Ghosts from the Past

A hobby in the theatre is what I call a ‘crescendo hobby’. Hobbies that aren’t crescendo hobbies remain consistent regarding commitment, enjoyment, stress, hours in attendance, money spent and other themes associated with hobbies. It isn’t the only crescendo hobby. Longest Standing Friend is into archery. Actually, that’s an understatement; since taking up this hobby a few years ago, after deciding her children should do it and she kind of fell into it, she has become so good at it that she represents the country now. (Her children don’t do it anymore. Funny how things work out.) Anyway, I imagine that this is another crescendo hobby, in that one prepares for a contest in the same way that one prepares for a play.
So in the last couple of weeks before the production, all of the above themes started building up to a crescendo . . . As did contact from Wimbledon Man. I didn’t want the latter. What would the crescendo look like, I wondered, not without a hint of anxiety. He’d made contact, which was fine and he’d expressed a wish to see the play, which was also fine. We’d established that he wouldn’t be staying at my house and he agreed that it would be a bad idea, citing his reasons as ‘raging hormones’ and being ‘full of lust’. I wondered if he’d swapped bodies with a spotty adolescent but then he started randomly sending me pictures of himself, so I could see that he wasn’t the victim of some voodoo magic. The pictures added another interesting layer to this strange form of cyber-stalking (still haven’t found out how he knew I’d moved house). Now I have pictures of Wimbledon Man at home, relaxing . . . In the rain, with an umbrella . . . Outside an old-fashioned gypsy caravan. My little Stalker Album is rather like one of those albums you see on Facebook sometimes, of pictures of teddies in different places of interest throughout the world. But I figured that as long as I’m receiving pics of him living his life and not pics of me living my life, then I need not worry. Too much.
Roundabout this time I downloaded Sleep Cycle onto my phone, in order to aid the waking-up process in the morning. One is eased into sleep to the sounds of the sea softly lapping onto shingle and one is eased back into wakefulness to a melodious mix of music in the morning. The app offers a variety of features, including daily graphs which show, as the name suggests, your own personal sleep cycle. I’m not convinced that it isn’t also Rusty’s sleep cycle, seeing as his lack of moulting allows him access onto my bed every night, but it was certainly my sleep cycle whilst Wimbledon Man was messaging me through the night, as my peaks of wakefulness coincided exactly with the times of his messages. I think this would be an apt occasion for use of the expression ‘stream of consciousness’ which is kinda funny seeing as it was while I was not conscious that he sent over the aforementioned ‘stream’. If I liked this guy, like Laurie in Oklahoma!, out of my dreams and into his arms I would have flown by now. But the more love, passion, compliments and kisses (sometimes just a load of kisses. And I mean a LOAD . . . Not just a few) I receive, the less I even want to remain acquainted with him. I have been blunt: ‘I don’t want a relationship with you.’ I told him not to see the play: ‘Don’t come to the play.’ I have been scolding: ‘I told you I was going to sleep yet you continued to message me for another hour and a quarter.’ To be fair, he didn’t come to the play and the nocturnal messages have stopped, but still he messages me every day. I ignore the messages. If they become abusive or he takes up his nocturnal messaging habit again, I will block him. I could block him now, but I feel it is an unnecessary confrontational act and if there is one thing I have learnt from ‘positive handling’ courses (aka restraint training), it is to only use as much force as is required to resolve an issue. Currently, I don’t feel the need to block him and as I still don’t know how he knew about my house move, I favour the softly, softly approach (actually, that description might be pushing it, given my frankness, but I think you get the sentiment).
His resilience would be admirable if it wasn’t creepy. I can take a hint; if I’m ignored for a few days, or there seems to be a lack of interest, or I’m continually starting conversations, then I back off and assume my attention is unwanted. Sometimes I’m wrong, so it’s great. Sometimes I’m not, so I’ve prepared myself. I think it’s fair to call myself easy-going in this respect but of course, if it becomes a pattern of behaviour then even I am inclined to call it a day. I don’t play games. It would be easier, of course, if people were explicit instead of implicit (I think I can assume from accusations of bluntness, that I am the former) but I guess many people are in possession of this misguided notion that it is kinder to be implicit. However, like most people, if someone had sent me the messages that I have sent Wimbledon Man, I would not continue to wear that someone down with romantic advances. Why would anyone do this? Does he think I will fall for his roguish, stalker-esque approach? Does he think that I can be won over by unwanted attention? More importantly, how can anyone demean themselves in this way? Wimbledon Man is attractive. A year ago, when he vaporised from my life, I was sad. I had liked him. But, in the words of Frank Sinatra (and a shedload of other people) I picked myself up, dusted myself off and . . . started seeing the Rastafarian. I forgot about him and evidently, to a degree, he did likewise. We had never had a relationship; we went on a few dates and barely even kissed. So frankly, I’m bemused.
Talking of the Rastafarian, my phone acted as go-between (which is its job, I guess) for him and me also. If my phone could talk (which it can, I guess, but with its own voice like Holly in Red Dwarf) it would be saying, ‘Sorry, but – what is actually going on here Lisa?’ And I would say, in all honesty, ‘I don’t know! But I don’t want either of them! If only I got this much attention from men I actually liked!’ Just to clarify, the Rastafarian had behaved unpleasantly towards my daughter in town when she ran into into him one Saturday night. So whereas I was maintaining a friendship – of sorts – with him before, now I did not want to consort with him. He became enraged at this and whereas I was receiving pure slop from Wimbledon, now I was receiving pure venom from Brighton. Neither was satisfactory. (I realise the unlikelihood of the loan repayment but the chances will reduce to zero if I block him.) I requested an end to the verbal abuse and I got it. He ditched his role of perpetrator and assumed that of victim instead; a fawning, lovesick victim. I marvelled at his ability to change his colours, like a chameleon but I also felt slightly disturbed by it. It was a temporary embargo though, because a pattern emerged: abuse, followed by my request for it to end, then sycophancy. Then it was just the latter . . . Which was an improvement. I found out later on, from Rhiannon, that Joseph had contacted him and asked him to stop the abuse. I’m biased, of course, but my children are the business.
I was supposed to go to my second audition last night, but I was offered a free ticket to see Fish (lead singer of Marillion) in London, so I bailed on the audition and went tripping off the The Big Smoke instead. He performed the whole album of ‘Misplaced Childhood’, including ‘Kayleigh’, which I did not imagine I would hear live, so many years after its first release. Anyway, there is a point to this rather indulgent anecdote (that probably describes my whole blog in fact) which is, that the kind donor of the ticket is a friend from work. There were five of us in total who all met in London (I only knew Work Friend) but we began our journey home together. Two peeled off early on, so then there were three of us. Work Friend decided to tell Other Friend about my theory that all men like porn. I wasn’t expecting to have a private conversation spilled forth on the Victoria Line, to an unfamiliar someone and within earshot of the other passengers who, in keeping with lone passengers, looked suitably catatonic and zombie-like. I was also concentrating on the troubled realisation that my hand was stuck to the pole it had automatically grasped for steadying purposes, because there had been something sticky on the pole. I resisted the urge to move it to a less sticky portion of the pole, my logic being that the stickiness may well be on other parts of the pole and moving it could result in twice the number of germs having a rave on the palm of my hand. So I resolved to leave my hand be and turned my attention to this careless divulgence of my shamefully sexist theory. I was on the verge of retracting said theory, when Other Friend, an unassuming, smiley chap who referred lovingly to his wife and therefore could possibly have blown my theory out of the water just by his existence, said, ‘Yeah. I’d agree with that. I think all men like porn.’ I felt vindicated. Work Friend expected support but I got it instead! After Other Friend left and the party of rock fans was down to just two, Work Friend confessed to feeling disillusioned with men. This surprised me. Assuming you’ve read the entirety of this post and you didn’t just skip to the end, you would probably understand my current (I hope temporary) disillusionment with men, but as Work Friend is one, I guess that proves that even men annoy men from time to time …

