Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Got Up, Had Cup Of Tea, Looked At Stuff.

North Manchester is freezing, and I am listening to Billie Holiday. These two things somehow match, in spite of the fact that the recordings of Billie are crinkly and infused with dusty heat. My favourite Billie track is God Bless The Child, closely followed by her delirious version of Summertime. In Billie Holiday's voice every song sounds like a torch song. I daren't listen to Gloomy Sunday too much. Strange Fruit is wonderful, but is so eerie, and fills my thoughts with blood.

This blog has turned a little more diary-like. Everything around me is new, so I feel I need to document it. Writing it down in the same place where I have written about every other stupid detail of my life makes it more manageable. What I mean is: I have become rather more gotuphadacupofteawalkedthedogsawamusingsquirrelhadaspotoflunch recently. Apologies if this is dull. Go and read better blogs.

On Saturday morning I was awoken by the sound of children. I shifted on the sofa, adjusted the small duvet and squinted at the clock. Ten o'clock. Thea and her children came down the stairs. Audrey (two-and-a-half) and Baby Ben (eleven months) were in good spirits, and Thea seemed to be feeling no ill effects from the night before, which had lead to us sitting on her kitchen floor at two thirty in the morning, talking earnestly and causing her husband to hear us from upstairs and chuckle, before slipping back to sleep. I had met Thea at eight o'clock in central Manchester, under the bus stops. She was grinning, and looked radiant, pleased to be out and dressed up. Her escape from her children coincided with my escape from friendlessness, and we were in high spirits. The prospect of a shared bottle of wine in Manchester's famous jazz club shimmered on the horizon, and we chattered as we made our way there.

An hour and a half later we left the club set off for the train station, to meet her friend Jo from the train, as well as my friend Luke and his boyfriend, yet another Ben (this blog is rapidly becoming riddled with them). I was so happy to see Luke, particularly as he had promised me a present, apropos of nothing (apart from my wonderfulness) (I might have added in that last bit). As it turned out he had forgotten it - "Oh, don't worry! I am just happy to see you!" I lied - but asked whether I wanted to know what it was. Which, of course, I did.

Luke and I met at University, in rehearsals for a production of The Wizard of Oz, in which he was playing the scarecrow and I was playing Dorothy. I look back on that time with very fond memories, not just because I got to wear real ruby slippers and hold Toto (a hand puppet), but because I made some really good friends. Although standing on stage singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow in a plaintive voice whilst making Toto stare questioningly at members of the audience was probably the most fun I have ever had.

Luke had bought me a big print of the Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Dorothy and Toto as they are setting off down the yellow brick road. What an excellent present! I was, and am thrilled.

Thea, Jo and I set out once again to another bar, agreeing to meet Luke, Ben and his friend Grace later. We stayed out late, and Thea said I could sleep on her sofa as Jo was in the guest room.

The next morning, after extricating myself from the clutches of their (really very comfortable) sofa, went to meet Luke, Ben, Grace and her friend Sam at the Famous Manchester Christmas Markets.

Unfortunately the rest of Manchester had woken up with similar ideas. I wandered around looking for them, nose to nose with the entire population of the North West. My phone had run out of battery, so after a wrinkle-nosed phone call from a phone box that smelled of wee and drug deals I launched back in to the fray. I have never seen so many people forcing themselves to be merry in one place. It is difficult to feel any genuine Christmas cheer when you have just been elbowed in the back by five seventeen year old girls attempting to take pictures of a singing moose, then tripped over a push chair the size of a tank and ended up with mulled wine in your hair. Eventually I found them, looking relaxed, sipping cups of afore-mentioned hair tangler. I grimaced, and spent the rest of the time glowering like a slightly hungover and agoraphobic Grinch.

The next morning I was on a coach at six thirty in the morning, heading back down to London to run a kids' party in Hammersmith. I stayed the night before at Thea's again. Nathan, Thea and I drank red wine (un-mulled) and constructed a gingerbread house, using the sweets provided as well as many, many Haribo sweets. We listened to reggae and then electro music. The endeavour was a roaring success, not least because it caused Thea to utter the following, historic sentence: "Oh! I was so busy robot dancing that I forgot to hold the frogs!". I do love a sentence that makes no more sense in context than it does out of it.

