A Monster Calls

Genre: Fantasy

Certification: 12A

Length: 1hr 48mins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 …

Hold Your Head Up High

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

I wouldn’t have to be such a stickler.

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

Has got to be much more pertickler.”

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

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

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

But this is 2016. Things are different, right?

Well, I thought so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some remarks I would like to challenge.

“You and your colourful love life!”

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

“You’re behaving like a teenager!”

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

“You and your shady pub life!”

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

“Look at you, going out mid-week!”

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

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

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

“Tired? Up late drinking?”

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

“You and your online dating websites!”

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

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

Hmm.

My Story

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Diary … Sorry.

The phenomenon of one’s diary being one’s friend is bizarre, yet generally accepted unquestioningly. I carried out a little research into the origins of this form of personification and found very little, so I cannot impart any worthy scraps of wisdom on the topic. Despite diaries making it onto the National Curriculum some time ago, they are rarely kept consistently, as Moira Redmond highlights in her article in The Guardian:”…you get one as a Christmas present, start writing it, and continue for, oh, a few days…”

The only people she feels should be trusted with the commitment of keeping a journal are fictional characters. This seems fair; as she points out, fictional characters are “forced by their authors to continue the story.” Imagine how sketchy the Bridget Jones franchise would have been if our title character had been as fickle as a real person with her autobiographical offerings.

Any diaries in my Christmas stocking were the result of money well-spent, however. I didn’t keep a diary for my whole childhood but for a good percentage and its purpose was therapeutic, as indeed was my blog’s raison d’etre, initially. Having recently moved house twice in the space of 14 months, I have unwittingly unearthed these dramatic accounts of my childhood and therefore whiled away the occasional half hour on Lisa Workman: The Full Story. The most interesting part is being reminded of how I thought as a child, a teenager and then a twenty-something. Then there is a chasm of nothingness until my blog.

Returning to the ‘Dear Diary’ phenomenon, if my diary is to be considered a best friend, then it is a childhood friend, resurrected in some of my darkest moments in adulthood. I leaned heavily upon this friend earlier this year, but as it did its job of providing a shoulder on which to cry, I have managed to cope for ever-increasing periods of time without it. But, like Fred in ‘Drop Dead Fred’, I hold sway over this friend and as I don’t wish it to cease existing altogether, we will be meeting up from time-to-time; just not as regularly as before.

Another reason for less regular meetings with my blog diary is my new job reviewing movies. I still have my regular teaching job (the appeal was successful), but I have recently joined the team of writers on a film archive website also. Watching, pondering and ultimately writing about a movie takes a considerable amount of time, not to mention editing – which probably takes the most amount of time – so I have little time left for blogging. And little inclination, if I’m honest, as the reviewing fulfils my current need to indulge in this particular muse.

Lastly, my new Open Mic partner has returned from his summer in France and we are finding our feet on the Open Mic circuit, so this is another time commitment that takes me away from this. But that sounds so blunt and cavalier; this is a time commitment that I didn’t think I’d ever have. Just over a year ago, when I started to feel my way around the world of Open Mic as an onlooker, I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve sung a bit in the past, I thought. But I figured I’d have to brush up on my piano playing skills and stick to pubs with pianos, or buy a keyboard, or learn another instrument, like the guitar. But then I broke my wrist. And then I met the Rastafarian and I started to trail around watching him perform and I accepted my role as spectator only. Then that ended and now, here I am, singing at Open Mic nights. New Open Mic Partner – thank you. As with the film reviewing, this is a time commitment I’m very happy to have.

I’m clinging onto the last vestiges of summer by wearing flimsy clothes and shoes, but I shall have to admit defeat soon. Summer was long and warm (mostly) and I indulged in a few trips out, a few catch-ups with friends and a few musical events. One trip out/catch-up with friend was an outing to The Globe to see Macbeth for a fiver (standing). We donned silly – but welcome – free paper hats to shield our faces from the searing sun and opted to stand quite far back so we could lean on the wooden balustrade separating the ‘standers’ from the ‘sitters’ and I was glad we traded a closer view for some support. My legs didn’t start to ache till the second half and even then it was drawing to a close. The quality of the production was unmatched by any other I’ve seen, so for a fiver it was worth the stand.

On the return train, there was a group of twenty-somethings who were surprisingly drunk for so early in the evening. There were no seats, so they stood by the doors and struggled to maintain their balance which, of course, brought about giggly fits of mirth, much to the consternation of the rest of the carriage. They were the cause of some serious eye-rolling, stern looks and huffs and puffs from fellow passengers. The burping, due to continued consumption of gassy lager and the colourful language was a lot for people to handle and when the five other people in my little alcove of seats left, I realised that this noisy situation was about to land in my lap.

And it did. I had been writing a film review on my iPad, which I tried to continue despite one of the group sitting so close to me, he really was almost in my lap. To be fair, he was the least rowdy of the group and attempted to quell his friends’ raucousness by saying ‘there’s a lady here – you guys are being offensive.’ Then he turned to me, repeatedly, to apologise. I said that it was fine and engaged with him as little as possible, as some of them seemed a little aggressive and I wanted to minimise potential problems for myself. I stifled a sneeze, so as not to attract attention and rooted around for a tissue. By now, they were particularly noisy and the one practically in my lap said:

“Guys! You’ve made the lady cry! You should be ashamed.”

I laughed and said that I was fine and that I wasn’t crying and they all laughed. I became aware that the one who was a little close for comfort had become quiet and then I developed a sense of being watched. But he wasn’t watching me … He was reading my review.

“You’re a writer?” he asked.

Despite having a job as a writer now, I feel like an imposter saying that I am one, so I explained about the film reviewing and that I was a teacher mostly.

“I’m struggling to read it over your shoulder,” he said, “so tell me about the movie.”

I asked if he liked Quentin Tarantino and he laughed, as if I should have known that a young, hip, black guy from Peckham would like Tarantino. I started to talk about the movie (not a Tarantino but similar) and the most offensive of the group, who was sitting opposite me, said:

“I know this movie! It’s one of my favourites – are you writing a review on it?”

I said that I was and he began to prove that he could make sounds other than burping and offensive language.

“What subject do you teach?” asked the girl opposite the one who was very close to me, who turned out to be his sister.

We got chatting about English teachers and special needs and it turned out that she had been to a special needs school and wanted to work in one herself. Her brother started to talk about his musical ambitions and we had some common ground with Open Mic.

By the time the train pulled into Brighton, the six of us had covered stylised violence in movies, differing genres of music in pubs and special needs education, which was not what I would have expected from a group of loud, drunken lads (and one ladette). Each of them shook my hand and thanked me for my company … I did the same and they seemed full of contrition for their earlier behaviour. I laughed and said that it really didn’t bother me and I marvelled at how sensibly they disembarked onto the platform. They didn’t seem even slightly merry. Funny.

