Scene One

Chairs, Reading
Chairs, Reading (Photo credit: moogiemedia)

I have been doing a spot of playwriting. A teeny, tiny spot which you can’t really see with the naked eye. This is because a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to write a play plot as ‘homework’ for the women’s writers group I’m a member of. The idea was to ensure your play had a plot. This may seem obvious but, apparently, writers’ often have great characters and ideas but have given no real thought to how their story will develop.  I’m sure this can be the case with other types of writing too. To be honest, I did have an idea for a short play that was in essence an idea about two characters so it was good to sit down and think about how to develop it.

When I sat down and thought about it, the plot itself came quite easily. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes you have a great idea but don’t quite know what to do with it. You run it around your head in hundreds of different scenarios but none of them are quite right. The plot is nowhere as near exciting as the idea or character you can see so clearly in your mind. When this happens you just have to put it away with the other ‘don’t quite work yet’ ideas and thoughts, and hope that one day, in the future, you’ll take it out, dust it down and get to use it.

At the following meeting we had to read our plots to the rest of the group. This was a little daunting but, as I was happy with my plot, it wasn’t too intimidating. However, the next assignment we were given did intimidate me. The next assignment was to write a scene for our play. Now, I haven’t written a play since I was about ten years old. That’s a long time ago. Also, I’ve previously written in this blog about the difference between writing short stories and a play-script. A play is essentially dialogue. That’s it really, apart from a few stage directions. It is down to your words and the actors’ interpretation of these to bring your work to life. This is in contrast to prose which allows you the literary freedom to describe in detail the setting and inner most thoughts and the past of your characters.

I decided to write the second scene from my play, which was a monologue for the main character – the heroine of my piece. Actually, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I started writing, the words came fast and furiously. It was like having someone describe the life and feelings with me in a conversation. I didn’t have to worry about long descriptions of where the character was and how they got to be there, or why they felt the way they did. It was all written in dialogue, with subtle hints and allusions to what had gone on in the character’s past. That’s not to see it was easy. I’m not saying playwriting is easier than writing prose. Goodness, no!

I was quite pleased with it when I had finished but then went through that whole gamut of emotions I experience when I have written something. I’m sure most of you know the ones. They range from “Hey, that’s pretty good. I’m pleased with that” to “God, that’s shit. Why am I bothering?”  In the end, I decided to leave it and take it to my next group meeting and see what everyone else thought. I packed my scene away into a plastic wallet and tried to think little of it until I got to the theatre.

When I went to my next meeting, I realised that this was a big mistake. Firstly, I began to think that I should have written the scene as a two-hander instead of a monologue. It suddenly made a lot more sense to have a second character to bounce my heroine’s ideas and thoughts off. Secondly, I had to read the scene to the rest of the group. Thirdly, I had to read the scene to the rest of the group. Fourthly I had to…you get the idea. It’s one thing to read a brief plot outline to your peers. It is quite another to read the actual words you have written for your main character. Talk about putting yourself on the line.

As it happened, I didn’t have to read my scene out to the others. Another member of the group did instead. This was not because I had had some sort of stage fright. It was because it was deemed more worthwhile for me to hear someone else read it as I would be able to hear where it was working and where it wasn’t more clearly. To me, this idea seemed a whole lot worse than reading it out loud myself. I now had to hand my work to someone else, get them to read and interpret it, and act it out to the rest of the group. Doubly embarrassing! However, I didn’t get too much time to dwell on it as one fear was replaced by another. I was asked to read out a part in someone else’s three-handed scene. I’m no actor so this filled me with dread too. I was deeply beginning to regret joining this group.

When we had all had time to read through our given scripts and for a quick rehearsal, we reconvened to listen to one another’s work. My work was to be read out first. This was good and bad news. On the plus side, it would be done and dusted and out of the way leaving me free to enjoy the other writers’ scripts. On the minus side, it meant I had to listen to my work now. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this but it was too late to back out now. The lady who was reading my script started and I could feel my heart beating faster. My palms were sweaty. Who am I kidding? My whole body was sweating! I was sure I was blushing and I couldn’t look anyone in the face. In fact, I spent the whole time looking at my knees.

