Causes, Triggers and Trips Abroad

The latter years of the nineteenth century were fraught with distrust, tension and bitterness between countries that would ultimately lose millions of lives between them in the Great War. France was resentful of the loss of land to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War; Britain was wary of Germany’s burgeoning navy (as was Germany of Britain’s military force); Austria disapproved of Russia’s support for the Slavic move towards independence, whereas Turkey supported Austria, thereby setting itself against Russia. Little wonder then, that by 1882 Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy had banded together to form the Triple Alliance and by 1907, France, Britain and Russia formed the Triple Entente. Just in case. But what seemed like an insurance policy, indisputably was a factor in the explosion of events lasting four years, commonly known as the First World War. Confusing stuff … at least it was for Baldrick in Blackadder Goes Forth:

“ … there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? And there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: how did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?”

So, a trigger was needed. The stage was set; all that was needed was for a metaphorical director to stroll along and call for ‘Action!’ And if you listened in history at school, you’d know that that director was Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne. Princip did not cause World War One; he just removed the fateful block of wood from the game of Jenga that was the precarious relationship between the six countries comprising the two alliances.

And as Edmund replied to Baldrick:

“ … the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war.”

Whenever I witness a knee-jerk reaction to a situation, I think of the chain of events leading to the First World War. I do not wish to detract from the misery and horror of a grim four years in our history; it is everyone’s duty to ensure that the suffering endured by everyone involved is fully acknowledged and appreciated. But the forty years leading up to the declaration of war is fascinating in terms of cause and effect, man’s paranoia and the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Decisions are not easy. Well, some are. My decision to reverse all the way back down the lane I had mistakenly driven up yesterday was an easy one, as Option Two involved doing a three point turn in the field I was heading towards. I had performed this manoeuvre before and had to call upon my brother-in-law to tow me out, so I decided upon Option One. And as I am not Jack Bauer, Option Three rarely makes itself known to me.

My decision to accept a job offer abroad was not easy.

I chose to complete my higher education in Brighton, as I was making great strides in the theatre and my dream was to become an actress. Brighton was – and still is – a pretty cool place to hang around for making your way in the theatre. I had intended doing a bit of travelling before embarking upon my degree, but I retook my ‘A’ Levels instead in my gap year, on account of the poor show first time around. I married after graduating and as ex-hubby no 1 struggled to cope with my acting dream, I put it to one side and even let a few lucky breaks go to some other lucky wannabes. I had thought that I would move away from Brighton, even if it was temporary, at some point, but he wasn’t keen. We had an opportunity to move to London, but still he wasn’t keen. His job took him all over the world (he got a lucky break thanks to a slightly sinister quirk of fate) and I nobly volunteered to up sticks and join him here, there and everywhere. But no. It wasn’t a big deal; my priority was the children and I was happy being their mum whilst gradually easing back into the workplace as they grew older. But it slightly irked me that I had been the one with the travel bug – not him – yet he was indulging in travel and not considering the limitless possibilities available, especially for the children, if we took some risks and moved abroad just once maybe … and just for a while.

Eventually we parted company and the children were hurtling towards secondary education at a rate of knots. I remarried and thoughts of travelling became distant and unimportant. But as the children grew up, those travelling thoughts travelled back into the forefront of my mind, where a decision was made.

If I find myself on my own, I’ll work abroad for a bit.

Mostly, this thought remained inside my head, because I wasn’t on my own and I wasn’t wishing to be. But then I did find myself on my own. The children had wandered off to university and ex-hubby no 2 had wandered off to Mongolia.

I applied for a job abroad. I thought I had the job. But I didn’t. And then I started to embrace my home city in a way I hadn’t embraced it for a very long time. I was too busy enjoying myself to think about moving away and anyway, I was seeing this ‘wonderful’ Rastafarian. But as you know (if you are a seasoned follower of my blog), that ended when he ceased to be wonderful and so I started applying for jobs again.

But then I met Cute Guy.

I haven’t mentioned Cute Guy, because I was in possession of a modicum of optimism over Cute Guy. And I couldn’t possibly write about a budding relationship (or non-relationship) if I wanted to remain in possession of said optimism. Any men in my blog have been mentioned retrospectively and as none of them worked out, they provided entertaining writing material from the superior vantage point of Mount Hindsight. If a blog post is to be treated as a story, then each man must provide me with a problem and whereas the problems with Cute Guy are apparent now, they weren’t whilst I was hoping things would develop. Or rather, the initial rush of joy associated with a potential new relationship, was crashing over potential problems in the same way that an energy-filled wave, glinting with the rays of the sun, bursts onto the foreshore and covers up craggy rocks and slippery seaweed.

I met Cute Guy at The Cabaret Bar. I’d moseyed along there one Monday, hoping that Original Blues would be there to provide some company, but he was in London so I sat on my own. An excitable chap came and sat next to me and provided some jolly company for a while and then the Rastafarian appeared on the other side of me. He left, disgruntled that another man was showing interest, even though we were not in a relationship anymore. He sat on the next table and chatted to an acquaintance. At some point I went outside – possibly to make a phone call – I forget – and the Rastafarian’s acquaintance had got there before me and was smoking.

We introduced ourselves to each other and he told me I was pretty and I thought he was cute. The Rastafarian appeared next to me and the jolly chap seemed to have followed him out. Jolly Chap had changed the dynamics of our conversation from engaging chit-chat to shameless flirting and as I wasn’t interested, I was rather dismissive. He took the hint and left, visibly grumping as he made his way up the road, on foot. The Rastafarian quizzed me over him and although it wasn’t his business, I was cross with Jolly Chap’s lewd suggestions so I divulged all and confirmed that yes, he had been chatting me up and no, I was not interested.

So, it was the Rastafarian’s turn to visibly grump, which he did, all the way back inside and left me alone with Cute Guy.

The latter thought that the Rastafarian and I were still in a relationship, which was understandable, given the way he behaved towards me whenever we happened upon each other in a pub. I emphasised the lack of relationship between us and then Cute Guy asked me out. I turned him down, as he seemed quite young.

“Let me know if you change your mind,” he said, as he left, with a shrug and no trace of grumping.

We ran into each other a few more times and things changed.

I don’t regret Cute Guy, but I do regret my eternal optimism. I was kept at arm’s length from the start, bluntly being told that we were ‘not a thing.’ That was fine … at the start. But after a while, decisions need to be made about whether or not one is ‘a thing’. I wasn’t the one to denounce the ‘thingness’ of our relationship, so I expected any change of heart to originate from the one who did. In retrospect, I know that I should have broached the subject, instead of remaining silent whilst slowly falling for he who would not be ‘a thing’. But I will take a hint and when the invites round to his place dried up (I drove whereas he didn’t and any suggestions I made for meetings failed to reach fruition) I began the recovery process.

I also started applying for jobs abroad again.

Then I met someone.

“If I think I have a chance of a decent relationship with a decent person … I’m staying put,” I announced to the children.

All applications were put on hold, while I used this final stronghold as an excuse.

We had two wonderful dates, despite wiping his dog’s bum clean on one of them (definitely on par with the Wimbledon Man devil chicken, exploding red wine and humping dog debacle). But we have remained friends only, on account of his reluctance to commit whilst going through a tough time personally.

