Monday, 30 April 2012

Meet: Mandy

(Teaching Assistant Extraordinaire, Philoprogenitive, Glamour Nana)

Mandy tells me that she has 4 children aged 16 - 28, that she is not married but has been with her partner for 24 years and that she has worked at the school for the past 8 years. Now, if I was a woman, I'd have probably known all of this within the first five minutes of us meeting. But I'm not, I'm a man - a socially awkward one at that - and so I've been working at the school for 18 months without knowing any of this - until now.

It was about a week ago - wondering who to ask to be on this blog - that I overheard Mandy telling some of the other TA's a hilarious story about two of her children and instantly thought 'that has to go on the blog'. It took me a couple of days to ask her. I'm not completely sure why - she is one of the most friendly, approachable people you'll meet - but I'm a little awkward and so I felt a little nervous. There was absolutely no need, she was more than happy to share: 'yeah if it will help you out'. Well Mandy yes it definitely does help me out, but more importantly, I thought that you had a story that was just begging to be shared and so here it is.

Face paint 

By the time the kids were in bed it had already been a long day. But there was no time for the tv and a glass of wine. Instead, a couple of years too many since it had last been done, we'd finally gotten around to buying the paint and borrowing my sisters wallpaper steamer. So, white high gloss looking on, we took it in turns. One with the Black and Decker steamer in hand, the other with the scraper. Hours later, when the walls were eventually in their birthday suits, as much as we willed it the job was not over.  It was only time to pick up the paintbrushes, door frames, skirting boards and radiators all needed a face lift.

3am: Paint brushes down, the two of us looked on through half closed eyes, pride on our faces, tiredness washing over our limbs. Stripping and painting down it was time for sleep. The wallpapering could wait till the morning. Now, I wasn't the type of mother to just lie in of a morning. Not even on a weekend. You would always find me up with the children. Breakfast and cartoons. Get them dressed and ready. Do something with them, keep them entertained. But this morning was slightly different. Tired out from the nights exploits, I slept until I woke, as normal, only I woke a little later than usual.

The timid cries of my youngest disturbed me from a dream I instantly forgot. As my eyelids slowly peeled back I found myself collapsed on top of the bed. Still half in, half out of my clothes, I woke to the realisation that we might not have put the decorating materials away properly before bed and to the sight of my life. Unable to speak yet I nudged the snoring lump next to me, rubbed at my eyes, pinched the back of my hand and being sure I was definitely seeing what I thought I was seeing, I buried my head in the duvet trying my best not to laugh. There she stood in front of us, our three year old little girl, little slits for eyes going up and down, the whole of her face painted thick with high gloss emulsion.

Downstairs the story further unravelled. In the middle of the living room we found our five year old son, paint brush in hand. Around him, everything had been painted on. Everything! Carpet, settee, records, telly all covered in white high gloss paint. In fact, the only thing there wasn't any paint on, was my 5 year old son!

Fully grown my son and daughter are still close, but there are no arguments as eardrum peace shattering as those between love ones and so when the two do occasionally argue; as ferocious as those arguments might get, they invariably end with the semi-serious threat:  'watch yourself or I'll grab a paint brush'.

(Re-told by Anthony Hett)

Monday, 23 April 2012

Meet: Simon Mole

I first met Simon a little over 2 years ago. Together - with the help of the Keats House Museum - Simon and another poet named Raymond Antrobus founded the Keats House Poets Forum. (A group of 'young' poets, that I am very proud to be apart of.)

I met Simon at the first meeting and he quickly became one of my favourite writer/performers. A very dedicated writer, he can do what - in my opinion - only a small select group of writers can do. Unlike most Spoken Word Artists, Simon writes as well as he performs and performs as well as he writes. 