The Sunday kids' party was a difficult one. The kids ripped bits of my dress, pulled my hair and demanded sweets at every juncture. The birthday girl, unfortunately, was not particularly interested in the Special Magical Princess! that had been ordered for her birthday, and was in fact far more interested in my iPod than she was in me. I sat on the tube afterwards, exhausted and sullenly eating the leftover sweets, and wondered whether it really is necessary to travel for five hours just to dress up in ridiculous clothes and have children demand to sit on me and attempt to press my nose stud further into my face whilst refusing to pretend to be a naughty goblin (again, context doesn't help). Almost as soon as I got home my phone beeped with a text. From the guys whose band I auditioned for last week, for whom I wrote three songs (two of which were alright, one of which was utterly shit).

"Hi Leonie. Thanks for coming down, we liked your lyrics and melodies, but we're going to carry on looking for a singer. Sorry to waste your time. Good luck with everything."

Tears of rejection and humiliation rushed to the backs of my eyes. Then I forced myself to think about it rationally, dismissing my hurt pride. They were nice guys, but I sensed that they were after a salt-of-the-earth Northern band. They kept quizzing me about my jazz background, concerned expressions fluttering underneath their artfully-positioned fringes. I tried to sound confident as I assured them that I could write and sing in a less jazzy style, but I don't think any of us were convinced. Remembering how I had almost sprinted out of the rehearsal room after singing them my songs, how I had called my friend to express my uncertainty, and how my first thoughts had been "well, those lyrics and melodies could be used elsewhere", I knew that the rejection was no surprise. The hurt pride dispelled and I composed a gracious text reply. Then I paused, allowed a little hurt pride back in as I realized how short-sighted they were to be so insistent on being like every other male guitar band in the North, and snuck in a little passive aggression. Then I took a deep breath, deleted the text, and got back on with what I was doing.

The following morning I went to Upper Street and met Ms Robinson for a couple of hours and a couple of coffees. It was brilliant to see her, she was on great form. Sparky and entertaining, and full of wit and straight talk. I came away feeling energized and happy. Happier still when I made it to Euston, collected my train tickets and realized that something excellent had happened and I had accidentally booked myself a first class single back to Manchester.

I reclined in the big seat and was astonished to find that, in First Class, not only do you not have to squish in next to a spotty, deodorant-shy teenager listening to stadium rock as loudly as possible on a poor quality mp3 player*, but that they actually give you free stuff.

*This is invariably who I sit end up next to. It is like magic.

I wasn't hungry, but when the man came around I ordered a glass of Chardonnay. Free, please. He looked at me askance for a moment, before asking "are you old enough, love?".

I looked at him and smiled. "I'm 26. Is that old enough?"

He blushed a bit and poured me the wine. "Yes, love."

The next time he came round he topped up my glass. "Sorry about that, love."

I watched him fill a spare glass with wine and put it down next to my already-full first one. "No problem" I said. "I'm flattered."

I did have to keep reading my book very intently for the rest of the journey to avoid conversations with him, as he then got a bit chatty. A first class train journey on a Monday afternoon, though, complete with an empty carriage and free wine, was so much better than sharing a seat in a Megabus for five hours in the early grey-black hours of a Sunday morning.

This week I have been busy. Writing, and trying to convert the kids' parties thing in London to one in Manchester. Also I have to sort out my website before the 19th December, when I am doing a gig at Pizza in the Park, one of London's most well-known jazz venues. I am going to a gig in Chorlton tonight with Sarah, the girl I went on a blind friend date with last week. Tomorrow I have a guest ticket to go and see Sam Sparro, with Thea.

