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 https://youtu.be/oUObGCCXAfs ) 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.

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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.

“Yes!”

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

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

My mistake was running with the precious brown cargo.

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

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

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

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

I looked up.

“Des!”

“Lisa!”

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

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

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

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

You Made Me Homeless


“Hello.”

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

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

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

“You’re beautiful,” he continued.

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

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

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

“Oh,” I was not expecting that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I work with the homeless,” he continued.

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

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

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

Ah yes.

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

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

Then as I went inside, he called out:

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

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

But I did get him a croissant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mum,” said Rhiannon.

I introduced them.

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

And then he left to deliver pizzas.

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

“No!”

“Well, clearly you do!”

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

“So when did you know him?”

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

“But he’s ‘missed those eyes’!”

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

*Ping*


I have missed you
.

Wow. No time wasted.


Shouldn’t you be delivering pizzas?


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


We went on one date
.


I know. I have thought about you ever since.

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

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

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

OK. Let’s just meet for a drink then.


OK
.

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


Do you have a spare room to rent?


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

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

Yes. Me
.


Oh! That changes things. Sorry – no.

What? Why?


Because you want a relationship and I only want friendship.


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


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


But I’m homeless

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

‘You made me gay!’

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

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

‘You made me homeless!’

Luscious Lips

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

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

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

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

Dream

  

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

“It will break,” Singing Sister pointed out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You bullied me at school.”

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

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

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

“No,” I replied and left.

And that was – the unremarkable – it.

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

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

Then I met someone else.

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

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

I will keep you posted …

The Christmas Day Friendship Massacre

Some things are givens …

Do not double-dip.

It’s just gross.

Try to avoid starting serious conversations electronically.

I choose my words carefully here. Firstly, I said ‘Try’. Perhaps a face-to-face conversation is impossible, for whatever reason; or maybe there is an urgency which means that a delay whilst awaiting face-to-face contact would aggravate a situation. But if possible, reserve those emotional words for a proper conversation, complete with facial expressions and body language. You have no control over when and where the recipient will read your message/mail and what other things are happening for them at that moment; and you have less control over their perception of your words, than if you are physically present. Secondly, I said ‘starting’. If someone else initiates such a conversation, I may respond, because they chose that medium through which to have the conversation but I may shut it down.

Always clean up after your dog, whether it’s messed up in deepest, darkest Peru or a street pavement.

Even dog-owners, surely, do not want to experience that sinking feeling … of one’s foot sinking into dog poo.

Bad news can wait.

Especially on special days like Christmas Day. Of course, there may be extenuating circumstances that mean the bad news actually cannot wait, but, for example, conversations that are founded upon a criticism of a lifestyle choice, can wait till Boxing Day at least.

Stop being surprised that the Christmas tree lights do not work.

One should expect the Christmas tree lights to flicker once, crackle and die forever. If they work for two years in a row, consider it a bonus. And test them before painstakingly draping them over the tree; one should have them switched on anyway, to dress the tree effectively. Yes, they should work for more than one Christmas but they are fickle things you know, those fairy lights.

Do not base a whole argument on an assumption.

We have all done it: had that argument in the car on the way to work, or staring intently into the bathroom mirror until you start to worry that you may not be alone in the house after all. (Or maybe it is just me!) But there are a couple of pitfalls waiting to trip you up … firstly, secure the facts first. Do not waste precious minutes of your life fretting about a situation that is merely a suspicion. The more you plan your argument, the more anxious you will become and the more likely it is that you will forget it was only a hunch. Secondly, your opposition may throw you a curve ball, like an apology, very early on and you may be so hard-nosed about giving your speech (which probably did not account for the possibility of interjection by your opposition) that you create a new problem with your unnecessary rant.

Play with your dog when he or she wants to play, even if for just a few minutes.

One day, she or he will not be around and you will want to reflect on all the times you played yet another round of Fetch, Tug-of-War or Tummy Tickling; not all the times you did not.

Never stop trying to see things from the point of view of others.

Many people claim to be doing this but I strongly suspect that all too often, these are hollow claims.

When people take their coffee black, there is no need to leave room for milk.

This is one of life’s mysteries to me.

Listen to people.

