No Title Given

Some of you may have heard of Internations, a global social networking group which is active in many countries throughout the world, including Oman. I joined because a friend invited me to a Karaoke night and it was easier if I joined, rather than attended as her guest. I did not use my membership to its full advantage, mostly because I prefer less contrived ways of pursuing enjoyable interests and meeting like-minded people.

For those who do not know me or who are new to my blog, I took myself off to the dusty heat of Arabia between 2017 and 2019, after having secured a two-year contract to work in Oman. Put simply, it was a blast. I started blogging my adventure, but when I realised I was living what had been a lifelong pipedream (or, to fully embrace the culture, a shishadream), I closed the laptop and lived in the moment for two years. Blogging my time there would not do it justice. The book is in progress, readers.

Spring 2018. Still winter in Oman, which is like a British summer. Unusually, I had booked a place at an Internations event which was the grand opening of a new hotel. In true Omani style, it was not just aesthetically pleasing, it was aesthetically knock-you-off-your-feet dazzling and feel underdressed even if you were in a ballgown. Oman is still catching up with the Western world. In many ways it does not wish to catch up, as it has its own culture, traditions and religion. However, ex-pats are needed for their expertise and so an amount of westernisation is necessary, if they are to be lured into overseas jobs. Also, the tourist industry is on the incline, in preparation for the inevitable decline in the oil industry. The point is, when there is something new in Oman, the bells and whistles are melodious, harmonious and clean as a – well, whistle.

The rooftop of this sparkly venue was warm (expected) and fragrant. I collected my free drink and wandered around the edges, taking in the view of other shiny venues, brand new roads boasting several lanes and in the distance, a skyline of mountain silhouettes. At some point I turned around to face the other attendees and soon found myself indulging in repetitive party talk. ‘One hour tops,’ I told that anti-social part of me that was bored already and indeed, at that magic hour, I asked the hotel to call a taxi for me. Then a charming man (we will call him Floyd J Kasembe), sporting a suit in an elegant shade of blue, started chatting. He told me that he worked in the Tanzanian embassy in Muscat. I told him that I worked in a school in Muscat and that I had just called a cab. We swapped numbers and I went home.

We dated for a couple of weeks and he continued to be charming. I spent those two weeks pondering on my feelings for this man. He was smiley, chatty and polite but unlike the hotel where we met, he failed to dazzle. I visited his apartment after a week, on the clear understanding that we were still only friends. Upon arrival, he clearly found this concept challenging but accepted it nonetheless and we even managed to laugh about it. After another week, he invited me to his apartment again.

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ I asked, with a suspicious smile.

‘It is fine,’ he replied with a reciprocal smile, ‘I know the boundaries!’

And off we went to his apartment.

He might have known the boundaries but he crossed them anyway. He was lean, muscular and easily overpowered me. The feeling that someone is about to force you into something of the most intimate nature against your will, is bleak. The realisation that it is actually happening and you are, simply, too weak to stop it, is akin to your soul being scooped out, teaspoon by teaspoon, until it is all gone and you have nothing left. I could see a photograph of his young daughter on the far wall of the room. After the obvious invocations, such as desperate pleas to stop, if not for me then for his own sake and so on, had not worked, I cried that he should think of his daughter. I am somebody’s daughter I told him. Don’t be this person – does your daughter deserve that I asked him. He said nothing. It was as if he heard nothing. I looked at his eyes and they seemed to see nothing. Look at me! I shouted. He seemed to feel nothing until it was ending. I would never get back what he had taken. But then a new fear exploded right inside my heart, I believe. What would he do with me now? I wanted to get so far away from him that I would have needed a rocket to achieve such a distance. Instead, I stayed very still and a small voice said:


As a single white female in a country that – despite its continued efforts to give women more power and value – still did not place women on equal footing with men, I did not feel inclined to report this despicable act. And after 7 months of living in a faraway place, I had not yet formed a strong enough bond with any one person to entrust such confidences. However, I returned home to the UK for the next school holiday and sought out a trusted friend on whom to offload. I don’t want to know he stated, over my opening gambit of Cris, a bad thing happened to me in Oman. Nothing more was said, but clearly he knew what I was going to tell him. Is that not the worst part? Just as I have done here, I would have spared him any detail. In fact, there would have been a tenth of the detail conveyed here. Given that clearly he knew what the bad thing was, it hurts to this day that there was no compassion shown. Intentionally or not, he made me feel as if I had done the bad thing. I understand that it is difficult to hear bad things, but I thought I had chosen someone who would prioritise friendship over his own comfort. I moved on and reached out to another trusted friend. Gareth, can I tell you about something that happened to me in Oman? I’d rather you didn’t, he replied. Just as with Cris, I said no more, but this compounded the original hurt with Cris tenfold. I considered the first rejection unfortunate, but the second chipped away at the last remaining shred of self-respect remining within me, after the brutal removal some months earlier.

Consequently, I buried the trauma deep inside my psyche and endeavoured to continue with 2018 as if it was still one long, unbroken line of harmony. As my doctor in Oman had informed me I had stupidly high blood pressure and even stupidly higher cholesterol, I continued with a healthier lifestyle of regular exercise and a frugal diet. Yet I felt ill and tired most days. Eventually I paid my UK doctor a visit and she asked many lifestyle questions and a few surprising ones, like had I had a relationship with someone from an African subcontinent? I said that I had not and she arranged for a very general blood test. I thanked her, smiled and rose to leave the room. I stopped as I reached the door.

‘Is everything ok?’ she asked, as I turned round to face her.

‘I was raped by a man from Tanzania 5 months ago.’

I had buried this so deeply that I did not even make rational decisions afterwards, like having an HIV test. It did not even occur to me that my chronic fatigue could be due to HIV infection. It did not even pop into my brain when she mentioned African subcontinents. She was the first person I told and it was the first time I applied the word ‘rape’ to what had happened to me. She was visibly shocked but not in a judgmental fashion. She was kind, caring and compassionate. I pity the patients after me that day, because she supported me until my tear ducts ran dry. If only I had known that a virtual stranger would have given me so much more support than two close friends.

