Here We Go Again

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Good morning, lovely reader!  How are you today?  Love the bag, by the way.  Where did you get it from?

Tomorrow my flat mate Ash and I will be returning to Elstree to film our second episode of Pointless.  (For those of you who don’t watch the show, everyone records two shows because you get two chances to go through to the final.  Very generous of the producers, no?)  I am very excited about this, but also very nervous.  You’d think that having done it once before I would be able to swan into the green room and make myself right at home, chat chummily with the make-up lady, wave coquettishly at Alexander Armstrong and generally ooze confidence, charm and wit.  (Sounds exactly like something I’d do, doesn’t it?)

In reality, I will probably fall gracelessly into the studio, make no verbal sense until Ash has force fed me at least three of the complimentary green room coffees, have a sulk because I have’t done enough revision and generally panic about sounding like a moron in front of Alexander Armstrong, whom I absolutely adore.

The last time we went to Elstree Ash and I had a blast: the people were all really nice, the food was good and the experience as a whole was very interesting.  However, because we know what to expect I am hoping that Ash and I will both feel more confident the second time around.  This time I hope that I remember to tell Alexander Armstrong how much my brother and I enjoy his and Ben Miller’s RAF pilot sketches, and that I manage to do so without coming across as slightly weird.

Revision?  Yeah, I should probably do some of that…but I have The Armstrong and Miller Show boxset, so you know… priorities.

Have a glorious Wednesday!  May your professional interactions be productive and courteous.

Looming/Loving Deadlines

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Good morning, dear reader!  If you are struggling with the whole “oh God where did that entire weekend just go?” feeling, remember that you are at the start of a mere four-day week.  You can absolutely handle that.  I have utter faith in you.

Like most people, I have a very love-hate relationship with deadlines.  On the one hand, it’s nice to be given a sense of structure that will lead me to plan my time effectively, and discipline myself accordingly to ensure that my work is finished in time.  On the other hand, deadlines also bring out the adolescent, “you can’t tell me what to do!  I hate you!!”, stomping-off-to-my-room-and-slamming-the-door side of me.  We may not like to admit it, but I think that that’s the case for a lot of us.

When we are teeny tiny, the deadlines are our parents’ to worry about: “shouldn’t he be walking by now?”  “Was your daughter talking at this age?”  “How long has he been stuck in that dustbin?”  And so on.  As we get older we take some responsibility for ourselves, most notably for the interminable GCSE coursework deadlines.  (I’ve just remembered: I never handed in my Physics coursework.  I just didn’t do it, on the grounds that I freaking hated Physics.  How did that work?  Why do I have a GCSE in a subject I didn’t do the coursework for?  Worrying.)

By the time we reach the grown-up world of work, university and real life, we have supposedly learned to work to any deadline that gets thrown at us.  Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of uni students everywhere to say that module conveners really, really need to communicate better: having all of our essay deadlines within two days of each other is just not cool (although the managing directors of Red Bull and Nescafe must be very pleased with this state of affairs).

By now we have also reached the stage where we give ourselves deadlines in our personal lives: I want to be married by this age, I want to have been travelling by this time, and I want to have saved x amount of money before y happens.  This is all very well and good, since it shows that we have learned that structure can be good for us and we have taught ourselves a sense of purpose and direction, but it’s also pretty scary.

Last night my friend Harry and I were having dinner in a Wetherspoons (obviously) and I made a sweeping declaration, ala Marshall Eriksen in How I Met Your Mother.  

Me: I swear by THIS pepper pot…
Harry: Why the pepper pot?
Me: I dunno.  Anyway, I swear by this pepper pot that if x has not happened by the time y occurs, I will no longer do z!
Harry: Good.  Put the pepper pot down.

What Harry knows (and the poor pepper pot probably knows now, too) is that personal deadlines are all very well and good, but that we have to use them to grow and develop, not to limit ourselves.  If we want to go travelling, we need to set ourselves a deadline for the trip that reflects the reality of our financial situation, visas and so on, not a deadline that will make us feel like a failure in twelve months’ time.

If we don’t manage to meet our personal deadlines, it doesn’t make us failures.  It just means giving ourselves a bit more slack next time.  The countries you want to visit and the things you want to save up for will still be there when you’re ready.

