The Warm Up

SELRES_22f08f43-6593-41cb-9f21-b91401619e46SELRES_cc68d849-c635-4b2d-af09-f72ffd6f56a7SELRES_c53bcbb3-a0ce-41a4-bf69-902ae4ae27b4Her forecHer forehead encrustedSELRES_c53bcbb3-a0ce-41a4-bf69-902ae4ae27b4SELRES_cc68d849-c635-4b2d-af09-f72ffd6f56a7SELRES_22f08f43-6593-41cb-9f21-b91401619e46 with a thin layer of salt, Ellie looked down to the vinyl floor and breathed, one, two, three.

Behind the plywood doors sat a meagre crowd, the best the promoters and her friend-turned-agent could rope together off the street. Free comedy and a place to shelter from the rain, that was what they were preaching outside. But as a late comer and his dog squeezed past Ellie started to wonder what had been emitted access to the pub’s basement.

‘Word of advice,’ grumbled a deep voice whose suddenness and proximity to the newbie’s ear made her jump. ‘Don’t go there with the dog. Thought I could pull that off at a Newport gig, turns out it was a Guide Dog. Didn’t sit to well with the crowd if you know what I mean.’

The scruffy man took a long drag of his vape as if to add depth and mystery to his tale but all Ellie could think about was the smell. Cigarette smoke infused with fake strawberries, neither of which made her swoon with admiration. She glimpsed the white box sticking out of his faded evening jacket, the same jacket she’d seen in the window of Primark five years ago. One of the buttons was missing, probably from a failed exploit about three years ago to get the cheap fabric over the large belly. Instead it fell to the checked shirt to contain the bloated stomach, a task which it evidently was struggling to do effectively. Ellie looked up at the man’s bearded face, topped with a flat cap, to meet his small eyes. He winked at her whilst finishing the dregs of the clouded pint glass.

With a tinge of illness at the thought, Ellie turned back to face the chipped door. Over her shoulder the large thumps of beefy feet and crackled growls to the landlord reassured her that the headline act wouldn’t bother her again until the interval at least. Like the yellowing teeth and bony fingers of those who normally attended these gigs, Ellie tried to not think how the ghastly male in the tight fitting shirt could be the pitched as the main event.

‘Is that what I should be aspiring to?’ She thought, ‘is that what is to become of me if I’m a success, or if I am a failure? What if I can’t move past the title of “warm up”?’

Just then, a young teenager with a lengthy mop of hair broke the dimness of the setting with one word.

‘Alright?’

‘Oh, hi.’ Ellie replied, shuffling to one side.

The landlord’s son pushed the double doors open with his back, phone in one hand, the other in his jeans pocket. Disinterest and sleep deprivation hung heavy over his eyes. As he walked into the room a few shouts came from the locals, people who no doubt would rather listen to him talk for an hour than watch the warm up act for ten minutes. A few words were mumbled limply (through the door slit Ellie could see him tapping on his phone) and then she was introduced.

‘…so clap your hands for tonight’s warm up.’

One, two, three. And away she went.

 

 

(Written in response to the WordPress Prompt of the day ‘Encrusted‘)

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Francesca Martinez: “At Least I’m not a Pot of Hummus or Donald Trump”

For The Ocelot – Wiltshire What’s On Magazine

 

When it comes to mutually exclusive, ‘disability’ and ‘comedy’ are two words which you would normally expect to be in the taboo corner. So why do I find myself laughing at a “wobbly” lady’s failed attempts at cherry knocking?

Welcome to the hilarious and wonderful mind of Francesca Martinez. Born with cerebral palsy but waging a one-woman mission to have it renamed ‘wobbly’, Martinez sheds a brutally comedic look on her experiences growing up in an able-bodied world. Without blinking, she sweetly comments ‘funny how the girls who used to bully me now want to add me as a friend on Facebook. F**kers!’ before taking a long sip of water. It makes you wonder why anyone would pick a fight with Martinez. Not because she’s funny or a genuinely lovely person, but because under the smiles is a deeply vengeful personality.

Chatting with her in a in a stylish coffee shop in Swindon’s Old Town, without warning Martinez’s conversations divert from the trivial to the deeply philosophical. Two sips into my moderately priced Americano she states that the root cause of unhappiness is the consumer-based drive to always want better. ‘We want to look prettier, be thinner, have a better mobile phone, a better house. Our society is so aspirational we never stop and think about what we have. Once you stop and reassess those things you realise that life could be a lot worse,’ Martinez poignantly observes, before quickly adding ‘for example, I could have been a Rice Krispie…or Donald Trump.’ Cue another timely sip of water. ‘We’re all trapped in toxic bonds of our own making so when you think about it breaking yourself away is actually a form of civil disobedience.’

Having taken most of her life to discover and liberate herself from the evil clutches of self-loathing, Martinez is keen to spread a message of positivity. ‘I spent years thinking negative thoughts and my only regret is that I’ll never get that time back,’ she comments, ‘I do a lot of talks at schools nowadays where I ask students to put their hands up if they’re happy with their appearance. It’s really sad when no one raises their hand so I tell them “you’re in the prime of your lives. This is as good as it’s ever going to get!”’

Spending an hour in the company of Francesca Martinez is a delightful, if not insightful, experience. It is a testament to her abilities that in her presence you can see beyond the disability to the woman who lies beneath. Perhaps put more succinctly by the wobbly expert herself, ‘if I was retarded I’d have voted for UKIP’.

 

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Francesca Martinez