Back to the job applications.

Then I met someone else (this is not a regular occurrence – sometimes, decent men are like buses).

I made a similar announcement to the children about staying put if it worked out.

But … no. Similar story … not over previous relationship etc but – well, we were already friends so things have simply returned to their previous state.

And then I was offered a job.

The trigger was this final rejection. The stage was set; I cannot say that this latest disappointment has caused me to fly 4,000 miles away with a flourish that Beau Geste himself would admire, but it was that last Jenga piece sliding away, bringing down all my excuses and obstacles, that prompted my signature on that job offer.

Obviously, all relationships have disappointed me because I am single. There would just have to be one that hadn’t for me to be not single. But I am feeling generally disenchanted with the male gender (sorry guys – I hate to generalise but I only have my own frames of reference on which to base my feelings) and whereas my idle yearning to live abroad just for a bit is a long term factor in my decision, recent rejections over the past year are the short term triggers.

I do not go looking for relationships. But I like to go out and men take an interest because that is how things work when you are a woman alone. I do not congratulate myself on being particularly attractive – in fact, I mostly feel rather dissatisfied with myself – but there’s someone for everyone and so on and so forth. But I feel hurt by the men who have worked hard to display an interest in me and made themselves attractive and allowed me to fall for them, if only a little, only to become remote and treat me to the ‘we’re not a thing’ … ‘I’m not ready’ … etc … rhetoric. And my healing process evidently bucks the trend, as I am still waiting to toughen up.

I won’t stay abroad for long. I’ll miss my children too much. I’ll also miss Brighton and all it has to offer, such as my home, my dog, the rest of my family, my friends and the Brightonness of Brighton. But I need to do it, just to see what it’s like and if I don’t, I’ll always wonder.

And because it’s a bit like running off to join the Foreign Legion … and because it’s become too much effort not to go.

EP Review: ‘Party’ by Paul Murray

Listening to Paul Murray’s dulcet tones makes you nostalgic for Woodstock, even though you probably weren’t there. But when he cites the likes of The Nationals and The Who as some of his influences, that slightly American folk/rock quality with an indie vibe, makes sense. In fact, Paul’s voice is uncannily similar to that of the lead singer of The Nationals: rich yet mellow … clear and confident.

‘Holiday Friends’, the first track on the EP, lulls you into thinking you’ll be listening to a gentle piece about friendship, with Paul’s comforting vocals and listenable acoustic guitar. Then there’s a brutal turn of events, as the lyrics become harsh and Amy Squirrell strikes up some melancholy sounds on her cello.

‘I’ll love you for five days and Sunday I am all alone.’

Who wants to listen to schmaltz anyway? You won’t find any on this album – even with Paul’s more positive offerings, such as ‘Tiny Victories’, you’ll discover creative, reflective lyrics put to equally accomplished music.

With the cheeky ‘Not in Front of Family’, taking a lighter look at family gatherings, every track on this album is a winner.

Having listened to Paul with just his guitar for company, it is clear that he can hold his audience single-handedly, but the addition of extra vocals, extra strings, keys and percussion for ‘Party’, ably mixed by Tim Bidwell, enhances all that is good about his music.


‘Party’ will be officially launched on June 8th and there will be a launch gig at The Prince Albert on June 11th.

Lisa O’Connor

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ladies … and the Cinema… and the Hairdresser

The last time I played at an Open Mic event with Accompanist 2, it was all Open and no Mic. In other words, I had to sing – and my accompanist had to play his guitar – with no mics or amps. Contrary to my usual dead feeling, I was actually nervous, as a result. I ordered a large red wine on arrival from the very friendly barman and I asked if the Open Mic was happening, as I could see no evidence of a stage being set for musicians.
“Oh yes – upstairs,” he replied and followed it up with:
“Are you nervous?”
“Yes!” I fell on his potential sympathy and he topped up my wine without my asking and gave me a reassuring wink.
I smiled and thanked him and made a swift ascent up the stairs, almost falling back down when I encountered some sort of larger-than-life gothic angel-of-death statue halfway up.
I heard a distant snort from Friendly Barman and continued on my way.
I found a door at the top and opened it, spilling forth my apologies for tardiness to Accompanist 2. Everyone turned and looked and I realised that this was one of those very, very quiet Open Mic nights (Open nights? What does one call it when there is no mic?) and so I reduced my apology to a whisper and slid into a seat next to Accompanist 2 to await our turn.
Our turn came and it was surprisingly successful. It turns out that I can sing without a mic and having used some seriously ropey mics at Open Mic nights, it was an unadulterated pleasure to have the worry of how terrible the mic might make my voice sound, removed from the overall concern.
Afterwards, I realised that I was ridiculously hungry and so I hissed to Accompanist 2 that I was going to the Ladies – which I was – but I was also planning on swinging by the bar to grab a bag of crisps.
Which I tried to do.

“Have you played?” asked Friendly Barman, as he topped up my empty glass and continued, even when I tried to stop the flow of delicious claret nectar into my glass. OK, I didn’t try very hard.

I told him I had and that it had gone well and wondered when he would reach down to give me my much-needed crisps.

“There was an American football game showing earlier,” he continued, elbows resting on the bar, like he was never going to get me those crisps.

“Oh?” I feigned interest.

“Yeah – I did these for the lads who came in to watch it but they didn’t want them.”
And then he produced a platter – one of those huge oval ones that vol-au-vents are always on – with a mountainous pile of nachos, melted cheese and an assortment of dips.

“If you fancy crisps, have these.”
I stared at the platter before me and as I looked up to say ‘are you sure?’ and ‘thank you!’ before he could change his mind, he produced a plate of chicken wings. I explained I was vegetarian but thanked him anyway and made myself comfy for my unexpected and slightly surreal feast.

I’ll just have a nibble I thought, so I could get back to Accompanist 2. But if you have ever tried to drag yourself away from a heaving platter of exclusive nachos, you will understand my difficulties.

I scoffed the lot (this was pre-veganism, I hasten to add).

Well, I left some, for fear of seeming gluttonous.

“Where have you been?” hissed Accompanist 2.

“I got some crisps,” I hissed back, very aware of how economical I was being with the truth.

He leaned into me and I leaned back, thinking he was getting over-friendly.

His hand moved towards me.

He’s actually going to kiss me I thought, as I leaned back more, feeling my chest get hot and blotchy and aware of my eyes widening with horror. But his hand, instead of sliding to the back of my neck, as I thought, went to my mouth, as he carefully picked a small string of cheese from the corner. I would have felt humiliated, but I was relieved. His face was still very close to mine though; and his mouth stupidly close to my mouth. I’m not out of the woods yet I thought …perhaps he was just prepping my mouth for kissing.

“Have you had … salsa??” boomed his voice. And everyone looked.

“Funny story … “ I announced.

 

************************************************

 

On New Year’s Day I was ‘in the black’, on account of having received a paltry bit of redundancy. To celebrate, I treated myself to a Cineworld ‘Unlimited’ card, in which I persuaded myself to invest, so that I could write reviews for recent releases for a review website whose team I had recently joined. As with roughly 50% of my trips out, I tend to go to the cinema alone and so on this particular night, off I went to Cineworld and got myself a ticket for the latest Michael Caine/Morgan Freeman cinematic offering.

