My Imminent Death

Now don’t be alarmed, but I’ll probably be dead when you read this. By the time this baby goes to print, I will be up an Austrian mountain with no fricking clue what I’m doing. I don’t know how it slipped my mind for two months that I was going on a free press trip to sample the delights of Tyrolean snow fun, but it did, and now here I am, hullo me, sitting in a pile of puffy clothing borrowed from an athletic friend two sizes smaller than me, wondering if I’ll get assigned my own rescue dog. If I get my own dog, and it’s a big dog with brandy round its neck, I reckon I might just make it through this. Dogs are pretty dependable. Unless they see a rabbit. Are there rabbits in Austria? This is what I’m thinking right now, as I sit here wearing goggles indoors, practising my ‘I’m skiing’ face.

The only time I’ve ever skiied was in the midlands in the 90s. My Dad took us to one of those bristly dry slope affairs off the motorway and told us that living an active life was just as important as reading. I scoffed. What was this lunatic on about. Everyone knows your body is just a trash can for the multipack of Monster Munch you’ve just eaten. We only went once. Maybe Dad feared for our hymens on the ski lift, which was, even in its kinder moments, inappropriate.

Thanks to the dirty smears of time, my only residual memory of the skills needed to ski are thus: if in doubt put your hands over your eyes, clamp your legs together, and hope for the best. It’s pretty much how the British used to procreate before we were liberated by hurried creative sex with Yanks in exchange for black market items during the war. That’s my entire model for staying alive. It’s all I’ve got. A bad metaphor made from dubiously cobbled history. I’m screwed.

Here are some things I’d like to get off my chest before I die:

1) Sorry, little sister, for locking you in the cupboard under the stairs when we were kids. As you said recently, Harry Potter didn’t exist back then so it really wasn’t cool. Sorry.

2) Sorry Anonymous, for rubbing out your GCSE artwork without your knowledge and redoing it. Even if you did get a B.

3) Mum. Thank you for never letting me get the perm and straight fringe combo. I thought I would die if I didn’t get to scrunch mousse into corkscrew curls like they did in Just Seventeen. Turns out I’m going to die skiing. So there we go. Life is mysterious.

4) Cous cous. I’ve never really got it. What is it?

5) There’s other stuff I’m sure but I’m a bit distracted. These goggles are very tight.

What do I feel on the eve of my almost certain death, you ask? I feel nervous. But also excited. Because if you’re going to die, it might as well be on a free trip, right? I wonder if the minibar is complimentary. I wonder if I eat the expensive macadamia nuts whether they’ll charge it to my family. That would be poor form I think. “Dear The Haslers, Sorry for your loss. Miss Hasler enjoyed some macadamia nuts shortly before her spectacular demise, but as she ate only three we are just billing you for the proportional sum of £5.11. Kind regards, Austria.” I don’t even like macadamia nuts. I think I’ll have the Pringles instead. It’s what my family would want for me.

I wonder what the mountain air will smell like. I wonder what all that white will look like. I wonder what I’ll be thinking as I’m soaring like an eagle, into a tree. I wonder if as I’m dying in the snow I’ll lie back and think of England, or just “Damn, I missed the free lunch”.

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Shyness in the Fatherland

It’s my last morning in the Fatherland. Austria. Origin of Haslers, playground of lederhosen, yodelling spot of Julie Andrews, and birthplace of the world’s biggest villain, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not really. Hitler, obvs. My great great grandfather came from this great land, so I’ve been keeping half an eye peeled for Haslerian lookalikes that might be fifth cousins ten times removed or something. I quite fancied making chums with a Bavarian doppelgänger, but I reckon Austria is quite big and I probably missed her while I was eating melted cheese or something.

I’m just about to go down for my last breakfast. After this I am going to fast for a week. I’ve been pumped so full of Austrian hospitality I reckon I’ve mutated extra stomachs to deal with the digestion – like a cow, but with much smaller teats.

