Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I met a horrible girl on Sunday.

One of the first things people usually ask each other when they meet is "so, what do you do?". This is a question that has tormented me since the day I was no longer a student, or more specifically the day I came to terms with the fact that "um, drink?" was not a satisfactory answer. I always say that I am a singer, which usually incites a little interest on the behalf of the other person.

I deal with this interest differently depending on my mood, depending on whether I want to continue to talk to the person, and of course, depending on whether I need to do something very urgently, like catch a plane, save an orphan or top up my gin.

So I met this girl. Her name wasn't really Petronella but for the purposes of my vitriol it is now.

On Sunday night I went out to celebrate the Bank Holiday weekend with a group of friends. One friend turned up fairly late with his new girlfriend in tow.


She didn't know anybody, and we were all quite loud and in high spirits, so I thought I would go over and have a chat with her, try to make her feel welcome and part of the group.

She seemed reservedly friendly, but I assumed she was shy. Until she asked me what I did.

"I'm a singer" I said. "I do a bit of other stuff, as well, I'm doing some temping at the moment to save for a holiday, but mainly I sing."

She laughed, a quick, barking laugh, then cast her eyes down and took a sip of her drink.

"Um. What?" I asked, unused to such a strange reaction.

She laughed again. "No, it's just, well, I love people like you" she said.

"Um, tha.."

"I'm a recruitment consultant, see. I work with a lot of actors and people like that. Out of work ones. They have these dreams and they think they'll get somewhere, but we all know they'll just temp for the rest of their lives and never get anywhere!"

I stared at her, completely and utterly lost for words.

Petronella, however, was not. She looked at my speechless face and laughed again.

"You all think you'll make it, but you won't! I don't care, people like you keep people like me in work!"

I continued to stare.

She was laughing at me. I could not believe that this girl, someone I had gone out of my way to be nice to, had been such a deliberate bitch.

I wanted to say something nasty back to her. I so wanted to do that, and to change her mind as well. It was just that I was in too good a mood, and anyway I knew that anything I said in my defence would have fallen on deaf ears. Her foolish mind was made up. She had decided she was a better person than me for earning money the way she does, and that was it. She was inherently narrow-minded, and I didn't need to justify my life to her. I consoled myself with the fact that I was not, and would never be like her.

(Also she had a bad haircut and a weight problem.)

Luckily for me, I had just that morning had coffee and chats with a very inspirational person and was feeling resilient. Also my friend Kirsten, who works in theatre and does very well thank you, gave Petronella a good talking to, while I took the more mature route and shamelessly flirted with her boyfriend.

I have, by now, accepted that there will be people in my life who disapprove of my choices, and who cannot understand why I would sacrifice living a normal life like my normal friends to pursue something that seems to them so risky. There are people who just won't get that I'm not just avoiding growing up and getting a "proper job", but that I am really trying to make something of myself. Actually there have been times when I have felt my heart would break through lack of support from that one person I craved it from, but that, I suppose, is all part of it.

This girl meant absolutely nothing to me, and as a result nor do her comments. I just find it difficult to believe that there are people in the world who derive such pleasure from seeing dreams cast by the wayside.

I hereby cast a pox on Petronella and her kind. May her life be lived out in offices with dodgy air-con and lights that accentuate every badly-dyed inch of that tacky and horrible haircut.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boys, Parties and Whining*

This morning I sat on the station platform, trying to avoid eye-contact with the crowds on the opposite side of the tracks. They were heading South into central London, like sensible people, instead of North into Luton, like me. I turned my head and allowed my gaze to be drawn up the railway to the point where the tracks became a shimmering dot on the horizon, searching for signs of my train that was soon to whisk me off to my head-explodingly dreary temp job for another day of monotonous-doesn't-even-cover-it data entry and filing.

I was particularly tired this morning, not having climbed into bed until nearly two in the morning. I had been making a recording last night in Highgate which hadn't finished until about midnight, and then the tubes and trains had conspired against me to make my return journey exceedingly late and freezing cold. The sun was out this morning, though, and my spirits were lifted considerably by the glorious blue skies warm sun combination.

Now I'm back, sitting in my too-familiar-by-now internet café trying to think of things to write and trying to block out the faux-cheeriness of the local radio DJ's chatter as it slithers out from tinny speaker just above my head (but sadly just out of reach of my fist).