Returning to the audition, I didn’t get the part I wanted. Clearly, I didn’t sing Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get I Want loudly enough in the loo when I nipped out to use it halfway through the auditions. But I did get a good part. Singing Sister got Elvira (the part I wanted. No sibling rivalry there) and I got Ruth Condomine. In all seriousness, given that I didn’t bag the title role, I can’t think of a better co-star. We are not unaccustomed to playing rivals in love: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (this got physical, which is fine when it’s your sister because you have actual experiences upon which you can draw) … The Importance of Being Earnest (the famous tea scene) to name but two. I doubt I’ll play Elvira now, because it’ll be a while before it’s on again, but I have been fortunate enough to play a plethora of funny and tragic roles and if my regrets are just a few parts I’ve missed, I’ve led a charmed theatrical life thus far.

A Minor Skirmish

My workplace is set in the midst of breathtaking beauty. The main building is a flint manor house with a low roof and the rest of the school comprises converted barns and other out-buildings in keeping with the olde worlde appeal of village dwellings from a bygone era. We have lunch in a hall that can only be described as a banqueting hall, complete with sturdy wooden beams and small, pretty lead-light windows. We eat at long, wooden, trestle tables and the daily menu complements our charming surroundings. The staff room has French windows which open out onto a patio, which in turn overlooks a small orchard. Down a steep bank, at the top of which is a neat row of Leylandii trees, all standing to attention, is the school field. Beyond that, we are lucky enough to look upon the rolling greenness of the South Downs. We stand alone, apart from the farm behind us.
But countryside abodes have their drawbacks. Like year-round ants. We have ants in the summer. And in the autumn . . . And in the winter . . . And in the spring. As the summer takes a back seat and the days grow shorter and colder, the summer ants die out. And we witness the rise of The Winter Ant. Apparently, we host a rare breed of ant that can survive low temperatures and apparently it is a country thing. This year we have played host to thronging masses of armies of ants. When you make a hot drink and see ants floating carelessly on the surface of your much-needed beverage . . . When you flush the toilet and a waterfall of ants courses down from the rim of the toilet . . . When a student says ‘Miss, there’s like a million ants on the shelf behind you’ . . . It was the last in that list of ant crises that forced me to take matters into my own hands.
In my previous house (the hateful hovel), I had an ant problem. I Googled ‘ants’ on March Against Monsanto and found myself an easy, non-toxic (well, not to the ants but to other livestock like my beloved pets) way to rid my life of the prolific creatures. I’ll take it into work, I decided. And I did. I mixed up an ‘ant potion’ from yeast and honey and gave some to my boss and kept some for me. I felt like an apothecary, with my fastidious mixing and placing in strategic places. It started well; the ants flocked to the mixture and my classes that day were fascinated with the numbers of ants tidily encircling the massive drops of potion on tiny squares of card.
“I can’t believe how many ants are in my classroom,” bemoaned my boss, gazing, slightly distressed, at the ant community greedily guzzling their last meal behind her drawer unit.
“It’ll be worth it,” I assured her, “because they’ll all be gone by tomorrow.”
“Hmm . . . ” she didn’t sound convinced, but this potion had worked within an hour in The Hovel, so I was confident.
My school is a boarding school. So, in the evening, when a typical day school quietens down and breathes a sigh of relief as the last student shuts the door behind them, our school (and others like it) are just gearing up for an evening of boarding fun. Even now, years after I should have grown out of Enid Blyton-esque ideology, I’m still enamoured with the idea of ‘jolly’ pillow fights and ‘scrummy’ midnight feasts. I attended a boarding school, but as a day pupil and begged to be a boarder but understandably, what with living a mere 15 minute drive away, my parents laughed at such a request. This is the third boarding school I’ve taught in which I believe is no coincidence. As is the fact that I positively revelled in the part of Daisy Meredith in ‘Daisy Pulls it Off’, a play written in shameless ‘jolly hockey sticks’ style. Being a boarder is one of the few things you can only do in childhood, so I have accepted that that particular ship has not only sailed but docked in harbour with its anchor firmly on the ocean floor.
So, the point is, my classroom becomes a study room in the evening. The particular houseparent running this operation tends to leave rude messages on my whiteboard, attributing them to a hapless Year 11 student who is exasperated at my firm ‘belief’ that he has written them, seeing as his name is always scrawled at the bottom. (On Leavers’ Day I will assure him that of course I knew his cheeky houseparent framed him every night.) But said houseparent missed a few nights, so I messaged him, berating him for his lack of care and warning him I expected a message tomorrow morning.

‘I can’t get to your whiteboard for the ants,’
he replied.
“Don’t worry,” assured a colleague the following morning, when I was scared to open my classroom door, “You know he’s a wind-up!”
But not this time. The scene in my classroom was like one from a post-apocalyptic disaster movie involving ants. (If there was one.) They had multiplied. There were 1000s of them. The potion hadn’t killed them off: it had attracted them. I’m certain it had decimated them, but of course, dealing with a large area of land with several buildings is rather different from dealing with one’s own house. There was a plentiful supply of the blighters and word had got round, evidently, that the English department had a yummy concoction of yeast and honey on the menu today. Marginally better than rotting apple cores and carelessly strewn banana skins, even if it did swell up inside of your tiny ant tummy and kill you (not certain of the first bit of that, to be honest. As a vegetarian I rather hope the end is less painful). Anxiously, I disposed of the pieces of card which removed the bulk of the trespassers, knowing that I was merely borrowing a small of amount of time in so doing.
Some of our students have 1:1 support staff and this was the case in my first lesson that day. I’m happily wittering on about something – complex sentences perhaps – when I notice her head slowly turn to the side and over to the corner of the classroom, as if she has seen something in her peripheral vision. Then her head stops and her eyes become the biggest I’ve ever seen eyes become and this strange phenomenon is accompanied by a screech, which eventually forms the words:
” There’s an army of them! Marching across the floor!”
And she was right. It doesn’t take much for teenagers to become distracted – especially ours – so in a moment they are all in the corner of my classroom, checking to verify her claim. There it was – a long line of them, marching backwards and forwards, collecting bits of the potion I’d missed – the potion that was almost responsible for world ant domination. You couldn’t easily make them out before – they blended with the carpet – but now we knew they were there, it was all we could see.
I had to admit defeat. Victory was theirs. At least, for now. It was time to summon the experts: The Maintenance Men. They arrived at the close of the school day, fully equipped with Ant Annihilation gear to blast the invaders into eternal oblivion. And it worked. There was carnage the following Monday, before the cleaners had had a chance to clear up the spoils of war. Dead ants lined the skirting board. Defeated. Until another army in a far corner of the neighbouring farm silently prepared for the next assault . . .