Have the kind of Tuesday that is worthy of folklore.

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Good afternoon, you lovely thing.  Sorry this post wasn’t written earlier; it’s been a bit of an odd day.

One of the biggest side effects of my mental health condition is feeling disconnected from reality.  I could be sitting in the middle of a pub with a large group of friends, talking, laughing and (not naming any names) burping, and still feel as though I am sitting in a bubble that prevents me from engaging with my surroundings.  This is, as I’m sure you can appreciate, a horrendously irritating state of affairs.

That’s not to say that I am alone in feeling this way.  Whether or not you suffer from a mental health disorder, we all have times when we feel cut off from the best and most fun things in our lives.  This might be because of stress, tiredness or even just having a short attention span, but the biggest challenge that all of us face at times like these is not to accept the disrupted connection.  We have to renew our efforts and keep trying to break through the bubble.  There are people on the other side of it who want to connect with us.

When I am feeling (for want of a more technical word) “bubbled”, it is as though I am sitting in the bottom of a pit and the people I love are standing around the edge of it, leaning down to me waving various potential remedies.  Sometimes it’s my lovely house mate Ash, who will be holding diet coke and offering me a hug; at other times it’s my uni lads, who usually come bearing cider and silly voices.  A lot of the time it’s my theatre company team Harry and Jules, who wave production meeting notes and coffee at me in an attempt to lure me out of the pit.  As you can see, beverages are a big factor in my recovery from feeling “bubbled”, but I’m not sure why…

There is a line that connects you individually to all of the people who love you, and that connection doesn’t go away, even when you feel completely isolated from them.  They hold onto the line very tightly when they need you, and they want you to hold on just as tightly when you’ve fallen into your pit.  If you have the courage and the humility to say “help me” when you’re totally lost, they will combine their efforts to support you and get you the heck out of the pit.  They don’t want you to be stuck in there, because when it’s their turn to fall down in one, they’ll need you.  Also (in my case at least) it’s just not practical for you to live in a hole in the ground.  How can anyone run a theatre company from down there?

Sorry about the mixed metaphors and similes; whatever you’re up to today, I hope that you feel neither bubbled nor pitted.  If you are, then let your loved ones haul you out.  They are quite right to want you around.

Happy Egg and Controversial Rabbit Day!

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Hello and a very Happy Easter to you!

When I was a child my parents were extremely strict about observing the Catholic faith.  Nowadays my siblings and I don’t so much observe it as comment absent-mindedly when we catch a glimpse of it, but it hasn’t always been that way.

I am grateful for the thorough religious education my parents gave me, although I must confess that I absolutely hated it at the time, and that a lot of it made no sense to me.  With the exception of a few small things, I think I’ve grown out of my aversion to and confusion over Christianity.

What are these few small things?  Oh, nothing, just, you know…Easter.  I’m sorry, I know lots of people love it, and I don’t hate it or anything; I just don’t understand it.  We have a rabbit delivering eggs – not even real eggs, but eggs made of some fancy Aztec concoction called “chocolate” – to small children.  Let me try to disentangle this ridiculous chain of tradition:

