Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Which I Do Not Mention The Weather!

No, I still haven't managed to get a job. The places that looked promising have mostly decided not to hire staff because of "the current situation". My only real port in the unemployment storm is one place which perhaps might be expanding in the next month or two. The manager/chef is the boyfriend of a friend, so he promised that if they do take on an extra pair of hands those hands will be mine. I hope that they'll want the rest of me as well, but hey, if I'd be getting paid I'd be prepared to compromise.

So much has been going on. I went the Lanternhouse in Cumbria, a few weeks ago. Sumit Sarkar was unveiling two year's worth of work in an exhibition entitled "Ananta" and it was tremendous. Based on Hindu mythology, he took the pantheon and re-created it using various exciting techniques (the explanation of which is a little beyond me, best to check out the website). Through the different rooms were carefully-placed representations of the Gods, some animated, some appearing to be made from plaster, and one particularly impressive one that looked like a giant, shiny, three part transformer. They were like comic book/manga-hybrid heroes and heroines. It was brilliant, and I loved it. Sumit's whole family were there, as well as his girlfriend from Slovakia and her whole family, so after the opening we all got excellently drunk on Champagne and wine and stayed up until the early hours.

I have been to a quite a few other events, in spite of my impecuniosity. (Part of my blogging paralysis has been due to the fact that there seems to be too much to write about.) Ben and I did a "guerrilla gardening for clowns" course last weekend, which was really cool. We spent two days with an eclectic group, exploring the idea of clowning as a form of protest, and guerrilla gardening as a means of direct action. Koogie, the teacher, had some wonderful tales of life in the Clown Army, a group of trained clowns who appear across the world at protests and camps, subverting the notions of authority and turning protests on their heads. Like mythological tricksters, they are powerful and anarchic. We did some clown training, and it was emotional and extremely exciting. Ben and I both loved it, and I came away feeling somehow slightly altered.

Oh, and wow. The Manchester Sing Out choir turned out to be one of the best things I've done since I got to Manchester. Three weeks ago I arrived at the first rehearsal of the year, feeling small and nervous. I chatted to some people until Wayne, the director, started the rehearsal. There were about fifty or sixty people there, a mixture of ages, races and genders. The new people introduced ourselves and then we started to sing.

The thing is, I bloody loved it. I loved singing those uplifting songs and hearing the harmonies ring out around the hall. The more we sang the more excited I felt, so when Wayne asked people to fill the front row, I leapt up like an over-eager (singing) puppy. Since that time I have always sat at the front. I listen intently to every word he says, drink in the harmonies and sing at the very top of my voice. On the first practice I was so overwhelmed by it all that I felt my eyes well up with tears, and sang as if I had just been freed from a silent prison.

This, of course, is a good thing. Of course! It is wonderful to have found something that makes me feel so great. I want to go every day. I want to write music for us to sing, as well, which is something they are more than open to.

However. I can't help but think that all this keen, wide-eyed eagerness makes me look like, well. Like a bit of a twat, really. Part of the reason for going is to make friends and honestly, I really don't look cool when I am there. I feign nonchalance for about five minutes, but I just can't keep it up. I slip into a breathless fervour and I know, I know how it must come across. Twattish, basically. I'm going to have to accept it, though. Embrace it. Perhaps I should just abandon myself to it and make myself a T-shirt that says "I HEART CHOIR" on it. To be honest, if it continues in this vein I think I will need a matching hat.

So, Manchester thinks I am a loser, and maybe I am. For the last few days I have been restless and frustrated. I still live in my Grandmother's house, for which I am very lucky, but I do feel less independent because of it. The other day I made quite a serious, and quite idiotic mistake which could have ended in disaster (but didn't). It was a stupid mistake to make (yikes, it really was very stupid), but adults, as far as I know, make mistakes. The chastising I received, however, from family members, was a very strong reminder of whose charity I am taking, so it is not a situation I want to stay in for much longer. Part of the reason I moved from London was to escape watchful eyes, and I just need to move a bit further. Ben and I are planning to apply to housing associations, so hopefully I can find more independence soon.

(That last paragraph was probably a mistake.) (Another one.)

Life is so good, mostly, but there are a few wrinkles which must be ironed out before I feel like I am settled. It feels, to extend that metaphor beyond all decency, like I have just a very small iron and the wrinkles are pretty big, but I suppose I just have to carry on and things will eventually be smooth.

