Easter

Communication from Wimbledon Man was not expected. I let my phone be for a while, thinking that it would be prudent to allow some time to pass before replying. After all, he had unfriended me on Facebook. In fact, he had blocked me on Facebook. Maybe I wouldn’t reply at all. I was busy trying to find a YouTube channel for a the amazing guitarist from The Folky Pub (and failing) anyway.

Time passed.

I replied.

I told him that I was well, thank you for asking, and how was he? He told me that he was well too and that he worked for the Pope.

‘The Pope? Good Lord (no pun intended).’
He did not elaborate on this but he did say that he had missed me. I pointed out that he had been the one to unfriend and block me, to which he said that he was sorry, he got upset and it was stupid of him to do so. I said that it was fine and I inserted a ‘lol’ so he knew that I meant it and that it wasn’t a ‘fine’ that is said through gritted teeth. He asked after the chicken and we had a laugh about that, then if I wanted to see him. I said that that would be nice, but I made it clear that I was not interested in a romantic meeting. He seemed OK with this, so we left it there . . .
I paid the Italian a visit the following morning to sort out my hair. He was nifty with the scissors/colour/dryer/whatever else I fancied and he cut me a good deal (pardon the pun) usually throwing in a little extra for nothing, such as an Indian head massage or a hot conditioning treatment, which was today’s freebie. And he did exactly as I asked, whilst providing honest advice. I had cut corners with my hair for so long (sorry – and that one) due to watching my pennies, but currently, I felt the need to put my hair in the hands of an expert and it was reassuring to know that someone else was taking decisions over my barnet.
Joseph was home with Hannah, which was lovely. They had loaded my car with bits of a wardrobe and so after the Italian had worked his magic, I went to the tip with shiny, sashaying hair. I hope the guys at the tip appreciated my effort. Rhiannon had put in an appearance on the day of Joseph’s and Hannah’s arrival, but had returned to her uni house for partying purposes. We were due to meet again for furniture purchases for the new house on Tuesday, so things were taking shape.
On that Saturday night, however, the evening before Easter Sunday, I delivered Joseph and Hannah to a pub to watch a football match and turned my attention towards a showcase night that was happening in a pub in the centre of the city. The Rastafarian had asked me if I would like to go; he was supposed to be playing there around 8. As it was heading towards that time, I pulled over to message him to enquire as to the whereabouts of said pub, as I hadn’t a clue.
‘I don’t remember.. Check online babe..’ was his cavalier reply.
‘So you’re not there yet? I’ll come and get you. Better than sitting on my own in a pub for an hour,’ I replied, rather brusquely.
But strangely, he did not want that.
‘I’m going home then,’ I threatened.
‘No – no – Hun, no! Please . . . Meet me.’
But his abject fear of my collecting him both vexed and rankled with me. I wouldn’t even have known where to go – he was visiting a friend, so he said. Unless he had lied and was actually at home with someone he did not want me to meet . . .

‘Let me collect you or I’m going home,’ was my final offer.
I sat in the car for a minute or two, waiting for a reply. Then I looked at my nice top, my freshly applied make-up, my coiffed hair and thought I’d go anyway. I don’t have a problem with going to pubs on my own, I remembered . . . It was Saturday night – what else would I do? So I looked up the whereabouts of this pub and it turned out that I did know it.
‘Don’t go – come on – I’m sorry – please,’
I’d already parked round the corner from said pub, which was near to The Cosmopolitan Bar I had enjoyed visiting for Open Mic nights during our relationship. It was in a street which housed a multitude of pubs, bars and restaurants and was one which my mother had told me to avoid as a child, but where I had stumbled into kebab joints as a teenager in the early hours after heavy clubbing, with friends.
‘I’m here,’ I reassured him on the one hand, ‘but because I want to be here and I won’t necessarily wait for you,’ I clarified my position on the other hand.
‘Where is it?’ he asked and I wondered how serious he had ever been about playing here on this wet and windy night, which was discouraging me from venturing beyond the dry warmth of my car, where my hair would stay looking coiffed, but no-one would see it but me.
I told him it was the cosy pub with the roaring fire that he had taken me to once and he got it.
I wandered in and the music was not apparent. There was an amp and a mike, but nothing was happening. I went to the bar and before I could say ‘half a Guinness and black’, a big-built chap with curly, sandy-coloured hair, put out his hand by way of introduction and said,
“Hi. Simon.”
“Oh. Er-” the barmaid was awaiting my instruction, “half a Guinness and black please!”
I was still holding his hand.
“Sorry – I’m Lisa!”
I smiled and returned the hand to Simon.
He had a serious face and the swiftness with which he had introduced himself made me feel awkward. I hadn’t had time to settle in my surroundings, buy my drink or decide where to sit. The barmaid took my money while the Guinness took its usual eternity to pour (for which I am grateful – an inexperienced barman did not let my Guinness settle the other day before finishing it off and it was, frankly, sub-standard. I would have complained but friends had taken me there and I didn’t want to offend anyone). She handed me my poured-to-perfection beverage and rather than face the discomfort of an obvious rebuff, I asked the barmaid to watch my drink while I went to the Ladies’. And off I went. And it worked. I returned and Simon of the sandy hair had gone. I chose a table where the Rastafarian would see me when (if) he turned up and I could watch him perform.
“Are you meeting someone here?” sandy-haired Simon was next to me.
“Yes,” I replied as I removed the big specs, wondering if he just liked me for my glasses.
However, he was unfazed by my spectacle-free visage. I did not feel even slightly romantically inclined towards him, but when, after a considerable amount of time of clearly chatting me up, he announced that he had a wife and 2 children, I did not feel even slightly friendly towards him. An icicle from my newly frozen aura must have poked him in the ribs and pushed him back to his friend, whom he had seriously neglected anyway, and who was going through some trauma, according to Simon’s information.
“Are you playing?” Simon had been replaced by a young, studenty looking chap.
“No – watching,”
“Ah – well, the PA’s packed up so that’s it.”
I’d heard 2 songs and with that the Rastafarian was there. We chatted for a bit, about many things, including the cross I had given him (along with the letter) which I had made out of a palm from church on Palm Sunday.

“You are funny,” he smiled, “giving me a cross a week early!”

It was times such as these that made me doubt his claims of being a devout Catholic. (Not that that was a problem in itself, of course, but it was, potentially, another example of economy with the truth.) Sunday was exactly a week before Easter and was a remembrance of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey for Passover, when crowds threw palm leaves on the ground in front of him as a mark of respect. Most Catholics would know this, I’m sure, but a devout one who called his flat a church because of the altar he had in his lounge, would be able to recount the story I’m sure, with more detail than someone who had not attended a catholic school and whose church attendance as a child had been sketchy. Walter Mitty would have been a more appropriate pseudonym for this character.

“No,” I stated, “it was Palm Sunday.”

“Yes, yes,” he agreed, but I wasn’t convinced.

I didn’t want to argue over religion and in an effort to lighten the conversation, I related an anecdote of how I had become the unofficial cross-maker at church, every Palm Sunday. I didn’t know if my way was the correct way, but I enjoyed perfecting the art every year and providing people with their home-made crosses. He didn’t seem to identify with the story at all, so either he had bigged up his piety, or things really were different in Rwanda. But anyway, he remained chilled and talkative, happily allowing me to touch on topics that normally would bring about a stern look, as if I had blown his cover as a field agent. The shift from ‘relationship’ to ‘friendship’ was a positive move. Eventually I left, as it was getting late and I left him there, apparently with no money.

The next day was Easter Sunday. The sugar drought was over! But actually, I wasn’t that enamoured with the notion of gorging on sugary goodies hitherto banned since Pancake Day. I had included myself in the purchase of chocolate eggs, but disaster had befallen the Easter treats. I went to Mass on Good Friday, forgetting that they were in the boot of the car. It was a sunny day, so I parked under some trees, where they would be safe from the sun’s welcome (unless you’re chocolate or snow) rays. I came out of the church, only to be greeted with a parking ticket, which was unexpected. I thought I was allowed to park there on Bank Holidays. Damn, I thought, replacement eggs would have been cheaper! I went home, feeling piqued. Then, some time later, I ventured out to walk the dog . . . No. I’d still left the eggs in the car! They had melted. Tenderly, I transported them into the house and with great care I deposited them in the fridge to reform. One of them was so deformed that I revealed it a couple of days before Easter whilst Joseph, Hannah and myself were watching a movie and they fancied some movie sustenance. The other was just a little sunken at the back, but passable. Rhiannon’s turned out to be ok, just with slightly malformed chocolates. But mine . . . Oh dear. It had a white bloom and was actually crumbly. It felt like wax in my mouth and was so disgusting that even the dog was sick when he ate a morsel that fell his way (onto the floor, because, of course, as Snoopy says, everything that falls onto the floor is rightfully the dog’s). Just in case anyone wants to tell me that this is a dog’s usual reaction to chocolate, he has pinched chocolate before and been unaffected. Although I have heard an alarming rumour that Cadbury has changed its recipe. If my chocolate egg was a result of this, it is a gloomy prospect indeed . . .

