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.

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Competition – Week 12 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Bitchiness alert! 

But consider this a therapeutic blog – please?

After all – it’s all fiction isn’t it?

I can vaguely remember the day you came for an interview. Our boss Barry showed you round the office as if you were his most prized possession. Unbeknown to us he had met you at a different office and persuaded you to apply for the job.

And to be fair, everyone in the office agreed that you were very young and attractive; with more than a passing resemblance to Cameron Diaz in her Charlie’s Angels incarnation. At the time we thought we were paying you a compliment but we later found that it was a comment guaranteed to wind you up.

Not surprisingly, Barry gave you the job – but you didn’t have much in the way of competition.

Introducing a young, blonde female into an office of largely middle-aged (and in some cases aggressively menopausal) women might well have been Barry’s way of brightening up his surroundings. Whilst we all welcomed you; there were some – and I include myself in this – who wondered if there was a brain inside that regularly coiffed head.

It didn’t take long to find out.

Nope.

Well, there was natural cunning in evidence…

There was also the ability to charm every red-blooded male within a five mile radius – even those senior managers who oozed sleaze as they patted you on the shoulder and leaned just a little too close when looking at your computer screen.

Trying to teach you how to actually do the job wasn’t easy.

It took patience and the ability to overlook the fact that you were very good at evading work.

You had come from a receptionist’s post where the most mentally taxing issue was working out the whereabouts of people in the building and whether they were ‘available’ or not.

I have to admit that your phone voice was okay – except for  the constantly niggling ‘we was waiting for you to call us‘ or ‘you should of called us earlier‘.

Other less critical staff members put it down to your youth and the fact that you came from a ‘rough’ part of the town.

But me…

I gritted my teeth and tried to close my ears. Luckily you spent most of your time working – and I use that word loosely – in the smaller office.

Your dog got run over a couple of weeks before Christmas and Barry, being the big softy that he was, told you not to come into work until you felt better.

Whilst we were all very sympathetic about the dog, but this was the animal that you came into work complaining about how smelly it was and how it barked at you all the time.  We didn’t expect your mourning to last well into the New Year however. No mention of the poor dog on your return but you regaled us with how merrily you had spent the festive season. Your roots had been done, your nails were newly lacquered and you were wearing a beautiful white wool coat that fitted you like a glove and must have cost all your Christmas money.

The only sign of grief was when you went in to see Barry to explain why you had been off work for so long. It took but a few tears and dainty sniffles – he didn’t ask for a doctor’s certificate or ask you to take the time off as annual leave but patted your hand and told the rest of us to be kind to you – you were refreshing your mascara in the toilet at the time.

Some of us who had covered for you over Christmas and New Year were not feeling too sympathetic as you boasted about your ability to twist Barry round your little finger.

Not an ability that I ever acquired.

Despite having known Barry for several years before he became our manager, he still made me take annual leave when later in the year my husband was rushed into hospital with kidney stones and I had two small children to take to school and collect. He didn’t think my circumstances met his criteria for compassionate leave.

I was still rankling from this when you and your long-suffering boyfriend decided to buy a house together.

For months the offices were inundated with pictures of potential houses. I’m all for youth and exuberance but you really overdid it. You spent more time toting your estate agent specs around the offices than you actually did at your desk. Even total strangers coming into reception asking for advice were cajoled into giving it instead.

A sigh of relief went round the office when you finally completed the sale.

A collective groan went round the office when you decided that you needed our advice on everything you bought for the house – from toilet brushes to cutlery to the colour of the paint for the garden shed. There was far more but those of us who showed less enthusiasm were ignored after a while.

Hooray.

Then we moved from our offices to a different building where we were given one big room with a glass partitioned office at the end for Barry.

Needless to say, you picked a desk where you could simper at Barry whenever he caught your eye, but positioned so that he couldn’t see the amount of time you were busy on FaceAche chatting with your friends while your office mates were busy with the extra work you were making.

Some of your colleagues covered for you.

Some of us didn’t.

We were asked to carry out an audit on the work we were doing in order to justify our jobs. We were aided in this by the IT department who ran stats on each of the computers as well as the telephone logs.

After the first week, guess who had accomplished the least?

Half an hour of batting the baby blues, sobbing in a contrived fashion and using every tactic within your limited repertoire, you managed to persuade Barry that you felt intimidated by ‘some’ of the other people in the office – especially those who criticised your grammar and spelling.

