We Can’t All Be Ron Burgundy

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Good morning, and a very merry Monday to you!

Yet again, I find myself needing to apologise to you, you lovely and patient reader, for not having written anything for a while.  Truth be told, preparation for the Fringe is taking up an insane amount of time, and I’m afraid the whole blogging thing slipped through my incredibly disorganised net.  Today’s blog will be an extra 10% funny and uplifting, just for you.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from working in theatre is that everyone responds to emotional situations differently.  What makes one person cry will make another angry, and what makes one person laugh out loud will at best raise a small smile from someone else.  The bizarre thing is how drastically our emotional responses vary from those of our nearest and dearest.  Certain things that would put you into the Anchorman “glass case of emotion” might only dip your best friend’s toe into the goldfish bowl of vague discomfort.

This can be a very good thing and a fairly weird one.  It’s excellent to surround ourselves with people who can give us fresh perspectives, but sometimes it makes us feel less rational when our friends disagree with our responses.  When it comes to emotional reactions we are particularly vulnerable, because our feelings tend to be relatively instinctive rather than especially thought through.

This is something that has come up quite a lot during rehearsals for Chris is Dead, partly because the content is quite emotionally charged, but also because the people involved are all very different.  Despite his constant cries of “where are all the men?!”, our only male cast member is actually very sensitive to the most upsetting aspects of the story.  (In case you hadn’t guessed, the title of the show pretty much explains what it’s about.  You knew that already, right?)  One of the girls tends to be very good at distancing herself from her character’s grief, and the third is stoically open-minded about how different aspects of the story will affect her at different points of the rehearsal process.

The best and most rewarding aspect of working with these cracking people is the fact that they really respect each other’s views.  It’s hard enough working on a show about death without the cast disagreeing on their feelings about it, so I feel very lucky to be directing three such empathetic and lovely actors.

Although my head is very much stuck in a my-life-has-been-taken-over-by-rehearsals-what-on-earth-is-this-“sleep”-thing-you-speak-of-? sort of place, I can appreciate that the cast’s communal attitude is something that should be more prevalent in the real world.  It might be baffling or annoying to find that we are not on the same wavelength as others around us, but we should have confidence in the validity of our feelings.  We should also make the effort to try and understand where other people are coming from.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Monday.

Qualified for Life

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Hello, you marvellous creature.  How’s the world been treating you this week?

One of the consequences of working on a play like Chris is Dead – “an awkwardly funny, shamelessly honest story about love, loss and splitting the phone bill”, if you’re interested- is that it reminds me and the cast of how unprepared we feel for life’s big events.

As we get older we are more and more likely to come across situations that require a lot from us, whether that’s mentally (“oh dear God, A Levels”), physically (“oh dear God, Freshers’ Week”) or emotionally (“oh dear God, the Friends finale”).  The bizarre thing is that, A Levels aside, we never feel that our qualifications actually qualify us to deal with what life throws at us, do we?

When I was doing a Paediatric First Aid course a couple months ago, I freely admit that I never expected to have to use much (if any) of the information.  When I ran into a genuine First Aid issue at work a couple of weeks later, I felt pretty sick.  I knew I had the know-how somewhere in my head, but what if I forgot something really important?  What if I got it wrong?

I did remember what to do, and the child was fine, but the point is that I felt shockingly under-prepared, even though I had technically been trained.  How much worse is it to have to deal with emergency situations that we can’t possibly be trained up for?

You can’t take a course in Guiding a Friend Through Their Spiritual Epiphany (Diploma) or do a GCSE in Moving House Without Getting Completely Destroyed by Stress (and Inexplicably Losing the Kettle).  There are no night schools for those of us who don’t know what to say to a bereaved loved one, and no one has yet thought to suggest a degree in the whys and wherefores of navigating a tricky divorce.  This seems impractical, unfair and, frankly, a perfectly decent enterprise concept gone to waste.

Everyone is afraid that they are under-qualified for life.  For example, my mum has five kids, a mortgage and her own food mixer, but she would be the first to admit that she doesn’t feel like a grown-up.  Even so, she has always managed to handle scary/difficult life situations brilliantly.  As long as we are doing our best, we’re probably handling the situation as well as anyone could expect or require of us.  In a way, life experience and ageing in general is our nebulous equivalent to gaining a foundation degree in Responding to Crises Without Completely Losing It & Actually Coming Out of the Whole Thing Pretty Well.

