Jess is back. Obviously.
Excuse the Jess is a fictional story told over each season.
Written & Performed by: Jacquie J Sarah
Produced by: Deliciously Bright Productions
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Season 3 – Episode 1 Existentialism
Welcome to episode one of season three of Excuse the Jess. I’m back again. I wonder how long I can bang on about my life this time. Season 1, 7 episodes, 8 if you include Halloween. Season 2, 8 episodes, 10 if you include Halloween and Christmas. Season 3 55 episodes with timing ranging from 20 mins to 4 hours. Let’s go, then. Seriously, I have no idea how many episodes this will be because I am not starting at the end like I did last time. This is the first thing I am recording, and it’s happening. Now. Which is the middle of September 2022. What’s the future like? If these start to go out in the summer of 2023, we could have had a brand new party in government, the Royals could have relented and welcomed back Harry with open arms, ITV could have thankfully ditched both Love Island and the Masked Singer, and my new year’s diet could have actually worked, and I am now slim. Yep, never going to happen.
Why are you recording so early for a time so late? I don’t hear you ask. The biggest reason is that I liked telling the story over months in season 2. Even I was surprised when I listened back to them about what had happened at that time. When I say listened, I mean I sat in a dark room, cringing at my voice. You will never believe this, but I haven’t had one single voice lesson. The second part is, that I need a break. I need things to be calm for a while, so maybe I can tell you all about my thoughts of happiness without experiencing what felt like a thousand knives in my back and an overwhelming sense of dread. I have got things to tell you about even now, even though I am still organising my Halloween 2022 special, which was out for you months ago, even though I only hit send on Season 2 on 7th September 2022. The calm is coming. It must be coming. That’s why this week I picked the easy subject of existentialism.
Don’t worry. This will not be a deep dive. I haven’t had the time to research people like Kierkegaard (keeuh-kuh-gow) or Sartre. I am just playing with the idea of it. With Wiki's help, Existentialism is a philosophical movement that focuses on what it means for people to exist. It says that humans have will and consciousness, but they live in a world that does not therefore, people must make choices about their life while knowing they are mortal. People who believe in existentialism ask questions like ’what is it like to be a human in the world?’ and ’how can we understand human freedom’ Existentialism is often connected with negative emotions, such as anxiety, dread, and awareness of your own mortality. Some existentialists, like Sartre and Heidegger (hai-deh-guh), believe that thinking about these emotions helps people choose how they want to live their lives. I have used the phrase existential crisis more often than I wish in the last few years. With middle age, poor health, and a plague to deal with, it’s hardly surprising. Although, again, I know the expression without giving it much thought. I have made deliberate choices to change my life, but have they made my life better? Yes and no. But I don’t want to tell you everything at once. I have 55 episodes to fill.
If you listened to season 2, you know that I took voluntary redundancy. When the branch I previously worked for was closed, I was moved to a different area, further out of Cardiff, and found out a few individuals were defrauding the company, leading to a shortfall in cash flow and profits. In the process of bringing, it to management’s attention, finding new contracts, and raising cash, it became clear that there was a way to save jobs, and that was to lose one, my own. That was my reward, losing my job in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. It was for the good of the company though. Okay, I might be sounding more benevolent than I actually was. I mean I was punched in the face by one colleague, hard. She didn’t like me, and she wasn’t the only one. I was pretty much viewed as anything from an inconvenience to a major bitch by my colleagues there. Most of it was unwarranted. Untrue rumours had circulated about what I had done and what I thought of people, all started by the people who knew I was on to them as they stole from the organisation. The part that was warranted is that I am obviously just unlikeable. Reason one was to get away. Reason two, well, that was more complicated.
After much stiff upper lip and massive courage, if stiff upper lip and massive courage means sobbing uncontrollably for two days, I was offered a work contract out of the blue. This was from another former employer who had heard about what I had just done. There was only one problem. The role was in Reading, England and I lived in Cardiff, Wales. A distance of approximately 110 miles. Things fell into place incredibly quickly though, almost as if it was meant to be, which is what I told myself as I left the only place I have ever owned to rent somewhere in an area I knew very little of. This is where I am now.
I didn’t have time to think. It wasn’t until I was sat in my new flat in Reading, surrounded by boxes, that it hit me what I had done. I had only seen the flat online. All lovely pictures, and I can’t say too much because the estate agent is the partner of my manager. Is she my manager? I am not employed by her company, I am a self-employed contractor, and I am overcomplicating things again. It’s not even their fault. It was just the moment I sat in the chair and looked around. I just saw a very trendy, sterile flat. It was not my lovely cosy home in Cardiff. Although, after a recent event, that wasn’t feeling like my lovely cosy home any more either. I am like the littlest Hobbo for the older listeners.