The Play

I have no idea if other actors feel similarly to me about technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals. After weeks (or maybe months) of practising, those last two all-important rehearsals are vital (in my opinion) for injecting some kind of magic into the dramatic offering. The switching off of the lights in the venue and the lighting up of the stage, somehow bring the proceedings to life. Real life is plunged into darkness and the fantasy world of the play becomes a reality. Occasionally there may be a voice from the dark, usually the director’s and it really seems other-worldly. Without an audience, there’s a kind of surreality about these rehearsals. It almost makes the play seem more like real life; as if we’ve all just got together one evening to live different lives for a couple of hours. There’s no audience, so we’re not doing it for anyone, so we must be doing it for ourselves.
Then the curtain goes up on the first night. I don’t get nervous. I mean, I have felt nervous, but not very often. I was nervous when I played Lady Helen Walsingham in Half a Sixpence, but it was in The Dome and I worried about coming on from the wrong bit of the wings because the stage was so massive. I was in many a musical in The Dome, but usually as an all-singing, all-dancing member of the chorus so I had company if I screwed up. Also, I had problems with my radio mike, the transmitter of which was underneath layers of period skirt. Several times I left the stage, only to be accosted by the radio mike man en route to my dressing room, who thought it was ok to rummage around amongst the layers of satin to find my mike to fix it. When one has a jealous fiancĂ© (which I did at the time) this type of scenario is one big headache. One of the other nerve-inducing experiences was when I used to compere Brighton Cares, a big charity show that was held annually at The Brighton Centre and this time I had a hand-held mike, the cable of which succeeded in tripping me up as I tried to wiggle sexily up the steps on the side of the stage. I actually slid across the stage on my front, laddering my tights in the process. Fortunately, this was at the dress rehearsal, but by the time the evening performance arrived, I was almost catatonic with fear. Compering is one of the most terrifying tasks I have ever undertaken. What I love about acting is the fact that I am playing a role, usually vastly different from my own persona. But when you compere, you are exposed as you. Just you. No wacky character to hide behind . . . Just your own personality in all its nakedness.
So anyway, apart from those occasions and some plays where maybe I haven’t felt entirely happy with my part or the play in general, I don’t suffer from nerves. I haven’t enjoyed the rare occasions when I have felt nervous, but I wonder if I’m missing out on an extra shot of adrenaline by not feeling those first night wobbles that my fellow thespians feel. I wonder if they have an extra edge to their performance . . . An extra sparkle . . . because they’re feeling a little fizzy.
But despite my lack of nerves, I had a ball. It was great to be back on stage after a break of two or three years; well, a platform next to the stage anyway, given that we weren’t really in the play, just providing some jolly war songs to both lengthen and lighten the performances of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills. It was a tough week at work – I’d put out a plea to my students to behave so I didn’t have to talk so much and I told them I wouldn’t be talking as much as usual, which would be a good thing because most teachers talk too much anyway. Obviously, this was in an attempt to preserve my singing voice but I really don’t think I talked any less to be honest. The play was well-received and I was pleased I did something a little different. It was supposed to be a one-off occurrence, as I have felt for some time now that I have moved on from the theatre . . . But tonight I found myself wandering back down to the village to audition for their next play: Blithe Spirit. I have long held a desire to be in a production of this dark-humoured play, so although I wonder if I can spare the time, I felt this was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss. Because actually, opportunities don’t get lost; someone else takes them. I have missed three opportunities to go to the Edinburgh Festival so I feel somewhat an expert on this matter.
Round two of the audition process takes place on Friday, so watch this space . . .

Telscombe Tye

Back in the early 1800s, Telscombe Tye was known by locals as Sheep Down. Back in my early childhood, it was known by me as Telscombe Tide. Years later, when studying language acquisition, I would come to realise that I was bringing my wealth – or lack – of knowledge to this conundrum to try to make sense of my world. It didn’t look like my tie I wore for kindergarten (yes, I had to wear a tie for kindergarten) and I couldn’t relate the word to the verb ‘to tie’, so I was baffled. You could see the sea from the strip of South Downs nestling between Saltdean and Telscombe, so it must have been ‘Tide’. I wasn’t wholly satisfied with this conclusion, but it was the best I could do with three years of experience of the world.

In time, I became more accepting and realised that names didn’t have to appear to connect to anything. But then I studied Latin and my desire to dig around amongst the roots of words reached nerd proportions. I wouldn’t flatter myself by suggesting I’m a full-blown nerd but I do have this sort of etymological hangover lingering from several years of studying Latin (just don’t ask me what ablative absolutes are – I never did get them and the mention of them increases my heart rate to this day. But I’ve survived thus far without this elusive piece of information, so really, it’s fine). And now I’ve ditched my lenses, I am finding myself looking over my glasses at students and adjusting them whilst indulging in lengthy explanations about anything. Maybe it’s time to resurrect the lenses . . . I would hate to be accused of suffering from ‘bad faith’.

Back to Telscombe Tye. When I was five, my parents bought a horse called Flipper. Really. I mean, he wasn’t a crime-fighting dolphin; he was a proper horse with legs and a mane. He was a Connemara shipped over from Ireland and the story goes that he was the only livestock on the voyage that didn’t suffer from seasickness, hence the name. I never thought about horses feeling queasy on the ocean waves but then again, I never thought about them sailing so I guess our Flipper was pretty special. He was big, but when you’re five, most things seem big. And as we are not known for our immensity in our family, I was quite a small five year old. So I didn’t ride him as much as my older (and therefore bigger) sisters and when I did, the words pea and drum probably came to most people’s minds and I remember toppling off a lot. It was pure physics, really. I had learnt to ride before we acquired him, on a Shetland, who was more in keeping with my size, although he was a stallion, so I tumbled off him a good deal too. So anyway, I cannot recall the first time I parted company from my steed, which might be a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a thing. In fact, I cannot recall the first time I was ever on a horse, which is a bit of a shame. I bet it was awesome.

