The wisdom of funk and soul, baby

The day before my fifteenth birthday, I’m on the bank of a river, attempting to have sex with a boy I hardly know. He’s a year older and would be the first person who came to mind if I heard the name Rumpelstiltskin. This is partly to do with his gnomish qualities – the shortness of his body as compared to the largeness of his head and features – but also to do with a sense of trickery.

Though, of course, we’re both drunk; we both had agendas at the party that night.

 Gabriela Blandy

A mixture of noises from the house party fill the background so that the river seems to flow without a sound – a ghost. The night is dark, but the moon comes through the trees, laying silver beads on the ground around me, which twist and spin in my drunkenness. I’m trying to take my trousers off without having removed my boots – a stupidity that makes proper sex tricky.

Proper sex. What is that?

Certainly not something I know the answer to at age fourteen. Yet, here I am, yanking at my trousers, aided by a boy I’ve spoken to only a handful of times, wriggling and laughing with him on top of me.

 Gabriela Blandy

It was the summer holidays. I’d arrived at the party late, coming into the garden on my own. A bonfire blazed – dozens of kids, sitting round with their faces shimmering orange. I was in my favourite purple jeans, Doc Martens boots.

I suppose I still see these two items of clothing in my mind because they featured highly that night. I don’t remember what else I was wearing, only that I stole someone’s top later in the evening, mortified, desperate to cover myself with as many extra layers as possible.

I approach the fire. There, with his arm around another girl, was my supposed boyfriend. He’d chased me only weeks before, finally persuading me to go out with him. But then the school holidays had come.

How stupid I feel to have thought we’d both remain faithful. I want to run, but the only thing I can do is keep moving forward.

As people make way for me to sit, my boyfriend looks up and sees me. There, above the flames, our eyes meet, with the fact of this other girl between us: a girl who is delicately boned – deeply pretty in that feminine way. She is a fairy and I suddenly feel like a mule.

My boyfriend’s arm remains on her shoulders. There isn’t even a flicker in his features – in fact, he looks presumptuous, smiling to me about his predicament. His expression says: go on, do the same, with someone else. As well as that, his face contains an element of self-admiration. Aren’t I fair? his chin says, rising up high above his neck.

What can I do with this pain, sliding into my heart, needle-like, yet accompanied by a very powerful instinct to act like I don’t care?

I sit down and wait until someone says something funny, and then I laugh as loud as I can.

And now, I’m talking to a boy. He seems to like me, and I can’t quite believe my luck, so I decide to ignore the fact he looks like a gnome.

 Gabriela Blandy

This was twenty years ago, before the internet, facebook, twitter. Today, school kids’ most tender experiences can be broadcast to the world before they’ve had a chance to process them and realise that they do still like themselves, despite their mistakes.

I found it hard enough imagining what Rumpelstiltskin would say to his mates about what occurred on the river bank –  what if I’d been able to read the conversation online; the words or phrases they used to describe me?


I walked away from the water, back to the house – or perhaps I ran, because I do remember how I was hit by a sudden understanding as I lay on that damp, river bank. I passed no one. The house was empty, desolate almost – with the whole party still going on outside in the dark. Screams and laughter. People coupling up and slinking off together. My now ex-boyfriend with his new girl.

I stood in the sitting room, with only the furniture around me and wondered what I was going to do. I already felt as if everybody knew. A weight of shame, that was surely beyond my own, was bearing down on me.

If this had happened now – this weekend – instead of writing this blog post, I might be scrolling through photos on someone’s facebook page. There’s my drunken body in the darkness with a boy I hardly know, the two of us, running away with ourselves – no idea of responsibility, of what comes next.

I spent most of my time at school, fearful that people would know my deepest embarrassments: they were often so crippling it was hard to believe they weren’t visible to the world. But what if I was certain the whole world could know them, simply by clicking on a link? This story might have been criticized while I was still vulnerable, not strong enough to take the opinions of others, which are often soaked with their infinite agendas.

 Gabriela Blandy

Last week, I was at a funk and soul festival. As I lay on the grass, listening to the music, I was struck by the bravery of all those artists, standing up on stage. It was a contrast to the week before when I’d been working with a group of teenagers. I watched these fragile school kids. I read their inner lives through their movements, the sound of their voices, and I tried to create enough safety so that, for a moment, they could open themselves up and experience what it is to let your soul grow large.

