Find out more about the other painted doors which feature in the city of Funchal’s ‘Old Town’ district (Rue de Santa Maria). Click this link or enter “Painted doors Madeira” into your trusty search engine. There are some absolute beauties to be found.
It’s not often I hop onto my soapbox, least of all on anything bordering on political. That’s not what 99% of you guys came here for, to be quite honest it’s not really what I came here for. However it has now reached a stage where I cannot sit here in good faith and say nothing.
Back in March 2020, at the start of the first UK wide lockdown, all museums and attractions across England were forced to close. This included Swindon Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG), a small site located in the heart of the town’s oldest district. Like all respecting patrons of art and culture institutions up and down the country, I fully supported this government-enforced directive.
On the ending of the first lockdown in Summer 2020, Swindon Borough Council refused to reopen SMAG. While other heritage sites reopened their doors, awash with safety posters and guidance on basic handwashing, the chains around SMAG’s grand entranceway continued to rust with dejection. Now, in August 2021, dejection has slipped into acceptance, the rust into rot. It feels like culture was never here at all.
Throughout the assorted protests and disjointed cries from local residents, the council has strongly defended their decision, stating this move is only intended as a short-term measure. Other rumours speculate Covid being used as a thin veil of scapegoating the closure on underlying problems the council had been failing to redress for years, including low footfall, costly repairs and accessibility issues. This, and the proposed £33,000 per year saving it would make to the local budget, at a time when the council needs to urgently balance the books.
For the years I have lived in Swindon, I openly admit to being less that a frequent visitor to SMAG. In fact, one of the few visitations I made was on a first date with my (now) ex boyfriend, which dates it very well. It was a long time ago.
But, on the few times I went, I enjoyed it. Aside from the unchanging artefact exhibits (complete with the much-loved “Apsley the Croc”), there was also an extensive art collection which went through frequent rotations. I was never a fan of the 1960s extension, bolted on in the 1960s, but as far as the contents was concerned I respected and enjoyed the contents for what they offered. Only in hindsight do I realise how little I fully appreciated what we had; now it’s gone.
In some ways the council’s decision to close SMAG is predictable. For years, concern was tempered with optimism over plans to relocate the museum to a newly constructed “Cultural Quarter”, proposed as part of a 2019 bid for Heritage Lottery Funding. Housed closer to the train station, the site would also contain a digital media centre, dance studio, and an expanded 1200-seat Wyvern Theatre. It was estimated to cost £80 million to build, create up to 1200 jobs and pump in an estimated £35 million into the local economy. Sadly, this bid proved to be unsuccessful.
At the time of writing (August 2021), all capital investment projects are on hold. Headlines will often cite the pandemic as the main reason, however the pessimist in me would also cite that by the council’s own omission, work on constructing the theatre alone wasn’t due to start until 2025. In other words, this project was always going to be a slow burner.
During the course of writing this article, I’ve discovered Swindon Borough Council are now considering different options, including having an “Art Pavilion”, and/or touring Art and collections in pop-up spaces, in a format being referred to as “Museums Without Walls”. Citing the museum elsewhere is also being considered. But these conversations are incredibly early in the process, and this response is quite possibly driven by community action by the Friends Swindon Museum and Art Gallery group (and local news coverage). Where the preservation of Arts and Culture is concerned, it shouldn’t take a group of people shouting and screaming to force the hand of local government. When the justification reads as “temporary closure, due to Covid”, was the expectation that we’d all forget? That we wouldn’t care?
Why does it matter?
I get it, not everyone is big into History; not everyone enjoys stuffy old exhibits and random bits of art. And that’s absolutely fine. But here’s the thing, when you’re sat in a boxy little room, planning ahead for the future, it becomes increasingly harder to pitch your town as being a “place to be”, “up and coming” or a “desirable” if with the other hand, you’re eroding the cultural bedrock on which it stands.
It’s why most towns in the UK will have a heritage centre of some size. It celebrates and brings communities together or, to be a bit more cold-hearted, it adds to the sales pitch. “Move to Swindon, we have…houses”, it doesn’t quite butter the parsnips.
Yes, the museum had a small footfall and yes, there were many areas in which it was crying out for improvement, but we’ve slept-walked into losing another thing that celebrated this town for what it was. With it, and an increasing trend of young professionals adopting WFB (Work From Bedroom) jobs, I fear we’ll start losing the point of why any of us are here at all.
So, where does this place the arts and culture in this sprawling town? It seems the future is set to remain uncertain indefinitely. And this post only relates to one type of cultural attraction; novels could be written of the erosion of a good deal of other services (libraries, community groups etc) in the years leading up to 2020.
In light of all this, I have only one thing to ask of the local council; don’t use Covid-19 as an excuse for a move that can only be described as closure culture. Because, at the end of the day, I think we’re all smarter than that, don’t you?
Back when I was living in London I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Tate Modern’s critically appraised exhibition Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy. It ran between 8th March – 9th September 2018.
I didn’t attend “1932…” until late on, days before it was due to close. Why? Because I’ll be honest, Picasso had never really been my bag. I appreciated his reputation and there’s no denying Guernica is a masterpiece of political demonstration, but otherwise I just saw the man as someone who took a lot of credit for not a lot.
Don’t shoot me.
In the end, it was a little voice inside my head that urged me to go, that I’d only regret it if I didn’t. (Also, because at the time I could get in for £5. Minor detail.)
I’m so very glad I went. For one, turns out the man is just as trigger happy on the paint brushes as I am on my blog. In one year he produced over 100 works of art (mostly of his mistress). Secondly, some of his work isn’t too shabby.
Don’t get me wrong, I still had questions. Most of my secondary school art projects were on par with Yellow Belt.