But, the lady who runs our group was right, it was a useful exercise. I could hear which bits worked. I could also hear which didn’t and where it went on too long. I knew how to change it to make it sound a little better. Not perfect yet by a long shot (there again, is any writing perfect to the writer?) but I knew where to go with it. And I’m not sure I would have been able to do this if I had read it out myself. I also discussed the fact that I thought a second character was needed, to which I was told it didn’t. It did work as a monologue. I guess I should have more conviction in myself. I spend far, far too much time self-doubting. Sometimes, I guess, we have to put ourselves out there and take a chance. Living life in your head maybe safer, but it’s nowhere near as exciting. Now, pass me the Valium.

 

One billion and one

One Billion Rising on V-Day at San Francisco C...
One Billion Rising on V-Day at San Francisco City Hall (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

I recently saw an interview with two twenty-something women who were part of the One Billion Rising movement. They were asked why they had joined the movement, to which they replied “there was no good reason not to”. They were right. There really is no reason why anyone would or could object to it. Actually, I’m sure there are those that do, but let’s not dwell on those people or sanction their views.

One Billion Rising has made me think a lot about my own experiences of womanhood and I thought I would share my thoughts with you. I’m not going to write about domestic violence (I will save that for another day) but I will share with you my own encounters with the sexual exploitation of women. This is going to be quite long for a post but I’m not going to apologise for that. I feel these things need a voice and to be heard.

I first entered the workplace, at the age of sixteen, in the late 80s. Since then, I have had the grand total of six jobs. Some of these jobs lasted a few months (one lasted a week but that’s a whole different story), and some lasted for years. The longest was for fifteen years. I can honestly say that throughout all that time and all those jobs I never once experienced sexual discrimination or sexual molestation. You may consider me lucky; I certainly do. I have always worked in an office environment where the workforce was mainly women. The managers, however, where, for the most part, men. That said, I was never told that I couldn’t do something or apply for a promotion because I was a woman, nor have I ever had anyone try to shove their hand up my skirt or grab my bottom. Not at work, anyway.

Going for a night out with the girls in the late 80s and 90s was a different matter. It was not uncommon for a woman to have her bottom groped or fondled in a pub, club or, on one occasion, on the night bus on the way home. Just to be clear; the majority of men didn’t do this, but there was always one drunken idiot who thought he was perfectly in his rights to grab your arse or lift up your skirt. I remember in the mid 90s, when A-line mini skirts were all the rage, my friends and I all had to buy big short-like knickers to save our dignity and blushes from such morons.

How did we deal with these imbeciles? We turned around glared, tutted and remonstrated with them, and then we moved out of their way. That was it. It seemed to be part of the trials and tribulations of being a woman. Their was one occasion, in a pub in Wakefield, when I turned around and slapped a guy across his face but I was very irritated as he had made a lunge for me as I was leaving the pub. I was also very drunk which probably made me more ‘kick-arse’ than usual. How did our assailants respond? Did they feel remorse at their actions and humbly beg for our forgiveness? Of course they didn’t. They jeered at us and told us not to be so miserable. These men saw it as their right to fondle our behinds and really couldn’t see what the problem was. I’m sure if some other guy had done this to their girlfriend, wife, sister or mother, they would have been up in arms about it. But, they didn’t see it like that. We weren’t a person to them. We were just young women, and if we would go out in packs into pubs wearing short skirts what did we expect? Does this still happen in 2013? I’m pretty damn sure it does. So, twenty years on and nothing has changed.

