One of the perks of my job is to bring in custom. I have no choice, therefore, but to subject myself to inhabitants of Doncaster Town Centre a few times a week. This dangerous activity basically involves approaching strangers and asking them if they want a photo-shoot for their children. I mostly approach people with prams or young children. The first scary part, is the fact that most of these people are younger than me. The second, is that they look at me like they want to kill me, and when they talk, this follows through, and they sound like they're going to kill me.
The thing about Doncaster, and there is no other way to put it than to put it bluntly, it's filled with certain types of people. Imagine if you will, a glorious summer's day. A fresh breeze with a smell that captures life itself. A clear blue sky, with whispy clouds that you could lose yourself in. Now, looming over you, a sausage roll, held by someone in a tracksuit, shouting on their mobile phone, fag in the other hand, and one very angry expression. A few might be looking at the newspaper wrapped around their fish and chips wondering what the hell it is.
More than anything, it's the mindset. I know I'm being disgustingly general, but I'm talking about many of those who walk the pavements on Doncaster town centre. And I'm not biased, last year Doncaster rose to the very top of the teenage pregnancy list.
I have observed that, whilst there are many self-respecting people that live in Doncaster, there are also many who see it as a town for life. It's a little like a vacuum, once you're born there (to a teenage mum), you stay.
I've noticed this with people I try to approach in my job, and those around me every day. There's a lack of questioning. Certainly not by the police, but questioning oneself. It is only an assumption, of course, but it seems that there's a lack of thinking outside the box, wondering what's beyond the life in front of them, and a shortage of daring to be different.
All throughout school, I was made to think I was weird. One moment that sticks out in my memory was in Year 5, when a classmate who bullied me, called me a psychopath. "What did you just call Jess?!" asked a nearby teacher. "I called her a psychopath, Sir", replied snotty Mc Spotty nose. "Ohhhh," said the teacher, "I thought you called her a cycle path!", smiled, and skipped off.
For a good two years at university, my eccentricities were accepted. Now I've had to resign once again to the land of the Jeremy Kyle guests, I find myself inherently back to being the elephant in the room.
Many of those who I encounter on a day-to-day basis may as well be a different species. I retain most of my thoughts before they're converted into words, anything slightly sarcastic or abnormal. I wistfully nod and smile in the hope that someday my secret self will explode all over the place like brain vomit, just for something to talk about.
Having to tone down and pretend I'm completely normal and 'Doncaster-like' is quite frustrating. I have to bite my tongue whenever my brain wants my mouth to say anything that would indicate that I'm not one of them. Yes, I know what you're thinking, I am a bit like Spiderman. (My love of whom I've also learnt to keep on the down-low).
This has led me to wonder, is it productive to be out of your comfort zone? If you feel pushed out, excluded, and unable to be yourself, will this lead to your self esteem crumbling, or thrust you onto bigger and better things? Will burying my true self lead to me forgetting who I am and damage my self-esteem? I hope to remember that I was once, if only for a short period, proud to be a little bit weird. And I'm determined not to let a place ruin my spirit.
I don't think it'll take too many more people to shout their sausage roll at me to catapult me somewhere where it's okay to be Spiderman.
If anyone from Doncaster takes offence by this, know that my writing is probably not aimed at you. Even if it is, please still take a leaflet from me in town.
Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character - James Russel Lowell