That usually happens though doesn’t it? A big change, somewhere you must think, what have I done? And then you settle down. Don’t you?
It was a tight timeline to give you some perspective. At the risk of sounding like a Craig David song, my manager’s manager yelled at me on Monday, received immediate redundancy on Tuesday, had a breakdown on Wednesday, then Thursday and accepted a new job role on Friday morning. Yes, stop singing the song in your head. It’s fallen down big time. Friday afternoon I was organizing the move. Friday night my friend Ems said she would like to rent my house as was separating from her husband. I spent the weekend packing. The following Monday the movers were booked and arrived at my house on Wednesday. I woke up in the flat in Reading on Thursday. I started at the office on Friday just to get a feel for it so I could make notes and do some work at the flat on Monday because it was a bank holiday. Because of the Queen. I had to do all this at a time of national mourning. Okay, I am being dramatic now.
The first weekend in Reading, I hit send on the eight podcast episodes I had prepared. Moving seemed like a good place to stop, and things were definitely going to calm down once I moved. Which I am sure they will, at some stage. I thought I would feel a huge rush of relief as that chapter of my life closed but I felt numb to it. It was worth it, though, because people who I had talked to about it could finally hear it. At this stage, I know one person who has listened, and they have told me of someone else who listened. Apparently, everyone is too busy to put on a pair of headphones while they do something else. Plus, busy? I am so sorry you’re busy. I am just sitting here twiddling my thumbs. Yep, being brave when I know they won’t listen to this for months, and I will have forgotten I’ve said it.
Although a huge huge thanks to everyone that listened. I really appreciate it. I know I don’t know most of you, but the fact that you listened means the world. It’s why I keep going. You only have yourselves to blame.
My last job, the one I was made redundant from, I was the assistant manager for a manufacturing factory in Wales. I am still not going to say who they are. It still feels too close. The factory was owned by a big American firm that frowned upon relationships between colleagues. I was painfully made aware of that fact after being punched in the face by someone who thought I was trying to destroy her relationship with her supervisor. I wasn’t. It was Niles but more about him later. I didn’t care about it. As far as I was aware, they had never brought it into work. She was a good worker but didn’t like me, so she assumed the worst.
As I mentioned earlier, when I announced I was moving to Reading for the length of my six-month contract, my friend Ems asked if she could rent my house. Although I could have got more renting elsewhere, it was a relief really to have someone I know renting and not have to deal with the estate agents. Ems had recently separated from her husband, Simon. Simon is having issues. One of those issues is with me. Yep, new listeners are probably thinking, there is a pattern here. On the day I was made redundant, he showed up at my house drunk and attacked me. I am not sure if attacked is the right word. He didn’t physically hurt me. He just intimated that he would because he easily could have. He also verbally abused me to make sure I knew exactly what he thought of me. The reason was that I had talked about him on my podcast. Not badly, by the way. Not my friend married a complete arsehole. I was ridiculously complimentary, and if he had a conversation with me about it, then his name would have been edited out, but now it’s staying and so is the brief summary of what he did. I’ve told Ems that he is not welcome in my house at all, but it's made me feel like that is not my house. My family, I don’t hear you ask. For new listeners, my dad and brother are away, my mother barely tolerates me, and my stepdad hates me. Again, a pattern. I’ve been warned about this spiral thinking before. Mainly because no one wants to hear from a middle-aged woman banging on about their problems. I will therefore concentrate on the good stuff, for now. Like I have a new job in a new city.
Let’s just start properly with my time in Reading. My apartment is quite central. It’s easy walking distance to the city centre and the offices. I did something daft though. When I gave the company car back, I leased a new one. The apartment came with underground parking, and I needed to get here from Cardiff. That was another thing I did because I didn’t have the time or the headspace to deal with things. And hadn’t I said I would stop banging on about my problems? Not a horrible problem at that. Okay, I am not doing well on this episode. It’s difficult starting again though. It’s like when you see those big TV dramas, and we watch as the narrative is told over maybe ten episodes and then in the season finale you watch everything unfold, and your jaw just drops how brilliant it all is. Then they start the next season, and it’s like going back to square one. Think of this like that. You know, without the last season's final episode being any good. We’re all just finding our way again. The car I leased has stayed in that underground car park since I unpacked. I am not even sure I will recognize it again. I had taken a picture of the number plate on my phone to log it, and I am glad I did it.
