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.

Lazer and Levi’s ‘The Prologue’

Lazer & Levi The Prologue

I definitely felt a touch of nostalgia on hearing the opening bars of ‘One More Time’ – the first track on rock duo Lazer and Levi’s EP ‘The Prologue’. Iconic ‘80s rock band Dire Straits came to mind as accomplished lead guitar, then a confident drumbeat (David Laine) promised a rocking first song … which indeed it was. A more mellow opening to second track ‘Just a Game’ reflected a shift in mood; a slower beat (and still I’m reminded of said ‘80s rock band) and a platform for Levi Blehm to show off his impressive vocal range – his honeyed tones hit the high notes with as much consistency as any other notes.

Versatile and Enduring

Track number three, ‘Confessions’, begins with a solid bluesy feel, embracing rock about a minute in. The ability to adapt to a number of genres is the hallmark of a versatile and therefore enduring band, as is an ability to finish a song with a flourish, as demonstrated beautifully here.

Penultimate track ‘Go On’ has an overall feeling of flawlessness and takes us into a country genre with its folky strings and later on, some rousing drums, leaving us with some feelgood motivational lyrics to soften the blow of the (almost) finish.

The aptly-named  ‘Say You Want More’ hits the spot with a lilty, old-timey vibe and some gentle lyrics, fitting for a gentle voice.

Best New Artist

‘Those Boys from Colorado’ have written over a hundred songs and were nominated for the ‘Best New Artist’ in the Rocky Mountain CMA’s (iHeart) and listening to this EP, this is a deserved accolade. I look forward to hearing more from these immensely talented brothers, who have been making their way in the music scene from childhood. And I needed an alternative to iconic ‘80s rock bands …

Lisa O’Connor

Open Mic at ‘Copper’

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, on stage

When you move 4,000 miles from home, you make sacrifices. One such sacrifice for me was my indulgence in live music.

‘You won’t find much of that in Oman!’ said many.

I had been here around a month when a chance conversation led me to ‘Copper’, a burger restaurant in Muscat which boasts an Open Mic session every Tuesday, hosted by the talented and personable Adam Cole, who also hosts radio station Good Morning Oman (90.4 Oman FM).

Burger Bar

Having lived in Brighton in the U.K. all my life, a city bursting with live music in every other pub (and there a pubs aplenty in Brighton), I kept an open mind as I wandered along to ‘Copper’ one Tuesday, remarking to myself that I had never experienced Open Mic in a burger bar. The word ‘bar’ is used loosely here – there are no alcoholic drinks available in ‘Copper’ but as tradition would have it, performers are entitled to one free drink and with a range of delectable drinks on offer, you won’t be disappointed.


‘Anyone here going to perform?’ enquired Adam, the host and I was struck by his welcoming manner; thousands of miles away there were Open Mic hosts back in my home city becoming visibly stressed at the number of wannabe folk/country/indie musicians clamouring to play at whatever pubs were offering Open Mic on a Tuesday, because despite the plethora of pubs offering the opportunity from Sunday-Thursday, it is still highly competitive. (At least, there would be in a few hours, given the time difference!)

My friend who had introduced me to the whole experience volunteered my services but I declined, on the grounds that I had no accompanist.

‘No problem,’ he assured me, ‘I can accompany you. I’ll do a few songs and then you can come up.’

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments and indoor

Varied, Affordable and Tantalising

He did do a few songs – a bit of rock, a bit of Britpop – in the same easy, accomplished style as his hosting. His willingness to accompany me in the only two songs I was prepared to sing, was impressive and encouraged me to return the following week (and no, he had no idea that I might write a review!).

By the time I rejoined my friends, their food had arrived and I regretted my weakness in returning home from work, as I had already given in to hunger pangs. The menu at ‘Copper’ is varied, affordable and tantalising, especially when you are watching others and not eating yourself! As a vegetarian, eating out can be tricky, but there was ample choice for awkward customers like me.