The headline act at the festival was Candi Staton. Suddenly, a tune I know so well started playing.

Young hearts run free.

I was thinking of Romeo and Juliet – Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, fighting above everything to be together; fighting so hard they kill themselves, so strong is their desire.

I’m not that wayward fourteen year old anymore, but I haven’t forgotten what it is to feel your heart so powerfully that you do whatever it says, with no room for thought of the cost. I suspect poor Rumpelstiltskin was just as mortified as I was, although I wasn’t level-headed enough back then to consider that.

I’m always inspired by how unbound youth can be, but I also remember that it’s hard to be young. Growing up, I felt I was the only one going through what I was going through. I didn’t know how to talk – there were no words to match my feelings.

Through my travelling and writing, I have reached a point of contentment. I love the opportunities I get to teach people some of the little I know – honoured that my amazing students value what I say. But, I wish I could give everybody a magical charm that could help.


This weekend, I suddenly realised something. Towards the end of Candi’s set, she finally sang You’ve got the love.

I felt passion, rising up through my legs, strong in my chest and then finally the lightest, blissful feeling in my cheeks. After the song, the band continued with the melody and Candi began to talk over the music. Tears were running out of my eyes.

She knew.

She knew what it was to be deep in difficult times, and her answer was simple: you’ve got the love.

We all have the capacity to care for ourselves – to be the best friend we’ve always wanted. Strange that we find it so hard. We’re too busy being hard on ourselves, I guess!

I was guilty of this – walking away from that boy on the river bank, hurrying towards the house to find some privacy.

I had allowed the sight of my boyfriend with his arm around another girl to make me hate myself – I wasn’t pretty enough to keep me safe from pain. So, I embraced the opportunity to sneak away from the fire with Rumpelstiltskin. When he asked me if I wanted to have sex, it felt wrong through my insides, but I couldn’t express myself in words. The alcohol was running through me so that I wasn’t there, it wasn’t really me.

I don’t want BABIES! I managed to say, giggling.

But it was okay, Rumpelstiltskin had a condom.

There my excuse went, floating down the river, leaving me with nothing else that I could articulate. My confidence was so shattered that a simple, no thanks never even occurred to me.

After I finally decided that yanking at my trousers, and having him struggling on top of me, was beginning to be a total pain, I stood up.

This is lame, I said, doing up my belt and turning to go.

Hey, Rumpelstiltskin shouted. What about me?

Do it yourself, I told him and walked away.

But as I went, I thought: he’ll tell people I can’t satisfy a man. And already I was blaming myself for the truth of that.

Gabriela Blandy

I wasn’t able to see I shouldn’t have been there in the first place – that actually I’d done the right thing, which is whatever you have to do look after yourself, to be yourself. And when you make that choice, life suddenly goes the right way.

There I am, standing in the house, trying to find something warm to wear, picking up a hooded top, wrapping it around me, thinking: how can I have enough layers to cover up this awful feeling? And then I hear a noise in the gravel driveway outside.

I move to the window and the security light comes, shining on the figure of a boy I’d known since I was three – a wonderful, honorary brother. He’s in a pair of wellington boots, an old smoking jacket of his father’s, and a pair of crumpled boxer shorts.

I run outside.

What are you doing here? I squeak.

He tells me he heard the music from his bedroom and finally decided to check it out.

I got stopped by the police the first time, he says. So, I went back to the house and waited half an hour and set off again.

I can see his eagerness at arriving, how he looks over my shoulder, attempting to catch a glimpse of something – forever curious.

What’s happening? he asks, about to swing himself off the bike.

I touch him on the arm.

Listen, I say.

What’s wrong?

Nothing, but…can you take me home?

As his eyes meet mine I glance away, still too raw to be looked into.

Sure, he says. Let’s go.


A big shout out this week to Vincenzo who has been trawling through my blog posts with admirable dedication. In his words: ‘The beauty of an imaginative soul is the power to visualize vitality even when reality is insipid and cold.’

