Planes, Trains and Livestock

Some time ago, I told a good friend about my contingency plan. Your what, she said. My contingency plan, I repeated, that will come into play if I find myself going solo. Don’t be silly, she laughed, he loves you, she assured me. You never know, I warned, he might decide one day that he doesn’t and leave me! We both laughed some more, but I told her about The Contingency Plan anyway, which was to work abroad for a spell.

Fast forward … A year, I think and it wasn’t anything to laugh about anymore. I’m basing this time frame on the fact that I know she was giving me a lift in her cute vintage car at the time of the conversation and so it was probably when I was lacking a car, which means it was sometime within the last year before he left me. I remember the night before he told me. I went to see An Inspector Calls straight from work, with my Head of Department and some Literature students. It was last-minute – I wasn’t currently teaching the text – someone else was supposed to go and I had their ticket. The journey back was hideous. There were diversions and it took far longer than expected. I developed a craving for Maltesers whilst journeying home and stopped at a small Sainsbury’s to buy some. I remember pondering on the absence of a concerned text from (soon-to-be-ex) hubby and almost texting him, but putting my phone away instead, feeling a little uncared for. I’d eaten the Maltesers by the time I got home, which was a good thing, because he would have judged me. For an easy life, I disposed of the packet before entering the house. (Little did I know that Maltesers would become my staple diet, along with bottled lager, for the next month.) We talked about the play, I complained about the journey and we went to bed. Afterwards, he would tell me that that was the night he made his decision. I don’t recall much about the next day at work (it’s always unnerved me, how we remember just a handful of days, really, from our whole lives) except one or two references to the trip the evening before, or rather the raging hormones of Y11 boys on the trip (we had taken it in turns to search for the over-sexed male contingent of Y11, whose radars for pretty girls from other schools – because there is more appeal attached to girls from other schools, evidently – were on red alert).

Returning to (soon-to-be-ex) hubby, I remember that evening, of course, when he announced his intention to leave me. I’d prepared dinner – it wasn’t particularly creative, on the grounds that we’d moved house three weeks earlier, were still surrounded by boxes and I hadn’t wholly familiarised myself with the kitchen. But I remember I was in my dressing-gown and had taken the unusual decision to uncork a bottle of wine, without first checking that (soon-to-be-ex) hubby would share it with me. It must have been a tiring day … Or I was buckling under the trauma of moving house, because I was devastated to have left my beautiful, 4-bedroomed, detached house in Woodingdean. I told Longstanding Friend (from A Bit of History) first, because he happened to message me on Messenger and he was suitably shocked and very supportive. I sat in the car so I could rant and cry, out of earshot of the one who had made me rant and cry, until the front of my dressing gown was sodden with my tears. He left two days later, but I didn’t see him during those two days. He travelled light, just taking the coat and shoes he was wearing, leaving the others in the porch. You must have really hacked him off, observed a friend sometime later. It would have been in arguably poor taste, had it come from an old friend, but it came from a new friend, who hadn’t witnessed my utter desolation at being abandoned so unexpectedly, so any crassness could be forgiven and I laughed at the flippant humour. One of the hardest things was telling people. I encouraged friends to talk to each other, because it saved me the job. That sounds blasé, I know, but it isn’t; moreover, every re-telling is a re-enactment and therefore a re-experiencing of the pain. As recovery begins, it lessens, but initially, I cherry-picked recipients of the news. The first person I chose to tell after Longstanding Friend, was Good Friend of cute vintage car fame, as she lived up to her pseudonym, I would see her at work anyway and she and hubby (also a good friend) were rare ‘couple friends’. She, too, was aghast at the news but she and hubby went on to cheer me considerably in the early days and are responsible for my friendship with The Dude, as they chose him on Tinder, one drunken, jolly night at my house, during my brief liaison with the controversial dating app. So as well the gratitude I feel for their friendship, I am grateful for that too. Just to clarify, I had a lot of support from many quarters and if I don’t mention you, it isn’t because your support isn’t appreciated. Friends, family, colleagues … You all played a part in my recovery and for that I am very grateful.