In the meantime I will just sing my eager little heart out every week, carry on looking for jobs, keep writing my little songs and hope for the best.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Will Work For Ponies*

*This means that I am happy to be employed by ponies, or paid in ponies. Obviously.

Friday's job-hunt very quickly began to resemble a montage from a bad film. Imagine, if you will, a thirty second sequence involving lots of people peering over the top of various counters, saying "NO" loudly, and shaking their heads resolutely. All different kinds of people in all different kinds of establishments, but all united in their opinion of the chances of me being employed. Most of them were perfectly nice about it. Only the girls about my own age seemed to be able to say "no" without being fettered by all that horrid human decency. Walking out of one place, where the reception to my question had been a mirthless smile, the curving of an neatly-plucked eyebrow and a slow head shake, had me saying "oooh" with all the sarcasm I could muster as I pushed the door open on my way out. I wanted to tell her that working somewhere with posters on the wall and fairy lights does not automatically make you cool, but I'm not sure she would have heard me, what with being all that way up her own arse.

Actually, some places claimed that they would be taking people on in the next couple of weeks, in which case I duly handed over my CV. One café had said the same thing last week, though, so I went back in again. It was a different girl this time. When I spoke to her she went red and shrugged. "I don't know if they'll have seen your CV. There's a pile of like, hundreds, in the back. So, yeah. Dunno." She avoided my gaze and knocked over a coffee cup.

Her manager was not available to talk to. He or she was probably making an origami swan from my GCSE results whilst sitting on a chair fashioned from eight hundred pieces of paper that each read "in my spare time I enjoy socializing and watching Celebrity Big Brother."

I have reasoned that it is a numbers game, and that eventually I will be employed. By the time I reached the Royal Exchange theatre to ask I was thoroughly dejected. The manager, like all the others, did not seem hopeful. He took my CV anyway.

"We just took on two people last week, so, I can't promise anything" he told me, shaking his head and looking through my CV. "What sort of thing are you looking for?"


He looked up, clearly wondering whether to make a lewd joke and deciding against it.

"Right. When can you work?"

"All the time."


"Yep. All the time." I smiled, to try and take the edge off the desperation.

"Right. Well that should improve your chances!"

He still couldn't promise anything. Nowhere could, but I reckon if I keep up this level of perseverance somewhere will eventually take me. Although by that point I will probably be so desperate that I will be cleaning floors for fifteen hours a day on a salary of half an old tuna sandwich and the odd copy of yesterday's Metro.

I am still keeping my spirits up, though. Yesterday my friend Thea came over with her son Ben, who is nearly one. I was helping her out with an application, and in return she bought me a beautiful scarf. The scarf was gorgeous but totally unnecessary, as the pleasure of playing with Ben was payment enough. We all had a lovely evening, Thea and I drinking tea and Ben mashing bits of apple into his face and giving us high fives. I walked them to the tram station, then returned home, thinking what a lovely, free and healthy evening we had just passed. No money spent, no alcohol consumed, just a wholesome, happy time. Wholesome is not my usual state.

Today I have been going through all the music I have written on my computer, and deleting loads of the rubbish that I have seen fit to hammer out over the last few years. It felt good to do this, even in spite of the fact that lots of it has been very painful to listen to. I have muttered "God, did I really write that?" to myself more times today than I care to mention. There was one track that I had titled "shit". Accurately, as it turned out. I also got a bit of a shock when I pressed play on one, secretively named "vm". Out boomed my voice, proclaiming in cut-glass tones that "I love vaginas!". I had forgotten that, when I was in a production of the Vagina Monologues a few years ago, I had recorded my monologue for rehearsal purposes. That one went in the trash file pretty quick sharp. As a result of this cull, though, I have a clearer idea of what I need to be working on to post something else on my myspace, and which can be adapted for live gigs.

Tomorrow I am going job-hunting again in the morning, then to meet another friend, Aisling, at two. She is an actress and has no money either, so we are going to have free adventures in Manchester. I have meandered around the Art Gallery a few times, now, so I am on a mission to find alternative free delights in this wonderful city. The arctic conditions will not, I suspect, help us in our ambition, so I am taking a fiver for coffee/a single glass of wine.