On Fridays

...I work at a Pupil Referral Unit, with secondary school kids who are no longer in mainstream education. I do spoken word, rap, and generally just help out wherever needed. This means the young people that go there know me in a different way to those at schools or youth clubs that I visit solely as an artist. They recognise that “sir can spit bars you know” but I am definitely not a special visitor to be treated with respect and immediately listened to. One lesson I supported in a while back was supposed to focus on the London Riots. It began with two students dragging gym mats in to the IT room and wrestling full tilt until forcibly separated, and ended with the now oft-quoted line “I’m feeling for a riot right now bruv” as the student in question shook the computer monitor he was watching news footage on from side to side. At points they do my head in on a level beyond any other young people I’ve ever worked with, but there is a character and energy to most of them that I feel a strong connection to.
I have worked with one group on and off for nearly two years, and although we get on well, I have found engaging them beyond ten minute bursts to be a huge challenge. One day I decided to try a new approach based around the premise that they would create a character as a group, with a few ideas about background and context, and then before our next session I would write the intro to a film script based around this character. Their first suggestion was a teacher who only works one day a week ‘because the rest of the time he’s out getting fucked at the raves’. I reminded them of my busy and productive work schedule the rest of the week. They countered: “But look at your eyes sir, they’re massive. Don’t lie, I know you love to get on it. Drum and Bass sir, dubstep. At a festival, in a dirty little field. Getting on it.”

Their next suggestion was a man who dresses like an orthodox Jew but is in fact ‘an absolute nutter’ who pulls off his hat and wig at any opportunity to headbutt people and shout his catchphrase: “LET’S FUCKIN ‘AVE IT!”

After explaining to them that I would like to keep my job if at all possible, I then proceeded to allow them to keep the catchphrase for their next character. A 20 year old milkman with a gambling problem who drinks too much and smokes too much weed. His substance intake means he’s paranoid, and he’s got a phobia of pigeons. They rolled on, suggesting that he puts his last money on a horse called ‘run-down life’ and at some point ends up using the betting slip as a rizla, feeling stupid to have bet on the horse, then some bad shit goes down somehow to the point that he commits suicide. The last thing he sees on the telly is ‘run-down life’ winning. It’s too late and he dies.

I was blown away, both by the darkness of the suggested story, and the quick fire creativity that this approach had inspired. After chatting with the head, we decided it was ok to keep the drugs and drink and gambling in the story, as these are real issues for young people in the area – and crucially, their narrative would be exploring the damage that misuse of these substances can cause.

The first week I brought back the intro to the film was one of the best feelings I’ve had over seven years working creatively with young people. The whole group sat in silence and listened as I read to them for 10 straight pages, before giving impassioned and honest feedback that improved the script no end. The project is drawing to a close now, with similarly focused readings and responses each week. There have been a few twists and turns along the way (I still cannot reveal at this stage whether the end remains as initially suggested!) but if you ever see I’ve written a short film featuring a pigeon fearing milkman, you’ll know to make sure that I’ve credited it properly!

Written by Simon Mole 

Now, if you're not already familiar with Simon and his work - especially if you like your Spoken Word but even if you don't - check him out online and onstage and be sure to watch the excellent promo video for 'The Say Yes Think No Syndrome'.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Meet: Nieve

This is my niece Nieve. She's three but it's her birthday next month and she'll be 'two'. She's the daughter of my older sister and is absolutely brilliant - definitely one of my favourite people! We met on a Friday in May 2008, just a couple of days after United beat Chelski in the Champions League Final and so during pub or pool hall conversations, one of my close friends still refers to her as Edwin. 

Nieve is such a brilliant child – I can't stress that enough. Obviously I'm biased and would love her whatever but she has such a great spirit and individuality I just can't help but respect. She's not a little sheep - she never follows a crowd. When her dance teacher asked her class what they all wanted to be when they grow up, the first little girl stood up and said 'a princess'. One by one half a dozen little girls followed the first little girls lead by saying that they also wanted to be a princess. Until it was Nieve's turn. Ignoring the pattern Nieve stands up and says “when I'm older I want to be a doctor”. Now, nobody knows where it came from - I'm not sure she's mentioned it again since - but you have to admire her ambition.

As well as being a complete original, Nieve can also be a real handful. Us Hett's don't like being told what to do and she certainly follows in the footsteps of our side of the family in that respect. The best example of this was when she was 2yrs old and potty training. 

