With half of my once neatly bound hair bun tumbling out, I curse under my breath as I fumble my housekeys with sweaty fingertips. Despite best attempts to get away from work at 5, it’s now gone 6pm and I’m running hideously late. The sun beats down on my exposed neck as I barge my way into the house, laptop case bearing down on my slight wrist like a sack of cement.
I’m clambering up the stairs using what remaining hands and feet I have at my disposal. The primeval movement releases that niggling comment lodged at the back of my skull. “Alice, running late?” it says, “what’s new there?” I throw my laptop across my bedroom floor, coat myself in enough body spray to suffocate the voice and tumble back down the two flights of stairs, a signature quirk of owning a townhouse. I charge out the front door, remembering to pull out the key as an afterthought.
I barely notice the bee. Fat and furry, dragging its belly across the hot tarmac and far too reoccupied to notice the broad foot-shaped shadow hovering above. I look at my watch, glance around, look at my watch again. It’s doubtful anyone will else will come to the aid of a sickly bee, especially on a territorial housing estate where Swindon’s answer to The Bridge is two neighbours fighting over who clears up the ceremonial cat deposits positioned between two adjoining houses.
I rub a hand across the back of my sweaty neck and sigh. From inside the footwell of my car, I retrieve a notebook and rip out a lined sheet. It’s a rip that causes several more pages to scatter, prized scraps of disjointed creative thought now dotted in as many places. I lunge to grab one, dart over to save another before it is run over by a car. I narrow my eyes at the bee, biting my bottom lip which now tastes more of salt than it does of lipstick.
I eventually get the bee onto a neighbouring hedge. I don’t know how, I just do. Chucking the now ailing orange notebook across the backseat of my car, I turn on the ignition. The engine is still warm, the news station no further along in its ankle deep coverage of the upcoming local elections. I’m rolling off my drive and heading out the estate.
And then the bee flies into my windscreen.
It’s unbelievable, pure head-first, comedy gold. Of all the places and directions, the first bee of the season has decided to fly into the windscreen of a bright blue Fiat 500. There are no words to describe it, which is probably why I burst into laughter. “Alice, trying to save a bee with a death wish? What’s new there?”
It’s this very bee that fills my thoughts as I’m listening to the comedian Rachel Parris discuss the pieces of audience advice, words that make the backbone of her publication debut, Advice from Strangers. “I don’t mean to be rude,” she says, “but if there’s one bit of advice that I really don’t like it’s #BeKind.” She makes an overstated hashtag sign with her fingers and the audience laughs. “It’s meaning seems to have gotten lost on social media and now everyone uses it in a really patronising way. In that sense guess you could say I ‘have beef with Be Kind.'”
Funny, I think, I seem to have beef with just a single bee.
Rachel lists of her favourite pieces of advice, ranging from “never pass up the opportunity for a wee” to the more cryptic, such as “don’t sleep with either of them” and “don’t go into the attic when drunk”. Taking these as a springboard, Parris uses the pieces of advice in her book to reflect and challenge wider debates in society, whilst also commenting on her experiences with miscarriage and becoming a mother. When asked by the audience for her own piece of advice to strangers Parris thinks, long and hard, before answering. “Throw yourself into the life which you have.”
Her presentation now hitting its stride, Parris takes multiple questions from the audience, firing responses back with the same sharp wit that helped shape her career. On recalling her experiences with the BBC, Parris recounts, “the producers were surprisingly open to some of the ideas we pitched. I don’t think any of us ever thought we’d get away with putting up a sign on screen that read ‘Boris Johnson is a liar and a racist’ and yet they did.” She laughs. “Yeah, that one was a bit of a victory.”
Parris’ authorship career in books might be in its infancy but it is clear it also has so much potential (should she even wish to continue with it – her aspiration of penning a Jane Austen musical will remain tough competition to any future works in progress). Feminist, comedian, presenter, mother and now author, with this many strings to her bow it’ll be fascinating to see where Rachel Parris goes next.
With a final round of applause the lights are brought up and people begin shuffling out of the stands. As I make my way out to the Swindon Arts Centre my thoughts turn to the bee on my driveway. For all the frustration it caused me, I still hope it was able to get over the shock of hitting my car and fly to safety. “Maybe I’ll plant something in my garden,” I think, “in case he comes back.”
As I’m driving home I develop my own piece of advice, one for me and me alone. No matter what life throws at you (or your car windscreen), bee kind.
Advice from Strangers is available to buy from any number of places where book things are sold
Previous Swindon Literary Event write ups from AEB:
- Francesca Martinez: “At Least I’m not a Pot of Hummus or Donald Trump”
- Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal
- Anna Beer on “Eve Bites Back” (coming soon!)