Hold Your Head Up High

“I have to be careful … My character, you see, I’m never gonna marry. I’m never gonna marry, if I was gonna marry,

I wouldn’t have to be such a stickler.

But I’m never gonna marry and a girl who don’t marry

Has got to be much more pertickler.”

These are lines from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’. The wholesome Julie Jordan says this to roguish carousel barker Billy Bigelow when he first casts his roving eye her way.

No idea why the line remained in the forefront of my memory for decades, especially given that I did not entirely grasp the meaning all those years ago as a naive teenager when first I heard it, from the back row of the chorus. But now I get it. If you are single, you have to be careful that you don’t give people material for gossiping.

‘Carousel’ was written in 1945 and opened in the same year on Broadway. Post war, there was a shortage of men and many women remained single who would have certainly married had it not been for the catastrophe of a world war. So Miss Jordan’s prediction was a reference to a common theme for many women at that time. That said, ‘Carousel’ is based on Ferenc Molnar’s play ‘Liliom’, set in 1909 but strangely, there was a worrying shortage of men at this time also. Given the lack of reliable birth control for women, the expectation that women would remain virginal until marriage, was founded on practicality as much as any other factor, what with the disparity between the sexes on many levels. So for the single woman, compared with today, life was fairly predictable and Julie was probably right: ‘a girl who don’t marry has got to be much more pertickler’.

But this is 2016. Things are different, right?

Well, I thought so.

But I think that there may be some people out there who still hold these ‘values’ dear …

When ex-hubby left me, in November 2014, it was entirely unexpected. I was almost catatonic. He did not wish to discuss a way forward and he could not give me a reason why. I ensured that I had heard correctly and verified that he was actually leaving me and I removed myself from the situation to cry. I cried on and off for a couple of months and people were supportive. Not everyone – there were some surprises there – there are some people close to me who still haven’t broached the subject but life is a learning process and I have learnt much in the face of adversity. Conversely, there are people whom I did not consider to be close to me who have swept me off my feet with support.

In January 2015 I downloaded Tinder onto my iPad. It existed on my iPad for the grand total of two months. I dated many men through Tinder. The number almost reached double figures. But let us be specific here … I dated many men on Tinder. Tinder made me feel attractive. Unless you have been abandoned by a loved one, you will not understand the feeling of rejection and the need to feel desired. I made many people laugh regaling tales of disastrous Tinder dates, including myself. I began to enjoy the feeling of freedom and when I met a man randomly in a pub for whom I fell wholly and truly, I realised that Tinder had served its purpose for me. I had thought I might meet someone through Tinder but that night in the pub when I randomly met someone, I realised that firstly, I did not want to settle for someone I met online and secondly, I was not in a hurry to meet someone. Why would I want to? I pondered. What I’m actually enjoying doing, I thought, is going out and doing things I enjoy (like listening to live music in pubs) … far better to meet someone with whom I am likely to share common ground, than go on blind dates. I might not meet someone, I thought – but that’s fine – because what is the rush? I do not need to be defined by a partner, by a relationship. If I am meant to meet someone I will and at least meantime, I can be going out, making friends, taking part in something I enjoy. I never saw my random man again – I fear I unwittingly sabotaged our first meeting but the meeting was kismet; he woke me up to my wants and needs, rather than those of society.

I did meet someone though and it ended. Unlike the Tinder dates, it was a relationship. I poured forth my heartache via this very medium and it was cathartic for me and entertaining for others.

I continued to go out, sometimes on my own. I was aware that there was still a taboo surrounding women going into pubs alone but it was a taboo I was keen to kick. I failed to see why I should be deprived of listening to live music because of a sexist hangover from the last century. Friends made remarks such as ‘I think you’re brave’ and I felt supported. I explained that firstly, I did not always go out alone and it wasn’t always to pubs and secondly, when I did, I was not really going out alone, because I tended to frequent the same few establishments and I had made friends. I teamed up with a male friend with a view to playing at Open Mic nights and now I sometimes sing in pubs.

“Pearl’s a singer … she stands up when she plays the piano!”

One of my friends sang this and laughed when she found out. I laughed and she thought it was great that I was singing in pubs.

“I couldn’t do that – you’re so brave!” some of my other friends have said. This is testament to how my friendship groups have changed. Once, most of my friends were theatre friends and this would barely have been comment-worthy. Now, the demographic has changed and the percentage of my friends in ‘showbiz’ these days is much smaller.

Many of my friends are married and have a soulmate with whom to socialise, whether that involves staying in or going out and that is beautiful. I am not married. My children are grown-up. I like to go out. I am not interested in picking up men. I see those women; they are dressed up and they sit at bars in pubs and they have an agenda. I wear jeans when I go out. I rarely sit at the bar if I am in a pub; I sit where I can listen to music. Sometimes there will be someone I know and I may sit with them. Sometimes I will get chatting to someone new which is good because I love making new friends. Company is mixed and age ranges are wide.

