Monday, 20 April 2020

Second Act For Box Office Girl.

* This post previously appeared on The Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall Heritage site.*

"I can see ballet dancers behind the curtain!"

I look down to where my daughter is pointing at a gauze window in the blackout at the side of the stage and sure enough, dancers in full costume are going through their warm-up routines. 

We're sitting in the second tier of the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham waiting for the matinee of The Nutcracker to begin and I study the lower levels with interest as the rest of the audience gradually files in checking seat numbers against their tickets. Tickets that I used to sell for both the Concert Hall and Theatre Royal and probably would still be selling had it not been for a freak accident nearly six years ago that robbed me of my speech and long term job in the box-office. This is the first time I've felt confident enough to attend a performance since.

 To the left of the stage, I spy another break in the curtain and more dancers gathering. Behind them, the stage-door access I used on the rare occasion I was early for work and the doorman was late opening up the front where the box-office is situated. Despite being a long way round I always felt a pinch of pride if a member of the public noticed me entering the building via the stage-door, as though I might be a performer arriving for rehearsals rather than a clerk turning up for a shift. I'd nod hello to Dick on the stage-door whose vast wealth of knowledge included 'finishes 'bout ten,' plus other pearls of wisdom delivered monotone without breaking eye-contact with his copy of the local news. 

A lot has changed in the years since I worked here. There are unfamiliar faces amongst the staff who now wear uniforms, and the box-office has been completely re-designed and extended out to where the cloakroom used to be. Even the entrance to the office has been upgraded and is a far cry from the tatty wooden door that required a key-code I can still remember. The foyer is much more customer-friendly with hi-tech screens advertising upcoming shows and a counter accessible to all. I turn my attention to the brochure I picked up in the foyer relieved to find familiar blurb advertising shows Direct from the West End!  

'What are those seats over there, Mum? My daughter gestures to two rows of seats on either side of the stage.

'They're 'box-seats'. They're not boxes really, not like they are in the Theatre. They're called that because of where they are at the side of the stage. We usually only sell those for concerts and classical events because the sight-lines aren't that great, except if you want to see really close up, or into the orchestra pit. Or sneak a peek at an artist rehearsing when you're supposed to be working.

The knowledge rolls off my tongue as the house- lights come down and a ripple of applause announces the arrival of the Conductor. My daughter is immediately smitten as the curtains swish back and dancers take to the stage in vibrant costumes, her teenage face engrossed as Drosselmeyer presents the Nutcracker toy-soldier to the two children. Clara immediately takes a liking to the toy, holding it high above her head and pirouetting around for the audience to admire. Her revelry is short-lived when the toy is carelessly broken by her brother, Fritz which is all very vexing but I'm already finding it difficult to concentrate. Instead, I'm distracted by matching sparkly outfits worn by two little girls on the tier below complete with ballet pumps. Principle dancers of the future, judging by the way their parents are encouraging them to sit up nicely and pay attention. I've served a million like them over the years, the 'will my child be able to see?' brigade of well-meaning yummies scouring the seating plan to make sure they really are booking the best available for their little darlings.

As much as I've missed working here, my relationship with the box-office was at times a love/hate affair. As with any paid employment, there were days when I couldn't wait to finish work and jump on the bus to get home, especially if we'd been flat out booking the newly announced panto or the autumn classical subscription season. Who wants to think about Box D in the dress circle for the Christmas Eve matinee in June? Or C22/23 in the choir stalls for nine concerts when you can only offer eight? The punters, apparently, and no, they don't want an alternative because they're the seats they always book! By the time you've cashed up and escaped the queues the thrill of dragging yourself back again in the evening to see a show fades to less than nothing over time. Sitting here now, having paid full price plus an admin fee, I can't help wondering if we ever truly value what we have until it's gone?

I don't miss the job so much as the people I worked with and the environment I worked in. My time in this box-office began in the early '90s before health and safety ruled, cigarette breaks were still acceptable and it wasn't unusual for the back-stage crew to spend long lunches in Lilly Langtry's. The computers were basic boxes and we sat open-mouthed when one of the chaps announced that soon it might be possible to find an address by postcode alone. I remember how shocked we were when postal charges were introduced nevermind admin fees; though a colleague did once have to explain to one disappointed customer that bfee actually meant booking-fee, not buffet and sadly, he would need to make alternative dining arrangements for both himself and his good lady-wife.

