My earliest memories of performing was in my nan’s front room singing into a reel to reel recorder. At the age of four, this absolutely fascinated me. How could my voice come out of me and then come out of this box of tricks? I would watch the reels go round creaking and shuffling louder than my Nan coming in from the kitchen. I must of been able to hold a tune back then, because I don’t remember being told to shut up. In our house, my mum always sang. She had a soft comforting voice and I find myself still singing her songs when I’m doing something like cleaning. I don’t know when I lost any ability I had to sing, but I did along the way. As I look back in my young adult years the next time I would sing on my own again would be in a karaoke bar with a few glasses of vino and I was bringing everyone around me down, not the house so to speak. Acting, continued a little longer into my childhood in one way or another. To be an actress for me as a child was my constant focus. I longed to join senior school, as I heard the school plays were massive productions that would be able to cope with my imagination. Lassie, Shirley Temple and Little House on the Prairie were my favourite reference points for my future career. After watching a real corker of a Shirley Temple one Saturday morning, I recall going into my parents bedroom in floods of tears and telling them how much I wanted to be an actress. My dad replied he always wanted to be a lorry driver, now if you knew my dad it would be a very quick realisation that he was talking total bollocks. At the time however, I felt such relief that things really were possible if you wished it enough.
Acting wasn’t really encouraged in my childhood, but I did manage to join the only drama club in Dagenham. Not to say there wasn’t plenty of drama in Dagenham. The club was to put on a float for the Dagenham Town show. This was beyond excitement for me, I can’t remember why but I was to go as Cinderella. My mum announced she would make me a dress from green and white crepe paper with my nans singer sewing machine. To add more authenticity I covered my nans shoes in tinfoil and placed them on a cushion. My thinking at this time was that my nan was the only person in the house who had a kitty heel. I know eat your heart out Kirstie Allsopp! I was an original craft master. My hair had been scraped up into a girly bun and I looked the nuts! At the club I met up with the rest of my drama comrades and we compared outfits, feeling like Grace Kelly I waved goodbye to my mum imagining the next time I would see her would be from the dizzy heights of the float. Whilst we waited a game of IT broke out and before I knew I was charging around, as the tomboy in me was starting to emerge. Somehow, my beautiful (which I did not know at the time was recyclable) crepe dress got caught in a door and ripped in half. I looked horrified down at my once princess ensemble to the call of everyone to get on the float. Did I give up? No… I just had to reinvent my self for the float. So I started to rip the dress all around the bottom. You know, to give the impression I was Cinderella coming home rather than going out. Years later I would often replicate this look on a Friday night out. The next time I did see my mum was not on the float but hobbling with one shoe on my foot and one shoe on the cushion. I guess in my head to add to the drama I had become a hybrid of the Cinderella and the Prince. As I walked along the crowd lined streets my mum stood with her mouth agape. I waved cheerily trying to analyse her face to see how much trouble I was in and carried on shuffling past her as quickly as I could.
My mum would often tell that story, as from her perspective it was one of the rare times she had ever used a sewing machine and was rather proud of her creation. Plus it was the only Sunday the following weekend she ever remembered not having enough tin foil to cover the chicken. Something happens doesn’t it? As you get older, you loose the desire to play, be creative, explore what you can do or be as an individual without having to show something for it. It makes me question, at what point did everything you do have to be so productive and tangible? It has taken me a long time to understand the saying ‘A means to an end’ I think because a means to an end had always been held in materialistic values. I was brought up in a working class world, there was no room for such antics to continue that did not produce an income of sorts. Or is it from my menopausal acknowledgment of the physical changes in me as a woman, no longer able to conceive. A door has been closed on that means to an end and perhaps with that in mind my menopause has influenced my own self discoveries as an individual. In that my means to an end is now all about performing, everything I now do is somehow connected to my desire to perform. I now find I am revisiting tactics I used pre puberty let alone pre menopausal to continue with performing. For example I always appeared in the school play. The first year of the seniors was extremely exciting I had auditioned for the show ‘Half a six pence’ As you’ve probably realised from my Cinderela escapade I always had a secret desire to be the singing starlet. But somehow tomboyism had fully overtaken and I felt safe in this persona I had created. So I found my self auditioning for the comedy role, perhaps a little too scared to show how seriously I was taking things.
I got the role of the mother-in-law, she was extremely eloquent and rather patronising to the Tommy Steele character. Issued with a dress from the school drama cupboard that must of previously fit a 3ft woman with size double G breasts. I looked at this as my moment, it was my first show at senior school and at the age of eleven I drew on my great DIY craft master skills. I borrowed……..my nan said stole my auntie Susans bra who was staying with us at the time from America. I honestly believed she must of had a whole suitcase just for her bra. Anyhow, I found as many socks as I could to fill the cups of her harness to the brim. I entered stage left, my mum said it felt like ten minutes before the rest of my body made an appearance, after the stuffed breasts pointed there way to centre stage. That was the first time I heard real laughter on stage. My dad had made an appearance and I remember what a great feeling it was to see and hear him really belly laughing. I didn’t know but I was hooked back then.
Fast forward forty years and I am performing my own show, written and directed by me. Now I’m not trying to give it the large one here, I am trying to let you know its possible. You can achieve something that’s so important to you it becomes everything. For me it was the realisation it doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else as a means to an end. It’s not about money or trying to be famous but just doing something you love and feeling proud of it without being embarrassed. Last Friday I was asked by UNISON to perform the show in front of their members as part of the South Eastern AGM. What an amazing night, everything connected. Yet I performed the show in a complete different way. The room was brightly lit there were no theatrical tricks I could use to further entertain. It was just me, them and the alter egos and we had a blast. I think somewhere from the back I could hear my dads belly laugh.