I received an email from fellow blogger Laura, author of Yet Another Never Updated Blog (YANUB), who appears to be an incurable romantic. She wrote -
Stephen, I sense a romantic tale to be told in how you courted Polly. Please indulge my curiosity. Did you see her across the way and wheel on over? Meet her at the pub while you were with some other girl? Steal her from your (former) best friend? Or did she take one look at you and decide that your bachelor days were numbered, whether or not you knew it?
In 1991 I was writing for and touring with Stripes Theatre Co, a small company that toured churches, schools, youth events and conferences all over the country. I'm sure that at some point in the future I will write about my time with Stripes and the highs and lows of travelling around the motorway network of the UK but for now we'll stick to romance. Every now and then we would spend a few days on a theatre skills course to stimulate new ideas. In February of 1991 we had booked our selves in for an Improvisation course at the Desmond Jones School of Physical Theatre and Mime in Hammersmith. London.
One of the actors, Karen, was a qualified teacher and would sometimes act as a supply teacher at a local primary school between gigs, tours and rehearsals. We would often pick her up after school on a Friday and drive for several hours, set up, perform, find our digs, run workshops and perform on Saturday and Sunday, pack up and then drive several hours back home, usually arriving at 3 or 4am. Karen would then crawl into school and teach for the week until Friday when the whole process started again. At the time of the Desmond Jones improv course she was supply teaching in a school nursery and was being greatly helped by the resident nursery nurse, Polly. Polly would run the nursery while Karen tried not to doze in the corner. They became good friends as Karen appreciated the support Polly gave her and Polly appreciated the way Karen didn't. interfere with the way she wanted to run the nursery. At the time Polly was contemplating a career change and was coincidently intending to spend a few months training the Desmond Jones school. When Karen learned this she invited Polly to attend the Improvisation course with us. Polly was delighted and said yes. It was a fateful decision.
Now Polly and my version of events differ here. But since I'm writing this, this is the True account of what happened. It was a chilly February morning but with a song in my heart I drove my electric wheelchair out into the car park at the rear of my block of flats where the large white van the company owned was parked waiting for me. My colleagues, Karen and Caroline, were waiting to load the chair into the van when a small, bobbed haired girl jumped down out of the vehicle and said “Hello”, in a smiley, enthusiastic way. I admit I was slightly surprised to find an additional person in the company but being a warm and fuzzy person I greeted her warmly.
(At this point it should be said, Polly has a slightly different memory of our first encounter. She, wrongly, believes that I was rude to her. She maintains that I said “Do I know you?” in an abrupt manner, as if demanding that she justify her presence immediately. Of course, anyone who knows me will tell you that abruptness, especially first thing in the morning when I haven't had time to finish my first cup of coffee, is completely out of character and that it is much more likely that my natural sunny disposition shone through. Polly maintains that at that point on she decided that wheelchair or not she was not going to be intimidated by me. I thought she was sweet.)
We arrived at the hall where the course was held and joined in the fun. We ran through a series of increasingly more bizarre and complex exercises that required fast thinking and a sense of humour. We often had to work in pairs and you soon worked out who was good at this kind of thing and who should be avoided at all costs. When you have to find as many ways to use a traffic cone as possible you do not want to be stuck with the person who runs out of ideas after saying, “Er... you could use it to stop cars parking.” I found myself pairing up with Polly more and more frequently. The girl could rattle off two dozen uses for a traffic cone as soon as look at you.
At this point I should mention I was in a hired wheelchair while I waited for an insurance claim to be settled. My previous chair had been smashed in an accident some months earlier. This hire chair was a flimsy affair with bits of square tubular metal holding things together. During a particularly physical exercise Polly bumped into me and the wheelchair controller snapped off. I spent the rest of the course with the controller on my lap, operating the chair like a remote controlled car. Polly noticed that the controller had snapped off and asked what happened, I didn't have the heart to tell her it was her who broke it. I was afraid she would be so embarrassed she wouldn't want to face me again. I was beginning to really like her.
Next time: How Anneka Rice nearly ruined things for me and how a cake saved the day.