Skip the start to skip the cow poo

Rusty loves the South Downs. If he could talk, he would tell you that the best bit is finding some poo to roll in, usually cow or horse. The amount of pleasure he gains from getting stuck into a smelly old cow pat is immeasurable. The only exception is when he was fooled into thinking he had found a pat of reasonable consistency, only to find that what he thought was pure cow pat, was actually a yellow shell on top of a cow pat, because the sun had baked it. When he started to roll in it, the shell broke to reveal pure yellow liquid poo. He was so yellow, he looked like a small Labrador. Even he didn’t like it and before I had a chance to yell at him, he leapt onto his feet and seemed visibly distressed. He rolled in grass, presumably to attempt to rub off the offending poo. Of course, fox poo is the champagne of all poos; that lingering acrid odour, which lurks like an aura of despair and unlike cow or horse poo, which is fairly innocuous in comparison and washes off with the cold hose on full blast, requires a warm bath and lather, rinse, repeat.

Conversely, he is not a fan of the beach. He will happily prance along the undercliff walk, or even stop for a coffee with me at Whitecliffs cafe. Well, I’ll have the coffee and he will enjoy the bits of sausage sometimes provided by Beautiful Greek Friend, who, incidentally, called the ambulance when I broke my wrist. But I have to drag him onto the beach (Rusty, not the Greek guy). Maybe it hurts his pads, so I try to choose beaches with small stones or even sand. Then, weirdly, I have to drag him off the beach when it’s time to go. Anyway, the point is, usually we stroll around the countryside, because the walk is mostly for him, but sometimes we go to the beach because sometimes the walk is for me.

Last Saturday we went to the beach and there was an eerie stillness. A sea mist was suspended over the sea and seemed to stifle all movement, as the ebb and flow struggled to move the tide, like someone struggling to breathe. I reflected on the week at work, which, like the previous week, had been fraught. It had ended positively though, with World Book Day and I chuckled at the memory of a lad attending my Superheroes vs Villains workshop, who commented on the typical size of female villains’ breasts. Along with one of my students accidentally calling me ‘babe’ earlier in the week (a variation on the approximately weekly ‘mum’), I’d had enough laughs to get me through the week.

As Rusty pottered amongst the pebbles and I sat daydreaming, I caught some notes of a favourite song: Cheerleader. I’d felt happy with my lot as I relaxed on the stones, but hearing the chorus of that particular song, had an unexpected effect on my mood. The Rastafarian had said that I was his cheerleader, saying that the song could have been about me, as, he said, I was ‘always right there’ when he needed me. Remembering good things about him was not the intention. I needed to remember the bad stuff, so I could justify my ending the relationship. But of course there was good stuff, so this is where it gets tricky, I thought. The whole trip to the beach became a mournful affair. I realised I was sitting on the very beach where we’d taken Rusty, one day early on in the relationship. There is, I believe, a defining moment in every relationship when you realise you have a relationship. It might be a phone call that goes on for a particularly long time, or you might stay up all night chatting and watch the sun come up together. I remember the first time I did the latter with a boy. I was 15 and he had just finished at uni, so although we had that defining moment, the relationship was doomed because the chances of my parents allowing such a relationship were zero. My sister and I had invited friends back – from a Gilbert and Sullivan production we were in – and they’d all stayed over. Uni Guy and I hit it off and for romantic value, watching the sun come up together was a straight 10 out of 10. The defining moment between me and the Rastafarian happened on that beach. When we set off for the walk it was warm but overcast. I was wearing a flimsy summer dress and after some time a fine mist of rain started to sweep over the beach. I’d paddled in a rock pool to encourage Rusty in for a swim and the fine mist turned into big drops splashing onto the water. We laughed at how drenched we were getting and the Rastafarian helped me out of the rock pool and again, for romantic value, kissing in the rain is also a straight 10 out of 10.

Fast forward to the end of the relationship and I’d recently lodged a claim at the small claims court for the money he owed me and rather than feeling empowered, I was feeling pretty miserable. I thought it would give me closure. Well, it did, which was the problem. The finality of closure was bringing me down . . .

The next day, I had planned to meet with an old school friend. After Nira left my school, a new girl joined. She became my best friend for the remainder of secondary school. When you’re 12 years old, the ‘best friend’ phenomenon is serious business. Karen had become my best friend over Nira, yet Nira still called me her best friend, so I decided I could have two, officially, although the reality was that Karen was more of a best friend than Nira. The classes were always full to capacity in my school and places only became available when someone left. So Nira leaving was fortuitous for Karen, because it meant that she could join. I found it funny that Nira’s replacement in the class had also become my replacement best friend. We made each other laugh and we were both into animals; Karen’s parents ran a pet shop which I thought was the best business your parents could possibly run. We quoted lines from sitcoms like Fawlty Towers the day after it had been aired, impersonating characters and finding ourselves hilarious. We learnt the words to favourite songs and sang them at full blast, thinking we actually sounded good, often whilst on our way to hockey, which involved a bus-ride across town. Or a walk, if we spent our bus fare at the sweet shop on the way, which happened a fair bit. We had our fall-outs, of course, like when we went to Wales on a field trip, although I can’t remember why we fell out. I do remember throwing up over everyone’s rucksacks in the mini-bus though; and being driven into the countryside with maps, and being told to find our own way back to the field centre, in pairs; and climbing Pen-Y-Fan because the PE teacher suddenly felt like it, yet we had no climbing equipment. This was, of course, before the advent of Health & Safety, which is a wonderful thing. But speaking from experience, it makes school trip planning a minefield (if you will pardon the pun, which would make for a Health & Safety nightmare, if one cropped up on a school trip. Just fields are bad enough). Sometime around that trip, Karen’s dog died; I can picture her crying to this day, over her dog dying, just as I’m certain she felt the pain of our family pony dying.

In our teen years, we both became friends with the school friend I met with last week. She was responsible for providing us with endless invitations to Venture Scout discos. They sounded tame enough for us to be allowed to attend by our parents, yet were entertaining enough to bridge that gap between being too old to go to playgrounds yet too young to go clubbing. When your school is single-sex, opportunities such as discos (God I feel old, using that word) are not passed up without good reason. Those Venture Scout discos are responsible for my first slow dance, my first kiss, the first time someone whispered to me that so-and-so ‘liked’ me and most of all, my first boyfriend. If he could be called that. His name was Ian and he was ridiculously handsome, with thick, floppy, jet-black hair. We dated for . . . A couple of months (?) and actually hardly saw each other. We had some long telephone conversations and my mother followed us on one of our first dates. She said she was on her way to the the post office, when we met, ‘by chance’ in the park. I hoped and prayed that Ian was not familiar enough with Saltdean to know that she was quite far from the post office. I recall very little intimacy between me and Ian; clearly, we were both novices which, frankly, was a poor combination, so it is no surprise that the flames of passion failed to ignite. Karen, School Friend and I stumbled (on high heels) and laughed (at each other mostly) through those teen years and like most people, I cherish the memories. What makes me cherish the memories all the more, is that Karen, tragically, died a few years ago. We dipped in and out of contact after leaving school and when she died, we hadn’t seen each other for a few years. I’m glad that we had a few years previous to that though, of the three of us meeting up for drinks and coffees, as you do when life is busy. How different communication is now; there is no excuse for losing contact, as you can move to Timbuktu and back again thrice over and still have the same points of contact through electronic communication, most notably social media.

Since Karen’s death, School Friend and I have remained in contact. She really hasn’t changed – her face is still the same, her hair is still shiny and black and she is one of the smiliest, easiest-to-be-around people I know. We met up last Sunday, along with Karen’s younger sister. I never saw a resemblance between them, until last Sunday and the way she looked, the way she laughed, her whole demeanour was like Karen, just with red curly hair instead of brown/blond straight hair. It was a mellow, happy afternoon, drinking halves and listening to live music. I will admit to feeling emotional, as that was the longest amount of time I have ever spent with Karen’s sister and I was constantly reminded of her, by virtue of being in her company. But however I was feeling, her feelings would have been more intense I’m sure. Karen was the link between us, so my presence must have been a continual reminder of her loss. But there were many laughs; School Friend and I had tales aplenty of our Tinder experiences with which to entertain Karen’s sister and likewise they had equally sad, funny and shocking tales for me about nights out and other things, which led School Friend and I onto ‘the olden days’ which I believe is compulsory conversation material for reunions.