The people at the front of the queue had not even settled on a movie to see, which baffled me. Who goes to the cinema without a movie in mind? It was a parent and a child and the former was becoming increasingly exasperated with the latter, who was struggling to reach a decision. But not as exasperated as I was becoming, as the official start time for the movie had passed, so I was steeped in borrowed advert time. I looked at the checkout girl who was as animated as an android. No – less so – if Michael Sheen of ‘Passengers’ is a benchmark for manifestation of android emotion. Finally, child was coerced into a decision and the chap in front of me stepped forward. I had no concerns about Chap, as he was alone and wearing glasses and a hoodie, so clearly he was a geek and therefore had planned his cinema trip as meticulously as I had. I purchased my ticket when my turn came and off I went, just a step or two behind Chap. The lady ripping tickets took his and mine simultaneously and ripped them equally simultaneously.

“You’re not sitting together – you do realise that?” she looked at me, then Chap.

We looked at each other and replied simultaneously:

“Er … yes – that’s fine – we’re not together!”

I am not sure that I have ever witnessed anyone display such obvious embarrassment as Ticket-Ripping Lady. The apologies for her mistake were unending and as we moved away, Chap put out his hand to mine.

“Hi! I’m Dan! That was funny! But anyway, what were the chances of both of us coming to see this together? I mean – oh!”

His voice shrank to one of those male whispers that are actually louder than talking, as we proceeded through the doors to Screen 2 and stepped into the silent void of film viewing.

“Ok – well – it was nice to meet you – ‘bye!”

And that was the extent of my relationship with Dan.

I actually quite liked Dan, despite his clunky chat-up style, but those 15 seconds left me rather bewildered. Clearly, he saw the mistake as an opportunity but unfortunately, his nervous chatter precluded me from taking part in the chat-up process.

But the film was good.

 

************************************************

 

I was late.

“Lisa … you come today?”

There are benefits to having one’s hair cut by a friend. An Italian-accented reminder usually pings into my phone about an hour before my appointment and on this particular Saturday, I had overslept so the reminder was timely.

“Yes!”

I replied with an air of urgency and fell out of the door, into my car, having broken the cardinal sin of not bothering with coffee.

In town I stopped at some small caffeine outlet in order to purchase a fix in a cup and continued on my way, aware of how questionable my purchase would seem at the salon, given that I was destined to be a couple of minutes late.

My mistake was running with the precious brown cargo.

I wove through crowds, barely noticing the finer details of individuals, apart from a very tall man who, for a brief moment, was ahead of me.

And then it happened … my toe clipped an uneven paving slab and I did not just fall to the ground – I met the ground with such force that I actually slid along the pavement and overtook Tall Man.

“Jesus!” he stopped and looked down at my prone form, complete with ripped jeans, ripped knee and a puddle of coffee nearby.

“It’s ok,” I thought, “because I never have to see this man again.”

I looked up.

“Des!”

“Lisa!”

Ok, It was likely I would see this man again because he was a friend.

In-between laughing (I would have done the same) he helped me to my feet and commiserated over the spilt coffee.

In-between bouts of pain from the bloodied knee, I laughed too and I have laughed since, especially when Des told me that whenever he walks along that bit of road now, with his son, his son announces that ‘this is where it happened!’

It’s good to be remembered, even if it is for being fairly clumsy and a little naive, to think that running with a hot cup of coffee is ever a good idea.

Folk Off Sessions at the Fiddler’s Elbow

In amongst the frenzy of the Fringe, is an understated array of talent hidden away in a pub you have to be looking for to find.

“I was just cutting through from West Street to The Lanes and I stumbled across it,” said one chap, of the Fiddler’s Elbow (Boyces Street). It just so happened that said chap was lucky enough to stumble into the welcoming Irish pub during one of their Folk Off Sessions, which become a weekly event every Thursday during the Brighton Fringe.

On this particular Thursday, the evening began with the gravelly-voiced Justin Saltmeris, accompanying himself on the guitar. But Justin has more than gravel to his voice; he is a powerhouse, vocally and his voice easily filled the tiny pub with an unwavering mix of strength and melody.

Jane Gilbert followed, with her slightly haunting folk songs, treating us to her talented voice with a clarity that is reminiscent of the gentlest of bells.

The popular Night House were the third act to entertain us, featuring the distinctive Nick Williams and his boundless versatility. Hopping from keyboard (complete with synthesiser) to guitar and throwing a drum machine into the proceedings, evidently adapting his style throughout his own set, this is a musician who can reinvent himself in the space of 45 minutes. Not only does Nick have complete mastery over a complete orchestra of instruments, but also he has a vocal range that would be the envy of any artiste: male or female. His style is folk meets rock with a surprise visit from synthesised sounds of the ‘80s and the result is a juxtaposition of nostalgia and music with a sci-fi slant (well, it sounded sci-fi  in the ’80s). Treating us to his own songs – ‘Fade Away’, ‘Sea Ocean’ and ‘Back Out’ topped my list – it is difficult to fathom that his set was only 45 minutes long, as he showcased too much talent, surely, for one musician.

Kwil, a four-person folk band, rounded off the evening with their beautifully confident harmonies. The last band to play at a showcase night risks playing to a depleted audience, as people start to wend their way out of the venue; but the presence of a thronging audience was testament to their very listenable music.

“Will you come here again?” I asked Lucky Chap.

“I doubt it,” he shrugged, to my surprise.

“This Guinness is so good,” he continued, “and so cheap … I’ve drunk so much that I’m not sure where I am anymore. Is this place even real?”

And he stumbled back out as the May mist swallowed him up.

So the Fiddler’s Elbow Folk Off Sessions really are such stuff as dreams are made on, it would seem. Last Fringe session next week, so find out for yourself. ‘Like’ them on Facebook to keep track of their regular sessions and all the bands have FB pages too.

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor at the Fiddler’s Elbow on Thursday May 4th 2017.

You Made Me Homeless


“Hello.”

I took my money from the cash point before spinning round to put a face to the voice.

A swarthy, weathered, bearded face with a hat on top smiled back.

“Hello,” I replied, certain that I did not know this weather-beaten, friendly man.

“You’re beautiful,” he continued.

Now, I can be naive, but even I could see how this might pan out.

“Thank-you,” I smiled at him – until he revealed an ulterior motive, I had no reason to be ungracious.

“I would love to take you out to dinner,” he continued.

“Oh,” I was not expecting that.

I looked at the multitude of bags he was carrying. Or were they carrying him … in all their togetherness, they must have weighed more than him and he was a big chap.

A little earlier, I had encountered the Rastafarian. I happened to be by a small bakery/cafe, which, unbeknownst to me, was near to where he was currently sofa-surfing and he had pleaded poverty with me. I was getting a coffee, so I got two and thrust one of the cups into his grasping hand. He was grateful in a horrible, obsequious manner and I felt way too generous, given his past treatment of me. But I tried to enjoy the feeling of superior turf beneath my feet up on that moral high ground. Then he invited me back to his place and I gave him a firm ‘no’. And he got stroppy. Meanwhile, I was discovering that I didn’t have any cash to pay for the coffees – I had intended using a card but their chip and pin machine was broken.