And yet God knows, you never saw my Art teacher praising me as the Second Coming. I took a snapshot and sent it to my Mum, she still insisted I keep the day job.
So what has all this got to do with socks? Well, sometime after the exhibition I was browsing the wonderful world of Far Eastern shopping when I came across some socks printed with the iconic painting The Dream.
I’ll spare you my cobble-dash description on this painting but yep, the way he painted the face is intentional (classic playboy Picasso). More information here.
Short story, shorter, I found a pair of socks online depicting this masterpiece (or, as the sellers called them, “style #3 sleeping lady”). Don’t ask how or why, it’ll be easier for us both. Neither did I enquire as to the copyright, given the same people were also selling “magic man” socks of Jesus.
12 million months later my socks arrived, looking something like this:
First observation – no way in hell were these made for a ladies foot-size 5 (EU 38). Definitely men’s socks. But still, the print detailing was alright and the image had been flipped. Without disclosing the price, (*cough* 99p), you get what you pay for.
I couldn’t wait to try them on.
Then I looked down…
Because the socks were bigger in size than expected, I’d had to pull them up higher, and because my calves are the size of tree trunks, the print was stretched-out even more.
Far from looking mellowed after a bit of artist lovin’, Marie looks genuinely pained from having her face stretched to that of a horse. And let’s not even go there with where that places Picasso’s perceived manhood.
I’m still gonna wear them though. I mean, Picasso socks! How cool is that?!
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” – L.P. Hartley
A year ago today, I returned from a London city break and published my first post. I’d spent a year living in the UK capital, so for me it marked a refresh of the best bits of city-living, including art galleries, theatre performances and catching up with old friends.
Days after my return I was left encumbered, battling a mystery illness. Those following weeks I pressed on the best I could, putting it down as another one of those viruses which circulate in densely populated environments. A year later I’m no closer knowing what struck me down; we all have our theories.
Back then, my friends and I had whimsically noted the high-adoption of face coverings being worn by the predominantly Asian tourist base. We mused on the foreign illness that was gripping other continents, but to comprehend the possibility that our own country could already be rife with disease was a step too far. We were better than that, we were British. Instead, we continued to pack ourselves into dense sweats to watch live music, feasted in noisy restaurants and embraced fondly.
If only we’d known.
So, with perhaps a naively romanticised view of what were truly the last days of normality (late January 2020), here are all four parts of London Recalling.
A perhaps more sombre video (pretty blue compared to the stuff I normally produce, I admit), of the four days I recently spent in York. I wasn’t going to do anything, that was until I came back and Mumma B said, “when are we getting the picture presentation?”
So I quickly pulled this together, complete with backing music which I heard whilst watching the world go by in one of the nammed coffee shops below.
Big love to the city of York, big love to whoever controls the weather for giving me sun and zero rain and big love to ‘The North’ for giving me a warm welcome during my visit.
Well things are really not going my way, are they? Just when I think I’m starting to shake this illness off, boom! Tonsillitis.
Given breathing state is a bit wheezy I’ll have to try and not get too ahead of myself when typing in hurried excitement. That’ll be the hardest part, just like when my teachers used to tell me off for smudging ink all over the page and up my hand. They never really did see the other side, that I couldn’t help it. That I was so keen to write everything down in my head, too impatient to let the ink to dry.
Bruise on the leg has near vanished too, so at least my body is still capable of some level of self healing.
It was that very same night as the Sofar Sounds gig that I experienced my minor calf injury. After the meal in Wapping I found myself casually wandering around St. Katharine Docks, a delightful patch of water and wealth next to Tower Bridge. Where rich people flaunt their yachts and people like me walk along raised walkways; enjoying the chance to look down at privilege. It’s also the location for one of my favourite views of London, where Tower Bridge appears from nowhere as a mighty giant of architecture.
At this time the light was lacking, so I decided I’d return another day to take the above photograph.
There had been a steady drizzle of rain throughout the afternoon, causing the paths and walkways to be more slippy than usual. While the Underground stations blared the same warning to passengers over and over again, on a near silent Sunday night in January the message was perhaps less ingrained in my head as I strolled around the Marina.
Eventually the expected happened, walking down a flight of concrete steps in my flat, sodden, pump shoes, my foot skidded on the slippery surface and I tumbled forward. Thankfully I was near to the bottom, my hands jutted out of my pockets just in time to break my fall down the two or three steps remaining of the flight. My calf however suffered their bite, the impact of these remaining ledges grazing their teeth along the bone, from foot to knee.
It was too dark for anyone to see, too quiet for anyone to notice, too quick for anyone to spot; within half a second of me falling flat in a heap I’d hopped back onto my feet and carried on my way. It was only later when I got back to the hotel I discovered the full impact of the fall was more substantial than I’d originally thought. Lesson learnt; I kept my hands of out my pockets and tread more carefully for the rest of the trip.
Monday morning, and now it felt like the time was all mine to play with. Done were the previously agreed engagements, the catch-ups and the pre-booked tickets, now I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted while the rest of the city got back to work.
From my bedroom window I watched the suited men and women in their designer shoes and trainers as they all scuttled in the same direction, towards the heart of the financial district. It drew me back to all those times before when I’d walked the very same path, head down, headphones plugged in.
In amongst the crowd I saw one individual less sure of themselves, less familiar with the route they were taking. They reminded me of myself all that time ago, those first few days where impatient workers would dodge and tut as I stopped frequently to check the direction of travel I was headed in.
Back in the present I knew my place, I would only head out after the walking rush-hour had ceased; after 09:00 when the world was a little calmer on foot.
I’d never been to the Museum of London which had always struck me as odd given it was one of the few tourist attractions I’d seen so frequently day-to-day working in The City. It’s imposing lettering on the side of a large brutalist wall that trailed around a roundabout and off towards the Barbican.