Ah . . . I misled you. I’ve drifted away from Telscombe Tye. Ok. Not only was Flipper a capable sailor, but also he was an admirable escapologist. His prowess in jumping out of fields was unmatched. He even jumped out of stables sometimes. He could do ‘cat jumps’ from a standstill and when I was a little older and my legs had grown sufficiently to be more vertical and less horizontal whilst riding him, I remember the teeth-gritting determination in getting him over a jump, lest he refused at the last moment, because actually he rarely refused, he just enjoyed skidding to a halt sometimes, so he could leap from a standstill which, frankly, I found terrifying as the leap would be twice as high as that from a canter. This is where my drifting drifts to the point. Flipper escaped onto Telscombe Tye once. (By this time I knew it was a ‘Tye’ and not a ‘Tide’.) He had his field-mate with him, a horse called William and sadly, the latter did not survive this particular adventure as their naughty trip into the countryside took them, ultimately, onto a busy road. Whereas Flipper did not suffer physically, the experience clearly scarred him as he became traffic-shy as a result of the tragedy.

I associated Telscombe Tye with this sad episode for years, until moving to a house which is a five minute walk away and now it has become Rusty’s favourite waste of time (meant in the nicest possible way). I usually take the same path across the Tye which ultimately leads to the old village of Telscombe. (By the way, ‘Tye’ is an archaic word meaning an area of common land. I have lost count of how many words there are for areas of land.) It is an ancient highway known as Old Funeral Road because pre-20th century, it was used for funeral processions. It was used also for more nefarious activities at this time, as it was a perfect route for smugglers to transport illegal items inland from the beach at Saltdean Gap. Apart from the smuggling (I think!) very little has changed in the last 100 years about the old village of Telscombe. There is no public road by which one can reach it and the population is around 50. Earliest records date back to the 10th century and it owes its preserved state to a racehorse trainer called Ambrose Gorham who lived in Stud Farm in Telscombe at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, his horse, Shannon Lass, unexpectedly won the Grand National. He used his winnings to expand his racehorse training business so that it dominated the village. He put money into refurbishing the church, providing amenities for apprentice jockeys and improving buildings. He left everything to Brighton Corporation when he died, on the condition that the area was preserved.

Telscombe Cliffs, although in close proximity, does not join onto Telscombe. It has a population of around 4,500 and Telscombe Tye curves protectively around it on the west and the north, the sea on the south and the rest of Peacehaven on the east.

If Rusty could talk, he would tell you that Telscombe Tye is the best because it’s all grass, with no hard pebbles to hurt his paws. He would add that the choice of poo in which to roll is second-to-none. It was particularly quiet when we strolled along there today, so I felt I could practise the seven war songs being provided by myself, Singing Sister and Friend in Rottingdean’s forthcoming play, without risking judgement from others. Not of my singing, but of my sanity. I walked alongside a fence, whilst trilling the jaunty tones of Don’t Fence Me In and inwardly chuckled at the coincidence. I sang and inwardly chuckled for too long, though, because when I looked back to check on my canine companion, he was in the throes of euphoria, or in the smelliest poo, to be more literal. It was too late and I was too far from him to shoo him away, so I turned away and pretended to have missed it. Other animals’ excrement is to dogs, in my opinion, what catnip is to cats. The pleasure Rusty gains from plastering himself in waste matter would be a joy to behold if the means wasn’t so very far from justifying the end. A woman who was shouting distance away from me, called over:

“He’s such a happy dog!”

He was as far from her as I was, so he really was spreading the cheer, having spread something nasty all over his torso. He did look very skittish. I laughed and called back to her that yes, he was. I added quietly so she didn’t hear that he was high on animal poo. He must have understood her, as he then dashed across to greet her like an old friend. Before I could say ‘poo’ she was down at his level, making a fuss and didn’t seem to mind that she was transferring traces of green (yes, green) poo onto her hands.

I don’t think that I will ever succeed in training Rusty not to roll in poo. I’ll stop him if I can, but I’ve given up scolding him. The iciness of the hose is probably punishment enough, although he is treated to a warm bath if I am unlucky enough and he is lucky enough to find fox poo for his ‘legal dog high’. Today it was the hose, which makes his normally perky tail drop down miserably. But it soon popped up again and curled over his back, as it does when all is well with his doggy world, when he got to play with his best friend, my parents’ dog. Singing Sister and I had a singing practice while they bounced around, taking time out occasionally to sing the ‘howling’ lines of our songs.

Then we panicked generally about the play edging closer and closer into reality, by actually being less than a week away and so I left to get my hair cut by the Italian because it seemed like a good idea.

P.S. Looked up ablative absolutes and I think they are just subordinate clauses. Ah . . . My life is richer.