So after the trauma of leaving my workplace, I’m back for a term. My leaving card still resides on the mantelpiece and I’ve only just polished off the consumable goodies from my thoughtful basket of loveliness from my colleagues. The students are baffled as to why I am back and I have to tell myself every day that it is only for a term. There are no jobs of the calibre I need to survive, so I will probably find myself signing up to a supply agency in January and say ‘yes’ to any requests from anxious parents to tutor their children. I will be renting out a room or two in order to generate a bit more income and then I will ponder my future. Living abroad for a spell is still bouncing around my mind, although a few things have popped up to make me question whether the time is right, so if that pipe dream becomes a reality, it will probably be September 2017.

Joseph finished uni and after moving back here, immediately gained an internship writing/editing for a music magazine so I’m enjoying a proud mum moment. Rhiannon is switching degree courses and has to take time out in-between, so has also moved back. I know that both returns home are temporary but for the moment I am happy to have a full house again and will enjoy it while it lasts. Hannah (Joseph’s girlfriend) has moved down here too and we see a great deal of Jay, the new man in Rhiannon’s life. It’s great to have a full house again, although I am prepared for a time when it won’t be.

I had many blog-worthy experiences in the summer. Harassment from the Rastafarian being one of them and so I ignore his efforts to contact me now. I haven’t run into him for some time and I don’t know where he is living so I have come to terms with the non-payment of his debt to me. Sexting from Wimbledon Man being another … I threatened to block him and so I don’t have to endure his unwanted stream of blatant sexual harassment now. And many other blog-worthy experiences, but I neglected recording them in favour of film reviewing and the passage of time has dulled my memory enough to make it arduous trying to write about them.

We may not meet up as regularly as we once did, blog diary, but I will try to be a better friend than I have been lately.

Lazy, Hazy and Crazy

Funnily enough, another hobby of mine is writing. Once upon a time I wrote poetry but whereas I am enamoured with other people’s poetry, I don’t think I particularly excel at writing it. Joseph does and I think it was upon casting my eye over his profound and moving poetic offerings whilst he was at uni, that I decided this. I’m good at spontaneously dreaming up funny rhyming verse and I can replace lyrics to adapt a song for my own needs, but as for trying to live up to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘the best words in the best order’ catchphrase, that magical re-ordering of words is best left to proper poets such as him. (And Joseph, it would seem. And as a child, Rhiannon wrote some astounding poetry which, in true mum style, I still have.) Even if I find The Rime of the Ancient Mariner too dolorous to read unless I’m teaching it to Y9 … Actually, who am I trying to kid? I feel disturbed after every lesson within that topic. I purposely shot through it last year and managed to squeeze in The Lady of Shallot while the rest of the department were still on Part I. In addition, I struggle to write any worthy poetry unless I’ve dug myself into a hole of gloom in which to wallow. Karen Carpenter famously sang in All You Get From Love is a Love Song, ‘the best love songs are written with a broken heart’ (or ‘the best love songs are written with a broken arm’ according to kissthisguy.com) and cheesy though those lyrics are, I think they could reach out to most people. Both those lyrics – the real ones and the misheard ones – reach out to me, if we extend the metaphor to embrace writing in general. I became inspired to write a fantasy novel whilst married to (soon-to-be-ex) hubby and yes, the divorce IS taking an EXCEPTIONALLY long time considering the presumed simplicity of it. Anyway, I found myself pondering portals into other dimensions whilst walking Rusty one day, as I gazed across an ideal area of scrubland for a TARDIS to land. On my return I gushed my ideas to (soon-to-be-ex) hubby who was very encouraging, being the nerdy bookish type and so I set about my new project. However, after writing a plot outline, a back-story, character summaries and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, I felt suitably fulfilled to tuck it away on a USB stick and in so doing it also became tucked away into the furthest reaches of my mind. Until afore-mentioned hubby walked out and in-between other calamities, I picked up the unfinished story – or rather the barely begun story – blew away the metaphorical dust and found myself in the throes of writing mania. Then I snapped my wrist, which was the topic of previous blog posts, so I won’t revisit the whole sorry saga, except to say, for the benefit of new readers, that it was a bad break involving surgery and I couldn’t do much with that limb for a while, even after I was minus the splint. So The Barely Begun Story was abandoned after a frenetic flurry of attention. Other neglected pastimes included piano-playing, although that was, eventually, partly due to its residence for quite some time in the hallway of my current home, as that was as far as the removal men would move it. In desperation, it has quietly sidestepped (with some assistance) into my bedroom. Along with a spare sofa. (It’s a sizeable bedroom.) I had begun to teach myself the violin too, but proceeded as far as one YouTube tutorial before the whole wrist-snapping thing.

Fast forward to January this year and I felt suitably inspired to start a blog. Gosh, I’m writing about writing. Blogging about blogging, in fact … Is this meta-blogging? I will not tarry on this topic lest I bring about something unintentional … Like the opening of a portal to another dimension, maybe! Sorry – I guess my mind is on my fantasy story now. Back to my blog. It owes itself principally to a hankering for catharsis. Secondary to that, enough people said in jest that I ‘should write a book’ after yet another recounting of yet another fiasco in my life, that I thought I would. Well, a blog, anyway. I felt the need to offload about the graver fiascos in my life, but not to a person. Or even to a medium which might be read by a person. I never aspired to gain an audience; I only started sharing on Facebook because after I casually let slip that it existed at all, people asked about it. I’m very glad it is being read, for a variety of reasons and I continue to be both surprised and thankful for the interest shown. To speak with candour, the latter has shaped my blog. It may have been one long whine if people hadn’t started reading it. I progressed to funny Tinder moments because friends had laughed at the antics of my clinically insane chickens and my misunderstanding of ‘come and see my Buddhist altar’. But just a couple of months of flirting with Tinder meant that the material was finite. Then after the sequence of events that brought me to The Folky Pub on a night magically tinged with fate, I sourced a new supply of material … The Rastafarian. Of course, I could not access it immediately because I was unaware that this relationship would actually become a blog for a time, but eventually, the honeymooned shine of new love dulled from being lied to, cheated on and wrung dry of money, patience and comfort. And that mishap of a relationship has provided me with enough material to have a complete blog dedicated solely to him, if I felt inclined to grant him such an accolade, so credit where it is due: special thanks to the reggae-playing rogue.

