Educating Rita, and me

Educating Rita, and me

We love theatre, movies and TV shows because they tell our stories.

When we see ourselves and our lives reflected back at us we know we’re not alone in our experiences, we feel connection with both the story and its writer, and life, for a while, seems to make more sense.

There’s a movie called “Educating Rita,” (written by one of my favourite writers, Willie Russell!), which has meant so much to me from the first time I saw it at the movies, with my mum.

It stars Michael Caine as a university professor and Julie Walters as Rita who comes from a working class family. In Rita’s family people don’t go to University. They leave school and get a job and that’s it, and if you are a woman, you get married, have children and resign yourself to your lot in life.

Rita is a hairdresser, married to a bloke who wants her to have a baby, but she doesn’t want to. She is hungry for education and feels there is so much more to life. Her studies begin to separate her from her family, because none of the others have trodden that path and they can’t seem to understand her need to fill that hunger, that curiosity.

In one tellingly emotional scene Rita is in the pub on a Saturday night with her family and they all begin to have a sing along in the pub. You can hear Rita’s voice narrating over the top of the scene, and she looks over and she sees her mum’s face. Her mum looks so miserable, so heart-breakingly sad.

In that moment Rita realises that her mum harbours all those same feelings for getting more out of life, and that she’s squashed those feelings down to fit in with the expectations of other people. Rita realises there are tears on her mum’s face, and says, ‘Why are you crying, Mother’, to which her mum replies “There must be better songs to sing than this.”

I can remember seeing that movie for the first time with my mum. I was 22 years old. I was also in the final stages of a four-year hairdressing apprenticeship and I too felt that ache for life to be something more, to sing a better song than this. I found myself sobbing there in the cinema, because right up there on that huge screen was my experience.

Then I turned to mum and she was crying too, because she also remembered her hopes and dreams that had been halted by life, and for a few moments we weren’t divided by generations, by history, a world war and the advent of feminism. We were simply women, equal in our hopes for a life well lived.

I recently saw a production of Educating Rita here in Adelaide and it blew me away. Stunningly, simply produced, directed and acted. It was everything I’d hoped it would be.

The great news is that this production is being given another outing due to the first run being totally sold out and I cannot recommend it enough. It has Lauren Renee and James McCluskey-Garcia in the roles of Rita and Frank, with direction by Nathan Quadrio of IpSkip Productions.

It runs next week, Wednesday 19 to Sunday 23 April at The Bakehouse Theatre and tickets are only $18.

If you love to see a great story well-told, go see it.  I promise you, it’s a wonderful night of theatre.

I Close My Eyes and Jump

angel-81392_1280Goodness gracious what a week!

I had always imagined that when days arrive that will change my life, they would be huge and dramatic. Maybe fireworks and heavenly choirs, marching bands and trumpets, a boom or two of thunder and lightning splitting the sky.

But what really happened was an unprecedented overwhelming wave of peace, and then deep, deep inside I heard a quiet, loving voice say very firmly “No, enough. It is time now”.

And the decision that had to be made wasn’t scary. I have no doubts about the way forward, and indeed it seems to be the most natural, normal thing in the world.

So, what actually happened is that this week I resigned from my well-paid job to devote my life to coaching and training, to helping people get happy (and therefore successful) quickly and easily, and to have fun doing it using a combination of comedy and cutting edge science (for those that don’t know me I’m also an actor and comedian).

Just to re-emphasise, on Tuesday I had a six-figure, relatively safe government job, and now, after I work my notice, in about 3.5 weeks time I’ll be working for my own business Elegant Concepts Group.

What I’ve done goes against all conventional wisdom. Women my age (52) find it increasingly difficult to get decent work in the corporate sector, and those who tread cautiously would say that it really isn’t the time to be striking out on one’s own.

However, here’s the crux of the matter; for the past 30-odd years – most of my working life – I’ve been suppressing who I really am in order to fit into the ‘corporate box’. I’ve been living a double life; appearing on stage either in theatre or comedy in the evening and by day I’ve been hiding my true passions to fit in with everyone else, and in the process I’ve been exhausting myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. I have also been disappointing myself for not standing up for whatever oddity I feel I must be.

I have often looked with envy at people who love their 9 to 5 jobs and wished for some of the peace of mind they seem to have. But maybe they too are hiding their passions in some way to fit in with what our society asks of us. I know that for me, as I’ve got older, it has been increasingly difficult.

And then I had the health scares of the past couple of months (see previous post) to bring me to very sharp awareness of the fragility and transient nature of our time here on earth.

The key has been a question of alignment. I’ve been out of alignment and not living my values, and yet that is what I ask my clients to do, to live according to their values. How can I ask that of them when I haven’t done it myself?  That non-alignment has probably been at the basis of my health and stress problems. I can hear my old Scottish mum’s voice in my head “Ye cannay be the servant of two masters.” And that’s why I’m now giving up on one and following, with such a happy heart, the other.