At some point, late into the afternoon, I left them there as someone had to drink all the cider, but I needed to prepare for a week’s work. I’d lost some lesson plans from the night before, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to start over. I left the proceedings in good but slightly emotional spirits and my phone ‘pinged’ all the way home. I smiled as I wondered if it was School Friend, already trying to arrange a speed dating night, as Karen’s sister’s eyes had sparkled at the mention of it, when I regaled my night of searching for karaoke. School Friend was a good companion for nights out, prepared to dress up to down drinks and generally throw herself into the proceedings.
As I arrived home, I checked my phone.

‘Hun.’


‘I miss you.’


‘Come.’


‘Love . . . Xx’

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Issues

I wonder if a good proportion of people who work in the field of learning difficulties, start to look at their own peculiarities (and I mean the less common definition: ‘a characteristic that is distinctive of a particular person or place’, NOT the ‘oddity’ definition, in case anyone was about to take offence) and realise that they, too, have some issues going on that hitherto have not been acknowledged. The decision to have my nails done for a second time, was not taken without due consideration to the sensory issues that I realised belonged to me. To be fair, I imagine that more people have sensory issues to some degree, than have not. Singing Sister doesn’t like balloons getting close to her ears. I was fine with this phenomenon, until she pointed it out to me a few years ago and now I don’t like balloons getting close to my ears either. Coupled with my trypophobia, I didn’t need another sensory thing, but she was very apologetic for sharing her sensory issue with me. For those who don’t know, the afore-mentioned phobia is not officially recognised as a phobia, but is the (apparently) irrational fear/revulsion of some patterns of holes (and sometimes bumps). Triggers can pop up in everyday scenarios, like catching sight of a lotus seed pod or there are some more unusual triggers which, thankfully, do not pop up in everyday scenarios, like the Surinam toad giving birth. For me, the feeling is unique and cannot be gained from any other source. As a child, I remember saying that certain things ‘made my teeth go weak’. As an adult, having realised that this is a thing, I have read other people’s testimonies where they describe feeling sick, itchy, their hair hurting, or (my personal favourite) ‘it makes me want to curl up in a ball under my desk and quietly weep’. The common factor amongst everyone is a feeling of intense revulsion and discomfort.

The first experience I can recall is when I was very young and I’d been to a classmate’s house for tea. I thought we were leaving, and started walking down the road. I got as far as the house next door and stopped, realising that my mother was still chatting to Classmate’s Mum on the doorstep. I happened to stop next to a bush and leapt back at the sight of the big, ugly flowers poking out aggressively at me. Although I was repulsed at the pattern of holes on the flower, I was transfixed. My mother came along and I told her that the flowers gave me a funny feeling, but as someone who is unperturbed by such things, understandably, my discovery was probably unappreciated.

I can’t claim that this was some weighty burden I shouldered throughout my childhood, but I do recall odd instances of pointing out that something had ‘made my teeth go weak’. I remember going to Devon for a few days with my sister, with some of her children and both of mine and we’d gone walking in the woods near Lynton and Lynmouth. My sister’s 2nd son (a jockey, like all of her children) was working at a racing stables in Devon and he’d left his house available for guests, such as us, while he was on holiday.

“Lisa! Come here! There’s something amazing!” called out my sister from the top of a bank, of which I had found myself at the bottom, where there was a stream, and she at the top. I scrambled up the bank to join her; she was standing next to a tree, which, from my perspective, was innocent enough. She motioned towards her side of the tree and like a lamb to the slaughter, I followed her gaze to a sight that has a physical effect on my well-being to this day. It was a ‘money-tree’ with 100s of coins wedged into the trunk. Money-trees are a rare sight, but can be found anywhere in the country. Not sure why people do it, except to torture me and fellow trypophobics and if I Google it I run the risk of seeing pictures of the monstrosities, so I’d rather live in ignorant bliss, but the point is, I don’t think even Racing Sister realised how affected I was by this strange sensory issue until that day.

At a last-night party after a production of Burning Blue, several years ago, I found myself chatting to a co-actor. It was an unusual play, a bit like Top Gun on stage, only instead of the story being a love story, it was a ‘coming-out’ story. I played the part of the main character’s girlfriend, who had to cope with rejection by her boyfriend, as he came to terms with his homosexuality. I’d had to strip down to my underwear on stage, which I seemed to do a lot in plays, but that was nothing compared to one entire scene with most of the male cast completely naked. One often feels an emotional intimacy with fellow players during a play, but this was stepped up a little in this play, from most people having seen most of the cast naked or nearly naked. So, despite having a lovely chat with this particular thespian, I was standing opposite a floor-to-ceiling sculpture made completely of matchsticks. I was struggling to concentrate, so I asked him if we could swap places and to my surprise, his reply was, ‘God, no – why do you think I’ve got my back to it?!’ This was my first experience of meeting a fellow trypophobic and interestingly, this wasn’t the only common ground we shared. Whereas I seemed to be the only one in my family in possession of this strange fear, his brother had shared the ‘phobia’ with him in childhood. They named it ‘Armchairs and Matchsticks’ because with it, they also experienced polarised physical imaginings at times, usually on falling asleep, of feeling puffed out and surrounded by fluff or, conversely, feeling like a matchstick surrounded by awkward angularity (which, by the way, is not a problem – moreover, it’s a strangely comforting feeling and you can learn to control it). I had met my sensory soulmate! We remained friends for years and then his acting career took him abroad. Fast forward 10 years and on visiting Brighton about a month ago, we met up and the hour or two we spent together glugging coffee and gorging on cake, frankly, was not enough, so, Matchstick Man, if you do return to the UK, as you said you might, we need more coffee and cake time. Meanwhile, whereas Rhiannon is not a trypophobic, from recent conversations, I’m happy to report that it seems she’s inherited the Armchairs and Matchsticks gene too. Along with an involuntary designation of colours to days of the week and personalities to numbers (which Matchstick Man does too). As a child, I assumed everyone else did this, yet as an adult, I started to think that no-one else did this. Which is probably why I didn’t talk about it with my children, until I realised this weirdness had a name, when a colleague kindly lent me a book called ‘Born on a Blue Day’, after my bold admission on a dyslexia course that I did this. It never occurred to me that there was someone right under my nose with whom I could debate why Monday is red and 5 is bossy, so I’m glad I finally did chat to Rhiannon!

Back to the nails! Any words I choose at this point to describe how I feel about my nails being filed, will not do the feeling justice. I love my nails to look pretty, but the feel and the sound of them being filed is almost unbearable. The first time, I was not prepared for one and a half hours of filing. Well, it wasn’t all filing, but enough to make my breathing become shallow and my face become contorted into a permanent wince. I addressed the latter, as I didn’t want the technician to think (or know) that I was a weirdo. My temperature actually dropped, to the extent that I had to ask her to stop so I could put my coat on. My entire being was in a constant state of having goose-bumps, so you’d think my temperature would rise, but no. So I opted for just having my nails painted the second time, without extensions, as the filing would be reduced. It was still pretty cringe-worthy, but the fact that I’d lost £5 to the Rastafarian just beforehand, was almost enough to take my mind away from my sensory issues to concentrate on feeling intense frustration.

The filing ended, the painting began and I paid her.

“What are you doing now?”

The Rastafarian, all of a sudden, had popped up. I had some time to fill before putting my hair into The Italian’s hands, so I said I was going to grab a drink and some chips. I will come with you, he said. I admit I was baffled. It was scenarios such as this, that made me question his integrity, in a good way. He had nothing to gain by accompanying me. He never wanted food, unless it was late at night and he’d just returned home after drinking all evening. He loved cooking it, to feed me, but never ate much himself. Maybe he genuinely wanted my company. We went to Wetherspoons and I had a bowl of chips which was so massive that I made him eat some. I wanted to buy a Mothers’ Day present, so at some point after deciding that even between the two of us, we could not finish the chips, I announced my plan to wander down to North Laine and again, to my bafflement, he said he’d come. During our relationship, we’d never shopped together, which is a shame, because he turned out to be the most relaxing person with whom to browse. I found what I wanted and then it was time to see The Italian, so we said our goodbyes.

The Italian was always the same. Always larger than life, efficient, loud, chatty, wanting to know if his English had improved.

It hadn’t, as in it was pretty good anyway, but his accent had, which was a relief, as it was sometimes to hard to understand him with the noise of hairdryers and the noise of town coming in through the open door as if it was wanting a haircut.