But now I had to face a new fear. It was just a couple of days before I was able to get an HIV blood test, but long enough for me to feel desperate. I reached out to a friend who lives with HIV. His love and support was tangible, but when I received the negative result, I felt a mix of elation that I was not infected and guilt that he still had his diagnosis. He laughed when I told him. You’re clear! Celebrate! I’m so relieved for you!

I did celebrate. A bit too hard. Here in the UK. Back in Oman. It went on a bit too long. I was partying harder than I had ever partied. I was still running every day, though. Never mind ‘couch to 5k’, I was running 10k every day after work in temperatures between 30C and 40C. I seemed to be able to drink and not suffer a hangover. A friend told me I was continuously sweating out the toxins with my running! With hindsight, I realise that this was not a continuation of a celebration; moreover, it was a response to the stripping out of my sense of worth. I continued to run because it seemed to stave off the hangovers. I was not in control. I had always been able to have fun without the excesses of drinking.

I stumbled across a wonderful live music scene of which I became a part and as a result, I also became part of a solid, yet fun, friendship group of beautiful, like-minded musical souls. Gigs and open mics were a weekly event and house-parties were almost as common an occurrence. It was at one such party that I drank too much for the last time. I did not pass out inebriated, but as I had seemed unable to resist the full-bodied notes of a fine Merlot, I accepted the host’s offer to stay over instead of driving home. A handsome Omani (we will call him Azaan) who was a commander in the Royal Oman Navy had gone to some efforts to woo me for much of the evening and despite his charm, good looks and high rank, I was not interested in anything beyond friendship. I was surprised that he followed me upstairs when I headed off to my temporary accommodation for the night. He informed me that he was staying over also and would be in the room next to mine. At the same time I noticed that he had a glass of wine in each hand. As I looked he laughed and said:

‘Oh – sorry – you must be wondering why I brought your unfinished wine up! I thought we could finish it here … ?’

I was quite tired but I agreed to spend another 10/15 minutes chatting and sipping red wine in his room.

I recall putting the wine down after about 5 minutes and saying I felt very tired and needed to go to my room. I recall him laughing and saying I had barely touched my wine. He added that I could sleep in his room. I was perched on the edge of one of two single beds but near the top where the pillows were. He leaned forward from the other single bed, propped the pillow against the wall and told me to rest my head.

I suspect I was asleep seconds later as I recall nothing else, until I awoke to this evidently charming, but actually vile, man on top of me. I was no longer perched on the edge of the bed, with my head resting on a pillow against the wall, but lying down. I do not know how long this situation had been going on, but with the memory of failing to overpower my previous attacker resurfacing, I froze for a moment and pretended to be sleeping still. Taking him by surprise, I succeeded, with one colossal shove, in pushing him off me.

My reaction was identical. Reporting it was futile, especially when it involved a highly regarded member of the military. I did have good friends, but unlike Floyd, Azaan commanded more respect than he deserved within this friendship group and I was a relative newcomer. It remained locked away, like the last one, until around a month ago. I visited Oman and was reunited with a dear friend. We had one of those nights where there simply is not enough time to say everything that needs to be said and you have to stay up till 4am. Much was covered, from not sleeping for the whole night to why did you and Jonathon break up? And then – the time seemed right – I unlocked the box containing ‘the Azaan secret’. I chose well, this time. She showed me more compassion than I could have imagined. And she has experienced worse in her life. And now I know why I struggle to sleep for the whole night.

Last year I was studying for a post-grad qualification and within one of the many modules was a reference to the Johari Window, which is a visual representation of what we know about ourselves and what others know about us:

I hate what those men did to me. I have a new facet now. This new facet can be quite dark, quite sad and quite angry. I try very hard to keep it under wraps, because it was borne out of things that are quite firmly in the bottom left hand corner of the Johari Window. Unless I am willing to share my experiences with friends and family, I cannot inflict the darkness, sadness and anger of this new facet upon them. But perhaps I have taken the first step towards moving these secrets from ‘Façade’ to ‘Arena’ (see above), by writing this. I will not be sharing this post elsewhere, so my audience is limited. It is a start.


A Beautiful Thing

Breezing down Sultan Kaboos (Street), one typically sultry evening in Oman, sometime in 2018, my charismatic date (one whom I would, in time, consider The One, despite my lack of current relationship with him), remarked that I had said ‘a beautiful thing’.

Muscat from the mountains. At any given time, around 50% of the cars on that mountain road are there because they took a wrong turning. You have to go all the way to the top before coming back down …

We had just survived a minor skirmish which involved some shoes. I forget exactly what part the shoes played, but they were an incidental element of the argument and were entirely blameless. However, we liked each other a great deal (The One and I – not the shoes and I) – despite the occasional fiery episode – and so relations returned to warmth and heartiness within seconds. (And he had the warmest, heartiest voice I have ever heard at close range.) Also, we had a booking at an acclaimed Thai restaurant and we were both very hungry. The ‘beautiful thing’ that I said, was that I had, thus far, done everything I wanted to do in my life. Please don’t let me be misunderstood (apologies to ‘The Animals’ and Regina Spektor); I was not announcing ‘mission accomplished’. Moreover, I was feeling at peace with my past and even basking a little, in the warm glow of my own reflections as I pictured myself trailblazing through the diverse jungle of my own life, sometimes planning, sometimes winging it, embracing all of its twists and turns, even when they weren’t in the game plan, with wide-eyed anticipation for the rest of the adventure. This is not said in arrogance, but gratitude – I am not suggesting I am a trailblazer for anyone’s life but my own. My life suits me and not necessarily anyone else. But I am grateful that at some point in my life I learnt that mostly, ‘doing’ is better than ‘doing nothing’.

Salalah Land

As the youngest in my family, I am fortunate to have learnt to ride at a very young age. I cannot remember the first time I rode, as I rode (I believe) from around the age of three. On the one hand, I do not recall any intense emotions of excitement or anticipation; but on the other hand, I do not recall any fear, which is just as well, as I fell off a lot. It never occurred to me to not remount my feisty steed, because I was young and obedient. Despite the lack of emotional intensity within these recollections, I certainly enjoyed riding and I suspect that my acceptance of the whole shebang – with or without any real understanding of why I was sitting atop an almighty beast that seemed to me have his own agenda – has played some part in my approach to general stuff throughout my life. Given my shyness when my age was still in single figures (and some way into the ‘double-figure’ years), I am grateful for the lessons that riding taught me. That, and my mother’s persuasion to ‘do’ rather than ‘not do’. Also, my father’s assertion that ‘you’re halfway along the road to success once you’ve decided to do it’.