“It is ok – you bring me money when you next here,” said the lovely Greek owner. Whether he was aware of the tension between me and the Rastafarian, I do not know, but it was kind of him. And that was how I was at a cashpoint in the first place, strangely encountering yet another homeless man.

“I’m not looking for a relationship,” I explained, leaving the words with a homeless man off the end of the sentence.

“Ah, that’s a shame,” he replied and – I don’t wish to sound unkind – but I marvelled at his self-belief, that he could ask someone who was clearly not homeless (i.e. me) out to dinner whilst in a state of homelessness. I mean, I wasn’t looking like I’d stepped off the front of Vogue, but I don’t think I looked homeless.

“Are you walking this way?” he motioned down the street that I was, indeed, heading towards to pay off my debt to Kind Greek Man.

“Yes,” I replied and I explained my reasons.

“Ah,” he inhaled, “I can smell the coffee from here!”

I couldn’t, surely, end up buying two coffees for homeless men in the space of an hour …

“I work with the homeless,” he continued.

“Really??” I said, with a bit too much disbelief, “But you’re homeless …?”

“Me? No … no no,” he hotly denied the accusation and I said nothing in reply.

“But …” I braced myself for a request for something material, “… I have lost my wallet …”

Ah yes.

“So … I was wondering … could you possibly get me a coffee?”

I agreed to buy him a coffee, because like most people, I am not averse to helping the homeless and Kind Greek Man had been generous to me and one good turn deserves another … etc …

Then as I went inside, he called out:

“And a croissant would be nice! Preferably an almond one?”

“Don’t push it!” I laughed, but inwardly marvelling at how I was being fleeced twice by the homeless community in one morning.

But I did get him a croissant.

“Let’s sit outside,” he smiled, as he took my present of coffee and croissant and started arranging chairs round a table.

Well, I doubt they would let you inside, I thought. Just the bags alone were enough.

“Thanks, but I’m not stopping,” I told him and felt sad at the way his face fell into seriousness.

“Oh well!” he rallied himself and handed me a scrawl on a scrap of paper.

“Call me if you fancy being wined and dined!”

And there was his number. I have felt like being wined and dined many a time since that day, but somehow, I doubt that Mr Swarthy with a penchant for almond croissants would be able to fulfil that particular wish of mine.
*******************************************************************
The drive back from Joseph’s graduation was a long one. But it was a familiar drive; with Joseph having just completed 3 years at university there, I was accustomed to driving to and fro Chester for visits and the occasional drop-off/pick-up. Fortunately, I enjoy driving and on this particular journey I had had the pleasure of Rhiannon’s company; we had left Joseph and Hannah in Liverpool, where Hannah’s family lives.

But long journeys, pleasurable or not, are tiring and on our return, neither of us felt like cooking, so we made a pit-stop at the takeaway pizza outlet at the bottom of our road.

“I look dreadful,” I glanced in the rear-view mirror at my hair severely dragged off my face with a Kirbigrip and looked down at the comfy trousers that were unfit for human viewing.

“Good job we’re just going into the takeaway then!” I got no sympathy from my hungry daughter as she got out the car and so I followed.

We placed our orders and looked up from the menu, having been scrutinising it for a good five minutes for the best deals. I squinted at the clinically bright lights and then stopped squinting, when they became blocked by a familiar form.

“Lisa,” said the pizza delivery man, as he walked out from behind the counter with a big bag, presumably full of pizzas.

“Oh!” I stared at the rather good-looking chap with the Middle-Eastern accent in front of me.

“Mum,” said Rhiannon.

I introduced them.

“I have missed those eyes,” continued Middle-Eastern Chap.

And then he left to deliver pizzas.

“You know the pizza delivery guy??” enquired Rhiannon and rightly so.

“No!”

“Well, clearly you do!”

“Yes – but not when he was a pizza delivery guy!”

“So when did you know him?”

“When he wasn’t one and I barely know him!”

“But he’s ‘missed those eyes’!”

I explained how I had met him one night when I was out with friends and as I was single at the time, I agreed to meet him the next day for a date. And that was it.

*Ping*


I have missed you
.

Wow. No time wasted.


Shouldn’t you be delivering pizzas?


I can’t concentrate on pizzas now I have seen you after all this time.


We went on one date
.


I know. I have thought about you ever since.

“Two medium pizzas, one side order of potato wedges and one side order of onion rings.”

I snatched my reflection in a mirror on the way out and noticed, in a mirror larger than my rear-view mirror that I also had a smear of oil on my cheek from when I’d topped the car up with oil on the journey.

After gorging on pizzas, I addressed the issue of the persistent pizza delivery guy from the Middle East and explained to him, via text messaging, that, if he remembered, I had decided after one date that I did not wish to pursue a relationship with him and nothing had changed since to make me change my mind.

OK. Let’s just meet for a drink then.


OK
.

But still I was treated to a textual manifestation of the pain of my absence from his life. As I liked the pizzas from the pizza takeaway down the road (this was pre-veganism) I decided that a candid explanation, face-to-face, over a drink was needed.
Before this could be arranged, the topic of the text messaging changed slightly.


Do you have a spare room to rent?


Funnily enough, yes – I was going to start looking. Do you know someone who is looking to rent?

No, I don’t know how I didn’t see this coming either.

Yes. Me
.


Oh! That changes things. Sorry – no.

What? Why?


Because you want a relationship and I only want friendship.


No! No no no! Now I only want friendship!


Sorry. It just wouldn’t be a good idea.


But I’m homeless

The following night I bumped into him, when I was en route to the bus-stop and he was en route to his pizza delivery van. I stopped to say ‘hi’ and possibly arrange to meet up and have that candid chat … and also a chat about how I could possibly help his plight. But he swept past me, without even stopping to linger at ‘those eyes’ he had apparently ‘missed’. I was as speechless as when I saw him initially in the pizza takeaway place. I continued on my way – I was going to an Open Mic night in town. It was a pleasant evening and I was particularly happy to run into a chap who used to organise Open Mic nights at another pub. He looked different – a bit melancholy and scruffy. I decided to wend my way down to the tiny bar when I saw him go down to refill his glass, to chat to him.
“Lisa,” he said, a bit too earnestly and whilst looking into my eyes a bit too seriously, “I’m homeless.”
I asked where he was sleeping and he assured me that he was able to sofa-surf for the moment. He played at the pub and he got his free drink. This reminded me of when I got chatting to a homeless chap in Pavilion Gardens. He offered to draw me in charcoal but I said I only had about a pound in change on me and I didn’t really have time to go to a cashpoint. In addition, he had no evidence to suggest that he could draw a decent picture, until he opened his bag and showed me his art materials.
“It will take 90 seconds of your life,” he explained.
And that is all it took.
I gave him a pound and he gave me a very cool rendition of me in charcoal. He told me that he was going to buy a can of beer with his pound and quite frankly, if I was homeless, I’d want plenty of cans of beer. And he was definitely homeless. Sometimes I laugh inwardly at very tanned, wealthy men, because I imagine them in dirty layers of raggedy clothes and they would look homeless. Likewise, sometimes, I imagine a homeless man in a pair of Hawaiian shorts and their over-tanned skin would make them look every inch the middle-class man holidaying abroad.
Anyway, my point is that there are some great homeless people. And some not-so-great homeless people. Just as we shouldn’t assume that they are all wasters, neither should we assume that they are all worth our time. They are ordinary people, like us. Some of them want to be homeless and some of them don’t. Some of them want to be helped and some of them don’t.
Ex-hubby no 2 gave me a card, many years ago, when we were still together, which was very funny. There was a picture of a camp man pointing towards the recipient of the card, with the caption:

‘You made me gay!’