For those of you interested in what I wrote about the Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul last year – when I was lucky enough to have an actual conversation with the main man himself, Monsieur Craig Charles – click ici.

And a final standing ovation for Johnny at The Boathouse Pub in Tewkesbury for his winning seabass, well worth the trip for anyone in the area.

About gabrielablandy

Some history, a bit of fiction, with me in there somewhere.
This entry was posted in Essay, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to The wisdom of funk and soul, baby

  1. Mayumi-H says:

    The story of this young girl’s life is enthralling, Gabriela, yet frightening at the same time. Through her trials at the bonfire and riverbank, I kept thinking, Fourteen? I was barely housebroken at fourteen! Do you know the sigh of relief and smile of simple triumph I had at reading her escape, however mortified? And, then, her choice to leave it all behind in the safety of a friend’s care. I would hope every young woman – or man – could have the same sense of self to step away in that situation…though, sadly, I doubt it.

    We want to be adults so quickly. In this age, more than ever, I think, though there’s no medieval reason to be so, for most of us. No family farm to keep going in place of school, no babies to be had early to ensure at least a few survive. Yet, so many children – and they are children – day after day suffer from this overarching blanket of suppression, oppression, and fear. It’s from loathing, I suppose. The same self-loathing that grasps us when we tear open a half-finished canvas, or blur the ink lines on a page with tears.

    It’s easier to hate. Hate requires no soul-searching, no effort. We want to love ourselves – I do – but it’s hard. It takes the sort of courage required to know when something isn’t right, when we’re not doing something for love but just because we’re running, or it’s easy, or we’re scared. And, it takes time.

    I think that girl on the riverbank was lucky enough to have even that inkling of truth and understanding about herself to walk away. It’s good she stood up. It’s heartening she found her way home safe. It’s inspiring she’s taken strength from that moment, to share her courage with those of us who may still be wavering on the brink. And all of it is beautiful, if only for that. 🙂

    • Mayumi, so much insight in this reply! I have to say you’re right about 14 being a shock. The strange thing was, I was doing what all my friends wanted to be doing, though the thought had never even crossed my mind…till I got so drunk…you’re so right when you say how little effort hate requires. It seems to me to be a ‘design fault that what’s wrong for us is often the easier path! Thanks for your comment – such response makes these vulnerable pieces really worth it 😉

  2. Hi Gabriela,

    It is beautiful to find persons to share with at a deeper transparent level. Thank you for receiving me and allowing me to grow here.

    It takes courage to stand up and let others see the inner landscape of our heart and show others where we have come from.

    I understand what it is like to want to belong and yet be unable to. Not knowing how to process injustice or even the most basic decisions related to healthy boundaries. I also understand what it is like to feel shame wondering when or if others will find me out. These are the traumas of childhood that need to be addressed in order to find healing… in order to enjoy the present freed from the interruptions caused by a bankrupt childhood.

    Blessings Gabriela.

    • Vincenzo, this should be a blog post in it’s own right!! I found it so hard, growing up, feeling like I was on the outside. But in a strange way I am grateful, because it makes me appreciate the fact that I battled on, stayed with who I really was, rather than choosing to ‘fit’. x

      • Yes, I totally agree. I cherish this quote that resonates with your last reply Gabriela. “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” ~ Bell Hooks

        I feel being on the outside also helps us in another way. Since we cannot fit in, stop trying to and thus are less prone to using chameleonic tactics and therefore more authentic in our approach to others. By the way, I purchased a digital voice recorder. I’m curious to see what difference to the writing process. It takes some getting used to. I feeling self-conscious trying to imagine myself talking to someone on the other end to get over the constraint of talking into a machine. Maybe one day you can write about your experience with it.

  3. Amazing. Oh, how you just threw me back into my early teens, Doc Martens included! The exploration of debauchery coupled with the insecurity that comes with letting someone else sample your body and heart, followed by pretending they never even liked the taste. How my heart shriveled just thinking about it.

    To be a young pup now in the world we live in must be atrocious. I have a teenage niece who deals with gossip and slander every day on social media. I can’t even imagine, but these are their obstacles to overcome, I guess.

    I love this: “She knew what it was to be deep in difficult times, and her answer was simple: you’ve got the love.”