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people standing, guitar and indoor

Covers and Originals … Indie and Blues

Adam set the standard for the evening with his opening songs and the rest of the performers certainly made the mark too; with a mixture of covers and original songs, this is quality music providing a gentle ambiance for a midweek evening out. With songs ranging from rock, indie, old blues favourites like Mustang Sally and more recent offerings such as Adele covers, ‘Copper’ is worth checking out on a Tuesday night, whether you want to strut your stuff yourself or eat burgers whilst others strut their stuff. Or just work your way through fizzy fruit cocktails.

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Visit or visit their Facebook page for more info.

Lisa O’Connor

Getting There

“Hmm … you need to see an optometrist. Potentially it’s more serious than just an eye infection.”

This was not in the game plan of my last day in the UK for four months.

“OK! Thank you!”

I smiled and left my local chemist with a cheery outlook, as she was just doing her job. My pending flight 4,000 miles away in just a few hours was neither her responsibility nor her concern.

I took Rusty back home, as I needed to seek medical help and as it was a hot day (in time my judgment concerning outdoor temperatures would change somewhat drastically) I did not want him cooking in my VW.

The nearby optometrist was as helpful as possible, given that he was not running a clinic and I was on a serious time constraint by now.

“Do you take anything for your hay fever?” he asked.

“I took some cetrizine last night but that was so I could have a curry. And then my eye started hurting.”

“Good grief! What sort of curry was this that you had to take medication and it gave you a bad eye?!”

I realised how much like a mad woman I sounded until I explained about my ‘spontaneous urticaria’. No, I still sounded mad.

“How long will you be away?”

“Till Christmas.”

“Oh – probably best not to wait till you get back then.”

And this lovely optometrist gave me some free medicated wipes and a recommendation for curry and off I went to the airport.

It was as Singing Sister approached Heathrow that I remembered about the four memory sticks containing years of resources, which I knew were sitting atop the piano at home.

The last month had been a month of goodbyes and my final ones were that day. To the children in the morning… the dog in the afternoon and to my mother and sister in the evening at the airport. I got through it by detaching myself. I couldn’t fully embrace my feelings or I don’t imagine I would have boarded the plane. So potentially, I had far stronger emotions than those attached to my memory sticks abounding within me; but as I had shut those down, I became preoccupied with those four little sticks which were in the wrong place. More of those later …

Any emotions whirling around my psyche would have been shoved into a metaphorical abyss at customs however, as soon as I began dealing with staff.

“This is the first time I see this,” accused the immaculate lady at ‘bag drop’ with her exotic accent, as she waved my temporary visa in what I considered to be a rather cavalier manner, given that it was a Very Important Piece Of Paper. Then she spoke to her colleague, still waving my Very Important Piece of Paper around and even crumpling it slightly in her perfectly manicured (yet strangely large) hand. My concern dissipated when I considered the worst outcome: that I would not be allowed to board the plane. As I was having doubts of a grave nature, this would have felt like a blessing at the time.

“Take it,” she proffered the now crumpled document and gave me a new one to accompany the crumpled one, concerning potential collection of luggage in Dubai en route to Oman.

“You stop at Dubai,” she instructed, “but your luggage will go straight through.” This made no sense to me, as the new document stated that I would have to collect my luggage en route. But I chose to ignore it. As I chose to ignore her concern over my visa.

Next stop security …I had ensured that there were no liquids lurking in my hand luggage and I had removed all electronic devices. For once, I was spared the brutal frisking procedure and I sailed through, confident that I could collect my bag and continue on my way. But no. I was told to wait to one side, which I did for around 5 minutes until I was told, despite standing exactly where I had been placed, that I should move away to protect the privacy of those whose bags were being searched. I still did not have my bag and presumed a search was imminent, but others seemed to have priority. Eventually the man at security who had asked me to move, approached me whilst carrying my bag. I moved towards him, thinking (wrongly) that I might be reunited with my bag but instead he beckoned me to follow him and passed me on to the biggest man I have ever seen, wearing the most purple suit I have ever seen. He took me to yet a third man, who was dwarfed by the giant purple man, but he made up for his lack of inches in self-importance. In a taciturn manner he emptied my bag whilst fixing his gaze on me, by way of intimidation. Silently, he drew my attention to a screen which showed the offending articles. There, on the screen, was the negative of one of those tiny tins of Vaseline. Oops. Guilty as charged … Caught smuggling a gram of lipsalve. But that was not all …

‘Snow globe,’ he accused.