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Friends

The softness of the following day was slightly sullied by the knowledge that the Rastafarian had not read my letter. I was enjoying his friendship yet I felt a sadness in my stomach because I knew that once he’d read my brutal frankness, the dynamics of our relationship would shift once more.
The following day I received a message – a simple ‘call me’ and I wondered if he’d finally read it. Was he angry? Should I mentally equip myself for a bitter verbal onslaught? But would he ask me to call him if he was cross? Wouldn’t he ignore me? Or send a barbed message? There was a simple way to find out . . . Following his instructions and calling him.
I was glad I’d anticipated a sad ending. Some of the sweetest moments in life are those for which we are caught napping.
“I’ve read your letter,” he announced.
“Ok . . . ” I waited for his take on my inner monologue which I had allowed to spill forth onto 5 pages. Handwritten.
“You have good handwriting,” he complimented.
I hadn’t removed the armour yet. This could have been a warm, mellow lure to melt my wall of protection.
“Thank-you,” I managed.
“Yes . . . ” he continued.
“I get all of that. I have been through a lot. I accept it all.”
Mentioning his traumas was a shrewd decision, it would seem. He accepted all his shortcomings, even if he blamed them on his past.
To say I was taken aback does not even convey a tenth of how I felt about his humility; I had been pushed to the frayed ends of patience with the Rastafarian and the letter was a last attempt to alert him to my emptying cup of tolerance. Yet he’d pulled our friendship back. He was emotionally capable of being self-effacing and taking blame.
That night he was playing at a bar I had not visited before. I was happy to go and he was being particularly lovely, but I didn’t enjoy the venue: it was a large, echoey, rectangular room with bright, tacky lighting. There were some small tables around the edge which were taken or reserved and so I sat at one of the large tables which were placed down the centre of the room, like an army marching forward towards the bay window, where the music was happening. They were the sort of tables that looked as if they were designed for giants and the matching bar stools made you feel like a small child sat on a high chair at a grown-up table. I felt as if I was on display, more so than the performers, who did not seem central to the general attention of the customers, possibly due to the poor acoustics. The bar was mirrored and with a plethora of dazzling lights already, it seemed ablaze. Waiting to be served, I wished I had more colour on my cheeks – maybe that was why the females were, on the whole, fully made-up. There was little change from ten pounds for just 2 drinks and with one of them being a half-pint, I decided that that would be my purchase for the evening.
But the Rastafarian was good company. He played, with 2 other musicians (a guitarist and a drummer) and I realised how much I enjoyed the simplicity of just him with his guitar, which was his usual offering. Although I had watched him play at The Tiny, Tiny Pub with the same accompaniment and enjoyed the performance, so perhaps it was just the room failing to provide for its musicians. Then he finished and we listened to some fellow musicians and the night was over. Afterwards, he said how pleased he was that I met him there.

“I like to be with you,” he stated, simply, “and now the women have seen you, they will leave me alone!”

We laughed.

A couple of days later was the gig at The Folky Pub at which I had made a vague arrangement to meet a friend of the Rastafarian’s. But that wasn’t the reason for my attendance – I was going to watch a folk musician whose guitar skills had overwhelmed me, when I was fortunate enough to watch him at the tail-end of an Open Mic one night. I didn’t usually stay till the end, being a Sunday, but on this occasion I hadn’t had work the next day and for that I was grateful. He had started with pure instrumentals and I was transfixed by his fingers working the strings to produce amazingly intricate and entertaining music. To watch someone who has complete mastery over something is awe-inspiring. As a comparison, when you learn to ski, you feel smaller than the mountain initially, as if it has mastery over you, yet in time there is a gradual shift and if you are dedicated (and maybe talented too), ultimately, you will be bigger than the mountain and will bash it and use it to its full potential for your own satisfaction. It is the same with musicians; to witness a pianist displaying their passion on the keyboard by exploiting its ability to make sweet music and making it give out the music they require of it, is wizardry. It was wizardry with this guitarist; he was young, but serious and focused on his performance. There was no flamboyance, no showmanship, no unnecessary flaunting . . . He didn’t need to, because his playing was enough. He had moved onto Beeswing for his second offering (a favourite not just because it mentions Gower) and finished with an Oasis cover.

I had double-booked myself, though. I had arranged to meet friends for a drink but they were understanding when I explained about the double booking. I met them first and as I would be leaving early, I arrived promptly. Actually, a little early, which was a rare thing. Being the first evening of the Bank Holiday weekend, the pub in Burgess Hill was pretty rammed and I waited for a considerable amount of time at the bar. Having worked as a barmaid throughout my student years, I sympathised with the bar staff and remained outwardly understanding, although my growing impatience was aggravated by the continued stare of a man just along the bar from me. Every time I looked around, his attempt at a seductive glance was waiting for me. I nearly ditched the glasses, as they seemed to be the cause of this surge in male attention, but I would not have had the remotest chance of spotting my friends if I had. So I avoided his ‘seduction’ and stared straight ahead, minimising my chances of being served but it seemed the only trade-off available. At some point they arrived and we had an enjoyable libation together, before I had to run away back to Brighton. We made plans for another meet-up, so I’ll have more to say after the next night out, when I will be careful to not double-book myself.

When I arrived at The Folky Pub, the proceedings had begun, but as it was a showcase of 4 musicians, I had hoped he would not be first. I assumed he would be last, being the best of the four (in my opinion) but he was second, so I arrived just as he began. I wondered how he was not last, but when it became clear that he was running the event, I understood. His modesty would not have allowed him to place himself last. He did not disappoint, although it was difficult to hear him at times over the shrieks from the table next to me. There was a group of people on a works’ do and to be fair, one drunk woman was responsible for the entirety of the shrieking. When his set was over, one of the chaps became fixated on the whereabouts of his coat, ferreting around by my feet, wordlessly, but with accompanying mutters of ‘where is it’. Slightly irritated by his lack of courtesy in not asking permission to root around by my feet, I offered to help him. It was meant as a subtle indication of his slight rudeness, but was taken as a genuine offer of help, so I found myself assisting his search for his coat. We got chatting and whereas I had thought he was three sheets to the wind, I think ‘Sally Albright’ (aka his female colleague) had tarnished all their reputations with her continued noise. He invited me to join them for the rest of the evening (they were leaving to find the local club scene) and it was tempting; he was pleasant enough. But the Rastafarian had been in touch and we had agreed to meet . . . Although he was rather late by now. I had duly spent some time with his friend, but had moved away to hear the amazing guitarist better.
I tried removing my glasses for the next artiste, but I couldn’t see a great deal without them, so when the Rastafarian was suddenly next to me with a drink, I jumped back with surprise. He offered me a drink, but he’d taken an hour and a half to turn up, since alerting me to his intention to join me and insisting that he was ‘on his way’, so I’d had as much alcohol as I wanted. By the time the last musician was playing, I could have had another drink but he left me to go to the bar, saying that he couldn’t afford to offer me a drink too. I remembered how I’d bought him a pint of Kronenbourg on more than one occasion during our relationship when I couldn’t afford a drink for both of us and I’d drunk water instead. I allowed myself a tiny wallow in self-pity and consoled myself with the knowledge that at the very least, I could claim the moral high ground. He polished off his pint and as the music was finishing, when he said he was going outside for a smoke, I decided to join him. I wondered why he wanted to stay, if he had no more money for a drink, but I decided I would head off home soon.
As we walked past the bar, a tall, mixed race chap with a strong South London accent, stopped him. He put his arms out to hug the Rastafarian and I assumed he was an acquaintance. The Rastafarian exuded geniality and ease with everyone normally, so his wary withdrawal from ‘Leroy’ seemed out-of-character. He put his arms around me instead, saying ‘let me hug this one first’, then, with a shy smile, allowed Leroy to hug him. The latter was excited to meet the Rastafarian, purely because of his colour. The Rastafarian reacted to Leroy’s effervescent personality with evasion; the more Leroy asked about him, the more he retreated into himself, but still wearing the same, slightly sheepish, smile. There seemed to be a lot of ‘business’ around Leroy . . . There was a crowd of people, all chatting, buying drinks, generally fizzing with excitement. Beer was passed round and I noticed a pint in the Rastafarian’s hand. I challenged his possession of another drink, given that he hadn’t had enough money to offer me a drink, yet had bought 2 drinks since then. It was a teasing challenge: I didn’t mind the absence of a drink, but I felt the need to let him know that I’d noticed. I wondered if someone had bought it for him and so I still wanted him to know I’d noticed, as I marvelled, generally, at his ability to procure drinks whilst penniless. Leroy turned to me, in the end, frustrated by the Rastafarian’s reluctance to speak. He thought that he couldn’t speak English, but I laughed and said that he could speak English, Rwandan, Swahili, French, possibly some other African languages.