There are a few things I can think of to talk about, but I have no notion of how best to segueway between them. Bullet points, I'm afraid, it is.

- I went out for a drink with the guy I met on the train the other day.
I have never been in the presence of such nerves in my life, it was most disconcerting. We sat at a little table in a crowded bar, me trying to make conversation and wondering why he was looking at me funny, and him answering my questions in monosyllables and definitely looking at me funny. Eventually (after about forty five minutes) I gave up and, without offering any obviously-fake excuses, said I had to go, kissed him on the cheek and left. As I walked down the street to the tube I heard a shout and saw he was running after me, so I turned and stopped. He caught up with me and breathlessly apologized, saying he was just really nervous and not used to meeting up with girls he didn't know. I said it was ok, and to message me if he wanted, then left.

Actually, it was fine. I suppose I just don't have the piece of my brain that instructs me not to meet up with strangers I meet in bars/trains/on the Internet. As much as I didn't really understand his nerves and wasn't about to take on the task of coaching him out of them, I don't think any less of him for it. Nor should I. I just shrugged my shoulders, got on a train to Brixton, found my friends and got drunk. I imagine he did something similar.

- On Saturday I went to a house party (Dan, Sam, Mike and Oli's house party, to be precise). The theme was "When I Grow Up I Want To Be...". When I was little I genuinely wanted to be a cheese shop owner, so I dressed accordingly. Well, perhaps a real cheese shop owner's dress wouldn't have been quite so low cut, and maybe just a touch less see-through, but I did have an apron which declared "Léonie's Wonderful Cheese Emporium" in large, proud letters, and a name tag. As is always the case for the parties thrown by these boys, the costume efforts were impressive. They themselves went as superheroes. There were of course rather a few ballerinas (both male and female) and sportsmen/women (not one of my particular ambitions), but also astronauts, army men, a judge, some cowboys, a Playboy bunny, a hippy, Ginger Spice, a penguin, a bear, Eponine from Les Mis, some female mechanics (inspired, of course, by Charlene from Neighbours), a good few ninjas and many, many more. It was an amazing party, demonstrated by the fact that there were still about ten of us dancing wildly in the sunlit living room at about eight o'clock the next morning.

- My temp job people have offered me two more weeks of work. I don't know why, because I'm sure I am one of the least diligent temps ever to have graced the office. I gritted my teeth, thought of the holiday in Portugal I am saving for, and accepted with thanks. This was supposed to be my last week here, but now I have two more. After which I will aim never to come to Luton again, except to get on planes and go to Primark.

My eyelids have started to feel heavy and there is a screaming child somewhere near me, so I must take myself and my despicable snobbery back to work. The sun is still shining and the thought of office work still makes me cry, but I must be resigned to today's fate and go.

*Perhaps I should move to MySpace?

Monday, May 14, 2007

History in the Rain

At eleven o'clock on Sunday morning it was raining on Aldgate tube station. The buildings around stood tall and grey, soaking up the drizzle patiently until they would be filled yet again with office workers the following day. My friend Jessica and I were perched on stools in a brightly-lit Subway opposite the station entrance, clutching cups of tea and staring somewhat forlornly at the rain as it spattered the windows.

Spotting the people we were waiting for we got up, sighed and shook out the umbrella we had brought along between us and made our way back across the slick road to the tube.

More turned up, sporting outfits of varying degrees of appropriateness for the grim weather (I was, you will no doubt be shocked to hear, not one of those wearing a brightly-coloured plastic raincoat and sensible walking boots) and facial expressions of varying degrees of stoicism. We hung about under the shelter, stamping feet, making introductions and being dripped on through the large gaps in the pitiful attempt at shelter.

This was not the weekly meeting of People Who Like Being Cold And Wet On A Sunday Morning When They Could Be Hanging Around In Bed (I believe they meet at Whitechapel). No, this was a group of people who had all decided to spend the day being guided around a part of London by a very knowledgable and interesting man. Stan (the aforementioned man) is the father of my friend Steve, and they had decided to do a Walking/Drinking Tour for Steve's friends and acquaintances. About twenty of us were hardy enough to look at the weather forecast and not make up some elaborate lie about having a last minute monkey training course or a celery-related emergency, and it was amongst these brave folk that Jessica and I set off to be taught some history and guided to some ale.