And there was a tiny tiny snow globe on the screen, a memento of Brighton from a friend, packed at the last minute.

He stared at me.

I stared back, feeling the mirth rising up from my chest to my mouth.

Rarely have I been subject to melodrama of such extremes, by one who managed to contain his laughter.

After I repacked my gaudy ‘CabinMax’ rucksack, having turned down Self-Important Taciturn Man’s offer to repack it for me, I walked away for a few seconds, then swiftly glanced back, expecting to see Self-Important Taciturn Man and the Purple Giant convulsing with laughter, clinging onto each other helplessly.

But no.

I guess it was a quiet day at Airport Security.

The flight, I am glad to report, was uneventful. I ate, slept, watched a movie, was asked by an airline stewardess to stop lolling sleepily into the aisle, witnessed an argument between a family in front and the airline staff over meals (‘she is model’ were the most spoken words of the argument, by a middle-aged lady about her daughter and her weird eating habits) and disembarked at Dubai. Remembering the confusion over baggage collection, I asked an airline stewardess if I would have to collect my luggage at Dubai. She laughed and replied that I would not – there would be no time anyway. I re-embarked for the transfer to Oman and finally arrived at my destination and wearily followed the herd of passengers into Muscat airport.

‘Collection of Pre-Paid Visas’ said a sign.

I was struck by the lack of popularity for this particular offering at the airport, but paid the kiosk a visit anyway. There was a lady on her mobile phone, a long way behind the desk – she was almost in a back room in fact – but I awaited her attention nonetheless. Briefly, I looked away, as the view of the partition and the distant lady were both becoming tedious. As I turned back, she swiftly looked back down at her phone, clearly not keen for me to realise that my presence had been acknowledged.

‘Excuse me,’ I called.


‘Excuse me,’ I repeated my plea, ‘I need to collect my visa.’

She waved me away with her hand and returned to her phone. ‘Crush Candy’ must have reached a crucial stage.

I visibly grumped as I left, the emotion of leaving my home city and all that it contained which was all that I held dear, deciding to present itself and course through every vessel in my body. I had been angry but now I was distressed and wanted to go home. I had a strong suspicion that this was just the first time I would feel a sudden urge to sob and sob until I had no sobs left and in time my suspicion would be proved right.

A man in a security uniform stopped me and enquired as to the problem.

‘She won’t give me my visa!’ I replied, a little louder than intended.

‘Ma’am – you need to go over there,’ he gestured towards a sign which read ‘All Other Visas’ and I explained that mine was pre-paid.

‘They are all the same,’ he smiled … and he was right. My mood relaxed but Candy Crush Lady had caused me a considerable amount of distress and I was still feeling this as I queued.

There was a young man ahead of me in the queue who evidently did not know how to silence his phone. In the 15 minutes we stood far too close together in that queue, the number of times his phone pinged must have reached triple figures. He spoke to his presumed girlfriend in that time too. And when a woman on the other side of a barrier began gesturing frantically to him and I realised that she was responsible for the plethora of pings, I wanted to do terrible things to that iPhone 6.

But all too soon the next instalment awaited me at Baggage Reclaim. I waited. And waited … and waited. Nothing. Eventually, as I began to feel human again, I noticed a baggage inquiry desk. The gentleman who dealt with me had a poor grasp of English but I remembered about the chit of paper that the lady with the strangely large hands at Heathrow had given me. Apparently this gave me access to my luggage and he smiled gratefully and assured me that he would ‘get bag’. But he didn’t ‘get bag’ and his face was as forlorn as I was, when he returned empty-handed.

‘At Dubai,’ he said and followed it up with, ‘come back later.’

That brink on which I wobbled was becoming more and more unsteady as I felt myself falling, catatonically into every negative emotion imaginable.