Deciding there is always a first time for everything, I skirted around a large school party waiting outside and dived into the building to get a head start on the exhibits.
The first thing that struck me was the music playing loudly across the speakers. The sound of punk music overflowing into exhibitions on prehistoric London seemed initially a strange pairing, until I realised that it formed part of a temporary exhibit on The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling. The album was playing on a loop to help draw people in. As I walked past staff members I wondered how many repeats of the title track would it take before they grew sick of such an iconic band.
The music stayed in my head long after I left the museum. I may have seen some wonderful artefacts and learnt a lot about London’s rich history, but it would be the feeling of seeing Paul Simonon’s broken guitar in real life that would come to brand the entire city-break. I’d never been an avid follower of the Punk movement, but the first time I understood it a little better. I was able to appreciate it for what it represented; the first act of civil disobedience, the first time youth made a strong impact. “No, we will not be silenced!”
From the Museum of London I skirted on down past St Paul’s cathedral, through the buzzing crowds of tourists and across the Millennium Footbridge to reach the banks of Southwark. In my sights I had my favourite branch of Caffe Nero; one located in Oxo Tower, but before I could reach it I caught myself on an installation placed outside the Tate Modern. A walk in cuboid-like structure, hung with column upon column of white paper cups (save a couple of black columns at the front).
‘We use 5,555 paper cups a minute in the UK,’ the sign read. ‘Oh which only 555 are recycled.’
I took a step back and, like a few of the passers by, were moved by how explicit the instillation was in showcasing the amount of waste in this country. However, what was equally striking was how the majority of people had responded to the stand-alone piece. All around people were scribbling messages onto the paper cups; some were deeply emotive on the destruction of the planet, others as two-dimensional as a statement that someone had been there, like lover’s hearts engraved on trees. Whether or not the artists has intended their work to be graffitied in this way, it seemed there was no stopping it, the piece had only been erected for a matter of days and yet was already covered in human sentiment.
A ballpoint pen burning in my handbag, I walked forwards and scouted out a suitable cup to make my mark. Not entirely sure what to write, I eventually scribbled down some words. I stepped back to admire my work, only to find myself cringing at the terrible handwriting and the surrealness of the wording. It was missing something.
I pulled out one of my business cards from my bad and, with the help of a few drawing pins and some blu tac, I attached the small square of card to the small paper cup. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘That looks better.’
The final inscription read:
Alice E. Bennett, 27/01/20. Mermaids do exist and they can’t survive in our polluted oceans. Instead they are forced into moving to Swindon!
(After attaching the card I also added the words, ‘get curious’.)
I took a couple of photos before moving on. As I walked away I realised a few people had been stood watching me the whole time as I awkwardly attached my card to the cup. An international tourist was quick to swoop in to give it a read, though I felt quite certain they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I was on about, I barely knew myself.
Whether I had intended it to look that way or not, I’d effectively sold out on an environmental protest.
I strategically placed one of my ‘duff’ business cards (ones which were printed with a spelling mistake) under the empty coffee cup as I walked out of Caffe Nero, the space somewhat busier than I expected for a Monday lunchtime. I retraced my steps and entered the Tate Modern just as the heaven’s opened and it started to pour with rain.
‘Better take my time, then!’ I thought to myself, making my way into the turbine hall to admire the dramatic water fountain, Fons Americanus, created by American artist Kara Walker.
I strolled around several of the art galleries, in truth I saw this as a mere fill-in experience for old time’s sake. It’s funny how spoilt you can become when you experience something everyday, in that very moment I only sought out a quick hit whereas for many this would be the highlight of their day or even their trip, to London.
A number of the galleries hadn’t changed since the times I’d been there and for me that felt bothersome, like the Tate was being lazy and people were being cheated out of an experience. But then a quick survey of the people visiting at that moment in time reminded me that for most they knew no different, they were just like me that very first time I’d entered the old factory. Just as fascinated, just as keen to photograph. I knew the issue lay more with me than anyone else; so I put my internal-tantrum to one side and took myself to a different part of the establishment.
I will spare you the War and Peace version of how I view art, but on this visitation I seemed to feel a stronger feeling of hate, divide but also a call from artists to remember we are all human. I suppose it’s not a surprise, artists always have had a reputation for expressing more liberal sentiments than other segments of society. But watching Igor Grubic’s video East Side Story where far-right extremists attack a Pride match with bloody consequences, it felt like the message was stronger now than it ever had been before.
(Warning: video below contains strong language, violence, and homophobic language.)
And then there was hope; that if we recognised the contributions of others we could be a part of something much greater than if we work in isolation. Nowhere else did I see this more strongly than in Yinka Shonibare’s The British Library, a room installation which makes the point of showing how fundamental other cultures, notably African, have played a role in shaping English literature.
A room of books, each covered in bold and heavily patterned fabric, all the colours of Heaven and Earth itself. Not in such a long time had I found myself at pains to stand behind the thin bit of wire that prevented me from reaching out to touch, to feel, the books before my eyes.
The rain still coming down in medium sized droplets, I hurried across Blackfiars bridge back onto the Northern bank and then, from there, Northwards to reach Trafalgar Square. When I’m set on an idea I can become really stubborn to it, even if it makes absolutely no logical sense to anyone else. In this instance I’d got my heart set on a visit to the National Gallery before it closed at 18:00. I left the Tate Modern at 15:00 which, factoring in travel time, would give me a safe two hours in the gallery before hitting the Tube to avoid the peak rush hour at 18:00.
Maybe in a bid to avoid the rain outside, the National Gallery was considerably busier than I had expected it to be; an old building full of hot, wet bodies.
