The Hoover and Bag Go Forth!

I’m writing this post in some haste.  Trudy and I are embarking on an adventure early tomorrow morning which is making me feel electric with excitement and apprehension.

In November last year when life was pretty bleak I responded impulsively to an e-mail which was offering a discount on a Murder Mystery Weekend in Dunoon. 

I realised today that I have been wanting to go to Scotland for thirty-five years, so this trek across the border feels momentous.  Trudy and I have been told to arrive at Gourock Railway Station by 4.30pm tomorrow.  The whole trip has such a thrilling, mystifying, alarming uncertainty about it that I am almost beside myself. 

The sense of adventure is gripping.  I have no idea what to expect – or even if we will get there.  This journey is truly putting Assisted Travel to the test!  My public transport experiences have been so varied that I am prepared for anything.

I do not know anyone in the holiday group so that too is fuelling my imagination.  Who will be there, and what on Earth am I doing?  Whether I’m experiencing some mid-life crisis or latent travel bug is immaterial now, for I am all packed and about to go to bed so that I won’t sleep past the alarm (set for 5.30am).

No time to think about the whys and wherefores.  The Hoover and Bag go forth!

My Bridget Jones Day

Yes, another Monday has almost ventured into the night .  The mop bucket stands askew in Clairetrude’s Corner, brimming with soapy water.

While the mop itself is being searched for, I shall tell my tale.  After a weekend divided between clutching my stomach and lying on the sofa (UTI strikes again!) I woke up this morning and realised that I was not actually going to die.  So I put away my “IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH” box, and took down all the arrows I’d stuck on the wall pointing to Trudy’s food supply.  Being embarrassed is not a good start to the week, so I busily spruced up the lounge to get rid of any lingering “sick room” atmosphere.  Lemongrass oil with a dash of peppermint quickly freshened it up.

The date in my diary did not bode well.  An afternoon appointment with the physiotherapist at my GP Surgery.  It did not help that I could not quite remember why this appointment had been booked.  It was made months ago, when I was experiencing general post-cancer malaise and struggling with my aching body.  I suppose I still ache, but who in the other-side-of-40 group doesn’t?

Fearing the scary receptionist who guards the Surgery, I did not dare to cancel this sought-after appointment.  That’s why just after 1.30pm I was sitting in the waiting room stroking Trudy.  I have an unfortunate habit of stroking Trudy’s head repeatedly when I’m nervous – it’s almost like someone tapping a table with the tip of a biro.  Trudy takes it like a stoical Labrador.  But at the point where I hear the tune of “The Antiques Roadshow” drumming out of my fingers, then I know I have to leave poor Trudy alone and clasp my hands together like a Victorian governess.

Here begins my Bridget Jones experience.  I was expecting the usual – being told to lie on a bed or couch while the physiotherapist prodded my back etc.  Oh if it were that simple!    I had to stand there – upright – dressed only in my vest and knickers.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  There I was, with no blanket or curtain to give me a sense of modesty, just rooted to the spot wondering “Why?”  Even the unsmiling Metal Mama who has featured previously in my Blog, had the sensitivity to screen me from the vastness of the examination room.  I cursed the cheese and onion pastie I’d eaten last Wednesday, and I cursed my brain for being conscious as I wondered which knickers I was actually wearing.  I just stood there and prayed they weren’t the green ones which I’d found in Trudy’s bed last week.   

Even imagining I was a Bridget Jones or Miranda Hart did not help.  I was me, alone with my intense cringing thoughts.  Aware of my bodily imperfections, mindful of my potholes and dimples and just wishing to God that I could get the hell out of that room!  There was no audience to laugh with me or at me, just me and a slightly bemused Trudy standing before a physiotherapist.  I could not see a funny side.  Trudy could, for she was wagging her tail delightedly, dancing round me like a little elf.  No sense of occasion that one.

It did cross my mind to assume a Bridget Jones stance or try Miranda’s ungainly mannerisms.  But I realised how unaccomplished I was.  I could not utilise my asymmetrical, unsightly self  for comedy – not while I was standing there in my vest and knickers.  I could not even muster the right sounds to speak, let alone laugh.  If I was confident I would have refused to obey the orders of the physiotherapist.  Somehow it made it worse that she too was a woman, for she ought to have managed a glimmer of sensitivity.

But here I am sitting cradling my laptop.  The ordeal is over – until my next appointment (if I decide to attend).  Despite the raw embarrassment which makes me groan as I write, I am almost able to  laugh at the  experience (through somewhat gritted teeth).  I never expected to reinvent the baneful PE lessons of my youth (remember the navy blue knickers and gym shirts?) in a physiotherapist’s room in 2012!

