Listen … do you wanna know a secret?

Listen … do you wanna know a secret?

Let me whisper in your ear … I’d love it if you tuned in to the MUMBELIEVABLE podcast, because every little listen helps, and it got me thinking back to my earliest memories of storytelling. My darling mum wasn’t very good at bedtime stories as she got bored with the traditional tales and would wonder off into a fantasy story that was usually very scary or had something inappropriate at its core. I remember an incident with a junior school teacher (the one who cried when Mum marched in with the porridge that I hadn’t eaten that morning). We were supposed to write a short version of our favourite fairy tale. Mine was and always will be Cinderella. Somehow I identified with the lonely girl who was always trying to do good and could get animals to sew dresses and help with the washing up. It made the story even more personal when I was lucky enough to have my very own stepmother who wasn’t cruel and didn’t make me scrub floors. Yes, the kids used to tease me with “cruel stepmother” taunts, but I think I stepped on their toes or something a little bit painful, but not bad enough to get me into trouble. My short version of Cinderella was based on the version my mum had told me the night before and her version got muddled up with the original. My story went something like this. Cinderella did everything in the house. Her stepmother ordered her to wash the dishes and scrub the floor. Cinderella asked her Daddy why the stepmother had come and Cinderella’s dad said it was because Cinderella’s own mother didn’t like cuddles or having things put inside her, so the new mummy came who was very happy with “all of that stuff, thank you very much.” The teacher gasped when she read that bit and a few minutes later I was back in Mrs. Partridge’s office with a biscuit and a cup of orange. This snack would happen at least once a week and I was surprised when I found out that none of the other kids had the same treat.

I haven’t told that full story yet on MUMBELIEVABLE, but I will. I’m just waiting for the right guest who has an equally inappropriate mum story to share. I’m astounded and flattered that the guests so far are willing to share very intimate details of their maternal relationships. Not all the interviews are upbeat. Some are quite sad and go temporarily into a deeper place, but ultimately, we look at these events and try to re-frame them, with a good dose of laughter and new eyes.

I’m hearing that one of the great things about my particular podcast is that it’s good to listen to as you snuggle down to sleep. A bit like a bedtime story to get you thinking as you drift off the sleep (not that it’ll make you fall asleep I hope). One listener drifted off to sleep after hearing Su Pollard getting a little emotional about sharing her love for her mum Hilda and another listener loved the insight into Bobby Crush’s family which he had never spoken much about in public before.

So, please have a little listen if you fancy something different and maybe you’ll recognise your own mum in one of the episodes. And if your mum ever told you that Cinderella had to ride side saddle because her legs were quite sore, think of me as a five-year-old trying to work that one out. And spare a thought for my teacher who has probably been scarred for life by the fairy tales re-written by a mother with un-diagnosed ADHD and a penchant for turning most stories into a sexual fantasy.

And as for … promise not to tell … forget that! Tell everyone you know about the podcast if you like it, because one day it might get more listeners than “Dad wrote a porno”, but … oh, wait a minute. Maybe I’ll ask those guys if they fancy coming on and I can tell the Cinderella story in full.

When new worlds collide

When new worlds collide

It is five months since my precious mum passed away and I realised this morning that there are so many life-changing things happening at the moment, some of which I’ve seen and some of which other people have helped me see. Although I think I’ve been seeing life with my eyes wide open, have I been trotting along with my blinkers on?

Yesterday I met up with best friends, old friends, work friends and made a new friend. And as I’ve got a head full of drama ideas, screenplay developments and time management issues, I put my listening ears on so that I could soak up other people’s lives and see life through their eyes. I recommend it if, like me, you’re a chatterbox. I think it’s rare to find best friends working successfully together. Everyone tells you that a) you need to have distance and neutrality in the work environment, b) familiarity can often breed work contempt and c) you should never hire your friends. Not true in my case with one of my besties. Sure, we’ve had a couple of creative wrinkles at some point in the past, but nothing that wasn’t ironed out immediately we listened to each other. Now we’re collaborating on big drama ideas and I have to pinch myself to think that a mad idea from a few years ago might actually be making its way toward the screen. It made me think back to the plays and panto scripts that mum used to write and send off to the biggest West End players she could think of. Fearless and confident in her efforts, even though she had no training and no experience of writing. I’ve still got the letters from some and one in particular sticks in my mind.