My experience of male and female relationships at high school is somewhat skewed as I went to an all-girls high school. The city I grew up in used to have a three tier school system. You went to primary school until you were about nine or ten, then to junior school until you were thirteen, and then to high school. My primary and junior years were in mixed school settings but throughout primary and the first couple of years of junior school boys and girls had very little to do with one another. Boys were a mystery to me. They were noisy, boisterous, silly, and played rough games. I know a lot of girls felt the same; my daughters feel this way about boys now. I also know that girls were equally a mystery to boys. Girls talked too much, were fussy, bossy, and skipped and danced about a lot.

Then, in the last couple of years of junior school, puberty raised its ugly head. It raises its head in different ways and rates. I was definitely a late-developer. I had no interest in boys and still found them stupid and annoying. I know many others in my year felt the same. However, there are always those for whom adolescent hits harder and faster – the early-bloomers. And amongst the early-bloomers, there are always those who are free with their affections. There was a name for ‘girls like that’ at my school. I’m sure there is the same name for ‘girls like that’ now. What always gets me is that there is never a name for ‘boys like that.’ Why is that? Without ‘boys like that’ there would be no ‘girls like that.’ Without girls who are free with their affections, what would boys who want to be free with theirs do? It’s mutually consenting – of sorts.

Before I commit the following story to cyberspace for all to read, I want to be very clear that I do not apportion blame to any of the parties involved. Blame, in my opinion, lies elsewhere and I will address that at the end of this post (which now seems to have become an essay).

In the last year at my junior school a weekend camping trip was arranged for the final year pupils. There were not many of us that went. If I remember rightly, there were just nine children (six girls and three boys) and a few teachers. The children pitched their tents in one part of the camp site, quite close together, whilst the teachers pitched theirs quite some distance away at the other side of the field. I guess that teachers figured we would be up all night giggling and messing around and didn’t want their sleep disturbed. We were only thirteen but this was the mid 80s, and I’m sure this would not happen now. The girls slept in three two-man tents, and the three boys slept in a larger tent.

On the first night, my tent-mate and I awoke to a lot of commotion going on from the boys’ tent. I think they had forgotten that we were all sleeping in tents with walls made of canvas, not brick, and we were all in fairly close proximity to one another. From what we could hear and make out, one of the girls (who was known to be free with her affections) had crept into the boys’ tent. It soon became apparent that she had had some kind of sexual relations with two of the boys (not full blown sex) but was unwilling to do so with the third. To be fair to the third boy, he too was not over keen on having sexual relations with the girl either. However, one of the other boys took exception to this and was trying to persuade the girl into letting his friend have his “turn” as he put it.

To be quite clear, he didn’t force her into doing anything and nothing was done against her will. He was just trying to persuade her. In his thirteen year old mind, she wasn’t being fair and she wasn’t playing by the ‘rules.’ To him the ‘rules’ where everyone gets a turn or you’re ‘not being a good sport’. It just wasn’t British. His emotional response was lacking because he was only thirteen and unable to cope with the feelings and urges his adolescent body were raging with. He didn’t see this girl as a person. He didn’t respect her or her feelings. She was the type of girl who entered boys’ tents in the middle of the night, what did she expect?

Eventually, they all quietened down. I’m not sure whether this poor boy got his “turn” with this poor girl or not. I don’t want to know. All I know is that not only was I shocked but so was every other girl on the trip as their noise had woken us all up. We talked about it, the five of us, the whole of the next morning. We were upset but didn’t know how to deal with it. We were just thirteen and had never once been in this situation ourselves. So we did what do? We did what all children do with experiences they can’t process and deal with and filed it away at the back of our minds, forgot about it and went back to playing. Except, I haven’t really forgotten about it. That incident is still there in my mind and it still upsets me today.

That was nearly thirty years ago, and, unfortunately, I think many teens today will still be able to relate to this story. Again, nothing has changed. Now teenagers have to contend with social media outlets and ‘sexting’ in addition to the puberty-ridden angst I had to. They watch music videos which show gyrating semi-naked women as a matter of course. I am one of the original ‘MTV generation.’ MTV was launched as I hit my teens. But we never saw the sexualisation of women in videos like we do now. When did this happen? It seems to have crept up on us and I, for one, have been sleeping and let it do so.