  • Sometime between 33 and 39 AD: Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Jewish festival Passover when Jesus decides to turn the whole shindig into the Last Supper.  He is crucified, resurrected three days later and has fun for a while reappearing and scaring the crap out of his mournful disciples.  At the same sort of time Pliny, Plutarch and that whole ancient intellectuals gang are going around thinking that hares are hermaphrodites, and can therefore have babies without losing their virginity.
  • Sometime between 100 and 200 AD: Earliest Christians are recorded as celebrating Easter the same way as Jewish holidays are celebrated, i.e. based on a lunisolar calendar.  This makes sense, since a lot of early Christians were converts from Judaism.  Oh, also, Mesopotamians start staining chicken eggs red to symbolise the blood shed by Jesus at the Crucifixion.
  • 325 AD: First Council of Nicaea (i.e. a party of head honcho-type bishops) decide that Easter will always fall on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox.  Good for them.
  • Sometime between 500 and 1500 AD: Plutarch and his gang’s belief that hares could reproduce without loss of virginity has led to hares being associated with the Virgin Mary, and so images of hares sometimes show up in illuminated manuscripts.  There is also an argument that hares and rabbits are a symbol of fertility pre-dating Christian times, which is why they get a look in on this festival, but I prefer the idea of Plutarch and that lot having their crazy theories accidentally adopted into lore.
  • 1610 AD: Pope Paul V officially adopts the Mesopotamians’ egg-staining thing, making eggs a Christian symbol of the resurrection.  Didn’t he have better (or less weird) things to do in his papal capacity?!
  • Sometime during the 18th century: German immigrants in Dutch Pennsylvania tell their American hosts about the “Osterhase”, a hare which brings those traditional (by now) coloured eggs to good children at Easter.  Some regions of Germany also had an Easter Fox (“Osterfuchs”) for the same job.  The Americans pick it up and run with it.
  • Modern day: Despite the traditional coloured eggs being perfectly edible, we live in a world where things made of chocolate are infinitely superior to all others.  Hence: Easter stuff is made of chocolate.

I hope that you enjoyed your crash course in Easter history, and that you have a brilliant time eating your Osterhase (or Osterfuchs) goodies.

Jack Sparrow Knows His Stuff

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Good morning, you fabulous creature!  How’s your bank holiday weekend treating you so far?

Today I’d like to talk to you about something that I think worries all of us: timing.  It’s the secret of good comedy, good cooking and a happy social life, and sometimes it completely eludes us.

It might surprise you to learn that I very much enjoy the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, even though Keira Knightley features quite heavily in it.  (My only explanation for this anomaly is that she spends most of the film being slapped by pirates or made to walk the plank, so maybe that’s why I’m ok with it.)  Anyway, despite being pretty infuriating, Jack Sparrow is an incredibly compelling character – which is probably helped by the fact that he’s portrayed by the wonderful Johnny Depp – who came out with a line that I think we could all learn from: “Wait for the opportune moment.”

I think that a lot of us live in fear of timing things badly.  We hate to miss out on anything, and the idea of a lost opportunity is horrifying.  In many cases we are just plain impatient.  Friends as young as twenty-two talk to me about not wanting to have regrets on their death bed, which is understandable (if a little morbid at their age).  That’s why we sometimes stay out longer than we mean to, or go to that party that we know we won’t enjoy.  It’s why we apply for all kinds of jobs, regardless of whether they’re the right ones, and why we travel all over the world.  We want to know everything, see everything and miss out on nothing.  That’s a lot to ask of ourselves.

Of course we should take opportunities, but I think that we should take them out of joy and optimism rather than fear of regret.  Grabbing everything that comes your way can be incredibly rewarding, but it might not leave you much time to stop and appreciate where you are.

We don’t have to do everything right now.  We don’t have to achieve all of our life goals right this second, and we don’t need to have done everything we ever wanted to do by the end of the week.  Watch this – Bill Bailey knows what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely think that you should pursue your passion, go to the places you’re curious about and live life to the full, but don’t worry so much.  What’s the point of rushing around taking all of life’s chances if you’re not stopping to enjoy them?

Take it from someone who has a history of rushing into doing and saying things at the wrong moment: you’ve got time.  Wait for the opportune moment.  If you think you’ve missed one, don’t panic.  There will be another one along very soon.

Have a brilliant Saturday!  Maybe treat yourself to the posh coffee today.  Why not?  You deserve it.

The Best People in Your World

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Good morning to you dear reader, and congratulations on reaching your four-day weekend!  I hope that you have some lovely plans to keep you occupied during this unusually long rest period.