Once again I find myself marvelling at Trudy and her total lack of inhibitions.  That really is true freedom, having no sense of bodily shame or embarrassment.  (Just to reassure those who know Trudy’s habits, I’m not about to lie sprawled out on the floor with my legs akimbo – that’s a Labrador’s prerogative!).

The mop has now been located, the bucket has been fetched, and Clairetrude’s Corner is closed for the night while cleaning is in progress.

 

Monday Melancholy Is On The Dole

 Monday – it always brings a flavour of melancholy as it peeps through the bedroom curtains.  Today’s Monday emptied an entire dessert spoon of gloom into my morning coffee.

I had to get up earlier than usual – never a great start to the day.  Trudy got up too, wondering if breakfast was going to be extra early.  After some tense anticipation she grumbled and slumped into her day-bed in the lounge.  How I envied her, lying curled up in all that fur just waiting for breakfast to be served.   

An engineer from the Housing Association was supposed to be coming to fix my shower which is slowly detaching itself from the bathroom wall.  So while it was still dark outside and the birds were feebly trying out their vocal chords, I was polishing taps and shower fixings, and almost got to the point of cleaning the floor.  But procrastination filed away that noble idea before it had time to flourish. 

I was told the engineer would arrive  “AM”.  According to the Tenancy Handbook, that can be any time between 7am and 1pm.  So I waited.  And waited.  And waited even more until AM turned to PM.  No engineer!   When I phoned to ask what was afoot, I was given no explanation, just an apology and a re-scheduled appointment for tomorrow morning.  The waste of an entire morning and the likelihood of a repeat performance tomorrow fuelled my Monday melancholy into despair. 

But today is one of those cold days with an icy sun baring its bald head in the sky.  So I decided to take Trudy to the park to give her a free run and to give me a blast of cold January air.  Even before I had reached the metal gate at the park entrance my spirits had risen in line with the sun.  The sharp breeze was flushing out my lungs and giving them new life.  I gulped like a goldfish to take in as much air as possible. 

Standing still in the open field which spans the bottom of the park, I felt invigorated.   Monday melancholy was insignificant here.  She began to lose her power and before long I could no longer sense her shadow.  Trudy was tucking into an earthy molehill, her back-end was vertical and her collar-bells were clinking rather than ringing.  When I whistled her she was reluctant to come, but eventually the prospect of a titbit was more alluring than a mound of earth and she bounced towards me with her ears flapping.

Within seconds she was off again, investigating some new scents which she had not noticed before.  If only I could learn from my Labrador and live for the moment.  No anxieties about the long-term future, no regrets about the past, just the here and now.  Something about Aylestone Park in Hereford always brings me back to the here and now.  There’s a magic in this park that stills Time, calms the spirit and frees the soul.

Minutes later Trudy came brushing by in the hope of another titbit.  I ruffled her fur, it was damp and smelt of winter grass.  Her wagging tail thumped against my legs and I counted the beats – one, two, three, four.  It was like a slow drum-roll at the start of a dance.  While we stood there together the ice on the sun began to thaw and I felt a warm glow drizzling over my shoulders.  I realised that I was truly happy.

When Trudy and I ventured home we were both transformed.  Trudy was tired and slow, and could only manage a very slight wag with the tip of her tail.  I was at peace and ready to start my Monday afresh, even though it was half past two in the afternoon.

As I write this, Monday has ebbed into the early hours of Tuesday.  Trudy is stretched out on her bed lost in Labrador dreams.  Before I start to slide into my own dream-world,  I thank God that I am alive.   

Thriving on Stage Fright

Stage fright is a sickening, draining, sudden rush of terror that causes our hearts to hyper-beat.  Stage fright steals our composure and threatens to steal our credibility.  Stage fright makes us feel as if we’re about to die, right there on that cursed stage.  Stage fright causes us to shake and sweat, to stumble and stutter.  Stage fright attacks the strongest man as well as the weakest child.

The feelings associated with stage fright are unpleasant, but that does not mean we have to fight them.  Neither does it mean that we need to avoid them at all costs.  I recently heard an established Comedian recount in a radio interview that he has died on stage a number of times.  That gave me heart, for I realised that dying on stage is commonplace yet it does not signify the end.  Death on stage is nothing more than a temporary phenomenon.  It only becomes permanent if we never stand on stage again.

