Theatre – Week 19 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I may have a long standing reputation as a drama queen.

As a child I was rather good at flouncing; at throwing up when cross or crossed, and at storming out of classrooms when peeved by a teacher. My second and third years at primary school were spent sitting on the swings in the playground, singing to myself.

My big brother called me Sarah Bernhardt. I went to my Mother for an explanation. She said it was a compliment and to be grateful that he didn’t call me Sarah Heartburn. It took a few years and many books before I understood that insult.

In my fourth year I met my match. Mr Williams was a legend. He was stern; he used an old plimsoll on naughty boys, he reduced naughty girls to tears, he loved music, drama, poetry and he was determined to sort me out.

I think I threw one wobbler in that year and it was very quickly nipped in the bud by Mr Williams steely glare.

He cast me as the Artful Dodger in Oliver. I had a top hat and built my part up until it almost eclipsed Oliver himself (cast because he was a sweet looking waif with blonde locks but couldn’t sing for toffee).

I was a hit; Mr Williams was over the moon, the caretaker told my Father that I was ‘a card’ (I had to get a parental explanation for that one too but I felt that it was complimentary).

Our next production was a dance drama about Hell – guess who played the devil! There were hosts of tormented souls writhing rhythmically in leotards and me – clad in pink cord jeans, a black shirt and a fetching pink cord cap with devil’s horns (made by my Mum). It was received so well that we were invited to perform it at a competition held at the local teacher training college – run by nuns and attended by naive young ladies from the Channel Islands. Some of the mothers were a little unsure about how the nuns would take it.

We were supposed to be on first due to our tender years – everyone else was eighteen years and over – but there was a mix up with the time our coach was supposed to arrive and we got there in time to be the last – and apparently most classy – act.

It was my primary school swansong. Mr Williams went off to be a deputy head teacher at another school. I nagged my parents into letting me attend a private school with two of my friends.

It was not a success. The long bus journeys made me throw up on arrival at school every day. At my previous school I had been considered ‘snobby’ because my Mum would not let us speak in the idiom of the estate – ‘I goes to ‘im and ‘e goes to me’. Glottal stops abounded at our school. At my new school however, I was considered to be ‘common’ because I lived on a council estate and wasn’t driven to school by my parents or the au pair – the what?

Half a term later and an interview with the school head, who told my mother that I spent most of my school days crying, being sick and drawing pictures.

Private education was not for me and I returned to the safety of the local education system but to a different primary school as it was felt that returning to my old school without Mr Williams to guide me, would be a bad idea.

Not quite as bad an idea as attending a school where the headmistress and I took an instant dislike to each other. Where Mr Williams had brought out the best in me – she brought out the worst. I came very close to being expelled for my insolence and lack of respect. My Mum hadn’t helped by insisting to all her children that respect had to be earned.

A change in family circumstances meant that we relocated to other side of town and I started at a senior school – for girls. No boys at all. Just girls.

Due to a mix up in education records, I was put in the remedial class in Green or bottom band; Green, Turquoise, Emerald and Emerald (R)emedial. For three days I had a lovely time drawing pictures for my classmates and helping them colour in. Boredom set it then and I complained to my Mum.

Another head teacher’s office interview and the sneering, balloon-like head teacher who said that ‘all mummies think their gals have been put in the wrong class’. A quick call to my previous school and I was promoted to the Red band – not just the top band but the top class of the top band. Colouring became a thing of the past. I maintained my hatred for the head teacher however, and had fantasies about jumping up onto the stage during assembly and pushing her off – just to see if she really would bounce down the aisle. I controlled the impulse however, but did have a book running on which of the usual suspects would faint or throw up during assembly.

Established drama went out the window during my senior school days, and with it a possible career in singing after the miserable music mistress told me that I shouldn’t bother auditioning for the choir.

I concentrated on being a rebel without a reason and a dead loss at games – except for hockey where I was a whizz at the bully-off. My school uniform had reached total anarchy level by the time I was fifteen.

