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Friday, 14 March 2014

Why The Hell Am I Doing This?

In 2012, in the midst of a double-dip recession, whilst bringing up two children, Pete and I threw caution to the wind and jacked in our jobs. We took redundancy from careers in journalism to pursue our passion – to write and perform our own poetry cabaret show. With modest redundancy cheques, we bought an electric keyboard, a rickety old campervan and a dog. We practiced the piano, we learned how to jump start a Hymer, and we all but failed to toilet train a dachshund.

The result is “The Shallow Depths”; a darkly comic stage show written in the quiet moments between doggy do-dos, kiddy tea-times, full-time work and general family mayhem. We're about to launch in our home town before taking the show on to the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. As we build up to the first night, I find myself reflecting on why we chose this unlikely and somewhat mad path?
This is us, Family Dixon, a few years back. It looks like everything is rosy and that we get a lot of fun out of life. To a certain extent this is true; we adore each other, we are tight and we love spending time together. It was the world outside our home that got to Pete and me.

For many years, off and on, Pete and I have battled depression. I actually feel a fraud including mine alongside Pete's because his has been heavier, more persistent - clinical. Mine has come in fits and starts including postnatally but also as I dealt with the traumas of my past. I'd put off seeking help for so long partly because my Mum has bipolar which has had a devastating effect on her life. It sounds ridiculous but I thought if I stopped numbing my thoughts, which was so habitual it felt normal, I'd open up a can of worms and "end up like Mum". Of course I know better than that now and actually performance poetry is my way of embracing the madness.

The point is, when you finally wake up to yourself as I did, you find you're in a place where you don't belong. You probably never did, it's just you were too numb to notice before. You also begin to find the meaning, your meaning. I connected my passion for writing with performance and I built up the courage to go to a poetry open mic night. I dared to get up and speak my own words for the first time in my life. It was nothing much but the feeling was exhilarating. I knew this was my future, but how to deal with the present?

In the end I just couldn't stay in my job. It wasn't who I was and I felt it was holding me back. It may sound weird but I thought about myself in my old age and I imagined the regrets I might have if I didn't make the right, if risky, choices. And so, I left. A few months later, Pete did the same.

We'd already started playing the piano and fiddling around with words and music. Now we had the freedom of mind and spirit to explore and experiment. Better still, we had time in the day, when the children were at school, to hang out together. Things happened slowly, they happened easily, without us really even noticing. My ideas morphed into Pete's and vice versa; they became ours. We set ourselves a few simple goals, like having three musical poems under our belt by the summer holidays, and the rest followed. Without trying, we seemed to deliver early on our targets.

After sixteen years of marriage, it was a whole new honeymoon period in our creative lives together. Of course it couldn't last; after a few months as the money started to run out we needed to find work. But it was enough to lay the foundations of the big dream; to write and perform our own show. We both took full-time jobs and, although juggling wasn't easy, we never lost sight of our goal. Now we just channelled our energies in the evenings and weekends. The children, who are always central to our lives, naturally became part of the process and the poetry. They too shared in the music, comedy and theatre of it and even the dog sat on my knee as I practiced the piano. I often played with her chin resting on my arm.

One day I felt we were close to having enough material to pull off a show of some sort; we just needed the incentive. That's when I phoned the Ropewalk in my home town which is a theatre venue attracting the likes of Alan Carr, Jo Caulfield and John Hegley.  Liz, who runs the place, agreed to take a chance on us and put Pete and me on for an evening.

That was six months ago and we've been rehearsing, shaping and honing the show ever since. Now just a few weeks away the nervous energy is starting to kick in. I'm really looking forward to finally getting on stage and performing our work to an audience. Of course I hope to get a good response but Pete and I feel we're quite niche and maybe it will take time to find our place. Also, neither of us have a need to "be popular" and to adapt our material accordingly. We just hope to learn from our performances, hone our act and, most of all, have fun.

Depression doesn't magically go away. Even today, particularly with our money worries - worries which must be familiar to so many during this recession - we struggle. But we have a way of channelling it now. We also have a renewed self belief that, whatever happens, we are about to create a really special moment. A moment that we have continued to battle for after that first fearful step along our unlikely path. Finally we are doing what we were born to do.

The Shallow Depths launches on April 5th at the Ropewalk, Barton Upon Humber

p.s the dog still shits on the carpet. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Surviving February Half Term

The thing about February is Pete and I always get ill and this half term holiday was no exception. I came down with a nasty case of man flu while Pete endured an impressive, if rather embarrassing, bout of mad-hair-ittus:-
"Mum", my son said as I lay with thumping head surrounded in snot rags, "no offence, but you look like a chav when you're ill". 

On further analysis of my face, in particular the eye area, my daughter took great pleasure in whole heartedly agreeing with her brother. Unfortunately, it was the only thing they could agree on all week.

And that's the problem I find with February Half Term. When your defences are down and you can barely lift you mug to your mouth to dose yourself up with lemsip, your children squabble - meaning one's head thumps even harder. They squabble because they are siblings, they squabble because they are children but, most of all, they squabble because THEY ARE BORED! 