Seriously, everyone knows when you are not. The constant butting in, before one has reached one’s point; the glazed look; the reply that bears no relevance to one’s remark; the lack of reaction when one stops talking mid-sentence, or worse, when one wraps it all up with “and then I died” … all tell-tale signs that you are not listening. And I have actually tested people out with the last two. Hilarious. You do not know who you are, because you did not notice, but I do … 🙂

Do not lick your fingers to separate the two sides of a bag and then hand it to me.

Apologies to shop workers that do this, but it is rank.

Say the right things to the right people.

This is a no-brainer, but apparently needs to be said. Do not tell people things about which you are not certain. And even then, if it involves mutual friends and the things are negative, then consider whether or not you should be talking to the people it directly involves first. Of course, it may be that you feel the need to confide in a friend first but if it can be avoided, it should be. Always remember that if you confide in one person, they may ‘feel the need’ to confide in one person and so on …

It is ALWAYS ‘should have’, ‘could have’, ‘might have’, ‘may have’ and ‘would have’.

It is never the other word. I will not write it, because one should avoid honouring the incorrect version by putting it into print. But you all know the offending word to which I refer. And before anyone gets on their hobby horse, I am not suggesting that the word should never be used; it just should not be used to replace ‘have’. Ever.

Praise people.

It is generally acknowledged that children respond well to praise. Sadly, many forget that adults do too. I received some secondhand praise recently and the effect on my self-esteem and commitment was remarkable. Sadly, I was not aware that my self-esteem was suffering until it improved and in this case there was a happy ending. But had my friend not made that chance remark, I would never have known that I was appreciated within those particular circumstances.

Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow.

In all seriousness, it is fine if you do not! However, expect people to judge you if you do not wash your hands immediately afterwards if you choose to sneeze and cough into your hands. Bleugh.

Value people.

It is considerably frustrating when one busts a gut to meet a deadline for an acquaintance, only for one’s actions to have been in vain. One stops busting guts over a period of time.

Don’t be nasty to/about redheads because of their red hair.

People will know that you are stupid.

Own your mistakes.

I do not trust people who never apologise. These people, clearly, never think that they are wrong. No-one is perfect and therefore everyone makes mistakes, so people who never apologise never own their mistakes.

Do not get Star Wars and Star Trek confused.

Honestly, it is not rocket science, if you will pardon the pun. The story of the former is based on a war and the premise of the latter is based on a journey (or ‘trek’, if you will). If you have not watched either, there is no hope. Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Accept apologies given gracefully.

It is not easy to apologise and often, there is little more a person can do, so to continue an argument post-apology grants little value to the latter and also gives no direction to the solution. You may have some juicy arguments that your brain is keen to deliver to your mouth – and to be fair, they may be points that need to be heard – but mull them over before deciding to spill forth and do not forget that you have received your apology.

Expect people to talk through your songs at Open Mic nights.

It is a pub and you are not Morrissey. The music should be a mellow backdrop to the evening and I do not mind if you talk through my songs. Just clap at the end rather than boo me.

Being interested in others makes you interesting.

You may have led a fascinating life and experienced a hundred wonders, but if you regale anecdote after anecdote without asking any questions of your listener(s), people will, quite rightly, consider you a bore.

Understand that I do not indulge in online dating.

I WAS ON TINDER FOR TWO MONTHS SHORTLY AFTER MY HUSBAND LEFT ME. THAT. IS. ALL.

Reflect on criticism.

I have noticed that some people see every criticism, however small/constructive/well-meaning as a personal attack against which they must defend themselves. Some students exhibit this and it may be learned behaviour from parents. But some adults do this and it is worth noting that people who are brave enough to criticise an acquaintance, possibly care considerably about their relationship with that person to do so.

Keep mouths shut whilst eating.

No explanation needed!

Do not sit in judgment of the sadness of others.

No-one has the right to judge how sad a person is allowed to feel. Perhaps they have presented a facade to all but you, because they felt they could cry on your shoulder. So comments like, “some people have it worse, you know” or “count your blessings” are not helpful. You cannot order a person to feel happier and they may not even want your help; just someone to listen, try to understand and provide tea/coffee/gin/whatever it takes.