Pleased I haven’t fallen off yet

Fast forward a little and we leave the horses’ field and enter the theatre. (The horses remained in our lives, in fact, but I thought that flowed well.) I have three sisters and all four of us attended ballet and tap dancing lessons. Tap was great. Ballet was not. When you’re three years old, expectations are low. In fact, if you screw up in a show, the audience will adore you (unlike our dancing teacher). But as you grow up, ballet becomes less fun and more of a discipline and eventually, I was allowed to give it up, because I wasn’t that good at it anyway and just tap, which I loved to do. It turned out that a deal had been struck, when I was around three years old, that we could have horses if we all attended ballet lessons. It seems a lot happened when I was three and whereas I had no voice in this deal, I’m happy about all those lessons and shows – yes, the ballet as well! – because without a good portion of my childhood being spent in the theatre, my head would never have been turned towards those dazzling stage lights. Plus – along with my new passion for piano-playing – it was a distraction from schoolwork, which was burdensome, on account of attending an academic yet progressive establishment and being required to read an impossible amount of books every term that not only weighed heavy in my school bag, at any given time, but also on my conscience.

A childhood dream fulfilled. I had longed to be a drum majorette for so long. Technically, I am a pom-pom majorette here, but I figured it would do. (Show nerds: it is ‘Before the Parade Passes By’ from ‘Hello Dolly’, The Dome, Brighton.)

Despite my family being seven-strong, we holidayed regularly in Wales, Cornwall, Devon … I recall bouncing over the Yorkshire Dales once, feeling like I might see James Herriot at any moment! Holidays became more exotic as we grew up and our parents introduced us to Provence, the French Riviera and I think I remember nipping over the border to Italy on one occasion.

Eyeing up the yachts in Monte Carlo. Got my bag packed and everything.

‘You should go back to acting!’ people say.

‘Why should I?’ I reply.

I discovered I had a bit of a knack for acting when I was a teenager. Hitherto, my theatrical experiences had involved dancing and some singing, but here was something that not only did I enjoy, but also attracted praise. And a lifetime (ok, several years) of Latin tutelage and therefore learning Latin poetry by heart, had equipped me with transferable skills for learning whopping big parts. From plays in local village halls, my sister and I moved onto big musicals in town and from there, I moved onto a scaled-down version of a complete theatre, staging high-quality productions. *CLICHÉ ALERT* The theatre became my life. (Sorry.) While I was studying for my degree, at any given time I was usually rehearsing for multiple productions, or maybe hosting a big event as well as working in a bar to fund my student life, which had started to include annual trips to snowy peaks on which to ski. This always happened in the French Alps, although I couldn’t help getting a kick out of skiing up to the Swiss or Italian border wherever possible. I think it gave me a strange Julie Andrews moment, but not once did I feel the urge to belt out an instruction to ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. (Yes, I know ‘The Sound of Music’ was set in Austria and not France; it’s about borders … )

The Accrington Pals

My acting continued with some earnest for another couple of decades, alongside my career as an English teacher, but my two favourite achievements during this time (and during every time, in fact) were, of course, (and still are) my children. As any fellow parent would concur, one’s children are one’s priority, especially during their formative years and I especially wanted my children to have the opportunity to experience an abundance of pursuits, from karate to playing the harp and many other random hobbies along the way. (The only pursuit I insisted they undertook was swimming and I wonder whether their adult psyches now appreciate this insistence!) I even gave my services to their school as a peripatetic Latin teacher, so that they would gain some understanding of the subject. Their dad and I took them on winter skiing holidays and summer beach holidays in S. Wales, from where my family hails. Then hubby’s job took him around the globe and we visited him accordingly, from the Middle East to the shores of Scotland or the sand dunes of Lytham St Anne’s. Sometimes, I visited him alone, for example, when he was working in New York and in those pre-9/11 times, it’s a surreal thought that we stayed in a hotel in-between the Twin Towers. Then the invites dwindled … but really it was our relationship that was dwindling and the dwindle became a long, procrastinated divorce.

Modelling cutting edge C&A skiwear in the French Alps

But I had become accustomed to keeping my passport valid, which was useful for the burgeoning need to take students abroad for residential trips: France, Belgium, Poland … My temporary dalliance with the teaching of history broadened the scope for interesting school trips! Plus a trip to Finland with the children, as the divorce progressed, to look for Santa. We found him, along with huskies and reindeer and warming Finnish food. Light relief from the Somme, Ypres, Auschwitz and Birkenau (actually, the last two I visited completely alone, to check them out for school trips. I’m sure there is more to Poland, but that’s all the school paid for). Now the random interchange about returning to acting becomes relevant. At this time, my interest waned. I was single and working long hours at a boarding school and alongside English I was teaching Drama, with associated responsibilities such as Speech & Drama exams and school productions. Ergo, it follows that when I was not working, I wanted to be with my children who were hurtling towards their teen years at a ridiculous rate. The last time I acted, it was paid work for a large well-known company and it was lucrative, enjoyable and short. I have no desire to ‘smear my face with paint’ and I would not enjoy a ‘demi-mondy role’ (apologies to Oscar Hammerstein). I do not feel sad; conversely, I rejoice in the many years of exploring different personalities, situations and emotions, who have, undoubtedly, helped to shape the person I am. Furthermore, making people laugh, cry, recoil (or shocked at how little you’re wearing) gives you a buzz that you can live on for days, as well as the depth of camaraderie one feels with one’s fellow thespians. And where would I be without my healthy obsession with Tennessee Williams?

