by Janet Howson
Jean had turned up early for Colin’s CBT group. Ever since
the disastrous evening accompanying her boss to a company banquet in London, she
hadn’t slept. She added up the embarrassing points of the whole ghastly
experience in her head.
Her dress looked like a charity shop purchase against the stylish,
expensive outfits worn by
the other guests.
She was ignored by everyone else on the table.
Dan, her boss, whom she adored and was so pleased had invited her to
attend, had spent the whole evening chatting up a beautiful, young employee who
apparently worked on another floor of the accountancy firm.
She had drunk too much champagne and wine and ended up having to dash to
She knew alcohol didn’t agree with her but she was so
self-conscious and nervous that she had just kept on drinking,
Dan had ordered a taxi for her, very early, and bundled her in to it,
obviously annoyed with her behaviour.
So all this was going round and round in Jean’s brain
as she waited for the rest of the CBT group to arrive.
She didn’t have to wait long. Colin, the group
therapist arrived first. He was wearing his signature outfit of well- worn
jeans, a sweatshirt with a logo that meant nothing to Jean and his scruffy
“Hi, Jean. You’re nice and early. Sorry I couldn’t get
to Midsummer Night’s Dream I had to take the dog to the vet and by the time I
got home it wasn’t worth going. How did it go?”
“Oh, fine. Mine was only a small part but I didn’t
flunk my lines. The audience seemed to appreciate our efforts.”
“I will get to the next one I promise, what is your
“You’re excused my next performance. We are doing a
Murder Mystery for our director’s golf club that involves a dinner and a prize
for the winning table. Golf club members only though. We do one every
At that moment a few more of the group arrived. Jean’s
heart sank as she spotted Deidre, chatting away to a girl she always came with,
who was uttering the odd ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ every now and then. Jean hoped Deidre
would let some of the other group talk, rather than repeat her tales of woe.
Soon the chairs were all filled and Colin opened up the
“Hi everyone,” there were several mumbles of ‘Hello’
‘Okay’ ‘Hi Colin’ and several of the group peeled off their coats and jackets
hanging them on the back of their chair. Colin waited until everyone had settled
“At the last meeting, Jean talked about her love of her
drama group and how she escaped from her troubles by taking on another persona.
I for one was very disappointed that I couldn’t get to see Jean as Hippolita, in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Did anyone manage to get there at such short
One hand went up, to Jean’s surprise as she hadn’t
expected anyone to turn up. It was the middle aged man in the grey suit who said
he belonged to a Gospel Choir at the last meeting. When she was on stage she
never looked at the audience but delivered her lines above their heads. It was a
trick she had learnt when she first started to perform, it helped concentration
and stage fright. So she had no idea who turned up and who
“Oh, good for you, Samuel,” Colin enthused, “I’m
glad someone represented the group.”
“I really enjoyed it. Jean was excellent. I will
certainly try and get to the group’s next production.”
“Samuel, would you like to kick the meeting off by
telling us all about your Gospel Choir? You mentioned it helped you with your
issues, last week?”
Samuel, coughed, he obviously found airing his
problems and private life in public difficult but took a few deep breaths and
began. “I joined the group about six months ago. I didn’t have to audition,
which I was relieved about. My neighbour told me about it, she said it was a lot
of fun and they wanted new members. I thought I’d give it a go and if I didn’t
like it I’d give my excuses and not return. I just kept in the background to
start with but after a while I relaxed and sang with more confidence and I was
even asked to do a solo. Men are in shorter supply than women so we do get to be
chosen more often.” Several of the men in the group responded to this with ‘I
must join’ ‘Sounds like my type of group’ and there was general laughter all
Samuel was gaining confidence now, even enjoying it. “I
think what the group does for me is get me out of the house and amongst
enthusiastic people who love to sing. When I am concentrating on the words of
the song I forget about my issues. I just want to belong and be a part of the
group as another singer, not someone with problems.”
Jean could empathise with this. It was exactly the same
with the drama group. She would be thinking of her words when rehearsing or in a
play, pushing all her depressive thoughts away. She listened to Samuel as he
related the songs he had learnt and the concerts they had put on. Jean liked his
easy manner. She wanted to know more about him. She didn’t need to wait much
longer as Colin responded to Samuel’s talk.
“Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Samuel. I
am now going to ask you all to do an exercise. Not an aerobic one, in case you
were getting worried. I want you to get into pairs and discuss the week you have
just had. I want you to talk about what if anything has helped or triggered your
problems. We will swap partners after five minutes. Off you
Jean wasn’t at all confident in doing this exercise.
She then remembered how she was able to act on a stage. If she could do that
then this should be easy. She chose to tell of her terrible experience at the
dinner with Dan. As she was telling the story she could feel the heat rising
from her neck to her face, the beads of perspiration on her brow. Somehow
though, she knew it was doing her good, being able to share such experiences
with a group of people who understood, who too had had embarrassing moments. She
listened to tales of relapses, secret drinking and the guilt of lying to loved
ones and their thoughts of suicide supressed but lingering in the background.
Their self-hatred and low self-esteem, all of which she had experiences
When it came to her turn to be Samuel’s partner she
felt quite weary, worn out by the emotions the discussions had raised in her.
They smiled at each other. Jean was surprised how comfortable she felt in his
company. She thought he must be in his forties or even early fifties, certainly
older than her. She had always been old for her years. Her mother used to say
‘You were born with an old head on your shoulders, Jean.’ She hadn’t really
understood what she meant, but as time went on she realised she had somehow
skipped her teenage years, never being involved in all the trimmings of
adolescence, the parties, the clubs, the music, the fashion. She was seen as a
bit old fashioned, a bit quirky. She would have liked to have been like the
others but somehow it never happened.
“Well I’ve been boring everyone with my disastrous
dinner party with my boss and I am not sure I can go through it again,” Jean
began. “I would prefer to talk about our Drama Group. It is very friendly and
welcoming and always on the lookout for new members. I was wondering, with your
love of singing and performing whether you would…” she trailed off, feeling she
had gone too far, the familiar spread of heat making her blush.
Samuel interrupted her, “I was going to suggest a very
similar thing but with you joining our Choir. We too are always encouraging new
recruits. You would love it, as long as you had time with all your drama
rehearsals.” He too looked uncomfortable, staring into Jean’s eyes as if trying
to find an answer to his question. “I hadn’t thought about it the other way
round with me joining your drama group. I have always loved the backstage jobs.
I was on light and sound at university, when they put on productions. I never
considered auditioning for a part.”
“The same with me and singing. My mother always said I
would sing away to myself when I was in my pram. In was too self-conscious at
school to try for the choir and over the years the only singing I do is in the
Samuel laughed, “Along with ninety per cent of the
population.” He paused and lent closer to Jean. “Here’s the deal. I join your
drama group if you join my choir. We will then be seeing each other at least
three times a week, if we count these sessions.”
Jean’s blushing had stopped and she felt completely
relaxed and confident in Samuel’s presence. Had she at last met someone who
liked her enough to want her in his life? She felt like a teenager in love,
excited and with butterflies in her stomach. She knew what her answer would be.
“That sounds like a great deal to me, Samuel, once we
have completed the Murder Mystery Evening with me playing Grace, the next play
will be on the way. So you can start coming down and I will be honoured to
audition for the choir.”
“Time up everyone. Can we gather back in a circle to
discuss how we felt sharing with other members of the group and what you gained,
if anything from them,” Colin announced.
Through the scraping of chairs and people already
exchanging comments, unable to wait for the official time, Jean felt Samuel
reach out and squeeze her hand. There was no doubt in her mind what she had
gained from the discussions, none at all.
About the author
Howson was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and
wrote poetry and plays. Shejoined an amateur Drama group when she was eighteen and her love of
the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and
her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty
five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During
this time she wrote and directed plays for the pupils and continued to be
involved in Amateur Drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is
retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she
has received here, started to write short stories and has had stories
published in anthologies and her first novel, Charitable Thoughts can be found on
Amazon Books. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting
some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.
The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by
Chapletown Books 2019
Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.
Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House
Story included: Solution.
Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin
Can be found on Amazon Books
It happened in Essex: tall tales from the Basildon Writers’
Can be found on Amazon books