After a time, The Contingency Plan gave me a nudge and I applied for a job abroad. Naive would be an understatement to describe me at this juncture. I thought it was in the bag and then communication dwindled down to … Nothing. Clearly, I did not have the job. I am wiser now and in recent weeks I have applied for many jobs, all from a reputable website. This is because we were informed at work that they would be undertaking a consultancy process with a view to making people redundant and we would be informed by their deadline of May 27th. As a single person paying off a fairly sizeable mortgage, being unemployed or working part-time is not an option. By the time the governors’ noses were up against that deadline, I needed to be telling a school in Malaysia whether or not I wanted the job. It would have meant a drop in pay, but if I were made redundant, at least it was a job. But this was The Contingency Plan; getting a plane to foreign climes for a bit was my alternative dream. Did I want to settle for second best for my dream? I took a gamble. I turned it down and kept my fingers crossed I wasn’t made redundant. But I was …

During the month-long consultancy process, I took my car along to my friend’s husband for its MOT. To my distress, it failed.

‘Have you braked sharply, recently?’ asked Friend’s Husband when I rang from work, in my usual spot, up against the window of my classroom where, if I stood REALLY still, I might maintain a signal long enough to have a complete telephone conversation.

‘Actually, I have,’ I replied and I bored him with the story of the driver who slammed on her brakes because the lights started to change, paying no heed to the fact that I was behind her and our cars almost became violently united. Apparently a pump broke and so my car is not worth saving. Pollyanna would have said that at least I lost my car round about the time I lost my job, so I wouldn’t have to worry about how to get to work for much longer. In case you’re wondering who Pollyanna is, she is the main protagonist in a children’s book of the same name, who sees rainbows and butterflies in everything. I read it as a child and wondered why we couldn’t all be like Pollyanna. Unrealistic though Pollyanna is, she is a shining example of optimism and I do try to accept these poor hands that fate sometimes deals out because frankly, worse things happen.

So, with no car, I rummaged in the shed until I managed to extract a bike. It was not unlike Chihiro (aka Sen) extracting the splinter from The Stink Monster in Spirited Away, because the splinter is attached to something resembling the contents of a rubbish dump, including a rusty bike. Sadly, unlike Chihiro, I was not rewarded with the shed transforming into a river spirit, but I had gained a bike. However, on the first day of cycling, both tyres were flat, so I hurriedly rang a nearby colleague, who kindly swung by and gave me a lift. Another colleague, who cycles everyday, kindly lent me her bicycle pump that day at work, so that night I pumped up my tyres and the next morning I set off on my bike ride, over the hills and far away.

Currently, Telscombe Tye is home to around a million sheep. Ok, maybe I’m being hyperbolic but there are a LOT of the funny-looking creatures residing there at the moment. And they are funny-looking, when you get up close, which happens when you’re trying to cycle through a million of them. Their faces are (in my opinion) identical to camel faces. And llamas. And goats. I looked this up, because I figured they were from the same gene pool, which they are, but the real surprise was that whales are too. Now I’m imagining whales with camel faces and that’s REALLY funny-looking. And toes, because members of this animal family are called even-toed ungulates – or artiodactyls. There are around 220 artiodactyl species including pigs, hippos, whales, camels, llamas, deer, giraffes, sheep, goats and cattle. And many others. SOOO going to get some nerd messaging me with more info, so I’ll expand just a little (because I don’t want to bore you with nerdism) on this, so they know that I know a little more. Dolphins are included in this and as we know, from primary school days, along with whales, are mammals. One of the biggest clues is that they don’t lay eggs. This is because they evolved from a land creature and it is the same creature from which hippos (and many other creatures) evolved. The rest is history. Well, pre-history, I guess.

Moving on … I can recall occasions in my childhood when I was chased by livestock. On foot or on horseback (that memory is hazy, so I’m not sure about it) and in adulthood, on my bike. Being of Celtic parentage, I had a Welsh doll as a child, which forever bore a reminder of being chased by bulls in Devon.
‘They’re bulls!’ protested one of my four older siblings, as my parents creaked open the gate to the field through which we would end up running.

‘They’re cows … It’s fine … They’ve just been milked, that’s all,’ reassured another member of the family.

As the youngest, you don’t get much say in these important decisions and you do tend to put your trust in your elders. And so many people tell you to be brave, when you’re small, for various milestones like injections and fillings, that it becomes your default state. So I followed the herd (of humans, not cows, or even debatable cows) and round about halfway through the field of debatable cows, it would seem that they became bulls. Not even debatable bulls, actual bulls.

