I've noticed the seasons more since we moved to Shoreham; the way the colours and the light change with each passing month. Though I know it won't be long until the hedgerows take on a pinkish hue and the leafbuds swell, for now the landscape remains one of skeletal silhouettes and shadows, charcoal and ashen grey.
We don't have street lights here, so when it gets dark, it's properly dark; inky black and threatening. In January, once the christmas lights have come down it feels even gloomier. My natural reaction is to stay indoors, to turn into a solitary hermit until the promise of spring lures me blinking back into the light, like the Mole from Wind-in-the-Willows. If I lived anywhere else, that might be what happened, but not here, where there is a year-long schedule of events to force us to socialise. Just as I'm sliding into curmudegeonly confinement, the wise thespians of the Shoreham Village Players step up the rehearsals for their next production.
From 2 - 5 March this year, the village hall will become the blood-soaked sheds of a nineteenth century Deptford slaughterhouse, where The Gut Girls will ply their trade. They are a rowdy bunch, foul-mouthed and raucous, strong and independent. Though I'm firmly denying all suggestions of typecasting, I have been cast as one of them, a character called Maggie, and my Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings are now spent wielding an invisible meat cleaver, knocking back imaginary bottles of beer (at least until the props arrive), and swearing like a trooper.
Our director is keen for us all to be as loud and common as possible - a requirement I seem strangely willing and able to fulfill, even though I know it will do nothing for my reputation in the finer drawing rooms of the village. But there's still a certain amount of bravado called for when the script requires you to tousle the hair of a man you barely know, even though you've said hello in the high street a hundred times.
With only the residents of the village and its near neighbours to draw on, there is a certain amount of poetic licence in the casting and some of the 'girls' are a little past the first flush of youth. Take it from me, it's not easy being a fallen woman when it takes so long to get back up from the floor. I'm hopeful that by opening night, one fellow cast-member might stop collapsing in hysterical laughter each time she addresses me with the line 'Are all the women working here as young as you?'
Today was 'books down'; the date underlined in our rehearsal schedules, the day we've all been dreading, when we're supposed to start acting from memory, rather than reading our lines from the scripts. I very quickly worked out which of the cast had done their homework. Suffice to say, I didn't quite rise to the challenge of recalling words and actions and delivering them both in a co-ordinated manner. I think our very patient prompt will sleep soundly in her bed tonight from all her efforts, while our director may well start having nightmares soon.