The man with the poor English was replaced by a more fluent gentleman who assured me that my bag would be delivered to me that night. All I had to do was tell him where I lived.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Ok. I take your number and I call you when it arrives.’

My phone had already told me that it would charge me big, fat sums of money for calls and texts so I wasn’t keen.

‘I’ll call you later,’ I offered, hoping that i could borrow a phone from someone later, ‘by then I’ll know where I live.’

And I wandered off, slightly aimlessly, wanting to cry which made my infected eye hurt, wondering if I would see my luggage or my memory sticks again.

I walked through Customs and quite honestly, was clueless as to what I would find. I knew the face of the man (the headteacher) who interviewed me and … that was it. I doubted that he would be the person to meet me. Would it just be me? Would there be other teachers arriving simultaneously? I noticed a man wearing a dishdasha – well, there were many men wearing dishdashas – but this man stood out. I didn’t really know why he stood out, but later on I would realise that it was because he was clean-shaven, whereas – it would seem – many Omani men are not and also, his eyes were lighter than most. I was surprised to hear the words ‘Miss Lisa’ being spoken by this light-eyed clean-shaven man and noticed a card he was holding on which was written the name of the school. I was also surprised to see that he held out his hand and we had been warned that most Omanis of the opposite gender would not shake our hands. But he offered, so I accepted. His hands were soft.

‘You are the last,’ he stated, with a smile and a sense of inner peace.

I explained about my luggage and he was sorry to hear about the situation but reassured me that all would be well. I apologised for my tardiness and secretly came to realise that at no point during my mammoth journey, had I considered what would happen when I arrived in Muscat. I had not given any thought to the people meeting me – I could not have contacted them anyway – but it did not occur to me that I should look out for someone as I walked through Customs. I had a vague recollection of an email that mentioned meeting at a cafe; which is where I spotted a gathering of people with the headteacher in the midst of it all.

‘We thought you’d changed your mind!’ greeted the head and I laughed and explained about my luggage, but kept the thought that I had changed my mind to myself.

He devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to the luggage situation, the outcome of which was that he would bring me back to the airport that evening to collect it. He then devoted yet more time and effort towards my phone situation, explaining that I needed to buy a SIM card at the airport to avoid the big, fat charges from O2. This was proceeding well, until it transpired that I hadn’t unlocked my phone.

‘Argh! I told you do that – I put it in an email!’ he exclaimed.

It was true. He had. The truth was, I hadn’t really understood, so I had paid O2 a visit, explained about my pending job and asked what I should do to prepare for going abroad, regarding my phone.

‘Nothing really,’ the pallid, bored-looking man in O2 had said, just before yawning.

‘It will be really expensive to use your phone abroad,’ he had continued, ‘so I would buy a new phone out there, if I were you.’

And that had been the extent of O2’s advice to me.

A minibus arrived and took all of us new arrivals to our apartment block. There was Omani coffee on the bus and a delectable sweet dessert called halwa. This went some way towards lifting my spirits away from my new problems concerning luggage and phones, although I panicked when it occurred to me that the head had said he would call me to arrange the journey to the airport to retrieve my luggage, but he had no way of contacting me! There had been an offer to go to a supermarket a little later, so I decided to ensure I took this offer, so that I would see him to tell him this.

However, the gentleman with the serene aura arrived to take us shopping instead: I explained my predicament and he told me not to worry. But I did worry – I felt it was the serenity talking and the practical side may not have been aware of the necessity of being proactive.

But he was right – I need not have worried – the head arrived later on and indeed, my luggage had arrived from Dubai. I had to jump through several metaphorical hoops in order to be allowed to retrieve my own luggage (funny how one is not required to jump through any hoops – metaphorical or otherwise – when one collects one’s luggage straight off the plane) but the outcome was a happy reunion with my luggage. As the head dropped me home, I reflected on the help I had received from him and others that day and felt slightly in awe. Emotionally, I was fragile at that time and plans were going awry but I was not having to face problems alone. I thanked him and tried to impart my appreciation of being scooped up from disasters but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Back at my new apartment (which, by the way, was of a generous size and newly-decorated), I unpacked, at last …

If you have ever experienced the feeling of reaching the last few items of a container, whether it is a suitcase or some other vessel and then gradually realised that something is missing, you will sympathise with my heart-stopping, chilling, nauseous feeling. An important bag of jewellery was missing. For the first time that day I cried. I had wanted to on numerous occasions, but had not. There was nothing else for which to stay composed now though; my streaky face would not be seen by anyone. It’s at Heathrow I thought. Self-Important Taciturn Man is responsible for this.

