In Memory of Before

I love writing; blathering away about my life, my thoughts, my views on the world and hoping that someone might want to read what I’ve got to say. However, sometimes I put off writing because it’s my own little indulgence, something naughty that I shouldn’t be doing, I should be working or washing up or working hard in the gym. I get the same feeling about writing as I do when I greedily eat the last biscuit from the packet, hoping that Brad’s not going to notice that there are only crumbs left. NB: This never happens, I’m just using it as an example of the sort of thing that a person might feel guilty about…

So, in 2018 my mission is to try to feel less guilt about writing and to encourage this, I once again signed up for the Yeah Write Super Challenge.

I’m very excited to report back that I have made it through the first stage of the competition and I’m through to the second round. This is quite a big deal, only 50% of entries progress to the second stage of the competition so I’m feeling suitably proud of myself.  My prompt was to write a personal essay, the subject: ‘Memorising something’ and in a wonderful touch of fate, this also links into one of my List 34 challenges.

Not only was I really pleased to progress to the next round, I was also chuffed with the feedback that I received. The essay is below. The feedback follows afterwards, and for the record, as much as I wouldn’t dream of disputing anything that the judges say, and I don’t want to sound like a diva but I don’t think there is a missing ‘oh’… see what you think:

In Memory of Before

I don’t know how it became our song but the moment I hear the “shake shake shake shake” of the maracas at the introduction, I’m filled with joy and I start channelling my inner Cleopatra; waving my arms around and bobbing my head from side to side.

Every party, every time we get together, the song is played. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a conversation, the middle of pouring a drink or the middle of having a wee, we stop what we are doing immediately, gather together on whatever makeshift dance floor is available (garden patio, church hall, bit of carpet… we don’t discriminate) and we walk like Egyptians.

We met when we all worked together, colleagues who became dear friends. It would be good to say that we were connected in a highbrow manner by shared intellectual interests, but really, we were just united by booze; the joy of getting drunk, partying and laughing together.

It would have been one of these well-oiled nights where dancing to ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ by The Bangles became our thing. I can’t remember the details; I was probably drunk at the time.

None of us really knew the lyrics, every time we heard the song, we were pissed. The maracas would start, we would squeal, get together and murmur random occasional lyrics under our breath whilst tapping our feet from side to side until the chorus. When the chorus kicked in we would burst loudly, enthusiastically and no doubt tunelessly into “Way oh, way oh, oh way-hey hey, way oh…. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN”.

Then something changed.

One of our squad died, very suddenly, at the age of 34; the silly song developed new meaning.

We did not give up the song because she would not have wanted that, but somehow not knowing the lyrics seemed oddly disrespectful. I decided to memorise the words of the song; my own small personal tribute.

Even though I consider myself to have a pretty good memory, I found this song remarkably difficult to remember. I know all 870 words to Don McLean’s epic, eight minute long ‘American Pie’, I remember my best friends telephone number from 1987 and I can recite ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann which had been pasted on the back of my Aunt’s bathroom door when I was a child. Yet, somehow the mere 260 lyrics to ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ was extremely challenging.

In order to memorise the song, I did exactly what I would have done as a teenager; listen to the bloody thing over and over again, singing along with the lyrics in front of me. Luckily technology has evolved since I was a teenager back in 1991 so I didn’t have the added stress of having to rewind a tape player to repeat the song or hand write the lyrics, hoping I’d deciphered them correctly. We’re now in the 21st Century; we have Spotify and Metrolyrics.com. All the hard work has been done. All I had to do was remember.

I played that damn song about 98 times; in the car, in the shower, through headphones whilst out running. Much to my husband’s annoyance, I would even play it before bed in the hope that the words would brand themselves into my brain as I slept.

I think Spotify was concerned that I had developed some sort of psychological disorder. It would send me little notes “We know you love The Bangles but please listen to one of the following alternatives before your family sue us for enabling your addiction” and “You don’t want ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ again. This must be a typo. Shall I play ‘Walk this way’ by Run DMC and then ‘Walking in Memphis’ instead? Fear not, loyal consumer, I am referencing the Marc Cohn original version of ‘Walking in Memphis’ and not the terrible Cher cover version. You see? Spotify cares for you.”

Eventually the lyrics stuck but they are never going to come easily to me. They don’t flow out of my mouth as effortlessly as Jack sitting on a candlestick while Satan laughs with delight on the day that the music died.