“Have you got dreads under that hat?” Leroy pointed at the Rastafarian’s over-sized peaked cap which housed his beautiful hair, “I used to have them too!” Leroy smoothed his shaved head as if he was searching for his lost mane.
The latter remained mute, yet smiling, so, knowing his pride in his dreadlocks, I said that yes, he did, and tried to hook one out to show Leroy. But the Rastafarian wanted to keep the answer to the question, literally, under his hat and he moved away from me, placing one hand protectively on his head. A girl had moved in on the conversation and the jollity continued for a few more minutes, until she pulled Leroy out of the melee and spoke quietly but seriously to him.
“You’ve taken my friend’s drink!” Leroy turned on the Rastafarian, who continued with his apparent inability to talk and frowned back.
He put his arms out either side of him, showing the palm of the free one, as if to protest his innocence and show that he was empty-handed, as if that would prove his lack of guilt. But Leroy was unconvinced and became verbally aggressive. I told the Rastafarian to return the drink, as it all made sense now. A man had been buying drinks at the bar – a friend of Leroy’s – he was buying pints and passing them back. Now I reached back into the recesses of my short-term memory, before the information disappeared forever, as it does when it is not considered useful, I thought I had seen the Rastafarian take one such pint from Leroy’s friend, who probably thought that he was taking it to pass on to its rightful owner. But the Rastafarian had kept it instead, I thought . . .
‘It is my drink,” stated the Rastafarian, choosing to speak at last. Maybe I was wrong. Who would continue such a lie to an increasingly aggressive, rather imposing chap? Yet Leroy was insistent. And so was the girl, although she was speaking to him in hushed tones once more, evidently pursuing peace now and trying to diffuse the situation for which she had unwittingly been a catalyst.
“Let’s go outside,” invited Leroy.
I wasn’t keen, but the Rastafarian was. I followed, concerned, for what I am not sure, but I didn’t feel it was prudent to leave 2 men locking horns unattended.
“You bring shame on the dreadlocks, man!” accused Leroy.
I did not know at this stage whether or not the Rastafarian was guilty as charged. I was baffled. I could imagine him blagging a drink, but would he continue it thus far? The whole scenario had been odd from the start. Was Leroy really that delighted to meet a fellow black man? Why was the Rastafarian so unusually cagey about their interaction? If the Rastafarian was blameless, why did Leroy seek justice with such fervour? How could he be so sure of his guilt? If the Rastafarian was guilty, why didn’t he just return the beer, even if he wasn’t brave enough to confess to a wrongdoing?
Leroy was not a physically aggressive man, otherwise he would have used his fists, not words. The Rastafarian had continued to drink from the offending pint glass throughout the row, but eventually, worn down by accusations or maybe his own guilt, he offered the drink to the girl. It was refused and we parted company, although the Rastafarian chose to become demonstrative at last towards Leroy and scooped him up in a hug. Leroy was reluctant to engage and was a rather passive recipient of this unexpected affection. He left us, clearly dissatisfied with the outcome and the Rastafarian calmly continued to sup ‘his’ beer.
I had said very little throughout the argument. I wanted to support Leroy and say ‘yes, yes, yes! He does bring shame onto the dreadlocks!’ The Rastafarian was obsessed with reggae musicians and their ideals. During arguments, or when he had failed to coerce me into granting a wish, he would say ‘you don’t listen to reggae – you are not a Rastafarian – you do not understand’ which angered me. I had been so generous to him, in the face of his lying and cheating and all-round disrespect (and I did listen to reggae – way before knowing him!) so although I was lacking a full set of dreadlocks, I felt worthier of wearing dreads than he. There had been times when I had wanted to point out his hypocrisy and my belief that Bob Marley or Peter Tosh would not approve of the way he treated people.
Yet I had kept quiet. My support for Leroy, had I manifest it, would have caused me problems. He knew I supported him; he turned to me during the argument to say ‘she knows’ and the Rastafarian had swiftly turned to face me, accusingly, wrath making his eyes seem knowing and threatening.
“I said nothing!” I said, in truth.
“You don’t have to,” reassured Leroy, which allowed me to breathe once more. I could not face a prolonged rant from the Rastafarian.
I left the Rastafarian behind and made my way home. I did not understand why he was staying, unless he had lied about his lack of beer money but I ceased to care. I did care about his welfare though and I instructed him to avoid confrontations as I left.
I fell into bed and my phone made a ‘pinging’ noise as I did so. The Rastafarian, I thought…
‘Hey Lisa. How are you doing? Was thinking over our time together and remembering how nice it was.’
Wimbledon Man . . ?

‘Singlehood’

Before the Rastafarian, I would attend Open Mic nights solo. So the following Monday evening, having finished work for Easter and finding myself at a loose end, I decided to push myself back into the world of singlehood (that should be a word . . . Oops – it is now because I just wrote it) and doing what I liked. I messaged Original Blues to see if he would be playing at The Cabaret Bar and I was surprised to receive a ‘Who is this?’ reply.
‘Can’t believe you deleted me,‘ I complained, with a sad emoticon, after announcing my identity.
As I pressed ‘send’ I wondered if he was the proud owner of a new phone but with the old number and he had irretrievably lost his contacts, as often happens, even though they always promise a complete transfer of numbers.
‘Sorry about that,’ was his reply so sadly, my instincts were right.
He wasn’t playing but I went anyway. I knew there was a chance that I would happen upon a certain Rastafarian, but I figured that I would have to desensitise myself, as I was already doing by continuing to indulge in the likes of Bob Marley and Jacob Miller. Music has to be the most evocative of the Muses and I was struggling to listen to reggae without wanting to sob into my speakers, but I hoped the feeling would pass.
“Mind if I sit here?” a tall, bearded, friendly-looking chap was motioning towards the empty seat next to me.
“Not at all,” I smiled, a little dismissively, as there were plenty of empty seats attached to plenty of empty tables, so I was suspicious. I wasn’t in the mood to be chatted up unless it was Ewan McGregor, Patrick Stewart or Viggo Mortensen. I wanted to listen to the music.
Inevitably, he introduced himself and it turned out that he worked in a similar field to me, so I was happy to chat. He seemed genuinely chatty about our similar jobs and genuinely interested in keeping in touch from a networking viewpoint, so I took his contact details. He was a musician, which was not in his favour, in case he had ulterior motives. He was planning on playing and I mentioned how I’d started rehearsing with a friend but one of the songs was written for the piano and I wasn’t sure if the guitar accompaniment would work. He suggested we played together, that night, but I was reluctant without a practice. Then he played – it was like The Beatles mixed up with Tom Lehrer and I have to admit I was impressed with his talent. He seemed interested in accompanying me in the future, so I took the decision to give him my number.
Then things changed.
Whereas we’d had some interesting, chilled conversations about our work and playing at Open Mic nights, the topic changed to his recently ended relationship. It was fine, for a bit, but sometime later in the evening, I would recall the moment I gave him my number as a ‘red alert’ moment. All hands should have rushed to the deck to prevent the link between him and me ever being created. The more he talked, the more disillusioned I felt and the more I really wanted to get back to listening to the talent that was abounding all around me.
“I know this is crazy,” he leaned in and looked right into my eyes. I knew crassness was following . . . 3,2,1 . . .
And we have lift-off.
I won’t repeat his words. But they took all value away from all previous conversations. I turned down his suggestion, but rather than immediately retracting it and eating humble pie, he proceeded to make the same far-fetched suggestion several more times.
“It’s not happening.” I looked him right back in the eyes and made my words as blunt as possible.
After some time, humility found a way into his psyche and apologies were forthcoming.
Then the door opened and the Rastafarian slid in.
I had told New Guy about the Rastafarian and my double-take gave away our relationship.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” he took time out from continual apologising to enquire about the tall, mysterious figure whose stealthy movements attracted more attention than they apparently intended.
“I’ll go. Give you guys some space.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied, not caring if he was there or not. His departure would suggest there was something other than hostility between us, I felt.
I walked over to the Rastafarian and he hugged me, slowly and tightly. I invited him to sit with me, which he did and so I introduced him to New Guy.
I hadn’t considered the potential awkwardness of sitting between New Guy and the Rastafarian. I asked the latter if he would like to talk outside, as the previous day I had popped a letter through his letterbox, with one of his ‘Rastabands’ enclosed, which I used to wear. In the letter I urged him to get some help over past traumas, indicated how I felt they’d impacted on his life and listed wonderful attributes to his personality. He declined my offer and said that he hadn’t read the letter anyway. The Rastafarian had never liked chatting publicly, so I found myself chatting more to New Guy, even though still, I just wanted to enjoy the music; there was one young chap singing in a Billy Bragg type of manner and playing the piano with passion and talent unmatched by anyone that evening. I wanted to catch his name, so I could look up his music, but New Guy distracted me from my mission. I did what I try to avoid: I went over and asked his name. The Rastafarian’s claim that that was flirting, still rattled at me but I tried to not care. The afore-mentioned left the table to sit with a friend and at some point the evening finished and I found myself standing outside, enjoying the first spring evening of many (one hopes). The Rastafarian was smoking, his friend was chatting and New Guy was long gone. I told the Rastafarian I was going home. He walked me to my car and I offered to drop him off on my way. He asked me to drop him at The Jazzy Pub I used to go to with Original Blues. It was their jazz evening so I agreed to accompany him for a drink. I re-parked and we wandered along . . . Then we stopped at a doorway to chat to a homeless friend. He was a pleasant chap, but when I saw New Guy randomly sitting in the doorway too, moving on seemed a better choice. Homeless Guy looked more than a little peeved at the advent of 3 extra people in his doorway which was, to be fair, not just his bedroom but his home for the night.

“Guys, sorry – I don’t mean to sound rude but I have to be up early in the morning.”
The Rastafarian and I made moves to go but New Guy seemed immovable.
“What do you mean?” he quizzed sleepy Homeless Guy.
“The people that work here – they arrive at 6am, so I have to be up and away by then.”
I was embarrassed on behalf of New Guy, for his lack of sensitivity. Did it matter why Homeless Guy wanted us to leave? It was his place for the night – he shouldn’t have to justify himself to us, I thought, all of whom have proper homes to which to return.
“It’s my job to get homeless people off the street,” New Guy claimed as we left Homeless Guy.
I queried his claim, as that wasn’t his job an hour or 2 ago.
“I do that too,” he explained, defensively yet unconvincingly.
“Why aren’t you getting him off the street, then?” I questioned.
The question was ignored and he talked about how intelligent Homeless Guy was. There was an irony about his series of speeches; he was trying to impress me, but achieving the opposite. He was trying to impart an insight into the issue of homeless people but his clumsy comments just served to make him seem bigoted, patronising and full of preconceptions. I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him and at some point, he left.
The Rastafarian and I went to another pub – not The Jazzy Pub – which was disappointing.
Ping.
Lose your friend and join me,’ New Guy messaged me.
I ignored his message.
It was at this point that the moment I’d given him my number became a Red Alert moment in my memory. I continued to ignore his messages until finally, after around a dozen communications asking me to join him and alerting me to his continually changing whereabouts in town (I was starting to genuinely think he was homeless) I sent a curt message explaining that I had no intention of meeting him in town that night and please would he stop messaging me.
After one last random message which was a weird proclamation of love (this guy needed some serious help in successful chat-up lines . . . I marvelled that he had ever had a relationship) all became quiet on the New Guy front. I also marvelled at the amount of male attention I was receiving. I’d run out of lenses and bought some cheap glasses instead. They were massive, ‘don’t come near me’ (to put it nicely) glasses. Marilyn Monroe was so wrong: men do make passes at girls who wear glasses. Even more so, it would seem.
The Rastafarian wanted to know who had been messaging me.
“It’s that man from the pub!” he accused.
I didn’t answer. It was none of his business now we were just friends. He continued . . .
“That is why I moved,” he admitted, “I did not want to be near people who were interested in you. I sat with my friend, because I knew I was safe there.”
The Rastafarian had many acquaintances, because of his penchant for frequenting local hostelries. Half the time he was playing in them, but the other half he was just drinking. He’d grown up in a pub, so I felt it was a nostalgic past-time for him, as he missed his homeland and his mother. But he called everyone his ‘friend’, even though he could not remember most people’s names. Other ‘friends’ of his had propositioned me; one claimed that the Rastafarian had many women and I should ditch him to go out with someone else (him, of course). He was African and didn’t realise I’d heard him say to the Rastafarian that he fancied ‘finding a nice English girl and marrying her to get a British passport’. He spoke in Swahili to the Rastafarian for the most part so it was a faux pas that he forgot for the important bits. Not that I was interested anyway . . .
We sat with Open Mic guy in the pub, but Open Mic guy really wasn’t in the mood for being a good friend to the Rastafarian, which, to be fair, he usually was. He was trying to have a meaningful conversation with a friend and became bored with the Rastafarian’s attempts to join in and simply told the bar staff to stop serving him as he was too full of Kronenbourg already. This was absolutely the right course of action, but I did feel a little sorry for the Rastafarian, who looked dejected and lost. I’d been trying to convince him that having a lift home (to his home and me to mine) was a good idea and eventually he caved and agreed to allowing the evening to end.

