In 2015, I was working as a local authority town planner. The wages were perfectly reasonable; there was no out-of-hours working; my colleagues were friendly and funny. I was bored out of my tiny mind. Also, having gone into planning primarily for environmental reasons, I’d ended up being horribly disillusioned by the lack of regard given to environmental issues in the organisation for which I worked. I spent my days engaged in rapid-fire doggerel competitions with my friend in the next-door office. Sometimes we got bored with doggerel and started exchanging alliterative verse instead. It helped, but it didn’t stop me going home and literally crying with boredom and lack of self-esteem.
The opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up and I took it. I justified this to myself on the basis that I was going to re-train as a speech therapist. I might even have meant it. It seems silly to say it, really, because I had two masters’ degrees and two decades of work experience – but I’d stopped believing that I had any skills to offer.
A few weeks after I left, I was in the Cluny bar in Newcastle. A friend of ours introduced me to his friend Robin, who, as it happened, recognised me from a previous job.
“So what are you doing at the moment?” he asked.
“Oh, God, I don’t know,” I said, “I was working as a town planner. But then I packed it in. Bored out of my mind.. spent my days writing doggerel. Now I’m .. well, I dunno – arguing on Facebook and applying for jobs.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ve got my own company now. If you want a job, you could always send me your CV.” And with that he disappeared into the crowd.
Without necessarily expecting very much of a result, I did as he suggested.
Just before Christmas last year I got an email from my partner in doggerel from the Council. It began:
You may not have been expecting this email..”
and went on to offer to pay me for writing the Durham Heritage Coast’s Business Plan.
I’d never done anything of the sort before. But what choice did I have? If someone thinks you can do something, you had better not disillusion them, if you can help it. Of course if he was asking me to repair his car, or cure his dog’s ailments, or even draw him a picture (I have difficulty in drawing curtains) I would probably have had to regretfully decline. But I thought I could find out about business planning and, as it happened, I could – well enough for my friend, anyway. He continues to throw challenges of a similar nature in my path.
“But you need to be a company for me to pay you,” he said.
Registering as a sole trader was an awful lot easier than I’d thought. But what should I call myself? I’ve often thought that one of the fun parts of being in a band must be thinking of a name for yourself. I didn’t want to be the business equivalent of the Josephine Ellis Trio – especially since I didn’t have a trio.
It was the doggerel that named me. A few years earlier, on holiday, I and my friends developed a marginal obsession with the legend of the Blue Men – sea-monsters who live in the Minch in between Skye and Harris. It is said that they will sink your ship unless you can beat them in a rhyming exchange – the Hebridean equivalent of battle rap. “That must make me a Blue Woman,” I said. “What’s “woman” in Gaelic?” The answer is “cailleach,” – pronounced, more or less, “kayak”.
So I became Blue Kayak. I made my husband – who is more artistically talented than me – draw a logo for me, and paid him in Fig Rolls. (I am told that he actually drew a canoe rather than a kayak, but neither of us knew the difference. Anyway, I like it as it is.)
Robin came up trumps, too. A few months later he asked me to write a funding bid for him. Since then, I’ve: managed and run a skills development course and community event; done retail needs analysis for a new shopping development; and represented objectors to proposed development. This week, I’ve been teaching undergraduates about electronic maps, and tomorrow I’m going to meet someone from the local Green Party to talk about developing a proposal for environmentally sound transport and social infrastructure. This one’s on a voluntary basis. It’s important enough for me.
As I write, I am fairly skint and not entirely sure where the next paid job’s coming from – but everything that I’ve got to do is so exciting and engaging that, as long as I’m not completely destitute, I don’t care. When things are difficult or slow for me, I whisper to myself, “I am the Blue Kayak and I am determined to float.”