In my final year the games mistress suggested that I should take the opportunity to attend drama lessons at the local Tech College. This meant no more games, no more black nylon leotards and faded red wraparound gym skirts. No more inept tennis, netball or rounders lessons. No more miserable trudging round the 440 yard running track. Thursday lunchtime saw me on a bus to town and a brave new world.

Andrea Morris saved me. She saw something in me that Mr Williams had seen. Andrea encouraged me and instilled a lifelong love of the theatre and of Shakespeare. I lived for my Thursday afternoons and the more adult atmosphere of the Tech College, where I got to rub shoulders with gas fitters, bricklayers and very worldly ‘A’ level students.

Needless to say, the plans for me to attend Girls Grammar College to take my ‘A’ levels were abandoned and I became a full-time (ish) student at the Tech the following September. Signed up to study Drama and Theatre Studies (‘O’ and ‘A’ level), and English Literature and Sociology ‘A’ levels.

Sociology got bumped in favour of Art  ‘A’ level which also prevented me doing any more ‘games’ as Art was considered to be aesthetic rather than academic and took place from 1300 hours to 1800 hours on Wednesday afternoons – when we were supposed to be doing circuit training in the college gym.

I went on to drama school  after the Tech – to Andrea’s old drama school in Birmingham – and the drama queen became an assistant stage manager on every production I could wheedle my way into. I loved doing the lights, building sets, making props and finding things from obscure sources. I did a bit of acting too and some spectacularly bad dancing.

The unemployment rate for female assistant stage managers who couldn’t drive, didn’t have a family connection and weren’t prepared to have sex with an ‘important’ person to get a job and an Equity card, were about 98% at the time I left drama school.

So I worked behind a bar and when that ended catastrophically, I became a social worker.

“All the world’s a stage”

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)

All the world’s a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances; 
And one man in his time plays many parts, 
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, 
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; 
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel 
And shining morning face, creeping like snail 
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

18-3

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Bless my Kith and Bless my Kindle – Part 2

back to front

Yes.  It is backward 🙂

Okay, Hub has gone to work and Gap Boy is horribly awake having slept all day – he did a 30k bicycle ride this morning (it was actually 27k but he has managed to increase his stats whilst asleep – exaggerate? GB? Never!).

I spent a good hour and a half being woken intermittently by his thundering feet as he stomped up and down the (wooden) stairs this morning. At one point I was convinced that he had invited several friends in to tap dance in his (laminate) floor.Or perhaps they were rehearsing for ‘Strictly’. Hub and I laid that flooring so I suppose it is our fault really – who am I kidding EVERYTHING is our fault!

Neighbours from across the road woke me up at 0150 hours – why do they feel the need to stand out in the street and yell at each other? To be fair, the couple that were arguing were young and probably the offspring rather than the house owners.  I’ve a feeling that the male was out there a couple of weeks ago, wandering around the cul-de-sac in a drunken haze yelling ‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ at the top of his voice.

I checked the local news for a couple of days after that but there was no sign of any gory murders in the locality.

Anyway, thanks to them – they had a poor little shivering dog with them too – some people are REALLy thoughtless – and GB, I got about five hours sleep last night.

When I staggered to the bathroom at 0730, GB passed me on the landing in his cycle attire – he has inherited my latent desire to be dressed appropriately for the occasion.

This is something of a handicap as he is reluctant to organise any more motorbike lessons at the moment because he doesn’t possess the right gear for wet weather.

When I pointed out that having lessons in inclement conditions would be very useful with regard to handling his motorbike whatever the weather, he gave me one of those horrible superior looks that both my boys are SO good at, and told me that I knew nothing about motorbikes and it was none of my business.

Once he had ridden off into the red sky yonder (I was praying that the shepherd’s warning wouldn’t start just yet), Scoob and I did have at least one quiet hour before he came roaring back again.

Whilst out on his mammoth cycle ride this morning, GB managed to collide with a stray bramble branch and perforate the side of his ear.

Much blood!

Fortunately it had dried off by the time he got home but  the sight of a blood soaked youth seemed to have put the frighteners on the mad mothers driving past to school as he rode up our road.