Then I decided to call home. I knew that O2 would gain big, fat sums of money from me but it was worth the sacrifice, I felt. I felt right; I had left the bag at home. It should have been with me, but at least it wasn’t languishing in a grey tray at security in Heathrow.

Ok … there were problems but they were getting solved. Sleep was needed … and so sleep was had.

North Star (Markus and the Tenderhooks)

‘Markus and the Tenderhooks’ are a tangible representation of shifting dynamics in music. Just when you think you’ve identified their genre as ‘jazz meets ska meets Britpop’, they open their latest album, ‘North Star’, with a song title that is clearly classical. The magical ‘Prelude in Blue’, gives us Markus Napier’s rich tones narrating a snippet of a story against a backdrop of delightful piano sounds. Occasional phrases reminiscent of familiar classical pieces give an Oriental feel, adding to the mystery, especially with the spoken references to jazz clubs on Broadway.

A leaning towards country vibes brings us the second track, ‘Mother Dear’, which manages to impart a child’s tenderness towards his mother without the schmaltz.

Drawing you in with some stirring drum beats, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a rousing anthem, in the opening seconds of third track ‘Yolena’. But in true Tenderhooks style, the rug is pulled out from under you as frontman Markus Napier whisks you back to the ‘80s with a slick Britpop-esque commentary. With the afore-mentioned drumbeats and some pretty string sounds, this is a very musical song, despite the whole story being presented via the spoken word; the whole story being the lowdown on the intriguing and enigmatic Yolena. The latter is the narrator’s neighbour and the object of his affection in a remote, adoring manner and indeed, the catchy chorus is a chant of her name with the fun sounds of a tambourine in the background. With his slightly obtuse, yet very entertaining flair for writing clearly evident throughout the song, Napier has every art form – music, writing, acting – covered in just a few minutes and with its clean, abrupt finish, displays an easy flawlessness.

Definite shades of Billy Bragg are evident in the next track on this musical feast: ‘Little Stunner’, only to be followed by the more reflective ‘Sleep Tight’, which, as its name suggests, has qualities of a lullaby – but on the outside, as you’ll find a more upbeat element in the middle.

North Star

The second half of the album kicks off with the rock’n’roll ‘Russell You Up’, before sliding into the easy reggae beats of the aptly-named ‘Ease Yourself’.

Markus’s trademark saxophone – one of my favourite sounds of this band – makes an appearance in ‘Rubber Necking’ before the penultimate rock track ‘Cry Cry Cry’.

The final track – the album’s namesake – ‘North Star’, seems to be a revelation of the first track, ‘Prelude in Blue’, which is clearly a teaser. With keys, strings and wind, there is nothing short of a full orchestra supporting this enchanting number whose lyrics reveal more to the story of which we only receive hints at the start of the album. If ‘Prelude in Blue’ is pretty, ‘North Star’ is stunning; with minor keys building up to a crescendo of harmony, it is a fitting way to round off an album packed with a dynamic variety of musical genres.


‘North Star’ is currently available from Resident Brighton.


Lisa O’Connor

Yolena: from Tenderhooks’ latest album ‘North Star’

Image result for north star tenderhooks

Drawing you in with some stirring drum beats, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a rousing anthem, in the opening seconds of ‘Yolena’, third track on Tenderhooks’ latest album ‘North Star’.

But in true Tenderhooks style, the rug is pulled out from under you as frontman Markus Napier whisks you back to the ‘80s with a slick Britpop-esque commentary. With the afore-mentioned drumbeats and some pretty string sounds, this is a very musical song, despite the whole story being presented via the spoken word; the whole story being the lowdown on the intriguing and enigmatic Yolena. The latter is the narrator’s neighbour and the object of his affection in a remote, adoring manner and indeed, the catchy chorus is a chant of her name with the fun sounds of a tambourine in the background.