It was a reference to the fact that I had – and still have – many gay friends, many of whom had ‘come out’ during my friendship with them.

I think there is a gap in the market here: I now need a card with a leathery looking homeless man on the front and the caption:

‘You made me homeless!’

Luscious Lips

“Lip-drawing speed-dating?”
I copied and pasted and returned the question as a question, feeling confident that what he really meant was, “How about I fly you to Paris for the evening and treat you to some French fare in a little bistro within earshot of the gentle lapping of the waves of the Seine, acting as a sort of percussion for the Parisian sounds of the accordion, being played so effortlessly by the smiling chap with the strangely attractive moustache?”
“Yeah … you pick a random partner out of a pot then you draw each other’s lips. It’s non-verbal communication. Lol.”
He meant lip-drawing speed-dating.
“Er …”
“There’s a five-minute fumble too.”
“You’re really not selling this to me.”
“Well, the offer’s there if you fancy it. Unless you’ve got a better offer.”
Surely I had a better offer for a Saturday night. I had a look through recent messages on my phone. Actually, I didn’t, because I knew I didn’t have a better offer. I had no other offers, in fact. Apart from the gig! I’d been invited to a gig … now, who was it? No wait, this was weird … it was the same friend who’d invited me for a lip-drawing fumble or something.
“What about the gig?” I enquired.
“That would be afterwards,” he reassured me.
So off I went for a five-minute speed date or something.
I arrived at the bar/pub/cafe thingy in a part of town that was undergoing a gradual transformation from rundown to bohemian. Its shabbiness was part of its appeal … it had been a bank once and I wasn’t sure if the symbolism of a high street financial establishment shape-shifting into a hip bar was good or bad. Was it bad that we were retreating so far into our online worlds that high streets were becoming unnecessary? But if that meant more places such as this slightly gothic chilling point in which to socialise, wasn’t that a good thing? I actually think I was merely delaying entry into this potential humiliation but as previously mentioned, I had no better offers. So I slipped in, unobtrusively.
“ARE YOU HERE FOR SPEEEED DATINGGG???” the barman asked, just like that. Well, maybe it wasn’t just like that but it seemed just like that, given that I was not enthused about this foray into contrived meet-ups and I was slightly embarrassed by the whole affair. Just to clarify, I had neither desire nor expectation to make any kind of romantic connection whatsoever. My general feeling towards romance is currently one of indifference.
“Um … I’m meeting a friend here. I think so. He wants to do speed dating I think.”
Well, that couldn’t have gone worse. He just wanted to know whether to give me a free drink or not and instead I treated him to a revelation of my insecurities.
Friend appeared and off we went to register so we could be rewarded for being desperate, single people, with a free drink.
“Oh – there’s only one space left!” exclaimed an organiser of the speed fumble who was worryingly dressed as a nurse.
“It’s fine,” I began, intending to finish with I’ll sit out.
“No – wait-” she continued, “I’ve got two spaces but only one free drink.”
This made no sense to me but Friend gallantly said I could have the free drink in return for buying him a drink.
And so I was registered. Friend had his drink, as did I and I awaited my change. I left the bar and realised I’d lost Friend. So I found a seat and waited. And waited. I could feel my general discomfort with the whole debacle gradually changing into distress at my apparent abandonment by Friend.
“Aren’t you doing the speed dating?” enquired the pretend nurse.
“Well, I thought I was but no-one’s told me where to go and I seem to have been somewhat abandoned!”
“HOLD ON!” shouted Pretend Nurse, across the pub, just like that, with a voice to rival the barman’s, “YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER ONE FOR SPEEEED DATINGGG!!!”
I wanted to leave at this juncture, but all eyes were on me as I walked across the bar/pub/cafe thingy and all eyes of fellow five minute fumblers-to-be were on me as I joined their party in the smallest, scruffiest corner of a bar/pub/cafe thingy I have ever seen.
“Why did you leave me?” all other feelings got mashed together to produce one feeling of upset towards Friend.
“I thought you’d gone,” he replied to me, but looking round at the eyes which were all on him now. Never mind speedy fumbles and five-minute lip-drawing, the attendees were being treated to a real life couple argument. Only we weren’t a couple, but we did sound like one to be fair. Whilst all eyes were on us, I had a quick scan of the male of the species (the species being ‘single people with no better offers on a Saturday night’) and not one really cut the mustard, frankly. Well, one was reasonably attractive but I felt that any likelihood of connectivity that night had seriously plummeted after my mini tantrum.
And so lip-drawing speed dating commenced. There were 18 of us, which I felt was a poor show, but remembered that we had been ‘squeezed in’, so this was clearly a good show for the organisers. 9 remained seated and 9 moved around the room. Well, corner of the bar/pub/cafe thingy. I was a ‘mover’ and Friend was a ‘sitter’. I moved to my first sitter and it turned out to be Reasonably Attractive. Politely, we introduced ourselves to each other and I began to draw his lips.
“I didn’t know this was speed-dating,” he said, through pursed lips, so I could continue to draw them. It occurred to me at this point that drawing noses, or eyes, or anything other than lips, might have been better, as one needs to continually move one’s lips in order to communicate.
“Really?” I queried, wondering how you could possibly mistake Lip Drawing Speed Dating for anything other than speed dating.
“Yes – I thought it was an art class,” he expanded upon his excuse for being there.

“And I should mention that I’ve got a partner,” he continued.
I laughed in reply, as if it didn’t matter. To be honest, it didn’t. I picked him out as the one I’d pick if I had a gun to my head, but I didn’t actually care.
I finished his lips and then he drew mine. I was weirded out already but I suppose it beat snuggling up with the dog and a mug of Golden Spiced Turmeric Coconut Milk. Or did it …

Reasonably Attractive finished my lips and I moved onto ‘Tim’ … then ‘Rajinder’ … and at some point the people with a particular symbol displayed on the compulsory stickers (AKA men) ran out and I had to move onto those with phallic symbols on their stickers (AKA women) instead. Which was fine, seeing as I wasn’t really looking anyway, but it confirmed my suspicions that this wasn’t really speed-dating. As it turned out, it was an artist’s attempts to get random people’s lip portraits. I couldn’t tell you why, apart from the fact that this is Brighton; fellow Brightonians will understand.
Lastly, I had to draw Friend’s lips. We were being civil towards each other by now, so I relaxed a bit and anticipated 5 minutes of not having to make small talk but instead he got up and left.
“Now seems like a good time to go to the loo,” he said as he walked off.