‘Run!’ commanded someone, but we didn’t really need to be told.

As the smallest, my legs were the also the smallest and therefore could not run as fast as the rest of the family. I was three at the most; I know this because I hadn’t started school and I only turned four about a week and a half before starting school, being a late-August baby and we weren’t on holiday so close to my starting school.

Singing Sister must have dropped back to be with me, which was selfless of her, given that she is five years older and therefore her legs were five years longer than mine. I know she was with me because when I dropped my Welsh doll in a cow-pat, or bull-pat, to be more specific, she stopped when I cried out and bravely picked Myfanwy out of the offending poo, despite the thundering of angry, approaching hooves. For me, the trauma of being chased by bulls was vastly overshadowed by the upset over Myfanwy sporting a poo-coloured smudge on her hitherto pristine white apron. Singing Sister did her best to wash it out, but it lasted as long as Myfanwy. She fell apart in time, after a long period of one eye being permanently shut and missing a limb (Myfanwy, not Singing Sister).

There were other occasions, but that one is the most memorable. I recall Racing Sister (from Issues) grabbing me by the wrist once (I used to wriggle my tiny hand out of bigger hands, so I was used to this) to run down a lane in Devon. I forget whether or not livestock was involved, but I remember we had just bought cakes from a mobile bakery and because she grabbed me so abruptly, my cupcake flipped out of my other hand and landed, lemon icing face down, in the mud. She picked it up, peeled the muddy icing off and handed it back to me, with a ‘there you are’ to indicate that the problem was solved. The disappointment of the transformation of my cake was never to be understood by anyone beyond me.

It doesn’t stop with livestock. On a residential trip with my school at the age of 12, which I had no desire to attend, I was chased by a black labrador – or The Beast of the Brecon Beacons, as I prefer to call him – down a lane. I don’t think he intended chasing me; I was standing around with friends when this black beast came galloping towards us. Everyone else stood still but I started running, which is probably where I went wrong.

‘Where’s Lisa Workman?’ Miss Jones’ strident tones pierced the solitude of Boughrood, where our field centre was.

‘She’s in that field of sheep, Miss,’ advised one of my friends, helpfully.

‘Good Lord. How did you get in there?’ Miss Jones continued with her line of inquiry, as the gate was padlocked.

‘She vaulted it, Miss!’

This was a shock for both of us; I could barely remember how I ended up in the sheep field and Miss Jones, as my PE teacher, could barely comprehend that, given my small stature and complete lack of interest or talent in PE, I had succeeded in scaling a five-bar gate with apparent ease.

Back to sheep, who are different, of course. Sheep move out of the way and present no risk. For most people. I have to admit I felt a little apprehensive cycling through them, as the last time I cycled past sheep, they advanced towards me and I felt so intimidated I nearly fell off my bike. Then, when I was walking through the sheep in Bear Road recently, one of them blocked my path and I had to wade through the grass instead. So I wasn’t surprised that a similar situation occurred a couple of weeks ago, cycling to work; one of the funny-looking creatures eyeballed me and started to walk towards me, casually chewing grass in that weird circular motion, like she was chewing tobacco in a challenging manner. I gave ground (literally) and deviated off the path to avoid confrontation. I felt every lump, bump and slight imperfection on that bike, whether on grass or road, so it either needs a service or to be scrapped.

It just so happened that I had to visit Ex-hubby No 1 that evening, after spending 2 hours messing around on a bike on the South Downs and when it transpired that I was bereft of a car, he kindly lent me one from his fleet of cars. An automatic, vintage XJR Jaguar in British racing green. This was better than a bike. Carefully, I drove it to and from work and it attracted a fair amount of attention. I had to revisit Ex-hubby No 1 at the end of that week, but I left ‘the Jag’ at home, because my visit was en-route to a night out. The visit did not go well. From that visit, I learnt that in the household of Ex-hubby No 1, I am much-maligned. To be fair, most of the grief emanated from Soon-to-be Wife No 3, but as her source is Ex-hubby No 1, he is at the root of her view of me. Also, to be fair, she has since apologised. She has not retracted her words, but there would be little point, as the words were the stories spun by Ex-hubby No 1, so it is too late. Now I know what he has told her. Initially, I shook my head and said that no, she had got it wrong, it wasn’t like that … And neither was that … But then it became awkward, because in defending myself, I would have incriminated him. If she believed me, I would have been instrumental in causing a rift between them. If she believed him, which was more likely, I would have just as well been talking to the bottle of wine on the kitchen table.
So I left, crying all the way down Dean Court Road, because I just couldn’t stop. I was late for my friends, because I needed time for my eyes to stop leaking and my face to calm down from its status as a blotchy beetroot. The next day was the last day I would travel in style, in the Jag. I drove it to their house, parked it outside and posted the keys through the letterbox with a thank-you note for the loan of the car.