“I will give you a free treatment,” he whispered as quietly as he could, but even his whisper was louder than some people’s normal voices.

“Thank-you,” I whispered back, in an actual whispered voice.

“Shall we go out for a drink sometime?”

Smooth . . .

“Of course,” I laughed in reply.

To be fair, he’d completely accepted my reluctance for a relationship and he was kinda fun.

The free treatment was a conditioning treatment and Indian head massage. Thank goodness I don’t have a sensory issue with my head being touched, because it was heavenly.

 

Jewellery

Time to visit the hairdresser. The Italian had always said he would give me a good deal if I put my hair in his hands (so to speak) so I messaged him first thing one Saturday morning to see if he could squeeze me in. And I headed off into town, expecting a reply any minute.

My mobile rang.

I pulled over.

“Come and see me,” pleaded the Rastafarian with those deep, honeyed tones. I knew that Sister was staying with him. I also wanted my crucifix back.

“Sure. Be there soon.” I replied, possibly taking him entirely by surprise.

His trademark reggae music was pumping out of his flat, like a distant heartbeat, when I arrived. He was in good spirits and the place was surprisingly tidy and smoke-free.

“Sister – she no like smoke,” he explained, when I commented on the general freshness.

“Great!” I enthused, trying hard not to feel too put out that I, as a non-smoker, had not been afforded the same treatment during our relationship.

“Although it is a little cold,” I motioned towards the open windows through which an Arctic blast was entering and blowing its icy breath into my face. I was always mystified as to how someone who had grown up in intense heat, could be so hardy in the face of wintry weather. (Although he did wear several layers, which made him look way more buff than he actually was.)

“Tonight,” he was facing me directly and I knew how this sentence would end. It wouldn’t end with ‘I’d like to take you out and spoil you’ or ‘let’s watch a movie and have a takeaway – my treat’ but it would end with precisely what it did end with:

“Could you take me to work?”

“No.”

“OK, OK – don’t worry.”

I had no intention of worrying, but this was his way of attempting to smooth things over. He knew that he’d probably wrecked all chances of ever having a lift from me again, but tested the water from time-to-time to check the exact temperature of my reaction. I intended keeping that reaction on ice for all eternity.

Sister came out of the bathroom, hair freshly washed and face smily and welcoming. We chatted about singing in church choirs and then she went off to the kitchen to make a snack for the three of us. I wanted her to know that the Rastafarian and I had been in a relationship. I waited for my chance and seized it. I still felt hurt that I had been treated like a secret and so this was not retribution; moreover it was an attempt at justice and openness.  Casually, I made a reference to the Rastafarian having been my boyfriend for several months. Either it was not understood, or she chose not to react, or perhaps – just perhaps – I was mistaken, and she did know. Alternatively, he could have woven me into a lie, as he did with The Current. Maybe he told her that I was deluded, and that she should ignore any claims I made about our relationship having been more intimate than just a friendship. I didn’t much care though: I’ve done my best, I thought.

The crucifix was the next challenge. I knew exactly where he’d put it. He’d made a mini-altar for himself on a shelf (I should have learnt my lesson from my last experience with a man with his own altar!) so I just had to wait till I was alone in the room. I’d asked for it back, but he’d demanded his silver bracelet, which I was wearing, in return. Originally, the crucifix had been Joseph’s. I had spotted it in a transparent bag full of rubbish from his room and claimed it as my own. It was an inexpensive crucifix on a simple leather thong. The Rastafarian asked to have it, so I asked for something of his. He’d given me the bracelet and it felt like a romantic gesture; the swapping of jewellery. I was surprised that he was willing to trade his bracelet as it was clearly worth much more than my trinket. It didn’t take long for him to break the crucifix and I asked for it back, to fix it, but he became possessive and demanded his bracelet back. I declined, on the grounds that he’d broken my crucifix. When we parted company we had the same discussion. He asked for my address to send the crucifix (and therefore have his bracelet returned) but I was reluctant to tell him where I lived. I told him to leave it behind the bar in The Folky Pub and his reaction was horror at the bar staff possibly learning something of our lives. I don’t think he’d like this blog . . .

I also told him that I wanted the 2k he owed me and then he could have his bracelet back.

“You cannot compare your money with my bracelet!” he vented.

“No, you can’t,” I agreed.

“I need my bracelet!” he cried, like a child reacting to deprivation of a treat.

“And I need my money,” I sympathised.

He held my cross ransom, like I held his bracelet ransom, but he credited my cross with more value than it was worth, and didn’t realise that I was prepared to risk losing it.

So, for a minute, I was alone. I reached up to the shelf and felt around for my crucifix. I wasn’t tall enough to see, but it was easy to find. I slid it into my pocket, just as he returned.

We sat down on the sofa and he moved towards me, affectionately. This wasn’t the plan, but until I managed to squirm away, I was a little trapped. Only for seconds, but long enough for the crucifix to fall out of my pocket. We both stared at the tiny cross, its symbolism becoming more than that of belief in Christ. Now, it symbolised our broken relationship. A large amount of money being owed to me. The reason for my visit. I thought quickly.

“What’s that doing on the floor?” I questioned with mock ignorance, as I picked it up and reluctantly, placed it back with the other icons on the shelf.

Unbelievably, he didn’t react – just watched me walk over to the ‘altar’ and then went off to the bathroom. So I put it straight back into my pocket . . .

“Honey, you’re going into town?” he returned from the bathroom, looking ready to go out himself.

“Yes.”

The Rastafarian and his sister had a brief conversation in Rwandan, to which, obviously, I was not party. She proceeded to get ready also and I sat on the sofa, watching this scene being played out, of which I was sure I was a part, yet no-one had informed me what part that was.

“Honey, I need to go into town – would you give me a lift please?”

I know I should have been grateful for small mercies, but his overbearing politeness in the presence of people whose opinions he clearly valued, was, well, overbearing.

“Of course,” I replied. Nothing was said about his sister.

I wanted to suggest I waited in the car, as I had removed his silver bracelet from my wrist and left it in the car, before going to his flat, as he would have forcibly removed it had he seen me wearing it. He had done so before, which is why I had started to wear it on my left wrist, which hadn’t been broken, as he was ridiculously strong and I didn’t trust him. So, I needed to hide the bracelet elsewhere in the car, but I was confused about the situation with his sister; if she was accompanying us to town, she might get straight into the car with me and see the bracelet. Argh! My pondering was interrupted by the Rastafarian saying that his sister needed to go to town, and was it ok for her to have a lift too?

“Yes – I’ll bring the car up!” I shot out while Sister was absent from the room and secreted the bracelet, which had become as symbolic as the crucifix, in the boot. Must remember to take it out of the boot, I promised myself.

We arrived in town and both were grateful for the lift. I sat down at a nail bar and congratulated myself on getting through a meeting with the Rastafarian without parting with any money or agreeing to a lift.

“Please – have you got a tenner – or a fiver?”

The nail technician paused so I could deal with the Rastafarian. I felt pressurised. I got five pounds out of my wallet and gave it to him, in much the same way a weary parent might give a difficult child some money to go to the cinema, just for some peace.

‘They care not for what’s at the end of the day’

Just as I was thinking that there was a lull in everything, like the speed of the world spinning on its axis had slowed right down, life became busy again. I went back to work, which had its own issues, and commitments I’d made were coming to fruition. One of those commitments was practising a few songs with The Dude, so we could try our hands at some Open Mic. I had a microphone and an amp, but I really should have ensured they were visible and available, before the day of our first practice, as about an hour beforehand, I had a little scout around and they were nowhere, it would seem. Still in a box from moving . . . Or in the loft . . . Anywhere, in fact. It was too late in the day to go to a music shop, but I Googled mikes and amps to order one for the next practice and Argos came up – I wasn’t sure about the quality but hey, they were still open! Off I went, just before closing time and looked up mikes and amps. Argh. ‘0 available in store’. No amps. That’s ok, I thought – Dude will have a guitar amp. Mikes. ‘1 available in store’. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it would do. I was horribly late but he didn’t seem to mind.

‘What the hell?!’ he looked at my microphone, ‘Frozen?!’

‘It was that or Minions!’

I thought I just had to tolerate a Disney sticker on the microphone, but it was much worse than that. I plugged it into his amp and started trilling away to his guitar version of ‘The Call’ (Regina Spektor – also popped up in Narnia) but as well as looking like a small child, with my pretty microphone, I sounded like a small child. I guess there was a reason it was only £9.99. The Dude said that it may have been his amp, as it was designed for a guitar, but who knows. I don’t fancy another rehearsal till I have decent equipment, I know that.