Never use the words ‘let’s go round the room introducing ourselves …’

If anyone who has had a stammer is reading this, they will understand the significance of those words which actually make your heart race, your palms sweat and a large red blotch work its way up from your chest, through your neck and up to your cheeks. Stutterers have the most trouble saying words that begin with the initial letters of their names, so obviously that includes their names. One of the benefits of taking on your husband’s name is that you swap a word over which you stutter constantly (I think stutterers are more aware of how often you have to say your name than anyone) for one you do not. Unless you are that down on your luck that the initial letter of your husband’s name is the same as yours! But then I moved to a village with the initial letter of my maiden name … life is cruel.

Do not escalate situations unnecessarily.

Many people do not argue properly. Arguments are important, so we need to get it right. First of all, stick to the point. Do not escalate things. Questions like ‘so you don’t love me anymore?’ when it is a simple debate over replacing toilet roll are not helpful. Second of all, avoid using hyperbolic words. For example, accusing your partner of defamatory remarks because they called you a twonk when you face-planted while snowboarding, will make you look an even bigger twonk.

A (now former) friend of mine ended our friendship on Christmas Day. I sent very few cards this year because I was disorganised, so on Christmas morning, when the house was quiet, the tree twinkled dutifully and the dog stared, unblinking, at his stocking, patiently awaiting the tardy stirring of the rest of the household, so he could shake his stocking until all the goodies were on the floor, I sent some ‘Merry Christmas’ messages. Halfway through, Christmas got into full swing when the rest of the house woke up, the dog snapped out of his depression (which had probably lasted his whole life in his little doggy brain) and even the fairy lights stepped up as they seemed to twinkle in time to the Best Christmas Album in the World Ever. It was a morning of presents, noise, cooking, grating of butternut squash (don’t ask) and general joie de vivre. Lunch was great, the cracker jokes were poor and all manner of drinks flowed. No-one could actually move directly afterwards, so no-one did for some time. Then we could move, so we went to visit the extended family nearby and the jollity continued with chocolate and a game of Pointless, which Rhiannon and I won. During this game, one of the recipients of my ‘Merry Christmas’ messages messaged me. I was surprised that rather than simply accepting my good wishes and returning a similar wish for good cheer and all that, he decided to raise a recent conversation from earlier this month whereby he had advised me on a course of action. I had not requested his advice, but had accepted it nonetheless with grace, I felt. He seemed to forget that I had agreed to act on his advice and had I not been in company, I would have been open-mouthed at his electronic rant. I reminded him – calmly, not rantily – of this fact and there was silence. But he had distressed me considerably by this time and so I angrily messaged him to point out that he had upset me on Christmas Day. What I received then was a lengthy retort on what a terrible person I was and that he was ‘done with me entirely.’

This is my explanation for my list of ‘givens’. My former friend challenged a fair number of those ‘givens’ with his actions. I am still shocked at his behaviour and his treatment of me. Firstly, I did not ask him for advice. I told him about a situation of mine and he meted out advice. I told him I had already taken that action but agreed to repeat it. He then told me that my situation was not that bad and that his best friend ‘had it worse’. I pulled him up on this and he agreed that it was a low blow indeed. Fast forward to Christmas Day and he thought it was ok to start chatting about an unpleasant situation of mine via Messenger at ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. So he forgot that I had agreed to act on his advice … but he did not listen when I reminded him. And then, to escalate the discussion to emotional levels (still via Messenger) kinda left me standing. Finally, he severed our friendship. On Christmas Day. I did not complete my ‘Merry Christmases’, so please do not be upset if you received nothing from me.

My children have reminded me that this is a man with a diagnosis of autism. I forget that he has autism, because the manifestations are all pleasant. He is clever, geeky and I would have said sweet, but his final message to me was so vitriolic that I deleted the whole conversation so as not to be reminded of him. But I considered him sweet once upon a time. He could be inappropriate and I was becoming rather worn out with the continuing cycle of being friends, him asking me out, my rejecting him, not being friends for a while, then gradually becoming friends again only for him to ask me out again and so on. Having been in the company of young, autistic people for several years now on a daily basis, I can see that there are many aspects about the ending of our friendship that could be features of his autism, for example, his apparent indifference to the inappropriateness of his conversation and ultimate outburst on Christmas Day. But anyway, he has voted with his feet and my feet do not feel inclined to run after him, autism or not and I feel that that is fair.