I have the advantage of a fabulously supportive husband, my lovely Steven, who in his own quiet way has been pointing out my fierce defence of this middling stance for some time. And now I’ve stepped out of no-man’s-land and made the commitment he is with me all the way.

So, here goes. The countdown is on. I have my methodology and content that I want, no – need – to deliver, my products for individuals and corporates are almost ready, and even in the past few days opportunities have opened up that I would never have even noticed before. The Universe responds.

I close my eyes,

I take a big breath, and

JUMP!

What Looks Like the End is Actually the Beginning

adelaide sunsetLast week I had a rare privilege. I got to see what it could be like if my life was coming to a close.

It was all a bit dramatic – I wasn’t feeling good after a bout of pneumonia and my GP took one look at me, slapped me on the surgery’s ECG machine and called an ambulance.

They strapped me to a gurney, wheeled me out into the car park and into the ambulance, hooked me up to oxygen and a machine that went ‘beep’.

I felt like a right pillock.

The emergency department was an education. Busy as hell, the guy two cubicles down was telling a mental health worker very eloquently and very graphically about how he was tired of his psychoses and how he would just like to kill everyone please. Shortly afterward he tried to ‘go out for a walk’. It took six security guys with ropes and chains (I kid you not) to haul him back and restrain him. They’d worked up a fair sweat by the time they were finished.

The man across the way was on the gurney because his hip had dislocated. His wife came in to see him. He sounded like a real gentleman until the doctors left and the good natured charmer turned into quite something else. If he had spoken to me the way he conversationally abused his wife it would have been his jaw that was dislocated. Just like Big Ben he had a face for every direction.

Who needs a telly when you have live drama happening all around?

Anyway, I digress.

There I was, now hooked up to another machine that went ‘beep’ and with a cannula in my arm for easy extraction of blood and the process of waiting began.  I had plenty of time to think. What if it was a heart attack, the thing they were testing me for? I had a family history of heart disease so I am in the risk zone. What if I had come close to it being the last day I saw?  I tell you, it fair pulls your life into focus and the things that matter most become very, very clear.

All of a sudden I saw the folly of my hesitation over certain things, the short-sightedness of my tolerance of other things and the stupidity of trading in dreams for security. When you’re at that threshold (or you think you might be in the hallway that leads to the threshold), here’s what mattered most:

  • The people I love
  • The dreams and plans I want to realise
  • The hope that I’d made some contribution to make the world a better place for my presence (which is really a combination of the first two)

That was it. Nothing more mattered except love, connection and contribution. Outside of the context of these three things money meant nothing – everyone looks the same in a hospital gown.

Love, connection, contribution.

Message received.

Nuff sed.

 

Stuffed Mums Strike Again!

 

How do I describe the afternoon I’ve just experienced?

Along with my Three Stuffed Mums colleagues Kate and Kehau I spent the afternoon at Goolwa, a small town south of Adelaide at the mouth of the mighty river Murray, and had the biggest amount of fun. We were there to perform a Three Stuffed Mums show as part of ‘Just Add Water’ – the Country Arts SA Regional Centre for Culture festival that takes the arts to the regions and for a year settles in and works with the people who live locally. A main part of the festival is that projects there should leave a lasting legacy for the community.

Three Stuffed Mums project was to perform our show there and then over a period of a few weeks teach and coach local mums in standup or other ways of telling their own stories with humour. Then at the end we’ll present a showcase with the women performing their work. Today was the show and we’ll conduct the course from May to July.

It had become plain to us that women these days can feel isolated in bringing up children, and that they might not realise we all go through the same challenges. We had women coming to our shows the past two years and saying to us afterwards “Thanks! Now I feel normal!”

As far as stand up goes, this show today has to be one of the highlights of my ten year comedic career. The feeling of over 200 people cacking themselves with laughter at you is rather heady, and even more so that they were mostly women  and they knew exactly what I was talking about.

I had a ball and so did everyone else. And now we have the opportunity to pay so much forward with the course – can’t wait!

Have a great week!

There Must Be Better Songs to Sing than This

Yesterday I watched the movie Educating Rita.

It’s written by Willy Russell who also wrote Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers. I love his work – it’s rare to see a man who can write so well for women.

I last saw the movie around 1984 or ‘85. I remember it because I watched it with my mum.

As the movie unfolded before us we became uncomfortable to a certain extent. While I wasn’t married like Rita in the movie, I was attempting to move from having no qualifications to speak of to studying first some O levels and Highers and then gain entry to a degree course in Communications. (I’d been taken out of school as soon as my parents could do so after I’d turned 16 in Australia to return with them to Scotland).