Billie has just started singing the blues, but I am not. I am going to go now and write those songs into my style, ignore the rejections that I will inevitably face, have a nice cup of tea and then look at some stuff.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Phone Fear = Pointless

On Wednesday morning I stepped out of the shower and heard my phone ringing. I loathe telephones, and usually have to give myself quite serious pep talks before picking one up. There are certain people, of course, whose calls I don't worry about answering, but even with friends it takes a few deep breaths before I will press the little green button.

I was a bit hungover because the previous night I had gone into town to meet my friend Martin's sister, Sarah, and her friend Lizzie. It was my blind friend date, but it hadn't occurred to me to be nervous. It was only when I was sitting on the tram into central Manchester that the thought crept into my head that, hang on, we might not get on. They might hate me! What if they don't like my jokes? I swept the thought aside (particularly the bit about the jokes). Meeting people face to face is never scary for me, not really. Picking up the phone terrifies me, but meeting in person is mostly not a problem. (Is anyone else like this? I don't understand it.)

I was right not to be worried. Sarah was lovely, and her friend Lizzie was great as well. They had been friends at school, but not once did they exclude me by talking about their shared memories without explaining contexts and bringing me into the conversation. Sarah is an artist, who also does voluntary work and does shifts in a restaurant, and Lizzie is a stand-up comedian and writer, who also looks after elderly people on an in-home basis. Within the first twenty minutes we had already come up with a plan to do storytelling for kids in Manchester, Lizzie having recently written a children's book that she had been planning on asking Sarah to illustrate. I told them about my experience as a storyteller in London, and we all laughed at the neatness of the situation. We sat in a bar and had a drink, and then wandered through town to the Christmas Markets, which had opened that day. Towering above the square is a dangerously obese-looking Father Christmas, resplendent in red and white. (I tried not to look for too long, as the image of his twenty foot frame rolling forward and crushing everyone below kept flashing before my eyes. I pictured the carnage: quaint wooden stalls flattened, pine needles piercing the fleshy stomach of Santa as rivers of mulled wine sluiced out, flooding the streets with red.) (This did not happen.)

We meandered through the throngs of people, found a little stall and sat down. Sarah spotted a beer stand and went to retrieve more drinks as Lizzie told me all about her experiences in Australia and America, where she had spent the last few years. After the markets we went to Canal Street, and sat outside a bar that was rather subtly named "Queer" to have more drinks and share some chips.

It was a lovely evening, I was so pleased that my first new friend date went so well. Sarah invited me along to a gig next Wednesday, as well, so I have the second date all planned. What does one do on a second friend date? It is all very exciting.

I awoke on Wednesday morning feeling the effects of the four beers I had merrily drunk the previous night. Buoyed up, but hungover, and aware that I had three songs to write in the space of two days. My phone rang.

I heard it from the bathroom but didn't rush through to get it. When I came back into my room it had stopped, but immediately started ringing again. Private number. Drying my hair, I let it ring. They'll leave a message, I thought, and then I can call them back. It carried on, and I let it. It stopped, and paused, and then started up again. I stared at it.

I walked over to reluctantly pick it up, by which time it had once again stopped.

A minute later the message tone beeped. I pressed the button to access my voice mail.

"Wake up, lazy!" a familiar voice said, all the way from Nepal.

My mouth dropped open as I listened to the rest of Ben's message.

"I will try and make it to a phone again, call you about nine my time, but we're going on our trek tomorrow so I won't be able to contact you after that."

He didn't manage to make it to the phone again, but nevertheless I spent the day carrying my phone about with me and regularly slapping my forehead at my own stupidity. Time to get over my phone-fear, I think.

That is one of the many ways in which I am an idiot. Another is the fact that, although I now live in Manchester, the only means I still have of earning money is down in London. There are many others, but tales of me losing things, booking trips for impossible times and forgetting stuff are not worth telling.

