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Around 13 years ago a friend at work recommended a newish TV show. “Have you seen a show called ‘Only Connect’? I think you will love it.” I did. It was the exact opposite of the crop of lowest common denominator quizzes that were around at the time. It was clever, it was unusual, it was challenging. It was fiendishly difficult at times but when you were able to see a connection it was so rewarding.

And there was Victoria Coren (now Coren-Mitchell). A sharp mind, quick wit and equally affable and superior, she was a tone perfect fit for the show – and in my opinion one of the key factors for its success.

I went through a phase as a child where I worshiped my sister. I wanted to be around her all the time. But anyone who has had an annoying little sister will know this is a total buzz kill that cramps one’s style. I was often shooed away. “Stop following me around!”

I’m just happy to be included.I started to avidly watch the show, celebrating every single point I might get. When you saw a connection before one of the contestants that was like striking gold. What really made it for me was when they changed the symbols that hid each question. When it started, each question was hidden behind a Greek Letter – think Pi, Epsilon, Theta (but obviously using the Greek symbols ). A watcher wrote in complaining that this was too elitist. The reaction of the show’s producers? They changed the symbols to Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Brilliant reaction! I knew these were my kind of people. Think we’re too clever? Fine, we’ll lean in to that!

Mum and Dad used to host bible studies at our house. As a “little girl” I wasn’t welcome in these and was expected to go to my room. I spent many evenings sat on the bottom step of our stairs, listening as an outsider to the mumbling of adults talking about God – hearing tantalising snippets, but never allowed to participate.

I’m just happy to be invited.

When Paul Richardson, a good friend and quiz guru, sent me a message asking if I would be interested in joining him and one of our mutuals, Paul Grave (another Paul!!) in trying out for Only Connect, I jumped at the chance. We all filled the form in, had a go at the questions and sent it off. We soon heard back and had scored high enough on the written test to be invited to the audition. We had a great day out in Manchester. Paul R treated us to lunch, which was fantastic; asked me some personal questions about my story, which because I trust him I was happy to answer; directed us to the right Hotel and proceeded to be buzzer/bell banging leader. We didn’t get through, but had a marvelous day and met two lovely producers, Hannah and Jenny.

When I was at school I enjoyed playing football. I asked the lads if I could join their game – the answer was always “no girls allowed”. Years later, one of those boys, who had become a good friend said to me, “it wasn’t that we thought you weren’t good enough, we all knew you were. It’s that none of us wanted to be beaten by a girl. That would be humiliating”…

I’m just happy to be here.

A year later, we talked about trying again. Things were a bit tougher, for all of us. Of the three Pauls – PG’s dad was very ill, PR was facing some very difficult decisions as a Trustee of our former church and Paul Jackson was facing some life changing events in his work. My year had been… challenging. Church stuff had been and continued to be very painful and I was moved back to an old role in work after a project was finished – some new people, work that didn’t push me quite as much and a very cold building (as well as a massive trigger to my anxiety that had me blubbing in a side room for half an hour). All in all we felt we deserved a bit of fun and a distraction from it all. So we filled the form in again and once more got through to the auditions. Due to PG’s dad’s very serious illness he decided to step back and we had PJ as our backup and the two of us with reliable captain PR went again to Manchester.

We felt much more confident about this audition having felt like we answered better and done very well on the Wall section especially. (Thank you bit of knowledge that knew Cardinal was a bird!). It turns out our confidence was not misplaced as we got an email saying we were through to the Series. We were going to be on telly!!

A team at work were going out to celebrate. I can’t eat onions or anything from the alum family or peppers – they all make me quite ill. After agreeing to go to one place (a pub) through a confluence of events we ended up going to an Indian restaurant – despite it being the one place I had indicated would be unsuitable. I was served a Steak lathered with Peppers and “plain rice” which had peas and tiny chopped onions. After three attempts to get a “clean” steak and actual plain rice…. I went hungry and went home. If just one person had stuck to an agreement I could have been fully included and fully able to participate. As it was, I felt deliberately excluded and never went out for food with that team again.

I’m just happy to be able to participate.

The day was fabulous. The whole production team were both professional and thoughtful and the other contestants were affable and friendly – albeit it became clear to us quite quickly that we were probably out of our depth. Nevertheless we persisted and gave it a darn good shot. We were all able to make a contribution and it was a proud moment when we got full points on the wall. Yay for us! Not so yay was that we just weren’t fast enough on the buzzer round. For both of our games this was our Achilles heel. But despite not winning we felt like we did ourselves proud and weren’t too much of an embarrassment to Lancashire. Great job Hotpots!

I fell in love with a wonderful, funny, complicated woman. She broke my heart and left. When we run into each other these days , she just looks through me as if I don’t exist. Sometimes it feels like she wishes I had never existed.

