Luscious Lips

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

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

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

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



Genre: Drama

Certification: 15

Length: 1hr 51mins

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

“It will break,” Singing Sister pointed out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You bullied me at school.”

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

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

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

“No,” I replied and left.

And that was – the unremarkable – it.

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

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

Then I met someone else.

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

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

I will keep you posted …


Genre: Thriller

Certification: 15

Length: 1hr 57mins

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Monster Calls

Genre: Fantasy

Certification: 12A

Length: 1hr 48mins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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 ( ). 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’ – – 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?’ 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: 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.


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’ – – 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 …