Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Dream a Little Dream of Me...

I live in monochrome. I dream in multicolour.

This is obviously a ridiculously overblown statement which I’m mostly saying for effect and to make you read this blog. However, there is some element of truth to it. My life is not all monochrome, not by any many of means – I’m far too much of a drama queen to allow that. However, my depression, such as it is, when it manifests itself, is definitely grey. I’ve read about other people describing depression as being black – was it Winston Churchill who talked about his black dog? – but mine is grey. Sepia. Like black and white TV. It is the exact nothing colour of the sky when that vast emptiness above us is bleached out with clouds and looks hollow and bleak. When I look at the sky and it is that blank, I always think of a Sylvia Plath quote – I talk to God, but the sky is empty. How can anyone be happy under a sky like that? I don’t understand it. And when I’m depressed and it’s bad enough to seep into even sunny days, I feel like I’m carrying that grey sky in a big, dense, heavy lump in my chest, a lump that drags me down and makes it hard for me to lift my head to look at the blue skies anyway.

(Now there’s a cheerful opening statement for you!)

My dreams, however, are a totally different matter. I never dream in tones of grey – or if I do, it’s a cine camera, stop motion, Film Noir kind of grey, like at the beginning of Moulin Rouge, not the hopeless void of colour that fills the sky and sucks out my soul on down days. Let me put it this way – I’ve just come back from a wonderful psytrance festival in Hungary, full of sunshine and crazy hippies floating about with face paint smeared all over their happy little fizzogs, and yet the most colourful thing I’ve seen in a month is the lion that mauled my parents’ next door neighbour a few nights ago.

My parents live in Southgate, north London, not in the African bush. This was, natch, part of my dream some nights ago. I was watching the lion from my old bedroom in my parents’ house, with them, out of the window. We were amazed at first, as we’d never seen a lion up close, and one doesn’t expect to see such a creature strolling down a suburban Southgate street – especially one so dazzlingly golden, with such a bright, flowing mane. It walked very calmly and confidently down the road, and we were more than a little thrilled. I assumed it had escaped from a zoo – you read these stories sometimes, don’t you, about big cats living in the most unexpected locations, having escaped from this place or that place – and felt lucky to be looking at him. It didn’t feel so lucky when he tore down Rita (the next door neighbour’s) door and started mauling someone he had found in there, flaying the skin from this poor man’s back as he screamed and cried, still alive even as he was swiftly being torn, quite literally, in two.

I woke up from this dream needing a drink – water, not the stiff gin one might assume, I hasten to add. Generally, I’ve been sleeping so much better lately, but some of my good habits are starting to slip a little bit, and the occasion of this dream, some nights ago, was one of those times that I woke up during the night. The dream (I won’t bore you with all the details) (or maybe, as it turns out, I will) had already transmuted into my brother having been taken over by another being and being about to kill me… and yet I still found myself trying to get back inside the dream as I got back into bed, mouthing the words I’d been saying when I’d awoken, trying to get back to the scene I had just left.

All the signs would point to that having been a nightmare, right? I mean, seeing the lion in the street was pretty damn cool, but then the flaying alive, and the eerie creepiness of someone else in my brother’s body (I knew it wasn’t him because he had an upside down tattoo of some script across his shoulder blades, and my brother would NEVER get a tattoo, let alone a creepy upside down, Satan-ish looking number) accusing me of killing the neighbour, when I could see in his eyes that this was part of his elaborate plan to kill me – this shouldn’t be something I want to get back to, right? And yet, and yet… the simple truth of the matter is that sleep is so prized to me, so cherished, so tied up with my mental health in ways both good and bad that I would almost always rather be asleep than awake.

Sleep is good for me because when I don’t get enough of it, I lose a layer of skin – things affect me way too much and I cry and crumble way too easily. If I’ve not had enough sleep, a broken nail seems like front page news, and the actual front page news (lying politicians, house fires, murder victims, starving children, orphaned baby tigers) is enough to completely dissolve me. The ups and downs of relationships (romantic and other) that most people seem to take in their stride completely confound me when I’m not sleeping well. I dwell and dwell and dwell on slights and rows and treatment that has made me feel small, and something within the sleep-starved version of my soul is a greenhouse for these things, making them grow rich and lush and all-entangling, like a creeper weed choking a rose. This is why I mustn’t lose too much sleep.

