You can purchase Isn't Life Strange through the following link.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00641XWAO

'Isn't Life Strange' is the first book about the life of Alice Templeton.

Do you ever get the feeling that dealing with your witch of a boss rates much higher up on the negotiation scale than a job with the UN? Or listen as your friends discuss your life and how to fix it as though you weren’t there, sitting right next to them? Alice certainly does.

Have you ever allowed yourself to be seduced by a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a giant bag of chocolate buttons instead of tackling a mammouth to do list?  Or made a vow to better yourself by drinking less, going to bed early and being more professional only to break it on the first day? 

Alice Templeton has and a lot more besides.  She is nearing her thirtieth birthday and hasn’t achieved much of what she had hoped to by this land mark.  She lives in a flat owned by the boyfriend whom she has forgotten why she ever loved.  Her friends think he’s an arse, her brother knows she can do so much better, the trouble is that Alice is too afraid of life as a thirty year old singleton and she just can’t let go. 

Her wonderful friends, big brother and the class of special needs children that she teaches all help to remind her that life is there for the living yet she feels as though hers might just be out of her control.  Can she work out how to rein it in and regain the steering wheel enough to grow up and embrace her new decade?

Alice's life is often hilarious, sometimes tragic and on occasions, perhaps, familiar as she tackles what is thrown at her in her own honest and touching way.

 


 

Chapter 1

People Watching

Have you ever been walking through the streets where you live and wondered at the strangeness of our society? Or sat in the window of a coffee shop and just people watched? I do it all the time.

I reckon that people can be split generally into three groups. There are those who think that their lives are so much more important than everyone else’s. Those who are truly worthy but don’t seem to realise it. And then there are those of us somewhere in the middle.

Sorry, how rude of me, I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Alice Templeton. I am most certainly a somewhere in the middle sort of person. Quite normal and totally unremarkable. I am twenty nine, single - well sort of single – okay not single but will be as soon as I pluck up the courage to dump the tosser that I’m not single with.

I am a teacher. It is not just my job but a large chunk of my life. I have a class of fourteen children and I love them all. They drive me crazy at times and I blame them fully for my weekly wine intake but I would not swap my job for any other. The children I teach are all classed as having special needs. Don’t we all? I could give you a list of my own personal special needs, beginning with a diet of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Pinot Grigio. What it really means is that my children were not born with everything that I know I take for granted. There are children in my class with Down’s Syndrome, others with autism, some with complex syndromes that can’t be labelled. Three are confined to wheelchairs and will never know the joys of what our feet have to offer and two are completely blind. Zachy has very limited hearing and Poppy has none at all. There is such a mix of developmental, sensory and physical disability that you might expect resentment, anger, self pity to be part of my daily life. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Not that my class are angels of course, far from it some days, but the children are constantly humbling me with their positivity and enjoyment of life.

There are several other people in my life who always, well usually, keep me happy. My older brother, Nick, is perhaps the most important. He has been a part of everything that I’ve done pretty much. My best friend Claudia, who is completely barmy but absolutely loyal would have to be next on the list, closely followed by Hattie who is not quite so barmy but equally loyal.

And that is a big clue as to why I need to rapidly join the ranks of singledom. Surely if I was in a truly valid relationship with Matt, afore mentioned tosser, then he should be top of the list. To be honest I’m not sure he would even figure in the top twenty.

So why am I still with him you might ask. I’m afraid that there is no logical answer to that. It wasn’t always bad, in fact in the beginning it was pretty good. Matt would pick me up in his shiny sports car and whisk me away for romantic evenings at nice restaurants, usually followed by steamy nights in his enormous bachelor pad. Looking back I’m not sure whether I ever really loved him or whether, if I am being absolutely honest, I just loved the fun and was maybe enjoying the tiniest bit of an ego massage. There’s no denying that heads turn when Matt arrives. He is like Adonis to look at, you know the sort. Chiselled features, beautiful sandy hair, toned body, need I go on? So when it was me he turned his smouldering attentions to, of course I let my self confidence have a bit of a pampering. Why is it that I could preach with the best of the women’s lib that beauty is only skin deep and you should look beyond appearances, yet when it comes to my own life I end up with perhaps the most shallow person I have met? It has taken me almost four years to work out that, attractive as he may be, he is a vain, selfish and often ignorant narcissus. Whilst he may not be near the top of the list of important people in my life, he is most certainly at the top if his own list.