However, despite all this idiocy, my days are going well still. I managed to get the songs written to sing to that band (they had sent me the instrumental, I wrote the melody and lyrics). They seemed impressed, but they seemed to be a bit over-polite, somehow. I think they want a male singer. Instinct tells me that they are really looking to form a lads band, a salt-of-the-earth, northern set up. They seemed reluctant, somehow. I don't know, perhaps they didn't like what I had written, but I suspect it's more that I am just not what they had in mind. They have some other people to see and they said they would be in touch, but I think I might pull myself out of the running. Even if they do say that they would like me to be their singer, I think I would constantly feel that I was being too jazzy for them. (Jazzy in a musical way, rather than a "jazzy trousers" way.) I think my being female, and southern, made them feel a bit awkward. I don't want to be in a band with people who feel that they can't swear in front of me.

I am going to get in contact with some local libraries about the storytelling thing, and keep trying to find fun ways of earning some cash. Tonight I am going to meet a wonderful girl called Thea, and later my friend Luke and his boyfriend Ben are coming up to Manchester for the weekend. They are staying with Luke's friend Grace, to whom I will be introduced in another blind friend date sort of way.

On Sunday morning at 06.30 I am catching a bus down to London to run another kids' party dressed as a princess. On Monday morning I hope to go and meet the delectable Ms Robinson for a coffee before jumping on a train to come back here, and resume my search for meaning, music and money.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Off The Bench

For the last week I have been sheltering in Hertfordshire, having had too many plans in the London area to merit coming back to Manchester in between.

During that time I have been for dinner at a friend's house, gone to a discussion on IT and climate change at the House of Commons*, gone to see some friends in a production of Rent, slept in another man's bed (he was gay, but still! Scandal!), run another party for five-year olds whilst dressed as a princess (got chatted up by one of the Dads, most disconcerting), gone to my cousin's eighteenth birthday party (got chatted up by a sixteen year old, even more disconcerting**), laughed so hard at some toys in a shop window that I had to pretend I was crying, laughed even harder at some middle class marketing manager-types trying to breakdance on a very slippery floor in a bar in Clapham, felt suicidal whilst being flapped at by pigeons in Victoria Coach Station and generally had a jolly good time.

*I would love to just nonchalantly mention this as if, oh, yes, I go to interesting and socially pertinent discussions at the House of Commons all the time, don't you? The truth of it was, though, that I only went because my Dad was doing a talk and I spent most of the time wondering whether the man to my left was asleep or just mentally ill.

**James introduced himself to me whilst I was once again taking advantage of the limitless Champagne bar. "Hello James" I replied, amused. "I'm Katie's older cousin". He tilted his head, looked at me and said "How old? Like... twenty?". I told him, no, twenty-six, and he looked a little aghast but quickly covered it. He then leaned in close and told me "I am sixteen, but can be however old you want me to be, baby." I am not that ashamed to say that I laughed. Later on I was chatting with my sister and was most alarmed to feel a stealthy hand creeping onto my left buttock. Horrified, I looked up to see James standing there sporting what he clearly assumed to be an alluring smile. I snatched his hand away and exclaimed "James! Stop that at once!". Apparently being hit on by teenagers makes me think I am Mary Poppins.

I am back, now. In Manchester, that is. Yesterday I had a meeting with a lovely lady from Music Leader. Music Leader is a government-funded organisation which supports people who want to work with young people in a musical capacity, one of the (free) services they offer is a one-on-one meeting with an experienced advisor. You discuss what you want to do, your goals and experience, etc, and they advise you and guide you towards training or networks to join, etc. Since doing the children's parties in London I have been more and more convinced that I would like to develop music workshops for schools, as something to do alongside composing and performing my own music. I went bravely into Central Manchester yesterday and found my way to the office, where I met Sue. She took me to a nearby café and bought me a coffee, and we chatted for about an hour. At first I felt like I felt for the first five sessions when I had that therapy, like I should have been saying "anyway, how are you?", but then I relaxed, stopped making incessant "jokes", and managed to establish that I just want to do everything, now, please. As we talked, I felt my enthusiasm levels rise to an embarrassing, screaming pitch.