Sleep is bad for me because when I have too much of it, it’s all I want. Not that I would know, but it’s like heroin. It’s all I want – to return to the world of my dreams, where I swim with crocodiles (last night) or talk to ponies (the night before) or perform onstage with Madonna (over and over and over again). When I wake up from too much sleep, I feel drugged. My mouth is fuzzy and dry, my head is thick and suety, I can’t think anything through or get anything done. It’s the same thing that happens to me when I watch too much television, but if anything, it’s even more addictive.

In fact, my most deadly entrapment of all is a combination of these two things – sleeping with the television on. There’s something about the recorded voices of people talking, with the occasional laughter track or incidental music thrown in, that is a totally soporific lullaby for me. A DVD would get me to sleep better than a valium – until it finished, at which point I’d be spewed back into the real world, which mostly consisted of that black and red screen in all the different languages telling you not to show this DVD on oil rigs. Hence why I always slept with one hand clutched tightly around the remote control, so that I could press play and sink back into my paddling pool shallow sleep once again. I can’t really do this any more since getting rid of the television from my room so that I would sleep better.

As a brief aside – I was SO confident that, although it was painful doing it, I wouldn’t miss the television from my room at all, and that I would become one of those annoying people who say they would never dream of having a TV in their room in the first place, and who point out what a lowly slacker anyone who does harbour such a filthy secret must be. Turns out, I was wrong. I know it was the right thing to do, as I do sleep better, but godDAMN I miss my bedroom TV. I use audio books now instead, but it’s like switching heroin for methadone. It does the same job, but it’s nowhere near as good.

The sensible thing, one would think, on waking up from too much sleep and finding oneself in this impaired state, would be to go swimming or do some yoga, or at the very least some star jumps – anything that’s going to wake myself up so that I can come home to my fully operational brain and get on with my day. Right? Wrong! That’s the problem with impaired states after all… you don’t think right. At the time that this is going on for me, the only thing I can think of that will solve the lopsided hardship of being alive is going back for some more of that delicious sleep. It’s like a mini-suicide to which you don’t have to commit, is sleep. And what could be more tempting than that? Left to my own devices, it’s possible that I would spend the rest of my days slumbering to old episodes of Gilmore Girls, only waking up to change DVDs and eat the occasional bit of cheese.

I don’t suppose I’m unique in these feelings. After all, who doesn’t love a good slumber party? The party where, ultimately, you’re the only guest and your dreams are your own personal cinema. What could be better? My dreams are bigger, and fuller, and bolder, more colourful and linear and complex than those of anyone else I’ve ever met, with the possible exceptions of my friends Rosch and Adam. I don’t know if my dreams really are as linear and novel-esque as they so often seem, or if it’s the writer monkey in my head editing story lines together as I wake up, but it doesn’t really matter – they keep me entertained either way.

The one downside of having made my sleep so much healthier (apart from having to get rid of the TV) is that I don’t remember my dreams as much. For the first month or so that I was sleeping right, I don’t think I remembered more than a wisp of a dream for the entire four weeks, something that had never happened to me before in my life. I was bereft! This was something that was so puzzling about my insomnia days. I was convinced I hadn’t slept for more than, say, seven minutes the entire night, spread out over several hours, and yet my dreams had seemed to go on for millennia. Of course, this is because the dreams we remember are the ones we have as we’re coming up to the surface of sleep – as we’re about to wake up. So I was asleep, but never very well.

I’ve started to remember my dreams more again. I know this is because I’ve stopped doing everything Paul McKenna tells me… I never leave three hours between food and sleep any more, I sometimes sit on my bed to fold my washing, I sometimes try to sleep before I’m tired. But like a manic depressive skipping out on my medication, hoping to tempt just a tiny bit of the temptress of mania back into my life, I’m not doing anything about it just yet. Stop dreaming? People who say that are blaspheming, as Mike Skinner once said. I don’t think he meant the literal dreams that I do, but still. If I can twist someone else’s clever words and use them as my defence, you can’t stop me. Even if you try it with both hands (Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll).