You may be wondering where this is going and so I will enlighten you …

When things were grey and I genuinely wondered if I would be happy again, I had support.

Things are not so grey now (well, they are currently bluey-grey if I’m honest) and things are different.

Here are some remarks I would like to challenge.

“You and your colourful love life!”

I have had one relationship in the two years since ex-hubby left me. Relationships are different from dates. I do not write this for voyeurs so I will not be more explicit than that but I think you understand to what I am referring. Hardly colourful, unless it is a racist remark directed at my one relationship. I was not expecting to become single two years ago but I did. My circumstances changed so I changed my life to accommodate that. I feel it would have been weirder to not change … my life was that of a married woman so to continue living the same life would have been a little strange? It would have been farcical. It would have been a half-life. I had to find a way to feel complete without my husband. ‘Je ne regrette rien!‘ to quote Edith Piaf. I had to find a new centre of gravity, so to speak and there have been tears along the way but I think that that was to be expected.

“You’re behaving like a teenager!”

Maybe I am, because I am going out more than I did when I was married. Why would I stay in on my own every night? I cannot relate to this current trend in TV shows and I have as much interest in them as Donald Trump has in paying for a decent haircut. I do not watch ‘bake-off’, ‘strictly’, anything with the word ‘celebrity’ or ‘brother’ in it or absolutely any other reality TV show whatsoever. I enjoy watching good comedies, box set TV shows, movies and documentaries if someone will watch them with me, but as that rarely happens, the TV literally gathers dust, although I will watch the last two to review. If you have someone with whom to stay in and snuggle in front of the TV, with a bottle of vino, that’s lovely.

“You and your shady pub life!”

What is shady about going to the pub? Is it not one of the great British institutions? Is it because I am a woman alone? Would you say that about a man going alone to the pub? Is it because I’ve started singing in pubs? The prejudice against female entertainers is VERY outdated!

“Look at you, going out mid-week!”

I rarely go out mid-week and if I do, I do not stay out late. Let it be known that if a picture appears on Facebook of me, out with friends, it does not necessarily follow that I was actually out that night.

“Oh – is that another one of your male friends?”

I have friends. I guess my friends have become more important to me since my marriage break-up. I have some single friends and we socialise together. I have many male friends and if there is a picture of me with one such friend on Facebook, it does not necessarily follow that there is anything other than friendship between us. And I have more friends now, because of my change in attitude towards going out.

“Tired? Up late drinking?”

I drink no more than anyone else and I have no idea where this notion that I drink every night has come from.

“You and your online dating websites!”

What – all two months of it? And on ONE site – Tinder? I had several dates. There were a few with whom I went on more than one date. The Italian, who is now my hairdresser; Wimbledon Man whom I threatened to block and now stays away and The Dude, about whom I no longer write because he is too good a friend. Online dating is not for me but I am glad I did it – briefly – for reasons mentioned and also because I value my friendship with the Dude.

I am fairly sure that you, reader, have not uttered any one of the remarks above. I am simply venting about the attitude from some people towards women such as myself who prefer to get out into the world rather than watch a scaled-down version of it on a screen. I did not envisage this situation two years ago but this is the outcome of my trying to view a negative thing as a change in direction. Soon, I will be redundant from my teaching job. Being made redundant is a negative thing but I am trying to view this as a change in direction too. Maybe I put too much faith in humanity to not judge me. I try not to judge others. I write my blog less these days and I am less personal. I am not sure what the future holds for my blog; I may have to adjust the content. Many people read it and I am becoming wary of motives.

Hmm.

My Story

Today I finished for half-term. My school has stolen a week from the summer break and sneaked it to the autumn half-term, so I have two weeks off. Students were sent packing earlier than usual, so we were too. Despite having to use public transport for half of my journey, I was still home early and had the pleasure of walking Rusty in daylight for a change. As I limped along the cliff-top (I did something horrible to my foot whilst running for the bus on Wednesday evening), I turned my thoughts to my blog and pondered possible subject matter. By the time I returned home, I had settled on a few topics which was sufficient. Generally speaking, as long as I have a hook, the writing process tends to be organic and the result is a decent-sized diary entry.However, my evening has not panned out as expected. Back in 1999, I stumbled across a song called ‘Ladies’ Night’ – https://youtu.be/SRwsyzSNQoU – which was released twenty years earlier by Judie Tzuke. I marvelled at its charm and how I had never heard it before, but it happened to be the first song I heard after hearing that my cousin was unlikely to recover from her illness. Not surprisingly, I started to associate this unusual song with my cousin’s death. I remain smitten with the song, but I experience a myriad of emotions whenever I hear it. It is aesthetically beautiful on the ears in its own right. I think of my cousin, so I feel despondent, but because I am reminded of her I feel warmed with nostalgia too. I tend to play it when I feel the need to wallow in self-pity, which happened tonight and the lyrics were especially pertinent tonight. I felt I should be hanging out the metaphorical bunting and flying all the metaphorical flags (apologies Michael Hurd) because of the prospect of two weeks off, but instead, because I was let down, I wallowed instead. This is not as pathetic as it sounds. Wallowing is therapeutic. I emerge from the whole experience feeling comforted. At some point during the ‘wallow’ I will recall ‘The Hippopotamus Song’ (aka ‘Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud’) because one rarely hears the verb ‘wallow’ and it crops up in this song. Anyway, I have wallowed sufficiently, listened to suitable wallowing music and now I feel ready to look adversity in the eye and welcome him with a sardonic grin.