Jessica, as it turns out, is American, so I was immensely proud to be able to demonstrate such a typical British activity as wandering around in terrible weather under the promise of alcohol. She gracefully ignored the comments about American tourists and allowed herself to be introduced to such experiences as the Sunday roast, the Sunday ale and the Sunday almost-being-swept-into-the-Thames-by-massive-gusts-of-wind. We walked past the Tower of London and the old Royal Mint, through St. Katherine's Dock and around to the river. We huddled under trees to listen to Stan's powerful baritone raised above the whistling wind and imagine for ourselves the scenes from the Depression as hundreds of men would stand, day after day, hoping desperately to be among the dozen chosen to be given work that day. We saw the places where smugglers were hanged, where the bodies of pirates were covered in tar and left in cages to be picked apart by carrion. We drank ale in pubs once frequented by Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens, and were whipped by the wind and rain as we picked our way down moss-slicked steps to walk along the little sandy beaches that show themselves at low tide.

The last pub we came to was the rather charmingly-named Prospect of Whitby, ostensibly the oldest pub in London (although many of them make that particular claim). As we stood at the bar and ordered more ale the weather cleared. I stood out on the tiny terrace at the back with an old friend and looked up and down the river, squinting in the rain-infused sunlight. The tide was out, revealing the beach far below and the ancient-looking wooden pier. To the left was Canary Wharf and the right led back to the City.

We stayed for a few drinks, enjoying the antiquated feel of the pub with its old beams and sloping ceilings. At about seven-ish (it had been a long day) about eight of us wandered off together to find some food. We walked to Brick Lane for curry, after which some people peeled off to call it a night leaving the rest of us to go in search of ever more ale.

For me the day ended sitting out the back of the Spitz, in the closed Spitalfields Market, engaged in a heated debate as to whether anybody actually knows how to do long division. I do try to make a point of going home when the conversation turns to maths.

I got on the tube feeling happy. Tired, and perhaps somewhat drunk on ale, but happy nevertheless. There were some odd elements to the day, in that I saw for the first time in ages somebody with whom I have too much history to relate (much of it extremely painful) and it was somehow absolutely fine. In fact, it was really nice.

I skipped off the tube at Farringdon and hopped over to the other platform, upstairsthendownstairs. As I stood looking at the departures board a voice from behind me said "Hello. You ran down the stairs and it sort of put me off a dance I was trying to do."

I turned around to see a man about my own age, smiling at me.

"Oh." I said "Sorry about that. Do it again now, if you like."

He shook his head. "No, it's fine, the moment's passed really. I just said to myself that I would come and chat to you. Tell you about my dance."

"Right" I replied. I felt a bit guilty for having put him off his stride, so I thought for a moment, before saying "I could do a tap dance for you, if you like?"

He seemed enthusiastic, so that is how I ended up doing an impromptu and terrifically unskilled tap dance for a strange man on a train platform at twenty-to-midnight on a Sunday night.

(This, however, seemed to impress him rather, because he asked if maybe I would like to go out with him sometime. Which I did, actually, so I handed over my number like the train-harlot that I am.)

Today I went back for the beginning of penultimate week of temping in Luton. The weather was grey and rumbling outside, but I thought about my yesterday and felt removed from the office, with its fluorescent lighting and beeping humming mundanity.

I tap-danced home, feeling happy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Highlights of a Bank Holiday

1. Dan's homemade chips. Made in a deep fat fryer, and wonderful even when slightly dropped on the floor. We ate them, exclaiming joyously about how tasty they were, then sat back and watched about sixty episodes of that TV programme called Heroes. I got really into it, but the experience was slightly marred by the knowledge that I will never manage to see another episode. I could try, but I know I won't manage it. I haveno television organisational skills whatsoever.

(I am finding it difficult to write anything, due to the fact that there is a man opposite me in the Internet café who keeps popping his head over the partition and waving cheerily at me. At first I smiled cautiously but politely back, and now I am studiously ignoring him. It is most off-putting.)

2. A barbeque in Earlsfield. It got off to a shaky start, there were some problems with the barbeque itself which led inevtiably to the firing up of the grill, but gas was purchased and food was made. I didn't really mind about the food (I had already consumed my bodyweight in Doritos and houmous) so I got involved in the wine and watched the straight men (about one third of a per cent of those present)take turns posturing with tongs and burning things.