A couple of months ago there was an incident involving my, then, four year old daughters. It was about ten in the morning and. for some reason, there was a music channel on our TV. I’m not sure who or how it got put on but the girls were happy dancing about to it so I paid it little attention. All of a sudden one of my girls said, “Mummy, why is that lady dancing in her bra and pants?” I looked up to see LadyGa Ga prancing around in what could only just be described as her bra and pants. I hastily switched over to CBeebies and spluttered something about not being sure why she would want to dance dressed like that. I cursed myself for being so stupid. I know the content of music videos these days so why on earth had I left it on?

But hang on a minute, it was ten o’clock in the morning and this channel didn’t have a PIN protected code like some of the others do. This means that any child of any age has access to this imagery. And what are these images telling our children? To be attractive to the opposite sex you need to dress and dance like a stripper, and be overtly sexual? Is that really what we want our kids to learn? We, as adults, have become so used to seeing the sexualisation of women in the media we’ve forgotten its impact. We have become desensitised to it. It’s the twenty-first century and we still have a Page-Three Girl for goodness sake. Come on Britain, get your act together! As for those of you who claim it’s keeping people in employment, well so did hanging but we outlawed that in the 50s.

So, what’s the answer? It’s what it has always been – education. We, as parents and guardians, have a responsibility to sit down and talk to our children about what constitutes healthy relationships and what doesn’t. We need to acknowledge that we live in a highly commercial, capitalist world and that sex sells. We need to show them that the images they are bombarded with are a marketing tool, that’s all. They are not how you are intended to live your life. We have to do this in a calm, rational and open manner. There’s nothing a teenager hates more than being preached to. We have to accept that, at the end of the day, it is our children that are going to decide how they are going to behave and we can’t control this. It is part of growing-up and we have to allow them the freedom to do so. All we can do is show them that they have choices and options, and let them know we will be there for them if something untoward happens.

However, it is not just down to us. We send our children to school to equip them with the skills needed to make it in the world when they reach adulthood. Somewhere along the line, our elected officials and civil servants have decided that this means our children achieving five A*-C GCSE passes. That is the main goal of three to sixteen years education, and if they achieve their five passes they are equipped for the world. Anything else is secondary to the primary goal and is nowhere near as important. Wrong! It’s no good churning out A* students if they are emotionally fucked up over something that happened on a school camping trip in Year 8. We need proper relationship education not just education about the mechanics of sex. We need sufficient time to be devoted to it in the curriculum and timetabling. Anything less, and we’re selling our kids short. In thirty years time, I don’t want my girls to be telling their kids that nothing has changed.

Waxing lyrical 2

White Stripes!
White Stripes! (Photo credit: Martin Cathrae)

I love Jack White. I love his solo stuff, The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. I went to see Jack in November. He sounded amazing, his band sounded amazing, he played his own stuff and he played White Stripes and Raconteurs stuff, he didn’t talk between songs and, at the end, he thanked everyone for coming and for being “very nice to us.” How sweet.

I read somewhere that Jack believes that songs should tell a story. I can see this in his lyrics as they really do tell a narrative. I think that’s why I like him so much. I’m also sure that, if I continue with this feature, he will pop up regularly. My last post was about how, as a parent, I sometimes expect too much of my kids. How I forget they are only five and expect them to make the same decisions and choices that I do. This is clearly incredibly stupid of me.

The fact that I did this (and probably will do again) reminded me of one of Jack’s songs – Effect and Cause. The song is about how some people take the effect of what happened and make it into the cause. This is what I did. I was the one who left glue and glitter in handy reach of my children and then got mad when they used it to have fun.

This song is not really about leaving potentially havoc causing items in the reach of young children. It is about relationships. I can relate to all of the words and could quite easily transcribe the whole song lyrics in this post. But the bit I like the most, the bit that resonates most loudly with me is:

You seem to forget

Just how this all started

I’m reacting to you

Because you left me broken hearted

Well you just can’t take

The Effect

And make it the Cause.