Another commitment was the play in which my sister and I had agreed to sing. It was a Dennis Potter play – Blue Remembered Hills – and being short, the directors wanted some musical interludes to eke it out a little. As it is set during the Second World War, our songs were to be wartime numbers originally sung by The Andrews Sisters. Rehearsals were already underway when we rocked up for the first time. We hadn’t practised at all; to be fair, my sister had had a chest infection and as an asthmatic, was taking a considerable amount of time to recover. I didn’t have any such excuse, but as I considered her to be the domineering force behind the whole business (she was the lead singer with a band for several years whereas I was only a backing singer with the same band for around a year, 8 months of which I was pregnant!) – that was my excuse! Also, we could have done with a third sister. The Andrews Sisters were a singing trio, not a duo and sang in 3-part harmonies half the time, so we were sadly lacking a full complement of sisters.

It had been 6 or 7 years since I had trodden the boards with this theatre group. I got a funny, slightly giddy feeling, when I walked into the hall on this particular night . . .

One of the most perceptive songs about youth, in my opinion, is Summer Sequence from Blood Brothers. Before I played the part of Linda, several years ago, I had seen the popular West End musical more than a few times, just for the sheer love of the story and the tunes. But I played Linda at a time of my life when I was reflecting on my own life, my dreams and my future. In Summer Sequence, Willy Russell captures youth in a way I have not seen in any other piece of literature. With lines such as ‘it seems that summer’s never coming to an end’, ‘who’d dare tell the lambs in spring what fate the later seasons bring’ and ‘you can’t understand how living could be anything other than a dream when you’re . . . just eighteen’ you have to have left your teen years behind in order to appreciate the poignancy of the lyrics. I was probably around eighteen years old when I first saw Blood Brothers, but around thirty when I was in Blood Brothers. I tend to fully embrace characters I play, not just for the duration of the play, but for the rehearsal period too. The emotional investment is huge, so the commitment is a serious undertaking. The words of Summer Sequence remind me of my own teen years; amongst other things, on sunny days in those deliciously long summer holidays, Old Friend and I would go to the Lido . . . But there must have been a last time that we went, like there must have been a last time I went clubbing with my friends, a last time I was in the local panto with the ‘gang’. Yet I don’t recall any of these ‘lasts’ . . . There’s no regret or remorse, of course. What’s important in your teens becomes less so your 20s and so on. People get careers, houses, partners, children and these things, particularly the latter, become important. But the transition from childhood to adulthood and the shift in priorities happens so smoothly that you simply don’t notice. I have the greatest of admiration for George Bernard Shaw, but I simply don’t agree with his ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ sentiment. What makes that summer feel like it’s never coming to an end, is inexperience and a lack of cynicism. If we concerned ourselves with the end of the summer, then it would be wasted on us for sure.

There was a last time I played a major role in a play: I’m not sure which one it was. Cordelia in King Lear? Serafina in The Rose Tattoo? Did I know it would be the last time? I used the loo as soon I arrived at rehearsal and didn’t prepare myself for it. It hadn’t changed. It still had a chain. There was a hand-written notice which gave firm instructions for the toilet NOT to be flushed during performances. I’m certain it was the same notice from another era, a long time ago. As I left the loo I recalled a time when I’d opened the door of the toilet, having been careful not to flush and walked straight into the arms of a chap I rather liked and we kissed silently in the corridor until hearing the noise of a fellow thespian. And another time, when I was Daisy (yes, in Daisy Pulls It Off) and I’d dashed off-stage to use the loo in around 50 seconds because that was all the time I’d had. And a time when I’d fallen out with a friend over a boy and she’d followed me into the loo to talk and we were both covered in paint from set-painting, taking the issue of how much flirting is too much  flirting with one’s boyfriend, very seriously (she was the flirt, not me).

At some point this visit to my past ended (as I attend more rehearsals, I’m sure that feeling will be replaced with a feeling of the here and now) and I had a decision to make. I was supposed to go to a gig with friends, but I hadn’t heard from them and I couldn’t seem to make contact. Singing Sister and I had run into a friend from the olden days of plays and he had invited us to the pub. So the weekly jaunt to the pub still happened. Different pub, though. Singing Sister was tired and I decided to forget the gig and so went to the pub with Friend from the Olden Days alone. Well, and the rest of the cast and the directors. I updated him on the Rastafarian and he was sympathetic to a degree, as he had been used in a similar way, but he was also a little scolding and after a while I decided it was a good time to pay Ex-hubby No 1 a visit. Just for clarity here, he had asked me to call in before rehearsal, to sign a PPI claim (I didn’t think anyone took those calls either). I’d gone there before rehearsal but there was no answer. Anyway, there was an answer this time and he and Soon-to-be Wife No 3 planted a glass of wine in my hand whilst giving me a pen and some forms. I tried to read the small print but it was hard because they were both in rather loquacious moods. Mostly about the colour scheme for the wedding and concern over whether or not the men would bring shame onto the proceedings by wearing white socks. Best to hire the socks too, just to be on the safe side.

Questions were asked about the Rastafarian and I assured them, as I was busy assuring everyone, that I had seen sense and no, I would not be giving him any more money. Then I realised that I’d left my script in the pub and so I called Friend from the Olden Days and he picked it up for me. I stayed a bit longer with . . . You know who – I can’t write that out again! Then when I finally left, Friend from the Olden Days rang to say was I ever leaving their house? Oops! No idea he was waiting for me. Asked him to drop it off in the porch and he seemed a little put out that he wasn’t getting to see my newly acquired abode. 

I promised him a visit complete with glass of wine, ate an avocado and went to bed.

Half-term

The best part about holidays, for me, is that usually the children are on holiday too. Now they’re all grown up, of course, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that I’ll see them during every break, especially half-term breaks (or reading weeks, or enhancement weeks, or enrichment weeks, or whatever euphemism the uni chooses for the break that they will treat as half-term, because it isn’t that long since they were at school and it is at the same time as half-term, therefore it is half-term). So, it was an unexpected surprise to see both Joseph and Rhiannon over half-term. Even if the driving force behind Joseph’s visit was to collect his shiny, red, limited edition PS4 which Rhiannon had trailed round the South East to find. Rhiannon procrastinated her arrival at home by several hours to sharpen her brother’s appetite and by the time she arrived, complete with PS4, his appetite was pretty sharp. It reminded me of Christmas Day when he was much younger and he had received a PS3. He had sat with it on his knee for about an hour, just smoothing it (it was very smooth, to be fair) and looking at it. I think I had spotted his eyes actually glistening at one point.

We all went up to London to see Miss Saigon, as sadly, it was in its final days. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, which was very satisfying for me; as far as I’m concerned, it’s up there with Blood Brothers, Les Mis and Wicked. I love a good cry (never really get that) and I had to swallow a few sobs. When a fictional piece is rooted in fact, I run a gamut of emotions. So much more than if it was an entirely factual piece, which proves, I guess, that a good writer/director/producer can take something actual and manipulate our emotions. Which I love, even though I will feel sensitive for days afterwards.

Rusty had his (approximately) thrice-a -year haircut which was a relief to everyone. Well, to him and to me. Rusty is supposed to be a Jack Russell, but everyone who has met him laughs at such a preposterous suggestion. He has a carpet of hair which doesn’t fall out. By the time he trots off to the grooming parlour he resembles Dougall from The Magic Roundabout. He does look like a Jack Russell post-haircut, but the image is short-lived, as his lovable coat starts to grow back. My friends and family bemoan the scalping he suffers every few months, but as it doesn’t fall out, it gets knotty and pulls on his skin, so we have no choice really. Rusty is a hyperactive little doggie but when the locks go, he is markedly subdued for several days, as if, like Samson’s strength, all his energy lies in his hair. And of course, he has to wear a cute little coat to go for walks, lest he should feel the cold . . .