I took a quick turn through the galleries, although I found myself stopping and starting multiple times as soon as I came by a suitable seat to perch on. I hadn’t quite factored in how much walking I’d done today, and in fact every other day, until this very moment. Of all the views within and looking out of the building, the best that day came simply from that of a window seat, where I could idly watch people ascend and descend a large staircase built in a recent extension.
Because I’m me, I did find a couple of humourous bites in some of the artworks; including this piece which reminded me of all the times my friends had placed bets on the length of my hangovers:
And this piece which looked like a screen grab from some type of low-budget documentary. Something along the lines of…”don’t tell me how to raise my kids”.
However, when all was said an done I found myself surprisingly keener to leave the gallery earlier than I had originally planned in my head. After about an hour of breezing through the classics, I left the National Gallery, breaking my route back only momentarily to stop off in a nearby Waterstones. I couldn’t resist plunging myself down to the basement level to enjoy one of my favourite sensory experiences; the smell of new books.
That night I returned once more to St. Katherine Docks to enjoy a meal at the restaurant chain Zizzi. The looks people gave me when I walked in by myself! You’d have thought I had a third arm growing out of my waist! Used to these looks of surprise, curiosity and mild judgement, I pulled out a reading book as the staff placed me on the last free table in the house. I settled down for a chilled Monday night with a glass of wine and good company (i.e. food).
As I sat there later, sipping on coffee and making it clear to everyone I was in no rush to leave, I pondered on the art works I’d seen throughout the day. From The Clash, to Shonibare, right through to the classical masterpieces in the National Gallery, they had all been individuals not afraid to make their mark and show off their talent to the world. They would never have considered themselves arrogant or forcing their talent on the world. They may have had rocky patches, but they’d always had a firm belief that the route they were taking was the right one, when The Clash coated brick walls with their posters they wouldn’t have worried about what people said or thought. So why did I still on occasion find myself blushing when friends rolled their eyes at me, ‘putting up another business card Alice? You’re such a sell-out!’
Just then a waiter came by, sensing his chance. I reached into my bag and pulled out a card, tapping it swiftly on the hand-held device to make the transaction and ensure the staff hassled me no more.
I opened up my phone case and pulled out one of my business cards from the inside. As I flicked the small piece of card around my finger, reading and rereading the contact details printed on it, I mused on the idea of all artists being sell-outs. That to be and be regarded and accepted as ‘something’ you have to be prepared to stand out; you have to be a peacock in a field of pheasants.
I lifted myself from my seat, applying my coat onto my back in a sweeping movement. I cried out to the remaining staff who responded with a polite smile.
‘Thank you! Have a good evening!’
And then, just as I picked up by bag from the floor, I placed a business card brazenly on the table before walking out into the darkness with a secret smile on my face.
It’s my birthday this week (yay) so how better to celebrate me then a few personal favourites from the AEB playlist? Let’s waste no time, let’s get to it!
A Whistle Stop Tour of Throwbacks: A Playlist for Alice
Firstly, as with all things in life you have to make an entrance. I have always loved the bolshiness of Sledgehammer’s opening.
(Can we also take a moment to reflect on how ground-breaking the music video was at the time it was released?)
But where are my manners? I should probably introduce myself. I’m Alice, although Paul Simon keeps calling me different.
I’ve tried to stop him, but he really won’t give it up.
Most people, I hope, would think of me as a something a bit different to the norm, but still very much a product of the early 90s…
90s but not as you know it. You’ll find me catching up on Radio Four on the evenings and trying to make out I’m really listening to some hip new song by Ed Sheeran or Stormzy.
Sometimes I feel like my outlook on life is stuck decades older than my years so ‘1985’ seems apt on many levels (and only a year off one of my favourite novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four).
While I never prescribe myself to a ultimate favourite song (it changes so frequently) ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations will always sit in the premier league of faves. I’m also massive fan of international music which is why I’ve spent days of my life listening to both the English and Italian versions.
On the subject of off-beat and a little bit quirky…this striped back cover of a Britney Spears classic is just wonderful. Britney was my career icon for all of six months as a young child, nowadays if I want to unleash my inner sass I’ll mentally play this track in my head.
And in support of the many, many songs that were perfect just as they were…
Bringing the pace back up while throwing the music right back, good luck trying to pin me down when The Kinks come on. I’ll have no embarrassment busting some abstract 60s moves to this:
When I get down to this it’s like Mr Tickle decided to release a fitness video, arms everywhere!
Similar with Mel Torme’s I’m Comin’ Home, a song which I first heard as part of the soundtrack for the movie An Education.
It’s a film set in the 60s involving slick men in suits dealing art. Hmm, I can’t think why I’m particularly drawn to the film…
And following on from that, I couldn’t possibly consider the soundtrack of An Education without giving a shout out to the 50s-set French film Popularie. ‘Golden Baby’ rightly deserves to sit as top bill on this film’s soundtrack.
And when I hear this next piece of piano music…for two minutes I transport myself somewhere completely other and fall in love with the idea of old fashioned romance.
Right, that’s enough soppiness, let’s up the tempo. Someone get the dance mat out!
And if you really show off your moves maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you take me out.
(As long as you accept I will be singing along to the guitar solo.)
And why wouldn’t you want to spend a night hanging off my arm? I’m anything but common.
Nah, not me. I’m a one of a kind, I’m unique, I’m a classic.
And then… *cough*
(Or, alternatively, stick on ANY song by Marvin Gaye. They all get a massive thumbs up in my book.)
At the same time, I’ve got a life to lead and if you can’t handle that then sorry, you’re just not the bloke for me.
Sorry, not sorry for being awesome.
When I was born (first week of December) the UK chart number one was Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You‘. Ironic, most of my nights out probably end with the same song.