On Tuesday I will hop onto the bus to Bury Job Centre, to sign on. When they ask how I have been trying to find employment I fully expect to collapse into a puddle of woe, as I inform them of how many trees have been wasted on copies of my CV that are now floating around the seedy café underworld of Manchester. I am going along to a choir in the evening, but first I am meeting my friend Lorna, who has an induction day at the Royal Northern College of Music.

On Thursday I am going to The Lanternhouse, in Ulverston, which is where Ben has been since last week. His friend Sumit Sarkar is the artist in residence there, and it is the opening of his exhibition on Thursday. I am very excited about going, as Sumit is an amazing artist and a wonderful person. You can look at the details of the exhibition here.

I am looking forward to seeing Ben, who has released himself from writer prison today in order to go off on his bike and explore the coastline. He sent me an email with some pictures of where he went, including some gorgeous beach shots and some of a Buddhist temple he found. These were great, but the best by far was the video clip of a pony he met, to whom he fed some grass and with whom he had a brief chat about the pros and cons on glove-eating. I'm not sure why I find the notion of a glove-chewing pony so very hilarious, but I do. I really, really do.

So on that uplifting (albeit slightly concerning) note, I am going to go and Google "free stuff to do in Manchester" and hope that it doesn't just bring me straight back here. May your week be full of fun and impish ponies with a penchant for outdoor hand wear.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2009: The Year of the Updated Myspace!

In an unprecedented flurry, I am about to write my second post this week. This can only be due to my new-found dedication and motivation, and is nothing to do with the fact that I don't have anything with which to fill my time because I am a) jobless and b) penniless.

Ben has lent me his loop pedal, which I have fitted to my pre-amp and then my amp, so I have been practising this evening. It was all going wonderfully until I decided to see whether I could make new effects by pressing and twisting the "flange" (yes) and turning the volume up. The effect created was one I shall henceforth call "Torment And Pain In The Belly Of The Underworld". It scared me so much that I turned everything off and scampered off into the other room, to cower at my computer for a bit. It made the room vibrate so much that a copy of Woman And Home slipped off the table (n.b. this belongs to my Grandmother, although I sometimes do still read the problem pages, so that when my children leave home or I become incontinent I will know what to do).

In other music news: I have finally updated my myspace page! After only two years I have made some changes, and added another song. It is one of the songs I recorded straight onto my computer, just layering up vocal tracks on top of one another. It was recorded in my bedroom in Brixton, so the only sound you can hear apart from my voice is that of the buses rumbling, and the sounds of people spilling out of the Brixton Academy across the road. It is not a new song, in fact I recorded that in 2007. It is still the most complex a cappella one that I have ever done.

See what you think, and please tell me. Bear in mind that I am not, nor can I ever imagine being, a producer, so the levels/length, etc, are unspeakably amateur and horrible.

It is called Do Something, and it is HERE on my myspace.

Ben has gone to Cumbria for a week, to do a week of hermit-like re-writing of his one man show. He toured with it last year, but he wants to change it, and apparently he can't do it at home, because the cat distracts him. So off he went this morning, having made me some hummus to take home with me. I was not allowed to take the cat, which I deem very unfair.

I have been making continued efforts to find gainful employment. This has involved trawling round cafés, walking up to the counter smiling in a way that I hope is not threatening and/or manic, and tacitly begging for a job. Most of them have seemed very positive, but I am wise enough to know what this means, so I am going around tomorrow, and the next day, and the next until someone lets me make coffee and tell them jokes. Today I was chatting with a friend and he mentioned that there were some jobs going. I asked what they were and he said, oh, it's just on the phones, in some office, but... I cut him off. No office work. Not a chance. I will find something else. Thank you.

I have found a choir to join, which is cool. I have never been one for choirs, but the idea of singing regularly and meeting lots of people is an appealing prospect at the moment. I am also going along to the Social Media Café, which is a bit intimidating, because I know nothing about computers, not really. I'm going because I am curious, and I would like to know what other people in Manchester do with their online obsessions.

It is frozen up here. The sky hangs, grey and weighty. It feels like the daylight is so fleeting, and the minute I leave the house my fingers and toes lose all feeling.