Like all good mothers, I cleaned him up with an antiseptic wipe (I knew I had one somewhere and the bleeding had stopped by the time I found it).

As is his habit, GB texted me a shopping list but said that he would like us all to go shopping once Hub had finished his breakfast.

Hub was rushing his scrambled eggs on toast in order to take me to my appointment with the osteopath, after which we were going to town to do some banking, sort out Hub’s motorbike helmet visor and maybe take in a spot of lunch somewhere.

We did not want to go food shopping, especially for a loud, sweaty, bloody and demanding GB.

There was a frank exchange of opinions and as a result, we went to the osteopath and GB went to bed – grumpily.

Result! Oh Go us!

After the initial ache had worn off from the pummeling delivered by the Phizard (my osteo is a wizard with physio) I felt spry enough to accompany Hub to the motorbike shop -a huge place with a Biker’s Bistro on the top floor. The smell of fresh cappuccino alone was sufficient for me to agree to a return trip when Hub gets paid next week.

Thence to town and a pleasant lunch at Caffe Nero watching the wage slaves rush back from their lunch hours.

Tee Hee.

This afternoon I flopped on the sofa with Scoob and got my daily Jezza fix; some very bad hairdos  and missing teeth today!

Eventually we shopped for us – and the deeply ungrateful GB – who emerged from his mancave just as we were watching ‘Only Connect’ and didn’t take kindly to being shushed.

Victoria Coren Mitchell or GB? No competition.

So here I am burning the midnight oil up in my back bedroom office, tappity tapping and eventually getting around to writing about me and my Kindles.

I have five Kindles – yes that probably is rather extreme but then I have always been something of a gadget girl and don’t like to think that technology is leaving me too far behind.

I always had a Walkman; moving through audio tape to CD player to MP3.  I even have a special MP3 player that lives in the bathroom and has its own peacock-blue speaker so that I can listen and sing along whilst in the shower.

Uni Boy and Gap Boy are very scathing about my gadget prowess. They both feel that their abilities and knowledge are hugely superior compared to mine. I feel that UB has the edge because he did actually build his own water-cooled computer with his birthday money last summer, whereas GB seems hell-bent on breaking his computer judging by the number of replacement bits he orders on his dad’s Overclockers account.

I would never admit this to either of them.

You will note that Hub does not even enter the running in the gadget knowledge stakes. He knows what he needs to know about his computer and his mobile, what he doesn’t know, he asks me and if I don’t know, I’ll check the Internet and only ask one of my frightfully knowledgeable children if there is no other option.

This is one of the reasons why Hub won’t have his own FaceAche page but piggybacks onto mine. As a consequence we have a curious but hugely entertaining pool of friends between us. There are times when Hub’s paintball friends want to tag him in pictures or invite him to games, and have to tag me instead.

No, I don’t play paintball and I’m not an air traffic controller but I know a very lovely man who is.

Back to the Kindles.

Hub and the boys bought me my first Kindle for a birthday present. It is a first generation Kindle without a touch screen. I eagerly filled it with free e-books, cheap Kindle books and audio books. Being a prototype, Kindle no 1 has some features that the later models don’t have, particularly the text to speech feature.

It means that I can put my scribblings into a PDF, load it onto Kindle no 1 via a USB and then have the excitement of hearing my own words spoken back to me (rather haltingly) by a male or female American voice.

Having filled up Kindle no 1, I bought a Kindle Touch and transferred all the books onto it, leaving Kindle no 1 purely for audio books and my own stuff.

I was quite happy with my two monochrome Kindles; one audio, one visual.

Then Amazon brought out the Kindle Fire.

A dinky little full colour sweetheart that I could use as a tablet; I could even watch TV programmes and films on it, and play games.

I should have been content.

I would have been content.

Then Amazon brought out a big brother for my little Fire; full tablet size, HD and even more goodies on board. Christmas was coming and Santa brought me a big Fire for being SO good.

Then came the Paperwhite Kindle.

I had to have it. It makes reading remarkably easy on the eyes.