Effect and Cause, White Stripes, Icky Thump (2007).

I guess most of us have been unlucky enough to be in a one-sided relationship whether this be with a lover, friend, relative, or work colleague or boss. If you have been unfortunate enough to be in this sort of relationship, you’ll know that everything is your fault whether it is or not. Your lover/friend etc does something unreasonable and pisses you off. You react emotionally to this. Your lover/friend etc doesn’t like your passionate response but is so self-absorbed that they can’t see that they are at fault – that they have caused the emotional effect. Instead, they excuse you of being over-emotional, a drama queen; crazy even. They take the effect of what they have done and twist it and turn it and reshape it into being the cause of why they are mad at you. This confuses and confounds you because you really can’t argue with a person like that. And, sometimes, it confuses and confounds you so much that you actually start to believe that what they say is true.

There is only one way to deal with a person like that. All you can do is walk away and leave them to their own egocentric ways. It may hurt, but the reality is they probably won’t even know you are gone. They’ll just move onto the next person to control because control is all they have. These people are racked with insecurities. They are not as confident and clever as they like to make out. They can’t debate or have rational, adult disagreements with other people so they hide this by always having to be right. By shouting down others and making you feel small and stupid.

If you do find yourself in this type of relationship, please always remember – you are not the small and stupid one. And, judging by his lyrics, I’m sure Jack will agree.

Bad behaviour?

Photo of Glitter Particles
Photo of Glitter Particles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My daughters’ fifth birthday party was great fun for reasons other than that there was a bouncy castle. One of the reasons it went so well was that all the children were exceptionally well behaved – not a brat amongst them. And there is usually at least one, isn’t there? The one that is a right blooming nuisance and whose parents just sit and watch them running around causing chaos and havoc. I’m not saying my children are angels, far from it, but they know how to behave in public.

There was a brat whilst we were on holiday last year. The type of holiday we had last year is not the type of holiday my husband and I have had before. At least, not since we were kids ourselves. The type of holiday we had last year is normally the type of holiday we avoid like the plague. However, this type of holiday becomes very attractive when you have small children to entertain. This type of holiday is, of course, at a holiday park. A couple of swimming pools, a playground, kids’ club all suddenly look like less like the devil incarnate and more like a sanity saver when you have children. Particularly, if you choose to holiday in the UK during the wettest summer on record.

The holiday park boasted a clubhouse. My husband and I wouldn’t normally enter this sort of establishment if our lives depended on it. But, a nightly show and disco did keep the girls entertained. A well-stocked bar helped to keep us happy. For the record, we didn’t drink copious amounts of alcohol and have our kids escort us back to the holiday caravan and put us to bed. But a couple of drinks on an evening was a treat. It was also a must if you have to endure holiday park entertainers and their brand of entertainment.

After a couple of nights usually get to recognise other inmates, sorry, holiday makers and their offspring. You may even strike up a friendship with some. But there was one little girl who always seemed to be on her own. I’m sure she wasn’t, as she couldn’t have been more than three, but it appeared that way. I’m guess her parents must have been hidden away at the back of the clubhouse somewhere oblivious to what a pain their daughter was being. She wasn’t a really naughty child but she was quite disruptive and wasn’t adverse to pushing and shoving to get her own way. I finally saw her with her parents on the last day of our holiday. This was not in the clubhouse but in the local convenience store. “So that’s what they look like,” I grumbled to my husband.

Thankfully, there were no children of this ilk at the party. There were, however, lots and lots and lots of presents. I was quite flabbergasted at the number the girls received. But, there again, there were about twenty guests and they all bought my daughters a present each. Forty presents – that’s a hell of a lot. I was blown away by people’s generosity and kindness; particularly in these trying times. However, as grateful as I was, there was a tiny part of me that thought “Where on earth am I supposed to put all these?”