I resolved to try and kill two birds with one stone and packed them off to the swimming pool. There I hoped (nae, prayed) the chlorine would temper Pete's hair, whilst the splash around would also entertain Frank and Connie enough to find their love for each other once more. It all went to plan until afterwards in the shower when Connie gave Frank a quick kick in the balls; because that's what sisters do:
(Note how Pete is oblivious to the entire episode, so intent is he on washing down that mighty massive mop).
I knew then that these were desperate times. If we were going to survive February Half Term whilst keeping our family unit (and testicles) in tact there was only one thing for it. SPLIT UP.
 So I took Frank away to Manchester where we spent a night in a hotel specifically chosen for it's proximity to a Lego shop. Frank loves lego, he lives and breathes it. He spends hours ogling it in the shop. When, after what felt like ages, I raised even the mildest hint that it might be time to go Frank knocked me down: "Mum, it may not seem like much, but this is my way of expressing myself". And when you're a parent and your child says that, they win. But ultimately I guess, we both won. I bought him a nice big chunk of lego and off we headed back to the hotel room where he spent the next few hours making it. Meantime, finally, I relaxed under a duvet whilst drawing inspiration for a speedy recovery from the athleticism and elegance of the ice dancers at the Winter Olympics.
As for Connie and Pete; well they had fun too. They went to a hotel with a pool near Lincoln overnight where they could swim and wash their hair afterwards to their heart's content. And when we reunited back home with batteries re-charged, it's like we fell in love with each other all over again? Well, I wouldn't go that far but I'm looking slightly less "chavvy" now, we've all got used to Pete's hair and February Half Term is almost survived. Roll on Easter.

Making Lego in Manchester

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Shallow Depths

One spends so much of one's life "fannying" (well I do), that I'm so very excited to have written a show - a lifelong ambition. Pete has composed most of the music. It comes after big life changes for both of us when we finally found time and empathy to hear each other creatively.

The Shallow Depths: launched April 5th, 2014

Friday, 15 November 2013

Britain's Got Talent

D'ya know, there are so many talented people in Britain that when you queue up to audition for that programme on the telly you have to wait forever. Here's Connie twizzling beads as she sat waiting in line for the Manchester auditions of Britain's Got Talent.

 You may be able to tell that Connie is dressed as a hippy from the sixties. In fact she went as a nine year old Janis Joplin and she sang "Piece of My Heart", a tune she'd picked up in our local pub at the open mic. Even once we got past the registration desk, we had to sit around for ages. Luckily there was so much talent in the (crammed) room the size of Belgium  that we were brilliant at  jumping on chairs and waving madly at cameras. Even if it weren't under strict instruction from students with walkie talkies, we'd have done it anyway, because we were having such a fun time. Connie was "made up" when a scouse girlie dance troupe starting busting some moves on the practice stage. There was also this great lad tap dancer and a DJ with a "Doggy Disco" and two cute mutts who attempted to boogie in time with the music. It all helped pass the time and I guess it's no wonder we had to wait bearing in mind Connie's number in the queue....

OK, proud Mum moment here....Connie was super in the audition. She sang her heart out and then took it square on the chin when she was told she hadn't got through. She has a fab voice and she is driven to push herself and apply, off her own back (already), for things like this. She says she's coming back next year with her own troupe of dancers for which she's holding auditions in January.

Janis Joplin, Manchester 2013
Connie singing on You Tube....

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Abandoned

I've always been monumentally disastrous at goodbyes and tonight, for the first time, I think I know why. I've just watched C4's documentary programme "Unreported World". This week it was about a group of mentally ill campaigners - the Colectivo Chuhcanin - in Mexico City who were returning to local psychiatric institutions to report on the appalling conditions there. It was truly shocking; an elderly woman tied to her wheelchair ALL day, vulnerable men raped by other patients and staff who confessed that the mentally ill are not worthy of human rights. In any case, who'd believe them? These people are abandoned in these hell holes for year upon year upon year and some, through tears, were desperately asking to be rescued. The impact this had on the group, who had first hand experience of these conditions, was deeply moving. They were the lucky ones because they were able to leave; their families supported them and they could scrape together enough money for medication. But how could they abandon the others? people just like them. Human beings, just like us.

This is my Mum, Andrea, when she was in her early twenties taken on the roof of the Maudsley, a psychiatric hospital in London. She was recovering from a breakdown, one of several she's had over the past fifty years. Several years after this photo was taken Andrea was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She has made many attempts on her life, and lost a leg in the 1980's following one very near miss. Now at the age of seventy, she manages her life in sheltered housing with some measure of independence, but it's still a daily struggle. The medication is constant and only last year she spent three months in hospital. Apart from when I was very little (and I have no memory of this) I've never lived with Andrea. I have always visited her wherever she is including many psychiatric wards. So between mum and daughter it's been a lifetime of "goodbyes".

How fortunate we are that conditions on our psychiatric wards are, in the main, good. There's no doubt that Mum, particularly in recent years, has had some really positive treatment. It wasn't always like this though and I've said goodbye to her in some pretty grim places. Places where I see she is not respected nor understood. Places where she isn't heard nor encouraged. Places where I know she would rather not be. Sometimes, even when it's not that bad, it kills you to walk away. So I empathise with Colectivo Chuhcan and commend their brilliant cause.

Please watch this film:-
The Abandoned - Unreported World

Please support this campaign:-
Disability Rights International

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Field is Wide Open

 I've been doing a lot of thinking this week...
 And driving in the countryside near Scunthorpe.
 I figured I've taken many twists and turns so far....

Where next?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


I've been having big problems recently leaving my dog and going to work. Look at this photo for example of my little snuggly wuggly munchkin (she's on my lap not on my left shoulder - that's my pet ferret):-

I'm not the only one struggling with parting from the pooch of a morning...


...So, in the interests of mental wellbeing, I've decided to jack in the job and write my kids a permanent sick note off school.