So that is why I chose to write the ‘givens’. I am guessing that most people agree with most of my ‘givens’ but not everyone does them all of the time. I am not perfect but I do my best to take ownership of mistakes I make. If someone pulls me up on my words or actions, I will not necessarily uphold their complaint, but firstly, I will listen and secondly, I will reflect. Sometimes I will return, cap-in-hand and apologise. Sometimes I will not. Sometimes I will apologise for words or actions after no feedback; I just feel I owe an apology. I feel deserving of an apology from my former friend but as time passes, the likelihood of an apology is decreasing and I have accepted that. I would struggle to trust him with my friendship after the Christmas Day friendship massacre anyway. I found myself reflecting on a couple of other friendships that have disappointed me over the last few months and I reflected on my own words and actions too, because, like many people, I strive to improve and I want to explore my deeds for potential wrongdoing. Also, if one never takes the blame, one is a permanent victim and who wants that?

On Christmas Eve I received an email from my latest accompanist. I feel dumped as your accompanist he wrote. He then proceeded to query our lack of rehearsals. I replied and indicated to him that his email was based on a hunch and so I did not feel a part of the conversation. Secondly, I pointed out that it was Christmas Eve and surely this could have waited? Lastly, I requested that any emotive words, most definitely had to be exchanged face-to-face from now on. Hats off to accompanist no 3; he apologised, wished me a happy Christmas and said he looked forward to meeting up in the New Year. He also challenged some of those ‘givens’ but a little humility went a long way and my friendship with him feels valued. We will meet up in the new year and discuss the lack of rehearsals. I have my reasons for not having contacted him but to be fair, neither had he contacted me until Christmas Eve. However, I acknowledge my part in the whole situation and come January, I look forward to seeing him and possibly moving forward as a musical duo or maybe parting company. We shall see.

I hope that my blog post has not seemed patronising. As I said, I am certain that most people feel that most of my ‘givens’ are fair. Some are easy to achieve, whereas others might present a challenge. I don’t count people’s mistakes, but I take note of how people handle their mistakes. So if you give me just half a cup of black coffee, I will be disappointed. And never hand me a spitty bag.

Investments

1. “This will cheer him up. Eric Idle singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

2. “I kept within my budget of £20.”

3. “What is your view of Hitler?”

4. “Ah … 1927. Must have been amazing to be alive then. The year the Ford Model A was invented.”

5. “Miss, do you know Sam got out of the car to pick blackberries when we slowed right down then got back in again?”

6. “F**k off.”

7. “I’ll report you if you keep on trying to make me do work!”

8. “Any chance of a coffee?”

9. “I want to cry.”

10. “But can you eat mince pies?”

Just to add a layer of meaning to these memories of mine: number 1 was a student’s reaction to hearing that the mother of a fellow student had, sadly, died unexpectedly. And actually, the sentiment was surprisingly appreciated by the bereaved. These students may be unorthodox, but they totally get what floats each others’ boats. Number 2 was the very real pride felt by a student when he was trusted with his own money to buy himself a treat or two from a sweet shop. Perhaps we can halve his budget next time … Number 8 has become a common theme and we’re running with that one seeing as coffee is arguably a lesser evil than some other drugs. Number 9 was the verbal manifestation of the sorry state of a student’s heart straight after it had been mashed up and puréed and number 10 was the concern shown by a student on hearing that there were some sugary foods forbidden from my consumption. The others are fairly self-explanatory.

I’ve worked at this secondary school for students with dyslexia for three years. Beforehand, I worked at an EBD school for one year. Before that, I was in a mainstream school that had a special needs annexe and before that I was in mainstream. So, as you can see, my move into special needs has been gradual and, I have to admit, unintentional.

“It must be so rewarding!” people say.