Luckily, a lot of the presents were craft-related so an hour or so of making and the thing is done and dusted and out of the way. Also, my girls love making things so these really are the ideal presents for them. Not so for me. It is a great to create things and bond together but the damn things never, ever look like the do on the box. They, also, never, ever fit together as claimed and fall apart with the slightest of sneezes. There I go, being ungrateful again.

One of the making and doing presents was ‘The Big Box of Crafts’. My daughters were very keen to make a start with this as the box showed a wonderful plethora of exciting objects to make – from a sun bookmark to a clown puppet. Did the finished articles look like the pictures promised on the box? Did they hell. Did the finished articles actually stick together or did they fall apart when moved a millimetre? I’ll leave you to decide that one for yourself. Anyway, I left the objects to dry on the girls little table and tidied the remnants away into the box. I left both in the dining room and thought no more of it. My children are not perfect, role model kids, far from it, but I thought that they could be trusted to know right from wrong. How stupid of me!

The following morning the girls came downstairs before me. Only five minutes before but, it seems five minutes is more than enough to get up to mischief. By the time I came down there was a big mess all over their table. A big, gloopy, gluey, glittery mess. They had decided to make gloopy, gluey, glitter puddles on pieces of paper. (Mister Maker has a lot to answer for). In order to do this, they had got out a mug and four tablespoons and mixed the gloopy, gluey, glittery mixture together before spreading it all over the paper and the floor. Judging by their faces they had had the most fantastic time. I’m not sure what my face told them, but I’m guessing it wasn’t telling them I was a happy bunny. It didn’t help that it was first thing in the morning. I’m most definitely not a morning person.

I asked them what on earth they had been playing at, what had been running through their minds, and at what point they thought this was acceptable behaviour (one of my favourite and most used sayings). I pointed out that they were not babies anymore and I expected better of them. I then sent them off into the living rooms amidst tears, howling and crying (them not me) and set to cleaning the mess. It didn’t actually take me that long; only a couple of minutes. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it initially looked. It was as I cleaned up that I realised that as a kid you hardly ever do think through to the consequences of your actions. You see something, have a great idea involving using whatever it is you’ve seen and then carry it out. Your parents’ ire very rarely makes its way onto your radar.

I also realised that, actually, it was I that was to blame for this. I had left temptation in their way and expected them to overlook it. I had left glue and glitter at their disposal and believed they could ignore it. They are just five years old so what was I thinking? I don’t want the type of children who are frightened to express themselves in fear of getting into trouble. My kids are kids and I want them to act like kids. The lesson I learnt here is that I am the adult and the fault stops with me – plain and simple. That it was me who had been badly behaved. That and that I really should tidy up properly in the first place.

Bouncing to fitness

An inflatable castle type of moonwalk.
An inflatable castle type of moonwalk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My exercise regime has become, well a regime. I’m not sure how that happened. One minute I’m lamenting the fact that I’m bone idle and trying to peel myself off the sofa. The next I’m briskly walking four times a week and enjoying it. Who’d have thought it?! Exercise does release those feel good endorphins, and sets you up for the rest of the day. It puts you in a good mood and is addictive. You want and crave more.

It doesn’t take much to see results either. I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve been able to pick up the pace and exercise for longer. I’ve also lost weight. This wasn’t my intention. I only wanted to exercise to stay healthy. But, I’m not complaining at anything that gives me a legitimate reason to go shopping for new clothes.

However, my new-found regime took a hit recently as my girls were ill. I normally go walking whilst they are at school, and having them at home for nearly two weeks prevented me from doing this. By the time my husband returned home from work, it was far too dark to pound the streets on my own. To be honest, I would probably have been perfectly safe but I don’t like to tempt fate in these matters.

