“Protect Swindon 18-30!”: The Unexpected Success of Community Fundraising

You’re only as valuable to the community as the last thing you did for it.

That might or might not be a plagiarised quote from someone notable or, more likely, something I just made up after two (large) glasses of wine, but I’ve put it in fancy italics so the point stands.

This is the story of a group. No, actually, not a group, a community. Thrown together by birth, work, or sometimes just passing through; a community of humans who came together under limited expectations, only to save something far greater.

The Birth of a Community

When it comes to community the good deeds you make only go so far. It’s harsh but true. Unlike the good old days, people come and people move on.

The movement of people was one of the reasons I initially established Swindon 18-30 Professionals. People were coming into the town (mostly for work) and then rapidly fleeing as soon as they’d decided it wasn’t a place for them. Not enough to do, not enough of a scene for young people. And I couldn’t blame them; I’d relocated to the area and was feeling the cold shoulder of the real world. A world outside education where you can’t make best friends with people simply by shaking hands or offering out birthday chocolates by means of bribery. The real world just simply isn’t like that, in or outside Swindon.

From Strength to Strength

It came as a massive relief to me when I won the support of a local sponsor to cover the essential website maintenance costs. With the free subscription membership blossomed, and with it the strength of having a group that arguably was the biggest apolitical collective of local voices the town had seen in many years, if ever.

Over the months and years that followed, friendships were made and romances solidified. Multiple engagements, weddings and even babies have been created as a direct impact of the conversations struck up in pubs or over bowling lane rivalries. I was humbled, that feeling that the group was now self sufficient, it didn’t need me to babysit it 24/7 anymore.

Anything But Normal

And then Coronavirus happened.

Our version of normal was now ‘old’ and everything else was now to be referred to as the new version (whatever that was). Social gatherings were illegal, mental health, financial security, a secondary concern compared to the threat of a killer virus. We watched it all slip away, like sand through our fingers.

My steadfast sponsor, like everything else, was forced to close. As their income disappeared overnight, so did the lifeline of Swindon 18-30. I sat on my bed one night, barely able to sleep. Years of hard work, of creating and building, ended before people had even the chance give it a decent send off. I was left hollow, wounded but without the blood to show for it.

“Sh*t Happens, Get Over It”

I proposed to the leadership team setting up a fundraising page. A last-ditch hope that we could scrape together enough to cover the next six months of fees (around £100).

I did some research, compared the options eventually went for GoGetFunding which was one of the few which let fundraisers withdraw money, even if they don’t make the target set on the page. This in mind, I went for a over optimistic £260 which would cover costs for a year, plus the fundraising page fees. I hit submit, the page went live.

I sent a frank and blunt email to all the members with a link to donate money and walked away. A watched pot never boils and I couldn’t bear to spend a wasted evening watching a page that got no engagement. In five years I’d never asked anything of my members, new and old, so to be begging for money now? I was adamant that they’d see me as being unrealistic.

The Kind of Thing That Only Happens in Movies

I retuned to my laptop and was taken with the number of emails in my inbox. “Probably spam,” I thought, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Because instead of the junk mail I was expecting, all the emails were notifications from the fundraising website.

Donations came in thick and fast and at values that almost made me want to cry. I probably would have if not for the personalised messages getting to me first.

There I’d been, working my socks off and building up a strong leadership team and thinking no one had noticed. That no one had particularly cared for all the effort we put in. The words I was reading now, they proved me wrong.

“Every penny well deserved!”

“An amazing organisation, I hope it carries on long into the future.”

“This group helped me take control of my social anxiety and build my confidence.”

“I owe so much to Swindon 18-30. So many incredible people I wouldn’t have even crossed paths with if it were not for the events put on.”

“Well done Alice! Keep up the good work and long live the mermaids!”

In just over 24 hours we hit my target for funding, but yet the money kept pouring in, it seemed everyone wanted to show their support and ensure the group stayed alive. And this wasn’t just current members, people who’d long left Swindon donated, keen to ensure its legacy for new batches of young professionals.

For the second time that week I found myself unable to sleep, although this time it was out of happiness and relief. The group had validated its existence, it had an army of young people prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it running.

Stop the Press!

The local press release was published the following week with a number of last minute updates. The original purpose, framed to act as a plea for help was now repurposed as an awareness piece, to reach out to those who felt alone and isolated. That at the end of all this there would be a place to safe place to meet and engage with other people.