Potty Training

I've not been around a lot of children who are in the midst of potty training and so I don't know if this is common or whether it is just Nieve being Nieve, but either way it is brilliant. Every time she produced a 'specimen' in her potty, Nieve would stand up and take a bow. My parents would of course - as loving grandparents – utterly indulge her by clapping her efforts wildly.

Ok, so back to the not wanting to be told what to do. There was this one particular time that Nieve used the potty, bowing and clapping over she picked up the potty and galloped off in the direction of the downstairs toilet, to flush it away. I wasn't there but I closing my eyes I can imagine my Mum looking on in horror as Nieve insists that she will do it. She has to do everything and more often than not as – non parenting – family we let her. So Nieve gets her own way and makes her way to the downstairs loo. But she's two, so she's wobbling all over the place and in danger of spilling the potty's smelly contents all over my parents living room carpet. So at this point my Dad gently suggests that maybe Nieve should be very careful not to spill her potty.
Woops worse thing you could do Gagor. And so as my parents look on in horror, my perfect little niece quite deliberately throws the pink plastic potty up into the air, showering my parents expensive cream carpet with bright yellow wee wee.

It seems that they call it the terrible twos for a reason!

(Re-told by Anthony Hett)

Monday, 9 April 2012

Meet: Susie

(Simply the BEST cat in the world!!!)

Susie was part of our family for over 20 years and will have a place in my heart forever - soppy but true.

We got Susie on sports day 1989. I remember: the mother of a boy in my class bringing her into school for us, the jump for joy excitement and taking her to show my teacher Mrs Riley.

We'd had a cat before Susie – Candy - who unfortunately met with a premature and very grisly end on the road at the back of our house (something no 5 year old boy should have to see). Candy's death was hard to take – especially for my older sister who cried non-stop for a whole week – but luckily for us Candy's slutty mother was expecting another litter.

I don't know if it was love at first sight. I've more recently come to realise that I don't particularly like cats. Other people's cats are OK but I can't imagine me ever wanting another of my own. There can only ever be one cat for me. But either way, by the time I was in my teens we were the best of friends. Every night – against my mum's wishes – Susie would sleep at the end of my bed; even though I knew she would wake me up at 6am to be let outside – I really didn't mind.

As though she had never been away


It happened last week – cats like toddlers have no concept of time – when the weather was fine enough for me to stay outside all day and sleep amongst the flowers at the bottom of the yellow tree.

It happened when I was about eighteen, so Susie must have been around thirteen. Not knowing she would live into her 21st year, we all thought that thirteen was quite old for a cat. I don't remember the day she went missing. I'm not even sure what time of year it was. At a push I would say that the air was filled with pink blossom and the bleating of new born lambs, but I couldn't be sure.

I was in the mood for adventure. The mooing beasts I used to terrorize in my youth had long been moved from beyond the wire fence and so I had to go a little farther afield. The black and white devil no longer lived down at the farm at the bottom of the fields, so I ventured past the dopey horse who was all hoofs and no fun and found my way to large wooden buildings, where the mice played amongst the hay.

Susie just didn't come back one night for her tea. It was as dramatic as that. We had breakfast together and when I left for school Susie followed me down the drive, stopping to sharpen her claws on her favourite tree. It seemed as simple as that. When I returned home from school, she was nowhere to be found. Not asleep below her favourite tree or in the gap between the armchair and the settee. She wasn't in my bedroom or at the kitchen cupboard waiting for her tea. But that was ok. She would be around somewhere. Sleeping on a neighbours bed or trying to catch the fish in their pond.

I crept inside. Facing the wind, small quiet footsteps, body low to the ground, as not to be smelt, heard or seen. Edging inside, the barn took on a new darkness and the sharp thud of wood on wood startled any mice. I'd have to find Anthony a present elsewhere.