It might not be as reassuring as a bona fide certificate with signatures and foil seals and whatnot, but trusting yourself to be up to the challenge is a massive part of dealing with whatever the issue is.  Even if you’ve somehow lost a kettle.

Have a truly splendid Wednesday.

And They Lived Honestly Ever After

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Hello, dear reader.  How’s your day treating you so far?  Did you remember to return that phone call?

Today I’d like to talk about what makes a modern fairytale.  I used to refer to a friend of mine as having achieved the twenty-first century happy ending, because she went through something that a lot of us understand (but with unexpected results).  When we were in our first year of university she had a very casual, mostly physical relationship with a guy whom she ended up having strong feelings for.  When she told him that she wanted a proper relationship he freaked out and backed off, and they didn’t speak for several months.  One day he woke up, realised that he did want to be in a relationship with her (and had been behaving like a cowardly eejit), dashed over to her student flat and begged her to let down her long, flowing locks.  Or open the door or something; I can’t remember the details.

Let’s face facts: that story is a rare example of how a typically messy dating situation can be resolved atypically (that is, happily).  Why doesn’t that happen more often?  Well, gather round and I shall tell you: because we are too afraid to be honest.

What happened to my friend is quite simple: the guy spoke up as soon as he realised what he wanted.  We like getting what we want, don’t we?  That makes perfect sense.  And yet we fool ourselves into believing that our beloveds would keep quiet on the subject – why?  Why, if the person you adore consciously feels the same about you, haven’t they said so or done anything about it?  Where’s the logic there?  You are fabulous, and the right person for you will not risk letting you get away.

Let’s agree that when someone wants you, they will be honest enough to come and get you.  There’s your happily ever after; next, please.  The problem is the other side of the coin.  Not everyone has the courage to say how they feel when the truth is actually “I’m sorry, but I don’t love you.  Let’s be friends instead.”

That conversation can be hurtful, awkward and difficult.  I know that.  But the thing is that not having it demonstrates a lack of respect for the other person which is a thousand times worse than the fact that you don’t love them (which is, after all, not technically your fault – the heart wants what it wants).  Love is irritatingly uncontrollable, but respect is a human right.  If you don’t have the courage and courtesy to have that conversation you are a) holding up your own happy ending and b) holding up the other person’s.  That’s just rude.

Modern dating is a jumbled up mess of we’re-not-dating-we’re-just-seeing-how-things-go, seeing-each-other-sort-of-officially-but-not-quite, oh-I-thought-we-were-allowed-to-see-other-people, and (if you are my flatmate) skipping-through-a-meadow-holding-hands.  Things are unclear and confusing, so don’t make it worse for yourself and for others by dragging your heels unnecessarily.  No fairytale ends with “and she lived uncertainly ever after, waiting for his phone call and not dating anyone else just in case.”

Have the best Tuesday of the year so far.

“I’m Not Crying, It’s Just Been Raining On My Face”

Good morning, you stunning human being!  Did you have a good weekend?

Despite our best intentions and keenest hopes, we often find that life is more like an extreme sport than a walk in the park.  We can have a perfectly logical daily routine, an absolutely sensible diet and sleeping pattern, an eminently sensible wardrobe and a fairly rational outlook.  It doesn’t mean diddly: life is just going to do whatever the heck it feels like.

Inevitably, this leads to some great highs and some debilitating lows.  When the lows hit, sometimes we need to cry.  A lot of us dislike crying because it feels like a failure to cope (or even just an aesthetically displeasing transformation of our features), but it’s a necessary part of life.  Some of us cry more often than others, but it does happen to all of us, and that’s absolutely fine.  Here are a few ways to accept our inevitable face-leaks:

Separate the Symptoms
Sometimes we cry because of one specifically sad thing, but a lot of the time it’s because there are several contributory factors.  For example, I freely admit that when I’m overtired I tend to cry at the drop of a hat (or cafetière, most likely).  If you feel the need to have a bit of a sniffle, think about why that might be: did you drink a lot of alcohol last night?  Have you been sleeping properly?  When was the last time you ate something?  The purpose behind this is not to undermine your own feelings, but to recognise that the impulse to cry can be alleviated a bit by identifying and resolving the physical factors, which are often much easier to fix than emotional ones.

