This is me.


“Something has changed within me, something is not the same, I’m sick of playing by the rules of someone else’s game…”

Wicked.

 

If you’d said to me a few years ago that I would spend a hot, Summer evening sitting naked with two strangers in one of their living rooms, being recorded for a podcast talking about my body image, having been abused physically and emotionally and various other things for a podcast that anyone anywhere in the world could listen to, I probably would have said that that is bollocks.  But a couple of weeks ago I did just that, I headed to Jenny’s flat to record for The Naked Podcast, having put myself forward to do it.

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Just after recording my episode of ‘The Naked Podcast’ for the BBC with Jenny and Kat. And yes, all totally nude. Photo from The Naked Podcast.

For most of my life I’ve had a difficult relationship with my body image.  For a long time I thought I was fat and how could anyone like or love that, but in the last 6 months I’ve actually found a peace within myself and a comfortableness with myself that I could not have imagined before.  The beginning kernel of this change in attitude started in February when I sent out a request to some of the women I know from school.  I messaged them saying that I’ve been thinking of writing something about body image, this is how I thought of myself back then, what are your memories of me and how did you feel about yourself when you were a teenager?

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The kindness of strangers – now is the time


In the last few years I’ve had help and support from a number of different people.  My younger* brother, Richard, and his girlfriend, Liz, let me live in their attic when I came back from Tanzania.  My sister, Alex, and her family let me live with them for a few weeks when I came back from travelling.  My poor niece was put out of her room and I don’t think she complained.  Well, if she did then they didn’t tell me and she’s so ridiculously cute she’d get away with it. I’m very grateful to them for helping me out when my world was slowly disintegrating and we had all lost a father.

When I was in Fiji, with about £30 left to my name I was really panicking. I think I knew I was a bit depressed again, I was annoyed with myself because I didn’t have enough to get across America and was having to face the fact that I was going to have to go back early.  I really couldn’t face going to live back in Northamptonshire.

Now I want to clarify, my home town is lovely place.  It’s relatively small, it’s got good schools, it’s a short walk to the countryside.  It’s pretty safe to bring up a family in, but for me it’s suffocating.  I can’t be there at this stage of my life, and actually, I don’t know if I can ever go back permanently.  When I’ve been back to my old school to talk to the 6th form I ask them to put their hands up if they want to stay there for all their lives.  I then ask who thinks that their soul would be sapped away, second by second, if they stayed there forever.  I’ll let you guess which option is voted for the most often.  Obviously it’s a bit of a joke, but I feel trapped there, partially by my own inability to drive.

So sitting by the beach in Fiji last May I was talking to my friend Ruby about how I could manage to move to Sheffield in my self-imposed impoverished state. She suggested contacting musicians to see if they happened to need a house sitter or babysitter over the summer.  Which is how I messaged Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and ended up living in their attic for 6 months or so. (Or, as their infinitely wise eldest son said ‘You live in the whole house, not just in the attic!)**

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Begin the Begin


“Fresh starts: thanks to the calendar they happen every year —just set your watch to January, our reward for surviving the holiday season is a new year. Bringing on the great tradition of new years resolutions, put your past behind you and start over. It’s hard to resist the chance of a new beginning, a chance to put the problems of last year to bed.”

Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy [2.13]

It’s nearly the end of the year, very soon I will be by a beach overlooking the Indian Ocean and so many things have changed.  The Mayans thought the world would end today.  They were wrong but for me, this year, a good many things have ended.

The first, in January, was a three year relationship, I thought that we would get married (mainly because he said we would), I thought that we would have children and that I would live in a cottage somewhere in the North East (he said all that too…).  Last December I sat at my sister’s and then at my brother’s playing with their children and decided that enough was enough.  Enough making do with someone who couldn’t look after himself, enough hoping that if I was supportive and patient that things would pay off and we would be happy.  Enough of being afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own without him, despite him dragging me down gradually with him. So I told him that this was it and he agreed.

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Waiting for the music to begin


18.32 30/9/12

I’m sat on the floor of Gate 11, Nairobi Airport.  I did try to find a seat, but they are all occupied by weary travellers, bags and people who for some reason keep replying ‘Si’ to me when I ask if the seat is taken.  The sun is setting behind the clouds over the airstrip painting the sky with oranges, golds, yellows and pale blue, a stark contrast to the greying clouds which looked so white as we flew through them.  I have about 4 and a half hours until my flight to London, which will bring me back at 5.55am.  As we were descending into Nairobi the Captain announced that the ground temperature was 27 degrees, but I felt a crisp chill in the air as I climbed the steps to the departure lounge.  I’ve managed to leave my hoodie in the downstairs flat so I have no idea how I will brace against the crisp Autumnal weather that October in London will bring.