When she still hadn't returned later that night we were massively concerned. It wasn't something that had ever happened before. Susie wouldn't miss her tea. We went outside and called her name. This always brought her running – but not tonight. So we walked around the neighbouring streets and the field across the road calling out her name. We closed our eyes as we turned corners, hopeful she hadn't met with the same fate as Candy had all those years before. She was nowhere to be seen. But we tried not to worry. She would be back in the morning.

I searched the darkness for an escape route but the only way out
was the way I had crept in. I felt for the door. In the dark all of the wood looked the same. One endless barrier. Nothing moved in the darkness. I pondered my next move. It's not n our nature to panic. It was mid afternoon – a good time for a snooze. I curled myself up into a ball at the foot of a large bail of straw and purred myself to sleep. And the morning never came. I grew more and more hungry, more and more thirsty but there was nothing I could do. No way out I could find unless you were as tiny as a mouse. There was much to do but sleep as the days streamed into one. I have no idea of how long I was in there but it truly felt like an eternity.

Susie was missing for 10 days. Each night we prayed she would be back in the morning but when she had been missing for over a week, we all started to fear the worst. There had been no sight of her and no reason to be hopefully. I think it's true that cats want to be alone when they die. That they disappear off into the night and never return. It sounds kinda romantic but unless they curl up close by, you might never no their true fate and there's nothing romantic about that.

Finally, after facing the indignity of eating mice droppings in an effort to stay alive; light flooded down upon me soothing my aches and pains. Eyes closed, I darted for the middle of startled humans legs. Heading for the fields, I made my way across the yard as fast as my empty body would take me, back past the dopey horse, I was homeward bound.

It was the 10th day. I had just returned home from another school day spend dreaming of leaving and moving away to university. I was stood in the kitchen talking to my mum when she thought she heard a weak meow at the front door. I thought she was imagining it – we had all pretty much given up hope by this time. But my mum opened the door and in wonders a furry mass of skin and bones, that headed past our low slung jaws and waiting cuddles to the corner cupboard where we kept her food, as though she had never been away.

(Re-told by Anthony Hett)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Meet: Daphne

(Playwright, Fashion Journo, Blogger and the beautiful girl I'm lucky enough 
 to call my Girlfriend)

I met Daphne on a warm September evening - do you remember September 2009? Weather wise it was one of the nicest Septembers I can remember and in terms of my personal life the best and most significant. 

I'd just moved to London and was loving it. Although I was also finding being in a big city full of so many things to see and do and no friends to enjoy it with boring and massively frustrating. 

Finally the night I had been waiting for, for over a year arrives. The opening lecture of my MA Creative Writing (Plays & Screenplays) Obviously I arrived late - as I did for many of my lectures - and a little flustered. I found an empty seat, took too long to sit down and get settled and scanned the room. Male, male, too old, male, not my type, Jackpot! A beautiful tanned face with big dark eyes and long dark hair.

Except that's not strictly how we met because we didn't speak for the first 3 weeks! - but eventually classroom flirting turned into secretly dating, which became openly dating and two and a half years later we're still together and I'm happier than ever. 

Now, I have to inform you, Daphne is slightly mad (hopefully she won't mind me saying that). She says the craziest things all the time. Quote of the day: "When you flush the toilet you're supposed to come out. I've been hiding for ages." (She had been hiding in the wardrobe waiting for me to come out) And so over the last couple of years, Daphne has had me in stitches multiple, multiple times by telling me hilarious (often quite ridiculous) stories about herself and her life. None of which, I don't think, have tickled me more than this one. Hopefully it will tickle you too.

So here's Daphne's story accompanied by a (much funnier than mine) intro - I'm supposed to write the intro! - but then she's my girlfriend, so it's practically her duty to ignore everything I say. Right?!

Daphne Economou and the Deadly Chav.

Most people who don’t know me, try to place my accent. American? Irish? Do I hear… Liverpool? No, no you don’t, get your ears cleaned and never talk to me again. My accent is a hybrid actually, I had an Australian teacher, a love for American TV, British music idols, many English friends, one pseudo-Welsh boyfriend and a Greek family and upbringing. Before we start with my story, let me clarify this, I now understand the British culture, I have adapted. I can’t stop myself from saying please and thank you like my life depends on it (and while it’s all the rage here, in Greece waiters think I have OCD), I put milk in my tea and I almost accept that the one and only thing y’all eat EVERYTIME there’s any sort of an occasion is a roast dinner.