If the comment comes from a well-meaning person with no experience of working with other people whose view of the world is unfathomably different from theirs, the remark tends to grate somewhat. Dyslexia often co-exists with another difficulty and/or a behaviour problem and I have learnt as much during my three years at this school as the students. I have encountered conditions whose existence previously eluded my knowledge and I have witnessed the challenges faced by students whose learning difficulties require different approaches to learning that a mainstream school would struggle to provide. I am in awe of dyslexics who have to compensate, daily, for the missing connections in their brains and it is an absolute joy to see them succeed but also to embrace their differences, because that is what makes them who they are. I don’t even like to call their differences ‘difficulties’ because who am I to say that they are the ones who deviate from the ‘norm’, whatever that is? But it is semantics and I am addressing an audience of whom most – in likelihood – are not dyslexic. So yes, it has been rewarding, but not without considerable sacrifice. Convincing these young people that they can do it – and that there are benefits to having such a difficulty – is the hardest part. Our curriculum is mainstream – not reduced – and the expectations are the same as if they were in mainstream, because their difficulties are ‘specific’, which, in laymen’s terms, is mild. Until this term, I taught English; but for this term only, I have been working with the sixth formers whose time is split between studying for post-16 qualifications at local colleges and being supported in a range of ways by us. All the quotes above come from them and the investment in time, effort, emotion, patience, resilience and huge efforts to empathise, have been worth it for the return, if only to realise that you are having a proper conversation about whose cover of The Beatles’ ‘Across The Universe’ is the best, with a teenager who was throwing GCSE textbooks across the classroom a year ago.

In my last blog post, I hinted at a sense of impending relief at the thought of leaving. There are aspects to this temporary role that I will be glad to be leaving behind. But there are more aspects that I will miss. I miss most of the students already, because previously, I taught throughout the school and it has been distressing to see those students everyday and not be teaching them. I already miss my old department. I will miss the sixth formers, most of whom I taught GCSE English and I will miss being a part of the community with the added benefit of comprising aesthetically stunning olde worlde buildings, nestled in an area of breathtaking beauty.

We continually invest throughout our lives.

The emotional investment when working in a special needs school is mammoth, but even though the return may seem, at times, poor, in comparison, there are returns which you must grab hold of, appreciate and enjoy. Students grasping difficult concepts, over-achieving at GCSE (or just achieving), telling you they don’t want you to leave; if you don’t bask in the glory of these returns when they come your way, then you are missing the point.

My investment in the school itself is different. My return was to get paid and then, ultimately, to be made redundant. Not quite the return I expected.

I have invested in relationships which have ended. Several months have passed now, since my relationship with the Rastafarian ended. I invested a lot into that relationship: all the usual relationship investment, like love, time, effort and support. But, as you know, if you have followed my blog, too many tangible investments also, like £2.5k and a horn of plenty of food, lifts, Kronenbourg and tobacco. I do not doubt that he had some feelings for me; I don’t think I have an abhorrent personality and I’ve been told that I scrub up well, but my investments outweighed my returns by far. The most memorable return was to be cheated on, frankly. I turned to him once for emotional support and was shocked to discover that he was incapable of providing it, despite the cornucopian emotional support I provided.

There are many students at my workplace who are diagnosed with ASC (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and I constantly try to look at the world through their eyes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with their eyes; it is their perception that is vastly different from ours. To be in a state of bafflement about many things, must be … well, I don’t know, if I’m honest. I don’t want to sound patronising and assume that my perception is superior, because I am not baffled, but conversely, I want to acknowledge that things are tough for the autistic person. Like my peers, I have undergone training, inset days, courses and achieved qualifications in the studies of both dyslexia and autism. I feel I know more than most about such things, but I cannot possibly know what it is like to be either. My brush with dyslexia is the length of time it takes me to figure out my right from my left. I guess if I multiply that by infinity, it might be what it is like to be dyslexic. My brush with autism is my association of colours with days of the week, the attribution of personalities to numbers and my propensity towards OCD. Again, I would need to do something drastic with that, like take it to the ends of time in order to get a sense of what it is really like to be autistic. However, I do find myself baffled by my world sometimes. Please take note of the word ‘my’; not ‘the’. Everyone, surely, is baffled by ‘the’ world, but most people cope (just about) with their own worlds. My current bafflement concerns people. Everything can be great one day; and everything can be seriously not great the next. Sometimes, on waking in the morning, I get a very crisp sense of having just got back from some escapade. I open my eyes with a ‘bang’ and think ‘phew … just made it’ but I attribute this to a trick of my senses. But maybe I do go somewhere in the night … maybe I spend my nights sabotaging relationships, whether they are friendships or otherwise, because again, there are times when I feel that my investment in a relationship has gone down one big metaphorical plughole. No – make that a sinkhole.