Imprisonment

The children returned to their uni houses before the end of the Easter break. Independent living clearly suited them, so I had a week at home alone.
I needed to unpack the remaining boxes which were responsible for my bedroom being an assault course. Did it have carpet? No idea. Half the house was in my room. I took my life into my hands every night when I went to bed and every morning when I got up. The time had come to empty it, as my new bed was due to arrive soon.
I spent whole days in that room, painstakingly picking my way through boxes, bags and a generalised chaos. The play for which I was providing musical interludes, along with 2 others, (Singing Sister and a friend) loomed and I was starting to feel the tension, so I rehearsed while I cleared. The harmonious sounds of wartime celebrities like The Andrews Sisters wafted from my iPad and I sang wartime numbers such as Comin’ In On a Wing and a Prayer, Don’t Fence Me In, You Belong to Me . . . Over, over and over again until the words were cemented into my memory. At the end of one such day, I sat down, enervated from relentless sorting, singing and tidying and whereas I thought half an hour had passed, in actual fact, 2 hours had passed.
Halfway through the ‘going to bed’ ritual, I needed a glass of water. I turned the doorknob of my bedroom door . . . And turned . . . And turned . . . Feeling slightly panicked, I pushed the door but of course it remained firmly shut. The doorknob on the other side had come off earlier and as the wood around it had broken, it couldn’t easily be screwed back in. As a temporary measure, I shoved it back onto the metal rod that connected the two doorknobs, but it must have come off on the other side, possibly taking the rod with it, therefore rendering the inner doorknob useless.
I sat on my bed (well, mattress, until the bed arrived) in order to allow this information to settle in my very tired brain that really didn’t want to be dealing with unexpected entrapments in one’s bedroom. I was well-equipped for a spontaneous incarceration: the dog had followed me in, so I wouldn’t have to deal with his rising levels of anguish outside the bedroom door (and possible scratch-marks on the wood); I had my phone, so I could call for help if desperation set in; I was still clutching my iPad, complete with charger, to power-up overnight, so I had entertainment; I was blessed with an en-suite toilet; the previous people left a 42in TV screwed to the wall, for which they apologised profusely and magnanimously, I forgave them, so I had access to even more avenues of entertainment; I had a copy of Oryx and Crake, borrowed from my son, to read so boredom was not a possibility (but crises are rarely boring, to be fair). And of course, I was in my bedroom, so I could at least sleep in my prison. The option of ignoring this predicament until the morning by pretending that the door was merely closed, was an appealing one, but I figured that I would struggle to sleep, knowing that I was trapped. Planning my escape without a fire raging was preferable over waking up to my charging iPad having set the room alight and me remembering that I chose sleep over The Great Escape. Not quite as dramatic, of course, as there is no barbed wire around my bedroom and I am not in possession of a motorbike. But the point was, I felt an overwhelming desire to release myself.
But how?
Ah . . . I’ll status on Facebook, I thought; one of my genius friends is bound to be awake at twenty-five minutes to two in the morning, having a lightbulb moment. They can come up with some plan for me involving a credit card and a spoon or something. Not that I had either in the bedroom with me. One of my Canadian cousins was awake and helpful (after reacting with a ‘Haha’ which is fair enough – I would have done the same) and a local friend was awake and willing to come round to help. Both offered advice involving firemen and coat hangers and the former was tempting, if the stereotype exists, but I wanted to attempt to break out first. My bedroom is the only ground floor one in the house, so I was able to escape from my room by climbing out of the window. But then, of course, I would be locked out of the house. I decided that brushing my teeth would be my next step. I’d have to brush them at some point, it was one of the few things I could do and if I needed to call the emergency services after breaking out of my own house, I may as well have clean teeth.
Whilst I brushed, I deliberated over my method of breaking in and came up with one or two ideas . . . So, armed with my phone and fresh breath, I set about the break-out. Now, my bedroom still had, as yet unpacked, boxes. I had to move these from the floor under the window in order to access it. Everything going according to plan so far . . . Now I needed to reveal the window which meant raising the blinds. Historically, I have a poor relationship with blinds. They baffle me. I can see that there are two ways in which to move them: one involves turning them so they allow horizontal lines of light to enter the room and the other involves them moving up from the bottom so that they are flat against each other at the top of the window like a flattened concertina. It is the second movement that vexes me. Either, one end only rises so it becomes an OCD nightmare, or the whole lot goes up together, fooling me into thinking all is well with the world (or the blinds, at least), only to come crashing back down again when I fail to ‘fix’ them in a concertina position. But these blinds came up with a new form of vexation for me: they went up an inch at a time, becoming fixed after said inch, all the way up. So I got into a sort of pattern of pulling, fixing, releasing and so on and so forth. Clearly, I was doing something wrong, but I was tired and as I can never figure out the wretched things, I was past caring. I noticed they had yet another quirk in that they sagged in the middle, rather than at an end. Then, when they had almost made it to the top, and I was giving one last tug on the strings, there was a sickening ‘crack’ and I fell back onto boxes as everything came away from its fittings and landed on me.