On a train journey to visit Best Mate a couple of months ago, the train operator put on two carriages with no lighting.  They very kindly supplied us with guards at either end of the carriage wielding torches in case anyone should decide to panic when we went through a tunnel.

Cue a very smug me, continuing to read my Paperwhite when the dark engulfed my fellow travellers.

 I look after my toys. All my Kindles have covers; no 1 has a nice black and white flowery padded pouch, the Touch has a more utilitarian leather book cover and so do the two Fires. The Paperwhite has a beautiful 50’s lady cover that attracts attention in the strangest places.

The Big Fire and the Paperwhite went to Amsterdam with us and came under particular scrutiny at security in case I had concealed explosive devices inside them – or so I thought.

Security at Liverpool seemed particularly interested and I started to panic a little when I was beckoned over.

The security guard wanted to know where I bought the cover because it was ‘gorgeous like’.

During the period of enforced immobility caused by a large object falling from some height onto my toe, my Kindles saved my sanity. So wonderful to be able to search through the works of Shakespeare (free), the collected novels of H P Lovecraft (also free), wallow in Robert Frost and Wilfred Owen, and renew my acquaintance with the authors of my youth; Austen, Bronte and yes, even good old Zola – all for free.

The Kindle library at Amazon is expanding daily.  I’ve managed to acquire some much-loved (and lost in a house move) books that are now out of print and would cost a fortune if I tried to track them down in hard copy.

In a fit of nostalgia I downloaded all the Enid Blyton school stories that Lizzy and I revelled in at primary school. They were not only very cheap but had been put into collections covering the various terms.

Bliss!

Whatever my mood, if I have my Kindles nearby I can read books, poetry, listen to my own words and those of others, check out FaceAche, look at my photos, watch TV and films and yes play games of endless patience.

Packing to go away is much easier too; courtesy of Amazon’s Cloud, all my book purchases and audio books are nestling nicely in metaphorical fluffy cotton wool stuff and I can download whatever I want to read before I go. Hub is enjoying not having to take a separate bag because of of my holiday reading matter.

My Kindles don’t stop me buying books however.

There are some authors – especially my much-loved cousin Ali Sparkes – whose books will always need to be a tangible presence on my bookshelves.

So now that

‘At Twenty-Two – Love Goes On’

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They say that most people have a special person – a teacher or a work colleague – who had a profound effect on their lives. Sometimes they disappear and you never see them again, sometimes they come back into your life in a most unexpected way.

In my third year at primary school I was a horror.

I was the original temper tantrum kid and if anyone – teachers especially – dared to cross me, I would leave the classroom with a screech and spend the rest of the morning or afternoon swinging and singing to myself in the playground until it was time for lunch or hometime.

This never occurred at home. My mum wouldn’t have let me get away with such behaviour.

It really began in the second year when Miss S broke a ruler across Lesley’s calves.  It was a wooden ruler and Les had a knack of tightening his calves just as the ruler hit, causing it to splinter and have no impact on his legs at all.

Miss S was not pleased and we all got detention because of Les’s legs. She stopped using the ruler though.

Up until that point I had quite liked my teachers; respect went right out of the window that day.

In my third year Mr M was our teacher. He had a goatee beard when they weren’t fashionable. He shouted a great deal, wielded the gym slipper when punishing the boys but saved his most savage criticisms for the girls. Not the pretty girls, but those like me who wore National Health glasses and hand-me-down clothes.

If I failed to answer a question in class I was stupid.  If I answered correctly I was being a smart ass – and nobody likes a smart ass.

There were a couple of us that he routinely picked on with an unprofessional glee,  but one day the worm in me turned. I had tried to shut out his noise for months but when the weather improved and the world outside seemed more appealing, I broke free.

 I got up from my seat after a particularly scathing reprimand and walked out. He grabbed my cardigan as I left the room but I shrugged out of it, screamed in his face and ran. Torn between running after me and deserting the class, Mr M stayed where he was and I sat on the swing in the playground; cold but happy to be away from the shouting that made my ears ache and my heart pound.

It took a few more of these episodes before Mr M stopped picking on me.  The school secretary spotted me on the swings two days running and brought me into her office.