The finished article can be accessed online via this link.

Trouble on the Murky Crime Horizon

Like everything that happens in my life, there had to be a catch to all this positivity. For me, this came when the webpage was bombarded with fraudulent donations. The alarm bells came when the donations were coming in tiny denominations (usually £1) and from people I didn’t recognise. Later it transpired that these payments were likely stolen cards being tested out prior to the thief either selling them on or using them for bigger transactions. Wanting to do the right thing (and wanting to avoid severe penalties), I promptly returned the money back to the payment card, only to then be charged a handling fee for doing so!

I spoke with both customer services on GoGetFunding and then PayPal, voicing frustrations. They both pointed fingers at the other, both refused to acknowledge the faults in their system, both saw no reason to refund me for doing the right thing. I enchanced secrity controls, as per PayPal’s recommendation, which made things worse. The next morning I had ten transactions to refund. It was at that point, stressed and deeply angry, that I was sadly forced to close the funding page ahead of time.

If there is one top tip I can place in all of this it is to not use GoGetFunding. The commission is less but damn, you pay more in blocking fraudulent payments in the long run!

However, all said and done the final figure at the point of close spoke for itself. The group had done it, we had enough to keep going throughout the tough months to come.

The Future is Bright…

On the far side of all this (whenever that might be) it’s confirmed, that there will be a group and place for people to call their social home. A place to buy a pint or two and give toast to everything that’s made us who we are today.

Here’s to the silent supporters and the ‘this one’s on me’ drink buyers. Long live the donators of good causes, the ones who have the vision to see beyond the news headlines and the weeks on a calendar. From my heart to yours, thank you. Thank you so much.

You can find out more about Swindon 18-30 Professionals via the group’s dedicated website. https://www.meetup.com/Swindon-18-30-Professionals/

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Three Secrets of Resilient People

I’m not gonna lie, times are tough. Working from home, cat bum in my face as I try to juggle conference calls with a window that washes me out (aka looking like a knock-off Second Coming of Biblical proportions).

It’s easy to shrug it all off, make out we’re invincible. Likewise, it’s also very easy to blame ourselves for the things we cannot help.

I discovered the video below via a work colleague and it massively helped improve my understanding on resilience. That actually, part of my general fatigue was an over exhaustion of trying to be strong and hold myself to my own high standards. After watching I slashed back on the social media and have started making moves to reduce time wastage on unproductive activities.

(So FYI, that’s why I deleted you from Facebook or left your group. Honestly, you really are better following my Facebook page. I update it more often.)

Anyway, here is the video. Give it a watch, I’d be interested to know your thoughts and reactions. Would you take a different approach to the personal impact of 2020 if you’d had the chance to make different choices?

The moral of the story? We all need to be more like my pet cat.

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Career Stories: Bucking the Stereotype

My old Secondary (High) School wanted to do a feature on me for their website. After a series of email exchanges (and some editing support from the lovely Alicia), my post-Chipping Campden School career story is now live:

Alice E Bennett: Bucking the Stereotype

Check it out and discover more about how I went from being a reclusive History graduate to an extroverted Finance professional / creative writer.

Opportunity shout out! I’m currently offering mentorship opportunities for students enrolled at my old Secondary School. Please contact the Alumni Developmental team for more information.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Antibacterial Wipes: Lockdown in the Cotswolds

This is what we do for ‘fun’ in the Cotswolds:

(Thought I’d kick off – pun intended – with something a bit light-hearted)

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With old Charlie Covid doing the rounds, I made the decision to move back into the family home until “this blows over”. I want to say “until this passes through”, but then that would liken Coronavirus to a digestive complaint you have after a dodgy kebab. Funny, in the strange old world we’re in I think a good deal of us would envy suffering with that as opposed to months of quarantine.

So this is where I am now; in the Cotswolds, with family. I brought with me a kilo of pasta, a 24-pack of loo roll and a massive stash of antibacterial wipes. It was the best cop-out of Mother’s Day – I’ve never seen my mum so happy to see a box of max. strength cold and flu relief.

Antibacterial Wipes
Finally my OCD for end-of-world preparation has come in handy!

(Papa Bennett was kept satisfied with the 25-pack of Quavers squeezed into the boot of my car.)