As a volunteer Speaker for Guide dogs I have experienced dying on stage.  I have been so terrified that my whole body quivers, the sweat pours off me and I cannot control my shaking voice.  Yet even on these occasions the talks were not disastrous.  I have been incredibly moved by the spontaneous generosity of some of the audiences who have witnessed my raw fear.  So it is fair to say that success cannot always be accurately measured by our own perceptions and feelings.  I might consider a talk to be a disaster because I experienced terror, but the outcome of the talk may be extremely positive.  .

Giving a presentation or lecture is very similar to doing stand-up comedy. Both Comedians and Speakers seek to get the audience on their side and then keep them interested and entertained.  An audience is like a blank sheet of paper, and it is up to us whether we leave it untouched or bring it to life.

Experiencing stage fright  may well lead people to think they can never stand up in front of an audience again.  But avoiding the unpleasantness of stage fright is no solution.  Equally if we become confident in Public Speaking it does not necessarily mean that stage fright will never return.  Accepting that stage fright is normal, temporary and indiscriminate might help to restore  self-belief.  Experiencing it does not signify failure or incompetence, but succumbing to it by running away from it allows the beast to continue its reign of terror.

Stage fright is powerful and emotional, but that visible emotion could possibly captivate an audience.  My shaking voice which I know to be a symptom of my terror, has been described as passionate and emotional by people listening, and at times it has moved them to tears.  Is it possible then that stage fright can  help us to stir the hearts of an audience, or to reach people in a way that we had not anticipated?

This week I gave two talks to two very different audiences.  Both times I experienced the familiar symptoms of terror beforehand, but even though I could hear my voice quivering, stage fright did not dominate either talk.  The adrenalin buzz which raced through me afterwards completely annihilated my memories of previous  stage deaths.  I know that stage fright may decide to suffocate me in future, but for the moment I am enjoying my exhilaration. 

To thrive on stage fright we need to face the monster head-on, allow it to roar and even knock us to the ground, but walk away afterwards knowing that it has not beaten us.

Odd Talk – Beano’s Mummy

“Would mummy like a cup of tea?”

That was the question old Mrs Baxter asked Beano.  Beano was a great lolloping Retriever with a huge brush of a tail.

Beano’s mummy, AKA Harriet, sat a little awkwardly on the sofa playing with a ballpoint pen.

“Would mummy like a cup of tea Beano Weano?”

The question came again, this time with greater emphasis on the word “tea” which was drawn out into a trailing “eeeee”.

Beano’s mummy cleared her throat and said in a small voice that was not her own. “Yes, I think she would please Mrs Baxter.”

Mrs Baxter cooed and rolled up Beano’s ears into unnatural tubular shapes.

“Ah – would she?  And would mummy like sugar?”

There was a pause.  Not entirely silent due to the slopping noise which Beano’s tongue was making as it licked Mrs Baxter’s hand.

Mrs Baxter opened her mouth to ask Beano the sugar question again, but Beano’s mummy dived in with a slightly-too-loud “No thank you mummy – er, Mrs Baxter.”

“Ah”, sighed Mrs Baxter.

Beano’s mummy ferociously fidgeted with the ballpoint pen and tensed as the lid snapped off and flew across the room.

“What’s mummy up to?” Mrs Baxter asked Beano with exaggerated impatience.  “What’s your silly old mummy up to eh?”

“Sorry,” mumbled Beano’s mummy, reddening.

Beano gave his mummy a look of disgust, and she tried to signal to him that it was time to go.

An hour later none of them had moved.  Mrs Baxter held command from inside the walls of her upright chair.  Beano was lying nonchalantly on the floor.  Beano’s mummy was pinned to the sofa in an apparent catatonic state.

Suddenly Mrs Baxter’s ice-cracking voice boomed,   “Beano, does mummy need to use the bathroom?”

Even the air jumped out of its skin.  Beano’s mummy spluttered out the remains of her cold tea.  She stood up and pulled her skirt into shape.  She was flustered.

“Beano my dear”, she said hurriedly.  “Shall we let Mrs Baxter watch Strictly?   It started five minutes ago!”

“Say bye bye to Auntie Miriam Beano,” said Mrs Baxter kissing the Retriever repeatedly on his snout.  He turned away and fixed his eyes on the empty fruit bowl.

Beano’s mummy was at the front door.  She felt old Mrs Baxter behind her and half-turned with a broad smile at the ready.

“Come again soon love”, whispered Mrs Baxter.  “We always put the world to right don’t we.  I do so love our chats.”

“So do we, “ replied Beano’s mummy, tugging at the Retriever’s ear.