I drove Joseph back to uni after a few days, to ease the passage of the afore-mentioned games console from Sussex to Cheshire and stayed for a night. I had landed Rhiannon with pet-sitting at the last minute, for the duration that I was coursing through the counties, so I felt one night was long enough. No risk of any Rastafarians crashing my trip away at the last minute this time, so it was an all-round, more relaxing trip. I’d made several trips there and enjoyed them all; not least because I was seeing Joseph but also because it was an enchanting place to visit. I’d seen all the sights, some of them 2 or 3 times, like the cathedral. The last time was with the Rastafarian and we’d all had to wait for him in the inevitably over-priced gift-shop, while he spent £30 on some wooden rosary beads in a pretty little wooden box for his mother. At the risk of sounding harsh, with hindsight, I can’t believe he had the cheek to do that in front of me when he owed me money and just for the record, he never bought me a single gift. The nicest thing he ever did for me was to make me a lollipop. Unfortunately, I struggle to see any altruism from my present stance now. It was probably meant for The Current and she didn’t want it, or he was softening me like you soften butter to make it absorb anything you subsequently pour over it. But anyway, Joseph and Hannah (Joseph’s girlfriend) had been pleasant and welcoming to him, even when he’d admitted that he’d stayed out all night, the only night he’d been in Cheshire and had ended up at a nightclub they knew. I’d marvelled at his lack of shame and Joseph’s and Hannah’s generosity of spirit when they laughed off his embarrassing admissions.

Back to this trip: I left Cheshire around midday the day after arriving there, after breakfast at a pancake parlour which is worth the drive in itself. They serve sweet pancakes, savoury pancakes, build-your-own pancakes and coffee like jet fuel and so it rounded my trip off nicely. My drive home was reasonable, although I can never comprehend why the M25 is always something resembling a car park, no matter what time you find yourself crawling through.

Rhiannon returned to uni shortly afterwards and I returned to work. One of my colleagues confessed to putting the chocolate in my pigeon-hole, because he pitied me when I said that I couldn’t have cake in the staffroom one day. Of course, he had no idea that chocolate was also banned, but he also had no idea that I could have it on Sundays! So the chocolate story had a happy ending. And I was completely wrong about the provider of the chocolate – I assumed it was someone deliberately tantalising me because of Lent and as there’s always that one person at work who relishes in teasing and humiliating at every possible opportunity, my money was on them.   I like a bit of teasing and humiliation but I’m also partial to acts of kindness. Before I start directly quoting Tennessee Williams I shall move on.

Post-(soon-to-be-ex)hubby and pre-Rastafarian, I had become used to going out on my own. With my single status, I remembered this, one evening when I noticed a local favourite musician was playing at the folky pub. Despite feeling a little sleepy, I powdered my nose and headed off into town and arrived just in time for the first act. There were 4 in total: an ok guy first, a ridiculously talented guy called Dom Prag second and just as Deirdre Faegre’s mellow Irish voice started seeping into the pub, even though she was the reason for my outing, I started to think that it might be time to go, as it was a school night. Then I felt a shadow over me and a voice asking if he could join me? It had been so quiet when I first went there that I’d felt slightly awkward. There was a big table next to me full of people that I recognised from a band I’d seen recently. I’d totally obsessed over them for days afterwards and wanted to say something, as they were sitting right there, but I found it difficult to shake off the Rastafarian’s view that musicians would think I was flirting if I complimented them (I’d watched women drape themselves over the Rastafarian and then suffer his consternation if I dared to have a little chuckle over any of them fancying a bit more than his music. One such lady in The Cosmopolitan Pub reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda as she writhed while he played then snaked over to him afterwards to ‘congratulate’ him. But my personal favourite in terms of looks, was the one she gave when he came over to me and gave me a kiss.) Anyway, I looked up and before noticing who had addressed me, I became aware of how hemmed in I was on my stool at the only high table in the pub. I chose it because I felt I could sit there without feeling I was depriving a couple or a group of a decent-sized table, as it was very small. I hadn’t noticed how busy it had become but I did notice that this was a friend of the Rastafarian asking to sit with me.

‘Oh it’s you!’ one of us said – I forget who.

But I remember that Rastafarian’s Friend said the next bit.

‘I have the greatest of respect and admiration for you, for remaining in a relationship with him for so long.’

I’m not one to relish in the criticism of others, but I was almost moved to tears to know that there was someone other than me (and other victims) who had seen past the Rastafarian’s beautiful, gentle façade. I just assumed that all his ‘pub friends’ had fallen hook, line and sinker for his easy-going ways and unassuming talent. I don’t know why I hadn’t credited people with the wit to realise (well, some people anyway) that the façade hid layers of complication. Of course, if you’re not in a relationship with a complicated person such as the Rastafarian, the complications are unlikely to be an issue, so it’s easy to take such a person at face value and enjoy the outside bit without worrying about the inside bit. I tried not to be too negative about the Rastafarian but Rastafarian’s Friend was a willing listener and it was cathartic to be able to talk openly about ALL the reasons we weren’t together. But we didn’t just chat about him; we chatted about music, local and otherwise, Brighton and our association with it, families, relationships and the name of the guy with the long, black, curly hair whose skill with a guitar was second to none in my opinion. I’d wanted to ask the Rastafarian, so I could look up his music, but he was jealous enough I’d complimented the guy personally. Then Deirdre Faegre, my reason for being there, finished and the last act was starting. He offered me a drink but I felt like Cinderella, realising the time and gathering my things to go (I kept both my shoes on though). We vaguely arranged to meet in the same place in a month, for the next folky evening of music and he said that it would be like a date. That made me say that ok, I might see you in a month then. He looked a little crestfallen and I felt a little guilty, but I really didn’t want a date.

Food

When I returned to work last September, I may have had a wrecked wrist but I was pretty fit from being deprived of my car for most of the summer. And also because my workplace provides very pleasing lunches, so I just eat more during term-time. And of course Rusty gets longer walks during the holidays. So, returning to driving, returning to work with its irresistible school dinners (I know that sounds like an oxymoron but it really isn’t!) and the advent of long, dark evenings and therefore shorter walks for Rusty, meant that all the ingredients were there for a little extra weight. Add a Rastafarian into the mix, who is intent on fattening you up and all hope is lost. If he hadn’t been such a damn good cook, then it would have been easier, but he was accommodating towards my vegetarianism, cooked everything from scratch and even cooked in coconut oil. He was also rather liberal with his sprinkling of chillies, garlic, Himalayan rock salt and wonderfully aromatic spices and as I had developed a penchant for hot food after my taste buds woke up following the post-Ofsted/post-hubby leaving/post-moving illness, my waistline didn’t have a chance.

New year, new house, new start . . . Not really my words, but everyone else’s. I’m not one for resolving to become a ‘new me’ with every new year, but as 2016 was bringing some radically new stuff like a single status, I figured it was a good time to try shifting that little bit of extra weight that I really didn’t want to be carrying around. Christmas, inevitably, contributed towards it, so as soon as I’d polished off the last scrap of indulgent festive fare, I decided to address my eating habits.
‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.’ If you haven’t tried this, then don’t. It doesn’t work. I put on even MORE weight in January. And I caught a cold. So I ditched the stupid royal diet and cut out carbs instead. And started to eat a clove of garlic every morning to stave off any more bugs. I guess it probably staved off vampires too. And men. I was fine with the former. Well, the latter too in fact . . . But I caught another cold, only I reckon it was ‘man flu’ because I felt too ill to be merely suffering from the common cold. So I started to eat Greek style natural yogurt, in case the garlic was destroying EVERYTHING, but with honey because then it’s amazing. I’m ashamed to admit that a student advised me that the garlic might be killing me from the inside out and that natural yogurt might be a good idea. I also started to ration the garlic to weekends and holidays, for fear of ending up with a kind of force field around me, consisting of garlic fumes. Back to the weight loss – not quite there, even with the Lenten deprivation, but have DEFINITELY seen an improvement.

I love bread. Doughy, delicious and dangerous. When I borrowed a friend’s bread-maker last year, I was impressed with the quantity I could eat before feeling bloated. She had kindly lent it to me, so I could try it out before investing in a magic machine myself. I returned it before moving, fully intending purchasing my very own after the move, which I did, shortly after getting my nails done. As I write, it’s quite late and you could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve accidentally dropped an irrelevant fact into my bread story, but the nails are important. My nails had reached the stage of needing re-doing, but I had failed to secure an appointment to do so at the weekend. It’ll be ok, I thought, I’ll be careful for that extra week. I was VERY excited about the bread-maker. I opted for a plain, white loaf to start and after following the recipe carefully, I put the mixture in the magic machine and set it to cook for 3 hours. Then I started to put rubber gloves on to wash up and that’s when I noticed I’d broken the little finger nail on my right hand. I couldn’t believe I’d done such a cliched thing – I searched EVERYWHERE for half a purple nail but nothing! I’ll let you know what happens – I haven’t found it in the bread yet. I wonder if Mrs Lovett, pie-maker extraordinaire from Sweeney Todd, worried about this sort of thing. Probably not.