The current situation does mean however that I’m starved of a good deal of blog/comedy source material whilst everything is closed. For about a week I lapsed, finding myself viewing articles and videos with little meaning or sense.

From the despair of time wasted I’m never getting back, I thought I’d change things up from doom and gloom and pick out some of the positives of my current living arrangements.

Lockdown in the Cotswolds

My diet has vastly improved

People think I’m joking when I say most of the meals I eat contain three ingredients. I’m really not. Case in point, scrambled eggs: eggs (no milk), toast, butter. Cheese sandwich: cheese, bread, butter. I really could go on, but you get the idea.

Mumma B is amazing in the kitchen so I can only assume my body is going into shock right now with the quality of what I’m eating e.g. I’ve just recently rediscovered this wonderful foodstuff called ‘fruit’.

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Alcohol on tap

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It’s funny, my parent’s generation often see the sights of drunk brits on the street and moan that we’re the ones with a problem with alcohol.

I go for weeks on end in Swindon not touching a drop, but come back to the Cotswolds and am being frequently plied with the stuff. You’d think the water wasn’t safe to drink!

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And as for what counts as a single measure around here…

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I’ve got time to write

Just because I haven’t been blogging as frequently, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing at all. The time saved not commuting to work, not being able to get out or be tempted to frolic in fields…

Theresa May, ex UK Prime Minister. If you’re British you’ll get it.

…Having that time has been a great push to get me focusing on other writing ventures. Time well spent on researching the publishing industry; learning how to write covering letters, how to sell yourself and your work etc. When it comes to writing, the words on the page/screen are really only half the battle, the other half is convincing people to read them and back you. It’s also why you’ll find me frequently asking lovely people such as yourselves to follow my social media outlets and tell your friends about it.

I’ve also needed the extra time for editing. Not until recently, when I’ve been working on the manuscript for a book, did I quite realise how much crap I tend to produce in my first drafts. God, I’ve been rewriting so much rubbish copy! How do you guys put up with some of the things I must waffle on about? (Don’t answer that.)

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More time with the cats

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Bubble, left; Squeak, right. Both hogging the fire

Anyone who has family pets will relate to this. The family cats, Bubble and Squeak, are two furry faces I spent all of my teenage years growing up with. We think they’re now about 15 years old, which makes perfect sense as they’ve taken to constantly yelling at us for food or sleeping.

That said, I love them very dearly and it’s good to be around them. Plus, Squeak and I have started watching TV together.

We’ve really bonded over the complex storylines.

I’m blessed with space

This one shot of my parent’s back garden:

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Need I say more?

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In short, things really could be a lot worse for me right now. Big claps and respect for everyone working in healthcare, police, frontline or other jobs that can’t be done from home. You are protecting and saving lives or supporting infrastructure, so thank you.

I’m working on a couple of other blog posts in parallel so stay tuned for new content coming soon. We may be under a lockdown but I’m not going to let that hinder me producing or sharing anything less than high-quality!

You’re welcome.

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Stop Faffing About and Get on With it!

Cally Beaton, TV Executive and stand up comedian extraordinaire, delivered a powerful presentation recently in my workspace. If that wasn’t an experience by itself, my colleague I and alo had the pleasure of catching up with Cally afterwards to record a podcast. We covered lots of important topics including imposter syndrome, mentoring dating woes and the difficulty of acquiring paracetamol without ID. First world problems, you know?

Unfortunately due to company restrictions I’m not allowed to share with you the audi (trust me, I tried). However, that said, it was an absolute pleasure to interview Cally and write up the subsequent article.

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Stop Faffing About and Get on with it!

When Kirst and myself, Alice Bennett, joined this company we never thought we’d have a stand-up comedian instruct us to stop fearing change and become a disrupter. It was a bit forward given we’d only met this woman fifteen minutes prior, but we were prepared to go along with it.

Introducing Cally Beaton; board member, stand-up comedian and single super mum. Cally’s success hasn’t come over night and despite her colourful background, in recent years she’s taken time to strip herself back to her core and purposefully gravitate towards the things that scare her.

An interesting thought. I mean, many people wouldn’t dare venture outside their comfort zone and don’t get me started on imposter syndrome which, according to Cally, affects 97% of us. Could it be our wonderfully unique mindsets are being plagued with self-doubt to the point where we all act and do the same? According to this insightful speaker, they very much are.