Forgiveness

The Rastafarian had continued to message me. I had ignored him or been curt with my responses but, on this particular evening, having taken a sort of ‘joie de vivre’ home with me, after a chilled afternoon with friends, my heart felt big enough to reply to him. I forgot, for a moment, that I’d lodged a claim against him to claw back the money he owed me.

‘Hey,’ I replied, ‘I’m good – how are you? Busy planning so no, I can’t come over. Sorry.’

I had lost some work from the previous night and so I was prepared for an evening of planning.

‘Come when you can. I want to see you. I love you Hun xx’

It occurred to me that it may be a good idea to pay him a visit in order to be as transparent as I could be about my claim against him.

‘I’ll let you know when I’ve finished,’ I replied.

‘Please give me a time,’ was his slightly stroppy (I felt) response, ‘or I will make other plans.’
This unleashed a fury from my phone which surprised even me. I reminded him of all the times he’d said that he was busy, but would ‘let me know’ if he had time to see me and being fairly easy-going about such things, I’d just got on with things whilst waiting for a text. By this time, my laptop had fired up and to my pleasant surprise, the loss was not that devastating. I managed to recreate my original Smart (my lesson plans are gradually evolving from PowerPoints to Smarts – a painful process!) from Smarts that had been ‘auto-recovered’ for the coming week and so when he back-pedalled and said ‘OK, OK, whenever you’re ready,’ I gave him a time in an hour or so that I would be there.

Seeing him was difficult. He was pleasant, loving, almost humble. After some time of genuinely enjoying his company, I told him.

It was not an experience I would want to repeat.

He said nothing for a moment, then looked away.

‘God,’ he muttered, ‘you’re taking me to court . . . ‘

I justified my actions but he didn’t seem to be listening.

He didn’t shout, just stood, quietly.

I felt I was witnessing raw emotion, genuine feeling, pure distress. I didn’t relish in it, yet there was something refreshing about seeing his feelings exposed. There was a certainty about the reaction I was seeing. I knew that this was an honest response – there was no deceit – this was real. No melodrama, just quiet . . . Conversely, it polarised past emotional responses in its brutal honesty. It compounded the uncomfortable feeling I’d had in the past that his emotional responses weren’t necessarily genuine . . .

I left and sat in the car.

He called me.

“You’re leaving – just like that?”

“I didn’t think you’d want me around.”

Silence.

“Shall I come back in? To talk about it?”

“No. I don’t want to see you.”

“Well, that’s what I thought,” I said, as he put the phone down.

I should have felt strong, empowered, justified . . . But instead, I felt intense sadness. He’d greeted me warmly and his mood had been upbeat and I was responsible for him crashing and burning, emotionally.

He sent me a message full of melancholy and I sent him my defence back. He responded once more and so I suggested I return so we could talk. But he refused, so I left.

I waited patiently to start feeling at peace with myself. But it didn’t happen. I went to bed and lay awake, feeling troubled. How can this be? I wondered. I had taken perfectly reasonable action, yet I was feeling negative with myself. How was he feeling, I wondered? Angry? Contrite? Wronged? Humbled?

When I woke the following morning, I had that sickening feeling about a minute or two after waking, that all wasn’t well. This is ridiculous, I thought. It was a feeling of loss, much like a bereavement or the end of a relationship. I had not prepared for this. There was something about seeing him broken that was causing me acute emotional distress. He deserved to be taken to court, there was no doubt about that, but I didn’t have enough desire for vengeance to enjoy the pain it would cause him. I wanted my money back, but at what cost? He deserved this, but maybe it should be at someone else’s hands, not mine. Someone who could see this through. Maybe this wasn’t for me. Maybe it wasn’t the Rastafarian’s time to grow up yet. Maybe I should turn the other cheek. ‘Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!’ I thought of Les Miserables, when Jean Val-Jean steals the candlesticks and the priest, instead of dobbing him in (I’ve definitely been around teenagers too much), says ‘hey – you left some behind – take these too!’ I’m not suggesting I had a desire to make a gift of anything else to him, least of all a pair of expensive candlesticks, of which I have none, but I did feel a desire to walk away from the angst of the tangled mess that my relationship with this undesirable character had become.

At work, I pondered over my feelings and my actions in snatches: past, present and future. I say ‘in snatches’ because you can’t really take time out from a lesson to reflect on your personal life, so inbetween lessons, the memory of his face was fading in and out of my mind, whether I wished it to or not. A colleague had suggested I return his bracelet to him, out of goodwill and I had reacted strongly. Goodwill?! I had questioned. Hadn’t I shown him enough goodwill?! I think he had regretted his ‘advice’. The Rastafarian didn’t deserve his bracelet back. He had broken my crucifix and owed me 2k, amongst other misdemeanours. But at this moment in time, I stared at its presence around my wrist and I didn’t want it. It meant nothing. I would return it. I would withdraw the claim too. It was unlikely that I would be successful and I didn’t feel bitter any more. He didn’t deserve for me to withdraw the claim but I didn’t want to carry negativity around with me. I pitied him. He might have extorted money out of me, but I had the capacity to forgive him and move on. And leave him behind. On his hopeless treadmill of deception, excess and playing at being a grown-up.

I messaged him. I told him how disappointed I was in his treatment of me, but that I was withdrawing the claim and dropping his bracelet round. He was pleased. In the evening, I dropped the bracelet round and we were ‘friends’ again. He showed me the letter he’d received from the court and when I had the chance, I secretly slid it into my pocket. I realised that my new address was on it and that I didn’t want him to be privy to such information.

My week progressed and Rhiannon asked about the money situation. I told her he hadn’t started to repay it and she expressed a desire to contact him herself. I was not in favour of this. He was capable of the most venomous vitriol and as she herself was recovering from a break-up, this was not the kind of exposure I wanted for her. It wasn’t news; both she and her brother had made it clear that they would be contacting him if he didn’t start to repay the money.

I decided I would like to see him to alert him to my children’s intentions, in the hope that he might start to take responsibility, in the face of his potential embarrassment of my children communicating their disappointment to him.

‘I would like to talk to you face-to-face,’ I messaged.

‘Can you lend me £10 and I give back tomorrow?’ he replied.

If ever I’d had doubts about ending the relationship, they had just popped like an over-inflated balloon. I declined his request, of course and the verbal abuse that ensued was relentless. This man had no scruples. No remorse. No sense of responsibility. To call him childish even, would be an insult to children, because my children had never displayed such lack of care for others, lack of humility, lack of ability to reflect on their actions, even at a young age.

I blocked him.

Skip the start to skip the cow poo

Rusty loves the South Downs. If he could talk, he would tell you that the best bit is finding some poo to roll in, usually cow or horse. The amount of pleasure he gains from getting stuck into a smelly old cow pat is immeasurable. The only exception is when he was fooled into thinking he had found a pat of reasonable consistency, only to find that what he thought was pure cow pat, was actually a yellow shell on top of a cow pat, because the sun had baked it. When he started to roll in it, the shell broke to reveal pure yellow liquid poo. He was so yellow, he looked like a small Labrador. Even he didn’t like it and before I had a chance to yell at him, he leapt onto his feet and seemed visibly distressed. He rolled in grass, presumably to attempt to rub off the offending poo. Of course, fox poo is the champagne of all poos; that lingering acrid odour, which lurks like an aura of despair and unlike cow or horse poo, which is fairly innocuous in comparison and washes off with the cold hose on full blast, requires a warm bath and lather, rinse, repeat.

Conversely, he is not a fan of the beach. He will happily prance along the undercliff walk, or even stop for a coffee with me at Whitecliffs cafe. Well, I’ll have the coffee and he will enjoy the bits of sausage sometimes provided by Beautiful Greek Friend, who, incidentally, called the ambulance when I broke my wrist. But I have to drag him onto the beach (Rusty, not the Greek guy). Maybe it hurts his pads, so I try to choose beaches with small stones or even sand. Then, weirdly, I have to drag him off the beach when it’s time to go. Anyway, the point is, usually we stroll around the countryside, because the walk is mostly for him, but sometimes we go to the beach because sometimes the walk is for me.

Last Saturday we went to the beach and there was an eerie stillness. A sea mist was suspended over the sea and seemed to stifle all movement, as the ebb and flow struggled to move the tide, like someone struggling to breathe. I reflected on the week at work, which, like the previous week, had been fraught. It had ended positively though, with World Book Day and I chuckled at the memory of a lad attending my Superheroes vs Villains workshop, who commented on the typical size of female villains’ breasts. Along with one of my students accidentally calling me ‘babe’ earlier in the week (a variation on the approximately weekly ‘mum’), I’d had enough laughs to get me through the week.