I managed to hold it together and calmly placed the baffling – and now broken – blinds to one side, climbed onto the windowsill and opened the window. It opened a couple of inches . . . Then I remembered the survey: ‘Downstairs windows not British Standards’. This probably wouldn’t even be remembered by most people, because most people don’t end up climbing out of their non-BS windows (or BS windows, as I was starting to feel quite hostile towards these windows and their false promises of opening sufficiently to let me out). I started to force it, thinking it might be stiff, but on looking at the mechanism, I could see a hole where there probably should have been a thing and there was a strange sound emanating from this poorly window which almost sounded like a plea for mercy. Gently, I eased the pressure and slowly closed it, imagining it sighing with relief. I climbed off the sill and sat on my bed, allowing a few tears to spill onto my iPad as I checked for more advice. Local Friend was insistent upon helping out, which was a comfort and Canadian Cousin was offering practical advice. Both were keeping my spirits up, which was the best thing of all. I decided to try the other window, hoping it was not as broken as the first one and off I went. I opened it and it opened a little more than the other one, possibly enough for me to squeeze through. I climbed up onto the sill, placed my phone outside of the window, on the outside sill and began my escape. The drop to the ground was surprisingly high; I would have to slide down and even jump a little, maybe. Tentatively, I began to slither down the wall – there was a fearful moment when my jeans caught on the window hinge at the bottom of the frame, but I pulled sufficiently for them to snap off. The journey down the wall took longer than anticipated, but at some point I was losing my grip so I jumped. I had nearly reached the ground, so all was well. The break-in was straightforward (can’t give that away) and within minutes I was back in the bedroom with the door wedged OPEN, not to be closed again until the doorknob was fixed.
It was around 2.30am by this time and after announcing to my supporters on FB that I had succeeded in breaking out of my house and then breaking back in, I crawled into bed. I fell asleep immediately. I know this because a ‘ping’ from my phone woke me . . . And then another . . . And another. The third offending ‘ping’ woke me adequately for me to sit up and address this ‘pinging’ and it was around half an hour since my adventure had drawn to a close.
Wimbledon Man.
The next morning I addressed Wimbledon Man’s late night messaging. This was not the first time his messages had woken me, so I sent some frank messages telling him not to message me so late and maybe he shouldn’t see the play, but if he did, he couldn’t stay at my house.
He accepted everything. He apologised and said he agreed that he should make other arrangements, admitting that he wanted more than friendship, but he would like to see the play. I expected a row, or another severing of friendship, but I got contrition. So I couldn’t complain.
I went to sleep that night knowing I wouldn’t be woken by pointless messages from a hormone-driven man from Wimbledon. I got a phone call instead. At 4.30am. This wasn’t Wimbledon Man, though – this was the police. Getting a call from a police officer at an anti-social hour is unpleasant but, I was so sleepy, I didn’t have time to panic. He asked me if I was the Rastafarian’s girlfriend. No, I told him. Ah, he cogitated this information, but you know him? I told him that I did and he asked if I’d been with him that night. I said that I’d been in a pub where there was an Open Mic evening and he’d been there too. I’d left around midnight, whereas he’d stayed. I asked if he was ok and he said he’d been punched on the nose. Then one of us went – or maybe I fell asleep – my phone was still in my hand when I woke up the following morning. The next time I saw him I felt I’d earned the right, from my 4.30 awakening, to quiz him. He had a slightly bent nose with a cut where it looked like his glasses had been shoved into his face and as he wasn’t wearing them, I guessed the fist in the face had broken them as well as his skin. I also noticed tell-tale marks around his wrists where clearly he’d been handcuffed. I asked why they called me to ask me if I’d been with him and he claimed not to know. He also claimed to have been randomly punched in the face, yet admitted he’d spent the night in the cells. I’d never know, but I said I didn’t appreciate the late-night call and he apologised, whilst handing me a chain from a silver crucifix I’d given him once. It was twisted and he explained they took it from him, along with all his jewellery, cutting off his rings and bracelets. Tempted to keep it, instead I untwisted it and returned it to him, for which he was grateful.