Everyone has a song which is so truly horrific they love it and, following a seasonal line of thought, mine has to be this gem from Squeeze.
I mean, where do you even begin to start with what’s right in that video?
In the Cotswolds it’s not Christmas in the family household until either a) Papa Bennett has attempted to play Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross and we’ve shouted him down, b) I’ve dropped the Michael Buble CD in oil/fat or c) Celtic Christmas gets played. It’s usually a close run battle between the three.
And how better to exit the day/week/year than with ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and ‘St. Elmo’s Fire‘ back-to-back? (Rhetorical question, there is none.)
Right, I’ve gotta dash now, real life adult stuff to do. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into my mind and music taste (and understand why asking me for my favourite genre and/or song is a pointless question, I don’t have one).
If you’re ever in a position where you’re feeling a bit low and missing my blog/real life lovin’ don’t you worry, I’m always here*.
*Swimsuit not included.
Happy birthday me!
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I had been living in Swindon a couple of months, having relocated in the Summer to begin my first job after graduating from Southampton University with a BA (hons) degree in History. I was living in a HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) with four others; a hospitality worker, an engineer who only utilised the room on occasion when work required him to be in Swindon, a journalist for the local paper and a woman who worked in security. The lady in security also had a unique hobby, in her spare time she liked to dress up as a mermaid.
I was shopping that one night in the local supermarket when I stopped by the toilet roll isle to buy its namesake. I was debating which type and brand to purchase when an idea came to mind. Why don’t I start writing a blog?
The moment resembled something like this:
From that minute, through to the walk back to the house in the drizzle and dark with the heavy shopping the seed of an idea rapidly grew. By the time I’d made it to my bedroom I decided on a name. I’d title the blog after the opener I used when I wanted to make a quick impression on people.
My Housemate’s a Mermaid was set up that very night and I wrote my first ever blog post in eager haste.
I was still living in the same house and working the same job. Both came as a surprise, my original contract of employment had been a nine month maternity cover, so I fully expected to have been given the heave ho after that time and been working/living elsewhere. Not that I wanted to leave or that my old boss wanted me to go, I was such a hardworking and loved member of the team he’d go on to extend my contact length multiple times to keep me on, even when my colleague returned from leave.
The extensions played on my mind, it was flattering that I was wanted but not reassuring that someone along the chain wasn’t prepared to make me a permanent fixture in the team. My mind started wondering to where my future lay in this role…
Meanwhile, outside of work, desperation to meet people and loneliness in a house where people didn’t talk had forced me to try new things to get me out and about. In January I started attending evening classes in pottery at the local college. Although my skills with clay left a lot to be desired (I made more things explode than create)…
…it was a fun activity that got me out the house and chatting to people.
After discovering the society building platform ‘MeetUp’ and being frustrated at the lack of societies for young people in Swindon, in January my Dad offered me the cash to set up a MeetUp group in Swindon. The agreement was that if I made back the £30 I’d pay him back the money he’d stumped up. I accepted the offer but didn’t see how it could possibly come to much.
I founded Swindon 18-30 Professionals on 2nd February 2015, and asked new members to pay a £3 fee to cover the administration costs. Then I set up the first event and nervously waited at what was then a club called Baker Street to see who would turn up. I sat there by myself with a drink, adamant that no one was going to come, but then suddenly people started arriving and things went upwards from there.
By the summer the monthly ‘drinks night’ had been rebranded to ‘First Wednesday Drinks’ and were now starting to draw a sizeable crowd. I’d long since paid off my Dad, the fees for the next six months of operation and was in the middle of negotiating with Baker Street a sponsorship deal that would carry into the present day. I removed the new joiner fee, taking away the last barrier and making Swindon 18-30 truly accessible to all young people in the area.
In November I was in the middle of organising the group’s first Christmas meal at Pizza Express. I was chuffed when I persuaded the venue to offer up multiple bottles wine free of charge in support of the young professional network of Swindon.
As my visiting friend from London said “you’ve really achieved something in a short space of time, don’t shrug it off!” But I still couldn’t help myself, I downplayed the whole thing.
The year wasn’t without calamity though; in the Summer I sustained face, head and leg injuries when I tripped on a paving slab outside a pub (the Gluepot) whilst walking back from a lunch break. Holding a loaf of bread and food shopping, I failed to utilise my hands to break the fall meaning that my right knee and head took the brunt on the impact. I shambled back to the office completely unaware of how bad a state I was in and, when the 111 service finally stopped asking me if the injury was a result of heavy drinking, I was told to head over accident and emergency. A work colleague sat with me for over an hour waiting and checking I didn’t drop off from concussion. She was an absolute saint.
I came away from the medical centre covered in bandage tape and pumped with drugs but luckily escaped the whole ordeal with only a slight scar to my knee which remains to this day. A reminder that while looking forward is important, you’re only as successful as the last step you take.
Blogging kept me sane throughout the year, even if sometimes the content was anything but.
I was still living in the same house as the mermaid, but by now the gripes of living in an increasingly shabby property were starting to grate.
The tenants had moved on and I started becoming aware of how little sway I had in who I lived with. When an older gentleman viewing the property started making me feel uncomfortable, that was when I knew how little input I had in decision-making.
The housemate in the room next to me started seeing a girl who was particularly ‘vocal’ when she stayed over, which was when I realised how fed up I was of being single. From late Spring I started narrowing down my outlook from meeting new people to meeting potential romantic matches. The results were mixed but through it I learnt a lot about myself and Swindon’s dating scene.
I met my first long term partner at a speed dating event in the October of 2016 and things went from there. Naturally I put my foot in it by texting him at the same time as he was texting my friend (who’d he’d also matched with) and then went on a date with his ‘then’ best mate the night after ours, unaware of their connection! He found my horror-stricken face incredibly funny, he laughed it off said no more of the mess-up.