Countdown to Half-term

At some point in the early days of 2016, I noticed that Wimbledon Man and I weren’t Facebook friends anymore. I will admit that I felt a sense of loss . . . I never stopped liking him – he merely had poor timing. And, to be fair, I had a chicken that hated him with passion seething. But apart from all that, I thought that we could remain friends; he was a successful film nerd, which I loved. Voluntarily, he ran a cinema museum in Lambeth which I had anticipated visiting, but as our relationship never took off (unlike Dorothea), it never happened. I looked him up to see if he existed at all in Facebook World and it appeared that he didn’t – unless he’d blocked me. I confided in Rhiannon and she said that he’d probably come off Facebook but I doubted it. He was pretty active – if our relationship had taken off, there would have been a serious talk to be had about his use of social media.

She was wrong and I was right. This was the third man to block me in less than a year. The Dude blocked me when he dumped me, although he soon unblocked me and sent me a new friend request, amidst a flurry of apologies. The Rastafarian blocked me, for no good reason, although he mumbled words like ‘protection’ and ‘own good’ as if he worked for MI5. (He did imply this was the case once, in whispered tones, so I whispered back that I did too. I asked if the whole poverty thing was a cover, in which case I would just pretend to give him money from now on. Nothing more was said.) Obviously, he’d had deceitful motives when he hid me from his social media (or his social media from me – not really sure). And now Wimbledon Man. Our last interaction was him messaging on the umpteenth morning in a row, with ‘How are you?’ and my replying for the umpteenth time, ‘Good thanks. How are you?’ He knew I was in a new relationship so I said that it was getting weird. He said ‘ok’ and fell silent. I don’t know exactly when communication was severed, but I do know that by the time I noticed, when I reflected on the situation, I realised that I couldn’t recall have seen any evidence of his existence for a while. I couldn’t help thinking that if it had taken that long for me to notice, maybe he wasn’t that important to me. I knew that I had been blunt, with my opinions on his Groundhog Day-esque message popping up, without fail, morning after morning, but if I’d thought that offence was in danger of being taken, I would have sandwiched my evidently hurtful remark between niceties.  One of my Y11s remarked recently that I was very blunt. Another member of the group quipped, ‘and that’s why I love her!’ which was flattering, of course and so criticism turned into praise, but maybe I need to work on my tact and diplomacy . . .

Returning to Wimbledon Man, I figured that the cinema museum was still available to visit and to put a positive spin on the matter, I wouldn’t know of its existence at all, had we never met.

So, the countdown towards half-term was gathering momentum. Many years ago, when I taught at a girls’ boarding school, there used to be a countdown marker in the bottom right-hand corner of the white-board in the staffroom. You wouldn’t notice it unless you were searching for it, but we were ordered to remove it as it was seen as promoting a negative attitude towards our jobs. So we just pointedly reminded each other on a daily basis, how many weeks were left. And days. And how many lessons with that one year group for which you had to summon hidden reserves of everything to teach (because there is always one. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever in THAT year group at school). The countdown to the next break has been the same story in every school in which I’ve taught, but I’ve rarely taught with teachers who were actually negative about teaching. It’s the sort of running joke that facilitates your passage through the day. You couldn’t survive the job if you didn’t want to have good relationships with your students and if you didn’t want them to do the very best they could, but it does drain you over a period of several weeks, so when that break arrives, it is a timely one that serves to replenish your resources as well as to give you valuable time to spend doing non-teacher things, like regrouping with your family and/or pursuing leisure interests (whether it’s doing The Three Peaks Challenge or loafing around in nightwear all day). And there is a sense of togetherness in that journey through the term, because, unlike most jobs, you will be taking your holiday simultaneously with your colleagues.

In that last week before half-term, it was also Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day. Whenever this delicious annual event presents itself, I wonder why I’ve neglected such a delectable dish for a year. For the last few years before the children went off to uni, I had a pancake frenzy for weeks afterwards, both sweet and savoury, but for the last couple of years, being on my own, I’ve squeezed the pancake frenzy into a ‘one night only’ event and then deprived myself of heavenly things such as cakes, biscuits and chocolates for Lent. Sweets too, but for many reasons I’m not hugely enamoured with them so relinquishing them for six weeks doesn’t seem a big deal. On Pancake Day, after a savoury pancake stuffed with avocado and Greek style natural yogurt, I created a range of sweet pancakes for my own, singular pleasure. Lemon and sugar, Nutella, maple syrup, golden syrup . . . until I’d used up all the mixture. After all, that is the idea: one eats all the ingredients in the house that you could use to make nice things, so you’re not tempted to indulge in loveliness throughout Lent. And then I deprived myself of sweet loveliness. I’m halfway through my deprivation period and it’s going ok. A couple of years ago my priest told me that you’re allowed to indulge in the forbidden excesses on Sundays throughout Lent, because Sundays are mini-Easters. And of course, you can gorge on sins of the flesh (talking chocolate/cake/biscuit sins here) at Easter because it’s a celebration of the resurrection and therefore a feast day. It all made sense but most people to whom I relay this, see fit to reprimand me for ‘cheating’ and the funny thing is, I don’t think a single one of these people has given up anything for Lent! I’m very grateful that he enlightened me – I’d never succeeded in lasting six weeks without goodies beforehand. I still have the problem of The Lenten Police; those who closely monitor my progress. Last year, I made the mistake of saying I’d given up sugar and The Lenten Police questioned my consumption of bread, fruit, even some vegetables. There is a saying that ‘assumption is the mother of all mistakes’ which, generally speaking, I don’t uphold, because we have to make assumptions to get through our day; however, my assumption that people would get what I meant, was misguided. Therefore, I have been specific this year in my commitment to giving up chocolate, biscuits, cakes and desserts.

Also, in that last week at work before half-term, a block of chocolate appeared in my pigeon-hole. I ignored it for a while, thinking that it may have been a mistake, but it was still there at break-time, so I slid it out, held it up for general viewing and vaguely enquired if anyone knew why this had appeared? Sometimes students’ parents bring in gifts for teachers and so random treats appear and we are grateful. But no-one knew the provenance of this mysterious chocolate, whose destiny would not be fulfilled until my self-inflicted prohibition was in recess. I took it home and stood it on the mantelpiece as a reminder that I was part-way through a drought of sweet things, but also as a reminder that the drought would have a temporary reprieve on Sunday. I couldn’t walk past it without picking it up to feel it and smell it.

It just so happened that I was in on Saturday night and so, when midnight came I felt I deserved the chocolate. Not least because the Rastafarian had been in communication. He’d wanted me to drive him to Haywards Heath but resolutely, I declined his request. He was in denial, as usual, about my ending the relationship and suggested that I collect him from work and we go out to celebrate Valentines Day. Even if he wasn’t accepting that the relationship was over, I pointed out that he had no money. He was in arrears again and wanted financial help but obviously, I was not forthcoming. He agreed that yes, I would have to pay for both of us. And it wasn’t even Valentines Day, I stated, incredulously. But it is, he said, as soon as it’s midnight, which works perfectly because I finish work at midnight! Midnight? I questioned. Who wants to start a Valentines night out at midnight? What would we be doing? Going on a pub crawl that I would pay for and I wouldn’t be able to drink because I’d be driving . . . Sounds great. What’s wrong with going out on Valentines Day? You’ve got work the next day, he said. But I didn’t, because it was half-term and he’d never worried about that before. You’re so negative, he said . . . The thing is, I knew why he didn’t want to see me on Valentines Day. He had to see his actual girlfriend on Valentines Day. That thing I thought I was for several months. I don’t know why he was trying to resurrect our relationship. He told me he loved me and missed me . . . maybe he did but his attempt to make a romantic gesture was wanting in so many ways, so I stayed put and ate my chocolate instead.

Then I felt guilty in case it wasn’t meant for me . . .

 

A Bit of History

In 1988, following the demolition of a 1950s office block, archaeologists uncovered two-thirds of a ground plan of the first purpose-built theatre to grace London’s Bankside, The Rose. Built in 1587, on reclaimed land from the Thames, it sat amongst other Elizabethan attractions also considered to be unsavoury, such as brothels, gaming dens and bull/bear-baiting arenas. It pre-dates The Globe by 12 years and in fact, the latter probably owed its original creation to its success. Ironic, therefore, that it should fall out of use and disappear from the map in the early 1600s, in contrast to The Globe, which was going from strength to strength.