Unfortunately, the girls were ill for their birthday. Their party was arranged for two days later so my husband and I were hoping and praying that they would be well by then. It didn’t look good. We had to pay a visit to the emergency doctor the evening before. But, somehow or other (in the way only kids can), they had recovered by the following morning. How do they do that? They are pale, clammy and listless one minute; the next they are using the sofa as a trampoline. I wish I could recover like that.

We’ve always had birthday parties at our home but  had decided to hold one at the local sports’ centre this year. It offered soft play and a bouncy castle, with food afterwards. All arranged for you – no sandwiches to make, no mess to clean up, no five year olds to try and entertain. Actually, it did feel like a bit of a cop-out when we booked it, but we were exhausted after tending sick children and it was a very welcome relief that we had chosen this option.

There were about twenty children at the party and they all had a whale of a time running around and bouncing on the castle. It was a huge castle, as big as two standard sized ones. I loved bouncy castles as a child. Wherever I went, if there was a castle, I had to have a go. I loved bouncing high, I loved bouncing onto my bottom, I loved trying to run from one side of the castle to the other – I loved it all. My parents have photos of me on various bouncy castles and on each and everyone I have a great big smile. The sort that most definitely goes from ear to ear.

I sat and watched all the kids bouncing with the same expression I used to wear. I got fidgety watching them. Fidgety, restless and twitchy. In the end I could stand it no more. I approached the party organiser and asked, “Can I have a go?” “Of course,” she said. “Adults are allowed on as well,” she added to my rapidly retreating form. I threw off my boots and launched myself onto the castle before the words had left her mouth.

My actions opened a floodgate. Well, a tiny dam. The sight of me bouncing brought out the inner child in a couple of other parents who were obviously as desperate as I was for a go. There were three of us bouncing away much to the kids’ delight and other parents’ bemusement. I gestured to my husband to join us. He shook his head. I gestured again. “Come on. You know you want to,” I shouted. He shook his head again. “Come on Daddy,” shouted my daughters and he “reluctantly” jumped on too. What a charlatan! He may have fooled the other parents but he certainly didn’t fool me. I knew he secretly wanted a turn too. We’d discussed it before we’d left home for goodness sake, so what was with the pretense?!

I knew the minute I was on the castle that I too had a beaming ear to ear grin. I was transported back to my childhood and was filled with the kind of joy that I experience much too little as an adult. However, it soon became more than apparent to me that I was a child no longer. How the children all managed to bounce for so long was beyond me. Two bounces and my legs were aching and I was out of breath. This is despite my new-found love of exercise. Goodness knows how I would have felt if I did this a couple of months ago. I find in these cases the fun factor gets you through it. I’m sweating like a pig, my face looks like a beetroot, I’m breathing like an asthmatic, and my legs are wobbling like a jelly but I’m having fun and I’m not about to stop.

It’s a shame walking isn’t as fun as this. Don’t get me wrong, I love walking, but it doesn’t make me feel as carefree as bouncing does. It doesn’t bring about that euphoric, laugh until my lungs feel like they’ll explode, smile until my face splits feeling that this did. Perhaps this should be my new fitness regime. Instead of walking I should get a bouncy castle. It must be a great workout – great cardio, great for the thighs, great for your bum, great for the soul. Mm… but where on earth would I put a castle? My house and garden is full of far too many toys as it is. Especially after the girls’ birthday. Maybe, not. Perhaps I’ll have to stick to walking after all.

Waxing lyrical

Album Collection
Album Collection (Photo credit: maddenman2000)

A couple of weeks ago I received a link from a friend, via Facebook, to the 100 Influential Albums. The site says that not many people own more than seventy of their list of albums, and challenge you to take their test and see how many you have.

Now, I own a fair few albums, and think I have a pretty decent taste in music so I was quite keen to take the test. I thought I would own about twenty or so of the albums. I certainly wasn’t expecting to only own eight. Eight – what a measly, pathetic amount! Surely I must own more than that. I know this test is subjective but come on!. Who decided these albums and what was their criteria for choosing them? To be honest, it probably tells you on the site somewhere but, true to form, I haven’t bothered to look.