As Rusty pottered amongst the pebbles and I sat daydreaming, I caught some notes of a favourite song: Cheerleader. I’d felt happy with my lot as I relaxed on the stones, but hearing the chorus of that particular song, had an unexpected effect on my mood. The Rastafarian had said that I was his cheerleader, saying that the song could have been about me, as, he said, I was ‘always right there’ when he needed me. Remembering good things about him was not the intention. I needed to remember the bad stuff, so I could justify my ending the relationship. But of course there was good stuff, so this is where it gets tricky, I thought. The whole trip to the beach became a mournful affair. I realised I was sitting on the very beach where we’d taken Rusty, one day early on in the relationship. There is, I believe, a defining moment in every relationship when you realise you have a relationship. It might be a phone call that goes on for a particularly long time, or you might stay up all night chatting and watch the sun come up together. I remember the first time I did the latter with a boy. I was 15 and he had just finished at uni, so although we had that defining moment, the relationship was doomed because the chances of my parents allowing such a relationship were zero. My sister and I had invited friends back – from a Gilbert and Sullivan production we were in – and they’d all stayed over. Uni Guy and I hit it off and for romantic value, watching the sun come up together was a straight 10 out of 10. The defining moment between me and the Rastafarian happened on that beach. When we set off for the walk it was warm but overcast. I was wearing a flimsy summer dress and after some time a fine mist of rain started to sweep over the beach. I’d paddled in a rock pool to encourage Rusty in for a swim and the fine mist turned into big drops splashing onto the water. We laughed at how drenched we were getting and the Rastafarian helped me out of the rock pool and again, for romantic value, kissing in the rain is also a straight 10 out of 10.

Fast forward to the end of the relationship and I’d recently lodged a claim at the small claims court for the money he owed me and rather than feeling empowered, I was feeling pretty miserable. I thought it would give me closure. Well, it did, which was the problem. The finality of closure was bringing me down . . .

The next day, I had planned to meet with an old school friend. After Nira left my school, a new girl joined. She became my best friend for the remainder of secondary school. When you’re 12 years old, the ‘best friend’ phenomenon is serious business. Karen had become my best friend over Nira, yet Nira still called me her best friend, so I decided I could have two, officially, although the reality was that Karen was more of a best friend than Nira. The classes were always full to capacity in my school and places only became available when someone left. So Nira leaving was fortuitous for Karen, because it meant that she could join. I found it funny that Nira’s replacement in the class had also become my replacement best friend. We made each other laugh and we were both into animals; Karen’s parents ran a pet shop which I thought was the best business your parents could possibly run. We quoted lines from sitcoms like Fawlty Towers the day after it had been aired, impersonating characters and finding ourselves hilarious. We learnt the words to favourite songs and sang them at full blast, thinking we actually sounded good, often whilst on our way to hockey, which involved a bus-ride across town. Or a walk, if we spent our bus fare at the sweet shop on the way, which happened a fair bit. We had our fall-outs, of course, like when we went to Wales on a field trip, although I can’t remember why we fell out. I do remember throwing up over everyone’s rucksacks in the mini-bus though; and being driven into the countryside with maps, and being told to find our own way back to the field centre, in pairs; and climbing Pen-Y-Fan because the PE teacher suddenly felt like it, yet we had no climbing equipment. This was, of course, before the advent of Health & Safety, which is a wonderful thing. But speaking from experience, it makes school trip planning a minefield (if you will pardon the pun, which would make for a Health & Safety nightmare, if one cropped up on a school trip. Just fields are bad enough). Sometime around that trip, Karen’s dog died; I can picture her crying to this day, over her dog dying, just as I’m certain she felt the pain of our family pony dying.

In our teen years, we both became friends with the school friend I met with last week. She was responsible for providing us with endless invitations to Venture Scout discos. They sounded tame enough for us to be allowed to attend by our parents, yet were entertaining enough to bridge that gap between being too old to go to playgrounds yet too young to go clubbing. When your school is single-sex, opportunities such as discos (God I feel old, using that word) are not passed up without good reason. Those Venture Scout discos are responsible for my first slow dance, my first kiss, the first time someone whispered to me that so-and-so ‘liked’ me and most of all, my first boyfriend. If he could be called that. His name was Ian and he was ridiculously handsome, with thick, floppy, jet-black hair. We dated for . . . A couple of months (?) and actually hardly saw each other. We had some long telephone conversations and my mother followed us on one of our first dates. She said she was on her way to the the post office, when we met, ‘by chance’ in the park. I hoped and prayed that Ian was not familiar enough with Saltdean to know that she was quite far from the post office. I recall very little intimacy between me and Ian; clearly, we were both novices which, frankly, was a poor combination, so it is no surprise that the flames of passion failed to ignite. Karen, School Friend and I stumbled (on high heels) and laughed (at each other mostly) through those teen years and like most people, I cherish the memories. What makes me cherish the memories all the more, is that Karen, tragically, died a few years ago. We dipped in and out of contact after leaving school and when she died, we hadn’t seen each other for a few years. I’m glad that we had a few years previous to that though, of the three of us meeting up for drinks and coffees, as you do when life is busy. How different communication is now; there is no excuse for losing contact, as you can move to Timbuktu and back again thrice over and still have the same points of contact through electronic communication, most notably social media.

Since Karen’s death, School Friend and I have remained in contact. She really hasn’t changed – her face is still the same, her hair is still shiny and black and she is one of the smiliest, easiest-to-be-around people I know. We met up last Sunday, along with Karen’s younger sister. I never saw a resemblance between them, until last Sunday and the way she looked, the way she laughed, her whole demeanour was like Karen, just with red curly hair instead of brown/blond straight hair. It was a mellow, happy afternoon, drinking halves and listening to live music. I will admit to feeling emotional, as that was the longest amount of time I have ever spent with Karen’s sister and I was constantly reminded of her, by virtue of being in her company. But however I was feeling, her feelings would have been more intense I’m sure. Karen was the link between us, so my presence must have been a continual reminder of her loss. But there were many laughs; School Friend and I had tales aplenty of our Tinder experiences with which to entertain Karen’s sister and likewise they had equally sad, funny and shocking tales for me about nights out and other things, which led School Friend and I onto ‘the olden days’ which I believe is compulsory conversation material for reunions.

At some point, late into the afternoon, I left them there as someone had to drink all the cider, but I needed to prepare for a week’s work. I’d lost some lesson plans from the night before, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to start over. I left the proceedings in good but slightly emotional spirits and my phone ‘pinged’ all the way home. I smiled as I wondered if it was School Friend, already trying to arrange a speed dating night, as Karen’s sister’s eyes had sparkled at the mention of it, when I regaled my night of searching for karaoke. School Friend was a good companion for nights out, prepared to dress up to down drinks and generally throw herself into the proceedings.
As I arrived home, I checked my phone.

‘Hun.’


‘I miss you.’


‘Come.’


‘Love . . . Xx’

Issues

I wonder if a good proportion of people who work in the field of learning difficulties, start to look at their own peculiarities (and I mean the less common definition: ‘a characteristic that is distinctive of a particular person or place’, NOT the ‘oddity’ definition, in case anyone was about to take offence) and realise that they, too, have some issues going on that hitherto have not been acknowledged. The decision to have my nails done for a second time, was not taken without due consideration to the sensory issues that I realised belonged to me. To be fair, I imagine that more people have sensory issues to some degree, than have not. Singing Sister doesn’t like balloons getting close to her ears. I was fine with this phenomenon, until she pointed it out to me a few years ago and now I don’t like balloons getting close to my ears either. Coupled with my trypophobia, I didn’t need another sensory thing, but she was very apologetic for sharing her sensory issue with me. For those who don’t know, the afore-mentioned phobia is not officially recognised as a phobia, but is the (apparently) irrational fear/revulsion of some patterns of holes (and sometimes bumps). Triggers can pop up in everyday scenarios, like catching sight of a lotus seed pod or there are some more unusual triggers which, thankfully, do not pop up in everyday scenarios, like the Surinam toad giving birth. For me, the feeling is unique and cannot be gained from any other source. As a child, I remember saying that certain things ‘made my teeth go weak’. As an adult, having realised that this is a thing, I have read other people’s testimonies where they describe feeling sick, itchy, their hair hurting, or (my personal favourite) ‘it makes me want to curl up in a ball under my desk and quietly weep’. The common factor amongst everyone is a feeling of intense revulsion and discomfort.

The first experience I can recall is when I was very young and I’d been to a classmate’s house for tea. I thought we were leaving, and started walking down the road. I got as far as the house next door and stopped, realising that my mother was still chatting to Classmate’s Mum on the doorstep. I happened to stop next to a bush and leapt back at the sight of the big, ugly flowers poking out aggressively at me. Although I was repulsed at the pattern of holes on the flower, I was transfixed. My mother came along and I told her that the flowers gave me a funny feeling, but as someone who is unperturbed by such things, understandably, my discovery was probably unappreciated.

I can’t claim that this was some weighty burden I shouldered throughout my childhood, but I do recall odd instances of pointing out that something had ‘made my teeth go weak’. I remember going to Devon for a few days with my sister, with some of her children and both of mine and we’d gone walking in the woods near Lynton and Lynmouth. My sister’s 2nd son (a jockey, like all of her children) was working at a racing stables in Devon and he’d left his house available for guests, such as us, while he was on holiday.

“Lisa! Come here! There’s something amazing!” called out my sister from the top of a bank, of which I had found myself at the bottom, where there was a stream, and she at the top. I scrambled up the bank to join her; she was standing next to a tree, which, from my perspective, was innocent enough. She motioned towards her side of the tree and like a lamb to the slaughter, I followed her gaze to a sight that has a physical effect on my well-being to this day. It was a ‘money-tree’ with 100s of coins wedged into the trunk. Money-trees are a rare sight, but can be found anywhere in the country. Not sure why people do it, except to torture me and fellow trypophobics and if I Google it I run the risk of seeing pictures of the monstrosities, so I’d rather live in ignorant bliss, but the point is, I don’t think even Racing Sister realised how affected I was by this strange sensory issue until that day.

