God forbid I should actually enjoy myself, says comedian Sarah Sheldon of her drive to self-improve
Sarah Sheldon writes:
When I was at school I used to do a lot of extra-curricular activities, usually with my friend Liz, who lived around the corner.
Several days a week after school her mum, Sue, would drive us to god knows what activity – swimming, netball, recorder group – when all we ever wanted to do was sit in Liz’s house, watch TV and read her older sister’s diary.
An early approach to ‘leisure’
My least favourite activity was karate at Chorlton Leisure Centre – one of the most miserable destinations: it had posters everywhere prohibiting everything from “shouting” to “petting”.
How anyone could be tempted to ‘pet’ in that place, which smelled of sweat and was littered with old plasters, is a mystery.
Defending myself against enjoyment
We had to do press-ups on the floor on our knuckles, avoiding the plasters, and would practice our punches on the teacher’s stomach.
We learnt how to defend ourselves in the event of being glassed with a bottle, which seemed a little unnecessary given we were only ten, but nonetheless more useful than the self defence classes at school led by the nit nurse who told us that, if followed by a large suspicious man, we should stand at the corner of a street and shout ‘Dave!’.
(In the event, none of these techniques worked the one time I was mugged – at the Arndale shopping centre, by a group of younger girls who called me a “ginger ninja” and stole my walkman).
You have to be ill to give yourself permission
While Liz didn’t mind karate, and even got a red belt, I will never forget the evening that I managed to persuade Sue that I had a headache and so I couldn’t go to karate. Instead I ended up watching Dynasty with Sue and we shared a plate of cheese toasties. It felt like the best, most secretly indulgent experience of my life.
Hovvering at the periphery
My younger sister seemed to have a less fraught relationship with pleasure when we were growing up, especially when it came to watching TV. She would happily sit glued to Saturday morning TV in her dressing gown with a bowl of cereal, while I would loiter in the doorway for hours, unable to commit, most likely with some piece of homework in hand which would not get a glance.
Later on, she had a similarly unequivocal relationship with teenage magazines, which I also denied myself. While she read about “fitties” and “hotties”, how to avoid visible panty lines and shop-floor shame, how to bag her crush and find out whether she was a bad boy magnet, I had a subscription to the “Early Times” which had a problem page where people would write in about their pets.
I have to be strapped to my seat
This sense of denial has had repercussions in relation to both issues. I have been on two long haul trips to South America for work. My excitement about both trips was not so much about the destination and what I would be doing there but the prospect of hours of back-to-back in-flight entertainment.
I can still recall my excitement upon boarding the flight to Nicaragua and perusing the play list. When returning from Bolivia, I watched the second series of Glee, a sense of enjoyment only compounded further by the announcement half way through the flight that a member of the cabin crew had had a seizure, necessitating a stopover in Canada for emergency treatment which would add an additional five hours to the flying time.
When going on holiday I would always pack a literary classic that I thought I should read, despite having a concentration span lasting little more than a paragraph. I have read the whole of Middlemarch without the slightest idea of what it is about.
At the airport I invariably hover in WHSmith, tempted by the two-for-one offers on bestsellers although I’d always end up buying a more worthy book at full price. Only then to discard it for the latest Grazia, unable to resist the latest on crisis talks between Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux. The last time I took a flight, there was a special offer on at WHSmith – Closer came free with a copy of Grazia. I could barely contain myself.
I used to commute from Cricklewood to Southend which was quite a long journey. Imagine my excitement on the train on the way back home one evening when I found a copy of Heat on a nearby seat. I found it so absorbing that I missed my stop at Cricklewood and ended up in St Albans, eventually arriving home that night at 9.30pm.
A responsibility to yourself
My failure to take responsibility for my own enjoyment has resulted in some disastrous holidays which have ultimately proven a wake-up call.
One example was in Latvia where the culmination of various poor decisions left me and my travelling companion in the middle of a rubbish dump on the outskirts of a city surrounded by stray dogs. Both of us were suffering headaches due to paint fumes inhaled earlier in our hostel which was mid construction.
More recently, in the admittedly more desirable location of Corsica, I found myself camping outside a shopping centre on a very noisy motorway which, while very close to an Inter-sport and so quite convenient as we needed gas canisters etc, still made me question the choices I make for myself.
Trash or treasure
Clearly I am not suggesting that the answer is to spend all day watching box sets or reading about Kim Kardashian’s bum implants. Rather that it is important to honour some of what gives us pleasure – or else end up stranded on the proverbial commuter belt.
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Saboteur of your own pleasure? Or great at organising it? Click on the pale grey dot beneath the blogpost, yea he with dem plus sign, to posty comment
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This post is part of a series, in which comedian and journo Sarah Sheldon unravels the big unconscious decisions that have shaped her life experience, and replaces them with a more constructive outlook.
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