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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Coz Scunthorpe's Where It's At

My family and I have spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in Scunthorpe town centre at the "Big Sky Festival". It's a celebration of the arts and creative talent in North Lincolnshire and included graffiti artists, singers, dancers, silk printers, musicians, and jewellery makers. It took place at the Baths Hall which was said to be John Peel's favourite venue. These days the recently rebuilt theatre attracts the likes of Psychic Sally, Paul Daniels and Jimmy Carr (yawn) at £25 a ticket. Nice therefore to have local talent for local people and all for free. There was even no charge for this face painting which Connie thought was the best she'd ever had done.
Pete and I did a little poetry cabaret performance in the foyer which, I have to confess, wasn't our finest hour. Spoken word hasn't quite arrived in Scunthorpe yet. It's not like we confused the audience, well, what audience there was. It was actually a little amusing that the majority were suddenly absorbed in their mobile phones, the remainder appearing half dead or bored senseless. Still, onwards we plough! A few showed up for my poetry workshop afterwards which was both a surprise and a delight.

I recorded a poem last year on the main stage at the Baths Hall, the staff there were incredibly accommodating. It's called "My Microphone, My Rules" and goes a little something... this

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Adjective: No longer needed or useful; superfluous
Synonyms: unnecessary - needless - excessive - spare

This is what redundancy looks like.  It's black and white isn't it? You're either in or you're out, useful or a spare part, needed or superfluous to requirements.
Pete says it feels scary and unstable. But he also says it's a relief. A relief perhaps to be free of a job that had a serious impact on his mental health. Four months on he's only just starting to feel more like himself again. But now he must deal with the insecurity of not knowing what to do next, the fear that what happened before will be repeated; the crisis of identity - "how can I be of value and what can I do?" he wonders. There's also the panic of the economic reality and a serious lack of employment opportunity, particularly around here. For now Pete clings to our pet dog, Margot.
I'm with Pete on this because I know a bit about what it's like. I took redundancy last year from my journalism job in Hull. They bought me a mug when I left which was handy because when you're redundant you drink lots of tea. It was my choice to go but it was still a leap of faith into the unknown. There was no master plan I just knew I had to make the move because the job made me feel empty inside and it was also affecting my mental health. My psychotherapist described me as a square peg in a round hole. Therapy got me to a place where I could face up to me and find the strength to let go of the "false self"; the me that, up until then, had always just gone through the motions. I'd always wanted to work with vulnerable children and I'm really lucky that I do that now. If I'm frank though, it's a big pay cut and whilst it's never about the money, we have two children to support. It scares me sometimes.
Pete always jokes that he has those kind of hands that look like they've never done an honest day's work in their life. They're big and soft and they spend hours playing the piano these days. Sometimes when the children are at school we make up things together; I write the words and he composes the music. Then we perform it in our back room. It's the first time in sixteen years of marriage that we've collaborated creatively. All that passion, all that drive, all that time and it's only now we are in sync. If we hadn't become "unnecessary" or "needless" we might never have found this way of communicating that strikes at the heart of who we are. We might never have given ourselves the time and space to explore. Creativity requires a step into the unknown.

Now we are rehearsing for our first studio session. Pete's even taught me a couple of chords because he's always reckoned I'd look good with a guitar. I'm not so sure but I certainly love the theatre of it; and we've agreed he'll play it for the actual recording session! We'll be putting five or six of our musical poems down "on tape" with a view to handing out CD's when, and if, we get gigs. Performing makes us feel alive. It motivates us to know that things can feel right, life can make sense and everyone has their place in the world.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Gaffer me up Gaffer!

Happy Friday to you! Are you watching the tennis? I'm getting a little excited that Andy Murray might do it this year. The way he fought back from that handsome Frenchman was simply "amazing". And then yesterday that charming German player Lisicki, unrelenting in her lengthy ball battle against that glorious Pole who was strapped up to her armpits in gaffer tape. There's a lot of body tape; particularly around the thighs, going on at Wimbledon this year isn't there? There's a club in Scunthorpe where dancers rock a similar fashion - without the tennis skirts - but it's usually only on Friday nights after 12pm.

My son and I have spent the past couple of evenings in the park "playing tennis". I use "quotation marks" because it's more a case of whacking a ball around a slab of concrete then anything resembling a professional sport. We're not spoilt for choice when it comes to tennis courts up our end and my son doesn't play tennis at all at school. I'm a bit sad about that because it's a sport I've always loved and played a lot as a child. As I grew up there was always talk that, in order to rear tennis champions of the future, more needed to be done to support the game in schools and local communities. What's it like where you are? Of course "we" (Scotland) has managed to rear an absolute dime in the form of Andy Murray but then the secret of his success was that he buggered off abroad as soon as he could in order to get some decent tennis training.

