A Rose by Any Other…..

As a teenager I spent an inordinate amount of time practicing my signature on the cover of my rough book. Jen Barnett/jj barnett/Jennifer Joy/Jeni with a circle over the ‘i’, Jenufa and Kim. I had a mind to be called Kim Kent but my mother told me it sounded like a swear word so I abandoned it. The autograph I was looking for was in preparation for becoming a superstar, until I found out that graphologists deem circles over the 9th letter of the alphabet to be narcissistic, egotistical and self obsessed. So I removed the big circle and created a signature that was eligible and simple. Had I changed, thus enabling me to write an ‘I’ discreetly or had writing the ‘I’ discreetly changed me? I did use the monica Jennifer Joy for some time, standing on stage wearing an indecent dress bought from a drag artist. I sung songs and played the piano accompanying actors who had no shame. That dress, along with a van full of props, was set aflame by a gang of tasteless thugs, in a side road in Lewisham, goodbye Jennifer joy. Now my signature looks like it belongs to an overblown romantic novelist who wears voluminous tent dresses and paints her lustrous pink lipstick just a little too much over her hairy top lip.
Our handwriting changes, I’m told, as we grow older. It reflects the new you, which I’m also told changes every seven years. My inner me, reflected in my lazy ‘y’s and jaunty ‘j’s, is now somewhat relaxed if not a little bawdy. Handwriting that slopes backwards, for instance, reveals folk who ‘hold back their emotions, bottle up their feelings, and react too little or too late unless provoked or pushed to the corner’. Those same graphologists say a backwards signature indicates somebody ‘who stifles their emotions and postpones their reactions, increasing the chances of being misinterpreted or misunderstood.’ I always thought backwards writing indicated somebody a bit dim. What with the onslaught of iPads, iPhones, iMacs and idon’tknowwhatelse, the art of calligraphy may be slipping through our fingers. Although, today’s young children are introduced to writing by looping ‘entries’ and ‘exits’ to words, making the name ‘Millie’, for instance, look like an illustration from a parchment map of the ocean – waves and waves of loopy letters.
My father couldn’t tell the difference between upper and lower case, so a birthday card from him looked like the ramblings of a serial killer from Belmarsh. The scribbling of a doctor reveals their inability to communicate, keeping our data from us by scratching information on a form that looks like a bewildered spider on ketamine. Big arty writing, warm and inviting, is favoured by the children’s book set, or head teachers who stand by their infants and spend their vacations touring around Verona looking for Shakespearian clues.
I write mostly on this little laptop, I can’t write as quickly as I think just using my hand, although I am told by therapists that holding a pen and writing from your heart is quite different from tapping away on a computer keyboard. Words, phrases and sentiments spill out differently when handwritten – working on a laptop is more objective, detached even. All my journals are written with a fountain pen which I keep in the drawer of my bedside table. That table is covered in ink blots from emerald green to right royal blue and even splatters of red like the blood of a crushed cochineal. Two duvets that are stained with ‘Quink’ is a reminder that writing in bed is like eating toast under the covers – you have to be vigilant and skilled at not fucking up the bottom sheet with crumbs or stains. In that drawer I have fountain pens that have been gifted over the years. My gay son-in-law and his husband bought me a delicious red Parker for my 60th. Two Lamy pens and their cartridges sit next to a fountain pen of uncommon beauty that came from I know not whom.
At school I was bullied by a very tall girl from the Quick family. She kicked me, called me a nasty Jew and left me poleaxed on the playground, gravel bruised and bemused. When I told my mother she told me to tell her that Jesus was Jewish. During the next bout I did indeed shout out that Jesus was a Jew and that he wouldn’t approve of her big feet stamping on me. She stopped poking at me with her size 14 plimsoll and helped me up. We linked Pax fingers, pledged to, “make up, make up, never never break up” and, just to prove all hostilities had ceased we decided to swap pens. She got a cheap purple and pink plastic jobby from Woolworths and I got her Conway Stewart, I still use it. Karma eh?
But my name has caused issues througout my professional life. Jenn with a ‘y’. Jenn with an ‘ie’, or just Jen with an ‘I’. We had a friend who told a correspondent that his surname Hirst was with an ‘i’ (not a ‘u’), from then on he received letters to Chris Withaneye.
I’ve been Jennifer with one ‘n’ and more recently Jennifer with 2 ‘F’s. Mostly I couldn’t give two F’s what I’m called but a review in The South London Press, back in the day, called me Jerry Barrett . The whole review actually read- ‘Pass me my smelling salts I think I’m having one of my turns.’ Thank God Jerry Barrett caused the kniption and not me.
At the doctor’s surgery I am known as Jennifer Joy Barnett Bywater, on my driving licence I’m JJBarnett, but for speed and efficiency I’m simply Jb.
When I made a film with Robert Wagner, which went straight to CD I may add, I was on the front credits – an honour that my agent fought long and hard for. I’ve been on the end credits of hundreds of shows, but as time and tide wait no fucker my glory days had to come to an end.
A witchy analyst I had a session with looked me in the eye and said,
“Didn’t you know you were going to get old?”
“No,” I said indignantly. “Actors never get old they just fade away.”
“Didn’t you know that your work would come to an end and money would be tight?”
“No,” I said petulantly. “Actors never stop work if they can help it. Look at Dame Judy she’s nearly 90.”
“Didn’t you know the limelight would dwindle?”
“No,” I said belligerently. “If Mick Jagger can act like a dick at his age I can act like a dick at mine.”
She concluded,
“Well you are old, poor and unknown – deal with it.”
And I did/have. Recently I was stopped in the supermarche and asked ‘Weren’t you Jeni Barnett?’ A status devoted to has-beens and never was-es.
This morning I appeared on GMB – talking bollox. When the anchor Ardil Ray thanked me for my contribution he said, “Goodbye,” not to Jerry Barrett, not to Jeni Barnett, not even to Mrs. Bywater. At 9.50 this morning Mr.Ray bid a fond farewell to Jenny Bennett and that’s when I knew my broadcasting days were well and truly over.

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