I’ve done lots of wonderful things on this trip. I’ve skied, tobogganed, been on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the mountains, witnessed perhaps the most alarming version of Sweet Caroline ever, and sung Eidelweiss quietly to myself in a cable-car. (I didn’t have the balls to do the full score of Sound of Music at full hill-swirling volume. I wasn’t sure if it would echo and shake the snow off the peaks. I don’t want to kill novice skiers; they’ve got enough on their plates). And I’ve talked a lot with some wonderful people.

I always get a bit sad when things come to an end. Especially when you’ve been hanging out with people you are likely never to see again. The randomness with which people come together – how fleeting that time together is – boggles my small brain and I say goodbye feeling that something has ended before it even properly began. I’ll get glassy-eyed every time I look at the cute espresso cup I ‘borrowed’ from the hotel restaurant and wonder what everyone’s up to and if they’re having a nice day. They will probably never think of me ever again. And that’s ok. Why would they? It’s not like I’ve been juggling for them or doing sleight-of-hand magic tricks at dinner or anything fun like that.

I felt excruciatingly shy coming away on this press trip with proper journalists. I felt like the new girl. I felt like I had nothing to say about anything and they would all think I was dumb. These guys have covered Hillsborough, murders, court cases, paedophile rings. I just bang on about my favourite sandwiches and stuff. News folk are impressive. I’m always in awe of how they manage it. I’d crumble at the first sniff of a scoop. I’d probably be demoted to tea girl within a week.

As the days have gone by though, I have seen that there’s never really any hierarchy except the one you allow to exist in your own head. There are no real experts on life here – just humans, with their different stories, their assembled vulnerabilities hiding behind their brave faces. We’ve shared quite a lot in our time together. I’ve learned about the things that worry them or make them sad, about their career highs and lows, about their families and upbringings, their thoughts on what’s going on in the world, and last night in a Euro-pop bar the editor of a big newspaper up north told me that he felt just as shy coming away on this trip as I did. It comforted me. I figured it’s nice when people don’t lose their shyness no matter how much impressive living they’ve done. It feels only respectful to remain a little unsure in this world, which is always a bit big and scary no matter how much we traverse it. It will always be bigger than us, and that is just how it should be.

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Paupers & Visionaries

I used to devour books of quotations as a teenager. They served as little tasters for the world; what would I be, what would I think and feel, love and do.

One of the quotes I’ve always remembered was “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That was the late great Maya Angelou. (*Blows a kiss to the heavens*) But I’m going to disagree with the formidable Ms Maya. And here is why.

I work in that sprawling seething mass of paupers and visionaries that is ‘The Arts’. I’m somewhere near the bottom with the urchins in fingerless gloves. I’m nearly always broke, sick with anxiety over money, and am petrified of the future. A friend and I joke that we will walk into the sea when we reach a pensionable age, but secretly I’m not so sure we’re joking.

The money I make from my column covers my bus fare into town to work at the bookshop. My hours at the bookshop covers my share of the bills. My salary is like a blanket over a walrus; it just about covers it. The rest of the time I run a theatre company from which I take no pay; everything we make goes into the kitty to make the next show happen. Every now and then I get a bit of freelance work, and I can rest easy for a bit. People say “you’re so busy, you’re doing so well!” They think it must equate to money, that I am remunerated for only allowing myself one night a week of not typing something. Not in my pocket I’m not.

That is not griping, it’s facts. I get my riches elsewhere. People’s response to my writing is like having a ballroom piled high with gold coins. My theatre company has patrons, whose support is a warm hand resting on my head. And we have mentors, in an arts organisation called Metal.

My partner and I had heard about them locally, weren’t sure what they did, but knew they did “interesting things”. They didn’t know us from Eve. But our paths crossed a few times though different things, we were inquisitive, they were friendly, and eventually we got to know them.