Again, if you have followed my blog, you will know that I have invested considerable chunks of my time to Open Mic. I rehearsed with my first accompanist for some months before we hit the Open Mic circuit (or so I thought) only for him to bail after just one night of Open Mic. I attended the next one on my own and sang a Capella, thereby gaining two alternative possible accompanists. Possible Accompanist Number 1 seemed keen and we had several interchanges via email, to discuss potential songs to perform together. To date, we have played at no Open Mics. Possible Accompanist Number 2 seemed keen also and we have rehearsed A LOT and, to be fair, played at several Open Mics, hence his elevation to just ‘Accompanist’. But we haven’t played together as often as I would have liked; it has been mostly at pubs of his choice and we have rehearsed an awful lot more than we have performed. One of my shower songs (songs good for singing in the shower, for the shower-singing virgins) is Thinking of No-one But Me from the musical ‘Me and my Girl ( https://youtu.be/pcKddtQLP5s ). It has the line: ‘a little investment and plenty of return’. Well, my experiences with Accompanist have been the polar opposite: ‘plenty of investment and a little return’. Must blow the dust off that that guitar of mine …

Lastly, I have invested most of my free time since the summer in a project that I have enjoyed immensely. I gave my time freely and it seemed appreciated. But sadly, just as the project took off like a big, shiny space shuttle into boundless success, my services no longer seemed required. I thought I was on the rocket; I don’t know how I could have got it so wrong. I guess I was Ground Control to everyone else’s Major Tom.

When one has been rejected, or, actually, to be more emotive, abandoned, one is vulnerable. It is easy to see how one’s self-esteem can be affected. Friends and family rally round and tell you how ‘you’re worth more than that’ etc and it is important to hear those words. I am very appreciative of the support I received in the early days of my (now) ex-husband leaving and I feel I’ve recovered somewhat. But sadly, there’s a whole other world out there, just heaving with people who can’t wait to polarise the view presented by one’s support network, knowingly or not. Our self-esteems are precious indeed and I have reached the conclusion that the only people in whose hands they are safe, are our own. Decisions protect our self-esteem. Many people call me scatty or ‘ditzy’, but one friend recently challenged this and called me a romantic. Who knows, but I can see his point. I think it takes me a long time to learn from my mistakes, a bit like Ed Sheeran and Michael Buble (if their songs are to be believed) which gives rise to the scattiness/’ditziness’ tag but essentially, without wishing to boast, I think I am an optimist. Up until recently, I have found it easy to move on and start afresh with renewed hope, which gives rise to the ‘romantic’ tag, but I fear that some of that optimism has become tarnished with a smattering of cynicism. Actually, it is more serious than that. I was holding onto that optimism so tightly that I crushed it.

It isn’t really a decision to stop investing. I don’t think I have anything left to invest.

Not My Moment

“Everybody’s time has come … It’s everybody’s moment, except yours”

Once upon a time, when the days of jeteeing across scratchy stages were not quite so far in the dim and distant past, I could find a song from a musical to reflect most situations, until my very young children pleaded to not have all my conversation set to music. At some point, ‘Friends’ replaced that point of reference and I found myself saying, a little too often, it’s like that episode of ‘Friends’, where … And then would ensue some comparison between my current situation and some engineered situation in ‘Friends’. I did not need any small children to tell me that this was becoming like a stuck record, so I held back the ‘Friends’ references for the foreseeable future. Now I have Regina Spektor. This Russian-American singer/songwriter has written and sung a diverse collection of songs, covering wacky topics such as the imprisonment of rowboats in classical paintings to her fascination with the life of the man whose wallet she found. Wonderful to fall in love with the music of someone who does not continually spew forth musings on broken hearts and broken people. She does a little of this, which is appreciated, but set to unpredictable melodies with an unconventional collection of instruments. Hence I can usually think of a Regina Spektor song that encompasses my mood, situation or current take on life.

The opening words of my blog are lyrics from one of her songs, ‘Tornadoland’ – https://youtu.be/hZ2QHbtR9lw – and they struck a chord with me when I was listening to her latest album. I would not be as self-piteous as to think that it is everyone else’s moment currently, but it certainly is not ‘my moment’. At present, there is not a single facet of my life that is having its moment.

