Hello WordPress, my old friend … I’ve come to talk with you again. The irony of my recent silence is that I’ve had a good deal about which to write in the last month, which, weirdly, accounts for the lack of posts.
Where to start … The exit from my job, although it is an ‘ending’, would be a good starting point. The last day of the academic year is normally a light, bouncy affair, involving students who are too preoccupied with the prospect of languishing for several weeks to misbehave and staff who are too preoccupied with the prospect of not having to associate with said students for several weeks, to react to any misbehaviour. But this year, it was a sober affair. The staff had been decimated by ‘restructuring’, so this was the last day for many (including me). More than decimated, in fact, seeing as the percentage of loss was higher than 10%. Strangely, the soberest of the staff, in my opinion, were the ones who were staying. I think I understand this, speaking as one who is amongst the ‘loss’. It is difficult to fathom how your workplace will be when a great change is imminent. You have the pain of saying ‘goodbye’ to colleagues with whom you have worked for a period of time, but without the anticipation of a new life path. When you have been made redundant, you draw on resources to help you through the pain, because humans have the capability to do this. Some struggle more than others and they may enlist outside support, such as counselling, but it is a natural human response to crises, to deliberate and attempt to find some positivity in an otherwise desperate situation, as well as making plans in order to survive the crisis with the best possible outcome. So although the ‘leavers’, on the face of it, were the ones who had no control over their predicaments, in a way, they had more control than the ‘stayers’. The latter had no control over their friends’ departures, yet we had a modicum of control, because by the time we left, we had plans. Those plans may not have come to fruition yet and they may change, but they exist, nonetheless and are currently serving the purpose of providing hope for the future. More of those plans later … So anyway, the last day was a bit gloomy. The students left at midday, leaving us grown-ups to eat, drink and … Well, no-one was very merry. We left the school before polishing off the wine remaining after lunch, which was unusual and took ourselves to the usual ‘TGI Friday’ haunt. I mean that metaphorically, by the way; it isn’t an actual TGI Friday. But the general aura of foreboding followed us to the quintessential English country pub, which would soon revert to being just that, for me, instead of a sigh of relief at the end of a tough week. Whereas I had thought that I might leave my borrowed car there until the next day (in the event of drinking), instead of fizzing with Prosecco, the proceedings began to fizzle out fairly soon, so I left and got home in plenty of time for rehearsal, which leads me onto the play.
The play came and went and despite my concerns, I revelled in it. I love acting. I am aware of the things I struggle with, like being punctual, sword-fighting, snow-boarding and staying married. There are other things, of course, but they popped into my mind almost instantaneously, so they deserve to be on my small, select list. However, I feel that everyone should embrace their talents and so I embrace acting as one of my talents. I never feel nervous. I love dressing up, donning layers of make-up and having an excuse to style my hair in (usually) an old-fashioned way. I love pretending to be someone else (is this my inner child?) and I love being in the spotlight (the Leo in me?). I love learning lines (I attribute this to Latin ‘A’ Level and learning pages of Latin poetry. Or maybe I should attribute my love of Latin to a love of learning lines?) and I love pretending to be living someone else’s life. I can barely cope with historical plays such as The Accrington Pals and Our Country’s Good, although those are the type of play that move me to tears, so that I will actually cry on stage when it is required and such parts have definitely taken up residence in my soul for all eternity. Ruth Condomine was not such a part, but I still enjoyed being her for a week. Actually, it was more like three months, because that’s how long the rehearsal period was and so that’s how long the metamorphosis took (I caught myself conversing with people in a Cowardesque manner on more than one occasion, particularly during arguments. I actually used the word ‘hideous’ to a chap in a TalkTalk call centre in India). Irving Berlin’s ‘Always’ moved me every night, because, I believe, my emotions are not dissimilar from a Slush Puppy. Anything historical, even something connected to a fictional black comedy such as Blithe Spirit, pulls at my heart strings and the crackle of needle on vinyl moves me even more, as if I am feeling nostalgia for a time I never witnessed. I blame having children. I was in possession of an inner band of steel before then, but my capacity for crying increased tenfold after the birth of my first child. Initially, I thought that it was because Joseph had a very poor start in life, being born prematurely and with pneumonia and so nothing was definite until he made a dramatic recovery one night and pulled out all his tubes and wires. Anyone reading this who has had a poorly newborn, will understand that I can’t even write that without my heart actually wobbling a little. But I understand that the transformation from sensible, pragmatic woman who is in command of her emotions, to sensitive Mother Earth who is not in command of anything that might involve tears, is not unusual in mothers (and maybe fathers too, although I haven’t encountered many), with or without the trauma of a very sick infant. And in case there are any mothers reading this who are still in control of their lacrimal glands, I have been careful to word this to reflect that this does not happen to all mothers. And likewise, there are many childless women and men, I’m sure, who are already untidy heaps of emotion.
