Adventures for Girls

The gentle dawn rain pattered as I lay in the rising light of the new day. Birds scattered their songs like ribbons between the brittle creaks of the trees, which were stretching, shaking off the night. The dew-dropped grass stooped like great boughs over nesting insects, who stirred upturned in their earth-lint beds, scratching their soft soil ceiling with their feet. Early morning life.

And I was dying.

I think what made me realise that I was dying was the fact I couldn’t breathe anymore. That’s usually a dead giveaway; not breathing anymore. I attempted some desperate sucking as my faculties slowed to comatose nothingness. Nope. Nothing.

I’d cloistered myself in the two-man tent overnight with a psychotically taut zip for fear of being eaten alive by mosquitos, but turns out that cider turns a girl to unwanted tang and they weren’t after my blood after all. Suffocation was to be my end. Hayfever + Storm Humidity + Actively Shutting Out All Oxygen = Death.

I sensed I had about twenty seconds left to do something about this. Twenty seconds to live, give or take. I chose Life.

I unzipped the gnat-defying fortress and flung the tent ‘door’ open with a dramatic flourish. “ARGH. I’M DYING. I’M ACTUALLY DYING.” I exclaimed to the dewdrops and the twigs. That was my contribution to the morning’s soundscape. Loud, self-involved, tedious drama. Nature tutted at me.

I dragged myself by my elbows out of the tent, tumescent with the moisture of the storm, and sucked in air like a rich Rockefeller drags at a rare cigar. My lungs filled. Air took pity. I lived.

In addition to saving my own life, I also heroically saved the life of my companion, my life wench Sarah. She too had been afraid of death by suffocation but had been too polite to wake me. We had both been lying there tight and still as sardines in faux sleep, dragging at the last remaining oxygen and timing our noisy inhalations to coincide with the others’, so as not to be ‘the annoying one’. That’s what love is. Killing yourself for someone else.

We might both of us have died there in that little pod of carbon dioxide in a Suffolk field if I hadn’t acted. It was my gallant action that saved us. My valiant rape of the morning’s tranquility. “ARGH, I’M ACTUALLY DYING.” (Splutter, cough, such heroic spittlings as went on in trenches and ‘Nam.) I hadn’t known I would be a hero that weekend, camping at Latitude Festival, I thought I was just going to get pissed and swear at some strangers, but I’m really glad that I got to save someone I liked and not some stranger choking on a bus or something. You can’t always choose who you save. Sometimes humanity is a gruelling moral test. I know at least three people I wouldn’t try and find air for if they were slowly deflating. I’d just watch and make vague noises of regret. “Ooh. I don’t know where all the air’s gone. Sorry.” (Actually – maybe four.)

Sarah is not one of them. She’s my life wench.

They say the true test of friendship is if you can assemble a tent, sleep in said tent, and then dismantle the same tent without (deliberately) killing each other. Our friendship has found itself in many situations, and to my knowledge we have never got sick of each other (if my column disappears next week, she may have killed me – how gloriously unexpected). We will be the kind of old ladies who sit on benches not needing to say anything much but with an unending technicolour inner movie of all the stuff we’ve done together beaming and clattering on great spools of memories inside. It’s like marriage, but better. We don’t have to live in the same house.

Life with the right gal can feel like one big adventure. Building tents and businesses and making silly plays and going on trips and camping and breathing and living and saving each other and laughing and being too polite to ruin the others’ sleep and finding your way to wherever, and eventually…Adventure’s end.

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Some Really Serious Shit About Art & Burgers

We meet for coffee first. Because you’re not serious about anything in this life if you don’t have coffee first. I pretend I’m going to have it black because it feels double serious, but at the end I sneak some skimmed milk in. But the way I stir it, hard and unforgiving, shows anyone in the queue who was doubting how serious I am that I am really serious; I just like it with milk.

We carry those corrugated cardboard cups to rehearsals above our favourite pub The Alex, like we mean business. We do. We do mean business. The business of Art. But first we have some essentials to get out of the way.