At the close of my last prosaic offering, I promised news on the Rastafarian and more writing. As in ‘news on more writing’, not just ‘more writing’, because the latter is a given, really. So, at this juncture, I could branch off in either direction. This post, thus far, has been a journey to the ‘more writing’ promise of my last post, but I find myself referring to the Rastafarian. I’m sticking with my original plan … news on the Rastafarian can wait.
So, being in writing mode, when I was asked if I would like to write a feature for a website on a movie of my choice, eagerly I agreed. A thousand words. Two thousand words later and still counting, I thought I needed to stop. The dog thought I needed to stop too. It took me longer to edit it than to write it. The trouble with editing, is that in sifting through your work in order to glibly slice swathes of it out, you find yourself re-wording the stuff that is staying, sometimes in lengthier ways and also thinking of new material to add. But I almost got there … I was granted an extra 600 words so the finished product was 1,600 words and now I am the proud owner of a feature about one of my favourite flicks (Georgy Girl) published on a movie website. I am, officially, a guest contributor now and am writing a review for another movie. Indeed, when I sat down at my iPad today (doesn’t have the same ring as ‘type-writer’ or ‘computer’, does it?) I had to choose between writing that and my blog. But as I should re-watch said movie first and the sun was pouring forth Mediterranean warmth, I chose my blog as I could sunbathe simultaneously. Multi-tasking at its best. Earlier this week, when I wanted to sunbathe but felt guilt pangs about neglecting the house, I weeded the garden. So sunny was the weather and so keen was my desire to tan my tummy, that I have weeded the whole garden.

Some time ago I took the Rastafarian to court for money he owed me. He agreed to repay me at the paltry rate of £20 PCM but it was better than the alternative, which was nothing. He did not begin the repayments and so a charge was put on his possessions. I knew he was at risk of eviction and concerned that the bailiffs would have a wasted trip if they visited him, I messaged him to ask if his eviction was imminent.

‘Yes,’ came the unusually straightforward response.

‘When?’ I asked.

‘Now.’

My feelings were a jumble. Frustration, that I knew I had narrowly missed getting some of my money back after the inevitable sale of his goods, had the bailiffs seized them. Disappointment, at the lack of progress. Anger, that he had managed to dodge justice … Again. An indescribable feeling of slight nausea, at the reminder that this unscrupulous man had extorted so much money from me. And lastly, pity. He did not deserve my pity, but regardless of the carelessness with which he lived his life that had brought his lifestyle to its knees, the prospect of homelessness can’t be pleasant. And when an undesirable character endures an all-encompassing hardship such as being without a home, it is as if they have been stripped back to just themselves, so that there is nothing they can hide from you. He could not duck and dive out of this predicament, although I felt sure that he would. But who wants pity anyway? I don’t see my pity for the Rastafarian in a positive light and I doubt he would, either. He asked if he could come and live with me but, agonising though it was, I refused his plea for help. I have spoken to several people about this and the response is always the same – of course, you said ‘no’? Of course, I reply every time, because I did and so he isn’t living with me. I don’t want him living with me: we are not in a relationship, he has treated me badly, I intend taking in a lodger for my spare room, he would abuse my hospitality in every way possible but mostly by never leaving, my resentment for the treatment I have hitherto received from him would increase … I could continue. But my steadfastness flies in the face of values I hold dear, so my choice has not sat well with me. One person only understood but that is not a criticism of those who don’t; moreover, that one person did not figure largely in my life throughout my relationship with the Rastafarian and so conversely, perhaps it is he who is lacking comprehension and the others understand only too well why I had to say ‘no’. But if ever I need consoling, I can recall the words of one friend who wisely said, you can’t reduce the lives of your children to enhance the life of one who does not deserve it. And of course, one’s children are priority. Joseph has finished uni and although he is keen to find his own place, is at home until he does. Rhiannon is switching courses and so is at home also, for the foreseeable future, until she can take up a place on her new degree course. But even if they weren’t, it is the family home and as such, is there for the enjoyment of my family, not the Rastafarian.

However, it weighs heavily on my being that a man with whom I was in a relationship once, is living on the streets. I have stumbled across him a few times, with other people who are similarly bereft of a home and, presumably, family, or at least one that is in a position to assist. Usually, to be tactful, he is not clear-headed. He is always pleased to see me and asks for nothing. I can’t help recalling Simon and Garfunkel’s song I Am A Rock, because he seems that way now. He has no need of anything anymore. Evidently, he has a ready supply of alcohol and other recreational drugs and he never did eat much. It is summer, so the nights are kind to him and when I commented that he doesn’t smell as if he is sleeping rough, he said that he swims in the sea, fully-clothed, to wash himself and his clothes. He was getting sufficient money to get by through busking, but a fellow homeless person broke his guitar, so that particular avenue of income is no more. Recently, a friend said he could stay in her house whilst she was away, so currently, he has somewhere other than the pavement to lay his head and he has gained some work through one of his zero-hour contracts. He tells me that he is on a list for housing, so possibly, as Autumn gives us a taste of wintry nights and dark mornings, he will be able to pick himself up off the streets and find himself housed once more. There is little distinction between his life with a home and his life without a home. It was not out-of-the-ordinary for him to socialise with the homeless on the streets and on sultry, summer nights, he would not consider it strange to stay out till the first light of dawn, drinking, chatting, singing, dancing, in Pavilion Gardens or another ‘homeless hotspot’, soaking up the camaraderie and cheer only found in the summer months when being homeless seemed liberating rather than desperate. Foreign students would sometimes join the unofficial party, maybe not fully realising the situation; or realising, but not caring, because they could wobble home at some point to a comfy host house or hostel. At worst, the Rastafarian is a narcissistic, grasping, deceitful man capable of riding roughshod over people’s feelings and abusing their goodwill. At best, he is a complicated individual whose free-spiritedness is his best feature and the best way for him to live his life, without getting too close to people to eventually wound them. So being homeless seems to suit him, put bluntly. He does not appear to be adversely affected by his new-found state and so I take some comfort from this. He calls me and messages me but not compulsively, as before, presumably because of lack of funds. He is deluded to the point that he believes us to be in a relationship still, so rather than continuing to re-iterate this point, I ignore these delusions, pick up if he calls, reply if he messages me and chat to him if I see him down on the boardwalk or idling on the sparkly benches opposite the Theatre Royal. He does not deserve to lament my lack of hospitality, but I expected him to, so I am taken aback by his calm accepting of his dire circumstances. Perhaps this is old ground for him, or perhaps it is because this is a life not so dissimilar from his previous one, or perhaps it is because he survived a genocide, so any life is better than his experiences of hand-to-mouth survival. Or perhaps, just perhaps, the free spirit within is sitting back on his haunches and whispering in his ear … It just doesn’t get any better than this …

There has been a lull in the singing hobby, as The Dude has a cornucopian supply of reasons to not play at any more Open Mic nights, so I am very grateful for other offers of accompaniment. Also, my task of treading carefully around his feelings, to tell him that I wish to sing with other guitarists also, is made a little easier. In fact, it isn’t a task anymore, as I am presuming that he has lost interest in being a local musician. I am grateful for his commitment at the start, as I would not have attended the charity Open Mic night without it and therefore would not have attended the one at the slightly scruffy Art Deco cafe near to my home. And of course, it is because of my attendance there, that I gained two other accompanists. One of those is on holiday till September and the other has only offered to accompany me at the afore-mentioned Art Deco cafe (which, incidentally, is the very cafe where I was treated so kindly when I snapped my wrist). So, more time for writing, sorting areas of the house not yet sorted post-moving, meeting friends and looking for a job.