At a last-night party after a production of Burning Blue, several years ago, I found myself chatting to a co-actor. It was an unusual play, a bit like Top Gun on stage, only instead of the story being a love story, it was a ‘coming-out’ story. I played the part of the main character’s girlfriend, who had to cope with rejection by her boyfriend, as he came to terms with his homosexuality. I’d had to strip down to my underwear on stage, which I seemed to do a lot in plays, but that was nothing compared to one entire scene with most of the male cast completely naked. One often feels an emotional intimacy with fellow players during a play, but this was stepped up a little in this play, from most people having seen most of the cast naked or nearly naked. So, despite having a lovely chat with this particular thespian, I was standing opposite a floor-to-ceiling sculpture made completely of matchsticks. I was struggling to concentrate, so I asked him if we could swap places and to my surprise, his reply was, ‘God, no – why do you think I’ve got my back to it?!’ This was my first experience of meeting a fellow trypophobic and interestingly, this wasn’t the only common ground we shared. Whereas I seemed to be the only one in my family in possession of this strange fear, his brother had shared the ‘phobia’ with him in childhood. They named it ‘Armchairs and Matchsticks’ because with it, they also experienced polarised physical imaginings at times, usually on falling asleep, of feeling puffed out and surrounded by fluff or, conversely, feeling like a matchstick surrounded by awkward angularity (which, by the way, is not a problem – moreover, it’s a strangely comforting feeling and you can learn to control it). I had met my sensory soulmate! We remained friends for years and then his acting career took him abroad. Fast forward 10 years and on visiting Brighton about a month ago, we met up and the hour or two we spent together glugging coffee and gorging on cake, frankly, was not enough, so, Matchstick Man, if you do return to the UK, as you said you might, we need more coffee and cake time. Meanwhile, whereas Rhiannon is not a trypophobic, from recent conversations, I’m happy to report that it seems she’s inherited the Armchairs and Matchsticks gene too. Along with an involuntary designation of colours to days of the week and personalities to numbers (which Matchstick Man does too). As a child, I assumed everyone else did this, yet as an adult, I started to think that no-one else did this. Which is probably why I didn’t talk about it with my children, until I realised this weirdness had a name, when a colleague kindly lent me a book called ‘Born on a Blue Day’, after my bold admission on a dyslexia course that I did this. It never occurred to me that there was someone right under my nose with whom I could debate why Monday is red and 5 is bossy, so I’m glad I finally did chat to Rhiannon!

Back to the nails! Any words I choose at this point to describe how I feel about my nails being filed, will not do the feeling justice. I love my nails to look pretty, but the feel and the sound of them being filed is almost unbearable. The first time, I was not prepared for one and a half hours of filing. Well, it wasn’t all filing, but enough to make my breathing become shallow and my face become contorted into a permanent wince. I addressed the latter, as I didn’t want the technician to think (or know) that I was a weirdo. My temperature actually dropped, to the extent that I had to ask her to stop so I could put my coat on. My entire being was in a constant state of having goose-bumps, so you’d think my temperature would rise, but no. So I opted for just having my nails painted the second time, without extensions, as the filing would be reduced. It was still pretty cringe-worthy, but the fact that I’d lost £5 to the Rastafarian just beforehand, was almost enough to take my mind away from my sensory issues to concentrate on feeling intense frustration.

The filing ended, the painting began and I paid her.

“What are you doing now?”

The Rastafarian, all of a sudden, had popped up. I had some time to fill before putting my hair into The Italian’s hands, so I said I was going to grab a drink and some chips. I will come with you, he said. I admit I was baffled. It was scenarios such as this, that made me question his integrity, in a good way. He had nothing to gain by accompanying me. He never wanted food, unless it was late at night and he’d just returned home after drinking all evening. He loved cooking it, to feed me, but never ate much himself. Maybe he genuinely wanted my company. We went to Wetherspoons and I had a bowl of chips which was so massive that I made him eat some. I wanted to buy a Mothers’ Day present, so at some point after deciding that even between the two of us, we could not finish the chips, I announced my plan to wander down to North Laine and again, to my bafflement, he said he’d come. During our relationship, we’d never shopped together, which is a shame, because he turned out to be the most relaxing person with whom to browse. I found what I wanted and then it was time to see The Italian, so we said our goodbyes.

The Italian was always the same. Always larger than life, efficient, loud, chatty, wanting to know if his English had improved.

It hadn’t, as in it was pretty good anyway, but his accent had, which was a relief, as it was sometimes to hard to understand him with the noise of hairdryers and the noise of town coming in through the open door as if it was wanting a haircut.

“I will give you a free treatment,” he whispered as quietly as he could, but even his whisper was louder than some people’s normal voices.

“Thank-you,” I whispered back, in an actual whispered voice.

“Shall we go out for a drink sometime?”

Smooth . . .

“Of course,” I laughed in reply.

To be fair, he’d completely accepted my reluctance for a relationship and he was kinda fun.

The free treatment was a conditioning treatment and Indian head massage. Thank goodness I don’t have a sensory issue with my head being touched, because it was heavenly.

 

Jewellery

Time to visit the hairdresser. The Italian had always said he would give me a good deal if I put my hair in his hands (so to speak) so I messaged him first thing one Saturday morning to see if he could squeeze me in. And I headed off into town, expecting a reply any minute.

My mobile rang.

I pulled over.

“Come and see me,” pleaded the Rastafarian with those deep, honeyed tones. I knew that Sister was staying with him. I also wanted my crucifix back.

“Sure. Be there soon.” I replied, possibly taking him entirely by surprise.

His trademark reggae music was pumping out of his flat, like a distant heartbeat, when I arrived. He was in good spirits and the place was surprisingly tidy and smoke-free.

“Sister – she no like smoke,” he explained, when I commented on the general freshness.

“Great!” I enthused, trying hard not to feel too put out that I, as a non-smoker, had not been afforded the same treatment during our relationship.

“Although it is a little cold,” I motioned towards the open windows through which an Arctic blast was entering and blowing its icy breath into my face. I was always mystified as to how someone who had grown up in intense heat, could be so hardy in the face of wintry weather. (Although he did wear several layers, which made him look way more buff than he actually was.)

“Tonight,” he was facing me directly and I knew how this sentence would end. It wouldn’t end with ‘I’d like to take you out and spoil you’ or ‘let’s watch a movie and have a takeaway – my treat’ but it would end with precisely what it did end with:

“Could you take me to work?”

“No.”

“OK, OK – don’t worry.”

I had no intention of worrying, but this was his way of attempting to smooth things over. He knew that he’d probably wrecked all chances of ever having a lift from me again, but tested the water from time-to-time to check the exact temperature of my reaction. I intended keeping that reaction on ice for all eternity.

Sister came out of the bathroom, hair freshly washed and face smily and welcoming. We chatted about singing in church choirs and then she went off to the kitchen to make a snack for the three of us. I wanted her to know that the Rastafarian and I had been in a relationship. I waited for my chance and seized it. I still felt hurt that I had been treated like a secret and so this was not retribution; moreover it was an attempt at justice and openness.  Casually, I made a reference to the Rastafarian having been my boyfriend for several months. Either it was not understood, or she chose not to react, or perhaps – just perhaps – I was mistaken, and she did know. Alternatively, he could have woven me into a lie, as he did with The Current. Maybe he told her that I was deluded, and that she should ignore any claims I made about our relationship having been more intimate than just a friendship. I didn’t much care though: I’ve done my best, I thought.

The crucifix was the next challenge. I knew exactly where he’d put it. He’d made a mini-altar for himself on a shelf (I should have learnt my lesson from my last experience with a man with his own altar!) so I just had to wait till I was alone in the room. I’d asked for it back, but he’d demanded his silver bracelet, which I was wearing, in return. Originally, the crucifix had been Joseph’s. I had spotted it in a transparent bag full of rubbish from his room and claimed it as my own. It was an inexpensive crucifix on a simple leather thong. The Rastafarian asked to have it, so I asked for something of his. He’d given me the bracelet and it felt like a romantic gesture; the swapping of jewellery. I was surprised that he was willing to trade his bracelet as it was clearly worth much more than my trinket. It didn’t take long for him to break the crucifix and I asked for it back, to fix it, but he became possessive and demanded his bracelet back. I declined, on the grounds that he’d broken my crucifix. When we parted company we had the same discussion. He asked for my address to send the crucifix (and therefore have his bracelet returned) but I was reluctant to tell him where I lived. I told him to leave it behind the bar in The Folky Pub and his reaction was horror at the bar staff possibly learning something of our lives. I don’t think he’d like this blog . . .

I also told him that I wanted the 2k he owed me and then he could have his bracelet back.

“You cannot compare your money with my bracelet!” he vented.

“No, you can’t,” I agreed.

“I need my bracelet!” he cried, like a child reacting to deprivation of a treat.

“And I need my money,” I sympathised.

He held my cross ransom, like I held his bracelet ransom, but he credited my cross with more value than it was worth, and didn’t realise that I was prepared to risk losing it.

So, for a minute, I was alone. I reached up to the shelf and felt around for my crucifix. I wasn’t tall enough to see, but it was easy to find. I slid it into my pocket, just as he returned.

We sat down on the sofa and he moved towards me, affectionately. This wasn’t the plan, but until I managed to squirm away, I was a little trapped. Only for seconds, but long enough for the crucifix to fall out of my pocket. We both stared at the tiny cross, its symbolism becoming more than that of belief in Christ. Now, it symbolised our broken relationship. A large amount of money being owed to me. The reason for my visit. I thought quickly.

“What’s that doing on the floor?” I questioned with mock ignorance, as I picked it up and reluctantly, placed it back with the other icons on the shelf.

Unbelievably, he didn’t react – just watched me walk over to the ‘altar’ and then went off to the bathroom. So I put it straight back into my pocket . . .

“Honey, you’re going into town?” he returned from the bathroom, looking ready to go out himself.

“Yes.”