However, the words are finally fixed in my mind and now, in memory of before, I can sing about blonde waitresses spinning across the floor and cops in doughnut shops just as excitedly and passionately as we all used to sing together: “Way oh, way oh, oh way-hey hey, way oh…. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN”.

***

Feedback

What the judges really liked about In Memory of Before:

  • The line “somehow not knowing the lyrics seemed oddly disrespectful” is one of the ones that will stick with a reader. Details like writing down the words to a taped song, the way friends get together, and the new process of memorization all felt integrated into a realistic and relatable whole. Giving Spotify a persona lent a much-needed leavening touch to the middle of the essay.
  • The way you juxtaposed your friend’s death, with the humor of your memorization technique worked well to evoke emotions in the reader, and draw them into the narrative. Separating each of your memorization methods into separate paragraphs was a good way to detail both your determination, and the variety of approaches you took

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • There’s an “oh” missing in the chorus, which is frustrating every time one runs across it (ay oh way oh, way-hey-OH way oh).
  • This essay could have used another round of edits to pick up on minor errors like the sudden shifts in tense; “I did exactly what I would have done as a teenager; listen to the bloody thing over and over again, singing along with the lyrics in front of me”. Varying your phrasing a little, for example, rephrasing the second repetition of the song’s title helps to add interest to the narrative flow.

Colo[u]r me happy

Three years ago, List 34 was created. One year ago, I ticked “Participate in Colour Run” off the list but didn’t get a chance to write about it, I was just too damn busy with a minor life event. Fortunately, I enjoyed the run so much that I did it again yesterday so here’s the de-brief; a mere 8760 hours late…

The Color Run, with it’s dodgy American spelling, claims to be the “happiest 5k on the planet”. Until someone devises a run that incorporates cake eating, then I’m going to let the Color Run hold that title; it is an enjoyable and entertaining fun run. Everyone is smiling, there are participants of all ages and it has a great atmosphere. That said, on both occasions that I’ve run, it’s been a dry and relatively warm day. If it had been blowing a hoolie and chucking it down with rain I suspect that the experience would have been significantly less enjoyable and I may well have unexpectedly taken ill and been unable to participate.

At the beginning of the course is a hill. Last year, I was considerably fitter than I am this year. I had been running with a personal trainer on a regular basis and so I ran the whole 5k without hesitation. Last year, myself and a friend smugly whizzed past everyone who was walking up the hill, whilst yelling ‘eat my dust, suckers’*. This year, when two of my friends said that they would be walking the course, I didn’t argue and happily meandered up the hill whilst runners sped past me yelling ‘eat my dust, suckers’**.

*not actually out loud, just in my head

**not actually out loud, just in their heads

The colour stations are dotted throughout the course and involve volunteers, with slightly evil glints in their eyes, throwing coloured powder in your direction as you pass. However, I would recommend trying not to breathe too much as you run through the brightly coloured dust as it’s not the most fun breathing experience you’ll ever have. Inhaling the powder is a little unpleasant, but you might get an exciting bright purple bogie when you blow your nose later in the day, so it’s not all bad.

This year there was the addition of a foam station, a much more family friendly version of the 1990’s style nightclub foam party, without dance music or some creepy dude trying to surreptitiously touch you up through the foam. I should point out that at no point during my misspent youth did I actually go to a foam party.  I did once go to a custard pie throwing party which had similar principles but after a while everyone started to smell of sour milk and look a bit jaundiced so it didn’t catch on as a pastime.

The foam provides a lovely damp layer enabling the coloured powder to stick to you so I feel it was a positive addition to the course. You want to finish looking mucky and colourful otherwise just how happy can you possibly be?

Bring on Color Run 2018! (Weather conditions permitting).

Color Run – 2016:

Color Run – 2017

Round(ers) the bend

I woke up at 8am in a bit of a panic. “Psst. Brad! Is that rain I can hear?”

Brad murmured sleepily “It’ll be fine, go back to sleep.”

“BRADLEY! What happens if we have to play rounders in welly boots and macs?” Brad bundled the bed covers up around his ears in an attempt to block out the sound of my anxious weather analysis.

The rounders game was number 12 on list 34; ‘Arrange a big rounders game for a friend who keeps talking about it, but hasn’t got round to organising it’. And now the big day was here and it was bloody well raining.