Today, though, I was walking from Ben's house in Rusholme to get the bus into town. There is a tiny piece of park that serves as a shortcut, and I took it. The path was bright white amid the silver-topped scrub land. The dim light that leaked from the sky bounced from it onto my face, becoming bright and comforting. A man was coming the other way, black hood pulled up, hands pushed into his pockets. He was singing loudly, his song Indian-sounding to my naive ears. As we passed each other he grinned widely at me and did a slippery dance on the icy snow.

"Hey!" he shouted through his smile. "It's OK! You can just GLIDE!"

I laughed and carried on walking, smiling down at the frozen path.

"Yeah" I thought. "I can just glide."

I liked him, and his care-free slippery dancing. This year I resolve not to worry to so much, and free myself up to glide.

Now I am going to tentatively go back into the other room and have more loop-pedal adventures.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Testing, Testing...

Oh, not the old "testing, testing, is this thing on?" joke? The one that's wheeled out every time some dormant blogger comes out of the web work to try to revive his or her online persona? No, surely?

Yes, I have sunk to such depths. It is tricky to know how to start the first post of the year. How about this:

At the dawn of 2009 I have many ambitions.

Hmm. I'm not sure. Maybe an exclamation mark to denote excitement and/or positivity? I have many ambitions! No, too peppy. How about caps for emphasis and meaning? I have many AMBITIONS. God, no. Maybe those caps were in the wrong place? I have MANY ambitions. A touch psychotic, perhaps. No, I think I might just leave it.

Still, though. It's a bit pretentious. Alright, a lot pretentious. True, yes, but that is neither here nor there.

Before Christmas I kept sitting down to write, but collapsing slightly at the prospect.

There are too many things to say. Too many adventures to recount, but also whole boring snow-drifts tales of self-doubt and uncertainty.

Christmas was, as always, a whirlwind of present-anxiety and family. My most memorable day took place in Milton Keynes Shopping Centre on the day before Christmas Eve. My Dad had to buy some presents for my little sister, and I wanted to buy some complicated and confusing kitchen equipment for my complicated and confusing boyfriend. Within five minutes of parking the car both of us were crouching, terrified, in the coffee shop at the top of John Lewis, staring out of the window at the miles of bare, grey horror that is Milton Keynes. Feeling myself start to wonder whether the window was, in fact, bolted shut or whether I could make I leap for it, I decided to act, and promptly stole a pen from an old lady. Having written a comprehensive shopping plan, we embarked on a six hour journey through the whirling torment, held up only slightly by the fact that I had decided to wear four inch heels for the occasion. My Dad bought excellent presents for my sister, hindered only slightly by the fact that he sometimes had the audacity to disagree with my expert judgement. I came away empty-handed but for a thermometer and a huge, completely useless, terracotta tile.

(Actually my most memorable Christmas occasion was my surprise present from Ben. He took me for a meal, and then to a gig. As we walked into Manchester Academy I had no idea who we were seeing, and we headed for the bar. Ben ordered the drinks and turned to me. "Oh" he said. "You might need this." He handed me the ticket and I looked at it, and saw the words JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN written across the top. My jaw dropped, I looked at Ben's smiling face and jumped a bit. I first saw Joan and her band three years ago, and have loved her since. Her music is incredible, and her presence on stage is captivating. She is bewitching, funny, unpretentious and supremely gifted. I watched the whole gig standing in front of Ben with his arms around me, mesmerized. I know the first album, but the songs from the second are wonderful (I couldn't believe she would be able to out do the first, and in fact they are more like a complement to one another). Afterwards she was signing autographs, so we queued and spoke to her. During the gig I had shouted out "I LOVE YOU JOAN" (I am not cool) and she said she loved me too, in her liquid New York drawl. When I spoke to her I told her it was me who had shouted that (God, I am really not cool) and she said, "yeah, I said I loved you too!". "I know" I said, pushing my new CD towards her. "But I want it in writing." She laughed and wrote it. "I'm a singer, too!" I chattered, excitedly. She looked at me for a moment and smiled. "Yeah, I can see that." Oh, she might just have been being kind, but if I choose to believe she saw a kindred spirit then I will, and you can't stop me.)