 Out of all the losses I've had to endure, it's the loss of social interaction and excellent banter that grieves me the most. That and being part of a creative team. I had no idea of how quickly the world could change on the spin of a coin or in my case, a bus-ride home that would alter the course of my life forever. And we can never go back, no matter how much we would wish to, the world still turns with or without our presence. Unlike the theatre, there are no two-minute warning bells like the one I can hear now for the second act to commence. 

 Whilst I always wanted to work in theatre, being in the box-office was only ever meant to be a stop-gap while I thought about what to do with my degree yet somehow, it ended up becoming my 'career', more so once we had children. Job security became a priority and although selling theatre tickets was never my dream, at least I was in the vicinity of where dreams are realised: for the audience as well as the artists on the stage. I can think of worse places to while away some of the happiest times of my life.

 Having spent the best part of six years grieving for the life I used to have and living in fear of what people might think of the way I speak now, being here today has rekindled a flame and a desire to belong again. Perhaps even to regenerate and follow a different path, a truer path - like the Prince, who is magically transformed from the Nutcracker into his true self - allowing ourselves to be transformed by change is the whole point. Whilst I could have done without the universe giving me a shove, my speech has returned, albeit in a strange accented kind of way. Revisiting the Concert Hall has not only brought home how much I've missed being part of the hub but also served as a reminder of a life I've yet to discover. The journey back has been a long hard road and maybe, having finally come full circle, this is the turning point where I say goodbye to the old and hello to a brave brave new world.

The energy is palpable as the ballet concludes with a final waltz before Clara glides away to her happy-ever-after. Out of the corner of my eye, I fancy I see the shadow of a familiar figure smiling from the darkness of the wings, her eyes bright with excitement, but before I can be sure she turns and disappears back into the black. The dancers re-appear a few moments later for the audience to show their appreciation and I find myself caught up in the euphoria of applause whilst fighting the urge to run after the ghost of the girl I used to be to tell her I never meant to leave so suddenly, that what happened was beyond my control. And no, it wasn't fair - it absolutely wasn't fair - but I'm here now and we have the chance to learn a new dance - a better dance - because the time has not yet come for us to take our final bow. 

Friday, 25 October 2019

The Many Faces of Love.

If I could go back and change the manner of our parting that fateful day
when I turned and left without a thought or care for
the pain inflicted so casually in my wake,
I'm not sure I would alter the course of events that led us from that pivotal moment to this. 

The look on your face should have alerted me - now that I think about it -
or at the very least, set alarm bells ringing; but
in truth, and despite your well-meaning efforts, my mind was already closed and
there was nothing you could have said that would have prevented my leaving.

And yet, here we are,
staring into the abyss once more.

Your silence smacks of triumph, whilst my confused mind is twisted
beyond all recognition.
I possessed clarity and reason only minutes before and
both those treacherous imposters deserted me
the second I stepped back through your door.

It was a relief to learn my absence didn't unduly disturb -
Oh, I was almost fooled, but then you hesitated and the light
of recognition finally dawned;
enough to catch a glimpse at last,
of the vulnerable soul sheltering behind that mask.

Shall we begin this dance again...

People come into our lives in the most unexpected ways,
wouldn't you agree -
and perhaps what I was seeking was actually seeking me?
A point where the terrain proved safe enough to land,
a yearning to be understood
as much as to understand.

In the end, when all is said and done, I know I'm not
the only one sheltering from the storm.
But in helping me reclaim my self, my space,
is it possible - that for you -
mine has become a face
of healing love, too?

If you have enjoyed reading this post, or any part of my blog, would you please consider donating a small amount to our fundraiser: World Challenge, Support Team Cambodia 2021 You can find more details here
Thank you.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Cupboard of Doom.

If your home is anything like ours, you can never find the thing you need the moment you need it most. Especially, as you rightly suspect, it's somewhere at the back of the cupboard-of-doom, that dreaded place beneath the stairs where you take your life into your hands every time you open the door to be faced with a pile of coats, the ironing board, hoover, DofE gear, backpacks, foldaway crates, extension plugs, fishing rods, a box of candles, yoga mats - really? - that's where the blasted things got to; not to mention the mighty collection of DVD's and videos - obsolete now, but still difficult to part with - in order to reach the very back where it's dark and scary and beasties live. Closing the door can be done, although surprisingly not by slamming in rapid succession as it only springs open again. There's a deft art to cramming and ramming reluctant wherewithal whilst giving it some welly until the catch meets the lock with a satisfying click.