“Teddy Pip? What was the name of that stuff that makes your spots disappear like magic and gives you the look of someone who’s just had a light chemical peel?”
“I’ll send you the link, babe. It will literally change your life.”
“Thanks. I think it’s the nerves making me break out like a teenager. I don’t think it’s all the chocolate and wine this time. I definitely think it’s just because things are so mental?”
“Babe. I’ll send you the link.”

(Teddy Pip knows how serious skin is. It keeps all the organs and juicy bits in. He knows this, and much much more. Like how to save coral in Belize. Almost no one knows how to do that. Do you know how to do that? No. Teddy Pip does.)

We get up and crack on with the rehearsal. Because we are incredibly serious artists who are aware that we are taking two plays up to the world’s biggest and most important arts festival which could, if it goes well, go some way in shaping our professional futures. We don’t so much as ‘go into the zone’ as ‘take over the zone before vacating the zone because it’s not good enough as a zone before MAKING A WHOLE NEW ZONE THAT DUMPS ALL OVER OTHER PREVIOUS ZONES’.

At some point during our busy important zone work an obscene stack of food is carried past, steaming with an opulent greasy tang. Part of me bristles at the injustice of the interruption just as we are cracking the innermost truth of perhaps the most emotionally charged scene of the entire play. Then I remember the chef is one of my best friends, and I’m not Alan Bennett at the National.

“Hey, Drew. What the frick is that?”
“It’s the Man Vs Food Monster Burger. It’s essentially five cows and a shedload of chickens all in one bap with a bit of lettuce. Oh, and some pig. And onion rings. Aren’t people disgusting?”

Naturally we all stare at it like it’s an abomination of nature, very convincingly because we’re actors and that’s what we do – we stare at things convincingly – but as a conglomeration of people who have between us given up meat, wheat, and eating in general, we’re secretly salivating.

We carry on with our very important work. We manage to have a laugh in between being serious because by Christ we’re supremely human too. Then we finish with a run of both plays. We are relieved to find that we know most of our lines AND where we should be standing when we say them. We exhale weightily, like actors. We show the sort of relief that would make bomb disposal experts look a bit lacklustre in comparison when they manage to save the day and are hoping for a pat on the back or a bonus or something. (Their bonus is not getting exploded. Ours is making middle-aged women cry when we get to a sad bit then being congratulated by them, still weeping, in the bar afterwards. Sort of on a par with bomb-disposal, importance and bonus-wise, really.)

We leave rehearsal feeling at long last ready to do our plays, blow goodbye kisses to our friends Paul and Drew who each week watch us earnestly discussing our characters and rehearsing our plays, who see scenes out of context and never so much as raise their eyebrows at our weirdness, who don’t abuse the CCTV footage of us limbering up, even though Teddy Pip’s buns would probably cause a Youtube sensation. Who let us come and go like we belong, making our strange noises in their place of work, and on occasion getting in their way. Who will still be here for us with beer and obscenely massive burgers and nice non-judgemental smiles if the plays float, fly, or sink up in Edinburgh. It’s a nice feeling. It’s a real feeling, beneath all the pretend stuff of ‘Art’.
Even beneath all the real stuff of it, too.

Sadie’s plays The Bastard Children of Remington Steele & The Secret Wives of Andy Williams are being previewed in a double bill by Old Trunk Theatre Company at The Alex pub, Southend, on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th July. 7:30. Tickets £8.

Teddy Pip features heavily in both. You’re welcome.
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The Mona Lisa Sleep

Bed. 2:38am – For absolutely no deducible reason I find myself awake. A mere two and a bit hours after drifting off, and I am conscious. Wide-eyed, brain-racing. I’m not ready for this. I know it will come to no good. I’ll just have a wee and drink a bit of milk from the carton like Mum told me never to do and then go back to sleep. Lovely, squishy, blissy sleep.

Bed. 2:51am – Came back from the wee and milk trip quite some time ago. Something seems to have gone amiss with The Plan.

Bed. 3:02amSeriously?