The Rastafarian and his sister had a brief conversation in Rwandan, to which, obviously, I was not party. She proceeded to get ready also and I sat on the sofa, watching this scene being played out, of which I was sure I was a part, yet no-one had informed me what part that was.

“Honey, I need to go into town – would you give me a lift please?”

I know I should have been grateful for small mercies, but his overbearing politeness in the presence of people whose opinions he clearly valued, was, well, overbearing.

“Of course,” I replied. Nothing was said about his sister.

I wanted to suggest I waited in the car, as I had removed his silver bracelet from my wrist and left it in the car, before going to his flat, as he would have forcibly removed it had he seen me wearing it. He had done so before, which is why I had started to wear it on my left wrist, which hadn’t been broken, as he was ridiculously strong and I didn’t trust him. So, I needed to hide the bracelet elsewhere in the car, but I was confused about the situation with his sister; if she was accompanying us to town, she might get straight into the car with me and see the bracelet. Argh! My pondering was interrupted by the Rastafarian saying that his sister needed to go to town, and was it ok for her to have a lift too?

“Yes – I’ll bring the car up!” I shot out while Sister was absent from the room and secreted the bracelet, which had become as symbolic as the crucifix, in the boot. Must remember to take it out of the boot, I promised myself.

We arrived in town and both were grateful for the lift. I sat down at a nail bar and congratulated myself on getting through a meeting with the Rastafarian without parting with any money or agreeing to a lift.

“Please – have you got a tenner – or a fiver?”

The nail technician paused so I could deal with the Rastafarian. I felt pressurised. I got five pounds out of my wallet and gave it to him, in much the same way a weary parent might give a difficult child some money to go to the cinema, just for some peace.

‘They care not for what’s at the end of the day’

Just as I was thinking that there was a lull in everything, like the speed of the world spinning on its axis had slowed right down, life became busy again. I went back to work, which had its own issues, and commitments I’d made were coming to fruition. One of those commitments was practising a few songs with The Dude, so we could try our hands at some Open Mic. I had a microphone and an amp, but I really should have ensured they were visible and available, before the day of our first practice, as about an hour beforehand, I had a little scout around and they were nowhere, it would seem. Still in a box from moving . . . Or in the loft . . . Anywhere, in fact. It was too late in the day to go to a music shop, but I Googled mikes and amps to order one for the next practice and Argos came up – I wasn’t sure about the quality but hey, they were still open! Off I went, just before closing time and looked up mikes and amps. Argh. ‘0 available in store’. No amps. That’s ok, I thought – Dude will have a guitar amp. Mikes. ‘1 available in store’. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it would do. I was horribly late but he didn’t seem to mind.

‘What the hell?!’ he looked at my microphone, ‘Frozen?!’

‘It was that or Minions!’

I thought I just had to tolerate a Disney sticker on the microphone, but it was much worse than that. I plugged it into his amp and started trilling away to his guitar version of ‘The Call’ (Regina Spektor – also popped up in Narnia) but as well as looking like a small child, with my pretty microphone, I sounded like a small child. I guess there was a reason it was only £9.99. The Dude said that it may have been his amp, as it was designed for a guitar, but who knows. I don’t fancy another rehearsal till I have decent equipment, I know that.

Another commitment was the play in which my sister and I had agreed to sing. It was a Dennis Potter play – Blue Remembered Hills – and being short, the directors wanted some musical interludes to eke it out a little. As it is set during the Second World War, our songs were to be wartime numbers originally sung by The Andrews Sisters. Rehearsals were already underway when we rocked up for the first time. We hadn’t practised at all; to be fair, my sister had had a chest infection and as an asthmatic, was taking a considerable amount of time to recover. I didn’t have any such excuse, but as I considered her to be the domineering force behind the whole business (she was the lead singer with a band for several years whereas I was only a backing singer with the same band for around a year, 8 months of which I was pregnant!) – that was my excuse! Also, we could have done with a third sister. The Andrews Sisters were a singing trio, not a duo and sang in 3-part harmonies half the time, so we were sadly lacking a full complement of sisters.

It had been 6 or 7 years since I had trodden the boards with this theatre group. I got a funny, slightly giddy feeling, when I walked into the hall on this particular night . . .

One of the most perceptive songs about youth, in my opinion, is Summer Sequence from Blood Brothers. Before I played the part of Linda, several years ago, I had seen the popular West End musical more than a few times, just for the sheer love of the story and the tunes. But I played Linda at a time of my life when I was reflecting on my own life, my dreams and my future. In Summer Sequence, Willy Russell captures youth in a way I have not seen in any other piece of literature. With lines such as ‘it seems that summer’s never coming to an end’, ‘who’d dare tell the lambs in spring what fate the later seasons bring’ and ‘you can’t understand how living could be anything other than a dream when you’re . . . just eighteen’ you have to have left your teen years behind in order to appreciate the poignancy of the lyrics. I was probably around eighteen years old when I first saw Blood Brothers, but around thirty when I was in Blood Brothers. I tend to fully embrace characters I play, not just for the duration of the play, but for the rehearsal period too. The emotional investment is huge, so the commitment is a serious undertaking. The words of Summer Sequence remind me of my own teen years; amongst other things, on sunny days in those deliciously long summer holidays, Old Friend and I would go to the Lido . . . But there must have been a last time that we went, like there must have been a last time I went clubbing with my friends, a last time I was in the local panto with the ‘gang’. Yet I don’t recall any of these ‘lasts’ . . . There’s no regret or remorse, of course. What’s important in your teens becomes less so your 20s and so on. People get careers, houses, partners, children and these things, particularly the latter, become important. But the transition from childhood to adulthood and the shift in priorities happens so smoothly that you simply don’t notice. I have the greatest of admiration for George Bernard Shaw, but I simply don’t agree with his ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ sentiment. What makes that summer feel like it’s never coming to an end, is inexperience and a lack of cynicism. If we concerned ourselves with the end of the summer, then it would be wasted on us for sure.

There was a last time I played a major role in a play: I’m not sure which one it was. Cordelia in King Lear? Serafina in The Rose Tattoo? Did I know it would be the last time? I used the loo as soon I arrived at rehearsal and didn’t prepare myself for it. It hadn’t changed. It still had a chain. There was a hand-written notice which gave firm instructions for the toilet NOT to be flushed during performances. I’m certain it was the same notice from another era, a long time ago. As I left the loo I recalled a time when I’d opened the door of the toilet, having been careful not to flush and walked straight into the arms of a chap I rather liked and we kissed silently in the corridor until hearing the noise of a fellow thespian. And another time, when I was Daisy (yes, in Daisy Pulls It Off) and I’d dashed off-stage to use the loo in around 50 seconds because that was all the time I’d had. And a time when I’d fallen out with a friend over a boy and she’d followed me into the loo to talk and we were both covered in paint from set-painting, taking the issue of how much flirting is too much  flirting with one’s boyfriend, very seriously (she was the flirt, not me).

At some point this visit to my past ended (as I attend more rehearsals, I’m sure that feeling will be replaced with a feeling of the here and now) and I had a decision to make. I was supposed to go to a gig with friends, but I hadn’t heard from them and I couldn’t seem to make contact. Singing Sister and I had run into a friend from the olden days of plays and he had invited us to the pub. So the weekly jaunt to the pub still happened. Different pub, though. Singing Sister was tired and I decided to forget the gig and so went to the pub with Friend from the Olden Days alone. Well, and the rest of the cast and the directors. I updated him on the Rastafarian and he was sympathetic to a degree, as he had been used in a similar way, but he was also a little scolding and after a while I decided it was a good time to pay Ex-hubby No 1 a visit. Just for clarity here, he had asked me to call in before rehearsal, to sign a PPI claim (I didn’t think anyone took those calls either). I’d gone there before rehearsal but there was no answer. Anyway, there was an answer this time and he and Soon-to-be Wife No 3 planted a glass of wine in my hand whilst giving me a pen and some forms. I tried to read the small print but it was hard because they were both in rather loquacious moods. Mostly about the colour scheme for the wedding and concern over whether or not the men would bring shame onto the proceedings by wearing white socks. Best to hire the socks too, just to be on the safe side.

Questions were asked about the Rastafarian and I assured them, as I was busy assuring everyone, that I had seen sense and no, I would not be giving him any more money. Then I realised that I’d left my script in the pub and so I called Friend from the Olden Days and he picked it up for me. I stayed a bit longer with . . . You know who – I can’t write that out again! Then when I finally left, Friend from the Olden Days rang to say was I ever leaving their house? Oops! No idea he was waiting for me. Asked him to drop it off in the porch and he seemed a little put out that he wasn’t getting to see my newly acquired abode. 

I promised him a visit complete with glass of wine, ate an avocado and went to bed.

Half-term

The best part about holidays, for me, is that usually the children are on holiday too. Now they’re all grown up, of course, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that I’ll see them during every break, especially half-term breaks (or reading weeks, or enhancement weeks, or enrichment weeks, or whatever euphemism the uni chooses for the break that they will treat as half-term, because it isn’t that long since they were at school and it is at the same time as half-term, therefore it is half-term). So, it was an unexpected surprise to see both Joseph and Rhiannon over half-term. Even if the driving force behind Joseph’s visit was to collect his shiny, red, limited edition PS4 which Rhiannon had trailed round the South East to find. Rhiannon procrastinated her arrival at home by several hours to sharpen her brother’s appetite and by the time she arrived, complete with PS4, his appetite was pretty sharp. It reminded me of Christmas Day when he was much younger and he had received a PS3. He had sat with it on his knee for about an hour, just smoothing it (it was very smooth, to be fair) and looking at it. I think I had spotted his eyes actually glistening at one point.

We all went up to London to see Miss Saigon, as sadly, it was in its final days. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, which was very satisfying for me; as far as I’m concerned, it’s up there with Blood Brothers, Les Mis and Wicked. I love a good cry (never really get that) and I had to swallow a few sobs. When a fictional piece is rooted in fact, I run a gamut of emotions. So much more than if it was an entirely factual piece, which proves, I guess, that a good writer/director/producer can take something actual and manipulate our emotions. Which I love, even though I will feel sensitive for days afterwards.