The Menin Gate

Firmly settled in teenland, my children hoofed it to a variety of wonderful destinations on school trips. Hence trips abroad en famille lessened, as there was not an infinite amount of holiday money. We managed a trip to Australia (with a pit-stop at Singapore) to visit friends and similarly, trips to France, also to visit friends, in the mountains above Nice and also the breathtaking beauty of the sunflower fields and lakes of central France. Scotland beckoned once more and by now, I had remarried. I don’t know why this is important to me – but for some reason it is – that I have walked along the shores of Loch Lomond with two different husbands! In fact, walking and general tree-hugging had become a common past-time for us whilst the children pursued teenage things like doing exams, going out and other such hobbies like drumming, singing and bashing out the South Downs Way. But while I was catching my breath after the onset of their teen years, they were preparing to go to university. Travelling abroad with me and the children was not an activity that second hubby particularly welcomed, so I booked a week in the Canary Isles as a send-off for my eldest child before waving him off for three years of academia. In a year, I perused, I’ll be waving off my youngest child.

No really, it was terrifying. We spent 10 hours trying to leave that forest and I was chased by 2 slavering beasts of dogs.

This I did. But six weeks later, I waved off second hubby also, who decided that he would like to leave home too. This is where my blog started. January 2016 – just over a year after he left – I wrote my first blog post: ‘Life’. If I was the Queen, I would have named the ensuing year my ‘annus horribilis’, but I’m not the Queen, so I’ll settle for telling you that it was dramatic and tumultuous. Much happened: a failed Ofsted; a lingering chest infection; two health scares; a broken arm and surgery; debts; a destructive relationship; a crisis-ridden trip to Amsterdam and the threat of redundancy. However, I also had a great skiing holiday with the children, some hilarious Tinder experiences, a foray into the live music scene in Brighton (as both spectator and performer!), a whole new friendship group, the beginning of a wonderful relationship (even if it was the one that eventually sent me running for the sands of Arabia for two years!), my permanent status within a fantasy roleplay group, my return to writing, the start of my sideline in editing and proofreading and the beginning of my li’l film appreciation society (complete with big screen for weekly viewings). **Followers of my film reviews, they have a new home on this glitzy website: **

‘It wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me’

And then there was Oman. It began with a 12h drive down to Yemen with the fab four (well, up to the border! And technically the fab three, unless I include myself, as the fifth female flew there) and ended with a 5h drive to Dubai. And lots of driving in-between. (Turns out I love driving. Especially alone. Actually I knew this already.) But I can’t put two years of another life into a blog post. My stories of deserts, mountains, boats, singing and my incredible Arabian life with all the peaks, troughs and hilarious/terrifying stories in-between will have to wait. I returned to the UK in time for COVID (!) and a friend of around 40 years recently described me to a friend of theirs, as someone who had ‘settled down young‘ and ‘never travelled‘, adding ‘Lisa isn’t like us‘ just to compound the exclusion all the more.

Firstly, use of the word ‘us’ is exclusive and especially cruel because of the nature of the statement. The expression ‘settled down’ is archaic, patronising and smacks of misogyny. However, given that the term is intended to mean that someone has married and had children, then yes, I did do those things at a young age. I decry use of the expression ‘settled down’, however, as I imagine a person sitting in an armchair to eat biscuits for the rest of their life whilst wearing American Tan tights, sensible shoes and a twin-set (woman) or sensible shoes and a tweed suit (man). The statement, ‘never travelled,’ is stated as if it is a result of the preceding statement, yet why is travel seen as off-limits if you have married and had your children at a young age? I have travelled. I haven’t travelled like my friend of 40 years has travelled, because his job has taken him abroad regularly. But given that I don’t have one of those jobs, I think I’ve managed to pack in (no pun intended) a fair amount of travel, including moving abroad for two years, as a single white female in an Arab country. But what if I hadn’t? What difference would it make? Are people to be judged on how much they have travelled? I have many experiences from my travels worthy of regaling: a mash-up of beautiful, astounding, hilarious, petrifying and life-changing. I also have a similar mash-up of phenomenal life experiences from right here, on the shores of my homeland. Obviously, they aren’t all here; I may not be famous, but like most people, were I to write my memoirs, it would become a hefty tome.

Love this pic I took on the last leg of one of my journeys from the UK to Oman. Made up for the 7h layover at Dubai, which is literally 1h from Muscat by plane. Could have driven there and back in 7 hours …

I stand by what I said to The One in Oman … I’m living in the moment, whilst remaining in love with my past and excited for my future. And The One is the kind of person I want in my life: someone who listens to me, who sees my attributes, who builds me up. Someone asked me what was on my bucket list. Apologies for being a pedant, but ‘bucket list’ is crass, negative and devoid of originality. It’s down there with the likes of ‘settling down’. (Friend of 40 years, there would be a teacher-student conversation about this, if I caught such idioms skulking around an exercise book.) I replied that I don’t have one, just vague ideas swilling round my head about things I’d like to do and places I’d like to visit. I prefer it like that. I’ve done ok, thanks, so far without one and anyway, as Robert Burns said:

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain’.

Lovin’ it at Sifah

And So It Begins …

Sunday August 20th … first day of term.

The latest we could arrive at school was 7.30, so I intended to arrive even earlier at 7am, knowing that in time this may change. I decided to leave at around 6.30 – it was a fifteen minute drive but I had not encountered rush hour traffic yet and it was easy to imagine all six lanes of the Expressway rammed at every interchange. So I was up at 5.30, my alarm having gently eased me into the waking world from 5am onwards.

Confident that I could find my way, yet nervous at the prospect of meeting the students (I don’t know why this should be so concerning, but it is) I made my way down to the parking lot to my humble Hyundai steed. On the one hand, I liked that it was a pale blue hatchback, whereas all the other hire cars were white saloon cars; on the other hand, I felt it reflected my obstinacy over the price (I knocked them down by OMR 20 – or rather, Helpful Head did when I raised an eyebrow over the price). My hunch that I had, indeed, been fobbed off with an inferior car, was affirmed when I tried to open the driver’s door and the handle parted company from the door and I found myself standing in the parking lot, holding a car door handle and staring at my door which looked strangely naked without its handle.

Another thing that was not in the game plan.

So I climbed across from the passenger side and worried less about meeting the students on my journey to work and more about finding my way back to the car hire place. I was wishing that I had taken more notice of the journey there, as a passenger in Helpful Head’s car; I should have foreseen something falling off this slightly ropey car.