'For crying out loud, clear it out!' I hear you groan. If only it were that simple. I don't think I can remember a time when the cupboard ever was in good order with space enough to close the door with ease. Over the years, just about everything not immediately in use was put into that cupboard until a decision could be made whether to keep or let go, but as time went by, what was out of sight was also out of mind and decisions, in the end, never did get made. Clutter piled on top of clutter and well, here we are, somewhat at a loss and more than a little overwhelmed. The problem is the contents have a habit of spilling out without warning, and usually at the most inconvenient time.

Attempts have been made in the past to battle through but each time success was thwarted or sabotaged - I forget which - either way, you find yourself once more on the threshold wondering whether to take the next step or leave it yet again for another day, another week, month, year...

It's a job for two, really. One to empty the contents, the other to assess and advise whether to keep or let go. It takes time and discipline and deep consideration - and sometimes heartbreak when you come across an item you've grown attached to over the years, like ticket stubs in the pocket of an old fleece, that's way past it's throw away date but you just can't, the memories are still too strong, even after all this time.

Dig a little further to stumble across unforgiving shoes that give you blisters, yet you continue to accept the pain and crippling discomfort because deep down you love them in some sick twisted fashion despite the bad fit. That's fine, that's perfectly okay, we all have our Achillie's heel. A blister is only a surface wound, after all, that is until the blister becomes infected. Then what do you do? You could try cleaning it, maybe use a temporary fix, a plaster, perhaps... except you tried that before without much luck and this time the poison is in your blood coursing through your veins, attacking anything in its path. You have to let the shoes go. You know you do but still, you cling on ignoring the truth, the harsh gut-wrenching reality that the shoes simply do not fit. They never did. You just loved the style and the colour and tried to make your feet fit the shoe rather than the other way around. So you nurse them for a while before hiding them again in the darkest recess you can find, grazing the back of your hand as you do. The pain is sharp, searing. The cut is deep and you slam the door shut in heated frustration, except this time, it won't close, the lock is broken -  exhausted from years of misuse. It's enough to keep you awake at night, weeping silently, wondering what on earth to do.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Why Are You Following Me?

Since I haven't worked in box-office for nearly five years, I've struggled a little with the idea of continuing to write as Boxofficegirl. So much so, I abandoned this blog intending to create a new one on a different platform. I may still do that but for now, let's pick up where we left off, albeit a little older and wiser than when we last met.

You may have noticed that the blog has had a facelift. I came back intending to sell up then had a sentimental change of heart and gave the place a lick of paint instead. I hope you like it as much as I do. If only we could renovate ourselves in the same way. Imagine that, trading in the old for the new. Though I'm not so sure I'd want to be first in that particular queue. There's something to be said for accepting the ageing process, and maybe even enjoying the status that growing older brings. It won't be long before I'm wearing purple and spitting in the street and that's definitely got to be something worth looking forward to.

So much has changed on the internet since I first took up blogging. The amount of social media sites available is mind-boggling and like many, I too have succumbed to the likes of Twitter and more recently, Instagram which, I hear is already considered outdated by the millennials. Damn their youthful eyes. These days a writer needs to be so much more whether they choose a traditional or self-publishing route, which is kind of tough when all a writer really wants to do is, well, write.

For a long time, my followers on Twitter remained fixed at the same amount. Until this week. In the last 7 days, they have swelled beyond recognition through a follow-fest campaign of writers and authors at #writingcommunity. (Y' see, I know all the lingo.) I'm not talking millions here nor have I suddenly morphed into Lady Gaga. (As if.) But I was a willing participant, fool that I am because there is something extraordinarily seductive about hundreds of people wanting to engage with you, especially when you normally spend so much time alone. Usually, if I got a notification about a new follower, I'd go and have a look to find that for every new one gained, three more had left the building. Sod's law. This morning, I woke up with a social media hangover having been glued to my phone for most of last night. There were so many new followers I couldn't keep up with following back. Plus, there were a couple of dubious hopefuls chancing their luck, but let's not go there. Today, in the name of sanity, I've turned notifications off because the follow-fest party is still going on and my poor brain can't cope with all the sudden influx.   

Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful to be connected to a whole new bunch of writers and artists. But it's overwhelming too. What if I don't interact enough, what if they don't like my posts? What if they click the link to my blog and notice I haven't written anything since 2017? What if...what if... what if..? I suppose that's partly why I'm back, trying to squeeze into a dress that doesn't fit so that I'm ready to entertain unexpected guests. Oh, the pressure.