Being the soppy little so-and-so that I am, I sometimes get a bit sniffly just thinking about my friends and loved ones.  They are incredible people, and I seriously lucked out by meeting each and every one of them.  I hope that the people in your life are just as amazing (and that you are capable of thinking about them without getting all girly and emotional).  Today I’d like to identify some of the best people in all of our lives, because if I’m getting emotional then I’m taking you lot down with me:

  • The person you want to lie in bed and watch stupid films with
    It usually (although not always) takes a very specific amount of love, intimacy and trust to share a bed with someone, but especially on days when you are hungover, ill or just refusing to navigate the confusing world outside your duvet.  Lying in bed with someone watching a film is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and we should feel very glad to have suitable candidates for that activity in our lives (and beds).  This is particularly true of people who will not only allow but often suggest that the film is childish/terrible/ridiculous – for example, Ash and I have been known to cosy up and watch obscure Disney films on our duvet days.  We are also very partial to a musical film version of Cinderella called The Slipper and the Rose, which I heartily recommend to you the next time you’re in the mood for something silly.
  • The person who can make you laugh on your worst day
    I am slightly paraphrasing the Friends theme tune here, but it’s true.  Someone who can make you laugh – not just any laugh, but your real, embarrassing, uncontrollable laugh that only appears when something is incredibly funny - is a treasure.  If a person can take you out of your stress, sadness or generic turmoil, even just for a moment, you need to keep hold of them.
  • The person who remembers tiny things about you
    It’s probably because my own memory is so flipping appalling, but I am always touched when someone remembers a small fact or silly story about me that I wouldn’t have considered massively important.  There are certain things about ourselves that we hope our loved ones remember (allergies being a pretty important one, for example), but what makes up a person is a combination of the tiny things as well as the big ones.  If someone has taken the trouble to remember something seemingly inconsequential about you, it shows that they know and love the whole you, not just the obvious attributes.
  • The person who unknowingly makes your day
    We’ve all had the experience of walking past someone and overhearing a snippet of their conversation, or seeing someone being kind to another stranger in public.  People who don’t know you and will probably never talk to you have the capacity to make your day, and I am grateful to all of those individuals who have unknowingly made me smile.  My biggest thanks must go to the business man – complete with suit and briefcase – who did the Gangnam Style dance all the way down a platform at Marylebone station once.  Whoever you are, I salute you.
  • The person with their head screwed on
    I am not the most practical of people, and I tend to panic in the face of things like technical rehearsals, tax returns and pedestrian crossings.  For these moments (and many more) I invariably turn to Harry, the Operations Manager of my theatre company, excellent friend and all-round voice of reason.  If you are like me, I hope that you have someone just as sensible to calm you down in times of stress.  If you are like Harry, I hope you enjoy being the sensible one with the practical solutions.  To the rest of us, it looks like a super power.
  • The person who wakes you up with a ridiculous text
    There is nothing like starting your day well, and the tiniest things can make a difference: you could put on your favourite outfit, see something funny on the news or eat a delicious breakfast.  But what you really need is the kind of friend who will send you a ridiculous message like “What’s the plural of mongoose?!” before 8am.  That kind of message amuses you, intrigues you, and then it gets you straight out of bed to Google “mongoose”.  It’s mongooses, by the way.  Sounds like it should be mongeese, doesn’t it?  Anyway, the point is that ridiculous questions first thing in the morning are only ok between true and loyal friends, so make sure you appreciate those people.  You never know when niggling curiosity is going to strike you down.
  • The person who reminds you why you love what you do
    I really hope that you enjoy what you do.  I really hope that you like going to work at least most of the time, and that you have a passion to pursue.  More than that, I hope that you have people in your life who remind you that what you are doing is good, and that what you are aiming for is attainable.  I recently met a lovely lady called Angela at a directing thing in Stratford, and in the short time I’ve known her she has wowed me with her enthusiasm, passion for theatre and her generous support for what I’m trying to do with my life.  She hasn’t known me for long enough to “owe” me her encouragement, but she gives it to me anyway.  We all need someone like that.
  • The person who gives you butterflies
    Yes, alright – I know I’ve said that my friends and I don’t like fancying people, and that feelings in general tend to make us feel out of control, but I think that we all need to feel that way from time to time.  If you’ve met someone who makes you feel giddy and nervous that’s a bit scary, but it’s also exciting.   Where would we all be without butterflies?  Exactly.  We’d be caterpillars.

Have a magical Friday.

Fight or Flight (or Flail)

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Hello, lovely reader!  How are you?  Yeah, I think I’m coming down with something too.  Do you want some Lemsip?