People

The Cabaret Pub had replaced The Folky Pub in my affection. It was probably temporary, but for the moment I was enjoying its continued offerings of music which seemed to happen most nights of the week. As well as the upstairs venue which, hence my name for the pub, was set up like a cabaret bar, there was a downstairs venue which was set up in a more homely fashion. As it had been a cellar, there was a low ceiling which immediately gave it an intimacy and there were even a few comfy armchairs dotted around. I preferred the cabaret feel of the upstairs bar, but was happy to go to wherever the music was, as the quality was generally good.
I noticed a friend had ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook. It wasn’t someone I’d dated, so it wasn’t an ‘unfriending’ beset with emotion or for effect. It was a female and I was still friends with her partner, whom I barely knew, but whose request to link on Facebook I had accepted, because I would have felt awkward about refusing it. I’m not one to always feel righteous in these situations, so I reflected on what may have led to the Facebook link being severed and I could recall nothing. My last interaction with her was the planning of a blind date with a single male friend of hers, which I had ultimately cancelled because after my Tinder experiences, I had about as much interest in contrived romantic set-ups as a cat has in a trip to the beach. I had joined her for a meal out with her friends and apart from her and her partner, there had been 1 or 2 people there that I vaguely knew, so despite my reservations about not knowing anyone, it had been a pleasant evening. I felt wholly unsatisfied with my pondering over this and started to feel a little maligned. I have to accept this, I concluded. Pre-Facebook, you just got a feeling that there was bad air between you and a friend, or you heard you’d upset them. Or if the friendship was valued, one party would confront the issue (whatever it was) head-on with the other. But now, there is the risk that you will quietly discover your friendship has been lethally sliced in two with no explanation. I had noticed her lack of posts and I had planned to message her. But then her partner tagged her in a post and, realising that I should have seen the post twice, I checked and saw the hostile ‘Add friend’ button where there should have been a happy tick and a reassuring ‘Friends’ button. Ah well. Wimbledon Man still hadn’t unblocked me which was just plain odd, given his renewed interest in me and apologies for impetuosity. But I was already growing bored of his daily ‘how are you’ messages which were the reason for my bluntness towards him in the first place, which brought about (I believe) the whole unfriending and blocking situation.

