When I was a kid I was painfully shy. Ridiculously so. So much so that when I went to school my Mum was called in by the teacher to ask if I was deaf and dumb (it was the 70s, political correctness hadn’t been invented). I couldn’t speak to strangers. I couldn’t speak to adults. I wasn’t keen on crowds.
I know that many people that know me now will find this a bit surprising and might be a bit cynical but it’s true. I’m an introvert. Quite an extreme introvert but I’ve learned many coping strategies to help me survive in an extroverted world. It’s a world that exhausts me.
People exhaust me. Strangers in particular. The thought of small talk is a horror that I don’t want to think about. A trip to the hairdresser is terrifying. I have a dread of crowds. I still have to take a few deep breaths before I walk into a crowded room. I have to prepare myself carefully for social occasions. But I have my coping strategies and some of them I have learnt from what you may consider odd places…
But that’s where magic and inspiration comes from.
When I was 8 or 9 I went to my first gig. It was at the glorious Apollo in Manchester, still one of my favourite venues. I saw Adam & the Ants. It was really a birthday present for my older brother but as an annoying younger sister of course I had to be there too. It was a magnificent, flamboyant, spectacular affair complete with pirate ship, swinging chandeliers, leagues of drummers and wonderful costumes. I was entranced. I was hooked; on live music, on theatrical performance, on the arrogant swagger of a front man.
I saw Adam Ant again this week. I was entranced. He was spectacular. I was 8 years old again and totally swept away.After the joy and awe started to fade he made me think.
His mental health issues have been well documented and sensationalised but the man that stood before me was fit, healthy, well and performed for over 2 hours, certainly appearing better than most of the audience at the end of it.
As I sang along to his back catalogue I considered his struggle. Even in the most beautiful of his songs there is reference to it. But blink, in it’s poppy, Lightening Seed-esque lyricism and you will overlook it.
Fundamentally it’s a cry for help. An acceptance of the horror he is capable of and a plea for someone to stop it.
Even at his most popular, at the height of his fame he was telling us about his pain. Our Dandy Highwayman, our Prince Charming was trying to convince us, or was it himself, that ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’?
I have clung to that lyric all of my life. Actually, I’ve clung to Adam too. If you see me at a wedding chatting to a (poor, unfortunate) DJ or at a jukebox, you will find, at some point some ant music making it onto the play list. I find it and him empowering. Accepting.
Now I don’t know if it was Adam Ant or Mr Benn that taught me that fancy dress was the most wonderful idea but whichever it was I am forever grateful. Because every day and for every occasion I choose an outfit and put it on like a costume because it gives me confidence. you may not notice, you may think it’s a business suit, a pair of jeans…some hot pants? But in my head I’ve created a character. I’ve put on my costume. I have a suit of armour that will protect me and which I can wear with pride and sass. Most people don’t know this but it works for me. Whatever works for you, do it!
Don’t you ever, don’t you ever,
Lower yourself, forgetting all your standards
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of