Barry arranged for you to attend Access to English classes after work at the local Adult Education Centre. He then took the opportunity to lecture the rest of the office about jealousy and bullying.

We had eight weeks of you telling us about Shakespeare and how we should be reading Romeo and Juliet – like what you were. It was inconceivable to you that any of your colleagues had ever even heard of Shakespeare. Access to English had turned you into a self-confessed culture vulture in only eight weeks. Your own access to English was still limited but at least the spelling improved on your FaceAche posts and the very dodgy emails you circulated.

Those of us with more sense and an awareness of the computer use rules,  deleted the emails without opening them – I really didn’t need to look at pictures of male genitalia  thank you.

The IT crowd picked up one of your dodgiest emails when they were running a security check. You tried to plead ignorance and said that ‘a friend‘ had sent it out on your behalf and you hadn’t even looked at it.

We all got another lecture from Barry on circulating dodgy emails and were warned that a very close eye was being kept on us now.

Then you and your fiancé decided to get married.

It was terrible.

 

If I thought the house buying and fitting out was bad – this was a million times worse.

I could see your screen from where I sat and it was a constant shade of violent pink as you surfed the net for your fairy-tale wedding while the rest of us tried to zone out your wedding wittering.

I didn’t care whether your wedding favours were going to be blush pink, purple or puce. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be finding out first-hand anyway.

 

Even the most doting of colleagues was beginning to get a bit cheesed off with your wedding obsession.

Sales of Black Cohosh from the health food shop increased dramatically and even Barry was seen sneaking a pill or two out of the communal container in moments of deep stress.

(Black Cohosh is very good for menopausal symptoms – allegedly).

The budget for the event of the year climbed and climbed and climbed.

We wondered where all the money was coming from – none of us were paid that much and neither was your fiancé.

When the number of adult bridesmaids requiring designer dresses climbed into double figures, something snapped.

Your husband-to-be called off the wedding on the grounds that it was far too expensive, it wasn’t what he wanted, he was sick of going to wedding fairs and missing his Sunday football, and you just wouldn’t shut up about the (*******) wedding!

You had to have the best – or what you deemed to be better than anyone else’s.

The young man moved back to his mum’s but we were spared the initial fallout because Barry very kindly told you to take time off to recover.

Due to the fact that a couple of your colleagues FaceAche  friends and could see your page, we were all a little surprised that in your grief at being jilted, you had found time to spend some of the wedding money on laser surgery for your eyes as well as several girly nights out and a trip down to that London.

It was noted that your eyes were suitably red and sore when you finally returned and Barry put it down to grief.

We knew different.

Fate took me away from that office shortly afterwards, and into a new office arena where I was better managed, less irritated and far more mellow – for a while.

I heard on the office grapevine that the two of you got back together eventually, and the wedding took place – a much quieter affair because by then you were pregnant and your fiancé had finally put his foot down.

The honey locks reverted back to their natural mousey brown post-wedding; mascara made your lasered eyes water, and you went to work in another office – managed by a hard-nosed female who was wise  to your laziness and unmoved by your sobbing. You eked out your maternity leave as long as you could, and within a few weeks of returning to work had become pregnant with your second child.

This became something of a pattern.

The last I heard you were on your fourth and you weren’t going back to work after this one.

For the record; I never envied you your youth and exuberance. I often asked myself if I would have developed such a deep dislike for you if you hadn’t been so young and attractive. But no, I was never bothered by your external appearance – it was the stuff inside your head that I despised.

It was never a competition even if you thought that it was.

You always reminded me of a poem that I learned at school

For Anne Gregory

by W B Yeats

‘Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’
‘But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.’
‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’

I work from home now and am much more mellow these days.

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A Journey – Week 7 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in the bar at the Higher Institute of Education (they were going to put Southampton at the beginning until some bright spark realised what the acronym would be). I had moved on from the cheap but effective barley wine days; Pernod and lemonade was my drink of choice or a snowball if I wanted something a bit sweet and sickly with cherries on the top.

On the night of my birthday I had a combination of these drinks lined up along the table when Jon, the bar manager came over to ask the reason for my celebration.

‘It’s my birthday!’ I yelled. ’I’m eighteen!’

I was hit with the realisation that I had been drinking illegally in this bar for the past two years and that Jon might be a bit peeved about it.