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Gym teachers I have known and loved

In my many and various years of going to gyms, dance classes and yoga lessons, I have discovered that gym teachers are, for me, the living, breathing equivalent of the hype on Marmite. I either hate them – and I use that word lightly all the time, but I think I actually hate the gym teachers I hate, poor souls... there's just something about someone forcing you into phsyical exercise that I don't want to do, in the way I don't want to do it, that seems to inspire VERY strong negative feelings in me – or I am 100%, giddy as a teenager, head over heels in love with them. There is no middle ground. Fortunately, I’ve felt the latter way about way more of them than the former way, and that, fair readers, is the topic of today’s blog. The teachers I have hankered after.

As so often is in the way in life, the first cut was the deepest. Patrick, the street dance teacher. Oh, Patrick – how did I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Let’s have a little background info. Many moon ago, having watched a few videos of David Elsewhere online and been agog at the famous Mint Royale car advert, I decided, in my most wisdomous way, that the only thing missing from the Twisted Kitten experience was not, as one might think, an ability to mix, knowledge of how to wire up speakers properly, or even the nous to check sound levels – no, no, no, how VERY passé, all the DJs know how to do that boring stuff. What we needed, I decided, was to learn how to body pop. I laugh at myself now, but in truth I’m still pretty sad that that dream didn’t come to fruition.

We tried to make it so, though! We found a street dance class in a Stockwell YMCA, and along we trotted to learn the basics of popping, locking and breaking. Or to try at least… a word to the wise – NEVER try to learn breakdancing unless you’re *really* fucking strong. Otherwise it is just a lesson in feeling foolish. Fortunately, we mostly learnt the kind of dancing you see people doing in big triangles behind Will Smith, which I now know is called locking, and is loads of fun. Even more fun than DJing itself – or was that just because of Patrick?

Oh my goodness, I could have spread him on a cracker. Do you remember - those of you out of my talented and tasteful readership who fancy men - Theirry Henry in those va-va-voom car adverts? The way he drove past you, tipping you that cheeky sideways glance for which I’m sure many saner women than I have downed their knickers, knocked back their drinks and ran into the breach screaming yippee. Well, that was what Patrick looked like. Only better. He was big, black, muscled and French. And he liked hip hop! And he could dance! He would teach us steps, and say to us ‘lower, lower’ (which, in his lovely French accent, sounded like ‘low-air! low-air!’) and made us both quite afluster.

Elaine and I would chat about being in love with him while we weren’t actually in the classes, and it all felt like a jolly joke, nothing too serious – but every week, once we were back in that sweaty Stockwell basement (oh, the romance) and he was fixing me with his big eyes and playing the Notorious BIG and commanding me to go ‘low-air, low-air!’ I realised this was actual, real, genuine bone fida love and that I wanted to marry him. Elaine saw him on the bus once and didn’t pounce on him and ask him out, and I nearly died of jealousy.

Sadly, the class was drastically under-subscribed (many weeks, we were the only two people there, which pleased us just FINE) and got cancelled. Without even as much as a warning, Patrick was whisked away from under our noses, never to be seen again. This is, I’ve noted, the way with gym teachers. I don’t think my poor little heart has ever been quite right since.

The next healthy hottie to be the apple of my eye was my belly dancing teacher, Fleur. Do you think that was her real name? It’s a name that screams belly dancing, isn’t it – or at the very least, a gymnastic ribbon. I can’t imagine a bus driver called Fleur, or a sub-editor somehow. Which came first, I wonder – the flowery name, or the flowery job? Who knows? I could never have concentrated long enough to actually ask, such was my adoration.

(An aside: I consider myself to be straight, most of the time. Being a metrosexual woman of the world and all that bullshit, I, like Katy Perry, have kissed a girl, and I’ve liked it. I don’t really think it’s anything to write a bragging, look-at-me, aren’t I ker-razy little song about, personally, as let’s face it, which of us hasn’t kissed a girl? It doesn’t make you special, you know! However, it’s rare that I really fancy women. It happens very occasionally in my day to day life, but seems to happen all the time at the gym. I guess it’s no massive mystery, really. If I’m going to fancy a girl, it helps if she’s really fit and bendy. Shocking.)

At first, I wasn’t sure I was so keen on Fleur. She was undoubtedly beautiful, but I wasn’t totally sure that she didn’t just spend more time admiring herself in the mirror than actually teaching anyone. Not that I could blame her. If I looked like that – tiny frame, hip bones jutting like mini mountain ranges, waist length hair as black as a tar barrel, cat-like eyes, smooth caramel skin - I'd be gazing at myself in the mirror all day as well. Plus, not unsurprisingly, she could dance bewitchingly, twitching her little hips in a way that, frankly, made me drool.