Last Friday, let’s just call that day -4, was my first day at the office. Dawn met me with tons of enthusiasm, and I thought she hasn’t come to her senses yet, so that could only be good. Her offices are in a large building of other offices. There is a reception area and a coffee shop in the lobby. Don’t think I didn’t experience a pang of excitement when I saw the coffee shop. Having coffee so close to me. Not having to drive miles out of my way as I had to in Wales. The downside was that it was a well-known coffee chain that had it, but also, how was I going to afford to work here? A key card was issued to me so I could get past the turn styles and into the lifts. Dawn had the offices on the right-hand side of the fifth floor as you come in from the lifts. There was a large open-style office as you walked in with a mini reception area with seats there for visitors. As I walked in with Dawn, all eyes looked up, and I felt like turning around and going back. Maybe trying that coffee shop. Drama aside, there were only seven people there, three women, three men and one non-binary. I know all this since. I am not presuming pronouns or genders here. Even though it was just seven people, the way I felt, there may as well been a hundred.
Dawn said, ‘Everyone, this is Jess. Let’s make her feel welcome’.
And the responses were warm and friendly.
Dawn pointed me to an empty desk. It still had a flowerpot and a picture of a small child on it, and I thought no, please don’t say I have replaced someone who didn’t even have time to clear out their desk.
‘This is Jo’s desk. She’ll be your go to person if you need help or information. Sick child today but she should be back next week.’
I am not sure if Dawn saw my sigh of relief.
Then we moved behind Jo’s desk to an office and Dawn opened the door.
‘I hope you’ll be okay in here.’
And I looked around, and I thought she was joking. It was clean for a start. I was not used to that. It wasn’t a huge room but large enough for a bulky desk, a cupboard, shelving, and a small sofa in front of a coffee table. Dawn pressed a button and the glass window that separated me from the main office frosted up. Behind the desk was a large window with views over Reading. It was so perfect, I didn’t know what to say.
‘Watch out for Tony. He’s been eyeing this office.’ Dawn said as she plumped some cushions and laid them back on the settee.
‘This is great Dawn.’ I managed to say looking around.
‘It’s a shame you won’t be in here much today.’ Dawn said.
I’ll give you five minutes to get your bearings, and then we’re having a get-to-know-you coffee break in the conference room. After that, I have a lot to go through with you.’
I nodded, and Dawn opened the door. I could see one of the young women leaning backwards on her chair to get a good look.
‘I’ll call for you when we’re ready she said, and as the door closed, I watched the woman on the chair lose her balance, and she landed on her back the moment the door shut.
I looked back around. I felt like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl when she gets her New York office. Except Tess McGill is thirty when she achieves it all and I’m closer to fifty. And yes I know her boss was stealing her ideas but wasn’t that mean of Tess to steal her job AND her boyfriend? Yeah, references about film from 1988. Aren’t I down with the kids? I will say that Taylor Swift is everything and Lizzo is a queen. Yeah, I know that’s not helpful but nonetheless still true.
After the get-to-know-you coffee break, which was lovely, it was into Dawn’s office where we went through everything. The full enormity of what I had taken on hit me, and I wondered why I just couldn’t be a full-time writer. Dawn’s organization too was also manufacturing, but her factory was overseas, not a sweatshop, I checked. It’s in one of the last places you would think about, and it’s all very ethical. It was starting to lose money though as purse strings around the world were tightening and the pound’s value was decreasing. She needed an injection of cash and fast. That’s why I was there so there was no pressure. I would also be looking at cost-cutting, which is always fun. At least this time, I wouldn’t have to give up my job because I didn’t have a job, just a contract.