Fortunately, I enjoy my own company. And fortunately, I realised when I was still at school that no-one is completely on your side except you. Yes, my words sound as if they have been lifted from ‘I Know Him So Well’ from the musical Chess, but I had realised this stark fact before hearing the song. To carry this fact on your life journey is, admittedly, tinged with pathos, but it is important to keep it with you when you are single. Your family won’t always approve of, or, indeed, be interested in your life choices. Your children will, at some point, move on and you just won’t be as figural as you were once which is as it should be. Recently, I read an important piece of advice: Be the main character in your story. Other people should be secondary in your story but don’t let anyone make you secondary in YOUR story. I like to think that I have never allowed this to happen, but I suspect that I have in the past. One of the benefits of writing a blog is that you are the main character. You are that ‘first person’ referenced in English lessons about first person versus third person. Unfortunately, this is only guaranteed within the confines of my blog and of course, you are only hearing my viewpoint on every situation described by me. But then, I’m bothering to write the blog and you want to read it so I guess that’s just the way it is. And you probably know me anyway, so your judgements will be based on factors beyond this blog.

Before my evening disappointed me, I was going to begin by regaling an anecdote or two about people’s treatment of other people. I do not mean huge humanitarian crises; just day-to-day interactions in the first world between regular people. Instead, I bemoaned my evening that comprised sipping wine alone at home instead of being out. Strangely, it has amounted to the same thing … disenchantment. Rewind several years and I was more tolerant … but perhaps allowing others to steer my story a little too much. Currently, I am trying harder to keep hold of that steering wheel but at times it is difficult. The trick is (I believe) to tap into what treatment of various people brings about the best outcome in terms of your relationship with them. Some people treat everyone the same and it gives rise to problems. Having been in the company of people on the autistic spectrum for several years now, my personal view is that these are people who struggle with empathy. For example, there are two questions that I think are cheeky in most circumstances. One is ‘how old are you’ and the other is ‘how much do you earn’. I rarely ask these questions. I want to say ‘I never ask these questions’ but there are exceptional circumstances when I might: for example, I might ask a student how old they are. I cannot imagine circumstances when I might ask the other question, if I am honest. Yet I am asked these questions. The first: a lot. The second: not so much. Around half the time I am asked the first, I answer because I feel awkward about being seen as oppositional. The other half of the time, I refuse to answer because, for whatever reason, I feel I can be frank with the inquirer and tell them that it is an imposing question. ‘Why are you paranoid about your age?’ enquired a friend once. I assured him that I wasn’t; moreover, it is personal information and a person should not be placed in that awkward position. Secondary to that, I do not wish to be defined by my age. People want to know such things as ages and earnings because they wish to judge you on that information and there are worthier, less potentially stereotyping facets to someone’s persona on which to judge them. So, my point is, some people require gentler handling than others and ergo, in order to achieve balanced relationships with the people around you, you have to treat them differently.

Moving onto less reflective topics, my new hobby is still progressing well. My singing/playing partner and I have played at several open mic nights now and we are learning new material. As with acting, I don’t get nervous. Even when the Rastafarian rocked up at the Cabaret Bar, I didn’t feel nervous. It baffles me, but whereas I feel I may be missing out on an adrenaline shot, it means I don’t have to suffer the torturous journey of sweaty-palmed fear as I ‘step up to the mic’. Back in the day of treading the boards whilst free of the trammels of adulthood (although I thought I was pretty grown-up), I recall the realisation that your chances of that certain someone falling for you, increase dramatically when they have watched you perform. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when the Rastafarian stepped up the interest after he watched me perform. Had I given it any thought, I would have mused that he would either have renewed his interest in me, or become abusive again. So I’m just grateful that it isn’t the latter. Returning to the business of open mic, I have purchased a guitar so that I do not have to depend upon a guitarist to be able to perform. I have no idea how this will progress … I can read music and I can play another instrument, so I hope that it will not be an insurmountable task.

I went to see the latest play (in the same place I played Ruth Condomine in Blithe Spirit). A friend, who happened to be playing the lead, bribed me with the offer of a drink if I went to see it. I probably would have seen it anyway, but I looked forward to my pint of Guinness and black with anticipation, so the irregular news that all the pubs in Rottingdean had shut because of a water shortage, was almost devastating. After a thorough search, however, we found one skulking in a corner and so I was rewarded with a pint of pink-frothed stout. I went back to his house for some chilled guitar-playing and singing, but found myself having an impromptu guitar lesson on his 12-string guitar. It was hard. I’ll keep you posted …