Bed. 3:34am – Actually. I don’t mind being awake. I really don’t. There is so much I can be getting on with. Admin. Life decisions. Re-piecing 2004. (What was it?) I have at least six garments that need stitching because of doorways getting in my way. I could do those. This partial insomnia is going to turn me into Wonder Woman. I will have solved most of the world’s problems by the time I get up and put my pants on. Who knows how awesome things are going to get once I have actually put them on. STRAP THE FUCK IN, WORLD!

Bed. 3:42am – Huh. Apparently, according to strangefacts.com, it is illegal to drink beer out of a bucket while you’re sitting on a kerb in St. Louis. It is also illegal to pawn your dentures in Las Vegas, AND the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows. I think tonight is going to turn out to be more useful to me than university. I can’t believe I have wasted so much of my life sleeping.

Bed. 3:46am – My eyeballs ache. This must be what the Mona Lisa feels like. She’s hasn’t shut her eyes for about five hundred years. No wonder she’s so aesthetically enigmatic. Her eyeballs are devoid of any trace of moisture and her inner monologue is shot to shit. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s completely dead inside, and not just because she’s oil on wood.

Bed. 3:49am – Might have some more milk. And put some coco pops in it. No one will know. I AM THE ONLY ONE ALIVE.

Bed. 3:58am – What the fuck are the foxes doing? It’s making me feel dirty. But – if I think about it, which I am temporally disposed to do – not entirely unaroused. I’ve got half a mind to go out there and…oh dear. My feet are stuck down the gap at the end of the bed.

Bed. 3:59am – My feet are free. It’s like bloody Twelve Years A Slave, with less crying. That could have been quite awkward come the morning. Last time I went out with a bed around my ankles people thought I was an art installation. Perhaps if I’d done it for long enough I would have won an award or something, and would now be slumbering like an arty winner, instead of BEING AWAKE LIKE A TOTAL LOSER.

Bed. 4:14am – Why did I look at the clock. If I look at the clock and see 4s, I think of the medium who said that’s the time dead people are letting me know they are here. Who would do that to a person? It’s not nice to make people feel as thought a seance is going to whip up around them if they so much as stir to scratch in the middle of the night. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER AND HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS IN THE MORTAL REALM, I WAS JUST SCRATCHING MY ARSE. I might write to that medium and tell him he should be more mindful of potentially ruining people’s mental witching hour well-being for life. In fact I might do it now. And catch up on some other correspondence. I’VE GOT THE BLOODY TIME.

Bed. 4:39am – I have sent three business emails (well, one business, two non-essential), and no one has got back to me yet. People are so lax. I shall go onto Twitter to kill some time while they formulate their responses to me. Trouble with Twitter at this time in the morning is it’s like being stuck in a lift with Cher and William Shatner. Which sounds great when you initially think of it, but then when you really think of it, you’ll realise it isn’t.

Bed. 4:44am – As far as I am aware there are no dead people in the room.

Bed. 5:23am – I totally and utterly hate birds. They are sarcastic, passive-aggressive, spiteful, and if I’m honest, not even that great at singing. IT ALL SOUNDS THE SAME, YOU DICKS. GET ANOTHER TUNE. YOU’RE WORSE THAN BRITNEY SPEARS. BECAUSE ACTUALLY BRITNEY IS STILL PRETTY COOL EVEN THOUGH NO ONE WANTS TO ADMIT IT.

Bed. 5:42am – I am consoling myself with the thought of commuters on the early trains looking more miserable than I feel. In suits and painful pointy shoes.

Bed. 6:00am – I MIGHT GO FOR A JOG!

Bed. 6:01am – HA HA HA HAAAA. I am hilarious at 6am. Why is no one here to see it.

Bed. 7:00am – Boyfriend’s alarm goes off. That’s it. The day has officially begun. He just got up and did some fake Rocky punching and told me to have ‘the eye of the tiger’ today. “Go gettum, champ.” CAN’T HE SEE I DON’T EVEN HAVE EYES ANYMORE? I just have the desiccated husk-holes where my eyes used to be. I am like a skull in a cave in an Indiana Jones film, except Harrison Ford has never stuck his fingers in my holes.