As a writer, I often think about which other writers inspire me. Those who I would love to have just a tiny, little piece of their talent – Dickens, Hardy, Larkin, Lee and Shakespeare to name a handful. But there are other writers that move me – the lyricists. The power they have to move and touch me is incredible. Certain songs just evoke an emotional response from me. Sometimes, the song reminds me of a place or a particular event in my life. Often it is just the beat or the rhythm of a song that pierces straight into my heart. But usually it’s the lyrics. We all know the ones. The lyrics that actually speak to us. That lay witness to our life. I think to myself, “how the hell did you do that Mr. Songwriter? Sneak into my house in the dead of the night, creep upstairs to my bedroom, tiptoe up to me and take a peak inside my head. I never even knew you were there.”

So today I have decided to be totally self-indulgent. To share with you some of those lyrics that have made me stop dead in my tracks and go “wow!” I think I may even make this into a regular feature, and randomly post lyrics with an explanation of why I love them so much. Totally, totally selfish I know, please forgive me. So here’s the first one. Are you ready?

There’s more to life than books, you know but not much more.

Handsome Devil, The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow (1984)

Like many teenagers in 80s Britain, I grew up listening to The Smiths. The combination of Morrissey‘s lyrics and Marr‘s music inspired a generation and beyond. I remember my brother, who is nine years younger than me, listening to them in the 90s. My mum was not impressed. “I’ve had to listen to this lot once before,” she said in exasperation. It’s fair to say my mum did not get The Smiths. It’s fair to say that many of my school friends didn’t get The Smiths. They were too busy listening to Wham! and The Housemartins. Not me thought, I couldn’t stand either which did mark me out as a bit of an oddity. But hey, it’s good to be different!

These particular words resonated and have stuck with me all through the years. Why is that? Because, quite simply, they are true!

Barefoot in winter

English: Bare feet running
English: Bare feet running (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw the man with bare feet last week. I was not in an art gallery when I saw him. Nor was I in a museum or theatre or library. I wasn’t even in a café or a shop. I had been shopping and was on my way home, on foot, when I saw him approaching from the opposite direction. Actually, it wasn’t his face that I recognised. In fact, it wasn’t his face that caught my attention – it was his feet.

It was still January, and we had had snow a couple of days before. The snow had all but melted, but it was still a cold and crispy day. Everyone was wrapped up against the bitter elements, with winter coats, scarves, hats, gloves, and boots. Everyone, that is, except the man with bare feet. Oh, he had a coat on, and gloves and a hat but no boots. His feet were bare. What caught my attention was the fact that not only was his feet bare but they were also bright red. Well, yours would be too if you were walking about barefoot in January.

Now I don’t live in warm sunny climes. I live in the North of England. This is not California, and people don’t tend to wander the streets barefoot in the height of summer let alone in the midst of winter. And this was a busy shopping area he had chosen to walk barefoot along, with lots of other shoppers pounding the pavement with their muddy winter boots. But that wasn’t the worse thing. The worse thing was, that as it had been snowy and icy, the Council had gritted the pavement. The grit was all over the path and I could feel it sticking to the soles of my heavy boots. As I walked along, I found myself doing a strange dance which involved me trying to kick off the pesky bits of grit whilst not stopping my stride. If it was sticking to my boots and annoying me, goodness knows what it felt like on his bare feet.

I realised that whatever the reason that he decided to walk around sans shoes, he had thrown himself into it and committed himself fully. It was one thing to walk around an art gallery barefooted, but quite another to pound the pavements in January. I admired his grit and determination, and the tough no-nonsense approach he’d taken to his calling. “Snow, ice, grit, dirt; none of it is going to stop me!” he must have cried before he headed out the door. And I wished that I had a bit of that. Not to walk around barefoot you understand, just to lose myself completely in something and not be shaken off course by a spell of bad weather. To remember that spring is always just around the corner and with it the prospect of brighter skies and endless possibilities.