I haven’t really answered the question have I? Why am I still with Matt? Well I can only say that it’s not as simple as just getting shot of him. You see the big mistake I made was agreeing to move into his apartment two years ago. Nick balked at the idea and told me not to be so stupid, and I really upset Claud and Hattie when I told them that I was moving out of the little house we shared. I did it anyway, you’ll learn that I never take advice unless it’s my own, and now have nowhere else to go. The girls have a new housemate and so my old room is now hers.

No, I agree with you, not a very good reason to stay where I am is it. Claud thinks that I am afraid to be on my own and that I’d rather stay with Matt than have to start the search again for my personal Romeo. Nick just thinks that I’m an idiot and should grow up and move into the real world. I think that they’re both right although I could never tell either of them that, you understand. Maybe I’ll start looking for a place to live, take the first step to a Matt free life. Or maybe I’ll just order another latte and sit in this coffee shop for a little longer before I head back to the apartment.

I have a ton of work to do and it’s never quiet enough at home. Matt thinks I am wasting my time marking the children’s work, but then he’s never seen the enormous grin on one of their faces when I am able to give them a gold sticker. That is priceless and for that alone I will always take the time that is needed to mark each piece carefully.

Ok, marking done, I really should get back to Matt. I wonder if Claudia would like to meet me and we could grab a pizza or something. I’ll give her a ring, excuse me.

Great, Claud and Hattie are both on their way so I can invest a bit of time in my favourite hobby, people watching. I think I told you how much I enjoy watching people passing by in their own little bubbles, seemingly oblivious to the lives going on all around them. If you don’t already then I suggest you try it next time you find yourself sitting, waiting somewhere. Pick a prime location with maximum view and watch the enormous variety of individuals that walk past. Sometimes they cry out for you to give them names and create a history for them. Don’t go for the ordinary, they could never be accountants or work for the council. Well not unless they have secret double lives as super heroes or ladies of the night. The people you choose to dissect slice by imaginary slice have to be exciting, the absolute opposite to the mundane and ordinary.

For instance the rather large man who has just walked past and is now looking through the window of the women’s underwear shop opposite is heading towards the club he works at. He won’t start until ten o’clock this evening which gives him almost three hours to get into his full transvestite outfit , complete with ridiculously long eyelashes, mad make up and foot tall, bright green wig. He is browsing for underwear either to increase his own personal collection or possibly to placate the wife that he has left at home for yet another evening with shady explanation. On second thoughts it would have to be for him as his wife, Jean, would prefer something a little less erotic, less lace more poly-cotton.

You see how fun that was! Once you get used to it you can get really quite inventive.

Oh here come Claudia and Hattie. Claud is the tiny one with the spiky brown hair, wearing skinny jeans and what looks like her bikini under that see through electric blue blouse. How she can get away with fashion like that and look cool I’ll never understand but completely envy. Hattie is the more traditional beauty standing a foot taller next to her. She was with me when I met Matt for the first time. With her golden hair, perfect pearly teeth and to die for figure you can see why I was flattered beyond belief that Matt chose me, not something that happens very often when I’m with either of my two best friends. In fact I think that when we are all together people who might be watching us must assume that Matt and Hattie are a couple as, to look at, they make a perfect match.

Not that Hattie would ever go for anyone as two dimensional as Matt. She is far more sensible than I am and actually sticks to the look beneath the front cover rule. I would put Hattie firmly in the ‘more wonderful than they realise’ category. She is everything that I’d love to be. Self confident yet humble, sensible yet fun, beautiful yet unassuming. It would never occur to her to worry about what other people may think of her, nor for that matter would Claud be at all concerned. I, on the other hand, am always wondering if the woman at the bus stop is staring because I should have bought a larger size in the top I am wearing, or the girl at the bar is wondering how someone like me managed to get someone like Matt.

Anyway here they are, my two best friends. I’d better go and say hi.

Oh my! That was a long night. Why did I think that it would be a good idea to go out with the girls when I had to get up and function the following morning? It’s now 7.30 and I have an hour to shower, see if I can stomach something for breakfast and get into work in a reasonably focused state, all the while with the mother of all hangovers.

It started very innocently, a table for three at our favourite Italian restaurant. The first bottle of wine was just to lubricate the pizza but I don’t know who ordered the second. I blame Claud who might be small but has a mighty capacity when it comes to alcohol. I have known her to keep up with six foot rugby players on more than one occasion, drinking mere mortals like Hattie and I under the table. Whoever it was, two bottles was just enough for us to think that it would be an excellent idea to move on to a bar. On the way to the bar my mobile rang and, on locating it between the forgotten, half eaten tube of mints and the empty blister pack of Paracetamol extra lurking at the bottom of my bag, I noticed that I had already missed four calls from Matt. No surprise that it was him trying to call me again. In my warm and cosy, post pizza and wine state I smiled and showed my doubting friends that he must be missing me after all. I noted their rolling eyes but answered the phone anyway.

“Matt, Hi Honey, missing me?”

“Where the bloody hell are you?” was the curt reply that I hadn’t, but should have, expected.

“I have gone out for pizza with the girls.” I kept the smile pinned to my face to cunningly fox my audience that I was having a sweet conversation with the love of my life.

“Great, thanks for letting me know. I have been sitting here for ages waiting for you.”

“See, you are missing me.”

“No, just hungry.”

“Huh?” I may have let the smile drop ever so slightly at this point.

“What the hell am I supposed to eat? There’s nothing in the fridge.” I knew this wasn’t true as I had only just stocked up at the supermarket. The fridge was as bulging as it is ever likely to be.

“There’s pasta in the cupboard, sauce in the fridge or pizza in the freezer. “

“You expect me to cook after I have spent the whole day at work?”

“Where do you think I have been all day?”

“Playing at that school of yours.” Remember to smile!

“If that’s what you think Matt. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, I’ll bring you a take away if you like.”

“Yeah, ok. Better make it quick though, I’m starving here.”

“Sorry Honey, I’ll be back soon.” REMEMBER TO SMILE!! “Love you.” I threw in for good measure before shutting the phone off and turning to face the onslaught I knew would come but hoped to shield.

“Silly thing, he’s hurt his back at the gym and can’t get out of his chair. I said I’d go home and get him something to eat.” I could actually feel the embarrassment of my transparent lie creeping over my face turning it pinker as it went.

“Bollocks!” cursed Claud.

“You liar” accused Hattie.

“Bugger him and come drinking with us” suggested Claud.

“She’s got a point” agreed Hattie.

“If I do, will you promise not to say anything more about the whole thing?” I begged.

Both girls held out their smallest fingers in the same way we had done to make a pact since our school days. I joined mine with both of theirs and I knew they’d stick to the deal. So that is how we ended up at Ringo’s Bar, a mediocre Beatles themed club that never failed to deliver, no matter what the occasion.

I’m sure there was dancing, I know there was alcohol, but other than that I don’t recall all that much. Somehow I got home and then I woke up half an hour ago when Matt came into the sitting room to switch on the breakfast news before he went to work. You may have worked out that I slept on the sofa last night. I guess that when I didn’t show up with take away food and Matt couldn’t get through to yell at me on the phone, which Claud had switched off and then confiscated for good luck, he chucked my pillow and pyjamas out of the bedroom door. Rather than risk his midnight wrath I had found the spare duvet, no cover, and curled up on the sofa to sleep off the effects of Ringo and his bar.

So now I have to forget my stonking headache and dainty stomach and get to work.