“Oh ok – I’ll just draw your lips from memory …” I tailed off as I realised he’d gone and couldn’t hear me.
Once again, all eyes were on me. I smiled at their pitying glances, as I was left, alone with my random lip drawings and a cup of water. I tried to draw his lips from memory but I realised I had no clue what his lips were like. In my defence, he has a beard, so I tried drawing a beard instead but failed. This was someone I met for coffee most Saturday mornings and therefore whose face I had looked at a lot. I thought about other friends’ lips and it dawned on me that I am not familiar with my friends’ lips. I can recall family members’ lips but not many others … this is something to address.
And thus ended Lip-Drawing Speed-Dating. There were prizes for the best lip creations and I wanted to stay, just in case. But Friend wasn’t keen, as the gig in a nearby pub was starting. Pretend Nurse assured us that the prizes were not worth waiting for.
“But still …” I protested, thinking that even if I got a box of chocs or a bottle of plonk out of this bizarre experience, it would be worth the wait.
“No really …” she lowered her voice, “we’re talking last year’s Man U kids’ annual as an example …”
“Where’s that gig?” I said to Friend and off we went for Part II of the very Brighton evening.

Moonlight


Genre: Drama

Certification: 15

Length: 1hr 51mins

 We first meet ‘Little’ (Alex R. Hibbert), hiding from bullies in a derelict building. A chance meeting with the charismatic Juan (Mahershala Ali) and girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) opens Little’s eyes to a shiny world beyond his own in a shabby district in Miami. Juan and Teresa provide a modicum of stability for Little in his otherwise neglected life with mother Paula (Naomie Harris), but disappointment is just a heartbeat away and soon he is left with just one satisfactory relationship, with playmate Kevin (Jaden Piner). In his teens, Little becomes known by his real name, Chiron (Ashton Sanders), and remains close to Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) but childhood traumas become teen traumas and you wonder when fate will finally deal him a winning hand.

‘Moonlight’ is a collaboration between Tarrell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play – ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ – on which it is based and Barry Jenkins, who jointly wrote the screenplay with McCraney as well as directing. The result is a powerful piece, with a poignancy that owes its existence to the credibility afforded by McCraney’s and Jenkins’ own childhood experiences, reflected in the movie. The film is split into three chapters of Chiron’s life and features three different actors playing him and also friend Kevin. Considering Jenkins ensured that Hibbert, Sanders and adult Chiron, known as ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes) did not meet until filming was complete, the continuity in characterisation is testament to Jenkins’ solid direction. Hibbert is an accepting Little and Piner plays the role of emotional lifeline in the shape of nine year old Kevin, sensitively. Sanders plays troubled teen Chiron with gravity, offset by Jerome’s cheeriness as teen Kevin. Rhodes’ measured mannerisms and perfect timing give Black a strength that makes you wonder if he is to be admired or feared and you concentrate all the more because of that; and also because the scriptwriters were economical with his lines. Andre Holland gives adult Kevin a gentle and giving personality who is happy with his lot. Ali and Monae are suitably saviour-like in their roles as Chiron’s role models, polarising Chiron’s mother, whose harrowing decline into crack addiction is admirably portrayed by Harris.

As is often the case with biographies, the plot lacks typical story structure. But the drama of Chiron’s life, coupled with a deliberate air of mystery ensures complete engagement throughout.

Visually, it is stunning. Cinematographer James Laxton worked hard to achieve Jenkins’ wishes regarding the depth of colour, given that he was working with an entirely black cast. And the close angle shots, giving away little information at times, along with some deliberately blurred shots, sharpen your senses and impart a surreal sense of realism. Using just a few pieces of covered music, composer Nicholas Britell is mostly responsible for the evocative mix of hip hop and classical music. The latter inspires a sense of pathos and also of acceptance on Chiron’s part; whilst the former lightens the mood and reflects the culture of the community.

Chiron’s first romantic encounter is a longed-for moment of real affection and is presented so perfectly on a moonlit beach. Highlighting some harsh realities of the world in which we live, ‘Moonlight’ offers redemption by playing out moments like these with such tangible tenderness, you cannot fail to be moved. This is not a movie to miss.

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor on February 24th 2017 at Cineworld, Brighton.

Dream

  

My earliest dream was to run a model shop. I used to spend my pocket money on rubber moulds and powdered Plaster of Paris and while away many a weekend making and painting a range of figures. It wasn’t an exciting dream – just an idle ponder on what life as a grown-up might have to offer. My imagined shop was a small, dark, old-fashioned affair, with the door at the side of the shop front, set at an angle from the pavement, with a step up to reach it. It was in an alleyway in a rather bohemian part of The Big Smoke and had a second-hand, antique feel to it. I was very young during this particular ponder – I was still in the ‘infants’ rather than the middle school of my primary education, so I was between the ages of 4 and 7. I have no idea from where the finer details of my shop arose! But the strangest part of my daydream is that I was a man. I didn’t wish to be a man; I just was, in this particular ponder. I watched Doctor Who from – well, I can’t remember the first time, so let’s say from birth – and my prophetic image of the future me was not unlike Jon Pertwee when he was the Doctor. I was tall and rather distinguished with a tail coat. I abandoned my hobby and subsequently my dream, when someone pointed out that I wasn’t really making the models, as I was using moulds and therefore there was little creativity involved. I did not cut myself any slack over this until years later, when helping ex-hubby paint his Warhammer 40,000 army and as the models are pre-cast, the premise is the same; yet it is indisputable that a well-painted army is the result of meticulous creativity. My next dream was to become a trapeze artist. I had never (and still have not) been within ten feet of a trapeze. My mother told me that I would have to join the circus and I said that every night at the end of my act, I would jump down onto the floor of the ring and do backflips all the way to the ringside, my final backflip being over the barrier and into a specially reserved seat, to join my family (who would come to watch me every night, of course). And then we would all go home and I would return the following morning to practise. I had no idea about the travelling nature of circuses, evidently. I told my sisters that I was going to build my own trapeze in the house on which to practise, by hanging a stick from the ceiling by 2 lengths of cotton.

“It will break,” Singing Sister pointed out.

“I can never break cotton,” I argued, feeling I had a watertight argument but slightly perturbed that she may be right.

In time, my career dreams became more traditional and after watching ‘Georgy Girl’ the thought of running my own nursery school became appealing.

My concerns about the future extended to the possibility of homelessness. I recall telling my mother that if I found myself in such a predicament, I would commit a small crime – enough to go to prison. But my mother knew me well (obviously) and when she told me that I would have to eat fried eggs for breakfast, I made a mental note not to become homeless and/or become a criminal.

Secondary school came and went and for the duration, I fancied medicine. But physics went from fairly logical to fairly bonkers overnight and chemistry introduced me to moles (the sort made of molecules, not fur) and so I abandoned the heady ambition of gaining qualifications in all three branches of science and therefore becoming a doctor. I had considered writing as a young child, but the compliments dried up on leaving primary school, so I figured that particular muse was not for me. I learnt the piano and seemed to pick it up quite easily, so developed a burning desire to become a piano teacher for a time … which never happened.