I’d been successful in that, despite the intake for my chosen course’s year being only 18 places and only two places in the UK offering the course – Liverpool University and my own uni, now grandly called Glasgow Caledonian University – back then it was just Glesga Tech.

So, there’s me and mum sitting and watching the movie, the irony of it all not escaping us (she had also had her ambitions thwarted as a young woman, denied the chance of study and steered towards tailoring as it would bring in money).

There’s a scene where Rita has joined her husband and family in the pub. It’s at a moment where she feels she belongs in neither world – not that of her working class roots nor that of her new world at University. Everyone in the pub is having a sing-along, including her family, about how content they are and how they have everything they need. Rita feels she can’t join in. She turns and sees her mum who also seems unhappy, and has also stopped singing.

Her mum says one line. “There must be better songs to sing than this.”

At that point both my mum and I looked at each other, and both of us were in tears.

How true that had been for both of us. We were each in our own way spending our lives looking for better songs to sing than those we’d already become familiar with. I was still in that stage of studies where it was easy to be made to feel I was getting ‘above myself’. Apart from my cousin Kathleen, no one in our family had gone to higher studies or chased academia in any way. My dad would ask why I couldn’t just be like everyone else and get a job in a factory.

I was the daughter of trades people – my dad a baker and mum a tailoress. They in turn had been the children of unskilled labourers and I’ve traced my ancestors back far enough to know that my grandparents were the first in their own families to be able to read and write. In gaining that ability they were able to begin to exert choices, and tracing that skill all the way down the generations to tertiary education it was still all about the same thing – choice and the right to exercise it.

At 17 I’d been coerced into a hairdressing apprenticeship for four years by my parents. They thought it was for the best but it was never what I really wanted to do. However in doing it I’d got mum off my back to a certain extent. It was something ‘to fall back on’ but the day my apprenticeship finished was the day my hairdressing career finished, and after a brief stint in retail and a bout of depression it was academia that saved my sanity.

Watching the movie again reminded me of that pivotal point in my life, where a seemingly mad choice (the first of many) had been the right choice, where the courage had been supplied from somewhere to take a step outside of the known into the unknown.

I have a picture in my office of Frank Zappa with his hair in bunches. There’s a quote attributed to him on the bottom that says “Without deviation from the norm progress is not possible.”

There’s a little bit of Rita in all of us who want something better than we have been dealt. When was the last time you gave her a bit of attention? Maybe it’s time to let her free and have her way.

Here’s to all of us to continue to have the courage to deviate from the norm, to discover new worlds and to continue to progress throughout our lives.

A flask of tea and some sweeties

 

Easter Monday. The words have been in the back of my mind all day like a reminder

Ben Lomond Winter Sunset - across the loch from the south

that wasn’t quite working. What did they mean? Or to be more exact what did they used to mean? I pushed it to the back of my mind and got on with a pretty busy and productive day (I love days at home) but still it eluded me.

I’ve just lain down on our bed for a few minutes of doing nothing and it all came flooding back.

For a few years between 1978 and 1983 Easter Monday was a tradition held by my mum and I. Normally dad would be working (he was a bread baker and had to get the stocks ready for the hungry hordes the following day, already deprived of three days of bread shopping!).

Back than I couldn’t drive so Mum and I would book a day trip – a bus run – for Easter Monday. Our favourite destination was Oban, a coastal town further north on the West Coast of Scotland.

Leaving Buchanan Bus Station in Glasgow between 8 and 9am the bus would take the road north and west that remains to this day one of my favourite road trips.

Heading out of Glasgow and along the northern banks of the Clyde we’d pass through the affluent west end then Coatbridge and Dumbarton before veering north just past Ballantines Distillery with it’s security geese in the grounds. A curious coincidence is that this is the favourite whisky of my husband who I only met a few years ago!

As we came close to Loch Lomond the countryside became much more lush. That was one of the things I loved about Glasgow – within half an hour you could be up at Loch Lomond and be in an entirely different world to the great city. Lomondside, if you’ve never been there, should be on your bucket list. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful areas in the world. There is more remote eastern side that’s much harder to access, and then the easily accessible western side with its stops like the Village of Luss for sheer picturesque beauty, Cameron House hotel, Duck Bay Marina and towards the top of the loch the fantastic and ancient Drovers Inn at Inverarnan where all the male bar staff wear kilts ;o).

By this time we’d be well and truly in the Highlands and I’d marvel at the mountains -ancient monoliths, often still capped with snow at that time of year – and then the bus would turn west and take the high Rest and Be Thankful pass  before going through the pretty town of Inverary and heading north again, then west and landing in Oban about three or four hours after departure.