An hour later I bounced out of the café, fueled by caffeine and unachievable dreams, and went to meet my friend Lorna, who had spent the day auditioning at the Royal Northern College of Music for a post-graduate course in opera singing. It had gone well, so we we were both in good spirits as we hunted around for a bar to sit in for an hour or so before she caught her train back to Birmingham, where she was staying that night.

As we sipped our drinks (blackcurrant and lemonade for Lorna, who is preserving her voice, and a beer for me, who will no doubt eventually be preserved by the alcohol levels in her bloodstream), Lorna asked me about my impressions of Manchester, compared to London, where she still lives.

Well, I said. I still think of Manchester in relation to London, I suppose, because I spent so long coming up to visit, and then trudging back down to whatever face-meltingly awful temp job I happened to have shackled myself to at the time. So perhaps I am still in my honeymoon period with this city, despite the initial shockwaves of bench tears-inducing newness. But I moved here because I don't think Manchester crushes a person in the way that London does. There is arguably more going on in London, but London is expensive and I felt constantly like I was just living to pay the rent and so could never be involved in all the cool stuff that was happening. Maybe other people could hack that, and be happy and fulfilled. I couldn't.

In Manchester it feels more acceptable to be an artist, and be enthusiastic and passionate about what you do. In London all anyone talked about was how much rent they were paying. Everything happens in London, and you are told this every single day, but you have to be really lucky, or really rich, to access it. I feel that in Manchester it is not like this, and so far I think I am right.

In Manchester I am luckier and richer, of course, because I live with my Grandma and already have met loads of artistic types through my boyfriend, but I still feel that even if this were the case in London it would be harder. It is harder.

Lorna listened to me spout all this unsubstantiated crap, and nodded. "Yeah" she said, thoughtfully. "I can tell even by your voice that you are happier already."

I am happier. Because in London I wouldn't have said any of this for fear of sounding like a pretentious twat. Up here, I am still a pretentious twat but am somehow more comfortable with it. It is a nice feeling.

Today I woke up, did exercise, ate something. I wrote a list of what I needed to do. I emailed. I wrote quite a bit of one of the three songs I need to have written by Thursday. I received an email from Sue from Music Leader, with some details she had mentioned she'd send and a promise to send me a full summary of our meeting as soon as she can. I arranged to meet a girl called Sarah, with whom I am going on a blind friend date this evening. I spoke to another girl called Thea, who invited me out on Friday. I have investigated means of earning money, steering well clear of any office work, and made plans on top of plans. I know that if I just keep exploring all avenues then things will work out.

I have spent the day feeling lucky to be here, and growing increasingly certain that I am finally in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Whining Twattery (Includes Moderate Sweariness)

I have been on a blogging hiatus. It has not been deliberate, it's just that I don't like writing the sort of whining twat of a post that I have felt like writing. I have, however, written it anyway. Well done me.

I have found the last few weeks very difficult. I have been rigid with the overwhelming conviction that I don't fit in. Anywhere.

I am staying at my parents' house this week, because I needed to be in London on Sunday and again on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The crux of my problems have come down to two, simple facts: I am a ridiculous moron and will, given half a chance, persuade myself that I am superfluous to everyone's requirements.

(Any ex-boyfriends reading this must be thinking, oh, yes. That's why I got bored with her, she is a mental. Not a cool, interesting mental, just an insecure girl who knows how unattractive insecurity is and so lies about it until it is too late.)

Although I have had some cool times in Manchester over the last few weeks.

On bonfire night we went with some of Ben's friends and their beautiful little children to a park and watched the startled looks on the two-year-old's face as the sky was filled with firey spiderwebs. Then we went back to their house in Moss Side for baked potatoes with chili and mulled wine.

Ben and I smuggled a bottle of rum into the cinema when we went to see the Quantum of Solace and came out giggling and declaring it to be the best film we'd ever seen. We got a taxi home and I swear I heard the driver snort derisively as I listed the reasons that I thought the new Bond girl and I could actually be really good friends (although perhaps we wouldn't lie next to each other on the beach).

I went to meet a band that need a new singer, and they were lovely and we jammed (man), then they sent me some tracks to write over for next time.