But ‘first day stress’ replaced ‘detached door handle stress’ on my arrival at work. I clocked in by way of the fingerprint machine and felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Total Recall’. I’m sure I am alone in this – the rest of the world has probably been clocking in with fingerprint machines since before the movie even.

In honour of our first day there was a stand set up with mini jars of sweets, scented candles and cute little smiley emoji tins with our names on, which was thoughtful. In honour of the students’ arrival there was a popcorn stand and a candy floss stall. I am fairly certain that no school in the U.K. would consider such a thing for even a moment, on the first day of term. I was tempted by the candy floss but in the absence of any other teacher evidently tempted, I (very maturely I thought) sailed past said stall. As I took my ‘homeroom’ group to my classroom, I spotted one or two teachers chomping away on the heavenly pink stuff …

Homeroom groups are tutor groups. As is the way with secondary teaching, one does not necessarily see a great deal of one’s homeroom/tutor group. The principle task is to register them in the morning. Secondary to that is to act as a mentor for each student within the group and following on from that, one finds oneself ‘carrying the can’ for their conduct and therefore liaising with parents when necessary. Not forgetting those all-important tutor reports; just when you think you’re done with report writing, because you’ve written all your reports of the thousands of students you teach (well, it feels like that) someone says, “Have you done your tutor reports?”

Anyway, I digress. With six Grade 9 boys (13-14 years) in my homeroom group, I think I have the smallest homeroom group in the school. Some homeroom groups are 20+, so I am fortunate, especially as they are all, without exception, wonderful. Boys and girls are separated for lessons and for break-times. There is not the space for the latter, however, so they take their breaks at different times. My school is both a lower and an upper school on the same site and the younger contingency are not separated by gender and so take their breaks together.

On the first day I spent a considerable amount of time with my homeroom group and I met some of my teaching groups. I would be teaching Grade 9 boys, Grade 9 girls, Grade 10 boys and Grade 10 girls, so the two top year groups in the school (GCSEs are taken a year earlier here). We had been warned that students would arrive ‘in dribs and drabs’ for the first few weeks and indeed this was a fair warning. So the pressure was off initially, as no-one wanted to launch into anything that would have to be repeated for the latecomers, of whom there were many.

My classroom transformed from a health and safety nightmare during the week of inset, to an actual classroom by the first day of term. I was relieved that there was a projector and that I was given a laptop, as there was a query over the former. Suspended on a curiously long rod from the ceiling, I was to bang my head on it several times a day for the first week, reducing to maybe once or twice a day for the next two weeks. Now I just bang my head on it very occasionally, as do the students. It is a small classroom, with small desks and small chairs, which is not problematic for my homeroom group, as there are few of them. It is satisfactory for my girls’ groups; there are more of them, but not an intolerable amount and they move gracefully. But for my Grade 10 boys: well, there is a sense of relief if a few are absent. There are sixteen of them and for fifteen year old boys, they are, generally speaking, very mature for their years. Physically, that is; they are prone to the usual scuffles that one associates with teenage boys. And they are not averse to catapulting missiles at one another, of which I am caught in the crossfire from time to time.

But back to my classroom: I was delighted to discover that I had a balcony. I have to climb out of a window to reach it, but the windows are large and low down. However, there is little opportunity to sit on it and in fact, sitting in the sun is not a pastime that people undertake as a rule in these parts.

My classroom also boasts a toilet, which – fellow teachers will understand – is most welcome. Some students will use it; others prefer a toilet that is not actually in the same room as the lesson. I am just grateful for a toilet that is close enough to use in between lessons.

So the first day came and went and as it drew to a close, I turned my attention to my broken car and transferred my stress to my Head of Department, who kindly offered to escort me to Value Plus. I would have to find my way home, but I had been driving for a couple of days by now and was familiar enough with a few places close to Qurm, to be able to muddle my way back to my apartment.

On arrival, I explained my predicament to Candy Crush man, who offered me his trademark chai tea, but instead of fetching it himself, he clicked his fingers at an Indian man, pointed to me and said something in Arabic which was probably along the lines of ‘get her a nice chai tea and take your time about it so we can faff around with this door handle’.

I had left the handle on his desk and after placing my order for chai tea, he took the handle outside to my car. He slotted it back into place with a firm shove and stood back to admire his handiwork. Then he tried to open the door with said handle and looked surprised when it came off in his hand, taking off his kuma* and scratching his head.

He returned, cap in hand (and door handle in the other), replaced the handle on his desk, his kuma on his head and sat back down.

His senior came along, checked the status of the chai tea situation (I assured him that there was one on the way) and also took my car handle to my car … after shoving it back on, wiggling it around and removing it, convinced that it was, indeed, permanently detached from my car, he too replaced it on the desk.

After some time my lovely chai tea arrived and finally, Candy Crush’s senior offered me a new car.

“Would you like a new car?” he asked.

“I think that would be best,” I replied.

And so I drove back to my apartment, looking like every other ex-pat on the road, in a white saloon car, with four handles attached. I had filled my first car with petrol and then swapped it for a car with almost no petrol. But at OMR 7 at the most to fill it, I thought I’d let it go. There are benefits to living in an oil-rich country.

As the week panned out, the school routine became a little clearer.

Assembly is at 7.45 and lessons begin at 8am. There is no homeroom time, so I am fortunate to have a small homeroom group, as I can see at a glance during assembly if all are present. Assembly begins with the National Anthem and all students face the Omani flag. Music is not on the curriculum and this is evident when one is listening to their rendition of the National Anthem! A colleague has since sent me a phonetic version, as I would like to join in with this. The start is identical to the start of the hymn: ‘One More Step Along the World I Go’, which fascinates me, but that is a whole other story …

There are eight lessons in a day, each lesson being forty minutes long. There is a 20 minute break in the morning and a 10 minute break in the afternoon. Lessons finish at 1.50pm and then there are prayers for 20 minutes. The students are free to leave at 2.10pm and we have until 3pm for planning, marking, etc. I supervise girls’ prayers with a female colleague and during said prayers on the last day of the first week, she invited me to join her on the beach straight after school. This sounded like a good idea as I had not yet devoted any time towards topping up my tan. And so it became a Thursday thing; Thursdays are like our Fridays and indeed, on these days we can leave half an hour earlier at 2.30. So it is possible to be prone on the beach by 3pm.