He smiled though, patted me on the head and told me that if I was going to throw up could I do it in the flower bed outside please?

At the end of the night a group of us staggered off for a curry (without any vomiting) and I can vaguely remember listening to one of my dear friends who decided to tell that story.

You know the one – it starts with a girl out driving with her boyfriend at night, in the middle of a forest, when they run out of petrol. The boyfriend goes off to look for a petrol station while the girl locks herself in the car and listens to the radio.

Not surprisingly, a news bulletin interrupts the radio station to say that a dangerous lunatic has escaped from an asylum (that’s what they were called in the bad old days) and that NO ONE is to approach this man.

The girl dozes off and is awakened by a rhythmic thumping on the roof of the car. Being a sensible girl and not having a torch to hand, she stays in the car.

Police cars arrive and surround the car. The girl is told to open the car door slowly and to walk towards the police car in front of her without looking back.

She does as she is told, but just as she arrives safely, she is unable to resist the temptation to look back and sees – a grinning man holding her boyfriend’s severed head in his hand and banging it on the car roof.

In addition to the subsequent nightmares, I had to get up at eight am and take my stonker of a hangover on the Birmingham through train to audition for a place at the drama school my drama teacher had attended, and where one of my friends had been studying for the past year.

I’d been making trips to London on the train since I became a teenager. I’d been as far as Leeds on the train to visit my sister. I was blasé about the trip – after all – I had just turned eighteen and was officially an adult, but a very hung-over adult who didn’t really notice how bad the weather was, nor register the severe weather warnings on the news as I was trying to get out of bed.

I was wearing my audition outfit of black knee-length boots, black tights and a black needle cord dress with a multi-coloured knitted top half – very chic but not very warm. The outfit was finished off by an all enveloping full-length brown mock beaver lamb coat that I had inherited from the mother of one of my ex-boyfriends.

In short I was wearing completely inappropriate clothing for a journey to the Midlands with a snowstorm looming.

Considering that I was travelling during the rush hour, the train trip was fairly quiet and uneventful. I dozed until Reading and then perked up a bit as the adrenalin kicked in and the hangover subsided.  I even had money for a taxi from the train station to ensure that I got to the audition in time.

I was prepared.

I don’t remember much about arriving at the drama school, or the audition itself, apart from the fact that I managed to get through it without throwing up or forgetting my lines. There were other people there, some of whom looked even more bilious than I felt. We nodded nervously at each other. There were also some very loud people who had obviously met each other before and were doing the one-upmanship thing regarding the auditions they had attended. It occurred to me that if they were that talented, why were they auditioning for a small drama school in the Midlands rather than RADA or LAMDA?

I had already failed to get into either of those institutions.

The weather had worsened while I had been otherwise engaged; spouting Shakespeare and a piece from ‘Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs‘ that was considered a bit daring at the time.  Looking out of the window, I discovered that the world had turned very white and cold.

I had no idea whether my audition had been successful, and the only thing that really mattered was getting back to the Students’ Union bar, knocking a few back and finding out what my boyfriend had bought me for a birthday present.

Throwing on my bear of a coat and picking up my bag, I groaned as I received the news that the buses had stopped running and the very kind man sitting behind the desk in the hall had been unable to get me a taxi.

I had to walk through a snowstorm in totally unsuitable boots and a coat that grew more icicle heavy by the minute. This was not my idea of a plethora of snowballs. There weren’t many other people around; I assumed that I was the only one stupid enough to be out in such dreadful weather but I was determined that I was not going to be stranded.

When I got back to New Street Station I discovered that my through train had been cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions Up North, but that there was a train for London leaving in the next fifteen minutes and with any luck the weather Down South might be  good enough for me to get a connection.

The train was packed and I stood all the way from Birmingham to Euston. I staggered across a cold, wet London to Waterloo and collapsed on a slow train that was going home – eventually.

The boyfriend met me at the station and gave me my lovingly wrapped birthday present. It was an M & S brushed nylon dressing gown of a particularly vile pale green. It was three sizes too big for me and fit only for an old and confused person to wear in a nursing home. In today’s parlance it was the most epic of fails.

Gritting my teeth, I rallied all my drama school audition experience in order to express a suitable level of gratitude and allowed him to drive me to the bar.

Once there I dumped him and his dressing gown and got well and truly plastered again.

I passed the audition.

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