At the grand age of 23 he was my first boyfriend, the first man who had ever taken an interest in me, let alone buy me flowers or take me out for meals or look after me when I was sick. I was completely smitten.
He was smart, considerate and incredibly patient. He never once made me feel the need to rush our relationship.
In March I had moved roles within the same company to a permanent position in a different department. For the time being I was content, moving onto an identical salary didn’t fill me with the same level of keenness compared to when I moved to Swindon originally but a permanent job meant more security.
Throughout the Spring and into the Summer I flogged myself to death organising Swindon 18-30’s first Summer ball in the grounds of Lydiard Park, the town’s fancy country house. I learnt a lot about event planning and it served as good preparation for what would come if I ever got married; organising catering, DJ, venue, photographer etc. all single handed, it pretty much felt like I was planning my own reception!
The event was a massive success and was attended by 60 individuals, a real celebration of the young professional population from around Swindon and the local area.
It even got a feature in local press.
In Autumn I started writing for a local publication called the Swindonian to help build my writing portfolio and in November I took part in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), where bloggers around the world attempt to write a post a day. Writing a post a day whilst managing Swindon 18-30 and a fledgling relationship was very hard, but I was proud to say I achieved it.
I had not only moved out of the house with the mermaid but actually bought my own property one door down. The mermaid was no longer my housemate, she was my neighbour!
I carted out as much of the stuff from my bedroom as I could, the massive items of collated furniture sitting at my parent’s home in wait for the destined day.
In March 2017 I officially moved into my house with the help of a Luton van, my parents and my boyfriend. At 6″ 8 and a hobbyist in mixed martial arts, my boyfriend came in a great deal of use when it came to lifting heavy items of furniture up staircases. It was the first time my parents had met him and they were happy enough to have him about, even if it was noticed that we barely said a word to each other.
In hindsight I should have ended my relationship with my first boyfriend six months in, but to my dying day I will not judge the person I was then for holding out hope. Because when you have nothing to compare to how can you make a balanced choice? I’d watch the TV shows, listen to the songs, hear the colleague chit-chat, the theme was all the same. “Men are all useless, men will lie and cheat on you!” Well, my guy wasn’t any of that. He was kind, he cooked food for me, he loved spending time with me. So why wasn’t I happy? Why wasn’t I grateful? Why didn’t I love him? What was wrong with me?
This spiral got worse and worse. In August we went to Prague, during which time I snapped and ended up spending a good deal of time wondering around the city by myself. I went to a classical music concert one evening and cried my eyes out. Those next to me must have thought I was crying because of the music, in fact I was crying because I knew then my relationship was dead.
I swore to myself then that I would leave this man before Christmas. I returned the the UK colder and more distant than I’d ever been in my entire life. Time spent with him felt like a chore, it seems laughable now that we never kissed when we returned from Prague. He was not a bad man, but I was not a good woman for bottling up my emotions, I accept that.
We would stay together for another five months. Even when he forgot my birthday and shoved the bent card and a half price necklace through the letter box (receipt left in the damaged paper bag), when I sat on the stairs with my head in my hands in hollow disbelief. Despite that I stayed; a broken woman, a woman I didn’t recognise.
In September I started a new job for a organisation I’d never dreamt I’d be working for. I couldn’t believe my luck and made damn sure my managers knew I was grateful by the time I invested into learning the role. But every day I spent in my new job only made me feel more weighed down by someone who was on a completely different wave length to me. Was this the same man I’d fallen for? Was I the same woman?
Meanwhile, I started doing a few pieces of writing for The National Student. When the editor of the Swindonian found out he blocked me from publishing my work to his website, effectively kicking me off the team. Given the Swindonian was “Swindon’s third biggest news outlet” (editor’s words) I decided to cut my loses as opposed to grovelling for forgiveness. I was done with producing popular content for their site free of charge.
My family, my friends and my writing, they were the lights that kept me going. My boyfriend never read my blog so through MHAM I had a sense of independence.
I was living in London (Wapping, E1W), had been since May.
I’d broken up with my boyfriend in late January. It had been as awkward as you could imagine, he went from telling me I was the best thing he’d ever had, to begging me to change my mind, to informing me he’d go home to his whiskey and start dating women again that very night. I wasn’t phased, I returned home to find my lovely housemates having bought me wine and pizza only to be more surprised by my casualness over the whole affair.
The next day I went into work and felt nothing for the night before. When I told my manager she suggested I go home if I needed time, but I declined. This was a man I hadn’t kissed in months (and he hadn’t seemingly hadn’t had issue with!!) The relationship had died long before that night. I was able to carry on my life.
I moved to London as part of an internal transfer in May to do a eight month stint working from their Threadneedle Street office in The City. Due to work and rental challenges it would end up becoming a whole year. In that time I was blessed with a Swindon house that required little attention to support itself and Swindon 18-30 having, by now, a leadership team that could organise events while I wasn’t around to be as hands on.
London was a roller coaster to say the least. I loved how all the men around The City wore suits and dressed smart, I loved how romantic dates involved going to art exhibitions and theatre performances. I loved how I my morning walking commute took me past Tower Bridge every morning…
…or how I could hop on the tube and thirty minutes later be in a completely different part of the capital. It was a world away from the encounters I’d had in Wiltshire. Within my family (well, to my Mum), I’d created a name for myself when I made it to the dizzying heights of the BBC News at Ten.