As for the last two, they became a little too intertwined … So, last year it was Toby Hunting (on the pretext of a day-long celebration that school was ‘out’ for the summer) and this year it was … Well, end of school forever for me. That school, anyway, so it was just ‘School’s Out’. My colleagues and I met at a beach bar at midday down on the boardwalk, moseyed up to a cocktail bar in the centre of town in the evening, giggled our way to a music bar in The Lanes later on and then rounded off the evening at The Folky Pub, having run through a labyrinth of alley-ways first, merrily sniggering at cheeky lingerie shops that weren’t even there anymore. I fell through the front door at around 1am, to find my children still up and conversing more lucidly than I was capable of doing at such a time after such a day. For some reason I took it upon myself to check my emails, only to find that I was being invited for interview at 8am the following morning. Now, I would have declined and requested a re-scheduling, but as I had missed the deadline for this job and begged them to consider my application, I felt obliged to accept the offer. Which I did. I even sent them an articulate reply and read it and re-read it for obvious howlers like kisses at the end and proclamations of drunken love and then proceeded to set my alarm for 6am, before taking myself off to bed. I was ready and waiting at 8am, my top half looking passable for a Skype interview. My bottom half was clad in blue and white stripy pyjamas, but they would never know this. I had coffee to rival Singapore Airlines’ jet fuel to my left, out of view (to be stolen in incremental gulps whenever my interviewer looked away) and the interview went oddly well. I wouldn’t recommend an early morning interview after an entire day of imbibing Prosecco, cocktails made from popcorn and ice-cream (during Happy Hour so I had two) and Guinness, but it does prove that the most unlikely outcomes are possible. I’m still awaiting news, as I’m still awaiting the result of my appeal against my redundancy.

Lovely Friend and I met up for Pride and to quote from a song, it really was one of those ‘lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer’. We basked on various patches of grass, some surrounded by over-priced (but delectable nonetheless) hippy food stalls and beer tents, where we deliberated over the cheapest way to drink as much Pimms as possible (pre-buying from a supermarket would have worked) … Others surrounded by nothing and no-one, just grass and azurean skies. We sang along with twinkly cabaret acts and danced in the streets – a throwback to our past lives, melting under bright stage lights and flitting from one side of the Dome stage to the other, trying to keep in time with 30+ kindred souls, not mindful of the finite nature of our youth and that there would be a last time we would see each other. Until recently – Lovely Friend, I know you are reading this, so just to say, I’m glad you are back in my world.  We lost each other for a time and then found each other at another friend’s flat on the seafront, where we took time out from the revelries to drink lovely drinks and eat mojito flavoured popcorn (which is awesome, by the way).  I’ve just realised that I’m wearing the pink jacket that Other Friend kindly loaned to me as I wasn’t really dressed for the street party anymore, after the evening stole the sun and replaced it with saddening skies. So, if you’re reading this, Other Friend – I will return it to you soon (it was much appreciated)!

Signing off to watch the meteor shower, as I believe it peaks tonight. I’m a tad premature, but maybe a rebel Perseid or two will give me a preview, as I may not stay awake for the full show. I gained nothing from last night’s stargazing, except a crick in my neck. I thought I saw a shooting star and in my excitement I took a step to the left and slipped on a slug. Would have been worth it for a shooting star, but it turned out to be a light-coloured moth flying at point-blank range.

 

It’s Been a While

Hello WordPress, my old friend … I’ve come to talk with you again. The irony of my recent silence is that I’ve had a good deal about which to write in the last month, which, weirdly, accounts for the lack of posts.
Where to start … The exit from my job, although it is an ‘ending’, would be a good starting point. The last day of the academic year is normally a light, bouncy affair, involving students who are too preoccupied with the prospect of languishing for several weeks to misbehave and staff who are too preoccupied with the prospect of not having to associate with said students for several weeks, to react to any misbehaviour. But this year, it was a sober affair. The staff had been decimated by ‘restructuring’, so this was the last day for many (including me). More than decimated, in fact, seeing as the percentage of loss was higher than 10%. Strangely, the soberest of the staff, in my opinion, were the ones who were staying. I think I understand this, speaking as one who is amongst the ‘loss’. It is difficult to fathom how your workplace will be when a great change is imminent. You have the pain of saying ‘goodbye’ to colleagues with whom you have worked for a period of time, but without the anticipation of a new life path. When you have been made redundant, you draw on resources to help you through the pain, because humans have the capability to do this. Some struggle more than others and they may enlist outside support, such as counselling, but it is a natural human response to crises, to deliberate and attempt to find some positivity in an otherwise desperate situation, as well as making plans in order to survive the crisis with the best possible outcome. So although the ‘leavers’, on the face of it, were the ones who had no control over their predicaments, in a way, they had more control than the ‘stayers’. The latter had no control over their friends’ departures, yet we had a modicum of control, because by the time we left, we had plans. Those plans may not have come to fruition yet and they may change, but they exist, nonetheless and are currently serving the purpose of providing hope for the future. More of those plans later … So anyway, the last day was a bit gloomy. The students left at midday, leaving us grown-ups to eat, drink and … Well, no-one was very merry. We left the school before polishing off the wine remaining after lunch, which was unusual and took ourselves to the usual ‘TGI Friday’ haunt. I mean that metaphorically, by the way; it isn’t an actual TGI Friday. But the general aura of foreboding followed us to the quintessential English country pub, which would soon revert to being just that, for me, instead of a sigh of relief at the end of a tough week. Whereas I had thought that I might leave my borrowed car there until the next day (in the event of drinking), instead of fizzing with Prosecco, the proceedings began to fizzle out fairly soon, so I left and got home in plenty of time for rehearsal, which leads me onto the play.