I don’t know if she was a better teacher than I first thought, or if I just gave up caring and let the lust take over, but I quickly changed my mind and decided she was the best thing since crunchy peanut butter on fat, golden toast. I think, as much as anything else, I just really wanted to be her. I had to stop going to her classes after two terms (and she clearly IS a good teacher, I learnt a lot from her which I still use when I’m dancing now, three years later) because I couldn’t afford to keep going, and again, another little piece of my innocent heart was chipped away.

There was a long, dry spell until my next love came along but again, this was a big one. My yoga teacher, Rebecca. Clearly, I have a type when it comes to the ladies, as she was not a million miles away from Fleur in terms of looks. Tiny, hip bones, smooth skin, dark hair, so beautiful I could eat her. Plus, she managed to strike the perfect yoga teacher balance between too much hippie nonsense and not enough. You might think it wouldn’t be possible to go to a yoga class with too little hippie bollocks, but I used to go to an Inyengar class taught in a slightly smelly school hall by a woman who talked exactly like Marsha from Spaced, and it was oddly disconcerting. You need a bit of plinky plonky music and the odd reference to ‘letting yourself find downward dog’ or it feels like a swizz. Rebecca was perfect at slipping the odd hippie phrase in while retaining a sense of humour and – there’s no other word for it – spunk that I greatly admired. And the crazy shapes she could twist that edible snack of her body into… people who are good at yoga are gods. See Madonna for reference, if you’re having a doubt.

Rebecca winked at me once during a class and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life before or since. My friend who comes to classes with me sometimes called her a ‘beautiful angel of perfection’ and she wasn’t wrong.

I had slightly more warning that she was going to be taken away from me than I did with Patrick, but not much. I used to have two classes a week with her, on Mondays and Wednesdays – and she announced on a Monday that that Wednesday – two days hence – would be her last day. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Devastated, so I was! I took her a card to say goodbye and thank you on the Wednesday class, like the bum-licker I am (or at least, wanted to be, ha ha) and tried to make my peace with being taught by lesser teachers. It felt like I’d been dumped, though, and suddenly found myself going out with my ex’s way less good best mate.

So all the while that I was being taught twice a week by Rebecca, I was having a third lesson, on Fridays, from Tammy. It took me a while to warm to Tammy simply because, poor girl, she wasn’t Rebecca. And she doesn’t look like my apparent blue-print of girl perfection (tiny and dark haired). Don’t get me wrong, she still had a body I’d cheerfully claw my aunty’s eyes out for, but she was taller than Rebecca and Fleur and therefore not quite so titchy. She also had a lot more attitude than the previous too ladies. Somehow, when I thought about her, she always seemed to be wearing a baseball cap, chewing gum and getting ready to smash a home run out of the park, even though she sounded like she was from South London. She was ballsy and out doorsy and tough.

As I said, I spent my first few classes with her huffing and puffing (in an ujjai manner of course, ho ho) in resentment at the simple fact that I was in a class that wasn’t taught by Rebecca, but I soon cottoned on that actually Tammy was every bit as good as Rebecca, and a girl-crush was of course around the corner. This was a crush, rather than full blown love, but I still found myself going a bit shy and giggly when she spoke to me, and I was still pretty crushed, if you'll pardon the pun, when I got back from holiday to find that she’d left while I was away, never to be seen again.

I was on the brink of giving yoga up – one of the only remaining teachers at my gym is definitely on the other side of the Marmite gym teacher division and actually made me cry during a class once (not that hard, I will cry if you prod me too hard with your toe, but still) – when salvation arrived in the form of muscular, tattooed, barely-legal gym treat Sam (male), who taught me on Friday.

You know how Justin Timberlake looks a bit like Tumnus the Fawn but is somehow still sexy? Sam the yoga teacher is rocking this same look. I’m gonna guess he’s 23, but that’s probably unfairly ageing him to make me feel like less of a pervert. He’s all buff and muscled, but in that understated way that means he still has a tiny waist. His shoulder blades have cut my heart in two. He has curly hair, clear eyes and a smile that I swear to god he only shows to me. He couldn’t go around smiling like that at everyone he meets – it would be criminal!

I’ve only had one lesson from him so far, but I will be having more. You may all need to buy a hat, readers… watch this space.