I need to clear my head and plant my feet firmly back on the ground because as exciting as seeing the numbers increase is, there is a danger of being swept along with the tide, of forgetting the important stuff like writing and honing the craft. That's the job. That's the journey and relationship I'm really interested in. The one between the writer and the page. 

I'm sure I'll adjust to this strange new phenomenon in time, but right now it feels like winning a huge amount of money on the lottery. You think you want it - until it actually happens, then it becomes a whole new (adrenaline-rush) ball game. 

As for Boxofficegirl? Well, she's still around here, somewhere. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Ebb and Flow.

I know it's been a while. I'm a little embarrassed, to be honest, and did a double take when I realised my last post was dated January. And since we're doing the whole honesty thing, this is my third attempt at writing anything for the blog in as many days. Not because I've forgotten how but because a) handwriting in a journal on a daily basis has become second nature and b) by the time I've done pouring all my energy into the journal I really don't have a lot left over.

Sad but true and perhaps a dangerous admission for an absent writer to make. But then I've never been one to shy away from danger.

I can tell you that in all the pages of handwriting one or two idiosyncrasies have come to light. I appear to have an obsession with laundry. If I'm not putting laundry into the washing machine then I've just hung it on the line or it's in the tumble dryer or been folded and put away. It features a lot in the humdrum of my day. Make of that what you will.

I think the lure of the journal has outweighed the blog for reasons which have become clearer to me over time. For one, it's so easy to pick up and jot things down. Nothing wrong with that of course, and actually the point to having a journal in the first place is to capture the mood of the moment, the happening as it happens before time and memory steal the whispers of a thread. Hauntings are fleeting after all and we must be alert to the possibility of manifestations. Blink and they're gone before the brain's even had time to register.

Another benefit of journaling is being able to write through the flotsam and jetsam of the mind into clearer waters where creativity lies.Virginia Woolf gives a wonderful description of a writer's thought process to a place deserving of further investigation here. I particularly enjoy the imagery of a fishing line trawling the depths catching who knows what until it's dragged to the surface and examined.

And examine we must if we are to discover what lies beyond the brink or beneath the murky surface of those darkest places where the terrain is unfamiliar and uninviting. It takes a brave explorer to enter the shadows with nought but a candle to see by in search of the gold hidden within the everyday mundane. Nudging along into close, tight spaces testing the sandy ground cautiously as we venture forth inch by nerve wracking, hair pulling inch, eyes narrowed, body tense ready for fight or flight until at last! The tunnel opens up, the ceilings become higher and the words take on a flow. The writer has become a channel as they write themselves so clear is the intent and the way forward.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than the sight of freshly laundered clothes billowing on the line. The flash of colours so bright the glare from the suns reflection hurts my eyes until I have to look away. The wind tugs mischievously seeking to entice the clothes from their mooring and dance them, clown like above the houses and across the gardens until bored, they're abandoned to their scattered fate.

She roars her warning in my covered ears until I am blind and dizzy with delight.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Books and My Love Affair With the Art of Learning.

My To Be Read pile is slowly but surely getting out of hand yet still I am quite incapable of resisting just one more title to complement the current canon of thought and research. I tell myself that knowledge is never wasted and one day - one day! - all will become clear and visible and relevant to my own paltry attempts to turn a phrase or illustrate a stream of consciousness worthy of lengthy consideration.

My latest fad began with Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and has led to revisiting Virginia Woolf. I'm presently fluttering between A Writer's Diary and A Room of One's Own/ The Voyage Out in an attempt to get to grips with the woman as well as her work.

And I was as happy as the proverbial... until the BBC aired To Walk Invisible. Damn their eyes and the internet for recommendations on further reading. But I won't buy, not yet because as I said I'm reading Woolf plus there's a stack of other authors vying for attention all within my line of sight. I'll be sensible and simply add The Bronte Myth to the wish list.

If you're a book lover too you invariably know where this tale of woe is leading. That this is where the dark forces of obsession begin to take over and before you know where you are you're price-checking on a daily basis knowing there's still one gift voucher left from Christmas literally burning a hole on an already overcrowded bookcase. (Let's not even get into visits to charity shops.) And obviously, The Madwoman in the Attic and The Female Malady would complement this train of thought if we're discussing the history of the female condition versus the need to be creative - which in the end is how this paper chase began.