3. The cabaret on Sunday night. There were nearly two hundred people there, and the stage was quite high up, so I was really quite nervous by the time we were going on. I hope my nerves didn't show. I mentally relaxed myself, trying to keep my shoulders relaxed and not allowing my fingers to wrap themselves too tight around the microphone stand. I find that, when I'm singing, time seems to slow right down. About twice as many thoughts crowd themselves through my mind, and I have to forcibly block the negative ones from gaining access, because if they did, if all the nobodylikesyou you'renotcutoutforthis you'llnevermakeit you'retooshyforthis impulses were allowed to take root I would be paralysed. It did make me realise that I have to do more live stuff, because as great as studio work is, it doesn't prepare me for the immediacy of singing on stage. Strangely enough, even though I started out singing live, I feel my studio work is becoming easier now. I cannot allow my performance skills to lose out. There are some plans for more live work, so I need to make certain I don't lose sight of them.

4. Meeting new people. On Sunday I felt like I actually made some new friends. This has been happening a lot recently, which is brilliant and makes me happy. I probably could do with having less of a social life, money-wise, but I am still incapable of turning down fun. There are, I suppose, worse afflictions to have.

(The man seems to have become bored of getting no reaction from me, so he has stopped the waving. I am very relieved.)

5. Not being in Luton for three whole days. I am of course, back now, but only for a four day week so it isn't so terrible.

I am resolving not to complain about Luton so much. I feel bad about it, because the people I have met here have been really very nice (mainly) and I am just being snobby. Which, whilst being quite fun sometimes, isn't very open-minded of me.

So, I will just get the last bit out of my system...

Everyone around me is wearing tracksuits and smells of Jobcentres!

...there. I will be a better person from now on. Promise.

Friday, May 04, 2007

May the Fourth

Things That Made Me Cry Real Tears Yesterday:

1. Getting on the train to go to Luton.

2. Getting off the train at Luton.

Things That Made Yesterday Unexpectedly Better:

1. A cake sale in aid of a nearby hospice. I am, as you must be aware, all about the charity, and so was very, very generous. In exchange for cake.

2. An offer of a regular paid gig.

The second two things did happen in Luton, though, so my elation was still somewhat muted.

I am currently sitting in a grubby little Internet café near the Arndale Centre, listening to terrible local radio and surrounded by people who make my inner snob enter into a heady and frenzied delirium. It's Friday, and the weekend looms large. Not just any weekend, but a Bank Holiday Weekend. The keyboard is sticking, forcing me to regularly punch the backspace button with ill-contained fury, and the chair has clearly been constructed by a blind man with a deep loathing of people and their backs.

This weekend some of my friends are going surfing in Devon. I was supposed to be joining them in their extravaganza of sand and gin, but I had to pull out last week, because I was offered a gig on Sunday and would have been foolish to turn it down. I am actually very excited about singing on Sunday. We had a rehearsal on Wednesday which was ace, as the songs we're doing include some that I have always, always wanted to sing. We're playing for about half an hour in this burlesque night at Madame Jojo's in Soho. If you are around there on Sunday evening and fancy coming down to watch some cabaret and hear me sing, then please do. Here's the link.

I didn't cry this morning. Instead I sang to myself. Quietly, and without moving my lips (or so I imagined). I hurried through the shopping centre, swerving to avoid the teenage mums and their e number-crazed spawn. Past Greggs, past Wilkinson and the Pound Shop and the bakers in whose window is a sign proudly announcing the fact that they have been awarded three out of five "hygiene stars". (I'm dubious as to what this means. "We wash our hands after three out of every five toilet visits!" Or maybe "We only spit in forty percent of your food!"*)

Through the town centre I walk, glancing up at the town clock to assure myself that I am only fifteen minutes late, towards the the big red-brick building in which I will sit and daydream until I burst out at five-thrity. I consider taking out my phone to call my sister before work, but she is an hour ahead in Paris and will already be teaching.

This morning, feeling dejected, I shuffled in and sighed myself down at my desk. I stared at the wall gloomily. Then someone walked in and sat down near me. She turned around.

"Hey, Léonie!" she said. "May the fourth be with you!"

As I got my phone out to text that particular witticism to all my friends, I speculated that perhaps today wouldn't be so bad. Much cheered, and looking around for left-over cake, I began my day.

May the Fourth be with you all.

*Apologies for my bad maths. I'm better at words and colouring in.