The last few days have been strange, trying not to think about what I am returning to, but focusing on what needed to be done before I left.  Friday was quite entertaining with my classes – I’m hired as a year 3 teacher but have also been teaching singing to years 7 and 8 in a crafty swap with the PE teacher who has to cover music.  On Friday after covering Emili Sande’s ‘Next to Me’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’, I told the year 8s that they would have their regular teacher for the next few weeks because I have to visit my sick father, almost all of them told me to say ‘get well soon’ from them.  My year 3s seem quite excited to have the Head of Primary taking them and a few of them made me ‘We will miss you cards’ during their Golden Time.

On Friday evening some of the female staff took me to Diners – a restaurant towards the centre of the town next to our now regular Thursday take away place Sizzlers.  (This week for our chicken and chips with a film we watched ‘Never Been Kissed’.  I’m a little concerned how similar to the Drew Barrymore character I feel, especially now I’m writing about things, but no sign of Michael Vartan yet, which is a shame.)  We had a lovely meal mixing Chinese and Indian foods, before some of us headed off to Hotel Talapia next to Lake Victoria for a drink.  I think the bar staff were quite relieved that I ordered whiskey this time instead of a mojito as it takes them ages to make them, but they are a work of art.

Saturday was spent chasing up my plane ticket and organising my classroom – a job long over due.  I’ve sorted out the groupings for English and Maths, written out Monday’s timetable, arranged the planning, written some incentives to help my small people behave whilst I’m away and filled a draw with things that need to be organized when I get back.  There’s always a drawer like that somewhere and sometimes it takes me years to sort it.  Or failing that, I tip it all in the bin.

I tried watching a film with people downstairs – ‘Anchorman’ – but the DVD player was playing up, so I returned to my room to finish of ‘The Hatfields and The McCoys’, if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth a look, I think Kevin Costner won an Emmy for it recently.   People climbed the stairs to check how I was sporadically, but for the most part I kept to myself.

This morning I finally packed the suitcase with a few clothes, I’ve not got a black dress because Dad would like the funeral to be colourful on the whole. I watched more TV.  It’s a great distractor.  Three friends drove me to the airport; we sat having a drink waiting for the departure queue to reduce a bit and talked a fair bit of nonsense. I do know what is going to happen in the next week or so, I just don’t think it will fully hit me until I see my dad in a hospital bed.  Until then nonsense and distractions are a good thing.

When I got to Nairobi I realised that Mwanza Airport hadn’t checked my bag all the way through to Heathrow – apparently this is because BA isn’t one of their partner airlines or something.  I went to the transfer desk, they said fetch the bag and come back in 2 hours.  I went to fetch the bag and you have to go through immigration, which means a Visa and money I can’t really afford.  One of the airport workers fetched it for me, which cost me $5, then he said head to the transfer desk to hand the bag back in, but no luck again.  So I’m waiting. The floor is cold and I’m starting to get a numb bum, but no one is moving from their seats.  So I’m waiting.  Peering into the Duty Free and souvenir shops shows prices for tat I can’t afford.  So I’m waiting. Waiting for a seat, waiting for a plane, waiting for a lift from my uncle in the morning, waiting to spend the last few days of my dad’s life with him.

‘A storm is coming but I don’t mind, people are dying, I close my blinds.

All that I know is I’m breathing, now.

I want to change the world instead, I sleep I want to believe in more than you and me

But all that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing now

All that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing.’

Ingrid Michaelson

20.51

After standing at the check in desk for an hour and a quarter waiting for someone to come and check us in, I have a boarding pass and a luggage label.  I was getting quite frustrated and concerned that I would miss my flight, until, after 45 minutes, someone asked which airline I, and those around me, was waiting for.  A handsome man answered that he needed Swiss Air and ‘this charming young lady needs BA’.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been described as charming before, but I’m going with it.

Obviously after that I had to talk to him a bit, if only to pass the time until the BA rep turned up (there’s only so many times you can hear  “They are just coming in a few minutes” before you start to go slightly mental.)  I discovered that he is flying to Zurich (I’ll see you in Zurich Green Wing fans) and then onto Bangkok where he has lived for 6 years.  Originally from Shrewsbury he now has more of an international accent and works for a large hotel company.  His job involves scouting around different parts of the world for new opportunities – either mergers and take overs or new builds – promoting the experiences in that area.  He’s just had a not so great time in Zanzibar and I know have a rough idea of where to avoid when I go for my 29th birthday in February.  He has itchy feet and is thinking about moving but has a good life, with lots of freebies, which he is reluctant to give up at this stage.   A pleasant way to spend 40 or so minutes, I have no idea what his name was and since Swiss Air had not arrived to check him in and I had my ticket sorted, I had no reason to hang around the desk talking further.  Perhaps serendipity will mean that he chances upon this blog, so if he does… Hello!  I was at the airport with you, send me a message.

