It’s strange reminiscing on the past. Things I thought I’d forgotten are spilling out like water over the Mundaring Weir after a deluge of winter rain. Just like the dam too, the majority of memories remain on one side of the wall, while the memory only allows those you need to spill out. I wish my memory was more reliable, able to tap deeper into the larger pool, so I could recount things with more detail.
I often wonder why I can’t remember things the way some people do, the dates, the sequence of events, and the intricate details. Sometimes I feel like it’s a early sign of dementia, bought on by a lifetime of drinking wine and not stopping long enough to take it all in.; always too much going on at one time to worry about remembering it all later. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things or maybe it’s just because so much has happened and I never stood still long enough to absorb the details, too busy getting on with the next phase.
I never thought of my life as interesting or noteworthy. I never did things so I could build it all up in some great story at the end of it all. I never knew I’d become a writer and if I did, I might have written better diaries and journals to help me out now.
It’s only now looking back, I realise how blessed I have been to know so many people, to live in different places, to experience so many wonderful things. I never knew I was fearless until now. How I followed my heart at every step of the way and never cared too much for the consequences. None of it was conscious; it’s just how it happened. For all the dumb, risky and downright dangerous situations I found myself in, I don’t regret one minute. We are our own books, and our stories manifest themselves without us even knowing we had one.
When Oliver and Audrey are old enough, maybe I’ll let them read this, maybe it will help them understand, how and why I became the person who is their Mum. I hope in some way, they’ll take a leaf out of it and live with a little adventure in their heart and understand that life is not about material things, its about doing what makes you happy, being kind and brave, loving with devotion and remembering everyone that helped you on your way. Hate and anger are wasteful emotions, own your mistakes, deal with them and move on to a better place. Put all your dreams out to the universe and miraculously they will happen. They won’t happen exactly how you thought they would or when you thought they would, but if you want it bad enough, and you’re prepared to take a few leaps of faith, the universe will answer you in wild and mysterious ways.
There are things that have happened in my life that I’m not proud of, things only certain people know. And nobody knows the whole story. Some friends know some bits, while other friends know other stories . It kind of all depended on who was around at the time.
I know it’s a morbid thought, but I often think about the wake of my funeral and everyone sitting around telling stories, how all the pieces would finally fit together, everyone with a different version to add, that the others didn’t know. There is nobody in my life that knows me completely. Not my family, not my best friends, and certainly not my husband. In fact, for a man I spent ten years of my life with, and had two children with, he knows so little of my life, he might well wonder if he was married to the same person they are talking about. No doubt he’ll add his own bits about the woman he knew. The wife and the mother, who was so desperate to do it right, but just couldn’t be the woman he wanted her to be. And nor could he be the man, she needed him to be.
So where were we? It’s still 1991, I’m living in the bedsit and I’m working at the RSA, I’m now a fully fledged company member of YOG, rehearsing every Thursday night and all day Sundays working towards two major musical productions a year, with other smaller shows in between. Life is good.
YOG wasn’t a paid gig. It was a youth theatre company but you had to audition to get in. They’d do one intake each year and about 200 hopefuls auditioned each year. They could only take up to 8 new members each time. The company was 90 members strong, ranging from 8 year olds to 24 year olds. And was ranked in the top five of the best youth companies in the UK. It was a privilege to get in and a bit like boot camp, the expectations were high for those that made the grade. They worked us hard and each show was as meticulously planned and cast as a West End production. Hence why the majority of the people that came through its ranks ended up on the professional stage or working in the entertainment industry.
To this day, I still shake my head in disbelief at the letter I received saying ‘Congratulations, we’d like to welcome you to the company.’ I still have that letter, like a prize trophy that should be framed and put on a shelf to remind myself how lucky I was.
I was nervous as hell the day I auditioned. Picture the scene in Flashdance where she has to dance for her life in front of a panel of four judges. I stood in this huge gymnasium, with a panel of four stern looking people sitting at a trestle table, A pile of overturned application forms sitting in front of the big round man, with a YES or NO written on the side I couldn’t see.
‘Tabetha Rogers’ they called me in. All I remember doing was smiling and shuffling from one foot to the other. ‘So you’re from Australia?’ The big round man with the booming voice said in a posh English accent.
‘Yep..’ I said.
‘And what are you going to sing for us today?’
‘Wouldn’t it Be Lovely, from My Fair Lady.’ I replied as I walked over to the man at the piano and handed him the musical score.
Mr Thorburn, the round man nodded to the accompanist and the music started to play.
Channeling my inner Audrey Hepburn, I adopted my best cockney accent and belted out my rendition of the song,
All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair,
Oh Wouldn’t it be love..erly!
Lots of chocolate for me to eat
Lots of coal givin’ lots of heat
Warm hands, warm face, warm feet
Ohhhh..wouldn’t it be love..erly.
With that part over, we got called back in small groups to do the dance audition. The chorographer Beryl Thomas, lit a cigarette, then stood up front and showed us a few simple steps that we had to repeat. She had the fag hanging from her lips the entire time and never once dropped a skeric of ash. Dancing has never been my strength, especially not choreographed moves but I wanted this so bad, I put everything into it.
We had to wait a couple of days before finding out whether we’d made it or not, but the day I got that letter changed my life.
The first show I ever did with YOG was in early 1990 called Celebration Songbook. It wasn’t an official YOG show but a collaboration of musical numbers from all the amateur dramatic societies in Coventry. We’d put together a collection of Gershwin and Cole Porter numbers and wore blue lycra leotards with wrap around skirts. I thought I was the ducks nuts on stage and our performance by far out shone any of the other groups. Our rival group was the Eden Theatre Company, the other youth group in Coventry. Lots of their members went to school with members of YOG, so while they all knew each other, it was always a bit competitive between groups. Like the Sharks and Jets in West Side Story, we settled our fights with song and dance and challenged each other by who had the best performers. Anyone that didn’t make the YOG audition ended up with Eden, so they were always the poor cousins.
As luck would have it, I joined YOG at an incredible time. The first official show I did was called Blitz. Blitz was written by Lionel Bart, the same playwright that wrote the musical Oliver. This is the real reason my children got their names, both relate to my love of people and names in musical theatre.
This was no small community production. This show had been years in the planning and we were the only group outside of London to have performed the show. Opening night was in November 1990 to coincide with the anniversary of the German air raids that decimated Coventry in 1940 during WWII. It was an emotional show to do, knowing that many members in the audience actually survived that blitz to tell the tale.
As a reminder of the devastation cast upon Coventry on that fateful night, the Cathedral ruins still stand. It’s eerie to visit it now, with its empty shell, no roof, just the remains of the outer walls and a cross made from the charred ruins of the burnt out rafters. Granddad Rogers was one of the first fire wardens at the scene when the bombing happened. It’s a timely reminder that even peaceful places like churches are not immune from hate.
Lionel Bart who wrote the musical, came to see the show. He sat in the first row and was moved and praised our performance. He became the company’s patron after that.
The show was picked up by national media and we appeared on the news and on radio stations and eventually the whole cast went into a sound studio to make a cast recording. I still have it somewhere on cassette tape.
One of the signature songs from the show, became the YOG unofficial anthem and since that time, we have sang Vera’ Lynn’s ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ at the funerals of our friends and YOG members who have passed. I hope they will sing it or play a recording of them singing it at my funeral. It’s a song about hope and resilience and remembering those we love.
If you don’t know how it goes, you can hear it here. (It’s on old war time song.