Forget Where You’re From
I don’t mean to stereotype, but I think one of the reasons that a lot of us struggle with crying is because we think it contradicts who we are: if we’re British, for example, we’re supposed to have a stiff upper lip.  Quite a few guys I know don’t like crying because they think it makes them seem unmanly, and several of my friends (male and female) think that by crying in front of people we are undermining years of establishing ourselves as “strong” or “good at coping”.  Sod that.  You’re a human being and you have tear glands.  Give yourself a break.

Choose Wisely
Crying can be embarrassing, impractical and downright irritating (especially if you don’t have any tissues to hand).  One thing that we can control is our audience.  If you’re the kind of person who needs to be by themselves to cry, so be it.  As long as you actually do make time to have a good wail, then go for your life.  But if you know that you’d be better off with a friend by your side, don’t feel bad about that.  It might not feel like your finest moment, but letting your friends look after you when you’re sad is actually a really lovely thing to do.  They don’t want you to be upset, obviously – but if you are going to be upset, it’s a privilege and a sign of how much you trust them when you let loved ones help you.

Join the Greats
Everyone you love, respect and admire has cried at some point.  Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Mother Teresa all cried.  Heck, even the amazing Liam Neeson has been known to shed a tear.  Don’t feel bad about being a crier – you’re in excellent company.

Find Something Funny
Even though it sounds unlikely, there are all sorts of ways to make yourself laugh when you want to cry.  For example, my siblings and I tend to pull out this classic Friends line:

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This song is also excellent for making someone giggle when they’re crying.  Making yourself (or someone you love) laugh whilst weeping is brilliant.  It may not solve the underlying problem, but it’s good to remind yourself that stuff is still funny.

Have a gorgeous Monday.

“Can You Drink the Water in Scotland?”

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Hello, dear reader!  Happy Friday!

Despite the lovely weather and the cheerful atmosphere, mid July has become the time of year that lots of people associate with stress.  In years gone by it was the worst point during the long wait for exam results, and not so very long ago it meant the end of another university year, and the inevitable drinking/farewells/moving house that followed.  These days, a lot of my friends find this time of year stressful, exciting and nerve-racking because we are about to pack our bags and trundle 400 miles up the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

There are some very specific things that southerners (Londoners in particular) feel and experience when they make the performance pilgrimage to the capital of Scotland.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Coffee Conundrum: the moment when you realise that it will be easier to meet a friend for coffee when you’re both at the Fringe than it would to try and organise something in London, even thought you live a twenty-minute tube ride apart.

Tourist Tantrum: resenting the tourists all over the Royal Mile, even though you’re just as much of a visitor as they are.  (Except a friend of mine who, before coming up to visit us while we were performing in 2012, genuinely asked us whether you could drink the water in Scotland.)

Regression Renegades: no matter how sensible you are or how long it’s been since your student days, the second you get to the Fringe you take advantage of the fact that every drinking establishment is open til 5am.

Fan Phenomenon: people go and see dozens of shows during the festival, but every so often you come across a show that turns you into an instant fan of the performers.  It’s amazing to find that you can get just as involved with and passionate about the work of non-famous (but fabulous) people as you do about the main players on London stages.

The Edinburgh Bar Principle: something I mentioned in this article I wrote for Everything Theatre – you never know who you’re going to meet at the festival, including very drunk, very interesting or very famous people.  You may even find yourself photo-bombing Rhod Gilbert and having him call you a maverick.

Whatever you’re up to this summer, I hope you have as much fun as physically possible.  Give me a shout if you’re planning on being at the Fringe.

Have an unbelievably brilliant weekend.

Sex and the (Hammersmith and) City

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Hello, you brilliant human being!  How are things?  I can see you’ve caught the sun.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Sex and the City as much as the next twenty-something girl.  It’s funny, sometimes touching, and a few of the characters are actually quite loveable.  It’s excellent put-your-feet-up, do-we-have-any-junk-food, sod-it-let’s-have-a-duvet-day television.  Best of all, watching it with your best friend gives you ample opportunity to complain about the insane behaviour of the characters, the implausibility of the plot lines and the animal cruelty issue of Sarah Jessica Parker being forced to act.

