I used to call Noel "Gramps". The first time I did this - usually it was "Grandpa Noel" - he chuckled. And he continued to chuckle and I liked calling him Gramps, because it seemed to me that he enjoyed a little playful irreverence and after all, I was his favourite, if only, granddaughter. I liked being at 43a Narrak road with Gramps, who would sit in his old green chair next to the record player and play classical music. He would give me a little rundown on the important details : composer, conductor, date of recording, plus a little review of his own. I was probably too young to appreciate all the details, but I liked the music and I liked that Gramps talked to me as though I wasn't a kid. This is probably because he always talked in his own Noel-ish way - on any given subject and to whoever would listen. Such a trait might sometimes seem like a default but for a kid of 8, or 12, or 18, there is nothing better than being treated like an adult.
And so Gramps would talk and I would listen and ask questions. I liked sitting alongside him and doing the cryptic crosswords, him exclaiming, "ah, 'roman nose' - of course!" or "now that's a reference to Shakespeare" or telling me I really should read Plato's Republic. It amazed me that within so simple a set of words could conspire a whole life of learning and that each clue seemed to be located in one or another of the books at Narrak road. And so Plato's Republic and the rest of the ancients were located on the little shelf in the dining room where we would celebrate Christmas each year - and where Gramps, ever the entertainer, would make Byron and I little foxes and dogs with the gold foil from Ferrero Rocher wrappers. This little performance was always my favourite part of the meal and each of the little creatures, made of foil and shaped in a few minutes, seemed to have more personality than some of the sculptures in marble that I've studied.
When I was a bit older and had just broken up with my first serious boyfriend, I took a plane to Melbourne and went to stay with Gramps. Not my parents, not a friend, but Noel. I don't even think I told him about my heartbreak, but that was probably what I needed: a stoic attitude and someone to talk to me about other things, things that make life worth all the doom and gloom - books, music, and cryptic crosswords. I still think of him when I do the cryptic, or when I read Patrick White or listen to Verdi. The great thing about cryptic puzzles is that they embody, in a very tangible way, what you are missing. The end point is already contained within the starting point - and so you know that there is an answer and a means, but you haven't yet figured out which mental twists and turns are necessary. Hanging out with Gramps gave me the feeling that life was all about the strange but simple convergence of unlikely elements. A while ago, he had passed his little Chinon camera onto me. The day that he died, I had just developed the first rolls of film that I had put through it - and as soon as I saw them I knew that I had found my camera. When papa called me that night to tell me, I smiled and thought privately that Gramps would have appreciated just such a convergence.