Anyway, good luck to Andy for today, I'll be watching and I look forward to the various facial expressions of his girlfriend that will no doubt make front page news in the tabloids tomorrow. Poor thing! It's funny isn't it what one perceives as newsworthy and how the "fame game" works. There cannot be anyone less fame grabbing than Andy Murray; a man who courts the media surely less than any other tennis player in history. I admire him for that; it's his talent that does the talking.

Conversely dears, my alter ego demands attention! My husband, Pete, and I  have a little cottage industry in musical performance poetry and film. It's going so well we might be able to buy a tin of spam with our earnings soon. We're both slightly longer in the tooth these days, so we can't afford to mess around. Fame does so often seem to be the domain of the young and beautiful doesn't it? So we've conducted various experiments to try and break the mold; with limited success to date it has to be said.

Our most recent attempt sees me (held together by gaffer tape) in half-a-skintight-onesie. Well, if you're going to be a Scunthorpe Housewife, you may as well do it with panache. Have a lovely weekend dears and to view, please click on the link below...

Because every housewife needs to wear gold lyrca once in a while...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Didn't We Have A Lovely Time The Day We Went To....

...Cleethorpes! A sea-side town in North East Lincolnshire that is to the people of Scunthorpe what Aldeburgh is to Londoners. Only Cleethorpes is stuck in a bygone era. Many of the businesses are locally run; passed down through the generations. And it you fancy partaking in a bit of bingo your choice of winnings include a bag of sugar and a packet of toilet rolls.
 My son had his school trip there and I went along for the ride under strict instructions not to embarrass him. Moi? I was put in charge of a group of six ten years and sent off into the coastal wilderness a mile or two along from the main promenade. There we were let loose to record wildlife, find shells and draw animals we spotted which included a dead crab. There's always a dead crab; and somebody always has to pick it up and fling it by a claw. 

The children's favourite beach game turned out to be "bury your pencil" and some wonderfully elaborate castle constructions were molded with their said pencil planted deep within. Luckily they were reunited with them in time to complete the necessary Key Stage 2 paperwork before a lunch of sausage and chips.

After lunch we headed towards the pier and played "catch" with a tennis ball. Then some of the children buried Joe in a massive hole which he really enjoyed. I don't believe you're truly a child until you've been buried up to your neck in sand. It reminded me of when I was little on a family holiday in Northern Ireland way back in the 1970's. Here I am with my older sister:-

Well after all that playing us grown ups were pretty whacked, but the children could have gone on for hours. As we walked back up the beach, our mouths watered at the smell of fresh doughnuts, a bag of which unfortunately didn't come included in the school trip price. There was just time for a quick municipal toilet dash before heading home. Some of the boys got into a bit of trouble for having a screaming competition inside a cubicle. I pretended to look cross at them but there is something about echoy down-at-heel brick buildings which make the acoustics irresistible. Back on the coach I snoozed to the dulcet tones of "Top Gear" fanatic, Tom, reeling off the type and model of every car we passed on the M180. All in all a marvellous adventure and Cleethorpes with all it's tradition and simple pleasures comes highly recommended!

Cleethorpes Pier

Monday, 1 July 2013

Happy Birthday to Us!

Hello loves and Happy Happy 1st Birthday to us! Or, to be more specific, the service in Scunthorpe which supports children leaving the care system. It started up a year ago today and we help teenagers who have been fostered, or have lived in children's homes or who are homeless, try to start leading independent lives. We may help them move to supported lodgings, which is a bit like temporary foster care in a family home but with more independence. Or they may move to a flat of their own which we provide them with. Then we try to support them with things like budgeting, shopping, going to college, emotional wellbeing and stuff like that. That's the theory in any case; it doesn't always work out like that.

Children in care tend to be more vulnerable than the average kid and, when you think about it, it's no wonder. Often they have come from neglected or abusive backgrounds and the trauma they suffer can be really really difficult for them to overcome; especially if they don't get the right input. What they really need is extra love, encouragement and support. This is especially important when it comes to leaving care and making that delicate transition to adulthood. It's not an easy time for any of us. I remember what I was like back then dears; it wasn't pretty.

On the surface you see some young people launching out into the world prematurely with mental health problems, anger issues, addictions, chaotic lifestyles, and criminal records. Scratch underneath though and what you get is spark, talent, humour, fun, intelligence and kindness. Yes that's right, kindness. Don't you find it's those who endure sadness and loss in their lives who often emerge with the greatest empathy and kindness? I see this in the wonderful teenagers I work with and I learn from them.

Around the country there are similar services to our one in Scunthorpe. In recent years local authorities by law have had to provide care leavers with this extra support, and rightly so. And whilst we try, we're not always getting it right. An After Care Report commissioned by  The Who Cares? Trust discovers that nearly half of young people feel the help they got to prepare for independence when leaving care wasn't good enough.

There are almost 65,000 looked after children in England and, at any one time, around 9,000 aged 16 or over are leaving the care system. I'm thinking of them today, on our birthday. I hope with continued support and understanding they can get a fair chance to lead happy, stable lives.

It's a big world out there....