In this first week we lost our deputy (aka the man with the peaceful aura) to another school in the same small group of schools, which was sad. On one of the inset days Scottish Colleague and I, disappointed in the lack of lunch, asked Peaceful Aura man if there was a shop nearby selling food of some description.

“I show you,” he smiled and we followed him to the gate, expecting him to point down the road and impart directions which neither of us would remember (Scottish Colleague and I share a terrible sense of direction, which means we should never travel in convoy, which we have done too many times). Instead he remotely unlocked his car and invited us to travel to a nearby cafe with him. Again, our expectations (grabbing a sandwich and returning to school) did not match the outcome, which was a pleasant lunch, paid for by the man with the Peaceful Aura.

So it was sad to see him leave, not just because he bought us lunch once.

So the first week finished and I survived.


Oops! I wrote a travel blog … Bimmah Sinkhole.

Sinkholes, as you probably know, are holes in the ground. They are usually caused by ‘karst’ processes, for example, any combination of dissolution of soluble rocks, underground caverns and surface erosion. They can form gradually or suddenly and vary in size from 1-600m in depth and width. They are found the world over, but I have visited just one – Bimmah Sinkhole – which is 50m by 70m wide and approximately 20m deep. I am fortunate to have visited it twice, the second time being around two months ago.

It was the afternoon after the morning of trips to and from school to burn the journey into my short-term memory. Frankly, I was done with driving after near misses, getting lost and being tailgated, so I was happy to crawl into the backseat of the car belonging to my new friend with the beautiful headscarves, as she had lived here a while, loved driving and knew the way (more or less).

It was an hour away, but with petrol stops, toilet stops and changing-into-my-swimsuit stops, it took nearly two hours. Every stop involved the obligatory wander round the resident foodstore at the petrol station, as every stop was at a petrol station and when one is on a road trip, one must take advantage of available food for sale, because you never know. I don’t know what you never know, but it seems a reasonable excuse for buying those heavenly peanut cookies (in my case) because they are hard to come by.

We arrived mid-afternoon, spread between two cars as there were several of us and after a small blip at the end where we seemed a little lost – no, just mislaid perhaps – we arrived at Hawiyat Najim Park, home of said sinkhole. The first time I visited was with Rhiannon and Joseph when they were around nine and ten years old respectively, so around thirteen years ago and I don’t recall the park, so unless my memory is mistaken (or there are two sinkholes in Muscat), I imagine that this has been built around the sinkhole during that time. ‘Hawiyat Najim’ means ‘Falling Star’, because the locals believe (or believed at the time of naming the park) that a meteorite was the cause. To be fair, the commonly held theory of dissolving limestone is not conclusive and the sinkhole remains somewhat a mystery today, even with current seismic technology.

When I read travel blogs or peruse glossy travel brochures with their equally glossy pictures, I imagine the turquoise of the water to actually be the deepest turquoise of a convenient filter, but on gazing down at Bimmah, I felt humbled. These waters are turquoise … enhanced by sandy-coloured walls which surround this natural swimming pool protectively. The steps down, carved out to make this natural phenomenon accessible, blend perfectly and the unevenness of some steps gives the only man-made part of this structure a necessary naturalness.

Despite the turquoise appearance, the water is clear. It is not unlike a mini-beach, with a shoreline, shallows and then deeper water as you wade in. It is easy to wade in; none of this ‘come on in – you’ll get used to the cold after a while’ business because the waters are positively balmy. There are rocks at the far end where you can jump off and had I known, I would have dispensed with the contact lenses beforehand but there we are.

Back in the UK, there is a trend for fish pedicures using Garra rufa fish, which are tiny toothless fish native to the Middle East and the Anatolia region, who just love to nibble hard skin off your feet. Bimmah Sinkhole, whose water is a mix of freshwater and seawater, is home to these fish. Sit on a rock in the shallows and these tiny, helpful creatures will gather around your feet and do their stuff. I totally abused their hunger and I reckon I experienced around OMR 50’s worth of fish pedicure.

But the sinkhole is not entirely round … swim to the left and you find yourself in a still, secluded lagoon. In fact, ‘80s movie The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields, came to mind as I swam round and the noises of families became more distant and the temperature dropped. Taking rest on a large rock I felt less alone, as more Garra rufa fish gravitated towards me but these were bigger and they were not content with nibbling my feet. Instead, they descended onto my thighs, where the skin was not hard and with bigger mouths, I started to feel the occasional pinch and wondering if I could actually be eaten alive if there were enough of them, I opted for rejoining the human race. I hauled myself up onto the rocks, so I could climb to my things and have a peanut cookie by way of consolation.

As sunset approached, so did growing hunger and so we packed up and walked to one of the wooden gazebos sprinkled throughout the park, so we could enjoy a picnic.

En route to the car, we walked amidst date trees and I want to say that we idly picked dates and chewed on their sweetness as we ambled into the sunset. But instead we gazed up at the dates, asking that age-old question: Why is the best fruit always so inaccessible? (By the way, just in case anyone is going to answer that, it is rhetorical.)

It was too hard to resist. We had to have a go. It started out as a gentle shake, which then grew into a prod with sticks; (apologies Regina Spektor ) which then turned into actual shoe-throwing right into the middle of the poor date tree which hitherto was only accustomed to people looking upon it lovingly and taking pictures with the sun setting behind it.

But we were rewarded with a whole bunch of dates falling into our laps. Well, into the dust. And they really weren’t nice. I shall continue to buy them from from the supermarket. Divine retribution, I feel, for abusing the date tree, especially after we had been so welcomed by nature at such a remarkably beautiful corner of the planet.

Bimmah Sinkhole at Hawiyat Najim Park: well worth a day of your life.

Still Only Day Two

The following day was a Thursday and therefore the last day of the working week in Oman. We had been promised a minibus to collect us at 7.30 (because they were taking ‘it easy’ on us on the first day) and so we gathered in the lobby of the ‘Teachers’ Apartments’ as they would become known, to await our transport. There were around 20 of us, split between 4 schools, but most of that number, it would transpire, were starting at my school. On arrival at the school we were given breakfast – Omani bread – and Omani coffee which, I have been reliably informed by the lovely maths teacher downstairs, contains no caffeine! No wonder I was capable of drinking vast quantities without feeling like I was going to take off. It might not sport caffeine as an ingredient, but it is heavenly nonetheless.