Ben has cooked me many delicious meals and I helped him tidy his house before he left (although admittedly at one point my "help" just involved me wearing a sombrero watching him move furniture).

We went to a gig in a church in Salford, where we sat on the floor on cushions, drinking lager out of the can and watching Petra Jean Phillipson. Ben and I chatted to her afterwards. I was initially too shy, but Ben shoved me forward like a pushy mother, and soon Petra and I were chatting about our respective "I'll Make You A Star, Baby" moments. (Mine was when I was at an "audition" that turned out to require everyone to pose for pictures in "lingerie" selected by the producers. I flatly refused, only to be asked "is it because you think you're a bit fat?" by one of the other girls.) I loved Petra. When we were leaving, either Ben or I made a joke about having a great record deal for her, if she'd just come out the back, and she laughed and then said, with a completely straight face, "Yeah, alright, but I don't do anal." Her manager nudged her and squeaked "Petra! We're in a church!". We also chatted to the amazing supporting act, John Fairhurst, with whom I have since exchanged emails about doing some work together.

I have been with my Grandma to Asda and have eaten a million fairy cakes with lemon curd.

I went back to London to to a children's party dressed as a princess, which went well if you discount the one child who threw up, and the fact that all the others seemed to think this was their cue to hurl as well. By that point all the parents were there and watched me try and convince twenty children that this was not a vompetition, and that another game of musical statues (around the sick) was the best thing to do.

On Saturday we went to Ben's Mum's house in Hitchin, to go into London the next day. Ben and his co-traveller/actor Will were leaving straight from the show to the airport to catch their flight to Nepal. Ben's Mum and I went into London on Sunday late morning (Ben had left earlier), and met his Dad and my Dad for lunch, then went along to the show, which was excellent. In the interval we saw Ben, who said he wasn't sure whether he might have to leave before the end of the show. He hugged me and kissed me goodbye. He was wearing his costume, a first world war uniform, and I was wearing my vintage tea dress, so it felt all very poignant, although it wasn't, really. He had to leave before the end of the show, but he called me from the airport. In the middle of our conversation he said this: "...oh, hang on, baby. Will, why does that say 'flight closing'?...(a mumbling in the background)...Oh, shit. Um, I think I have to go now. Love you! Bye!". They made it, but they did have to abandon their pints, which I suppose is suitably dramatic.

Writing all this makes me realize that it has, in loads of ways, been a lovely few weeks. I suppose feeling lost and alienated is inevitable at the moment. I knew it was inevitable, but I didn't think that feeling lost and alienated would make me feel quite so, well, lost and alienated. I want to make friends, so I have been in contact with a few people and signed up for a bellydance class next Wednesday. I will also find a 'job', although I do have a few more princess parties lined up. (I am also going to be a Santa's elf at Christmas, somewhere in Central London. When I know where I will tell everybody I know. I am not joking.)

I have just felt really insecure, which is fucking irritating, to be honest. I have an indescribably huge fear of being "needy", and as a result I just go quietly insane and utterly paranoid. O, how I wish I was a tantrum thrower. I would love to be described as "firey". Yes! Firey people are cool, and a bit scary. I have never scared anyone in my life, and as a result am doomed always to feel inconsequential and paralysed by my own self-doubt. It is fun spending time with me when I am like that.

Self-indulgent self-analysis! It is excellent, and doubtless why blogging was invented. (At Christmas it will be elf-indulgent elf-analysis, something I find disproportionately amusing.)

It is a transition period, I suppose, and to be expected. It is hard, though. Last Thursday I sat on a bench in central Manchester and cried. I am so tired of sitting places and crying, as I have done in every city in which I have lived. I couldn't bear to call Ben, because then he would know for sure that I am not some cool, confident woman but just a boring, moronic loser. I could not call my friends because they would think the same things, and anyway my battery was low.

If you have read this far you can stop now. I'll be fine, of course, it is just my narcissism playing up again, it makes me tetchy. I wish I was an elf all the time. Having bells on my feet would make things so much better.