Rewind six years, however, and none of this made sense to me. My accent was as Greek as it gets, my skin had a hint of the Mediterranean (as in tanned not hairy, thank you very much) and my knowledge of all things British could be entirely summarized in this sentence: ‘you like fish and chips and to get drrrrrrrrrunk, no?’. Adding insult to injury, I lived in the tiny posh slash chavtastic slash brilliant town (or maybe city because of some cathedral rule?) of Winchester in a house of four and a half residents, three and a half of which had not socialized with many foreign people before. One housemate actually, although good natured, never quite grasped that I was human. She referred to me as ‘The Greek’, described me to others as ‘a Greek’ and pretty much pictured me as a cat with a Greek flag print on my fur. When, in the summer, she came to Greece (to make sure it wasn’t an imaginary country, perhaps) she literally ate exclusively chips and bread for two whole weeks. She then died of constipation. No, sorry, she didn’t, that was a terrible joke.

Anyway, I’m rumbling and my editor will get cross. The story I was asked to tell is about Chavs. As I mentioned, Winchester can be quite chavy, especially the parts of it students can afford to chill at. And what to you looks like a chav, to the untrained Greek eye is just a guy who must go to the gym a lot and is in dire need of a dental hygiene lecture and a shampoo bottle. So, when my half a housemate, Will, came in our house terrified one evening because ‘chavs’ had bullied him, I was baffled to say the least. Will looked at me like the ignorant token foreigner I was. "Do you not know about Chavs?" "No" I said, semi-ashamed. At this point, Hayley butted into our conversation "they’re the people with the traksuits and the big earrings." Oh yeah, I had seen them. "They are horrible" Will and Hayley chanted in unison (not really, but it would have been entertaining). They looked at me in the eyes and laid the horrific facts out. "They will shout things at you. Never look at them. Especially not if they talk to you." And never EVER talk back to them. ESPECIALLY with your accent. They steal and spit. They killed a man outside Tesco the other day because he told them to be quiet." It suddenly all made sense… they don’t go to the gym a lot, they wear tracksuits to run faster and the rotten teeth are from all the spitting and OH MY GOD their hair is dirty because they don’t have time to wash it in between murders!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fast forward two chav induced nightmare filled days, Hayley offers to give me a lift to the One Stop. The little drive goes smoothly. We listen to two verses of a song and the beginning of a bad Fearne Cotton joke and we’re there. The glorious One Stop. I get out of the car, unaware of what is to come. Take two steps. Then I see them. Trainers, tracksuits, bad teeth, bulldog, shit hair. My internal monologue goes into overdrive. "don’t look at them, don’t look at them, not with your accent, not with your accent, wait… they can’t SEE my accent, shhhh just don’t look, just do…" "MISS?! MISS?!" I hear a voice through two brown broken teeth. "shit, shit, shit, SHIT, I’m going to be the man at Tesco." Despite trying not to, I look up. They are actually talking to me. I can see the headlines ‘Chavs Murder Foreign Girl After She Rolled Her ‘r’s At Them’. They look as threatening as I expected. Short, angry. I turn around and look at Hayley with terror! Hayley is unfazed, she probably hasn’t noticed THE CHAVS, I think. I run towards the car keeping my composure. They talk to me again "Miss, Miss will you..." That’s it, their voices trigger my street wise defense mechanism, unable to control it, a scream escapes my vocal chords ‘CRIMINALS!! THE CRIMINALS SPOKE TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’. I get in the car shaking. Hayley looks at me blankly. I expect her to share my panic and drive away at full speed. Instead, she takes a moment to realise what has just happened and wets herself "you absolute moron!! They are eight year old kids walking their dog."

Written by Daphne Economou
(she's a brilliant writer isn't she?!)

Be sure to check out her hilariously amazing fashion blog