One day they sat us down and explained what our options were as an arts company, told us things it would have taken us five years to discover for ourselves. They pointed us to the arts council, read our applications, gave us feedback, came to see our shows, encouraged us, let us use their HQ for our events, vouched for us with other organisations. They escalated our progression in a staggering way. I feel no guilt; we’re good enough, but I sure as heck don’t want to let them down. We have been awarded Arts Council funding three times in as many years and if it weren’t for Metal I would still be thinking the Arts Council was a logo you saw come up at the end of edgy British films. Not something I could be a part of, surely.

There are very real, pragmatic things you can do to help people. Metal nurture, support, and inspire. They get stuck in. They worked our bar when our storytelling night was busy, and cleared up. They have cooked for us and listened to us ramble on.
The riches I get from the part they have played might not ever be money, this is the Arts after all, but I am living a life I love, that is far brighter for their help.
I’ll remember how people make me feel. I feel lucky. I feel charged; valued; determined.
But I’ll remember what they do too. And Metal have done a lot.

Waiting To Know

The question “when are you going to have a baby, Sadie?” is like coleslaw. I get it about twice a week. People who barely know me feel fine asking it irrespective of whether they know I can or want to. They come straight in with the “when?” It seems it’s open fodder for anyone who can see you’re carrying a vagina somewhere about your person. It’s more permissible than enquiring about people’s finances or true feelings on love. It’s almost clinical. But the ‘when’ is important. Because time is of the essence.

I’ve always fobbed off the questions, light and smiling, as though having a baby is like going on a hiking trip around Guatamala; possible, but not likely. I’ve been paddling at the luxurious deep end of biological grace; the right side of the right time.

I’m writing a play about the choice that women have to make, about two women – one who has always known that she does not want kids, and one who is quietly (and occasionally painfully) unsure. It’s been an interesting way of making myself think about it all.

I’m 34, and split down the middle. On one hand I am brazenly happy being child-free knowing I am beholden to no one but myself, may choose what I do with my time, and have no overt pangs driving me to stock up on ovulation tests. On the other, I love kids. My niece and nephew are sunshine, and lots of my mates’ kids are great human beings. I can’t imagine never having a son or daughter phoning me in snot and tears on their first night of university – but I also can’t imagine the bits before that. The near-present is harder to picture than the distant future.

Writing the play has made me a bit emotional. Last week at a dinner party, at the tail end of margaritas, paella, and wine, I scooched up to the end of the table to chat intimately with an amazing woman. The men had taken their leave and were singing sea shanties in another room and spilling wine on their trousers. Andrea and I talked about children, about her gorgeous boys Joe and Jack who had charmed me into swooning before they went to bed. We got quite deep – discussing the time you ‘just know’, what happens if you don’t know, about there never truly being a right time, about the leap you just have to make, and the faith you must have that you will love the little person you make more than anything else you’ve encountered in the world for it is biology to do so – and I ended up having a little cry, and through my crying I was half-laughing and apologising for being a total idiot. Then I went to the toilet, sorted my face out, and we carried on. Now, before you all write in to beg me to come to dinner because I am the jolliest gal ever, you should know I don’t often behave in this way. I rarely cry anymore. I haven’t got time, and am happy.

I was crying because I don’t know. It is one of the most important decisions you can ever make in your life, and I am turning 35 in June, and I am no closer to knowing than ten or twenty years ago. And I now have less time.

In your early twenties you can scoff at the question; time is a hefty bugger and it’s on your side. In your early thirties time is of average build somewhere in the same room. In your late thirties it’s just down the hall and might come when called (if it likes you). In your forties time could be anywhere and you have to keep shouting and hoping it comes. Eventually time is standing in the doorway, waving, time is the footsteps fading, time is the silence, the non-reply, the echo of your call. Time is no time at all. That is a woman’s reproductive biology. All very different, but still governed ultimately by an end that is like a mini unmarked death inside you.

I have no end to this. How do you decide the right thing before it’s too late to decide anymore?
Anyone? Answers on a postcard. And make it fairly quick. I’ll be waiting with a margarita at the end of the table.