This was the day I learnt ‘inshallah’. Anyone reading this who understands the meaning, will, no doubt, be stifling a chuckle at this point. The literal translation means ‘God willing’… but in reality, it means that it might get done. Whatever ‘it’ is … and if it does, there is no telling when it will get done.

After a few hours of becoming familiar with our new work place, we moved outside to await collection by the minibus. 11am was the expected arrival time and we had been promised a tour of Muscat.

‘Don’t wait outside,’ advised the vice-principal, when she observed a few of us basking in this new phenomenon – an extremely hot sun.

‘Our minibus is due at 11,’ I spoke for us all.

‘Inshallah,’ she smiled and winked as she sought shade, adding as she walked away, ‘Omani time.’

Indeed, our minibus arrived two and a half hours late, so it was what you would call a whistle-stop tour of Muscat.

The souk … the Sultan’s palace … the beach … The Al Bustan … there may have been more but some of it blurred into the next attraction and so was forgotten.

Next stop an Italian restaurant for lunch, after which the head had kindly agreed to take me to a phone shop in ‘downtown’ Muscat so that I could replace my now useless iPhone.

‘Don’t worry that everyone is staring at you,’ he reassured me, when we arrived.

I peered out of his car window and yes, everyone was staring at me. When I say ‘everyone’, I mean every man, as there was not another female in sight.

‘Yeah … they don’t get many women down here,’ he affirmed, ‘so that’s why they’re staring.’

I was glad that we were parked near to the phone shop, so that the walk through this male-only end of town was short.

I stepped out of myself for a moment, whilst in the phone shop, to reflect once more on the situation.

The head was helping me to buy a phone.

‘Are you sure you don’t want the next one up in the range?’

I looked up from the counter to see the vice-principal of all four schools, who was to leave soon, as he was working his notice.

‘I would go for this one,’ said a third voice.

The newly appointed vice-principal of all four schools had also arrived.

I struggled not to laugh; three of the most senior members of this chain of schools were with me, in ‘downtown’ Muscat, helping me to buy a phone.

To this day I am unsure as to why they were there, but there was certainly something rather endearing about the whole scenario.

With their help, I bought an almost-bottom-of-the-range Samsung for OMR 29 (£58).

The next day was Friday and the first day of the weekend. I thought a walk to the beach was in order, as I was in a coastal city which basked in a permanent summer and of course, all the beaches boasted long stretches of yellow sand. So I walked. And walked … and walked a bit more, until I was aware that the number of times I had been beeped at by passing cabs was certainly reaching triple figures. I did not imagine I was being beeped for ‘boy meets girl’ reasons so I wondered if my mode of dress was inappropriate. I would have compared myself to other women but there was not a single woman in sight. There was not a single human in sight. No-one goes for walks I realised. Feeling the sweat pouring down the centre of my back indicated the reason for this. But I was determined to reach the beach … which I did. It was a pleasant beach, but exposed. There were no women – only men. Not a beach for swimming then … unless you’re a man. I realised that the cab drivers were beeping to offer their services. It was tempting, on my return journey but I resisted. Had I known what the evening had lined up for me, I might have taken one of those cabs.

For the first time in my life (with the exception of the occasional holiday abode) I had to pay for my electricity unit by unit on a meter. We had been told that our meters had a small number of units as a starter. Given how long my units have lasted since I bought some myself, I presume that I had a very small number of units on my meter as a starter. Like less than OMR 1 … as mine ran out after a few days. I had heard that these all-elusive units were available from OmanOil (a petrol station) and so I set off in the afternoon to find such a place, as my meter was issuing a panic-stricken ‘Feed me!’ alarm every half hour. I knew that the nearest shop, a humble affair called ‘Mars’ (Mars shops are like Co-ops in the UK: plentiful, reasonably priced but a little lacking in quality) would not sell me any such units, but I hoped that they might direct me to somewhere that would. The man on the counter where I bought phone credit pointed vaguely over the road and said something in Arabic (or maybe it was poor English with a rich Arabic accent), so I crossed the road and continued walking. I saw a Shell sign in the distance and got hopeful, as this meant I was near a petrol station. When I arrived at the sign, however, it indicated that Shell was 1km away. I could see the petrol station by this time and although a 1km trek was not appealing in temperatures in the late 30s, neither was a night roasting in an apartment with no air conditioning. So I continued to walk. And when I arrived they told me that they did not sell electricity units … by this time I was near to a large supermarket called Carrefour, so I took advantage of my unplanned trip along the Expressway and popped in for some light (given that I was on foot) shopping. It was daytime when I went in. When I emerged just 15 minutes later it was completely dark. I had forgotten about the lack of dusk. I looked at my shopping … I looked at the night … I looked at the busy Expressway. I reflected on the fact that I was hot and sweaty and could not see this oasis of electricity units and decided to allow myself to be talked into a cab by a group of Indian cab drivers.

‘Five rial!’ announced one, after much collaboration with others about how much I should be charged for a ride to OmanOil followed by a ride back to the teachers’ apartments in Qurm.

I was quite certain that this was a special price for a newly-arrived, naive immigrant such as myself, with tell-tale white skin. As my skin has toughened with UV rays, so have I, much to the embarrassment of anyone sharing a cab with me, my overarching argument always being:

‘It costs you no more than 7 rials to fill your car, therefore I am not giving you almost enough money to fill your car for a ten minute ride to a bar.’

There is no meter, so every financial settlement in a cab is reached by bartering and also, some cab drivers want to charge per person.

But anyway, I was deposited at OmanOil to purchase electricity units and duly dropped back home, paying a high price for the pleasure.

The following day we were transported to a nearby hospital for medicals – I thought, just to gain medical insurance, but in fact it was also to gain residency. Thus ensued the first round of fingerprinting. I have been fingerprinted so much since then that I’m sure my fingerprints have worn down a little.