The Easter holiday had brought ample opportunity for furniture shopping, for which I’d budgeted in the selling and buying of property because beds and sofas are fairly necessary. The four of us (Rhiannon joined us for the excursion) had ventured out to suitable shops for this purpose and so relevant furniture had been chosen and was on its way. Halfway through the shopping trip, we stopped wearily for lunch and I had my first experience of Nando’s, which probably ought to have happened before the onslaught of vegetarianism in the family but there was typical veggie fare such as halloumi available. Rhiannon had returned to carnivorous ways so along with Hannah, ate chicken with relish (both sorts) while Joseph and I enjoyed the veggie menu. All that was left now was perpetual worry that the right choices had been made regarding the furniture. I can always put a throw over the sofa, I thought. And who cares what my bed looks like.
One morning, when Rhiannon had returned to her uni house because of illness (probably pharyngitis, which is what you get when your throat wants you to have tonsillitis but you’ve had your tonsils removed) and Joseph and Hannah were having an Easter holiday lie-in, the Rastafarian messaged me and invited me over for a morning coffee. Being at a loose end, I went and his sister was there. The more I chatted to his sister, the more I liked her. Their physical resemblance was startling, but I could see that their personalities were very different. I had considered her grumpy and unwelcoming initially, but unlike the Rastafarian, she took some time to ‘warm up’. We chatted about chocolate, church, where I lived, coffee and she said that she would give me some Rwandan coffee next time I saw her. I told her about my penchant for good coffee and how I had fresh whole beans delivered once a fortnight, so I could grind my own coffee in the grinder that my children had bought for me for my last birthday. The last despatch happened to be from Rwanda (it was random every time) and it wasn’t that strong, but of course that was just one type, so maybe her coffee would be richer.
I was keen to return home, to cook breakfast for my guests, but I had agreed to take the Rastafarian into town. He was taking his usual eternity to leave the house (I have never witnessed anyone – male or female – take so long to get ready both physically and mentally. He had to look good, have eaten and drunk, listened to reggae and then relaxed, before even putting his shoes on). Finally, we left. In the car, he said:

“What do you think? My sister, she tell me off for asking you for money!”

She had witnessed him asking me for money in town, while I was at the nail bar.

“Well, it’s fair enough,” I replied, deliberately harshly and without a shred of the sympathy he clearly desired.

“You do things for me, I do things for you,” he attempted a justification of his resentful feelings.

“But you don’t do things for me!” I argued, with a derisive laugh. Whereas I was growing pessimisitic about ever having my loan repaid, I wasn’t going to allow him to imagine that I had forgotten about it.

His reply was a definite ‘harrumph’. I could have left it there, but I was curious . . .

“So, she doesn’t know about the 2k you owe me?”

“God, no!”

This was interesting news. Maybe she could help me. If she knew, she might hold some sway as his big, bossy sister in returning it to me? I stored the information for possible future use.
The conversation changed, to weather talk, which struck me as funny, as it is such a British pastime. He suggested I join him on the beach in the sun. I explained that I wanted to spend time with Joseph and Hannah before they returned, but that I intended popping into town later and would have some time on my hands whilst waiting for my laundry to wash, so if it was sunny, I may as well spend that time on the beach in the sun. He said that he looked forward to that and that was how we left it.
When that time came, he did not respond to his messages. He did not respond to my calls. This was not an unusual scenario, but as long as I didn’t hear news of a fatal stabbing on the beach or something similar, then it was all fine. I recalled a time during our relationship when, on waking one Saturday morning, I had missed calls from him and messages to call him, between 2 and 4 in the morning. I called him and messaged him, but to no avail. I went into town, only to be greeted with white tape in one of the main shopping streets (where I knew he had been out and about the night before) and on asking in a local shop, it transpired that a man had been stabbed at around 3 in the morning. Still, I failed to make contact with him, so I went to his flat. His flat-mate answered and I was relieved to see the Rastafarian sleeping soundly and definitely alive. My concern changed to anger and when he woke up, he couldn’t give me a good reason as to why he had been trying to contact me in the small hours. The other thing he couldn’t do, was understand my distress.
“You’re checking me out,” he said, meaning that I was checking up on him. He always made that mistake.

“In a way,” I had admitted, “but to see if you were alive!”

“You don’t trust me,” he had accused.

“Well, no, but we’ve established that and this isn’t about that. It’s about your welfare.”
He would go AWOL, so to speak, on occasion and his excuse that his phone died was well-worn. Sometimes I would catch him out, by pointing out that Whatsapp had given him away by declaring that he had been ‘active’ when his phone had supposedly died. Or I would suggest that he couldn’t have been home, otherwise he’d have charged his phone, so where had he been for 2 days? Where had he slept? ‘I forgot to charge my phone’, he would claim, on occasion, an obvious lie, as his phone was as important to him as one of his limbs.
It was vital to my recovery from the relationship to remember these things.