Fortunately, the spell of rain was satisfyingly brief and insubstantial (not often I’d make that statement) and our game of rounders did not need to be hastily converted to a game of stuck in the mud instead.

We’d arranged to meet in a local park at lunchtime and for the first half hour, the sky continued to look rather mean and moody, but in true British summer style before long the clouds had moved and the sun put his hat back on.

We prepared for our rounders games in the most sensible and practical way possible; sitting around on blankets and stuffing ourselves full of food. A few cheeky little barbequed sausages followed by some of Krispy Kreme’s finest merchandise surely contain the relevant nutrients to enhance playing performance. The National Rounders Association would be proud.

The tasty barbeque aroma attracted a number of canine callers, one sassy little pup managing to get her chops around a number of sausages before running off proudly with her delicious ill-gotten gains.

Eventually, Rounders finally got underway. I divided the gang into two teams. Badly it would seem because my team somehow had two fewer players than the opposition. Counting is clearly not something I excel at. That said, my team did have a secret weapon, star fielder extraordinaire, but more about him later.

The rounders games were brilliant fun albeit not highly skilled and resulted in considerable more laughter than actual points scored. Tactics included picking small children up and running with them if they got in the way, using your head to stop the ball (I’m pretty certain this wasn’t a deliberate fielding strategy), missing out bases completely and obstructing the path of batters from the opposing team whilst they were attempting to run.

Many of us hadn’t played Rounders since our school days and it’s fair to say that at least 90% of us have not missed our rounder-playing vocation. Some of the more competitive players had brought studded football boots for grip. I had mocked this approach, particularly as one of the be-studded rascals was Brad. I sorely regretted my teasing when I skidded spectacularly onto my arse whilst fielding, allowing the opposition to get to fourth base “bet you wish you’d been wearing football boots now, don’t you darling?” shouted my smug beloved.

The highlight of the day and a very special mention has to go to Oscar, my friends Rob and Victoria’s springer spaniel, for literally being the best player on the field. The ball landed, Oscar got hold of it and turned into super dog, he ran like the wind. He couldn’t be challenged, he couldn’t be stopped and our team got a great big beautiful rounder out of it.

I haven’t enjoyed a day out as much in a very long time and I’m definitely going to try and make it an annual event; well, as long as Oscar’s on my team that is.

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The team that didn’t quite win

The team that did

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Oscar: Star player!

The last week of August

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I consider myself very fortunate to have lovely childhood memories, not least the summer holidays when my mum and sister and I spent time with my mum’s cousin, her husband and their two daughters. They lived in Somerset, we lived in Sussex and the last week of August usually involved them visiting us or vice versa. My mum is very close to her cousin and the four of us children adored the time that we all spent together.

We recently all met up again after almost ten years. It was wonderful, like we’d never been apart. We spent an evening together talking and reminiscing (if you’ve learnt nothing else about me from this blog, the fact that we’re a family of talkers should be apparent), laughing so hard that our cheeks hurt.

Us girls are pretty close in age, born between 1976 1986 and 1980 1990 and a lot of my most favourite childhood memories are of the four of us: roly polys, laughing policemen, waltzers, sunshine, dummies made of rock, beaches, paddling in the sea, fish and chips and gherkins called wallys, that incident at that wedding (you know who you are), dog walking, trampolining, sesame snaps and lots and lots of giggling.

However, our reminiscing did make me realise quite how different growing up in the world is nowadays.

It started when one of us remembered that we would spend hours creating our future dream home. This involved skills that I suspect children have become rather lacking in these days; cutting out and sticking down. We would trawl through the Argos catalogue picking out the furniture and accessories that we’d like to have in our houses when we grew up, then, after a bit of negotiation; “I like that settee”, “Yes, it’s okay but it won’t go with those cushions, we need something blue”, we’d cut pictures of our preferred household items and stick them down on pieces of paper ready for when we were home-owners.

I’m not sure what happened to the bits of paper, although knowing how sentimental our mothers are (for my mother: read ‘hoarder’) they’ve probably kept them somewhere in their lofts. Long after our parents are gone we’ll find them, yellowing with age, in a box along with a set of milk teeth, a tatty golliwog, a valentines card from 1967 and a Christmas ornament made of dried pasta, glitter and cotton wool.