Cally turned to comedy only five years ago after realising she had to make space for the things in her life that mattered. Laughing freely, Cally told us she’s never learnt as much from a good gig, as a bad one.

While she’ll be the first to admit it’s not been all smooth sailing, this is a woman who clearly holds no regrets about her life choices. It goes to show, it’s never too late to try something new; one small change today can make a massive difference tomorrow!

There were too many one-liners and stories to detail here but our key takeaway was the need to stay true to yourself and be a driver for change (aka a positive disrupter). The future will be different so, in the words of this charismatic communicator, buckle up!

Kirst and I caught up with Cally afterwards to record a podcast (which truth be told, felt more like a girl’s night in). In doing so we really got under the skin of what makes this vibrant and infectious woman tick (in her own words, ‘no questions are off the table!’).

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Left to right: Kirst, Cally Beaton, Alice Bennett

Link to Cally’s website: http://callybeaton.com/

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Ones to Watch: Writer Alice E. Bennett

I was recently interviewed by as part of a industry-wide ‘Ones to Watch’ podcast. The resulting interviews were distributed across a large national network of Life Coaches and clients.

The series showcased and promoted creative talent but also encouraged high-performers to pursue development goals outside their 9-5 jobs. It was a great project to be part of and I’m now excited to be able to share the final output.

Podcast Bio:

This week we’re meeting Finance professional and writer Alice E. Bennett (author of comedy blog My Housemate’s a Mermaid).

Having relocated to London for work, Alice provides a first-hand insight into the challenges of renting in the capital, getting onto the housing ladder and how a career in Financial Services is continually helping to shape her success as a creative writer.

 

 

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London Recalling – The Boxset

Want to revisit any of the London Recalling series? Links to all four installments below. (Also available through the Very British Travels page, via the navigation pane.)

London Recalling

 

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

 

London Recalling…Solo Sell-Outs

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.

London Recalling

This post follows Part 2, The Creative’s Curse

Part 3, Solo Sell-Outs

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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’.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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”.

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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.

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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).

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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.

Image result for drawing peacock

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.

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

**

Places visited (in order):

NB – I was not paid to visit any of the above, adding links for reference.

**

London Recalling Series:

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

 

London Recalling…The Creative’s Curse

Okay, so my cold seems to have moved onwards and upwards…from my throat to my head. God I hate it when I’m constantly full of headache, I feel so useless! The bruising on my leg seems to not be quite so obvious now, although I knocked it against a table leg this evening and am very much reminded it’s still there.

While the painkillers are doing their job I best crack on with giving purpose to my life, before the throbbing returns and I’m back to lying in a dark room with music by Norah Jones being the only thing I can tolerate as comforting.

London Recalling

This post follows Part 1, Straight Lesbians Like Us

Part 2, The Creative’s Curse

On parting Cherice at Angel station in Islington, I dashed across London with enough time to check into my hotel near Tower Bridge.

‘I’m going to put you on the quiet side of the hotel,’ the receptionist informed me with a smile.

‘Thank you, that’s very kind,’ I replied, although I felt quite sure it came just as much down to which standard rooms were still free at 18:00 as much as anything else.

I’d already booked tickets to see Matilda that evening, giving me a generous 45 minutes to get back, make a speedy tea and then head out again in time to get to the theatre and collect tickets before the 19:30 start.

I’d stopped by a branch of Doughnut Time earlier in the day and the oversized, over sweetened, Biscoff treat ended up being the perfect solution to my limited time to source an alternative meal. I polished off the item while in the background I stuck the TV onto the only semi-passable, non-committal program basic Freeview had to offer.

‘Why did I ever like this film?’ I pondered as I tried to negotiate the challenges of eating a messy foodstuff out of the cardboard box. ‘What year was this film? 1999? Wow, that would be why.’

No time to change, I emptied my handbag of unnecessary items, grabbed a bag of sweets for the road and headed out into the night.

Once I got to the theatre and found my seat I was pleasantly surprised by the view.

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As I later remarked to a work colleague, one of the few benefits of attending on a Saturday night alongside a number of families – no issues with tall people in front!

I won’t bore or ruin the details of the production, but safe to say I could very much see why the show was exported from my beloved home town of Stratford Upon Avon several years before. It felt good to finally say I’d seen it for myself.

Fast approaching midnight; on returning to the hotel, my last scraps of energy were applied to putting on lounge wear and flopping into bed. Sleep came easier to me than swimming to a fish.