Like many people, I have memories of being bullied at school. The perpetrators were three brothers (not mine). Brother No 1 was two years older than me, Brother No 2 was a year older than me and Brother No 3, surprisingly, was a year younger than me. In fact, the whole scenario still surprises me. On reflection, it is safe to say that I was one of the quietest children in the whole school. And not only was I younger than two of the brothers, but coming from a family of petite people and being almost the youngest in the whole year with my end-of-August birthday, I was tiny in comparison with these hillbilly boys. It takes special kinds of bullishness and cowardice to bully someone so vulnerable, especially when the victim is outnumbered threefold. The only time a teacher got involved, was when I fought back one day and pulled the hair of one of them. One of their posse told a teacher, who came up behind me and pulled my long, blond ponytail so hard that I thought she might pull it off completely. Brother No 2 was the worst and I had this strange daydream that he would grow up to be my handsome prince, casting off his fairytale wickedness, realising that his true feelings were of deep love for me, his victim. That is the extent of my ‘getting married’ dream and I admit that it is an odd one. I did not like him any more than I liked his brothers and I marvel at this particular daydream; perhaps I longed for some kind of redemption on his part.

I never ran a model shop, but the idea of running a shop of sorts still appeals. A small cafe, maybe, but not yet. I never became a trapeze artist but I danced in shows right up until my mid-twenties, jazz and tap being my favourites. Alongside trapeze artistry, I also had a yearning to be a drum majorette as a young child and whereas this is another unfulfilled dream, I did have to be a pom-pom majorette for a show. So I wore the cute little white skirt with matching military-style white jacket, complete with band hat. I didn’t play a drum or twirl a baton but I had an incongruous amount of fun throwing those pom-poms! I ran a nursery school for the total of one year of my life and it wasn’t really like Georgy’s little drama concern in Georgy Girl. I’ve run countless drama concerns too – after-school, break-time, etc … and there are definite similarities with Georgy’s chaotic classes. I have remained with a home all my life and managed to avoid going to prison, so these are two dreams that have very much been fulfilled. I never had an overwhelming desire to be a teacher. I recall wanting to be like a trainee teacher who had a placement at my primary school once, but only because I liked her short, dark hair and her shoes, which were like adult versions of children’s Clarks school shoes.

By the time I needed to remove my head from the white fluff of childhood and seriously brood over a life plan, I wanted to be an actress. People told me I was good, but courses were not so readily available back then. So, being the pragmatic sort, I decided to become a teacher, with a view to pursuing the twinkly lights of stardom afterwards. It took four years to become a teacher, during which time I was driven to get to the top of my game in the world of amateur theatre. Opportunities that could have taken me from amateur to professional, presented themselves to me, like touring with a production company, playing Alice in Alice in Wonderland … but I was in the middle of my final teaching placement, so I told myself that I couldn’t waste four years of study and that another opportunity would come along. Next was an invite to play at the Edinburgh Festival … but I was newly-wed to a jealous husband and I foolishly succumbed to his insecurities and rejected the offer. Again, I told myself that there would be more opportunities … after all, these ones had found me rather than vice versa, so perhaps I would go looking for some opportunities when the time was right. But I didn’t and when the third (and final) opportunity came along – another invite to the Edinburgh Festival – and I sabotaged that one too, it was time to accept that maybe this was not my trajectory after all.

For years I wished that I’d taken that scary jump into the unknown and at least had a go. I don’t have any regrets now. I’ve played countless parts in countless plays. I’ve sung and danced in many a musical. I’ve compèred in The Dome and in The Brighton Centre. From childhood right into my 30s, the theatre was where I felt I belonged. Now, not so much. Now, the occasional Open Mic session in a pub with an acoustic guitar accompanying me whilst I sing, is the nearest I get to performing. I like the lack of commitment; the rehearsals tailor-made for me and whoever is accompanying me at the next Open Mic; not having to learn lines and the informal approach to performing in a pub as opposed to the formalities of performing in a theatre. And actually, in retrospect, I did become an actress. When I compèred big shows in the Centre and the Dome, I shared dressing rooms with the likes of Bonnie Langford and Lesley Joseph, whilst my male counterparts shared dressing rooms with the likes of Frankie Howerd and Patrick Moore (as some of you may know, he was a whizz on the xylophone/glockenspiel as well as on a telescope!) and once, I had this moment of clarity. Without wishing to deny these talented people credit, we offered much more of our performing selves to these shows. Rarely did we compères just compere; usually we swapped our fancy frocks/tuxedos at some point for some showbizzy cossie like top hat and tails to join in with a big ensemble number like ‘One’, whilst the ‘stars’ were probably packing their gear and heading out through the stage door. (Some of them stayed on for the after-show party – Sylvester McCoy was a bit of a party animal!) On reflection, how can I possibly think that my dream of smearing my face with greasepaint and donning a glittering array of costumes under the searing heat of stage lights is not fulfilled? The word ‘amateur’ is commonly used to describe someone who is still learning a discipline and therefore not particularly skilled. However, the provenance of the word lies in the Latin for love: ‘amor’. So an amateur is a person who indulges in a hobby out of love for said hobby, rather than for a tangible reward such as money. There is no suggestion that an amateur is less proficient than a professional and if you have ever had any involvement in amateur theatre, then your experiences will evidence this for sure. Perhaps our teasing nickname of ‘luvvy’ has more depth than previously thought!

As you, reader, will realise from reading this, I write. I’ve dipped in and out of writing throughout my life, but now it has become more serious. I have my day job of being an English teacher still, but for the last year, I have devoted more and more of my spare time to writing: this blog, film reviews, music reviews, short stories and the novel whose nickname has become Neverending Story. I shelved the dream of becoming a writer when I left primary school, as my secondary school teachers did not seem as enthralled by my literary offerings as my primary school teachers had been. A lecturer complimented me in my final year on my essay writing and suggested a career in journalism, but it was too little, too late. How different my life might have been, if I had listened to him. Again, I have no regrets; teaching is hugely fulfilling but I’m enjoying this current change in direction. I do not have a regular teaching job, for the first time in … a long time! But I do supply teaching, which is varied and (almost) pays the bills. With little marking or planning to do, I have more time to indulge in writing and attending gigs and current movies for reviewing purposes (and because I like doing those things anyway). So the writing dream has become a reality, even though it was a rainbow that was not currently on my list to chase. I feel more as if I took a wrong turning and there it was …

I did not marry the school bully. In fact, I had the misfortune to find myself the object of his affection at a party around a decade ago. I recognised him instantly, even though time and substance abuse had ravaged his outward appearance. He started to talk to me, in that manner that indicates rising levels of interest, much like a male rat in mating season. My fascination with his worn out face, with his self-belief in the face of adversity, with his smile – no, his leer – which was repulsively gleeful at the thought that I might be interested in him, with the length of time our eyes were locked in engagement (the longest ever – I never remember his eye catching mine during said bullying) and the strange sensation of finally gaining superiority over this repellant man whose playground bullying had turned into far more nefarious activities in adulthood, could have been mistaken for romantic interest.

“Can I have your number?” his voice broke the silence of the misinterpreted gaze.

For a moment I was devoid of speech and even thought. After years of planning what I would say, given the opportunity, all I could think of was:

“You bullied me at school.”

“He’s changed!” his friend (acquaintance? Do people capable of such terrible deeds have the capacity for friendship?) defended him.

“No, he hasn’t. I know he hasn’t,” I said to ‘friend’, “I know about him,” which I did.