Finish the ones you've started before accumulating more - stupid! And weren't you going to re-visit the classics beginning with Dickens, Austen, and Hardy? And what about the ones by the Bronte sisters you have never read? And War and Peace? You always said you'd read that. Don't forget to go back to Thackeray, Homer, Shakespeare, Middleton, Johnson, Pepys, Lawrence... Then, of course, there are all the contemporary novels you have stashed upstairs which you keep adding to. What are you, a hoarder? You already have your work cut out for the next few months. Oh, and Poetry! Did I mention poetry? Keep hold of that voucher for when your tastes and interest divert elsewhere. Stop looking at the We Recommend For You, page! Resist. Resist. Resist...

I reach for my Dumbledore wand pressing the point to my temple wishing, not for the first time, that I could simply utter a spell which would enable me to download, or at the very least speed-read-thoroughly, all these wonderful books and more. Books from the past, the present, and the promise of those yet to be written. I take a moment to contemplate the sheer pleasure of inhaling the scent of freshly pressed stationary before clicking Add to basket.

The thought of how many I'll never get to read fills me with unimaginable grief.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

We Don't Talk Any More.

Voice automated services and I don't get along.

The system fails to detect my diction and in frustration, my accent becomes stronger which means we just keep going in circles until one of us - usually me - gives up. If my husband is home I end up ramming the phone into his hand with instructions to tell 'them' my name and National Insurance number when prompted because I've already tried several times without success.

How hard does it have to be before we're allowed to speak to another human being? Not just on the phone but face to face. If you're lucky enough to still have a high street branch of your bank, which to some extent we are, being able to pop in and speak to a clerk is also getting to be something of a challenge. I don't mind waiting in the queue.despite there being only one or two clerks dealing with customers. I do mind waiting however whilst another member of staff patrols the line asking individuals what their business is with the bank today and how can they be of help...? Well, first of all, I'm not willing to discuss my business with you and the rest of the queue as it's private and no, I have no desire to use the machine in the wall to deposit money regardless of how efficient a service you assure me this is. And if it's all the same, I would prefer to interact with a real person in a natural and sociable way. I'm not here to offer a life story or distract from the job or hold up the line for longer than it takes to complete the transaction I came here to do so how about knocking the patrol on the head and planting your backside in that seat and getting on with it? For some reason, this simple solution doesn't appear to fit in with the latest research concerning efficiency in the workplace or whatever convoluted label some faceless company has been paid extortionate amounts for identifying today's trend for saving time and money.

Our youngest has just started secondary school and the only way to contact a teacher is to email them. I get it to an extent. They have a job to do which can't get done if parents are constantly needing five minutes of their time. But it feels like yet another road block in the communication stakes. And the homework is now all online even the 'to do list'. Again, yes it's efficient but it's also very stressful for a child to log on (when you can remember the lengthy pin numbers and passwords that come with,) and see an endless list of tasks which suggest power-points and tables they haven't even been taught how to use yet. Stressful for them and stressful for the parents trying to help them. Planned meetings with tutors are limited to five minutes per student. We are already teaching our children to be slaves of technology and of time yet the news is full of reports suggesting that children don't know how to cope with the basics of life anymore like cooking or crossing the road safely because they're glued to the latest connection for social networking. Text-talk has already replaced the art of conversation.

Human Encounter. Do you remember what one of these looks like or are we too busy sticking plugs in our ears and staring at screens to comprehend the world beyond technology? Are we seriously becoming a society who can only function via computers and automated-time-saving-services? And if so, who are we saving this precious time for? Certainly not for the family. Family time has been hacked to death in our 24/7 want-it-now-or-I'll-go-elsewhere-self-imposed-culture of instant gratification. A perpetual cycle of supply and demand, a merry-go-round that can only get faster until your head spins and you're screaming to be thrown off. Let's hope there's a grass verge when you land but I'm guessing there probably won't be.

We are deceiving and cheating ourselves in the name of progress and we're not even aware of how much. Dating Sites. Profiles. Perfect Matches. For the very people who spend their days saving time but have no time to find someone to share that time with. Missing out on those glorious moments of serendipity, those chance encounters that come from opening yourself up and engaging with the world, by taking a wrong turn, or getting on the wrong bus or hey! missing the bus altogether. The agony of waiting for that special call, the heartache when it doesn't come and sometimes having to think on your feet and make an excuse when it does. The joy of the ride for the hell of it.

You can stare at a profile until you're blue in the face, take selfies instead of stopping a passer-by to take the picture for you, you can tick boxes to your heart's content and complete the transaction in record time - and very well done if you do. But it will never replace the fundamental skill of communicating meaningfully with another person. Not just with words but with body language, facial expressions or simply with what cannot be said or articulated in the moment - the gaps between the words, those slivers of silence that have the power to blow us away.