence so that he isn’t as easily-led. Essentially he’s a ‘nice lad’ but one who needs to find his own place in the world.

Thank you, Calen, for your acting and the way that you’ve played Bailey’s character. I’m sure everyone who has enjoyed your presence on Neighbours will join me in wishing you well for the future. You clearly have a promising acting career ahead of you. But should you ever feel like popping back, don’t hesitate to make it known to the producers!

© Carol Ann Wood
May 2015

Index of Posts:

About the author
Contact the author
Follow Carol Ann Wood on Twitter
Carol’s football-related blog: Levelling the Playing-Field
NOT Just Saying: Carol’s comments on feminism, fashion, food and folly
Perfect Blend

Please note that any advertisements which appear below these posts are not indicative of any endorsement by the author. They are placed there by a WordPress algorithm.