Unlikely, but it is a small world, as was shown by the next person I sat next to, an Englishman presumably in his 60s.  Over the course of a 10 minute conversation with him I discovered that his father was in the same hospice as mine is, he went to school down the road from where my father grew up, his son studied at Newcastle University too and I might well know his son as he works where I used to and is in a band with people I know.

Exile


“I feel a shadow passing over me, it could stay for ever more
Like a wave I’m breaking far at sea, there’s no one to hear the roar

And the days are drifting into seasons, they’re the hardest I have known
A million spaces in the earth to fill but, no going home, there’s no going home

I can dream before the break of day that I’m back with you again
Then the morning blows it all away and leaves an echo of your name

Still a thousand miles lies between us where we’re waking up alone
And what if I could cross a hundred borders?
There’s no going home, there’s no going home.

When it thunders from the empty skies I shall be there
No one to hold you when the storm birds fly is there no one left to care?

I search the rumours with my hollow plans and all I want is what’s mine
Lost and lonely in a foreign land I’m left too far behind the lines
I want to tear down these walls between us but I can’t do it on my own

A million spaces in the earth to fill and there a generation waiting still
We’ve got year after year to kill but no going home
No going home, there’s no going home.”

At 1am on the 26th of August, flying somewhere over Egypt I couldn’t sleep. I’d said goodbye to my relatives, waited for hours through a storm to pass so that we could set off and my travel sickness pills had worn out. So I couldn’t sleep. I had watched the film – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel if you remember – and there was nothing else on BA’s system that I hadn’t seen or didn’t have on my hard drive, so I turned to my ipod.

I started singing along to the Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts version of Exile from Steve Knightley. Obviously I was singing along in my head, I’m not a complete arse. At that point I kept repeating ‘no going home’, partially because it’s catchy, also because I wasn’t going home. Not for at least two years, and though the lyrics can be read as depressing, I listened to them as full of hope and adventure.

Now, a month later, I’m re-packing my suitcase and heading back again. Dad’s not doing too well and if I leave it much longer, then I might be too late. So better to go now whilst I can talk to him and sort out some bits and pieces than get back justt in time for a funeral.

In the last few weeks since people found out I’ve had some really lovely messages, so thank you if you were one of those. Some close friends haven’t managed to say anything, but what is there to say? Whenever I’ve had friends with sick or dying close relatives, I’ve not known what to say, mainly things along the lines of ‘It’s all a bit shit really isn’t it’ and then going on normally with people. And now that I’m in that situation, I’ve not got much more to say. It’s been commented on that I’m taking it all pretty well, but what more can I do? I’m disconnected at the moment, so can’t be of practical use, I have a job to do and children to teach, I’m now running the junior choir, teaching year 7 and 8 singing lessons and have started a staff singing group. I’m helping out with the West Side Story rehearsals, not to mention planning lessons and marking books. Today we made art works inspired by Rwandan Poo Paintings. They are cool, look them up.

When I go home, I’ll be visiting sick relatives (more than just Dad now, but he is in the worst shape) copying choir music, buying small instruments and chorizo to bring back. I’ll try and update this a little more regularly if you would like to keep reading. In the mean time. get on youtube and listen to Kate and Kathryn sing this song. It’s beautiful.

Something’s Coming.


Something’s coming.

It’s my last Friday in my current job, we are having a paper aeroplane contest in honour of the Olympics and I have built a cracker.  Preliminary tests showed it to be a good flyer, with a slight tendency to curve to the left after about 12 feet.  Since the initial testing phase I have given it a decorative all blue Union Jack design, but I think this may have compromised the aerodynamics a little.

I’m feeling a little bit odd at the moment.  I had a health scare earlier in the year and yesterday went for my 6 month check up.  Although they said everything looked fine there were a couple areas they biopsied to be sure, since I’m going away.  I’m not too bothered about that to be honest, I’m sure it’s all fine but it’s just another thing to add to the list of current unknowns.  For example, I know I’m being booked 3 suitcases for my flight but I don’t know anything about the size of bags or total weight I’m allowed, whether one of those counts as hand luggage.  I know I need a visa to travel, but I don’t know how to get this yet.  I know that my ex boyfriend owes me a fair amount of money that would cover a lot of things, like my anti-malarial tablets, but I don’t know if he’s going to pay me any time soon.  I know that I need to finish packing, but I don’t know when I’m going to get the motivation to do that.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve got a day off tomorrow, Sunday morning and a whole day on Wednesday, but I do have a lot of stuff and I’m not sure that I want to keep it all.