The play came and went and despite my concerns, I revelled in it. I love acting. I am aware of the things I struggle with, like being punctual, sword-fighting, snow-boarding and staying married. There are other things, of course, but they popped into my mind almost instantaneously, so they deserve to be on my small, select list. However, I feel that everyone should embrace their talents and so I embrace acting as one of my talents. I never feel nervous. I love dressing up, donning layers of make-up and having an excuse to style my hair in (usually) an old-fashioned way. I love pretending to be someone else (is this my inner child?) and I love being in the spotlight (the Leo in me?). I love learning lines (I attribute this to Latin ‘A’ Level and learning pages of Latin poetry. Or maybe I should attribute my love of Latin to a love of learning lines?) and I love pretending to be living someone else’s life. I can barely cope with historical plays such as The Accrington Pals and Our Country’s Good, although those are the type of play that move me to tears, so that I will actually cry on stage when it is required and such parts have definitely taken up residence in my soul for all eternity. Ruth Condomine was not such a part, but I still enjoyed being her for a week. Actually, it was more like three months, because that’s how long the rehearsal period was and so that’s how long the metamorphosis took (I caught myself conversing with people in a Cowardesque manner on more than one occasion, particularly during arguments. I actually used the word ‘hideous’ to a chap in a TalkTalk call centre in India). Irving Berlin’s ‘Always’ moved me every night, because, I believe, my emotions are not dissimilar from a Slush Puppy. Anything historical, even something connected to a fictional black comedy such as Blithe Spirit, pulls at my heart strings and the crackle of needle on vinyl moves me even more, as if I am feeling nostalgia for a time I never witnessed. I blame having children. I was in possession of an inner band of steel before then, but my capacity for crying increased tenfold after the birth of my first child. Initially, I thought that it was because Joseph had a very poor start in life, being born prematurely and with pneumonia and so nothing was definite until he made a dramatic recovery one night and pulled out all his tubes and wires. Anyone reading this who has had a poorly newborn, will understand that I can’t even write that without my heart actually wobbling a little. But I understand that the transformation from sensible, pragmatic woman who is in command of her emotions, to sensitive Mother Earth who is not in command of anything that might involve tears, is not unusual in mothers (and maybe fathers too, although I haven’t encountered many), with or without the trauma of a very sick infant. And in case there are any mothers reading this who are still in control of their lacrimal glands, I have been careful to word this to reflect that this does not happen to all mothers. And likewise, there are many childless women and men, I’m sure, who are already untidy heaps of emotion.

Back to Blithe Spirit; it was a pleasure. If I’m honest, my reasons for enjoying acting are undefinable. Maybe I’m just a show-off! But it was good to be treading the boards again, especially at a time when I needed a distraction from the woe of impending unemployment. It was only a few months since the last foray into the theatre, but that was as part of a singing trio supporting a play. It is a couple of years since I played a part and that was in Ovingdean, where plays are a rather unique experience. The best way to describe the theatrical experience there is to compare every offering with a pantomime. It could be a murder mystery, a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean romp, but there is an intimacy in every production that I have not encountered in any other amateur theatre (except during panto season). The usual barrier between players and audience does not exist. People popular in the village are sometimes applauded when they make their entrance. The audience feels able to engage with the players and vice versa. This is not a criticism – just an observation – it is how they do amateur theatre in the hamlet of Ovingdean, but as a resident of Telscombe Cliffs, one does not feel the same bond with the audience. That said, it was pretty cool when Steve Coogan came to see one such play and invited us all back to his house for the last night party. My Facebook status that night was ‘Steve Coogan called me foxy!’ which is probably etched far deeper into my memory than his and is probably no surprise to you, the reader, because not only did I status it on Facebook, but also I ensured my friends outside of the Facebook fraternity knew by word of mouth too. But I digress, as usual … Back to Rottingdean – I had not played a part there for several years – and pleasurable though it was, I have reached the conclusion that acting is not something I wish to do regularly. I have filled my down-time with pastimes that do not require rigid commitment and which have taken me on a different journey and I haven’t missed acting these past years … But it’s good to know that I can still learn pages, pages and yet more pages of lines and playing a part does allow you to exercise your voice, your emotions and your capacity for team-playing. And of course, socially, it is a perfect vehicle for touching base with old friends and making some new ones. I look forward to dabbling in the theatre again in the future, but not in the compulsive manner I did so in the past.

One of my new hobbies is singing. Well, it isn’t really new … I have sung in plenty of shows, a few plays, a couple of choirs and briefly with a band as a backing singer, but rarely on my own. So it is the manner in which I am indulging in this hobby that is new. For some time now, I have been rehearsing with The Dude in order to prepare for our entrance into the world of Open Mic as performers, rather than onlookers only. So, when Singing Sister, Singing Friend and I (totalling the singing trio of which I was a part a few months ago) were invited to sing at a charity Open Mic event, I got excited. Singing Sister wasn’t keen, as she was moving house and so we couldn’t be a trio anyway, regardless of whether or not Singing Friend wanted to take part. So The Dude and I agreed to do it instead; as a duo, of course, not as a trio resembling The Andrews Sisters.
‘We’ll have a couple of Open Mics under our belt by then,’ said The Dude, confidently.
That would have been great … If it had happened. Unfortunately, there was always a reason for us to not do whichever Open Mic we planned to do.
It is only as we approached the charity Open Mic event that I realised how deeply ran the sensitivities of The Dude. There were times when my frustration was difficult to hide and I admit that there were times when I was glad he’d baled. But the thespian in me runs deep, and the mantra ‘the show must go on’ is one that is so embedded in my psyche that it is a part of me, so I struggle with the notion of letting people down.
‘I won’t let you down,’ he reassured me, although I was not convinced until we were actually playing. I didn’t feel nervous, but the nerves got the better of my voice. Historically, my voice suffers during stress. It is an occupational hazard of teaching; obviously, our voices are our main resource, so we probably over-use them, but the occasional and (thankfully) temporary loss of your voice in teaching is only partly due to this and the other cause is stress.
The following evening there was another Open Mic night, a 5 minute bus-ride away from my home.
‘I’m game if you are!’ hopefully, I messaged The Dude.
‘I’m emotionally drained after last night,’ came his reply.
I went anyway … I felt the need to sing better than the previous night and we weren’t committed to this. We could rock up and perform if we felt like it, thereby preventing any stress-induced croakiness (in my case, anyway). But he couldn’t be persuaded to join me, so the purpose of my visit was merely to ‘check it out’.
‘Are you singing?’ said the barmaid, who turned out to be the lady who had organised the event.
‘No,’ I replied, a bit taken aback that she had asked. What made her think I was anything more than a customer?
‘You looked like you might have been singing and you’re here quite early.’
Clearly she was a mind reader.
I explained how I’d like to sing, but I was lacking an accompanist and she told me to introduce myself to the technical organiser of the Open Mic. But I didn’t … I got my drink and sat down.
Two ladies came in with a little dog and started chatting. They, too, asked me if I was going to sing (it must have been the trilby – maybe it was making me look musical). I explained my predicament and again, I was being persuaded to approach the Open Mic guy, so I said I would if he ran out of acts. People came and went … They sang, they played, they sang and played and then it seemed to be finishing. Yet another lady called over to me and asked if I was singing and so I buckled and asked the Open Mic guy if he would accompany me. He didn’t know my songs, but let me sing a Capella. As I placed the microphone back in its stand, the Open Mic guy spoke to me.
‘Would you like to be the backing singer for my band?’
‘Yes!’ I replied, without hesitating and with hindsight, he must have wondered why I didn’t make more enquiries. It reminded me of a time when, as a teenager, I was approached by the producer of a big show in which I played a member of the chorus. He asked me if I would like to be in a play he was directing and my response was identical – an immediate ‘yes’ – because he was a big name in amateur theatre in Brighton at the time. He laughed at my impetuosity and my teenage self blushed with embarrassment. Despite being in several of his shows at The Dome, I had never spoken to him and neither had he ever addressed me personally. Subsequently, I was directed by him in more plays and for a spell he was even my line manager during my time of teaching history. I laugh at myself now, at how I was totally in awe of someone who became a good friend.
Back to the present day and so I found myself agreeing to something that a year ago, would have seemed far-fetched. What a strange journey life is … I nearly didn’t go to the Open Mic night but I did and I’m glad.