Today, it is an interesting mix of an archaeological dig and a small, modern theatre with a slightly gothic feel. With an old (as in long-standing, seeing as he’s probably reading this) friend, I attended a ‘readathon’ there last summer, before I broke my wrist. This involved the reading through of the abridged versions of several well-known plays. I had a commitment in the evening, so I could stay for the first four only: Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors and Frankenstein. At least, I think those were the plays … Long-standing Friend can correct me if I’m wrong.

We met outside the theatre and wandered round the corner to have a bite to eat. It was really not much more than a bite, with London prices. Then we wandered back to the theatre. It was a strange sensation, walking into the auditorium; some of it was sectioned off for the dig and there was a distinct cold blast. But it was lit up and looked pretty (I never thought I’d describe a dig as pretty). I was reminded of the only time I’ve been on a dig; a few years ago I joined a local archaeological group and found myself at a site called Rocky Clump. I arrived with a trowel and a fork and lots of trepidation. Having studied Latin to ‘A’ Level, I’ve always found Ancient History interesting and have visited a few amazing archaeological sites in my time. Rocky Clump was not amazing. It was a rectangular hole, filled with people, all holding trowels and forks, with nothing interesting in it. I didn’t even last the day. I scraped, scraped and did a bit more scraping, just in case I needed to scrape a bit more and I found enough earthworms to start one of those wormeries, but nothing else. I left at lunchtime, claiming I didn’t think they’d be there all day and I never returned. Hats off to all those people who dig and scrape and dig and scrape for so little return. I reckon for every minute of Time Team that’s aired, a whole day of digging and scraping is on the cutting-room floor. Anyway, it isn’t all a sad tale of digging and scraping – I enjoyed visiting some pre-dug digs during my time as a member, along with joining some great historical walks both across the Downs and through the streets of Brighton. The latter is where I found out the origin of North Laine and so I have some evidence to support my insistence upon it being called so. A laine was a farming plot and there were 5 laines surrounding the old town of Brighton. In 1977, the area we call North Laine was going to be developed into high-rise buildings, a flyover and a car park, but Ken Fines, the borough planning officer for Brighton at the time, struck by the charm of the area, fought to protect it from development and so the North Laine Conservation Area was designated, the name a recognition of its mediaeval roots. The Lanes have nothing to do with this: they are, as the name suggests, made up of a series of lanes, unlike North Laine which refers to an area and is actually a series of quaint roads (ok, you could call Kensington Gardens a lane). But anyway, we have Mr Fines to thank because without him, bohemian Brighton would not exist.

Back to London! The readathon . . . so, we pulled names of characters out of a hat and then we had to play that character in the shortened play. In Frankenstein I had a few bit-parts which was fine, because I teach it every year to Year 8. It was the same story with Comedy of Errors but that was fine too, because back in the day when I was young and thin, I played Luciana. But we did Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet in a row and I pulled out ‘Olivia’ for the former and ‘Juliet’ for the latter. I played Olivia first which was pretty cool and Juliet second, which was even cooler. I agonised over whether or not to replace the name, as I’d just played a big part, but I ran with it. I’m too old to play Juliet now, so I figured that this was my last chance. And Long-standing Friend played the nurse, so actually, it was perfect. I doubt that he will ever get to play the nurse, so no doubt, he was thinking the same.

When I told Long-standing Friend that I’d cried off my audition, his reaction was:

‘What? You enjoyed acting with me last summer!’

He was right. I had. So why was I doing this? I can’t really explain why, but I brooded over it for quite some time. Then I thought: it’s ok. I can do the readathon again, every summer if I want to. That’s what I enjoyed. Just because I liked the redathon, doesn’t mean I want to be in plays any more. Only I am in a play, but not to play a part.

I broke my wrist just days after the readathon so I’m thankful for that. Not that I broke my wrist, just that Fate allowed me to play Olivia and Juliet before pushing me into that chalky puddle. If I’d managed to play Joan of Arc too, or Alison from Look Back In Anger, then it would have been a hat-trick. I think they are my only two regrets.

Changes

I didn’t possess an overwhelming desire to frequent the establishments I’d visited with the Rastafarian, apart from The Folky Pub. I had pre-Rastafarian (a bit like Pre-Raphaelite but really different) memories of The Folky Pub and I didn’t wholly associate the pub with him. However, I still needed some time to recover and so I let things roll at The Folky Pub without me for a bit. I’m certain that no-one noticed my  absence. But I noticed my absence and after just a couple of weeks I was back there.

‘It’s good to have you back,’ said Original Blues.

‘It’s good to be back,’ I smiled and pushed him away as he tried to turn that inch I’d given him into a mile.

‘The Call?’ the guy that ran the Open Mic leaned over Original Blues and was looking right at me.

‘Sorry?’

‘I’ll learn it and you can sing it,’ he continued.

I looked at the profile of Original Blues because he was making a sterling effort to not look at me, but I could see his cheeks puffing out like they do when someone is wearing a MASSIVE smile. I laughed, defeated and said that yes, that would be great.

‘What have you done?’ as soon as Open Mic Guy Mark II (I named some other Open Mic guy Open Mic Guy) had leaned back to continue doing Open Mic stuff I rounded on Original Blues.

‘I knew you wanted to do some Open Mic stuff and he’s here to support you, so he’s gonna learn that song you said you wanted to sing.’

‘I did? I said that?’

‘Well, I asked you what you would sing if you sang and that’s what you said.’

So that was it. I had to learn it. And I did learn it. But when I went the following week, he apologised for not learning it because he’d forgotten it. Which was fine, because much as I loved that song, I figured it was a challenging initiation into Open Mic, so I gave him a different song to learn. And when I went the next week, with the song learnt, Original Blues wasn’t there and Open Mic Guy Mark II failed to mention anything about a song, so I failed to do so too and it didn’t get sung. I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. I had such a good feeling about this going well, but it was out of my comfort zone, not having done Open Mic before.

But there was an audition coming up and so I let the Open Mic ambition slide for the time being and concentrated on preparing myself for this audition that, if successful, would propel me back into the theatre.

A few days previous to audition day, I’d gone out in town and parked outside Browns (a restaurant). I was aware of a homeless-type person in a doorway bang opposite my parking space and when I got out of the car, and was generally adjusting my attire, he said, are you alright? I looked around, to check that he was actually addressing me and as I was not sharing this particular patch of pavement with anyone else, I figured he was talking to me. I smiled and thanked him for his concern and said that yes, I was fine. Curiously, he said that he thought I looked like I was going to an audition. I said that that was very strange, as even though I wasn’t, I would be in a few days. He was very interested in my forthcoming audition and wanted to know the whereabouts of the theatre, so I told him, without a second thought. Maybe I should have given it a second thought, because then he said that he used to work in special effects and lighting and that he might pop along there on audition day. Eek! Before you judge me, one does not just ‘pop along’ to a theatre group in the middle of the city on audition day and expect to be taken seriously. So, when audition day arrived, the thought of a vagrant turning up and mentioning my name probably contributed towards my decision to swerve the auditions.

If you’ve read my blog entitled ‘The Theatre’, you will know how important the theatre has been to me for most of my adult life and so the decision to renege on my plan to audition was a pretty momentous one. I realised that I actually didn’t want to go. For a few hours I was pretty down . . . It was a strange feeling of acceptance and sadness. I reflected on all the plays in which I had performed and I was so grateful for the memories, but slightly mournful for a passion I’d lost.

Then The Dude messaged me. We’d resurrected communication but just as friends and I’d told him about my Open Mic plans. He was enquiring after my plans and so I told him the situation.

‘I can learn a few songs for you,’ he offered, ‘if you give me the titles.’

Wow. I had something to look forward to.

Then another message came through. Would I like to sing in a forthcoming play? Everything went a bit wobbly; the very day I was mourning the loss of a huge part of my life, was the very day when two more opportunities popped up and introduced themselves. Yes, yes, yes. I was ready for all of it. I’d covered all the performing arts: dancing . . . From the age of three and into my twenties; acting . . . From my teens and up to a couple of years ago; singing . . . Kind of all my life but apart from a brief sojourn with a band, always alongside one of the other performing arts or as a member of the chorus. Acting had received most of my attention and  I felt like a change, a challenge. This sounds cliché-ridden, but I needed to move on. Acting wasn’t a challenge anymore, but singing was. I had done plenty of it, but acting had been my bag so now I had a new venture; a new adventure.