The following evening I had arranged to visit Rhiannon, thinking I would be driving, but I caught the train instead and we dined out. So far, so good … Left the restaurant at 10.30ish and got to the station to discover that trains had been cancelled. There were no buses and none of the cab companies that Rhiannon called had a cab available. I longed to be in Brighton again, where there are always some places open and some forms of transport with which to get home. We waited on the platform till almost midnight while the rain blew all over us in a sort of wet cloud. By the time I arrived at Brighton, it was gone 12.30am and I had to splash my way from the station to North Street. I was struck by the lack of females in town. It wasn’t busy, being the start of the working week, but there were occasional groups of drunken men. On reflection, I concluded the Euros must have been responsible for the uneven ratio between the sexes. Halfway down Queens Road, I was alone, apart from four men on the opposite side of the road. It was not far off 1am by this time. Then the four men were behind me. Then it was clear that I had become a game to them. Three of them were egging on the fourth and I was the object of this game. I quickened my pace, aware that they were now following me. Just as I thought my heart might actually burst out of my chest, a couple rounded the corner from North Street and the men dissolved into the night as if they had never existed. I had been messaging a friend who had randomly begun a conversation with me just before the ‘situation’ and I resumed the chat, thankful that I could. The following morning I couldn’t face work. I had a migraine, but I was also tired from being stranded in Worthing, wrong-footed by my strange experience in Queens Road and generally feeling lacking in motivation.

The following day, I resigned myself to catching the bus to and from work. The 123 Compass bus is not the most pleasant of journeys, for reasons beyond Compass’ control, simply because it is a long journey. However, there seems to be some discrepancy over the validity of tickets bought via an app and the bus driver who rejected said ticket is a shameless misogynist. That said, the driver on the day before was a lovely, cheery fellow. Watch this space for any developments in ‘Compassgate’.

But currently, it is a moot point, (or maybe Joey’s – from Friends – moo point is more appropriate for this blog!) as I have been signed off with stress, hence this extremely long post. I would have got myself signed off sooner, but I didn’t want to miss Y11’s final week and related shenanigans. The Staff v Student softball match was a joy to behold. I am not sporty; I dodge balls coming towards me for fear of being struck, whilst running from one base to the next and I get excited if I hit the ball when batting, but I manage to find some fun in the whole business. We (I use that term loosely, given my poor show on the field – just think of Rachel – apologies for another Friends reference – ‘going long’ and that’s me) beat them 20-1 and there were some memorable moments of teachers tackling students in weird and wonderful ways and of some students showing even less skill than me. And now they’ve gone. Well, some are staying on for the VIth form but I shall be gone anyway, so in fact, I’m saying goodbye to all students. Reactions have ranged from warming, funny, to full of pathos.

‘Aw Miss, I’m going to get you something really nice. Do you like ginger beer?’ enquired one Y9.

‘I love it,’ I over-enthused.

‘Well, if ever I run into you in a pub, I’ll buy you one,’ he promised.

I might never get this ginger beer, I fear.

‘You leavin’?’ asked another after karate kicking my door open. But I didn’t get the chance to answer, because she exited as dramatically as she had entered, literally bouncing off the walls down the corridor, continuing a display of her own form of martial arts, her use of expletives demonstrating her heart-warming (if a little unorthodox) support.

‘You’re leaving?’ one of my Y10s stared at me with completely round eyes and anxiety in his voice.

‘Sadly, I am,’ I replied.

‘Please tell me there aren’t any PE teachers leaving?’ he continued, ‘Because that would be really awful!’

I shall miss them.