The bars of Threadneedle Street are the only place in the world where a minority controls the majority. When it came to the financial heart of London I quickly clocked on that it was the women who held the real power over men, if they knew how to use it. I took on a certain style, a certain walk, I dyed my hair a different shade, I adopted things to make people see me differently, to stand out from everyone else. It’s a bullish world where to just be feminine isn’t enough, to be treated seriously you have to think like a man, ‘group think’ if you will. So I starting convincing myself I was the best bloody thing to walk into any room, I was a peacock on show and you were going to know it, whether you liked it or not. And you know what? It worked. I started to see myself in a completely different light, just as they did too.
‘Fox’ I branded myself, because that’s how I felt and that’s what I wanted others to feel too. I was young, single and could charm just about anyone into my line of thinking. Sometimes it was an act, but acting got you free drinks, acting got you connections, acting got you a name in writing circles.
A year in London and I learnt that where my power lay was in not being them. Bankers and investors do the same job, day in, day out. Highly paid but highly stressed roles with a high inflation of their self importance. Me on the other hand, I was just a woman with a blog. A comedy blog that was as far removed from their lives as could be imagined and yet somehow touching on relatable. They came to me like moths to a light, the draw of escapism too much to resist.
I was in a cafe in Wapping when I first heard Billy Preston’s song Nothing from Nothing. From that point on it became my anthem of London. You coming along with big ideas? Sure, but you gotta have a spring in your step and something to back it up. Ain’t nothing free in this town and ain’t no one gonna be taken for a ride.
It was also in London that I discovered one of my main weaknesses stemmed from coming across those rare individuals that took a disliking to me. The flatmate who engaged in incredibly noisy ‘activities’ multiple times a night and turned aggressive when I delicately brought it up in conversation. The same flatmate who consumed a lot of alcohol one night which was then projected all over the one toilet five of us shared. This person refused to clean it up, leaving the job for two of us to handle at 3am. She never apologised or showed remorse for her actions, that was the worst bit of all.
When my flatmates ignored the aggressive letters demanding unpaid council tax (a detail which was meant to be paid by the landlord), it was left to me to handle the bailiffs. Bailiffs are scary, especially when you’re silently hiding upstairs while they bang on the door. But the attitude of my flatmates that problems would be fixed by someone else or simply go away by themselves, it screamed a lack of maturity. I ended up sitting for hours in Citizen’s Advice and, when the letting agents ignored my calls, emailing the council myself with countless documents to prove we weren’t liable. The mould in my room, the frequent migraines that suddenly vanished when I wasn’t breathing in air pollution, I could list for hours the issues I merrily overlooked.
These were the unpleasant experiences of London that stick out in my mind, what you have to deal with living at the bottom end of the professional ladder. I got on (and still get on) well with most of my former flatmates on a personable level, but I wouldn’t rush back to a HMO any time soon as a result of my experiences.
London is a city of extremes, whether I spent the evening in a Leicester Square casino or writing in a pub where mice ran across the floor was complete chance. But it was an incredible experience all the same. Waking up to this view every morning reminded me how lucky I was to have such an opportunity, to sleep in the shadow of the Shard.
Ultimately I think this hijacked road works sign in West London sums up my time in the capital perfectly:
I was in Cambridge on my birthday when I heard The Trials of Cato, a three-piece folk group, busking in the city centre. These Are the Things is an anti-Brexit song although you wouldn’t necessarily think it on first listen. In contrast to the big smoke of central London I enjoyed spending time in the quainter spots of the South East I’d never before visited.
In November there was my first solo holiday. Bruges was an incredible city break for so many reasons and I fully intend to visit there again at least once, if not multiple times in my life. Aside from being a beautiful city, it made me realise how strong I was and how I didn’t need to force myself into a relationship to have amazing experiences.
One day during that holiday I was in a large church. I was about to leave when a local man came in and started playing the organ. I was completely stunned. I sat in the empty pews for at least 45 minutes just listening to the beautiful music being played for an audience of one. And then I started to cry, and when I realised I was crying I cried some more. Because in that moment I was so overcome with emotion, reflecting how far I’d come since the little girl who’d sobbed in Prague. I was in a new job, I was living in London, I was on holiday by myself. Above all else, I was happy.
Having donated a sizeable amount into the empty box, I left the church with a different pledge compared to that which I’d set myself a year before. I will never let anyone stop me being me.
By late October I was writing freelance pieces for the Swindon Advertiser and other places here and there, picking up fans from the most unlikely of articles. To name drop a few – the CEO of Royal Society of Arts, Matthew Taylor, Deputy Governor for the Bank of England, Nemat Shafik, and artist and TV personality Grayson Perry. While I was incredibly flattered by their letters and emails, I didn’t let it impact on my writing.
(YouTube search “Bruges Wish You Were Here?” To watch the video)
11th November 2019, where I am today…
The London grind carried as per 2018, I had my second wisdom tooth removed in January and in March I took again to travel, this time to Amsterdam. ‘Why?’ My friend asked. ‘Because I can.’ I replied.
I moved back to Swindon fully in May, full of the cultural confusion one would expect having undergone a year living in the capital. I felt more connected with the work I was paid to do, but it took me longer to reconnect with the local area. Gone were the fancy bars and influential people, nowhere to be seen were the towering buildings and the bold cultural mix that came with the crowds.
In central London being single was completely normal, but returning to Swindon I felt like an outsider in my own town. While I’d been experimenting with vegan cookery classes near King’s Cross and tackling marshmallow challenges in Waterloo pubs, many of my Swindon friends had shackled up or even got engaged. It felt weird, almost as weird as going back on the dating apps to find that I’d cleared through the search parameters in minutes. In London I never touched the sides! When I tried reaching out to guys a little bit further out, cities such as Bath and Bristol, I never got a response. When I told my friend that in London people would travel 45 minutes to for a date she said ‘but Alice, that was London,’ as if it were a valid excuse.