There would be time enough there for lunch and a wander along the harbour before returning to the bus and setting off homewards.

One thing about Oban was that it would always rain. Even if it wasn’t raining anywhere else, you could come over the top of the hill and descend into the town only for raindrops to greet you. I remember heading off there for a weekend with a bunch of pals. We were dressed for summer as there had been a heatwave in Glasgow and there hadn’t been rain for about six weeks – unheard of! Nevertheless, the bus got to the top of the hill, started to go down towards the town and on came the rain! I can confidently predict that Oban sells more umbrellas than any other town in the UK – I know we always had to buy one.

My mum loved the country versions of the city chain stores and the tourist souvenir stores. We always had to take a tacky present back for dad and the obligatory stick of rock that had ‘Oban’ written through it. There was some bloke who was an artist who had a shop that sold all sorts as well as his art. The shop always had stuff about ‘the bridge over the Atlantic‘, which was actually a bridge to the island of Seil, if my memory serves me right, which wasn’t that far off the mainland, and not as exciting as it seemed. The shop would always have some right ‘heedrum hodrum’ tourist Scottish music playing too.  The town had also gained some fame in the early 80s as well as it became known that Princess Diana’s mother lived close by and so all the royal paraphenelia also started to infiltrate the shops.

After a lunch of fish and chips we’d be quite happy to get back on the bus, tired from all the fresh air (as we told ourselves) and head back home. It wasn’t the most exciting time on earth, but I’m glad we had that time together, me and mum.

These days I live on the other side of the world. My mum passed away in 1995. My son is practically grown and we celebrate Easter Australian style with my Aussie husband and my family.  I’m a million miles away in time and distance from the Easter Monday bus runs. And then a nudging in the back of my mind makes me sit down and Google our routes and sends memories back to me of how I learned to love the Highlands. Just me and my wee mammy sitting on the bus with a flask of tea and some sweeties for the trip. Good times.

Happy Easter!

The Martian Parenting Style

An interesting train of thought was sparked by Rebecca Dettman’s blog (http://rebeccadettman.com) on how we teach our kids about spirituality.

It’s a good question, because outside of organised religion we don’t have that formal framework as parents, so we’re thrown back on our own experiences, thoughts and the things we’ve come to know that are authentic.

When I had my son, I hadn’t a clue about raising children. The only thing I did know was that I didn’t want him to grow up as I had – so my mum actually did me a favour in the way she brought me up, in showing me what I didn’t want to do.

As I’m a person who loves a certain amount of structure in which to play, I needed a framework, so I coined my philosophy ‘The Martian Parenting Style’.

The basic precept of this was that I would treat my son as if he’d dropped on to the earth from a different planet, and my job was to teach him the rules of the game of life on earth.

This neatly removed the need for the wars between good and evil that I’d had drummed into my catholic childhood, and also the concept of unnecessary guilt.

I taught him that while some things aren’t necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ they are more or less appropriate in certain situations. One example was swearing – I taught him that swear words are simply that – only words – and that they only have the power you give them yourself. In saying that, they’re not always welcome in the wrong context or situation so one has to be aware of that.

I taught him what I believe about metaphysics, the notion of God, we did guided meditations and visualisations together and then as he grew older and became less inclined to talk about such things, that was the time for me to step back and let him formulate his own philosophy from his own experience and beliefs.

To me this seems so much healthier than blindly accepting someone else’s teachings. By all means accept teachings from those older and wiser who’ve gone before us if they resonate, but do it only after questioning it with an open heart and mind.

Educate our children in ethics, morals and spirituality (if that is part of your experience). Do it early and consistently, and then trust them. Teach them about the stuff they won’t learn at school; relationships, family, rights and responsibilities by demonstrating your values every day, for the rest of your life. It’s the utmost in accountability and be prepared to make mistakes – we all do – but the rewards are supreme.

*************

It’s been a busy week, with stage managing Mother and Son at the Holden Street Theatres, and my first professional after dinner speaking gig for the National History Teachers’ conference at the National Wine Centre, and fitting in work around all that too.

A busy week, but a good week. I was reminded once again of the value of good friends –  not only friends who you love to spend time with, but friends of the heart who encourage you, promote your self-confidence and tell you that “you can do it.”

Friends like these are gold – I really believe they’re sent like signposts to help you on your way.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few friends like that in my life and this week one of them – the wonderful Kehau – shone like a beacon. We’ve been friends for a long time but this week it’s been like our connection has shone even brighter. So, between Kehau pointing the way and my fabulous hubby Steven supporting me and ever so gently encouraging and pushing me from the other side I’ve taken a couple of steps this week to propel the story forward. Reasonably soon I’ll be boring the ears off you about what it is, but for now I’m letting it brew and settle. More on this anon.

Have a great week!

M :o)