    It is shocking how true that is. If we love ourselves, the rest becomes easier.

    • Ah, you had Doc Martens too! I always smile when I see someone wearing them. Yes, I’m glad I grew up when I did. I don’t think I’d make it through so well today!

  4. What a great story, Gabs.

    We’re so good at finding what we’ve done wrong, even under a mountain of right. It also seems we’re just as good at the opposite – making up brilliant excuses for a mountain of wrong. The human condition is a wonderful thing, eh? 🙂

    Thanks for sharing another amazing slice of your life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; your honesty is inspiring!

    • Man, the human condition!! It’s like we start off wired wrong, and it’s up to us to put it right, even though it feels so hard to do. I’m glad you appreciate my honesty. Each new insight I post always has a barrier I need to push through, saying to myself – your heart truly wants to do this, don’t listen to your head!

  5. candidkay says:

    Wow. Gorgeous writing. I was there on the riverbank as if an uncomfortable voyeur. Wonderfully well said.

    • I hope you didn’t get your feet wet – it was a little damp on that bank 😉 Thanks for reading – I often imagine the faces of my followers when I am writing that I forget there are many other people out there, so it’s lovely to hear back from them!

  6. Kim says:

    Wow. You’ve really captured the emotions of a young girl here, Gabriela. This sentence struck me hard with memory: “I want to run, but the only thing I can do is keep moving forward.” As did, “a girl who is delicately boned – deeply pretty in that feminine way. She is a fairy and I suddenly feel like a mule.” This is truly personal and brave. And your comments on the differences between how we dealt with those emotions and how kids have to deal with it today – spot on. Thank you for writing it.

    • Kim, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I always particularly like it when specific lines resonate with people, because I’m always hoping to make my own experiences universal. 😉

  7. Powerful writing, Gabriela. Your first sentence was a stunning introduction, and from there you took us on an amazing journey. Well done!

    • Thanks Marylin. Interesting you notice the first sentence. I was nervous about posting this piece, which was holding up the writing, so I thought – get the confession over and done with at the start. Then it was easy to write 😉

  8. You had me from the first sentence…how vividly you remember being fourteen, and how brilliantly you describe it . What also strikes me is how mature you were then too… when I was fourteen I had my first valentine and had no idea who had sent it.
    I just sat and dreamed my life away on the long journey to school everyday, and thought girls who were interested in boys were a pain.
    I was awed by your honesty in exposing your vulnerability, and so impressed that you knew how to protect that situation.
    I always remember that song ‘saying no is hard to do”… and it was and I did,..
    And the pain of those early rejections… the boy with his arm around someone else… I felt it too….those wounds are the deepest, before we have evolved a makeshift philosophy to protect ourselves. .
    As usual a piece of writing that stirs up the sediment of the past…

    • Ha – you say how mature I was, but the fact is I really wasn’t. Before that night I had never thought about sex – I had only just stopped playing with my Barbie dolls. How alcohol changes everything! And you are right about the saying no – so very hard.

  9. gotasté says:

    That girl at the age of fourteen has definitely made the right decision at the river bank that night by escaping 🙂 I actually prefer the time when there is no internet. Just mobile phones. I think life is more real back then but then again, I won’t have the chance to read your lovely posts.

  10. Luanne says:

    This was a powerful read–disturbing and comforting at the same time.

  11. Sophieorde says:

    Great post Gabs xxx

    Sent from my iPhone

  12. Letizia says:

    oh the days of Doc Martens – I had forgotten how important mine were. Your words are always so evocative and raw and tender, all at the same time. “Unbound youth” – what a great phrase. Youth is unbound in so many ways, good and bad. Brilliant piece, Gabriela.

    • Hey Letizia! So glad that you enjoyed this piece, and it was able to remind you of your own DMs. It sill puts a smile on my face when I see someone in the street wearing them!

  13. You have the courage of a lion, Gabriela…now, just as you did then. I so admire that about you -and how it transfers to your writing. Great piece as always.:)

  14. Chris Edgar says:

    Hi Gabriela — what occurred to me as I read this — particularly the part when you said “of course we were both drunk” — is how much suffering is created by the social norms around sexuality. My sense is that, because teenagers are told not to mention or express sexual desire, they turn to alcohol to get rid of those learned inhibitions, and then they end up in self-destructive or dangerous situations. Perhaps it would be best for us to focus on providing a safe environment for kids to talk about sexuality, and not just drinking or drug prevention.