In other news, Ex-hubby No 1 married Wife No 3 and we all went to the wedding. The children attended the whole day, whereas I attended the evening only. Many people queried my decision to attend but I weighed up the pros and cons and decided that the biggest ‘pro’ was that I might regret a decision to decline the invite. We’re all glad we went, but possibly not for all the same reasons. There were many people there that I knew: my children, of course! But also my ex in-laws, whom I still regard as family in many ways and also some old friends. Some more recent friends too but the point is, there was plenty of opportunity for socialising and it was like most evening wedding receptions, with dancing, food, a bar and jollity. I came home on the bus with a couple of sticks of rock with their names going through the whole rock. It tasted nice and as I don’t really eat sweets as a rule, it was kinda nice to have it. Kinda weird, too, to be eating your way through rock with your first ex-husband’s name on it, coupled with his new wife. But it tasted nice. What can I say? It’s gone now, which is a good thing, as one can’t really have that sort of thing hanging around the house.
It’s summer, of course, so I’m a little burnt but up until a few days ago, was enjoying exploring my relatively new neighbourhood. Rusty and I have delighted in discovering some stunning cliff-top walks with a selection of paths down to the beach. The under-cliff walk in my new habitat is intermittent, so there are some breathtaking beaches overseen by resplendent and imposing cliffs and naturally occurring caves, which, unfortunately, are too dangerous to enter, because of the crumbly nature of our characteristic chalk. The loveliest of beaches has been commandeered by an unofficial all-male nudist colony, so I am careful as to which part of the beach I choose to meander along, for fear that Rusty will lead me into an awkward situation. On the hottest days, the latter has overcome his fear of the English Channel and launched himself into the sparkly sea for a welcome cool-off. I have joined him on occasion, a good distance from the nakedness and fully clothed, in comparison, in my swimsuit.
As I say, this was up until a few days ago when it transpired that Rusty had injured his leg. Possibly from the strenuous walking, but anyway, he is on bed rest. This information is difficult to impart to him, of course. He is forbidden from taking walks, which is easy to do; or not do, rather. He is forbidden from playing, which is tough, as he has cultivated a wonderfully wistful look, complete with confused head-tilt, when I refuse to throw his toy, even if I give him a cuddle instead. He is forbidden from leaping, which is impossible, of course. He is gaining weight and as he is prone towards being a little chunky, this is not good. The cat, conversely, is underweight and suffering from sunburnt ears. I feed her in the old chicken house now, as I can ensure that the entrance is only big enough for her and not big enough for greedy Rustys or seagulls. I have to move briskly, though, for fear of being mugged by the latter. The other morning, our resident seagull stole a tin of cat food from me, as I was attempting to transfer the contents into Snowball’s dish. However, not surprisingly, it was too heavy and he or she dropped it. It landed on Rusty’s head who promptly ran off with it. The seagull swooped down once more, but failed to secure a grip on the tin. Rusty was suitably traumatised by the potential mugging, however and ran to leave me to take back my rightful property – or rather Snowball’s – and continue with my feeding operation. She has not gained weight, despite my Herculean efforts to ensure she is eating well. And Rusty has not lost weight, despite my Herculean efforts (up until the leg injury) to shift it, through half portions and long walks. And if you have ever attempted to apply sun cream to a cat’s ears, I’m sure you will understand my vexation.
Probably time to stop, despite having a wealth of further material, as this is becoming a gargantuan blog post and possibly losing its way. Still to come … The Rastafarian, more writing and wild nights out mixed with job interviews (btw, it isn’t a good mix).

Planes, Trains and Livestock

Some time ago, I told a good friend about my contingency plan. Your what, she said. My contingency plan, I repeated, that will come into play if I find myself going solo. Don’t be silly, she laughed, he loves you, she assured me. You never know, I warned, he might decide one day that he doesn’t and leave me! We both laughed some more, but I told her about The Contingency Plan anyway, which was to work abroad for a spell.

Fast forward … A year, I think and it wasn’t anything to laugh about anymore. I’m basing this time frame on the fact that I know she was giving me a lift in her cute vintage car at the time of the conversation and so it was probably when I was lacking a car, which means it was sometime within the last year before he left me. I remember the night before he told me. I went to see An Inspector Calls straight from work, with my Head of Department and some Literature students. It was last-minute – I wasn’t currently teaching the text – someone else was supposed to go and I had their ticket. The journey back was hideous. There were diversions and it took far longer than expected. I developed a craving for Maltesers whilst journeying home and stopped at a small Sainsbury’s to buy some. I remember pondering on the absence of a concerned text from (soon-to-be-ex) hubby and almost texting him, but putting my phone away instead, feeling a little uncared for. I’d eaten the Maltesers by the time I got home, which was a good thing, because he would have judged me. For an easy life, I disposed of the packet before entering the house. (Little did I know that Maltesers would become my staple diet, along with bottled lager, for the next month.) We talked about the play, I complained about the journey and we went to bed. Afterwards, he would tell me that that was the night he made his decision. I don’t recall much about the next day at work (it’s always unnerved me, how we remember just a handful of days, really, from our whole lives) except one or two references to the trip the evening before, or rather the raging hormones of Y11 boys on the trip (we had taken it in turns to search for the over-sexed male contingent of Y11, whose radars for pretty girls from other schools – because there is more appeal attached to girls from other schools, evidently – were on red alert).

Returning to (soon-to-be-ex) hubby, I remember that evening, of course, when he announced his intention to leave me. I’d prepared dinner – it wasn’t particularly creative, on the grounds that we’d moved house three weeks earlier, were still surrounded by boxes and I hadn’t wholly familiarised myself with the kitchen. But I remember I was in my dressing-gown and had taken the unusual decision to uncork a bottle of wine, without first checking that (soon-to-be-ex) hubby would share it with me. It must have been a tiring day … Or I was buckling under the trauma of moving house, because I was devastated to have left my beautiful, 4-bedroomed, detached house in Woodingdean. I told Longstanding Friend (from A Bit of History) first, because he happened to message me on Messenger and he was suitably shocked and very supportive. I sat in the car so I could rant and cry, out of earshot of the one who had made me rant and cry, until the front of my dressing gown was sodden with my tears. He left two days later, but I didn’t see him during those two days. He travelled light, just taking the coat and shoes he was wearing, leaving the others in the porch. You must have really hacked him off, observed a friend sometime later. It would have been in arguably poor taste, had it come from an old friend, but it came from a new friend, who hadn’t witnessed my utter desolation at being abandoned so unexpectedly, so any crassness could be forgiven and I laughed at the flippant humour. One of the hardest things was telling people. I encouraged friends to talk to each other, because it saved me the job. That sounds blasé, I know, but it isn’t; moreover, every re-telling is a re-enactment and therefore a re-experiencing of the pain. As recovery begins, it lessens, but initially, I cherry-picked recipients of the news. The first person I chose to tell after Longstanding Friend, was Good Friend of cute vintage car fame, as she lived up to her pseudonym, I would see her at work anyway and she and hubby (also a good friend) were rare ‘couple friends’. She, too, was aghast at the news but she and hubby went on to cheer me considerably in the early days and are responsible for my friendship with The Dude, as they chose him on Tinder, one drunken, jolly night at my house, during my brief liaison with the controversial dating app. So as well the gratitude I feel for their friendship, I am grateful for that too. Just to clarify, I had a lot of support from many quarters and if I don’t mention you, it isn’t because your support isn’t appreciated. Friends, family, colleagues … You all played a part in my recovery and for that I am very grateful.

