Searching for a better song to sing..

I’m all right with you, here in this room; but when I saw those people you were with I couldn’t come in. I would have seized up. Because I’m a freak. I can’t talk to the people I live with any more. An’ I can’t talk to the likes of them on Saturday, or them out there, because I can’t learn the language. I’m a half-caste.

I went back to the pub where Denny was, an’ me mother, an’ our Sandra, an’ her mates. I’d decided I wasn’t comin’ here again. I went into the pub an’ they were singin’, all of them singin’ some song they’d learnt from the juke-box. An’ I stood in that pub an’ thought just what the frig am I trying to do? Why don’t I just pack it in an’ stay with them, an’ join in the singin’? …

Well I did join in with the singin’, I didn’t ask any questions, I just went along with it. But when I looked round, me mother had stopped singin’, an’ she was cryin’, but no one could get it out of her why she was cryin’. Everyone just said she was pissed an’ we should get her home. So we did an’ on the way I asked her why. I said, “Why are y’ cryin’, mother?” She said, “Because — because we could sing better songs than those.” Ten minutes later, Denny had her laughing and singing again, pretending she hadn’t said it. But she had. And that’s why I came back. And that’s why I’m staying.

—Willy Russell
Speech by Rita in Educating Rita

I find my self thinking about this point in Willy Russell’s screenplay for the film Educating Rita with Michael Caine and Julie Walters more often than I intend to and it often puzzles me that it has resonated so much that I remember it all of these years later.

A recent tweet by one of the lovely people I follow drew me back to this thought once more as I read (I paraphrase) this person expressing difficult feelings over being judged for her lifestyle choices. She also was conveying the sense of loss of an easy intimacy – of being unable to be completely honest in future with the person who had somehow conveyed that her choices had disappointed them. From the twitter thread that followed I was struck that I have lost a great deal of the certainty I had around what kind of relationships constituted “good” or “healthy” ones and how, for me those certainties had been replaced by a desire to be open and accepting about other people’s choices even when they might not be ones that I would want for myself. But I also resonated with the loss of easy intimacy and the sense of having disappointed someone I cared about. I understand the unease about feeling that I have somehow lowered myself in another’s opinion, especially if that person is very dear to me.

My own ideas about what constitutes a good relationship, what love looks like and what makes a good person have undergone a radical overhaul in the last five years. As that overhaul was taking place I realised I had been living with a set of rules and beliefs about those things that had come from my religious beliefs, which whilst I no longer held them, were still influencing my thinking and my sense of myself much more deeply than I was aware. It also became apparent as I shed them that there is a security in those received beliefs.

They create a shared world view with others of the same faith and this is an easy shorthand for decision making and interaction with others. As a consequence this is a shared world view of a very small world since unless those beliefs are tailored around acceptance and not judgement, or avoidance of punishment in the afterlife, and control, as was the case in my own life, they will necessarily discourage experimentation and exploration.

Changing my beliefs after I had violated some of them was actually the only way I could move on from the internal sense of shame and guilt I had after ending my second marriage and moving out into the world on my own. That shame and guilt threatened my mental health in a way I had never experienced before. It created an environment where I accepted the financial punishment and the ostracisation I suffered as being a just consequence of my behaviour instead of generating the sense of injustice that I would have had for others in the same situation. For a while it threatened to overwhelm me, that it didn’t is, in the main, because of the support I received from some key people in my life and I will be forever grateful to them.

In those moment I felt I had gone beyond the pale – which when I look up the definition of this phrase speaks to me of the sense of going beyond the safe territory of shared beliefs and out into the wider world where we can decide for ourselves what is right and good and proper for us and that this can be so solidly lodged in us that we no longer accept another’s judgement of us or what we do with our bodies, no matter how dear they are.

It seems to me that we all must go through this sense of going beyond the pale if we are to grow as people, but it never fails to be a difficult and lonely journey when we do. To bring this back to my original quote in the film – Rita is being told that she should be having children not bothering about books. Her friends and family are all in the pub singing the same song about how happy they are and she is faced, yet again with the fact that she is no longer home here, but is also not at home in her new environment. Rita has gone beyond the pale, and her mother’s tears and comments about a better song to sing, which she laughs off later, become Rita’s watchword as she searches for her own song in the wild world beyond the working class one she has been born into.

I recognise myself in Rita, her grafting, her discomfort at the middle class parties and privilege, her sense of not being one thing or another anymore and her will to keep searching until she can find her place again.

I suppose what I am doing here, what I remain committed to, in-spite of feeling uncomfortable, and often not at home or at ease, is finding my own better song to sing.

I wish all fellow journeyers fair weather and good wind as we travel.

Feet in sea


  • melodyinsights

    Oh, there is indeed a strong human instinct to retreat in to the certainty of rules and mores defined by others. The more we contemplate on our own uncertainty, the more conflicted we can become with what’s around us.

    That realisation you don’t belong any more can leave you untethered. I had a non-kink version of that when coming back from living abroad and getting a summons to the bank in my small former home town. He was a Captain Mainwaring clone who thought he ran the town. Within 5 minutes I knew I no longer belonged to, or even identified with the place I grew up and I’ve never been back.

    What I’ve been struck with since my reading has expanded to people and blogs that are far out of my knowledge, even outside my understanding of motivations and concepts, is the number of people who won’t accept the retreat in to certainty, won’t accept the rules and containment by some nebulous other group think.

    The other thing that has struck me is just how differently people fight to sing their own song. Some seem bold and confident and rarely expose the turmoil. Others expose the turmoil rather than the pure song that’s actually in there.

    You see the whole spectrum and what’s especially uplifting is that when someone is struggling to sing, there’s a choir of people on their own path of liberation who will chip in and see that the song is sung.

    It’s hard being beyond the pale, it’s where we have to find our own answers and be prepared to cast out all that pre-packaged certainty that we got lumbered with. I always think of Life of Brian as to what I’m up against – “Yes, we’re all individuals”

    Thought provoking piece xx

    • eye

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I am now thinking about how people search for and sing their own song. You are right, sometimes the turmoil is all we see. That can make it seem that it Is always a difficult process but for some it is always the only song they can sing.

I'd love to hear what you think!

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