She gave me a sweet and asked me why I was out of class.  I told her about the shouting and how Mr M pulled my cardigan off me and made me cry. I told her that I sat on the swings to make the bad noises go away.

The head teacher got my mum to come up to the school.  I hadn’t told her about Mr M because I thought I would get into trouble.

Mr M disappeared within half an hour and we had an elderly supply teacher who looked like someone’s grandma and read us nice stories till the end of term.

My teacher for fourth year was Mr W.  He was a games teacher with a reputation for using his spare gym shoe on any boy who messed around in games or PE.  He didn’t use it often because he tended to keep his pupils busy.

On the first day of term we had a general knowledge quiz.  I won.

At playtime, Mr W called me to his desk. He smiled and spoke very softly.

“You are very good at general knowledge.  I hear that you also write stories and poems, and that you like to draw.”

I nodded.  I had been expecting a telling off although I wasn’t sure what for.

“I like poems and stories, music and art.  I like people who enjoy learning.  Do you enjoy learning?”

I nodded even more vigorously.

“Good.  I also need you to let other people learn too, so from now on, even if you know the answer in a quiz, don’t put your hand up.  If no one else answers then I will ask you.  Okay?”

Still dumb, still nodding, but smiling too.

“I also want you to promise me that if you feel upset or angry, you won’t leave the classroom but you will write me a note about it and we will sort things out later.  Promise?”

I promised.

 I wrote poems and stories.  I answered questions when Mr W asked me.  I danced and sang and acted in Mr W’s productions. From then on, I only went on the swings at playtime or lunchtime.

He loved Greece and was a great fan of Nana Mouskouri; he used to bring her records in to play to us. I like to think that we loved him enough to listen quietly.

Not surprisingly, for such a good teacher, Mr W was offered a better position at another school and we both left at the end of the year.  I organised a whip round and managed to find three Nana Mouskouri albums that he didn’t have.  We both had watery eyes that day.

Winding life on, and at twenty-two years of age I was working as a revolting houseparent in a local authority children’s home.  One of the girls had been caught smoking behind the bike sheds at school (where else?), and I had to accompany her to a formal telling off by the new head teacher.

I think both of us felt nervous as we sat in the corridor outside the head teacher’s room.  The school secretary came out to  usher us in. part of me wanted to ask her for a sweet, then I remembered that I was a responsible adult now.

The head teacher was Mr W.  I grinned hugely as I said his name.  He hadn’t changed – well his black hair was turning grey at the edges and his moustache was more bushy than I remembered it.  He blinked a couple of times, then smiled just as hugely as he recalled my name.  No more National Health glasses or hand-me downs; I’d gone upmarket, had designer specs and penchant for jeans and rugby shirts.

The next ten minutes were spent updating each other; his progress through the ranks to his first head teacher position and my more chequered career through drama school,  bar work and after the soda syphon incident, a spell as a volunteer in a children’s home that led to my current permanent post.

My naughty girl was temporarily forgotten.  She had the sense to sit quietly whilst we talked, and when we eventually remembered her, Mr W merely frowned and told her that he didn’t want to see her in his office again.

In the three years that I worked at the children’s home, I had cause to work with Mr W on several occasions; our children were not the easiest to deal with.  Most of them had spent years being rejected and neglected, so solutions weren’t always easy.  Mr W could always be relied upon to look beyond the issues and use his imagination to motivate rather than punish. Our children thrived in his environment.

We lost touch after I qualified as a social worker and moved to another children’s centre.

I met my Hub whilst working there, and two years after we married, a familiar name caught my eye one evening as I leafed through the local newspaper.

Mr W had retired at last and was going to relocate to his beloved Greece.

Three weeks after he retired he was killed instantly by an uninsured boy racer.  The boy t-boned Mr W’s beloved Jag as he pulled out of the local Spar shop car park one Sunday morning when he went to collect the papers and some milk.

On and on like the sea
Love goes on eternally
Troubles come then they’re gone
Love goes on, on and on
Like the sea
Love goes on eternally’

 Love goes On – Nana Mouskouri 1970