I needed the distraction from reality. In May that I had the best time when a friend invited me to spend a week in her villa in Granada. I’d never met the others she’d invited to join the party, but knowing her personality I put my faith in her judgement. It was trust well placed; I had an amazing time in Spain and made four great new friends out of the process, including photographer Tom who made me see that perhaps one of my biggest assets had been behind me all along.
I started a writing course in June to work on a novel and so far my tutor is loving it. While I started the course fully expecting to get critical feedback, I’m chuffed that the first draft is getting praise from well-established authors. Because of the nature of the course there’s a lot of two steps forward in draft, one step back to amend based on feedback but I’m working at great pace all the same.
26th June – enrolled on novel writing course (0 words)
1st October – 13,500 words
20th October – 28,000 words
11th November – 41,090 words
While there’s no hard and fast rule, general publishing consensus is that anything over 40,000 words could be published as an adult novel. While there’s still a long way to go, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my novel. Keep watching this space!
In July I started volunteering with the local Samaritans branch and through it learning a deeper understanding around the challenges of mental health, as well as practical skills such as line management (being accountable for retail operations which provides 50% of the centre’s income). The leadership team have welcomed me with open arms and, in the case of the Pride match, with a lot of branded material and face paint!
Swindon 18-30 Professionals
At the time of writing Swindon 18-30 is 912 members strong, a number that would have made a younger version of myself well-up in pride and disbelief.
The hard work goes on, and I’d have struggled if it not for those who have championed the group through sponsorship, organising events, telling their friends or letting me put up posters in their offices/community spaces.
Looking forward toward the rest of this year (and the next five after that) I’d love to see myself doing something which allows me to keep being who I am whilst continuing to add value to the everyday. I want to make sure that no one ever feels that they can’t be awesome or that they have to stay in a box because someone says so.
On 31st October I sat on a Brexit panel for local radio, I came away from the experience proud that I’d been able to voice my views in a balanced way and give a fresh perspective to ongoing debates. In the words of my Mum, “you never would have spoken like that two years ago. You should be proud of yourself.” She was right, I wouldn’t have dared put myself forward for anything so exposing a few years ago.
I want to make money from what I love doing most, writing, even if it’s just enough to cover the cost of some of the many coffees I consume whilst I type or scribble away. The feedback I get each and every day from people gives me the strength to keep working towards that goal. I want to get my first book published and then write some more, and more. My old Secondary School English teacher used to call me her ‘little-novelist’, I want to do my nick-namesake proud.
I’d like to find a partner, but I don’t want to settle and I don’t want to seek it out of desperation. I’m surrounded by friends and family who provide the love to survive, at my fingertips an internet bursting with information on which to thrive. I want a partner, but I need to know if it’s right for me.
Two snapshots, July 2014 and September 2019.
Maybe in another five years I’ll take a completely different opinion on how things have panned out. But honestly? In the past half decade I’ve learnt the most about myself and others through the leaps of faith and the knock backs, more than through the smooth rides. My life has changed so much since I moved to Swindon in 2014, the path to get me where I am today has been twisted and anything but conventional. No doubt it’ll shift about some more in the years and decades to come but I’m more than ready for it. Bring it on!
Below is one of my favourite songs which I discovered just before I went to Bruges. It sums up how I’d want people to embrace me; it’s fun, upbeat and a bit different from the usual (in content and language – it’s sung by French artist Zaz). In essence it’s about the singer asking a prospective partner to embrace who she is above all else.
“Je Veux d’l’amour, d’la joie, de la bonne humeur,
Ce n’est pas votre argent qui f’ra mon bonheur,
Moi j’veux crever la main sur le cœur papalapapapala, Allons ensemble découvrir ma liberté, oubliez donc tous vos clichés,
Bienvenue dans ma réalité!”
I want love, joy and cheerfulness, Your money won’t buy me happiness, I just want to die with a hand on my chest, Let’s go together discover my freedom, let you forget all your stereotypes, Welcome into my reality!
Here’s to the wonderful unpredictability of the events that we call life.
On 11th November I published this post, Five Years Ago Today…
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You may think your planned NYE party is off the chain but trust me, its got nothing on how these guys used to live it up. And as we all know, classical paintings and depictions are 100% factual (as true to life as Kim Kardashian’s derriere).
New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style
As per any night out, the evening’s events begin six hours beforehand when guests start getting ready in preparation for the night ahead.
It’s the kind of party that you know is going to be a-maze-ing. After all, name a party headlined by DJ Maz-donna that wasn’t historic?
Before you know it everyone is having a blast. Jesus isn’t looking too great, but then that guy always ends up boasting he’s the son of God at parties so maybe he’s having one of those kinds of night.
Just smile and walk on by.
But then the vibe suddenly changes. It all starts when a request is put in for the live band to play Ariana Grande.
Then someone beckons the Virgin Mary over…
…only to give her two fingers.
Next thing you know, the New Year’s Eve party turns into pure chaos. You’re with individuals you’ve never met before in your life and unable to understand a single word they’re saying.
Finding an excuse to get away, you turn a corner and find your mates surrounding Jesus, who by now is not looking great. No one has a clue what’s going on and the only friend that can string a sentence together keeps repeating “swear down he was like that when I got here”.
Then things get very blurry. Somewhere in the chaos there’s the sound of cheering as people welcome in the New Year but otherwise it all becomes a nightmarish mix of Heaven and Hell.
The next morning you visualise the night before as being like this:
However your friends later inform you that your antics were more like:
Still, it was a crazy night and a good one at that. A News Year’s Eve that’ll definitely make the top five. You may even choose to get a scene or two from the evening painted and framed to remember forever. Before you head off to take in the fresh air of the New Year you have only one more question to ask your mates.