It was always my dream to be a performer. You could say that dream came true, just not in the way I envisaged.
I have a microphone, I have a script, and I have an audience. I’m a one woman show and I perform my well-honed routine on over a dozen stages in the space of a week. Not that anybody listens. I don’t have a stage door, but if I did, nobody would be hanging around after the show to get a glimpse of me or ask for my autograph.
I am the rep for Sun Safe, the super expensive suntan lotion that nobody wants to buy. I perform beside the busiest swimming pools of Lanzarote’s hottest hotels. I stand on my stage and perform my monologue. It’s a musical without the songs, a comedy without the laughs. I list the merits of the product, I recite the latest skin cancer statistics, I tell everyone why Sun Safe is far superior to the sunscreen they put on this morning. But nobody cares.
Kids run past me, flinging themselves into the pool, splashing me in the process. Women sit on sun loungers chatting loudly, teenagers are plugged into iPhones. Nobody even hears me as I talk about how many stars the product got in a recent Daily Mail review.
After I finish my act, there is never any applause. I remain onstage for a further twenty minutes, the official amount of time set aside for answering questions and making sales.
Unofficially the time is spent dodging the children with no spatial awareness who bash you with their giant inflatable crocodiles as they saunter past. The adults walk by too, some smile kindly, some avoid eye contact, but all of them hurry on by before I can throw another sunscreen statistic at them. I am the cold caller who interrupted family dinner, the high street charity worker who might guilt trip you into making a monthly donation, the homeless person who wants you to spare some change. Nobody wakes up hoping to find a new reason to part with their money, and even my well polished speech won’t persuade them.
My name is Kay. Kay because my parents couldn’t think of anything beyond naming me after the eleventh letter of the alphabet. ‘kay, short for okay when a bored teenager can’t be bothered to voice the first syllable. Kay for killjoy, because even if the people aren’t listening to me, they still have to put up with the poolside music being switched off until after I’ve packed up my unwanted goods and trundled out of their happy holiday lives, and onto the next hotel.
Twelve years ago the youngest of my kids left home. Six months later my husband went too, he said there was no point keeping up the pretence any more with just the two of us left in the family home. With everyone else gone, I didn’t see any point hanging around either. It didn’t happen straightaway, I spent a lot of nights drinking a lot of wine first. But eventually I picked myself up, put myself back together and bought a one way ticket to Lanzarote. To start my new life as the performer that nobody wants to see. At my interview they said I sounded “down to earth and authoritative”, but over a decade later “down to earth and authoritative” hasn’t sold a lot of Sun Safe.
Today’s pitch has gone much like any other. I stood by the pool and delivered my speech whilst everyone ignored me. Now I’m doing the 20 minute questions and answers session. Nobody talks to me, or even looks at me, so I do my own questions and answers in my head. Which guest is the fattest? Which guest has the worst tattoo? Which couple looks most on the brink of divorce? What shall I have for dinner? A bottle of red or a bottle of white?
Ten and a half years ago, sitting at my kitchen table in Rochdale, I thought Sun Safe was the answer. I’d be a British woman living abroad, living the dream. The British wives, sitting round the pool with their saggy tummies and Richard and Judy book club titles, thrilled to escape the British winter for one or two weeks would look at me and see that I was the real winner. Their husbands would see me too: slimmer, more tanned, less naggy, less saggy than their wives, and they’d shoot me flirtatious smiles.
In reality it doesn’t work like that. Sun Safe is so concerned with safety in the sun that it provides a sensible sexless uniform to emphasise just how serious it is about sun protection. Knee length khaki shorts as if I’m about to go on safari. A bright orange Sun Safe T-shirt to to match the product packaging. And to top it off, a bright orange baseball cap. The British wives do not look at me and think I’m winning. Their husbands don’t look at me at all. They save their flirtatious smiles for the waitresses and the aquagym instructors.
At first when you tell your nearest and dearest that you’re off for a life in the sun, they promise to visit all the time. Then when they realise you don’t live in a beautiful villa and you haven’t even got a spare room, let alone a swimming pool, they hastily make other plans. My best friends these days are a group of disillusioned ex-pat divorcees who drink even more than I do. My supervisor lives in Manchester and my nearest colleague is across the sea in Fuerteventura. Neither of them come over for a staff Christmas party.
I don’t think I could go back to Rochdale now. Emotions aside, after a decade in the sun, my immune system would cave at the first sniffle of the winter flu. Cold, dark, rainy nights, warm jumpers, roaring log fires, they belong to a someone I used to be. Someone not that different from the British wives who gather round the pools where I perform. I thought they’d be jealous of me, of my never-ending holiday in the sun, but in reality I think they’re the lucky ones.
I’ll stay here, I expect. Trundling in and out of the hotels, following the script, being ignored. There’s been something missing for such a long time, I don’t know what it is anymore.
But at least I’ll never get sunburnt.
SMALL PRINT DISCLAIMER: Most of my stories are true, but this one is a work of fiction. It is not based on any sun cream sales reps, living or dead, that I have or haven’t met whilst reading Richard and Judy book club titles round any pool in any hot country.