Welcome Dory and a huge thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you came home?
Home? You mean where I grew up? It took a while before I was sure I’d made the right decision. It seemed a bit like giving up, but I couldn’t do nothing. The break-down of my relationship meant I was out of a job and out of the house I thought of as my home. I had negotiated a financial settlement so, while I wasn’t on my uppers, I still needed to decide what to do with the rest of my life. It made sense to move out of London. Why not come back to Struley?
What were your goals and ambitions at the time?
To begin with I was in a rented flat with no clear view of the future. I certainly didn’t see myself starting another relationship. My sole thought was to buy a house, set up a business of some sort – I’d no idea what – and make a living. In the mean-time I found myself a part-time job at the local NHS STI clinic, working as a technician. Doing that job might have seemed like a come-down after being an employer, but at least I was using my skills and doing something useful while I debated my options.
I was working in the Pathology Laboratory of the hospital where Malcolm was a junior doctor. Setting up our own private clinic was his idea. I’d not have got into that business if it hadn’t been for him. He was the one who wanted to do it, wanted me to specialise so that our skills complemented one another’s. But all that is behind me now.
So, has working in STIs coloured your view of intimate relationships?
Inevitably. I had a sign over my desk that read ‘Never Trust a Smiling Heterosexual.’
Who is the least favourite person in your life right now?
I suppose I should say Malcolm. He’s the one who turned my life upside down. I was unwell and not getting better. OK, he wasn’t a generalist but he is a doctor. Even if didn’t know what was wrong, he could have supported and looked after me, and urged me to get a second opinion. But he almost convinced me it was all in my head, or that I was just being awkward or exaggerating. And then he started an affair with one of our nursing assistants! Of course, splitting-up meant dissolving the partnership and all the upheaval that entailed.
After I left him I began to feel so much better. Once I’d been diagnosed my health improved a hundred percent, as did my frame of mind. I can truthfully say I was beginning to feel at peace and content. But things changed after I viewed my art teachers house………
Your mention of your art teacher reminds me…. How did you come up with the idea to join a life class?
It wasn’t my idea! At first I laughed it off. It was all my sister’s fault. Fran’s older than me and she’s always been the bossy one. Art was her thing. She was the one who went on to study the subject. I enjoyed art at school but I was better at the sciences, so I gave it up and went on to do microbiology at university. But now I’m back, it seemed really important to her that we should do something together. Why not the life class which she loves and has done forever? And I could always give it up if I didn’t enjoy it.
I almost gave up after that first lesson. The teacher, Stefan Novak, was new and seemed pissed-off, as if he didn’t really want to be there. I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but it seems everyone had signed up to the class under false pretences. Like Fran, they’d all done it for years and no one had noticed that since the Spring term the curriculum had been redesigned. It was no longer the purely recreational class they were all expecting. So, there was a certain amount of friction.
And then there was the male model! I arrived a bit late and the only space left was directly in front of him. His … parts … kept moving! The sight didn’t upset or embarrass me. In my work I’ve seen more cocks than most people have had hot dinners. But that, in conjunction with his confrontational stare, plus the fact I was trying to get to grips with a skill I’d not employed since I was sixteen. Well, it’s a wonder I did go back the next week. But I did, and things improved after that. We didn’t have that model again, not until……
You were telling me about viewing Stefan Novak’s house.
Kitesnest. Until he surprised me in the garden I didn’t know it belonged to him, or that the amazing sculptures around the place were his work. The house wasn’t at all suitable for my purposes, too big, too much land, and I told him so … but there was something about it. Funnily enough I suddenly remembered it from a childhood adventure. I didn’t realise it was the same place until that moment. Fran and I had climbed over the fence into the grounds, and we’d met a boy. I’d not have recognised he was the same person if he hadn’t recalled the episode too. But that’s another story……
You said everything changed then. What did you mean?
I couldn’t stop thinking about Kitesnest house. I felt really hyper and stressed about it and even made an offer. I couldn’t rationalise why I’d done it. It was mad. At least I didn’t offer the asking price. I pitched it low, almost hoping he’d say no.
But before Stefan got back to me with a response, I spotted him waiting in his car at the clinic car park. Inside, Dominic Barnes, the young lad who was one of my fellow students at the life class, was being shown through to a cubicle. In my job it’s not unknown to see familiar faces turning up to be checked for infection. You need to be un-shockable and non-judgemental. I’m not on the treatment side. The slides and swabs I deal with are anonymous. But seeing Dom there, apparently accompanied by Stefan, kind of pulled the rug from under my feet. It’s not really ethical, but I checked the documentation. I confirmed what I’d suddenly suspected. They were living together. I didn’t really understand why I was so upset. I realised later of course.