Ok, I managed a shower without passing out, two cups of very strong coffee and a pint of water for breakfast which has begun to ease my head. My stomach may not recover for a while but there’s not a lot I can do about that. There’s no way it is going to let me ingest the carbs that I know would settle it. For now that’s the best I can do. Let me just sit here a minute longer with my head resting on the steering wheel of Betsy (that’s my old blue beetle that I love so much I can ignore all of her faults.) Alright I think I’m ready to tackle the day now.

“Bugger, bugger, bugger ,bugger!!! Betsy, not today! Why won’t you start you stupid bloody thing?” Ok so I don’t ignore all her faults when I’m already running extremely late for work. Wow, I’ll try that again. Who knew that thumping the steering wheel and uttering a string of expletives would actually work? I may be in danger of arriving after the children, with no way to warn the school as Claud still has my phone having taken it for my better good last night, but at least I’m on my way.

I did make it to school before the children, only just but don’t they say that a miss is as good as a mile, or something like that? And I managed to function at nearly sixty percent which isn’t bad. On my very best days I reckon I only ever make an eighty or eighty five percent. Still my judges are usually forgiving of me. My classroom assistants Sue and Denny are saints, both of them. Anything that I fall short with or forget to do altogether, one of them will usually pick up on before we have any disasters. The biggest disaster is when the head teacher, Juliet Bore, springs a visit on our classroom unannounced. This, of course, never happens when the children are all sitting quietly listening attentively to what I’m saying with big smiles on their faces. No, she appears when Jake is standing on a table threatening to throw a chair from his great height at the group playing in the puppet corner because they wouldn’t let him be the dinosaur in their game. Or when Zoe has stripped off to her underwear so that she can paddle in the puddle of water that has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the art area. Whenever I look up from a tricky situation I know that I will see Juliet’s face peeping through the little window in the classroom door. How does she know? I suspect that in one of the cupboards in her office she has secret CCTV monitors showing what is going on in each of the rooms in the whole school. That way she knows exactly when to pounce. That can have been the only reason that she could have chosen this morning to just happen to be passing my classroom at the exact time I was under a table with Alfie who had crawled there pretending to be going into a bear cave. He couldn’t be tempted to come out again until I joined him and held a conversation with his pretend bear. I had introduced myself and we had moved on to chat about sandwich fillings, apparently bears will only eat chocolate spread.

I know that teachers shouldn’t have favourite pupils any more than parents should have favourite offspring but, if pushed, I would have to say that Alfie is mine. He was born very prematurely and his lungs were far too immature to cope. He wasn’t given much chance of survival but beat the odds and kept hanging on to life inside the incubator that was home for his first months. Unfortunately the lack of oxygen had already done a lot of harm and his brain was starved leaving it irreparably damaged.

He will never function as most people can expect to and will always need to be cared for but his is a happy life none the less. He manages to enjoy every day, smiling most of the time and brightening up the room on even the gloomiest days. He can be cheekily naughty at times but, to me, that only adds to his appeal. He is never unkind to other children and will help any one of his classmates in any way if he can. He reminds me constantly how little I have to grumble about. When I look outside on a cold day and silently moan that I have to take the class out for PE, I look at Alfie and realise that he would love to be joining his more physically able peers running around outside. Instead he has to stay inside with Sue as he is not able to cope with large amounts of exercise.

I find that anything Alfie wants in class, I try my hardest to see he gets.

So there I was sitting under a table growling at an imaginary bear whilst the rest of my class were being rounded up for the register from all corners of the room by Sue and Denny. It was then we heard a little cough and I turned, mid growl, to be confronted by a pair of impractically high heels joined to the stumpy legs of our head teacher.

“Uh hmm, Sorry to pull you out of your hole Miss Templeton but I think you should probably be doing the register now, don’t you? I trust that you know what your class will be doing today?”

I nodded, feeling like one of her pupils rather than a member of her staff.

“Right, well get on with it then.” And with that she turned on her hot pink heel and strutted importantly out of the door to bother some other ill-behaved teacher. Most probably Jem, who somehow manages to get himself in even more ridiculous situations than me.

As the door banged shut behind her Alfie crawled from the cave and put his arms around my waist.

“Do you want me to get my bear to bite a hole in her bottom?” he asked innocently.

I love my job!