“So you’re not giving me your number?” his resilience and lack of humility was startling.

“No,” I replied and left.

And that was – the unremarkable – it.

I don’t recall ever having a fairytale wedding dream and being rather lacking in self-confidence in my teen years, when it came to the opposite sex, I didn’t dare to daydream about a happily ever after with a soulmate. I pursued a hobby in the theatre which provided little scope for meeting soulmates, although coincidentally provided much scope for make-believe in meeting soulmates. However, I have succeeded in securing two failed marriages but as they are in fact failed, I think I can argue that neither provided me with a soulmate. The first did provide me with two awesome children though, so definitely no regrets there. With a capital ‘d’. Well, ‘D’, I guess. So ‘Definitely’.

Since the failure of the second one, I have mused over the topic of soulmates from time-to-time. My solitude was an alien feeling after he left and so after a respectable period of mourning (two months) I started dating. And then I wondered why I was dating. I was happy pursuing pastimes on my own and if I happened to meet someone then … great. If I didn’t … still great. I did meet someone and devoted half my blog to him, retrospectively, when it transpired that he was a complete bounder.

Then I met someone else.

Like I say, I never daydreamed about the ‘happily ever after’ but I have come to realise that this is not because I never wanted it. I did want it but I have never believed that it would happen. Someone told me once that when I am in a play, I am ‘in the zone’. This is true; maybe a part of me never fully grew up and that part of me still needs a bit of make-believe, which is why I have to do my best to be my character. Acting has given me several lifetimes of ‘happily ever after’ as well as several lifetimes of other character’s lives and emotions that my own life isn’t long enough to house. Reading and indulging in entertainment such as plays and movies are also capable of giving a person enough make-believe to compensate for any lack of happy endings in one’s own life.

And I lived happily ever after, forever and ever with the souliest mate imaginable. Well, I didn’t. But it turns out that I am a writer, so I can write my own happy ending.

I will keep you posted …

Split

Genre: Thriller

Certification: 15

Length: 1hr 57mins

Three pretty schoolgirls on the cusp of adulthood – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) – are abducted. Imprisoned, they fear the worst, but occasional bafflement provides some light relief from their understandable hysteria, when their captor, Kevin (James McAvoy), cycles through different personalities during his visits to the girls. It quickly transpires that he is suffering from a mental illness (dissociative identity disorder) and we are privy to his regular therapy sessions, presenting himself to his therapist (Betty Buckley) also, as a range of differing personalities. As the plot deepens, so his story is revealed but unexpectedly, Casey’s story also.

I have no doubt that McAvoy relished in the opportunity to play multiple parts in one hit. However, to do this well, requires commitment, experience and expertise and could have easily remained an unfulfilled challenge. To successfully develop the character of a main protagonist, one usually has the luxury of sticking with one personality and the end result is a depth that is, one hopes, tangible to the audience. But to develop a character that has multiple personalities is a big ask. Director M. Night Shyamalan did not expect McAvoy to display all 24 of Kevin’s personalities, but he did require him to bring several of Kevin’s alter egos to our attention and he does so, admirably. Providing some comedy moments with Hedwig, a child; Patricia, an older lady and Barry, best described as your favourite gay hairdresser, ‘Split’ is almost a one-man show with McAvoy taking centre-stage.

Richardson and Sula portray two teenage schoolgirls as you would expect. With typically perfect make-up, hair and clothes, they do a good job of conveying childlike innocence whilst seeming as helpless as baby rabbits in the headlights of an oncoming car. Casey emerges as the atypical teenage girl, with her own backstory to rival Kevin’s and Taylor-Joy brings intelligent reflection to her character, which moves cleverly from the background, as the quiet girl, to the foreground, as the one you secretly wager might just make it out alive. The implication that both Casey and Kevin have been on both sides of a ‘hunt’ is reflected in the current situation, where she and her friends are clearly victims of a hunt.

The abduction/imprisonment premise has been a popular one in recent years, so the success of such a story is dependent upon a twist; a difference; a crazy subplot. Shyamalan brings these secret ingredients to his tale of horror and the result is a movie that pushes you to the last inch of your seat. Graphic detail, though inhumanly horrific, is sparse but the continued threat of possible outcomes makes for a tense two hours.

Mental health experts may disapprove of the portrayal of this condition which is understandable; but one could argue that Kevin is a criminal who happens to have a disorder (or vice versa) and just as some people with no mental health issues are criminals, surely some people with mental health issues are criminals?

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor, January 2017 at Cineworld, Brighton.

A Monster Calls

Genre: Fantasy

Certification: 12A

Length: 1hr 48mins

Twelve year old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is having a pretty rough time. Family is one very poorly mum (Felicity Jones), an absent dad (Toby Kebbell) and a highly-strung grandma (Sigourney Weaver). Throw in a few school bullies and life becomes decidedly bleak. Then, one night, a monster (Liam Neeson) calls … with his gigantic form of intertwined twigs and fearsome eyes that flash with angry flames, he presents as another problem – albeit a rather spectacular one – to add to the list of little Conor’s woes. But Conor secretly anticipates the monster’s visits with suppressed eagerness, so is he as monstrous as first impressions suggest?

MacDougall gives a highly emotive performance, mature beyond his years. Conor is a quiet, reflective child, visibly worn down by the burden of a terminally ill mother, whose gift of the only fulfilling relationship Conor has, is made bittersweet by her illness. MacDougall manifests Conor’s anger, optimism and sheer distress flawlessly and succeeds in allowing differing emotions to spill into each other.

Jones is sweet and natural as Lizzie, Conor’s mum and imparts a pathos without being over-sentimental. The two actors work well together, displaying the close and easy relationship that is surely intended. Having warmed to Conor, it is inevitable that one will not warm to his spiky grandma, so frostily played by Weaver, but with a foreshadowing hint of warmth. Kebbell pops up as ‘Dad’ and does a good job of the loveable but unreliable parent.

But imagination is at the heart of this movie and it turns out that it is full of life, passion and creativity. The monster is lifted directly from Patrick Ness’s award-winning book of the same name, courtesy of talented artist Jim Kay and director J.A. Bayona presents him magnificently, even taking care with the sounds of his dry twigs that comprise his body. Pitched somewhere between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Pan from Pan’s Labyrinth, Neeson is scary yet comforting; grumpy yet caring; confusing yet knowing. With themes of loneliness and parallels between the real world and the fantasy world, the comparison with Pan’s Labyrinth does not end there, but find out for yourself.

Lastly, special mention must go to the animation department. The telling of tales is magically presented with delicate, flowing animation. This is the trump card of ‘A Monster Calls’ and where the movie excels. Pastel shades and simple outlines give the animated characters a unique beauty and the continuity between scenes within tales is the work of quirkily creative minds.

A gentle fantasy tale, ‘A Monster Calls’ throws into doubt the conventions of that well-known and beloved genre of fairy-tales, yet clearly takes its inspiration from there. And the monster throws everything into doubt for Conor, including reality, as he deals with the latter’s suspicions:

“What is a dream, Conor O’Malley? Who is to say that it is not everything else that is the dream?”

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor, January 2017 at Cineworld, Brighton.