Are you married or divorced or happily single? Have you had any experiences that put you off men? If so what happened?
I’m childless……… Malcolm and I weren’t married. That was the one saving grace. The added complication of divorce was avoided when we split-up. Our break-up was a shock at the time, but it became clear to me that the love had been dying for a while. It was never the same after I … after I got pregnant. Malcolm insisted on a termination. At the time I accepted his argument that it wasn’t the right time, we were still building up the business. But his whole attitude was so dismissive, as if it was as insignificant as having a tooth out….!
Do you have any other family apart from your sister? And what’s your relationship like?
Fran is my only close family now. We have the usual sibling relationship, I suppose. We love each other, but we have gone through phases of wanting to scratch each other’s eyes out. I’m very grateful to her, of course. After our father died our mother became increasingly frail and demanding. It was logical that Fran should shoulder the burden. I was in London, after all. But she did so without complaint. I’d have been far less willing to put myself out like she did, and far less accepting.
Of the two of us, I’ve always felt I had my feet more firmly on the ground. She’s always been a bit of a romantic, a dreamer inclined to be discontented with what she’s got and to fantasise about a perfect life. She already has a perfect life but she takes it for granted! She needs to recognise the fact and count her blessings. So when I discovered she’d got herself into such a state after contacting an old boyfriend online, and she was being virtually stalked.… I really lost it with her! It was all her own silly fault. How could she have been so stupid?
Have you had any scary moments?
Yes! My niece, Melanie, got herself into trouble in Thailand. Fran had been so worried when she insisted on going on a gap year with her friends. I was the one who’d advocated for her, told Fran not worry, that she needed to let her daughter spread her wings! Who would have guessed that might happen? If nothing else the whole experience has helped Mel to grow up a bit and improved her relationship with her parents.
The other scary time was Dom, of course. I’d grown fond of him, he was so young and had had such a rough deal in life. But if it hadn’t been for Stefan, I don’t suppose I’d ever have known his history, or understood why Stefan felt almost responsible for him. While we didn’t know his HIV status it was a tense time. I’m just glad I was able to help and to swallow my pride and ask Malcolm for his assistance too.
Is there anything you’ve learned that changed your life since joining the Life Class?
It’s changed me. I’ve learned to look at life differently. To look beyond the surface and not to accept or trust my initial perceptions. And it’s given me a completely new sense of myself and what I’m capable of.
If you could have one wish right now?
What I wish is for my new life to be a success. I am thrilled to have found the thing I really want to do, with the person I really want to be with.
Thank you Dory for taking part in this interview. It has been a pleasure getting to know you.
by Gilli Allan
Art, Life, Love and Learning Lessons
For four members of the life class it’s not solely the naked model they need to examine and understand. They each have to be honest with themselves, to strip away the layers of disguise and self-deception. Only then can they move forward to craft a new, unanticipated future, their lives intertwined.
Dory says she works in the sex trade. She deals with the damage sext can cause. Her job has given her a jaundiced view of men, an attitude confirmed by the disintegration of her own relationship. The time seems right to pursue what she really wants in life … if she can only work out what that is. Practical and realistic, she has turned her back on love, but her search for a place to put down new roots turns into a chase after a dream.
Stefan, a single-minded loner, is the class tutor. His overriding ambition is to make a living from his art. So how the hell did he find himself facing a class of adults who want their old teacher back? His one stroke of luck feels undeserved, but if he can turn it into cash then maybe he’ll be able to concentrate on what’s important. Love is an emotion he long ago closed off, but it creeps up on him. Is it time to admit that letting others into his life is not defeat?
Fran – Dory’s older sister – is a wife and stay-at-home mother without enough to keep her occupied. On a collision course with her mid-life crisis, Fran gives in to the fantasy that she can recapture the romance and excitement of her youth. An on-line flirtation becomes scarily obsessive, putting everything she really loves at risk.
Dominic is a damaged child who’s been living dangerously. He knows all about sex but nothing about love. If he can only find his mother maybe he’ll be able to make sense of the past. But the past slaps him in the face. Perhaps it is time to look forward not back? By accepting the help and love that’s on offer he has the chance to transform his life.
Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College.
She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.
Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village. Still a keen artist, she regularly attends a life class and has moved into book illustration. Her novels – TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY OR FALL are now published by Accent Press. All three have won a Chill With a Book Award.
Find LIFE CLASS:
Find all my books:
Connect with me: