Inspired by a true story

He bathes in his sweat in a 21-year-old room he doesn’t own, sipping cheap foreign beer and watching his sunburned belly rise and fall. The thick summer air makes everything sticky and the open window fails to help. He tries to distract his sweaty self with some soap on the telly, where overdressed women shriek at each other in an ugly language he only half understands. But he can’t help overhearing another heated conversation going on outside. Two angry birds. Probably lovers, one giving more love than it receives. He knows this story. He knows it because life always goes that way. It has its equilibrium. In a relationship where one loves the other 60%, the other can only love back 40%. But who knows; he has never been good at maths.

Being an English teacher in a developing country gives you a lot of free time, most of which is spent either gulping down cheap foreign beer or barfing it out into some filthy toilet. It gives you a lot of free time to walk alone in the chaos of the city, dodging motorcycles and snacking on unhygienic street food. It gives you a lot of free time to search for British pubs to hide in and feel even more alienated than before. It gives you a lot of free time, most of which you don’t know how to spend. An idle body leads to a busy mind.

His mind slips to his children sitting together in the chilly kitchen of their typically English brick house. A 17-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. His daughter is a reader, a thinker, and a singer. She plays the guitar and talks about philosophy. The boy is a joker. His intelligence exceeds his age and he cracks jokes like a 40-year-old man. Last week, they rapped him a song they wrote together about how much they missed him.

He takes the last warm sip of the cheap foreign beer and opens another with his teeth. He lets out a long sigh, which feels odd knowing that no one is there to hear it. As though sighs were pointless if no one acknowledges them. He speaks loudly in his mind, “It’s great here. I love it here.” And he does. Life here is a year-round vacation: eternal sunshine, exotic ladies, cheap meals, beaches within an hour car ride. Loneliness is irrelevant.

But he is not lonely. He has many friends, and many students he dares call friends. There’s something about an English teacher that creates a special relationship between him and his students. There’s something about literature and poetry that strips their audience bare, leaving everyone exposed under the boiling spotlight of vulnerability. Within every interpretation, every understanding nod, every doubtful disagreement is a piece of each person’s rawest self. The teacher then becomes a bridge and a bowl for everyone’s emotions no matter how deep and secretive, making him seem like a benevolent saviour with comforting open arms.

This is why many students fall in love with their English teachers.

His wife is an English teacher, too. But she is different. The purpose of her job is to get 4th graders to speak with proper grammar and spell definitely definitely and not definately. She is a good teacher and most students love her. But she is different. Her job is different. Their student-teacher relationship is different. He hopes she is in bed by now. Evening here is night there. He hopes she remembers to kiss their children good night. He hopes she thinks of him before she falls asleep. But he probably doesn’t deserve it anyway.

He glances at the clock, even though he already decided early on that he wouldn’t do that tonight. He glances at the clock again, as it failed to register the first time. 6:54pm. She’s late. By 54 minutes. Make that 55. He sighs again, this time softer, more controlled.

She is a beautiful creature: her olive skin, her thick dark wavy long hair, the tight curve of her nose, her blood-coloured lips, the defiant lines of her body, the terrifying darkness of her eyes. His heart drops every time he thinks of her, the way she sits still as if she had all the secrets of the world in her palms, the way she calls his name with her tainted accent, the way she pushes and pulls his head around with just a whisper dripping from her lips. His heart aches now just thinking about her. She is a creature all right. But she’s not his creature. She’s no one’s creature.

Then come three knocks on his door that he’s been waiting for in the past hour. His flat doesn’t provide a doorbell. He tries to drag his feet and approach the door as slow as possible. Some odd pressure builds up inside his chest. His ribcage is almost exploding when he finally opens the door. And there she stands, with her weight on one leg, smiling, still in her school uniform.

His theory of students falling in love with their English teachers fails to mention that English teachers are vulnerable beings as well. Perhaps even more vulnerable, as they like to pretend to be brave. They are vulnerable beings and they fall in love, too.

He lets her in, unsure of where to put his hands. He seems to have too many all of a sudden. She glides across the small room and throws herself onto the sofa. He wants to kiss her. But he can’t. Not yet. Dinner first. He sits down next to her and grabs a plate of some lame fried rice he’s recently learned to make. It’s already gone cold, waiting for her arrival.

She pushes the plate out of his hand, almost spilling the food, but should he care? She places herself on his lap, wraps her arms around his neck, and kisses him. Softly. She stares into his eyes, her face so close to his that his vision becomes blurry, and he feels lightheaded. He can smell the sun still glowing on her skin. He breathes it in. He breathes her in. He licks his lips before he swallows her whole.

Then they just lie there on the sofa: she on top of him, their breaths short and excited, their clothes gathering dust on the floor, dinner still cold and uneaten. Her dark skin sticky on his, he can taste the salt of her sweat on his lips and feel the curves of her body pressing into his. She is his creature now, for now, too tired to run away.

He likes to tell himself that it’s okay. If your wife doesn’t know, it’s not wrong. If you’re not in the same country, it’s not cheating. It’s a different world; it’s not reality. He got bored. She got bored. They got bored of each other. He had to leave. He had to leave her behind. And find someone else to distract his weary mind. He’s getting old and tired of life. He needs some excitement to keep him living.

He isn’t sure if he believes all those things. At times, he feels as if he doesn’t even need them. Excuses are useless when you don’t feel guilty.

He moves his hands along the lines of her body and starts kissing her again. He’s never tired when she’s around. It’s as if she has a strange energy source bursting within her. The whole world becomes alive in her presence.

This time, his wife is on his mind the whole time. It energises and disgusts him. He knows whom he loves, and yet no one else can know. Everyone he knows lives in his twisted lies. Sometimes it feels as if this love affair isn’t real, because the only other person who knows about it is this beautiful creature that might as well have been a fragment of his imagination. But he knows it. He knows he loves her. He knows he loves her and that all he wants to do is to swallow her whole.

Here are some things he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that in 25 years he will be living with his wife again and fucking his wife again. He doesn’t know that in 25 years he will be travelling through Heathrow and that he’ll run into this beautiful creature of his one last time. He doesn’t know that in 25 years his beautiful creature will already be married with two kids of her own, that by then she will be wrinkled and bored, just like he is now. He doesn’t know that in 25 years he’ll realise for the first time that he’s not in love with her, that he’s never been in love with her, that he’s only in love with an image of her, of someone who doesn’t exist, who never has and never will, and that he’ll continue to love that someone for the rest of his worn out existence.

*

Words on Victory Tea project

A few months ago I handed in my university final project: a campaign for Victory Tea.

And now I’ve just received really lovely words on the project from the team at Victory Tea themselves. And it’s published on their blog.

Tears.

Here’s what they said:

Newcastle Student Brews Up Winning Tea Design

A few weeks ago we received an email from a friend of Victory Tea who told us about a girl doing work experience at her PR company called Oeil Jumratsilpal. Oeil was studying Advertising & Media right here at university in Newcastle and she had chosen to do her final year project on Victory Tea. Well we were terribly honoured. All we knew was that she had had to produce “a promotional campaign across various media channels” and that she was keen to show us her work. So we awaited the finished article with interest and anticipation, looking forward to seeing how an inventive outsider would interpret the brand and what they would do with it if they got their hands on our superior teabags for real. The results were victorious and we were very impressive with Oeil’s ideas. She had really got to grips with the core brand messages and had continued the design and copy in the Victory Tea tone of voice which is so crucial to our communication and brand-building. We particularly loved the Best of British style visuals. Oeil’s beautiful poster designs were a work of art in themselves and her imagining of them in a London underground setting worked brilliantly. The best bit of the whole experience was the idea that someone random out there had seen the website (or the product), got inspired and then let their creative juices run riot. And that they hadn’t lost sight of the commercial aspect – we want people to not just love Victory Tea but buy Victory Tea too!  Oeil hadn’t contacted us to request any info or imagery from us nor was there any guarantee that we’d give her any feedback or even view her work. (Of course we would have done but that’s not the point.) She just went off and came up with something fantastic. And then put it out there. A true creative. Happily we DID see her stuff and also thought it was marvellous. We absolutely adore the teacup illustration so don’t be surprised if it pops up now and again. And if Oeil didn’t get a triple first or whatever they dish out these days  – there’ll be trouble.

We’ve put more of her designs on the Facebook page so pop over and take a look.

Here’s the link to the blogpost: http://www.victorytea.co.uk/blog/2012/05/newcastle-student-brews-up-winning-tea-design/.

My gratitude is beyond words!

A short night that turned long with Team Me

@The Cluny, 4th May 2012

This is not a music review.

*

The night began with the two of us walking from my place in Jesmond, looking for The Cluny from a miniature mobile phone map and getting a bit lost anyway. (With only a bit of light beer in our belly, the confusion was entirely our fault.)

The walk took us onto the Byker Bridge, overlooking a small area that looked completely different from anywhere else in the city of Newcastle. What we saw looked somewhat like an ancient town square, with green grass and ruins. We took the stony steps down from the elevated streets past a pub, a farm with a greenhouse made of plastic bottles, and a small bridge over a dried up river. The scenery was refreshing and we felt as if we had entered a completely new city, a new world, if you’d like.

After spending a bit more time getting lost both around and inside The Cluny, we found where Team Me was going to perform and entered the dodgy room where a Guinness cost £3.30 through two doors with no sign at the end of the crowded dining area. Greeted with two friendly men, one with a nice top hat, we entered and waited for the show to begin.

*

The first two bands on the stage were two local young bands that filled the intimate room with great sounds, warming the audience up. The first band, Lilliput, gave us beautiful string serenades and sincere mourns in their voices, their sounds almost similar to that of Team Me. They had clever build-ups and talented musicians. Not a band member was ever not doing two things at once. Chased by Wolves, our second band’s filling sounds were somewhat more cynical than the first’s and had beats that got everyone moving along. The amazing combination of everyone’s talent paid off as a very hearty performance that could really fill you up inside.

*

After a short interval, Team Me took the small crowded stage as people began to get restless.

“Hello, we’re Team Me from Norway.”

And they started jumping up and down, perfectly leading all of us in, as the music started. The fun was easy and infectious.

Their joyous and dreamy collaboration of sounds seemed to cast over the audience with an odd effect rarely seen. I could almost see it lift everyone up and put us under some kind of childish spell.

Their turquoise hippie headbands, the colourful socks that covered ¼ of Marius’ pants, their Native American face paint, Elida’s bright red dress, the colours, the colours, the colours.

I felt like I was invited into someone’s playroom, full of wooden toys and miniature trains, where every toy ran on magic. Kids jumping up and down, while singing and creating musical noises purely from their own imagination.

Some people started approaching the stage and danced in a circle, arms clung together as they skipped like kids in a playground. Some sang, some requested songs. Some members of the band jumped down from the stage at various points of the night and joined the crowd.

It was the combination of their music, their performance, their lovely personality and humour, and all the beautiful colours present and imagined, that put me into an intoxicating state of joy. A wide smile permanent on my lips, I felt lykkelig—or blissful as the Norwegians say.

My heart broke when they announced their last song. The night felt way too short to be over. It was like business half finished.

People yelled and screamed encore, moremoremore, and names of some left-out songs. It was almost irresistible.

Team Me returned to the stage and received great delightful cheers when they agreed to play “one more song”. One of the gutsier fans requested “at least two” and got everyone’s hopes up.

They gave us Dear Sister and With My Hands Covering Both of My Eyes I Am Too Scared to Take a Look at You Now.

Knowing that that was our last chance to indulge in their music and knowing that we were lucky that we got that at all, we dove fearlessly into their sounds and it was epically mesmerising. I felt like a child being slowly tucked into bed and gifted with one more story, hoping it wouldn’t end but knowing that it would and grateful that it hadn’t earlier.

It was a great ending.

As people began to leave, I sulked that the night either went too fast or simply was too short.

*

We stopped by at the merchandise table near the front door and realised that the young man selling them was a band member. I went to congratulate him and it spun into a great conversation.

His yellow t-shirt soaked and his brown hair glistened with his own sweat, he looked as if he’d just had a taste of Britain’s great weather. He welcomed our enthusiasm with such friendly manners that it felt as if we were just talking with a classmate and nothing more.

He told us about where they’d been lately and where they were going next. He told us about their great experience blasting music in the Lancaster Library. He talked about how exciting and scary it was to be going for a gig in Japan. He told us about their thrilling night in Texas and the tour at an American records company. He talked about Norway, about Elverum, where they were from. He even directed me to another member who were responsible for all the great graphics for the band.

Being into all their visual elements, I ran right to him. Sitting on a tabletop in his maroon shirt, he shook my hand and asked for my name. And we talked, so casually it surprised me. He was incredibly open and shared with me all their experiences, hopes, emotions, and fears, while looking so sincerely at me with his bright round eyes.

They were real people, just like you and me, but with much more talent and courage.

*

We left the place at 1am, pockets full of recently purchased merchandise, belly full of ale, and mind full of—well, let’s just say fulfilled.

Team Me gave us a magical and memorable night of great music and personalities. We wish them well and look forward to their global success. And more visits to Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tusen takk og lykke til.