Friday night, I was exhausted. I managed to find my nearest Domino’s and I thought I would be asleep immediately but, this time it wasn’t insomnia. It was because the mattress was rock hard. I would have had no more comfort if I had slept on the floor. My back was already in half because of all the lifting and carrying of boxes. At one stage, I even got up and tried the settee to see if it was more comfortable but it didn’t have the space, so back to my rock hard bed I went. At 3am my eyes were watering I was so tired, and my body was begging for rest. I did manage to get off around 4am and had 4 to 5 hours before my body was like, well, you’d better get up or you’ll regret it. The first thing I did on day -3 was to get the laptop out to buy a mattress topper. The earliest I could get one delivered, was Tuesday because Monday was a bank holiday. Something about burying the Queen. Now that sounds facetious, and don’t get me wrong, I was all for saving the queen. She gave her life for this country, and apart from the luxury homes and servants, she had very little in return. Again, it sounds like I am being facetious. I did have the utmost respect for her. That woman had to sit with our PM’s once a week, and we have had some pretty awful PM’s Churchill, Thatcher, Johnson. I don’t think I could speak to them for one minute, never known every week. She was a great ambassador for this country and a great woman on her own terms, and will be greatly missed. I don’t hold any respect for the rest of them though, and I was thinking that maybe one way of bringing Britain back together would be a gameshow where we not only crown a new king but have a whole new family in place. Ant and Dec could present it on a Saturday night. The Richards from Barnstable, you will not be the new royal family, the Williams from Hereford, you could be our new royal family. We could hear the battles and the highs and lows as the families race literally to the top and take their place in Buck Palace. There would have to be checks like whether they’d ever paid anyone off to cover up a crime or checks for inbreeding, etc. Things the actual royal family wouldn’t pass. Then finally, the Frost family from Newcastle would take their place at the palace and invite a load of us around for a party while the rest of us said, I’m glad it went to someone who needed the money.
Do you know god save the king is not my national anthem? I am saying this for people outside of the UK. My national anthem is called Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau or Land of My Fathers in English. It’s Welsh and it’s epic and I will try to remember to put a link out for you when this episode goes out. It’s about how awesome the whole of Wales and its people are and not just about saving one person. Although I now live in England, I may have to save the king. Not keen on that.
The other thing I documented in season two was my efforts to get out into the world. When the pandemic hit in 2020 I was considered vulnerable and was advised not to leave the house. When I eventually did go out I got very sick with Covid in November 2021. I made the decision there and then that if I survived it, and that’s me not being dramatic, I would make a concerted effort to change my life. I had always wanted to be a writer, which was why I started this podcast in the first place. Although this was my side project for 2021, I wasn’t actually getting out in the world in any real sense. I was still sat in my bedroom with a mic. The first season was mainly my thoughts on life but people said, they liked the bits about when I talked about me so in the second season I said less of my thoughts and more about my life. Thoughts about TV had gone, and you may have noticed it’s a little different for this season already. I am not saying the quotes are not making a comeback. I just have too much to talk about. Approximately 3 hours ago, I started to tell you about how in 2022 I decided I wanted to take my writing ambitions more seriously and get out into the world more. I went on a writing retreat. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. I kept reading that the scarier something is, then the more you have to do it. Not in the literal sense. There’s a good reason not to play with fire and roller skate on a cliff’s edge. Your whole unconscious being wants to keep you safe so it will give you every reason not to book a writing retreat with a bunch of strangers especially if you’re not a real writer. When you put it like that, my unconsciousness may have had a point. I went though, despite it making me feel sick, despite it being a huge waste of my time and money. Except it wasn’t any of those things. When I got into it, I loved the whole experience. I met some amazing people and we have kept in touch since. I went to a film premier in London of one of the writers Lauren and we have also kept in touch separately. She’s slightly younger than me, but we come from similar backgrounds. She has had to do the hard work to make her scripts the best they can be and make those connections, so people got to see them. It makes me think that could be me too. Maybe if I put my mind to it, I could be on my way to becoming a full-time writer by this time next year.
I didn’t really mention in the last podcast that I have been reading stuff for the group and giving feedback. That’s been one of those occasions when being an insomniac has helped and given me something to do in the wee small hours. It was a crazy time these last few months but last week, I had to say I wouldn’t be available for a couple of weeks to read anything. I hope they don’t hate me for it.
It was the weekend or days -3 and -2, so I spent more time getting organised and munching on leftover pizza. The chances are I wouldn’t sleep until Tuesday night, which started me on a full-on spiral. The enormity of what had happened hit me, and I had the closest thing to a panic attack. Everything just sucked. And for why? Well, mainly because of men. I was in this position because of men, and I was single.
It was men that were defrauding the company back in Wales. My manager, who didn’t see the fraud or the mission to make me out to be trouble, was a man. Simon, who attacked me, was a man, and Niles, the one that sent me on a scary, emotional, and totally utterly confusing ride, was a man.
You know those old movies where the man states it all started with a woman. Well it’s 2022 and it all started with a man, Niles.