Last night was the Empty Photo Theatre performance Date Night, and I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to everyone who came, was in it or has listened to me wittering about it recently.  Also, thank you to everyone who has contacted me to say nice things about it.  You are far too kind.

For absolutely no good reason, today I am thinking about our instinctive responses to stressful situations.  In physical terms, the fight or flight response is pretty fascinating: did you know, for example, that under stress our digestion and immune systems shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions?  Me neither.  I’m so glad that we’ve evolved to be able to deal with a sabre-toothed tiger.  Our bodies are weird and wonderful.

Our brains are weird and wonderful too, but in a different way: our emotional instincts tend to mirror our physical ones, and when an emotionally or just cognitively stressful situation occurs, we tend to either confront it or flee screaming in terror (metaphorically, of course.  In reality we tend to smile politely and change the topic of conversation).   Most people would respond very differently depending on different situations: for example, the person who would calmly walk away from a bicker with their friend might pull a machete on their partner in the event of infidelity.

Having said that, there are some people who tend to respond pretty much the same way to most things, and we know about this because we have terms for them.  For instance, the people who would usually favour a flight response to emotional problems are referred to as “emotionally unavailable”.  (I love that phrase.  It makes it sound like we’re doing a nativity play, and the emotionally unavailable people are the innkeepers shouting “NO ROOM AT THE INN, I DON’T LIKE TO FEEL THINGS!” before slamming the door on an awkward conversation.)  Bizarrely, people who would rather fight in response to emotional issues tend to be drawn to those who would not, and the consequences are usually frustrating and confusing.  I know lots of outspoken, heart-on-sleeve kind of people (myself included) who are attracted to fairly stiff-upper-lip types, and that has yet to end well for any of us.

Weirdly, I think that that’s probably for the best.  People who would run away from confrontation need the argumentative types, and people who are easily upset need to spend time with those who are slightly less fragile.  No one has yet worked out a sure fire method of dealing with emotional stress, so we need to try to learn from each other.  If we balance out fight and flight we usually end up with a flail, and although that doesn’t sound very effective, at least you won’t be doing it alone.

Have a supreme Thursday.

Life Is Not A Rehearsal (Except Today)

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Hello!  Welcome to what I hope will be the best Wednesday of your life so far.

This evening my theatre company is putting on a show called Date Night (don’t worry, this isn’t a marketing ploy), and so today will mostly be spent rehearsing, folding programmes and having a fight with the sound effects.  The reason that I bring the event up (apart from the fact that I’m excited about it) is that I think I’ve finally realised what I love so much about theatre.

I am, as you may possibly perhaps potentially have noticed from previous posts, not so good at relinquishing control.  Having said that, like most people I also hugely enjoy the spontaneous, unpredictable and wonderful moments that life throws at us from time to time.  (Case in point: you might be in a confusing on/off relationship, get sick of it, go travelling to focus on yourself for a while and then receive a life-changing declaration of undying love from said on/off person.  True story, although sadly not mine.)  Being a theatre director gives me the best of both worlds: I can dictate the terms of the performance, but I have absolutely no control over what happens on the night.  The actors can do what they like on stage, and I will not be able to stop them – not that I’d want to, of course.  They’re flipping brilliant at what they do.

I think that it’s incredibly important to find activities that bring out and reconcile the most juxtaposing aspects of our personalities.  I am incredibly lucky to have found a way to make something positive out of the fact that I simply MUST be in control at all times, AND want to be pleasantly surprised by life.  Not asking much, am I?  But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all hold opposing views simultaneously, and we are all trying to find ways to work them out all of the time.  There are pessimistic romance-cynics who really want to be swept off their feet, and frantically career-minded professionals who would love to be stay at home parents one day.  Everyone is capable of having these contradictions in their minds, and I know that it can be frustrating, but I think that we can all find ways to make those bizarre contrasts work for us.  Besides, life is too short to get ourselves in a tangle about having contradictory views.  Life is really not a rehearsal (except mine today, which literally is).

To summarise, you are allowed to feel more than one way about life, love and controversial issues.  You are all the more interesting for being able to see more than one side of an argument, and that’s saying something, because you are pretty blimming fascinating already.

I hope your commute today is the swiftest and least stressful it’s ever been.