We were much more economical in those days too. Firstly there was the car. We would fit four children and three adults into a mid sized family car: One adult driving and one adult navigating in the front. Eldest child in the back with youngest child on lap, third adult with one of the middle children sitting on their lap and remaining middle child on the hard, ‘not really a proper seat’, bit in the middle. No seatbelts, no booster seats or harnesses, no child locks on the doors. Mind you, if we had ever been in an accident I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we would have been alright. We were slotted together like a successful game of Tetris. We weren’t going anywhere.

If for any reason we were one adult down, the four girls would kneel next to each other on the back seat, leaning on the parcel shelf waving at other drivers out of the back window. As we got a bit older, we’d look for any handsome drivers to wave hello to or dare each other to blow a kiss to someone old or unattractive.

The cost saving theme continued at bath time too; Four girls, one bath. Gosh, I do hope that last statement doesn’t get picked up as a search term on Google or people are going to be very disappointed when they find it’s just me wittering on about summer holiday memories from the 1980’s.

Parents didn’t bother with babysitters in those days either, they just found a pub with a beer garden, bought four bottles of coke with straws and four assorted bags of Golden Wonder crisps and left the children outside. Every half an hour or so, one of the adults would pop outside to make sure none of us was bleeding and bob’s your uncle, cheap night out.

Our favourite place to eat was always a Little Chef, because they usually had a children’s play area and they gave you a lolly at the end of your meal. To pass the time on long car journeys, we’d all sing songs, “On Top Of Old Smokey” being quite prominent in our repertoire. Not the actual real lyrics but the version when Old Smokey turns out to be a pile of spaghetti and the song charts the journey of an unfortunate meatball who falls off the plate when someone sneezes or, my favourite, when the bald headed eagle is on top of Old Smokey not scratching his arse as you are first lead to believe but actually scratching his head. When our holidays ended, we would write letters to each other to stay in touch. Yes, actual physical letters with stamps and everything. It seems almost twee, another world compared to the high-tech, fast moving, instant access world that we live in nowadays.

We’re all grown up now with responsibilities, families, homes, jobs but put us together and 25 years vanish. It’s the school holidays, the sun is shining and I am laughing.

Wham, Bam, Thank You Am-Dram

Between the ages of 14 and 17, in the mid late 1990s, I belonged to an amateur dramatics theatre group. Not just any theatre group. This was a small and, if I’m completely honest, rather dysfunctional theatre group. The runt of the theatre group litter.

Other groups in the Brighton area were large, virtually professional groups filled with beautiful and talented individuals who would put on grand, west-end style productions at the Theatre Royal and the Dome. We were a funny looking bunch of very slightly talented individuals (if you half closed your eyes and kept one ear plug in at all times) who, during one unfortunate year of under-financing, performed a pantomime at the beginning of November at a Church Hall in Moulsecoomb.

The other theatre groups had singers who could harmonise. We had singers who could harm eardrums. They had dancers who could tap dance, jive and do the splits. We had dancers who could sway from side to side, not always at the same time and not always in the same direction.

We relied on artistic licence to dress our grandmothers up as teenage characters, our white actors up as black characters (yes, really!) and hoped that no one would notice the occasional performer with missing front teeth or a pierced face.

Rehearsals mainly consisted of 5% singing, 5% dancing, 5% acting, 20% forgetting lines, forgetting dance moves, forgetting stage directions and forgetting song lyrics, 15% drinking tea and eating biscuits, 30% gossiping and/or bitching and, in my case, 20% flirting.

Despite this, and no doubt, much to the relief of everyone who had to endure our performances, what we lacked in talent, we certainly made up for in enthusiasm. When a live band was added, some none too shabby costumes and a bit of theatre atmosphere, we usually managed not to have to issue any refunds in the interval.

It was nearly 20 years ago (March 1993 according to the theatre group scrapbook that I’ve just discovered which has prompted this entry), my memories are a little fuzzy now, although, not too fuzzy to remember that we really did have some performers lacking front teeth, with all the rhythm of a stick of celery and all the musical ability of a rabbit.

But, I also remember that it was tremendous fun, I made friends that I still see now, I gained confidence, courage and belief in myself and, most importantly, I was in the only best damn pantomime that Moulsecoomb Church Hall ever saw.

Some scrap book photos:

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