    • Yes, I think this is a good point. When I was working as an actress, I did a couple of tours through schools in London. We put on a show that was about kids getting drunk and taking drugs, and then we would stay in character and take questions from the kids afterwards. In the play, my best friend gets drunk and has sex with a guy, and I was always struck by the amount of girls that asked if I still wanted to be friends with her. It was like all these kids were trapped with their natural animal desires, and then what society tells them is right or wrong.

  15. A great first line to hook us in Gabriela and then, as so often with your writing, I had a sense of agonised anticipation about what would ultimately happen – along with those who’ve already commented, I was relieved you escaped! You’ve really captured the insecurity of being young and exploring burgeoning love and lust.

    • It’s been great to hear that the first line worked. I felt it could go either way when I wrote it – but I suppose I had the perspective of the writer about to bare all (slightly nervous!), rather than the reader who is given a titbit and wants more. In terms of my escape – I didn’t feel like that at the time, but now I do see that this story really turns out for the best.

  16. Forgive me firstly for not replying sooner Gabs. Your memory of being a 14 year old girl who wanted to please, cared not for consequences, whose pain cut so deep that she was willing to do anything.
    How fragile are our lives, as hormones race – telling us to’ step outside’ our comfort zone. Alcohol infuelled but perhaps not enhanced love – how I know of what you write, truth be known this could have been my story. Poignant and beautifully captured and this “What can I do with this pain, sliding into my heart, needle-like”. Thankfully as we grow the ‘cushion’ becomes a little firmer. xx

    • Jen – you never need to worry about the time it takes for you to read my posts. We are all juggling lives and work and trying to keep our blogs alive, and then on top of that keep touch with those whose blogs we enjoy – so I am just honoured that you make as much effort as you do!! I hope you have been well these last few weeks. I’ve not visited you – my back went into spasm (as you’ll see from my latest post) so working at the computer became a low priority. x

  17. diannegray says:

    I loved reading this, Gabriela. I’m sure a lot of us have been in that ‘vulnerable-I-hate-myself’ situation, but writing about it is a whole different ball game. You’ve captured the entire scene beautifully here and I’m in awe of your writing. My moment came when my first boyfriend of four years told me he was in love with my best friend and moved in with her. I actually asked HIS best friend to have sex with me (wtf was I thinking!!!) and he said no (thank God) because he thought I only wanted him due to my devastated state (what a lovely boy!)

    • Thanks, Dianne – your awe means a great deal! To be honest, when I read your little story, I totally understood that you would have asked your boyfriend’s best friend to have sex with you as the only way you felt the pain could be undone. Not only did he break up with you, but he was also suddenly with someone else, while you were on your own. What I often think about when I go over these traumatic childhood love triangles is the thought of what all these blokes are doing now…

      • diannegray says:

        My boyfriend ended up marrying my girlfriend – but then they divorced and he married someone else. I don’t know what happened to his friend, but I wouldn’t mind catching up with him one day 😀

  18. seonaid mackay says:

    Hey Gabs, hope you are well. This is a lovely post! I just wanted to say, sorry for being silent and crap – I’ve not been coping very well with all the different pressures for the last few months, trying to get work done and sort out lots of other things too. My daughter is going to have to have an operation on her foot about the time she starts her new school in September, which is going to be tricky as she’ll be using a wheelchair for around 6 weeks. After that then I should be free to work with you if you still like? And obviously to be a more active participant in the group… X Seo


    • No need for apology at all. Life is life. We are busy and then we are not – but it sounds as though you’ve been under a great deal of pressure. The offer is still there, and I shall wait very patiently! In the meantime, give your headspace to your family – huge love for your little girl. Hope the operation goes well, and anytime you want to chat – you have my number xx

  19. Wow. Thank you for sharing! 🙂 Your writing is so lovely.

  20. Haven’t visited for a while and look what I find when I do. Lovely story.

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