Drama Queens and Darned Clichés

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Hello, marvellous reader!  How goes the world with you today?

As you might expect from my theatrical background, my social circle is filled with wonderful people who are passionate, intelligent and hilarious.  They are also a bunch of drama queens.  (This applies to me as well, obviously, and it’s no bad thing.)  At the end of 2013 my closest friends and I decided that this 2014 in the Year of Our Lord would also be the Year of Our Lives, and that we would make the most of every opportunity that came our way.  There would be fewer hangovers, better hair days and generally a lot less drama.

Shockingly, this has not turned out to be the case.  So far 2014 has seen some pretty massive upheavals in a lot of my friends’ lives, and although many of them are wonderful changes some of them are pretty rubbish.  Four months have flown by in a whirlwind of “what the hell just happened?”s, and at this point I think most of us would settle for a quiet sit down with a cup of tea and a good book.

It is tempting at times like this to turn to clichés: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, the only way is up (which obviously puts this song in your head for the rest of the day) and a watched egg never scrambles.  Or something.  While there is a lot of truth in these and many more well-known sayings, they can be very irritating.

I prefer to be realistic (not something that many people associate with my way of thinking, but never mind): you really genuinely never know what life is going to do, and when things are tough you can be sure that they will not stay that way forever.  This too shall pass, as the old lady said when her bus approached at an alarming speed.  The dramas and difficulties that abound among friendship groups are not the end of the world, and although I’m the last person to enjoy remembering sad times, it is comforting to know that you and your friends have come through arguments, worries and social crises many times before.  It’s not necessarily super fun to look back on them, but they show you that you will get through these ones as well.  No matter what is going on, there is always more love between you and your friends than there is drama.  I think that might be the weirdest and most saccharine thing I’ve ever said.  I need to watch some Frankie Boyle stand up or something…

Have a beautiful Tuesday.

Stuff That Should Be a Thing

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Good morning dear reader!  How was your weekend?  Well, don’t be sad because it’s over, be glad because it happened. (Nothing like a trite piece of advice to kick off your Monday, is there?)

As you can probably tell from this blog’s ridiculous title, today I am in one of my “if I ruled the world” moods, and I have come up with a few small ways to improve our day-to-day lives.  Here is a list of stuff that should be a thing in modern society:

  • Flowers should not wilt.  (I realise that this is a biological issue rather than a social one, by the way, but I still think it sucks.)  It’s just so depressing to be given a beautiful bouquet of colour and fragrance that you know will gradually fade into brown, dead stalks.  What else can so clearly demonstrate society’s bleak view of the transient nature of romantic relationships?  “Here is something pretty to show how much I like you…for now.”  Far too ominous an undertone for my liking, frankly.  Stick to jewellery.
  • Upon entry to the UK, tourists should be given a brief but firm tutorial on how to use public transport in this country, because those “stand on the right” signs are clearly not having any effect.  I’ll do it myself if that’s what it takes.  Bring me a whiteboard and some fancy pens; I’ll be all over it.  There’ll be proper diagrams and everything, you just watch.
  • The tax system ought to work like karma does., i.e. higher taxes for bigger asshats.  I have no idea how practical or easy to monitor that would be, but I like the sound of it.  Domestic abusers, murderers and Nigel Farage should definitely be paying more tax than I do.  (Not you, obviously.  You’re lovely.)
  • The elderly should be allocated sections of cities (not so that we can get rid of them or anything – hear me out).  We have Chinatowns, Sohos and Little Italys, which is great, but why are we limiting ourselves to geographical divisions?  Elderly people sometimes feel out of touch with the modern world, (as do I, to be perfectly honest) and they should have their own place where stuff is exactly how they remember it from their youths: the same clothing shops, the same food places and the same movies showing in cinemas.  Let them have somewhere to go where they can be nostalgic (and get away from the tourists who stand on the left).
  • Speaking of nostalgia, I really, really wish that it was still the convention for people to wear hats all of the time.  I don’t even suit hats, but I think it would be awesome to bring that back.
  • No more ice-cream van music.  Those eerie tunes are the least child-friendly thing I’ve ever heard.

I hope you have the kind of Monday that makes you feel like this.