“Dear Margaret, Thank you for sending in your amusing script which we’ve all enjoyed reading. Whilst we have had a lot of fun trying to engage with your storylines we don’t feel that ‘Sonia and the dancing angels’ is quite right for us and are you sure that your 6-year old daughter actually wants to be an actress and ballerina? We wish you all success with the idea and encourage you to attend writing classes or a dramatic writing course to help you focus your creative thoughts. Yours (name left out for obvious reasons), Theatre Manager, The London Palladium”

Re-reading it recently I marvelled at the passive aggressive tone and could almost see the room full of creatives laughing hysterically at Mum’s script. Fair play as it’s not very good and her diagrams for lighting cues and ideas for special effects leave a lot to the imagination. But then I wondered if that letter left a deep impression on me as a child as she was in tears when she showed it to me and apologised to me for getting my hopes up. I took on her sadness and added a tinge of guilt even though I had nothing to be guilty about. I had so many stories and ideas floating around my head when I was little, but I didn’t write them down for fear of getting a similar letter and it could upset Mum again. Later in life I had dreams of writing books, plays and films, but stuck instead to radio production and factual television as I wouldn’t get a letter about them when people sat around laughing hysterically at my silly stories. Often I’d talk about an idea and people did indeed laugh at me, but in a nice way which didn’t make me feel guilty or stupid, just brave and creative. But drama? The idea of having your personal, imaginative story laughed at was unthinkable.

Next up, I saw someone I haven’t seen since his wedding nine years ago and his subsequent move to America. The cliche of ‘it only seems like yesterday’ made us laugh as we recalled our experiences of live radio shows that went wrong, that one extra bottle of red wine, just missing being arrested in Cairo and that we’re both at a place where new ideas and new career breaks are coming at us. Our trio was made up with a man who is now my new work friend. A fascinating, bright and creative man who is a drama producer and used to manage one of the UK’s biggest stars. Another person at that place where the world is beckoning us in a different direction. If we’d all been working on conventional paths we wouldn’t have had the time to meet for a mid-afternoon drink – thank you, Universe. Lots of listening and quite a bit of talking at this point focussed my mind with one of those BANG! moments. Heartbeat in the ears, clarity of vision and the sound of a giant penny clattering its way to the floor. How didn’t I clock this until I articulated it out loud? My New Yorker buddy and his mate (new friend) were waxing lyrical about my adventures in bus driving. It was great regaling them with the stories of my first lessons and subsequent run-ins with youths who wanted to board my training bus (never mime an “L” from the driver seat when you’re trying to show them that you’re a learner driver and they can’t board your bus). The inevitable “WHY DRIVING A BUS?!!!” question came up and I found myself answering it with a philosophical thread that was only emerging as I spoke, although it was obviously deep in my psyche. Flashback to ten years ago when things were going so horribly wrong in Mum’s life and I was in pieces trying to manage work, trips to the police station in Littlehampton, mental health workers and doctors. I broke down a bit with my step mum and dad as it was all getting on top of me. My step mum offered to come down to the coast if that would help and my dad leant back, closed his eyes and drifted back to a painful past, saying “Sometimes I don’t why you bother with her, I’ve often wished her under a bus.” He didn’t mean it literally, of course; he was using the bus as a metaphor for trying to forget. I think back now to any times I’ve left hand-over notes or travel plans. What have I pre-empted it with? “Just in case I’m knocked over by a bus or something… ” So now I realise exactly WHY I decided to drive the bus. I have turned that upsetting, negative thought into something positive that I could own and enjoy, rather than keeping the bus as a trigger to memories of plate smashing, yelling in street and being plonked on other families while things calmed down. Yes, that’s exactly why I did it and until I listened to new voices and really heard their question, I hadn’t realised it.

The final meeting was with two fabulous women who are loud, proud, role models and go-getters. One of whom is helping me build up my public speaking career and the other with whom I’m starting a new venture, based on the idea of sharing experiences and stories with other people who’ve had “alternative” parenting. Both of our mothers were called Margaret and both of them were crazy, but wise in their own way. Watch this space.

What a day – what fantastic people – and my ear drums need a rest. The best part of the day was coming home to my beloved husband who has given me the confidence, peace of mind and support to be able to pursue things I never dreamed I could do.

Blinkers off – ears open – I’m grabbing today firmly with both hands. What discoveries will today bring I wonder?

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