Back to Blithe Spirit; it was a pleasure. If I’m honest, my reasons for enjoying acting are undefinable. Maybe I’m just a show-off! But it was good to be treading the boards again, especially at a time when I needed a distraction from the woe of impending unemployment. It was only a few months since the last foray into the theatre, but that was as part of a singing trio supporting a play. It is a couple of years since I played a part and that was in Ovingdean, where plays are a rather unique experience. The best way to describe the theatrical experience there is to compare every offering with a pantomime. It could be a murder mystery, a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean romp, but there is an intimacy in every production that I have not encountered in any other amateur theatre (except during panto season). The usual barrier between players and audience does not exist. People popular in the village are sometimes applauded when they make their entrance. The audience feels able to engage with the players and vice versa. This is not a criticism – just an observation – it is how they do amateur theatre in the hamlet of Ovingdean, but as a resident of Telscombe Cliffs, one does not feel the same bond with the audience. That said, it was pretty cool when Steve Coogan came to see one such play and invited us all back to his house for the last night party. My Facebook status that night was ‘Steve Coogan called me foxy!’ which is probably etched far deeper into my memory than his and is probably no surprise to you, the reader, because not only did I status it on Facebook, but also I ensured my friends outside of the Facebook fraternity knew by word of mouth too. But I digress, as usual … Back to Rottingdean – I had not played a part there for several years – and pleasurable though it was, I have reached the conclusion that acting is not something I wish to do regularly. I have filled my down-time with pastimes that do not require rigid commitment and which have taken me on a different journey and I haven’t missed acting these past years … But it’s good to know that I can still learn pages, pages and yet more pages of lines and playing a part does allow you to exercise your voice, your emotions and your capacity for team-playing. And of course, socially, it is a perfect vehicle for touching base with old friends and making some new ones. I look forward to dabbling in the theatre again in the future, but not in the compulsive manner I did so in the past.
One of my new hobbies is singing. Well, it isn’t really new … I have sung in plenty of shows, a few plays, a couple of choirs and briefly with a band as a backing singer, but rarely on my own. So it is the manner in which I am indulging in this hobby that is new. For some time now, I have been rehearsing with The Dude in order to prepare for our entrance into the world of Open Mic as performers, rather than onlookers only. So, when Singing Sister, Singing Friend and I (totalling the singing trio of which I was a part a few months ago) were invited to sing at a charity Open Mic event, I got excited. Singing Sister wasn’t keen, as she was moving house and so we couldn’t be a trio anyway, regardless of whether or not Singing Friend wanted to take part. So The Dude and I agreed to do it instead; as a duo, of course, not as a trio resembling The Andrews Sisters.
‘We’ll have a couple of Open Mics under our belt by then,’ said The Dude, confidently.
That would have been great … If it had happened. Unfortunately, there was always a reason for us to not do whichever Open Mic we planned to do.
It is only as we approached the charity Open Mic event that I realised how deeply ran the sensitivities of The Dude. There were times when my frustration was difficult to hide and I admit that there were times when I was glad he’d baled. But the thespian in me runs deep, and the mantra ‘the show must go on’ is one that is so embedded in my psyche that it is a part of me, so I struggle with the notion of letting people down.
‘I won’t let you down,’ he reassured me, although I was not convinced until we were actually playing. I didn’t feel nervous, but the nerves got the better of my voice. Historically, my voice suffers during stress. It is an occupational hazard of teaching; obviously, our voices are our main resource, so we probably over-use them, but the occasional and (thankfully) temporary loss of your voice in teaching is only partly due to this and the other cause is stress.
The following evening there was another Open Mic night, a 5 minute bus-ride away from my home.
‘I’m game if you are!’ hopefully, I messaged The Dude.
‘I’m emotionally drained after last night,’ came his reply.
I went anyway … I felt the need to sing better than the previous night and we weren’t committed to this. We could rock up and perform if we felt like it, thereby preventing any stress-induced croakiness (in my case, anyway). But he couldn’t be persuaded to join me, so the purpose of my visit was merely to ‘check it out’.
‘Are you singing?’ said the barmaid, who turned out to be the lady who had organised the event.
‘No,’ I replied, a bit taken aback that she had asked. What made her think I was anything more than a customer?
‘You looked like you might have been singing and you’re here quite early.’
Clearly she was a mind reader.
I explained how I’d like to sing, but I was lacking an accompanist and she told me to introduce myself to the technical organiser of the Open Mic. But I didn’t … I got my drink and sat down.