And then a whole week of inset. Despite trying to find pictures on the website, I had very little idea of the appearance of the school until arrival. It is compact. There are two rows of attractive cream-coloured blocks, with five blocks in each row, separated by fake grass in the middle. The fake grass is where breaktimes, assembly, boys’ prayers, P.E. and any other gathering happens and so there are colourful canopies covering the area, to block out the sun. Each block is on three floors and as my classroom is on the top floor of the tenth block, I feel a little like Rapunzel … no-one needs to pass my classroom and on busy days I may be in there for the whole day, making the occasional trip across the minibus parking lot to refill my water bottle.

‘Why do you walk in the sun, Ms Lisa?’ asked one of my students, some weeks later.

‘I love it!’ I replied.

‘Why do you love it?!’ she wondered, continuing with, ‘It is too hot!’

If, like me, you thought that indigenous people of hot countries are super-equipped to deal with sweltering temperatures, then you are as misguided as I was. The disagreements over the AC in my classroom are testament to this! Put simply, I want to be warm whereas my students want to be cold. To be fair, the girls wear long-sleeved tops under long pinafore dresses and headscarves; and the boys wear dishdashas, so my attire is considerably lighter than theirs.

Every day, the minibus collected us to take us to school, with the exception of the first day, when it took us to a swanky hotel for a meeting and a feast of fabulous food. A young, glamorous Omani lady headed towards me and greeted me. She introduced herself and I realised that she was the HR lady with whom I had liaised over the job offer.

‘You look nothing like your photograph!’ she remarked.

I was about to explain that it had been a ‘bad hair day’, but that I’d known she’d needed the passport photos, but she followed it up with,

‘I think you were overweight then!’

A strange silence descended on the group, while they looked to me for my reaction, but I had none.

‘Oh well – better that she thought I’d lost weight than gained weight!’ I said, as she wandered off, unaware of her clumsiness. Or was it a cultural difference in tact? Time would tell.

On the penultimate day the minibus took us to get our residency status (more fingerprinting) and the words ‘don’t hand over your passport’ rang in my ears as I handed over my passport. We would see them again when we received our residency cards several days later. I was a little concerned that my form stated that my Christian name was ‘O’, my middle name was ‘Lisa’ and my surname was Connor.

‘It is fine,’ said an official when I queried it, followed up with, ‘inshallah.’

So I left it, not reassured at all.

On the final day of the week before the most terrifying part for new teachers – meeting the students – the head took me, as promised, to hire a car.

As he drove into hitherto unknown (by me, anyway) parts, I recalled his words earlier that week – I’ll escort you to your apartment – and they were a comfort to me.

So when he said,

‘You’ll be ok finding your way home, won’t you?’

I felt a flood of adrenaline dropping from my chest to my toes. I had driven abroad – ie, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – once, 15 years ago for one week. I had been a passenger in a minibus for a week and I was not familiar with the geography of the area at all. It was busy – every road seem to be in possession of about six lanes – and it seemed to me that drivers here had short tempers. And I had no GPS.

‘No!’ I responded, deliberately imparting abject terror to the most helpful head I had ever encountered.

‘It’s just the kids have got swimming tonight and I’ll be late if I escort you all the way home,’ he elaborated.

‘I have a poor sense of direction,’ I argued.

‘Ok – how about I take you as far as the Expressway?’ he offered, ‘I’ll ring you as I’m leaving you,’ he continued.

I had noticed that Oman clearly had no laws concerning the use of mobile phones whilst driving, taxi drivers being the worst offenders, not bothering to use loudspeaker at all.

At ‘Value Plus’ car hire I proudly produced my Omani residency card, only for the very helpful head to surreptitiously slide it back towards my bag, mouthing put it away. Bemused, I obeyed and when our car hire man took everything else in my bag with my name on it to photocopy (I became accustomed to carrying all available ID around with me for the first month), he explained that I should have procured an Omani driving licence as soon as I had my residency card. My look of horror on hearing that I may be breaking the law, led him to assure me that he would make sure the man with the peaceful aura took us all to the relevant place. At some point. My look of horror continuing, he added that I should not produce my residency card if stopped by the police. I believe I still wore a look of horror when my car was duly hired and I parted with OMR 150 for one month’s hire.

‘No petrol!’ warned the young chap who seemingly got paid for sitting at a desk, playing Clash of Clans on his phone and getting me really nice cups of chai tea while the Helpful Head conducted my car rental in Arabic.

‘Enough to get home?’ I asked.

‘No – go to next petrol station!’ he warned.

With a shamefully pleading look, I turned to Helpful Head, not wishing to be responsible for a late start to the swimming lesson, but not wanting to end up driving to Dubai either.

‘We’ll swing by a petrol station,’ he assured.

So my drive home was a baptism of fire. On the wrong side of the road, struggling to pick a lane as there was so much choice, no GPS, alone, amongst irate drivers in unfamiliar surroundings, worrying about being stopped by the police and keeping my residency card a secret, not to mention the threat of a night in jail if I accidentally jumped a red light or got zapped by a speed camera… I’ll stop there. I made it home and I had a car in which to get to work. Just had to figure out how to get there now, with no GPS and no Wifi at home to look it up.

Enter the nice Scottish man downstairs who would become my colleague in the English department (and partner in crime on Thursday nights when in search of alcohol: either in his apartment with his seemingly never-ending supply of gin, or in The Crowne Plaza when the gin turned out to be an ‘ending’ supply). He also cleared up my eye infection when a chance conversation within minutes of landing in Muscat led him to give me a tube of magical ointment.

Anyway, his good deed this particular weekend was to drive to and from school several times so that I could follow and therefore learn the way. If you have ever followed someone through unfamiliar territory with many twists and turns, you will understand how stressful this was. I wiped away many a tear as I almost jumped red lights and almost drove on the wrong side of the road in my quest to ‘keep up’. Had I been in possession of any form of map, either paper or virtual, I would not have undertaken this venture. But Scottish Colleague was generous to give me his time in this way and without his generosity, I would not have found my way to work the following Sunday; in other words, I had little choice and it is no reflection on him that the experience was stressful … it just was.

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.

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.


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.



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.

You Made Me Homeless


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.


“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.


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.


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.



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 …