After a time, The Contingency Plan gave me a nudge and I applied for a job abroad. Naive would be an understatement to describe me at this juncture. I thought it was in the bag and then communication dwindled down to … Nothing. Clearly, I did not have the job. I am wiser now and in recent weeks I have applied for many jobs, all from a reputable website. This is because we were informed at work that they would be undertaking a consultancy process with a view to making people redundant and we would be informed by their deadline of May 27th. As a single person paying off a fairly sizeable mortgage, being unemployed or working part-time is not an option. By the time the governors’ noses were up against that deadline, I needed to be telling a school in Malaysia whether or not I wanted the job. It would have meant a drop in pay, but if I were made redundant, at least it was a job. But this was The Contingency Plan; getting a plane to foreign climes for a bit was my alternative dream. Did I want to settle for second best for my dream? I took a gamble. I turned it down and kept my fingers crossed I wasn’t made redundant. But I was …

During the month-long consultancy process, I took my car along to my friend’s husband for its MOT. To my distress, it failed.

‘Have you braked sharply, recently?’ asked Friend’s Husband when I rang from work, in my usual spot, up against the window of my classroom where, if I stood REALLY still, I might maintain a signal long enough to have a complete telephone conversation.

‘Actually, I have,’ I replied and I bored him with the story of the driver who slammed on her brakes because the lights started to change, paying no heed to the fact that I was behind her and our cars almost became violently united. Apparently a pump broke and so my car is not worth saving. Pollyanna would have said that at least I lost my car round about the time I lost my job, so I wouldn’t have to worry about how to get to work for much longer. In case you’re wondering who Pollyanna is, she is the main protagonist in a children’s book of the same name, who sees rainbows and butterflies in everything. I read it as a child and wondered why we couldn’t all be like Pollyanna. Unrealistic though Pollyanna is, she is a shining example of optimism and I do try to accept these poor hands that fate sometimes deals out because frankly, worse things happen.

So, with no car, I rummaged in the shed until I managed to extract a bike. It was not unlike Chihiro (aka Sen) extracting the splinter from The Stink Monster in Spirited Away, because the splinter is attached to something resembling the contents of a rubbish dump, including a rusty bike. Sadly, unlike Chihiro, I was not rewarded with the shed transforming into a river spirit, but I had gained a bike. However, on the first day of cycling, both tyres were flat, so I hurriedly rang a nearby colleague, who kindly swung by and gave me a lift. Another colleague, who cycles everyday, kindly lent me her bicycle pump that day at work, so that night I pumped up my tyres and the next morning I set off on my bike ride, over the hills and far away.

Currently, Telscombe Tye is home to around a million sheep. Ok, maybe I’m being hyperbolic but there are a LOT of the funny-looking creatures residing there at the moment. And they are funny-looking, when you get up close, which happens when you’re trying to cycle through a million of them. Their faces are (in my opinion) identical to camel faces. And llamas. And goats. I looked this up, because I figured they were from the same gene pool, which they are, but the real surprise was that whales are too. Now I’m imagining whales with camel faces and that’s REALLY funny-looking. And toes, because members of this animal family are called even-toed ungulates – or artiodactyls. There are around 220 artiodactyl species including pigs, hippos, whales, camels, llamas, deer, giraffes, sheep, goats and cattle. And many others. SOOO going to get some nerd messaging me with more info, so I’ll expand just a little (because I don’t want to bore you with nerdism) on this, so they know that I know a little more. Dolphins are included in this and as we know, from primary school days, along with whales, are mammals. One of the biggest clues is that they don’t lay eggs. This is because they evolved from a land creature and it is the same creature from which hippos (and many other creatures) evolved. The rest is history. Well, pre-history, I guess.

Moving on … I can recall occasions in my childhood when I was chased by livestock. On foot or on horseback (that memory is hazy, so I’m not sure about it) and in adulthood, on my bike. Being of Celtic parentage, I had a Welsh doll as a child, which forever bore a reminder of being chased by bulls in Devon.
‘They’re bulls!’ protested one of my four older siblings, as my parents creaked open the gate to the field through which we would end up running.

‘They’re cows … It’s fine … They’ve just been milked, that’s all,’ reassured another member of the family.

As the youngest, you don’t get much say in these important decisions and you do tend to put your trust in your elders. And so many people tell you to be brave, when you’re small, for various milestones like injections and fillings, that it becomes your default state. So I followed the herd (of humans, not cows, or even debatable cows) and round about halfway through the field of debatable cows, it would seem that they became bulls. Not even debatable bulls, actual bulls.

‘Run!’ commanded someone, but we didn’t really need to be told.

As the smallest, my legs were the also the smallest and therefore could not run as fast as the rest of the family. I was three at the most; I know this because I hadn’t started school and I only turned four about a week and a half before starting school, being a late-August baby and we weren’t on holiday so close to my starting school.

Singing Sister must have dropped back to be with me, which was selfless of her, given that she is five years older and therefore her legs were five years longer than mine. I know she was with me because when I dropped my Welsh doll in a cow-pat, or bull-pat, to be more specific, she stopped when I cried out and bravely picked Myfanwy out of the offending poo, despite the thundering of angry, approaching hooves. For me, the trauma of being chased by bulls was vastly overshadowed by the upset over Myfanwy sporting a poo-coloured smudge on her hitherto pristine white apron. Singing Sister did her best to wash it out, but it lasted as long as Myfanwy. She fell apart in time, after a long period of one eye being permanently shut and missing a limb (Myfanwy, not Singing Sister).

There were other occasions, but that one is the most memorable. I recall Racing Sister (from Issues) grabbing me by the wrist once (I used to wriggle my tiny hand out of bigger hands, so I was used to this) to run down a lane in Devon. I forget whether or not livestock was involved, but I remember we had just bought cakes from a mobile bakery and because she grabbed me so abruptly, my cupcake flipped out of my other hand and landed, lemon icing face down, in the mud. She picked it up, peeled the muddy icing off and handed it back to me, with a ‘there you are’ to indicate that the problem was solved. The disappointment of the transformation of my cake was never to be understood by anyone beyond me.