Two ladies came in with a little dog and started chatting. They, too, asked me if I was going to sing (it must have been the trilby – maybe it was making me look musical). I explained my predicament and again, I was being persuaded to approach the Open Mic guy, so I said I would if he ran out of acts. People came and went … They sang, they played, they sang and played and then it seemed to be finishing. Yet another lady called over to me and asked if I was singing and so I buckled and asked the Open Mic guy if he would accompany me. He didn’t know my songs, but let me sing a Capella. As I placed the microphone back in its stand, the Open Mic guy spoke to me.
‘Would you like to be the backing singer for my band?’
‘Yes!’ I replied, without hesitating and with hindsight, he must have wondered why I didn’t make more enquiries. It reminded me of a time when, as a teenager, I was approached by the producer of a big show in which I played a member of the chorus. He asked me if I would like to be in a play he was directing and my response was identical – an immediate ‘yes’ – because he was a big name in amateur theatre in Brighton at the time. He laughed at my impetuosity and my teenage self blushed with embarrassment. Despite being in several of his shows at The Dome, I had never spoken to him and neither had he ever addressed me personally. Subsequently, I was directed by him in more plays and for a spell he was even my line manager during my time of teaching history. I laugh at myself now, at how I was totally in awe of someone who became a good friend.
Back to the present day and so I found myself agreeing to something that a year ago, would have seemed far-fetched. What a strange journey life is … I nearly didn’t go to the Open Mic night but I did and I’m glad.
In other news, Ex-hubby No 1 married Wife No 3 and we all went to the wedding. The children attended the whole day, whereas I attended the evening only. Many people queried my decision to attend but I weighed up the pros and cons and decided that the biggest ‘pro’ was that I might regret a decision to decline the invite. We’re all glad we went, but possibly not for all the same reasons. There were many people there that I knew: my children, of course! But also my ex in-laws, whom I still regard as family in many ways and also some old friends. Some more recent friends too but the point is, there was plenty of opportunity for socialising and it was like most evening wedding receptions, with dancing, food, a bar and jollity. I came home on the bus with a couple of sticks of rock with their names going through the whole rock. It tasted nice and as I don’t really eat sweets as a rule, it was kinda nice to have it. Kinda weird, too, to be eating your way through rock with your first ex-husband’s name on it, coupled with his new wife. But it tasted nice. What can I say? It’s gone now, which is a good thing, as one can’t really have that sort of thing hanging around the house.
It’s summer, of course, so I’m a little burnt but up until a few days ago, was enjoying exploring my relatively new neighbourhood. Rusty and I have delighted in discovering some stunning cliff-top walks with a selection of paths down to the beach. The under-cliff walk in my new habitat is intermittent, so there are some breathtaking beaches overseen by resplendent and imposing cliffs and naturally occurring caves, which, unfortunately, are too dangerous to enter, because of the crumbly nature of our characteristic chalk. The loveliest of beaches has been commandeered by an unofficial all-male nudist colony, so I am careful as to which part of the beach I choose to meander along, for fear that Rusty will lead me into an awkward situation. On the hottest days, the latter has overcome his fear of the English Channel and launched himself into the sparkly sea for a welcome cool-off. I have joined him on occasion, a good distance from the nakedness and fully clothed, in comparison, in my swimsuit.
As I say, this was up until a few days ago when it transpired that Rusty had injured his leg. Possibly from the strenuous walking, but anyway, he is on bed rest. This information is difficult to impart to him, of course. He is forbidden from taking walks, which is easy to do; or not do, rather. He is forbidden from playing, which is tough, as he has cultivated a wonderfully wistful look, complete with confused head-tilt, when I refuse to throw his toy, even if I give him a cuddle instead. He is forbidden from leaping, which is impossible, of course. He is gaining weight and as he is prone towards being a little chunky, this is not good. The cat, conversely, is underweight and suffering from sunburnt ears. I feed her in the old chicken house now, as I can ensure that the entrance is only big enough for her and not big enough for greedy Rustys or seagulls. I have to move briskly, though, for fear of being mugged by the latter. The other morning, our resident seagull stole a tin of cat food from me, as I was attempting to transfer the contents into Snowball’s dish. However, not surprisingly, it was too heavy and he or she dropped it. It landed on Rusty’s head who promptly ran off with it. The seagull swooped down once more, but failed to secure a grip on the tin. Rusty was suitably traumatised by the potential mugging, however and ran to leave me to take back my rightful property – or rather Snowball’s – and continue with my feeding operation. She has not gained weight, despite my Herculean efforts to ensure she is eating well. And Rusty has not lost weight, despite my Herculean efforts (up until the leg injury) to shift it, through half portions and long walks. And if you have ever attempted to apply sun cream to a cat’s ears, I’m sure you will understand my vexation.
Probably time to stop, despite having a wealth of further material, as this is becoming a gargantuan blog post and possibly losing its way. Still to come … The Rastafarian, more writing and wild nights out mixed with job interviews (btw, it isn’t a good mix).