Niles was my manager from the States. That’s not strictly true though. He wasn’t my manager. There were two layers above me before you reached him. I wasn’t entirely truthful about everything before. I said he was my manager’s manager. He was my manager’s, manager’s, manager. I went straight to him because I wasn’t sure my manager knew about colleagues defrauding the company, I went over the other manager because he had an automatic reply for two weeks and I couldn’t wait, and then I got to Niles, the International Operations Director which wasn’t strictly his job title. Why wasn’t I honest about this? I thought you’d think it was a dick move. Maybe it was. I didn’t know though he would fly from New York to Wales. I thought. I don’t know what I thought. They were dark days.
After a few long Zoom calls where I thought nothing of him other than he was a bright man, he suddenly announced he was flying to Wales, and that’s when I realized the shit was about to hit the fan. I knew the day he was coming would be tough. What I didn’t anticipate was my reaction when I saw him. He took my breath away. I put in the last season, so it’s not really a revelation. It feels weird, though, to say it. It has NEVER happened to me before. I just thought I wasn’t built that way. Anyway, I immediately realised I had to grow the fuck up and deal with what was in front of me. Like colleagues losing their jobs. Niles is not his real name. I named him that when he wiped the chair before sitting in it. Long story short, he wrote the name POTUS on a piece of paper and I fell for him hook, line and sinker. We are talking the L word. We were working together to raise enough funds to clear the black hole that was the factory loses. He was completely serious about closing it and making everyone redundant. Then he decided I should spend more time with him out of work because he was bored, his words. I thought we were falling into an easy friendship because there was no way he would like me. After seeing him over the weekend and realizing that it would be best for me if I never saw him again, I told him the way to save the company was to make me redundant. Instead of making it easy for me, he yelled at me in the middle of the office, said he had to see his partner and disappeared out of my life. I wasn’t even worthy enough for him to make me redundant. Hey, at least I got my wish. Sitting all alone in my flat in Reading, I thought what a fucking idiot I had been. What a fuckwit to do that to me. I hated myself for the fact that I am such a walkover. It’s surprising how quickly love can turn to hate. Okay, it hadn’t happened to me yet, but I was looking forward to it. This was it for men and me. We have never worked and were never going to work. It’s not like I have ever wanted to get married. That had never been my dream. Maybe it would have been nice to have someone like me as much as I liked them, but that had seemed to pass me by. I am unlikeable. Have you not been paying attention? I have literally been telling you this for twenty-odd minutes now. I was angry with him but angrier with myself for getting carried away with this crap. It was then I decided that I would put all the Season 2 podcasts out at once and that would be that. A chapter of my life over. A new one was beginning.
By Tuesday morning, day zero, I was exhausted. I was given an early morning slot between 8am and 10am for the mattress topper delivery so I was starting work from home. By this point, I had calmed down. The thought of a good night’s sleep tonight was getting me through. I would get used to this. Enjoy my new life. I looked around the flat and decided that I liked it. Now, surrounded my stuff, this was home. I was even looking forward to going into my new office. Then tonight, I would come home and go back to writing my book. I was calm. My life was going to be calm.
I had a message around 9am asking when I was going to London next to meet for a coffee. It was someone from the writing group whom I had mentioned in season 2. It was so weird. He was asking for a date. I hadn’t been asked on a date for so long; it had been years, and I didn’t even think it would ever happen again. Yet, I wasn’t excited or keen. I didn’t want to go. I really was over men. Maybe I would regret it, though in a couple of weeks. I texted back asking I had immediate plans so if I could let him know. He replied immediately, saying of course.
The topper came around 9.30, which wasn’t too bad, and I immediately opened it to let it air. It didn’t smell so I made the bed straight away and it wasn’t perfect but a lot more comfortable than just the mattress. I would count down the hours until I could officially go to bed.
Unfortunately, I had to go, so I picked up my laptop, left the flat and made the short walk into the office. I was about to go through the turnstiles in the building when the coffee shop caught my eye, and I thought one coffee couldn’t hurt. Wasn’t today the first day of the rest of my life? Okay I was probably more than halfway through it, but it was my duty to make it as good as I possibly be. That my friends, is why I needed coffee. I went up to the counter, and in my mind, I said black coffee to go, but somehow cappuccino came out of my mouth. Then I saw the croissants and thought one couldn’t hurt. I definitely couldn’t buy one every day, but it would be okay today, so I ordered that too. As I waited I heard my name being called. Except it couldn’t have been, especially in that tone, in that accent. I had imagined it, I needed sugar more than I thought.
‘Jess’. The voice said again so I slowly turned my head in the direction of the voice and everything in me screamed it couldn’t be. I was either hallucinating again or there, stood next to a table, smiling at me, was Niles.