Meanwhile, I had attempted to maintain a friendship with the Rastafarian which culminated in my driving him on a 40 minute car journey to work. To date, this is the last time I saw him. It was a Friday night after a particularly tiring week at work. I drove him to Haywards Heath and then began the journey home. He had commented on the way that he couldn’t find his gloves so he must have left them at home. I offered to return home, but he would have been late, so he cut his losses and I continued on to Haywards Heath. Just to clarify, when you’re working ‘on the door’ as a security officer in the coldest part of winter, warm extremities are important. So anyway, I began my journey home but on stopping to fill up with petrol, I noticed the elusive gloves by the side of the passenger seat. I returned from whence I’d deposited him and gave the gloves to a smiling Rastafarian. He was visibly grateful and kissed me as I pulled away. The journey there and back took 1 hour 20 minutes. Originally, he had said that he finished at half past midnight, so I planned to leave at around 11.50 to collect him. But he messaged me at around 10.30 to ask me to come at 11.30, so I left at 10.50 instead. I arrived bang on time and he came over to the car. I could tell by the immediacy with which he approached the car, without his bag or coat, and by the way he came to the driver’s side and not the passenger side, that he wasn’t ready.

‘Come in and have a drink,’ he invited, ‘for an hour because honey, I don’t finish till 12.30.’

‘No,’ I replied, ‘you come in the car now and I will drop you home, or I’m going.’

I won’t bore you with the next several interchanges; I’ll just give you a few key phrases and words like ‘honey’, ‘what am I supposed to do’, ‘come on’ and ‘the boss say’. My replies included key phrases and words like ‘no’, ‘for a whole hour?’ ‘I’ve driven all this way’ and ‘I’m going.’ Then one key phrase started to stand out which was ‘I have no money to get home’ so I grabbed a tenner from my wallet and held it out of the car window, whilst advising him to enjoy the last bit of money he would ever extort from me.

I had driven for just under 3 hours for him that night, yet as I arrived home, having left him there to (perish the thought) slum it on the Bedford train, 40 minutes later, a message pinged onto my phone saying he’d finished and could I possibly pick him up?

Just no.

Karaoke

One Thursday when we went to The Cosmopolitan Bar in the centre of town, the Rastafarian had suggested we pop over the road to a newly-opened karaoke bar. One of his Rastafarian friends was already there and whereas he usually looked kind of dead, when I dropped my love of karaoke into the conversation, his face was resurrected to life and he suggested a duet. Fortunately, the Rastafarian was at the bar and so didn’t hear this faux pas (which wasn’t really, of course, but it would have been to him) so I quietly rejected the suggestion. However, I put my name forward to sing on my own and as it wasn’t busy, within 5 minutes I was on the stage. As I walked back to the table, the Rastafarian went to the loo and so I was left alone with Rastafarian Mark II.

‘You can sing!’ he enthused.

‘Aw, thank you!’ I was quite pleased with my renditions of Beautiful South’s Don’t Marry Her followed by The Velvet Underground’s I’m Sticking With You, although it was difficult to sing the male part of the latter.

‘Join my band,’ he invited, ‘because we need a female vocalist.’

The Rastafarian was heading back towards the table and so I hurriedly rejected the second offer made by Rastafarian Mark II that night and whereas I wanted to stay in The Karaoke Bar for longer, suddenly we were going. And then there was a row. He hadn’t even heard Rastafarian Mark II make some arguably controversial suggestions to me but apparently my behaviour was unacceptable because I dared to sit next to him while the Rastafarian was in the loo.

So, I was both suspicious and surprised the following Thursday, when, after he’d played in The Cosmopolitan Bar, he said ‘let’s go over the road’. The previous week, I’d asked the karaoke chappie for a particular song and although he didn’t have it, he promised to have it by the following week. As we walked in, Karaoke Chappie came straight over and announced, excitedly, ‘I’ve got that song! Shall I put your name down to sing it?’ I said ‘yes’, of course and the Rastafarian looked bemused. I did not expect him to have either recall of my singing the previous week or interest in my singing that week. If Karaoke Chappie hadn’t been so obviously gay, he would have had more than a passing interest in the way we interacted with each other though.

A short while later, Karaoke Chappie stopped me on my way back from the loo to say that I was next. The Rastafarian had been sitting at a table when I’d stopped to talk to Karaoke Chappie, but by the time I’d finished chatting to him, he was by the door, jacketed and scarfed up, holding out my coat.

‘But I’m about to sing!’ I protested.

‘But I’ve got you a drink over the road!’ he argued.

And he had.

Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just stay. Not only had I listened to him sing countless times, but also I had praised him and immortalised him on video and in photos. But anyway, this is leading somewhere other than just another Rastafarian anecdote. After the winter of Rastafarian discontent, one of the first places I planned to visit was The Karaoke Bar. I invited some friends along to trill with me and warned them that we might run into the mythical (they’d never met him) Rastafarian. We met in a pub near the bus stop where we planned to catch a bus into town. They were well on their way to carefree drunkenness by the time I arrived so, as Friend 1 appeared to have a whole bottle of fizz all to herself, I felt like I was the welcome band of reinforcements to aid in the serious business of alcoholic libation. We were feeling a little fizzy ourselves by the time we alighted on the bus but a bracing walk from the bus-stop to The Karaoke Bar composed us a little.

I shot a quick sideways glance to check that the Rastafarian wasn’t outside The Cosmopolitan Bar on the other side of the road (he wasn’t) and we made our entrance into The Karaoke Bar. It was very busy, but filled only with the noise of chatter, not singing.

‘I guess they haven’t started yet,’ I explained.

It seemed like a function; there was something unusual about the intensity with which people were chit-chatting.

We made our way to the bar, wondering why everyone was wearing stickers.

‘Is there any karaoke tonight?’ I asked the barman, before investing in drinks we might not want if we were to be disappointed.

‘Why are all the men looking at us?’ said Friend 2 to Friend 1, simultaneously with my question to the barman.

He smiled, realising our mistake:

‘No. Speed dating tonight.’

‘Stay for speed dating!’ a blonde woman with a slightly manic look in her eyes commanded my friends, whom, evidently, she viewed as fresh meat.

Friend 2 and I looked at each other as if discussing the matter telepathically, then shook our heads whilst grimacing apologetically. We looked round for Friend 1 but she was already part of the speed dating scene, chatting to people at a table. She might even have been sporting a sticker. We went over to rescue her but she was difficult to rescue.

‘Let’s do speed dating!’ she cried.

‘Nah. Let’s not,’ Friend 2 and I agreed to disagree.

We managed to extract Friend 1 from the clutches of Paul 2 but she showed no gratitude.

‘But I liked Paul 2!’ she insisted.

Looking back, Friend 2 and I were a little harsh on Friend 1 but she was out-voted so we continued our search for karaoke. We’d had a tip-off that it was all happening on the other side of town so off we went, only to be let down again. We went to the nearest pub instead and a group of men heard our woeful story of the fruitless search for karaoke and said that they would listen to us sing outside. But it was a bit nippy by then and we weren’t blown away by any of them so we passed up their offer and I took Friend 1 and Friend 2 to The Folky Pub for a final drink.

Friend 1 wanted another whole bottle of fizz, of which I partook no more than a soupcon and I’m ashamed to say that half of it was left behind in the pub, but we didn’t want the walk of shame to the bus-stop to be made more shameful by swinging half a bottle of booze. To round off the evening, Friend 1 showed me her new dating app which looked very complicated, but maybe it was just because it had been a long evening.

I didn’t sleep well that night; my phone kept pinging but I was too tired to acknowledge it. In the morning I picked it up and I had a ridiculous number of notifications in . . . my new dating app . . ? I didn’t get it – I hadn’t engaged with this app at all so how did I have notifications? (I didn’t even remember downloading it to be honest.) I went into the app and after my eyes had adjusted to being open, I understood. You got notifications just when someone viewed your profile. I had a quick scroll through but no-one was knock-your-socks-off amazing and even if they had been, I couldn’t be bothered. I needed time to lick my wounds so I held down the app until it wobbled and with a tap on the cross I cut dead any potential relationships before they became so much as a nod in the right direction.