Bed. 7:07am – Only just noticed the birds and the foxes fucked off. Fickle wankers. If they’re asleep I’m going to infiltrate their dens and climb into their nests and make sex noises and sing really badly and…and…something. And something.

Bed. 7:21am – I NEED TO KNOW THAT LIFE WILL GET BETTER, THAT THIS ISN’T IT, THAT SLEEP WILL COME AND DRAPE ITS BENEVOLENCE OVER ME ONCE MORE, THAT THIS SUFFERING WILL FADE AND DIM TO THE QUIET NOTHINGNESS OF AN UNREMEMBERED DREAM, THAT… Shit. My foot’s stuck again. Luckily, I’ve got a technique for this now.

By The Kettle, Kitchen. 7:32am – Tea. Tea will fix me. Right? I’ll drink it. Right after…this little…snooze…. Ouch. I forgot I boiled the kettle. I might pick my face up off of it…in a bit.

Absolutely nothing going on inside.

Absolutely nothing going on inside.

Vulgar Things

This week’s column was about an interview I did with Lee Rourke – cult author of the very recently released Vulgar Things, published by Fourth Estate. Lee won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ for his novel The Canal, which is currently being worked into a screenplay by Lee and courted by proper film dudes. He’s also a total love. Buy his book. It’s brilliant.   BUY IT!

When I knew I was going to interview an author I found myself wondering if there was some kind of app I could download that would magically augment my brain with lots of clever words and literary theories I had never wanted to learn til now. I thought about skip-reading Ulysses just in case he made some Joycean reference, as writers tend to do, but then realised skip-reading Ulysses is probably like trying to roly-poly across the Atlantic. Plus I had watched my copy of it be chewed by the dog years ago when he was in training (to not chew; I let him have some down time, to exorcise the ‘wolf’, with poor James Joyce).

Lee Rourke is an author, a ‘proper’ one with Guardian quotes and stuff, he lectures in writing and critical theory, and lives in Southend. What’s more, he lives here by choice, having performed that lesser-seen migration from London. What’s more, he wrote his latest book about Southend. And Canvey.

I began reading his book Vulgar Things with a dual interest; wanting to read a book featuring my ‘hood that is going out into a wider literary arena (perhaps I felt protective of it), and because I was going to write about it for this paper.

In our pre interview chat, we talked a lot about writing, and what it is, and what it should or shouldn’t be, and what it feels like, and what we’d do without it (not much). And he only mentioned James Joyce once, so I was ok. But we didn’t talk about what the book was ‘about’.

A few days later, a few pages into my lovely worn trade copy of Vulgar Things, he had me. Lee Rourke had me, the little tinker.

Not only was it set in my home town – which, though you’d think it would be less enthralling for its familiarity, was even more compelling – but it also had a few gut-piercing themes that stirred things in me. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a sucker for suicide. Craft some good words about the vagaries of self-deathing and I’m all yours. But you have to get it right, and do it good, do it justice, or all the pain I carry about will want to take you down.

Lee Rourke got it right. He did it dead good. He gets to stay. Not just in town, but alive.

Once I’d read Vulgar Things, we met on Canvey to talk about it. I thought it would be nice to do it where the book was set. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was nervous. I’d never interviewed anyone out loud before. Not since I sat Ken and Barbie down in two shoeboxes and asked them why they weren’t getting along, and that was years ago. All my other interviews have been in writing, because I witter and sound like a moron. Hopefully I just need practice.

I felt unworthy to be doing it. Because what do I know about books, I’ve not finished one and had it published. I’ve got an unwieldy document I prod at from time to time ‘when I have time’. I felt silly. (We’ve all got our things, haven’t we?)

But because he’s a lovely chap, I soon felt comfortable. I felt like I could talk about those things, with him. I began wittering a bit less.

Then, days later, I was in my bookshop putting his book on the shelf, knowing that somewhere out there our interview was being read by people. And I thought life was weird but nice. And I realised that I do know something about books. I know what anyone who reads knows about books. I know I love them, and that is enough.
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