**

The next morning I pulled myself awake with relative ease. I grabbed my watch off the nightstand, 9:00. The downside of thick curtains; the room was just as dark now as it had been in the early hours of the morning.

I already knew where I wanted to go; the Columbia Road flower market in Hoxton only happens on a Sunday morning and I had fond memories of being in the middle of the hubbub of those who flock to the street to buy exotic plants from strange lands far beyond the Thames.

More familiar with the route I used to take from my old stomping ground, Wapping, from Tower Bridge the route was decidedly quicker when taken on foot compared to on Tube…well, in theory it was. Because by the time I’d gone down every side street, studying each passing map like a common tourist, I was the first to accept I was a little lost. But, at only 10:00 most of London had yet to fully wake up and I found myself quite happily riding the wave of confusion as I took in the sights of a slightly less chaotic Brick Lane in the heart of the old East.

**

When I finally arrived at the flower market (spurred on by the sight of people carrying large indoor palm trees), I joined the shuffling crowds. the smells and sounds taking me back to all the times before, the gruff masculine sellers showcasing colourful tulips just as amusing as always.

At the far end of the long street there was a pianist and tap dancer busking to a large collated group of watchers. They, competing against the tradespeople for attention, the tradespeople doing similar as the two parties fought for hard-earned money. It strangely added to the effect, the lady’s tapping feet on the damp tarmac a mesmerising beat to the cries of “two for five pound succulents!”

I purchased a couple of small cacti from a stand, not because I necessarily needed or wanted them in my life, but because they would look nice next to the one I already had in my home in Swindon. A subtle reminder of a moment whenever I made a cup of tea, a way to relieve a memory without anyone else knowing.

As I reached to pick up one of the items off a rack, another cactus pricked me in envy. With the bag tapping against my thigh, I made tracks to find the nearest shop to stock tubes of Savalon balm. Once this had been acquired and applied, I carried on to one of my favourite coffee haunts.

**

‘We don’t do blueberry muffins anymore,’ the barista says bluntly.

‘Oh, well, I guess it has been a year since I last visited. Things change.’ I point to a piece of banana bread to indicate my alternative selection. I hand over my loyalty card, the edges battered and stained from a year in the depths of my purse.

‘We don’t take those anymore, manager had a crack down on them a while ago.’

‘That’s shame,’ I say. While the barista makes my Americano I look down at the small piece of card. Four previous coffees, four stamps that had now amounted to nothing. Still, not like this fifth one would help much towards the free tenth coffee. I put it back in my purse, it still seemed too much to throw it away.

Work in Progress

I set myself up in the window, one of the few people to chose this particular coffee shop as their location of choice on a mild Sunday morning. I carefully placed one of my purchased plants down on the table, rearranging it slightly just as the barista walked over from the counter with my coffee and cake. Not like either of us were in any rush.

About an hour into a session of typing, a swarm of people poured up from the downstairs cellar. Surrounded by a flurry of voices it was impossible not to learn the subject of interest; an artsy film that had been premiered below. Eventually they all vacated and it was service as usual; just me, a couple of bored employees and the words on my screen.

It took a change of a track on the venue’s carefully constructed playlist to realise how long I’d be stationary in the trend-setting shop. I took it as a sign and made my leave.

**

Back at the hotel I dodged past the remaining cleaner trolleys to return to my room, thankful of a slightly longer rest bite to unpack my case properly. I flipped open the lid on a four pack of multi-buy blueberry muffins (small supermarket I’d passed) and happily picked away at its spongy texture as I flicked through an outdated Friday issue the Evening Standard I’d grabbed outside Aldgate East.

In what felt like no time as all I was grabbing my red coat and heading out once more, this time powering towards a Sofar Sounds music gig, hosted in block of flats somewhere deep in Shoreditch. Part of the gig’s charm was the secrecy in location right up until the last minute

**

‘Hey, you!’ I cry out down the street, over the roar of local cars and music blaring from neighbouring flats.

‘Hey!’ My little friend says with a smile, lifting her hood up to expose her dark hair to the rain for the first time. She stares at the metal gate.

‘It’s definitely here, right?’

‘Says so,’ I push the gate open and we enter the complex. ‘Thing is, I have a strong sense of deja vu being here…’

‘You been to many of these things?’ Emily asks, having never attended one of these events before.