In a few weeks I will leave my workplace forever. I am redundant. Rejection is hard. I felt sad at the prospect of leaving in the summer term, but then I was reinstated until Christmas and for this past term I have not been doing the job for which I was employed. To say it has not been an easy ride would be an understatement; it has been a ride through the rockiest terrain, facing adversity from every quarter, riding a horse ill-equipped for the journey. It has been the source of many tears and so, despite my overall feeling of rejection and concern over paying the mortgage, the fact that there are just a few weeks left of this, is comforting. There are some things I shall miss, like the students, but we teachers have to learn to live with the relatively short-lived nature of the relationships we work so hard to forge with hormone-fuelled adolescents who are trying to figure out what sort of people they want to be.

I am struggling to stay on the same page as my accompanist, who, incidentally, is my third one. Never mind my guitar gently weeping; I’m weeping over the dust it is gathering in the corner of my room. I had one lesson, then was ill for two weeks (half-term was one long feverish sleep wrapped up in my duvet, while morning seeped into the afternoon which drifted into the evening, which got overshadowed by the night, which was too long and quiet for someone who then could not sleep) and forgot everything. In case that was not clear, I bought a guitar so that I could accompany myself but I appear to have lost some intrinsic thing that was pushing me to become an active part of Open Mic instead of being an onlooker on the fringe. Maybe I lost my mojo. Maybe I never had one.

Don’t worry. I have no intention of working my way through every aspect of my life and indicating to you how far it falls short of having its moment. How very dull that would be. There was a fair bit I did not like about myself when I was very young. I was very shy and although I did not have a bad stammer, I was prone to stammering when I really did not want to be stammering. Well, no-one ever wants to stammer, but there are times when you really want to be fluent and articulate and of course, those are the times when you stammer. But I didn’t have much confidence anyway, so with or without a stammer, I doubt I would have spoken a great deal more. I was never in an ‘in-crowd’ but I worked very hard and was liked by teachers. Probably one of the reasons I was never in an in-crowd! I went on to secondary school and continued to be very quiet, but then discovered the theatre at the age of fourteen. It turned out to be my thing and although I do not have much interest in treading the boards anymore, it unlocked a door to a dimension whose existence had hitherto eluded me. Books had so far provided me with the opportunity to live other people’s lives and feel other people’s feelings, but this was total immersion in people that weren’t me, emotions I had never felt (and may never feel) and a re-enactment of the stuff of dreams. It irks me that governments do not value the expressive arts as they should. Teachers have children’s holistic development in their hands and bigoted, narrow-minded ministers make decisions that fuel this archaic system of education that values the churning out of under-graduates instead. Ken Robinson puts the case forward better than me, so check out his talks on Ted Talks, notably ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity#t-32360 But anyway, the point is that the theatre is one of the things that feeds the soul and it turns out that that is quite important. I’ve done some cool stuff in my lifetime. The coolest stuff is, of course, bringing my children into the world. I do not mean the actual process; moreover that they are, simply, the best things in my life and in my world and not just because they are my children. They actually deserve that accolade. Ok … proud mum-on-a-soap-box moment over.

But there are, of course, areas of my life with which I have been and still am disillusioned. I have filled those gaps in the past with theatrical polyfilla. It is not an easy concept to impart to others, but as an example, if your love life fails to fulfil you, then it helps to play characters with exciting amorous exploits woven into their lives. Or if you struggle with self-esteem, then it’s kinda fun to play a party animal. I do not have the theatre anymore as a back-up. But I can still go the theatre; or a more accessible hobby to try living other people’s lives is watching movies. On the one hand, it can be a dangerous past-time because of the false hope you are at risk from building up, about the potential success of your life. But once you have accepted the impossible dream of the world of movies, it softens the blow of disappointment. I would have thought that seeing Hollywood romances and fairy-tale endings on the silver screen would be devastating to the person suffering from terminal disappointment. But it really is not. I love a dark movie; a sad movie; a movie that sends me plummeting to the very depths of despair. But I also love a fairy-tale romance; those stylised pieces from the Golden Age of Hollywood; coy flirting and cliched gazes into each other’s eyes. At the end of such movies, I have a slice of that giddy feeling associated with the uplifting rush of being in love. I wonder if other people get it … I expect so. Anyway, I do and I am grateful. I watch a lot of movies, which is just as well because I review them for a website: http://www.eyesonthescreen.co.uk/author/lisa/ Funnily enough, most of them do not involve Hollywood romances! But if I watched them all the time, then I wouldn’t appreciate my heart skipping a beat when Gene Kelly or Alan Bates told me he loved me. I mean his leading lady …