With his slightly obtuse, yet very entertaining flair for writing clearly evident throughout the song, Napier has every art form – music, writing, acting – covered in just a few minutes and with its clean, abrupt finish, displays an easy flawlessness.

‘North Star’ is currently available from Resident Brighton.

Lisa O’Connor

Markus and the Tenderhooks

“Is there a pub in Brighton you don’t know?” enquired a friend, upon learning that I was ‘Brighton born and bred’ (whatever the ‘bred’ part actually means, in this context. ‘Born and raised’ would be more apt, but no-one says that).
I laughed and replied that there were plenty, because of Brighton’s dynamic nature; as soon as I think I know them all, I stumble across another crop of them in places that hitherto did not look big enough to house the sign outside, let alone a whole venue.
‘Latest Music Bar’, although not a new venue, was new to me. In a basement in Manchester Street, Kemptown, it is big enough to promise a party yet small enough to elicit an intimate cosiness. Markus was on the door to meet and greet with his trademark trilby and smile to match. With a genuine concern for the wellbeing of his audience, he introduced me to friends lest I should be alone for the evening and so the party began.

Showcase in Musical Craft

Arthur Mills, the first supporting artiste, stepped up first and warmed the audience with the talented sounds of his American style folk music. With topics ranging from poignant moments to burgers, one could call his lyrics delightfully offbeat.
Equally accomplished, Mark Stanley took his turn next and with a more traditional approach, maintained the American style folk theme. With his lilty voice and flawless playing of the acoustic guitar, he continued with the high standard of the evening’s entertainment.
Giving us a change in tempo and genre, Rob Abbott was the last of this showcase in musical craft before the main act. A rock artiste with an old-fashioned vibe, he rounded off this part of the evening with upbeat tunes wrapped up in dulcet tones.

Special mention to Phil Macnamara, an excellent bass player who accompanied all four bands of the evening.

Ska, Blues, Jazz and Rock

Markus Napier is a showman. His onstage (actually, offstage too) charisma engages immediately and his acting prowess is evident from the start. Writer and main protagonist in the ‘Brighton Is Falling’ series (available on YouTube), he introduced his set with an unflinching and dramatic taste of the Brighton drama. A song of the same name appears on their ‘Loving Sword’ album, to which we were treated in his set, plus a few extra songs because this is a man who over-delivers. You cannot limit Tenderhooks to a genre; with a fantastic range of instruments played by the six members of the band (Markus himself shifted between main vocals, sax and guitar), there are shades of ska, blues and jazz in amongst alternative rock. With some beautifully nostalgic lyrics such as ‘I wish I was just ten years older, rest your head upon my shoulder’ mixed in with quirkier lyrics like ‘I ain’t got on any socks, I ain’t got on my shirt’, the diversity between songs is as clever as the diversity of talent within the band.

Powerhouse of Artistic Flair

Markus is the frontman and is a powerhouse of artistic flair and energy, but the whole band is a team of talent and spirit. By the time they were playing an encore, the Latest Music Bar was rocking with a party atmosphere, such is the feelgood effect of the Tenderhooks.

Causes, Triggers and Trips Abroad

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

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

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

And as Edmund replied to Baldrick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then I met Cute Guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also started applying for jobs abroad again.

Then I met someone.

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

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

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

Back to the job applications.

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

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

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

And then I was offered a job.

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

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

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

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

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

EP Review: ‘Party’ by Paul Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa O’Connor

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh?” I feigned interest.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where have you been?” hissed Accompanist 2.

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

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

His hand moved towards me.

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

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

“Funny story … “ I announced.




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

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

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

We looked at each other and replied simultaneously:

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

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

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

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

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

And that was the extent of my relationship with Dan.

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

But the film was good.




I was late.

“Lisa … you come today?”

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


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

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

My mistake was running with the precious brown cargo.

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

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

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

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

I looked up.



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

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

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

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