I had two gigs over the Christmas period. One was in Pizza in the Park jazz club in Knightsbridge, and the other was yet another excuse to experience the delights of Milton Keynes. At the former there was a full jazz band, complete with grand piano and a variety of different microphones. I sung a short set, finishing with Santa Baby, for which I was forced to wear a shiny, over-sized Santa hat. Both the hat and I made another appearance at the end of the night, singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas with two other singers (n.b. the hat did not sing). Afterwards Ben and I stayed with my sister Alex and her boyfriend Andy, and the following day we all went for a lovely walk down the canal near her house. Sitting in a cosy little pub in muddy jeans and trainers, eating chips and pretending to work the slot machine by pressing the buttons at random and occasionally letting out a plaintive sigh, I had no desire to get re-vamped up and do another gig. Nevertheless I had to, so I said goodbye to them all and trekked to South London, where I was collected by two chaps called Ed and Eddie (a pianist and a saxophonist, respectively).

Up the motorway we trundled, discussing the last time we had met (in Paris, 2006) (can I say that again, please? It makes me feel well glamourous. Yes?) (in Paris, 2006) (Sorry). We played together then, having met through my sister Sophie, and I had called on them for this gig. We eventually pulled up at the house in Milton Keynes, and I jumped out to ring the doorbell. The door was opened by two excited-looking seven year old girls, who bore sticky labels, pens, and eager expressions.

We were asked to set up the equipment in the corner of the rather capacious living room, and as we did so we met the woman whose birthday it was and were handed drinks. Strictly birthday party stuff, so no Christmas songs or hats here. As we began to play our first set people edged into the room, clutching wine glasses or bottles of beer and watching us with a mixture of interest and trepidation. I encouraged people to dance, and some did. The rest stayed firmly where they were, avoiding eye contact in case that in itself was some kind of signed contractual agreement obliging them to dance naked with their underwear dangling over one ear for the rest of the night.

A couple of hours later and we had finished, having played for two hours with a break in between (during which everybody cheerfully started wiggling away to Let Me Entertain You and a selection of ABBA classics). My Mum came to pick me up, which delighted me no end. I said goodbye to Ed and Eddie and hopped into the car, to be whooshed back to my parents' house, in which were waiting my Impish sister Sophie and her boyfriend Tomas, who were over from Paris for Christmas. I sat down with them and started upon what was to be the first of many, many cheese-and-wine binges of the festive season.

The rest of Christmas whistled by in a blur of wine, cheese and actual real life games of charades. Charades was conducted on Boxing Day, when Ben and his Mum were over, to be confronted with the extent of the family for the first time. I hoped that alcohol consumption would mask the fact that we were playing games that people only play in sitcoms from the fifties. Although trying to convince my thirteen year old cousin to act out Sex and the City in front of twenty family members sticks out as a highlight. (He refused. Free Willy was also, apparently, a no go.)

For New Year Ben and I came back to Manchester. We went out with a few friends, danced and drank, then came back to Ben's house, where we set up an elaborate sound system involving two amps, a microphone, a loop pedal, a bass guitar and a rather baffled-looking cat and made drunken "music" until about seven the next morning. This was roundly looked upon as an excellent thing to do, in spite of the terraced house thing and the fact that everything we did sounded like loads of drunk people going LA LA LA (with a bass part).

Now all the festivities are over, and I have not started my diet/detox/life-improvement that I am sure everyone else is well into by now. Everyone else, I bet, has rejected all offers of extra toast and has gone to the gym at least eight times. I have been hiding, putting off all the things I had put off until after Christmas. I have not experienced any epiphanies, or found any magical serum that will make me less nervous about this process (at least, none that last) (or are legal). I had hoped this would happen, and am disappointed that no ponies have trotted up to me with magical, life-sorting scrolls between their sugar cane teeth (I could probably find a serum to help me imagine it, though).

I am on the dole and my life is a blank canvas. I have a new coat that is black and furry and makes me feel like Liza Minnelli. I have two woolly hats and an excellent collection of cheap, shiny jewellery. A roof over my head and the great opportunity of having absolutely nothing to stop me doing whatever I want.

2008 was a year of change, and I am hoping that 2009 is going to be another such. I am intimidated by how much I could do, but also how much I might not do.

I am scared by 2009. There is so much to be doing, and all I am doing is sitting at my computer, wearing a huge hat for no reason, and talking about it. I think I need another slice of toast, and then I will definitely start.