It doesn’t stop with livestock. On a residential trip with my school at the age of 12, which I had no desire to attend, I was chased by a black labrador – or The Beast of the Brecon Beacons, as I prefer to call him – down a lane. I don’t think he intended chasing me; I was standing around with friends when this black beast came galloping towards us. Everyone else stood still but I started running, which is probably where I went wrong.

‘Where’s Lisa Workman?’ Miss Jones’ strident tones pierced the solitude of Boughrood, where our field centre was.

‘She’s in that field of sheep, Miss,’ advised one of my friends, helpfully.

‘Good Lord. How did you get in there?’ Miss Jones continued with her line of inquiry, as the gate was padlocked.

‘She vaulted it, Miss!’

This was a shock for both of us; I could barely remember how I ended up in the sheep field and Miss Jones, as my PE teacher, could barely comprehend that, given my small stature and complete lack of interest or talent in PE, I had succeeded in scaling a five-bar gate with apparent ease.

Back to sheep, who are different, of course. Sheep move out of the way and present no risk. For most people. I have to admit I felt a little apprehensive cycling through them, as the last time I cycled past sheep, they advanced towards me and I felt so intimidated I nearly fell off my bike. Then, when I was walking through the sheep in Bear Road recently, one of them blocked my path and I had to wade through the grass instead. So I wasn’t surprised that a similar situation occurred a couple of weeks ago, cycling to work; one of the funny-looking creatures eyeballed me and started to walk towards me, casually chewing grass in that weird circular motion, like she was chewing tobacco in a challenging manner. I gave ground (literally) and deviated off the path to avoid confrontation. I felt every lump, bump and slight imperfection on that bike, whether on grass or road, so it either needs a service or to be scrapped.

It just so happened that I had to visit Ex-hubby No 1 that evening, after spending 2 hours messing around on a bike on the South Downs and when it transpired that I was bereft of a car, he kindly lent me one from his fleet of cars. An automatic, vintage XJR Jaguar in British racing green. This was better than a bike. Carefully, I drove it to and from work and it attracted a fair amount of attention. I had to revisit Ex-hubby No 1 at the end of that week, but I left ‘the Jag’ at home, because my visit was en-route to a night out. The visit did not go well. From that visit, I learnt that in the household of Ex-hubby No 1, I am much-maligned. To be fair, most of the grief emanated from Soon-to-be Wife No 3, but as her source is Ex-hubby No 1, he is at the root of her view of me. Also, to be fair, she has since apologised. She has not retracted her words, but there would be little point, as the words were the stories spun by Ex-hubby No 1, so it is too late. Now I know what he has told her. Initially, I shook my head and said that no, she had got it wrong, it wasn’t like that … And neither was that … But then it became awkward, because in defending myself, I would have incriminated him. If she believed me, I would have been instrumental in causing a rift between them. If she believed him, which was more likely, I would have just as well been talking to the bottle of wine on the kitchen table.
So I left, crying all the way down Dean Court Road, because I just couldn’t stop. I was late for my friends, because I needed time for my eyes to stop leaking and my face to calm down from its status as a blotchy beetroot. The next day was the last day I would travel in style, in the Jag. I drove it to their house, parked it outside and posted the keys through the letterbox with a thank-you note for the loan of the car.

The following evening I had arranged to visit Rhiannon, thinking I would be driving, but I caught the train instead and we dined out. So far, so good … Left the restaurant at 10.30ish and got to the station to discover that trains had been cancelled. There were no buses and none of the cab companies that Rhiannon called had a cab available. I longed to be in Brighton again, where there are always some places open and some forms of transport with which to get home. We waited on the platform till almost midnight while the rain blew all over us in a sort of wet cloud. By the time I arrived at Brighton, it was gone 12.30am and I had to splash my way from the station to North Street. I was struck by the lack of females in town. It wasn’t busy, being the start of the working week, but there were occasional groups of drunken men. On reflection, I concluded the Euros must have been responsible for the uneven ratio between the sexes. Halfway down Queens Road, I was alone, apart from four men on the opposite side of the road. It was not far off 1am by this time. Then the four men were behind me. Then it was clear that I had become a game to them. Three of them were egging on the fourth and I was the object of this game. I quickened my pace, aware that they were now following me. Just as I thought my heart might actually burst out of my chest, a couple rounded the corner from North Street and the men dissolved into the night as if they had never existed. I had been messaging a friend who had randomly begun a conversation with me just before the ‘situation’ and I resumed the chat, thankful that I could. The following morning I couldn’t face work. I had a migraine, but I was also tired from being stranded in Worthing, wrong-footed by my strange experience in Queens Road and generally feeling lacking in motivation.

The following day, I resigned myself to catching the bus to and from work. The 123 Compass bus is not the most pleasant of journeys, for reasons beyond Compass’ control, simply because it is a long journey. However, there seems to be some discrepancy over the validity of tickets bought via an app and the bus driver who rejected said ticket is a shameless misogynist. That said, the driver on the day before was a lovely, cheery fellow. Watch this space for any developments in ‘Compassgate’.

But currently, it is a moot point, (or maybe Joey’s – from Friends – moo point is more appropriate for this blog!) as I have been signed off with stress, hence this extremely long post. I would have got myself signed off sooner, but I didn’t want to miss Y11’s final week and related shenanigans. The Staff v Student softball match was a joy to behold. I am not sporty; I dodge balls coming towards me for fear of being struck, whilst running from one base to the next and I get excited if I hit the ball when batting, but I manage to find some fun in the whole business. We (I use that term loosely, given my poor show on the field – just think of Rachel – apologies for another Friends reference – ‘going long’ and that’s me) beat them 20-1 and there were some memorable moments of teachers tackling students in weird and wonderful ways and of some students showing even less skill than me. And now they’ve gone. Well, some are staying on for the VIth form but I shall be gone anyway, so in fact, I’m saying goodbye to all students. Reactions have ranged from warming, funny, to full of pathos.

‘Aw Miss, I’m going to get you something really nice. Do you like ginger beer?’ enquired one Y9.

‘I love it,’ I over-enthused.

‘Well, if ever I run into you in a pub, I’ll buy you one,’ he promised.

I might never get this ginger beer, I fear.

‘You leavin’?’ asked another after karate kicking my door open. But I didn’t get the chance to answer, because she exited as dramatically as she had entered, literally bouncing off the walls down the corridor, continuing a display of her own form of martial arts, her use of expletives demonstrating her heart-warming (if a little unorthodox) support.

‘You’re leaving?’ one of my Y10s stared at me with completely round eyes and anxiety in his voice.

‘Sadly, I am,’ I replied.

‘Please tell me there aren’t any PE teachers leaving?’ he continued, ‘Because that would be really awful!’

I shall miss them.