‘Sofar Sounds? Yeah, this must be my…’ My eyes shoot upwards as I calculate the number in my head. ‘This is my fourth. Two previously here, one in Swindon.’

I give my name to the lady on the door and she directs us into the block. I recognise the hallway immediately; we’re heading to the same flat I attended before with Cherice.

‘So, what’s the vibe like?’ My friend asks as the lift rattles up four floors.

‘Oh, very friendly. Everyone gets all cosy and watch three acts perform. Some of them are in commercial venues, like bars and galleries, other are like this; people offering up their own homes.’

We knock on the flat door and immediately it shoots open by, I assume, the host. I’d hoped that arriving twenty minutes early would secure us with a greater choice of floor space, however this theory was quickly dashed when the same lady directed us to a large mound of jumbled shoes before permitting us a step further.

We carefully picked our way over several groups before finding a spot to seat ourselves. I laid my coat on the floor and pulled out a bottle of water and snacks, seasoned to the ways of Sofar Sounds.

‘Would you ever offer up your place for this?’ Emily asks.

‘God no!’ I reply. ‘See what people are drinking?’

Emily quickly glossed over the room’s inhabitants, most clutching bottles of beer or small containers of wine. One lady was casually sharing out chicken nuggets between people she’d just met.

‘Now look at the floor,’ I add.

‘It’s laminate.’

‘I think you’ve answered your original question.’

**

After a general introduction, three acts were each introduced to the ‘stage’; a tiny space at front cordoned off with a flimsy string of cheap LED lights.

The room was packed, busier and more overcrowded than the time before. In order to fit in an ever increasing number of ticket holders I found myself having to adopt ever more creative positions to fit my body into the Tetris-like gaps that sprung up and closed as others around me did similar.

Within the performance breaks Emily and I had chance to catch up. I’d spent two years living with her during our University days, going through both the good and rough times life as a student can bring.

I’d seen a kindred spirit in Emily when it came to work. For her dissertation I’d often get woken up in the early hours of the week as she headed to the labs to pull her research; whereas for mine it had resulted in weekends spent living and breathing historical archives to try and locate secretive family information. No one could have ever said we weren’t committed to a goal.

I suppose now, as we both sat in this top floor flat, what changed us was the way in which our studies shaped us. I applied elements of my History degree into jobs with no strong bearing on the subject matter, Emily meanwhile was on a conquest to utilise her education in its purest form. She was in the middle of working through a Masters Degree, whilst holding down a full-time job.

When she’d first told me about it almost two years ago I thought she was mad. Now, hearing her speak so highly on her passion for the subject matter, I could only admire her strength of will all the more.

After act one we stood up to stretch our legs, the guitarist tuning his instruments right before our noses.

‘That’s one to take home,’ I observe light-heartedly. ‘”Ma, he has two guitars!”‘

‘Are you on any dating apps?’ Emily enquires subtly, taking a swig of water from her bottle.

‘Back on Hinge. You remember, the one everyone raved about at improv. event?’

‘Erm…’

I hiss through my teeth. ‘The one with the photo?’

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‘Oh, yeah, that one!’

I pop a couple of gummy sweets in my mouth, quickly chomping on them as I offer some more into the palm of my plus one.

‘Basically, and you’re going to love this, I went to a music gig in Swindon recently with a guy…’

‘A date?’ Emily quickly interjects, the story suddenly taking her interest. I lift my hand to stop her.

‘Don’t, I thought that too. Especially when he offered to pick me up and pay for my ticket.’

‘So what went wrong?’

I sighed, it never got any easier to tell the story. ‘He had a girlfriend.’

‘What?’

‘He said I should have known, that it was obvious he was texting her all night. Well, forgive me for being too distracted by the music and, you know, not being a creep?’ I munch down on another sweet whilst looking into the middle-distance.

‘Weird.’

‘Isn’t it just? But it’s kinda been the closest I’ve had to anything since God knows when and I’ve just reached a stage where I’ve been single for two years, only ever had one relationship…’

‘Was it though?’

I chuckle. ‘Lets not go there. It’ just…just…well, everyone seems to be settling down and it feels like I’m doing anything but. Guys don’t ever seem to be on my level. They all want to worship me or aren’t interested no matter what I do.’

‘Men! But still, what’s wrong with wanting to be worshipped?’

‘Not if it’s suffocating.’