I’m just happy to be noticed. I’m just happy to be acknowledged.

It was a Wednesday evening and my mobile rang. Now, I Never answer an unknown number. Talking on the ‘phone makes me extremely anxious and it triggers severe “black dog” episodes. So I don’t know why I picked up the ‘phone that evening, but I am so glad I did. It was Jenny from the OC production team. What was I doing tomorrow? Well I would be at work. Could I get the day off? Another team couldn’t make it as a set of twins had decided to arrive early (babys, eh?!) I wasn’t sure whether I could get the day off, but told Jenny that I was fairly sure that, family commitments dependent, the other two were free.

I rang work. No answer. I was not going to miss this opportunity at a second chance so I rang again and this time it was answered. I explained why I desperately needed the next day off work. It was an…interesting conversation. The lovely manager who had answered fortunately knew about the show – in fact he kept just saying over and over, “wow, that’s a really hard quiz”. Yes, I know! Stop obsessing over how difficult it is and give me the day off! After waiting for what felt like forever while he consulted the Annual Leave situation he came back and gave me the green light. Thank you Martin!! I rang Jenny back to let her know I was available and willing to come and her next task would be to contact the two Pauls. After about half an hour of frantic texts and messages we were all on board. The Second Chance was On!

I loved being a part of a church and pursued involvement because I loved Jesus and meant it when I prayed “Your Kingdom Come”. And they were always asking for volunteers. And yet, there was always a reason to lock people out if they didn’t quite tick the right box. You’re not old enough. You’re too old. This group is for couples. This course is for couples. This leadership position would better suit a couple. I don’t think a woman would be suited to this. We already have enough women speakers/leaders. Oh you noticed they were almost all married to men who themselves are speakers/leaders. It hadn’t crossed our minds. You have a gift for worshiping and helping others to do so? Sure you can do that. Oh, what? You’re gay? Oh, hmm, not too sure about that. Yes I know you’re single, but just you being there would still send a message. We have to ask you to stand down for a while. Actually, we’re not sure we want you here at all.

I’m just happy to be able to contribute.

We sat in the studio under the warm lights. We’d had an early start jumping on the train and a long wait until towards the end of the afternoon to record our “surprise” episode. It had been lovely to catch up with the production team again but I was knackered. We got some points on the board, though we missed the answer to the music round – which in hindsight we probably should have got.

Then came a sequence question. It was English History. If there was a question in all the world designed for me, it was this. I knew the answer. I had known the answer for 35 years. I knew the answer from the first clue. I asked for the next clue anyway to confirm direction of time and because I was too scared. I’ve been reading books by Jean Plaidy, Sharon Penman and the like since I can remember. I memorised the Battle of Hastings poem (yes, I am a geek!) when I was 8.

I gave Paul the wrong answer! Belive me… I was truly gutted. Harold Godwinson is a Saxon hero who I had known about FOREVER and I forgot him. Just *poof* out of my head. I tried to cover it up with a sassy comment about him being a usurper, but I don’t believe he was and Victoria quite rightly smacked that excuse down.

Here’s to Harold, sitting there with his eye full of arrow, on his horse, with his hawk in his hand.

After that I felt that that was probably the moment I mentally buckled. But was determined to still get a respectable score and do us justice. It was the wall. We’d got full points on two walls previously, could we do it again? Turns out yes! And in very good time too! I was very relieved.

Of course our nemesis of the buzzer round did us in and we once more narrowly lost out. But you know what, it was a blooming good day and I was just happy to be there.

When mum died a dear friend invited to be part of her family for that first Christmas. I wasn’t just invited, I was folded into their warm embrace. A friend at work asks probing questions about my faith and wants to hear my answers. A woman pulled me to her bed and begged me not to leave. A small boy gently takes my hand because he is sad that his papa has died. A friend includes me in her festive family gatherings. Strangers on the Internet support and listen to what I have to say. My sister doesn’t chase me away anymore , but is extra welcoming with bonus cake. A new community tentatively tells me my voice is important. I am invited to four weddings within a year, honoured to share in a day of love and family. A friend leans her head against mine in solidarity and shared sorrow. The same dear friend lets me share food and company and joys and sadness and hard work and dreams and lets me help her do ordinary everyday (and some not so every day!) jobs that includes me, involves me and lets me contribute in just a small way and I can… just be.

And some good friends asked me to be on a quiz team with them. Trusted me to play my part. An adventure where I contributed, participated and shared the load. A getaway with good conversation, trust and truly relying on two other people. A journey where strangers acknowledged and noticed me; where strangers were unbelievably kind, considerate and thoughtful – even (especially) a famous person! A shared experience I would repeat in a heartbeat.

I was just glad to be here.