The unknown that is going to be revealed soon enough is my surprise leaving party – yes I know you’re probably thinking that it’s not a surprise if I know it’s happening, but other than the fact that I’m getting collected at 7.15 this evening and delivered to the venue, I don’t know much else.  I’ve bought some fake nails to try out (mine are bitten down to an almost embarrassing length, a habit I’m yet to break even after that rank tasting nail varnish that’s meant to put you off – I started biting the skin around the nails instead and so thought the nails were the lesser of two evils at that point.)  Never had fake nails before or nails of a normal length so it might be a bit odd. Still, thought I should make an effort as people are making an effort for a party for me.  I know 6 people are going.  Hopefully we can push it to 10!

I think the oddest thing is that I’m starting to feel the same way I did this time 9 years ago – I’d been accepted on the Newcastle University Folk Degree roughly a month before and it had suddenly dawned on me that I was leaving the home I had lived in for 16 years and the area that I’d lived in all my life.  It wasn’t happening the way I’d planned, I was planning on working for another year, then travelling for a year before heading off to university, but then circumstances changed – I’ll leave that story for now in case I need to get £500 for my story from a weekly woman’s magazine – and suddenly I was heading north.

It wasn’t the thought of leaving my family all those years ago, but more the fear of being found to be a fraud.  I’d had a good group of close friends at school and had been friends with quite a few others in different groups, but somehow I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.  Also, I was joining a course for a type of music I loved, but didn’t really know a lot about.  What if I was laughed off the course? What if I didn’t make any friends?  I’ve got the same concerns now I suppose.  I’ve been out of the classroom for a while and although I know I’ll be good at the job, it’s big thing to start with a new class, in a new school, a week after I arrive in the country 4500miles (ish) from home? I’m sharing with someone new – my 17th flatmate in 9 years – what if we don’t get on?  What if the school decides after a term that they’ve made a horrendous mistake and send me home?

I know that these worries are probably unfounded but as I spend 6 more days in my adopted city I can’t help but ahve them playing on my mind.

Still, loads of entertaining things have happened in the last few weeks, won the pub quiz twice, been to Olympic football matches – Mexico vs. South Korea, Gabon vs. Switzerland – seen an amazing production of Julius Ceasar by the RSC, developed a crush on Tim Roth (don’t judge), been given a lock by a stranger so that I ‘don’t get the AIDS’, been to see the Dark Knight Rises, been to see my friend perfoming at a local gig – Kate Edwards, look her up, you’ll be impressed – watched lots of sports on the TV and soon I’ll be off to the ball.  Or something. And I bought a hat.

How did we get there from here.


This year has been somewhat of a trial.  I qualified as a teacher last June and although I applied for a few full time teaching positions I wasn’t keen to take one on immediately.  The PGCE has been one of the most difficult years of my life – as I’d been warned – but this hadn’t been helped by having a turbulent personal life.  I probably should have taken the hint when I was dumped on my first day at university, but after a few weeks we worked things out knowing that things weren’t going to last forever.  I’d found out that I’d been cheated on, I lived 250 miles away from my family, most of my university friends had moved away and I’d drifted out of touch with others because of three years of anti-social shift work.

I spent 9 months getting up at 6am, going to university or school, working solidly until 10pm, letting myself watch a couple of TV shows and then off to bed at midnight.  I worked nearly every weekend and holiday between September and June.  My boyfriend was by no means perfect but was someone who I could mostly rely on to keep me going.  By the time I came round to applying for jobs I was burnt out and unhappy at home.  I’m not saying any of this because I want to portray myself as a martyr, many others were in the same boat with difficult circumstances, but just to give a sense that it’s an exhausting thing to do.  Grey’s Anatomy and Community were my lifelines and may well continue to be.

Luckily, during that time I did have my part time job as a careers adviser that kept me in touch with other people, gave me an escape from the simmering tensions at home and gave me some spending money.  After a couple of unsuccessful interviews I decided to sign up for teaching agencies and stay with my current job until a teaching position came up.  When September came there was not a lot of supply so I opted to go full time again with the careers advice. 

By December I’d still not had any supply work and I’d come to the realisation that my relationship was pretty much over after nearly 3 years.  It was something that I’d known for a long time, but hadn’t been brave enough to voice, mainly because I didn’t think I could manage financially without his support and also because I’ve never been on my own before.  I’m 28, I’m the third of five children and in the last 9 years since starting my first degree I’ve lived with 16 people.  I’m not really used to my own company. 

Making the decision to end things was actually quite liberating.  Although we continued living together in a one bedroom flat for about 6 months, he’s been on a lot of night shifts so I’ve had more time to myself. Had I not spent the last couple of years mostly being miserable then I probably wouldn’t have developed the confidence to apply outside the UK.  I probably also wouldn’t have discovered that the lyrics to the Umbongo song fit pretty well to the tune of Rolling in the Deep (try it) or remembered that my Heather Small impression isn’t too bad.