I glanced over the large number of couples in the room and took in a deep breath. ‘I want to be considered an equal, to be with someone who has the same values as me but not afraid to challenge me on them just as much. Sometimes I think I ask too much.’

It was at this point we were encouraged to return to our seated positions for the next act.

**

About two songs into the guitarist’s set I found my mind drifting on the waves of the music. The man was amazing, make no mistake, but with all music that lacks the presence of vocal chords, my creative mind suddenly found the opening to run free.

I caught myself gazing at a couple sat up against the back wall. Hidden in partial darkness and at the furthest reaches of attention and music; the two were deep in whispered conversation, he with an arm around her shoulder and she clutching his spare hand in one of her own. The world around them were merely the backing dancers, extras in their sell-out performance. They couldn’t care less about the quality and type of music their entry ticket had funded.

Then my mind raced forwards to later; I pictured them leaving the flat laughing and running down the street, jovial in manner but a hidden urgency to get to the Tube.

She yanks him into the train carriage just as the doors close, his jacket narrowly missing entrapment. She holds him there, by the t-shirt collar, held in suspense while the carriage rattles and lurches in sudden, jerky, movements, the tracks screeching its siren call. Staring deep into her eyes, the urge in his body tightens; building and building until suddenly it’s too great a feeling to contain. It floods into her as he leans forward and sharply kisses her against the sliding door, just as the train pulls into the station. The woman pushes him back with a giggle, a slight nod to indicate that this is the stop to alight from.

And when they get to the flat, that little compact and scruffy space that could have been theirs for years or hers for weeks; when they finally tumble in, they interlock like time itself is as fleeting as sand in a glass. Her delicate fingers grapple and skilfully undo her partner’s perfectly styled hair with speed as she slowly steps backward to hit the light’s off switch with her oil-slicked palm.

The things that are enacted next, in that dark space warmed by both body and street light, they are the thoughts that cannot be written. How constraining and insufferable the English language can be at the times we need it most.

It’s impossible to say from this angle if the transaction is love, or little more than a sudden flare of lustful hope, but the conclusion reached is just the same. They lie there, on the collapsed mattress with passion-stained sheets, no words needing to be said to dare risk spoiling this brief moment of euphoria.

Her head rests on his body, a long tangle of jet black hair intertwining with that on his chest. Slowly, but surely, the pair drift off into a deep sleep; they have barely said a word to each other since leaving the event.

**

Someone suddenly moves in front of me and in a daze I quickly move one my limbs in the opposite direction. Bad decision, I feel something snap at the back of my left leg followed by sharp pain the full length of the limb. Biting my lip hard to prevent a yelp of pain, I look down and see that my leg must have been in an awkward position for sometime, it almost looks dislocated the angle is so unnatural.

Emily gives me a nudge, the performer has finished his set. I clap along, using the chance to curse under my breath and position myself to stretch my leg out. The pain subsides, even if for a short spell.

I glance up and see the couple on the back wall clapping along as well, although theirs seems more out politeness than in genuine recognition for the man’s talent. I slowly blink and return focus elsewhere.

‘When are you going to finish the book?’ Emily asks me.

**

For those with an interest in producing any form of art having a broad and open mindset is an essential part of our very make up. The ability to see something and pull out a deeper meaning or be inspired to create a new one. When I speak of the Creative’s Curse, I don’t mean to refer to some kind of incurable disease or superstition, more the occasional drawbacks of having a unique skill.

Seeing things you don’t always want to see, creating implausible story lines to fill a void you didn’t even know existed. The sole belief a perfect world lies just beyond one’s fingertips. Sometimes it’s impossible to predict the triggers, sometimes you don’t want to. The irony; my sweet heroin is the thing that keeps me sane. I cannot bear to imagine a world where my creativity, including the occasional bought of Creative’s Curse, was sucked from the very marrow in my bones.

**

I was sat in the local pub later that night, one I used to frequent regularly when I lived only a couple of streets away. With a hand resting across my lap; watching boats speed up and down the dark abyss of the Thames, I heard a woman muttering in the seat behind.

‘I wonder what she’s thinking…’

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**

Places visited (in order):

NB – I was not paid to visit or promote any of the above, adding links for reference.

**

London Recalling Series:

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

Buy Me A Coffee

I’ve been writing for five years, during which time I’ve been amazed by the level of joy it brings to people like you.

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