Rusty had his (approximately) thrice-a -year haircut which was a relief to everyone. Well, to him and to me. Rusty is supposed to be a Jack Russell, but everyone who has met him laughs at such a preposterous suggestion. He has a carpet of hair which doesn’t fall out. By the time he trots off to the grooming parlour he resembles Dougall from The Magic Roundabout. He does look like a Jack Russell post-haircut, but the image is short-lived, as his lovable coat starts to grow back. My friends and family bemoan the scalping he suffers every few months, but as it doesn’t fall out, it gets knotty and pulls on his skin, so we have no choice really. Rusty is a hyperactive little doggie but when the locks go, he is markedly subdued for several days, as if, like Samson’s strength, all his energy lies in his hair. And of course, he has to wear a cute little coat to go for walks, lest he should feel the cold . . .

I drove Joseph back to uni after a few days, to ease the passage of the afore-mentioned games console from Sussex to Cheshire and stayed for a night. I had landed Rhiannon with pet-sitting at the last minute, for the duration that I was coursing through the counties, so I felt one night was long enough. No risk of any Rastafarians crashing my trip away at the last minute this time, so it was an all-round, more relaxing trip. I’d made several trips there and enjoyed them all; not least because I was seeing Joseph but also because it was an enchanting place to visit. I’d seen all the sights, some of them 2 or 3 times, like the cathedral. The last time was with the Rastafarian and we’d all had to wait for him in the inevitably over-priced gift-shop, while he spent £30 on some wooden rosary beads in a pretty little wooden box for his mother. At the risk of sounding harsh, with hindsight, I can’t believe he had the cheek to do that in front of me when he owed me money and just for the record, he never bought me a single gift. The nicest thing he ever did for me was to make me a lollipop. Unfortunately, I struggle to see any altruism from my present stance now. It was probably meant for The Current and she didn’t want it, or he was softening me like you soften butter to make it absorb anything you subsequently pour over it. But anyway, Joseph and Hannah (Joseph’s girlfriend) had been pleasant and welcoming to him, even when he’d admitted that he’d stayed out all night, the only night he’d been in Cheshire and had ended up at a nightclub they knew. I’d marvelled at his lack of shame and Joseph’s and Hannah’s generosity of spirit when they laughed off his embarrassing admissions.

Back to this trip: I left Cheshire around midday the day after arriving there, after breakfast at a pancake parlour which is worth the drive in itself. They serve sweet pancakes, savoury pancakes, build-your-own pancakes and coffee like jet fuel and so it rounded my trip off nicely. My drive home was reasonable, although I can never comprehend why the M25 is always something resembling a car park, no matter what time you find yourself crawling through.

Rhiannon returned to uni shortly afterwards and I returned to work. One of my colleagues confessed to putting the chocolate in my pigeon-hole, because he pitied me when I said that I couldn’t have cake in the staffroom one day. Of course, he had no idea that chocolate was also banned, but he also had no idea that I could have it on Sundays! So the chocolate story had a happy ending. And I was completely wrong about the provider of the chocolate – I assumed it was someone deliberately tantalising me because of Lent and as there’s always that one person at work who relishes in teasing and humiliating at every possible opportunity, my money was on them.   I like a bit of teasing and humiliation but I’m also partial to acts of kindness. Before I start directly quoting Tennessee Williams I shall move on.

Post-(soon-to-be-ex)hubby and pre-Rastafarian, I had become used to going out on my own. With my single status, I remembered this, one evening when I noticed a local favourite musician was playing at the folky pub. Despite feeling a little sleepy, I powdered my nose and headed off into town and arrived just in time for the first act. There were 4 in total: an ok guy first, a ridiculously talented guy called Dom Prag second and just as Deirdre Faegre’s mellow Irish voice started seeping into the pub, even though she was the reason for my outing, I started to think that it might be time to go, as it was a school night. Then I felt a shadow over me and a voice asking if he could join me? It had been so quiet when I first went there that I’d felt slightly awkward. There was a big table next to me full of people that I recognised from a band I’d seen recently. I’d totally obsessed over them for days afterwards and wanted to say something, as they were sitting right there, but I found it difficult to shake off the Rastafarian’s view that musicians would think I was flirting if I complimented them (I’d watched women drape themselves over the Rastafarian and then suffer his consternation if I dared to have a little chuckle over any of them fancying a bit more than his music. One such lady in The Cosmopolitan Pub reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda as she writhed while he played then snaked over to him afterwards to ‘congratulate’ him. But my personal favourite in terms of looks, was the one she gave when he came over to me and gave me a kiss.) Anyway, I looked up and before noticing who had addressed me, I became aware of how hemmed in I was on my stool at the only high table in the pub. I chose it because I felt I could sit there without feeling I was depriving a couple or a group of a decent-sized table, as it was very small. I hadn’t noticed how busy it had become but I did notice that this was a friend of the Rastafarian asking to sit with me.

‘Oh it’s you!’ one of us said – I forget who.

But I remember that Rastafarian’s Friend said the next bit.

‘I have the greatest of respect and admiration for you, for remaining in a relationship with him for so long.’

I’m not one to relish in the criticism of others, but I was almost moved to tears to know that there was someone other than me (and other victims) who had seen past the Rastafarian’s beautiful, gentle façade. I just assumed that all his ‘pub friends’ had fallen hook, line and sinker for his easy-going ways and unassuming talent. I don’t know why I hadn’t credited people with the wit to realise (well, some people anyway) that the façade hid layers of complication. Of course, if you’re not in a relationship with a complicated person such as the Rastafarian, the complications are unlikely to be an issue, so it’s easy to take such a person at face value and enjoy the outside bit without worrying about the inside bit. I tried not to be too negative about the Rastafarian but Rastafarian’s Friend was a willing listener and it was cathartic to be able to talk openly about ALL the reasons we weren’t together. But we didn’t just chat about him; we chatted about music, local and otherwise, Brighton and our association with it, families, relationships and the name of the guy with the long, black, curly hair whose skill with a guitar was second to none in my opinion. I’d wanted to ask the Rastafarian, so I could look up his music, but he was jealous enough I’d complimented the guy personally. Then Deirdre Faegre, my reason for being there, finished and the last act was starting. He offered me a drink but I felt like Cinderella, realising the time and gathering my things to go (I kept both my shoes on though). We vaguely arranged to meet in the same place in a month, for the next folky evening of music and he said that it would be like a date. That made me say that ok, I might see you in a month then. He looked a little crestfallen and I felt a little guilty, but I really didn’t want a date.

Food

When I returned to work last September, I may have had a wrecked wrist but I was pretty fit from being deprived of my car for most of the summer. And also because my workplace provides very pleasing lunches, so I just eat more during term-time. And of course Rusty gets longer walks during the holidays. So, returning to driving, returning to work with its irresistible school dinners (I know that sounds like an oxymoron but it really isn’t!) and the advent of long, dark evenings and therefore shorter walks for Rusty, meant that all the ingredients were there for a little extra weight. Add a Rastafarian into the mix, who is intent on fattening you up and all hope is lost. If he hadn’t been such a damn good cook, then it would have been easier, but he was accommodating towards my vegetarianism, cooked everything from scratch and even cooked in coconut oil. He was also rather liberal with his sprinkling of chillies, garlic, Himalayan rock salt and wonderfully aromatic spices and as I had developed a penchant for hot food after my taste buds woke up following the post-Ofsted/post-hubby leaving/post-moving illness, my waistline didn’t have a chance.

New year, new house, new start . . . Not really my words, but everyone else’s. I’m not one for resolving to become a ‘new me’ with every new year, but as 2016 was bringing some radically new stuff like a single status, I figured it was a good time to try shifting that little bit of extra weight that I really didn’t want to be carrying around. Christmas, inevitably, contributed towards it, so as soon as I’d polished off the last scrap of indulgent festive fare, I decided to address my eating habits.
‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.’ If you haven’t tried this, then don’t. It doesn’t work. I put on even MORE weight in January. And I caught a cold. So I ditched the stupid royal diet and cut out carbs instead. And started to eat a clove of garlic every morning to stave off any more bugs. I guess it probably staved off vampires too. And men. I was fine with the former. Well, the latter too in fact . . . But I caught another cold, only I reckon it was ‘man flu’ because I felt too ill to be merely suffering from the common cold. So I started to eat Greek style natural yogurt, in case the garlic was destroying EVERYTHING, but with honey because then it’s amazing. I’m ashamed to admit that a student advised me that the garlic might be killing me from the inside out and that natural yogurt might be a good idea. I also started to ration the garlic to weekends and holidays, for fear of ending up with a kind of force field around me, consisting of garlic fumes. Back to the weight loss – not quite there, even with the Lenten deprivation, but have DEFINITELY seen an improvement.

I love bread. Doughy, delicious and dangerous. When I borrowed a friend’s bread-maker last year, I was impressed with the quantity I could eat before feeling bloated. She had kindly lent it to me, so I could try it out before investing in a magic machine myself. I returned it before moving, fully intending purchasing my very own after the move, which I did, shortly after getting my nails done. As I write, it’s quite late and you could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve accidentally dropped an irrelevant fact into my bread story, but the nails are important. My nails had reached the stage of needing re-doing, but I had failed to secure an appointment to do so at the weekend. It’ll be ok, I thought, I’ll be careful for that extra week. I was VERY excited about the bread-maker. I opted for a plain, white loaf to start and after following the recipe carefully, I put the mixture in the magic machine and set it to cook for 3 hours. Then I started to put rubber gloves on to wash up and that’s when I noticed I’d broken the little finger nail on my right hand. I couldn’t believe I’d done such a cliched thing – I searched EVERYWHERE for half a purple nail but nothing! I’ll let you know what happens – I haven’t found it in the bread yet. I wonder if Mrs Lovett, pie-maker extraordinaire from Sweeney Todd, worried about this sort of thing. Probably not.