Maybe New York is exactly like Sex and the City, and we London girls are missing out on a whole metropolitan man-fest.  I doubt it, though.  Anyway, Sex and the City just wouldn’t work on our side of the pond.  Here’s why:

1) Is It Actually Raining Men?
As far as I can tell, New York is having some kind of eligible bachelor epidemic, because the four main characters meet men all the time.  I mean they can barely get out of the front door in the morning before a charming chap with a cheeky grin comes along.  That would never work here.  Londoners are usually slightly cross-looking and in a tearing hurry; we don’t have time to stop and smile winningly at random strangers.  Also, we’re British, for God’s sake – we don’t smile at strangers.

2) “And just like that…”
Probably as a result of number 1), the main characters go through the same emotional roller-coaster in pretty much every episode: meet man, flirt, date, sleep together, discover unconquerable flaw, have internal struggle, break up with man, feel immediately ready to go back out there.  I know some Londoners do date like that, but in general our cycle seems to be much more meet man, try to flirt but end up saying something silly/embarrassing, show great surprise and glee when he gets in contact, go on dates, discover a slightly concerning flaw, think about it, carry on dating until an actual problem comes up, break up, feel sad/angry/hungry, get back out there several weeks later feeling insecure because of getting hurt and having put on weight from all the ice-cream.  Not good television, perhaps, but it’s how we do things on this side of the pond.

3) We Don’t Talk Like That
I realise that as a smart, city-slick show about a fast-paced lifestyle, it makes sense to script sharp and sassy dialogue for the main characters.  Here is my problem: London girls are totally capable of being witty and hilarious, of course, but a) not ALL THE TIME – we all have off days when all we can manage is a “nhuh?” and b) not when our friends are telling us about their emotional problems.

4) No one Would be Friends with Carrie
Which leads me neatly on to my next point – why are the other three friends with Carrie?  She is so busy trying to be funny that she never listens to her friends, and as a heroine she leads a spectacularly bad example of whining, hair-tossing and flirting in the most cringe-worthy manner.  If she were a London girl her friends would have taken her aside a long time ago and told her to stop being such a diva.  And for God’s sake, stop putting your cigarettes between your teeth, you look ridiculous.

5) We’re a Bit Busy, Really…
One thing I really do appreciate about the concept of Sex and the City is that it spins a typical female insecurity on its head to make women laugh, i.e. it portrays women comparing men in bed rather than the other way around.  Having said that, the four main characters always manage to get the conversation back to sex, even when one of them is having a major life event, like a career crisis or getting married.  I mean, REALLY.  Talking about sex that much is just too time-consuming, too awkward and too un-British to work over here.  When would we find time to talk about the weather and public transport, for goodness’ sake?

Have a beautiful Thursday.

You Are More Than A Page

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Hello, and welcome to Wednesday!  Are you having a nice week so far?

In theory, social media is a wonderful thing.  Facebook, Twitter and more allow us to stay in touch with people all over the planet, and to record the highlights of our lives through photographs and videos.  We can share our favourite music with our friends, read up about current affairs and amuse ourselves with any number of personality quizzes.

The bizarre thing about social media is that it has sort of overtaken our real lives.  If we post a great photo we are offended when people don’t “like” it, and when we get a response from a celebrity on Twitter it makes our day.  This is true to lesser or greater extents for each of us, but there is no denying that writing a funny status has become a kind of status symbol.

Why do we feel so validated by computer clicks?  What is it about our virtual presence that we prize as much as (or in some cases, more than) our physical presence?  I think that there are a couple of potential reasons: firstly, social media is quantifiable.  I check the statistics of how many people read my blog each day – thank you for reading this by the way, you lovely thing – and it literally measures how many people choose to read my ridiculous words.  When it comes to our online effectiveness, there are always facts and figures to tell us where we stand.

Secondly, having a Facebook page or an Instagram account is like having an encyclopaedia of yourself.  Over the months and years we build up a lot of information about our lives and our friendships, including our moments of triumphs and the photos we actually like of ourselves.  The information is complete and adjustable.  If I want to know the name of that comedian my brother and I discovered in 2008, all I have to do is look back through our friendship.  If we want to sound as sophisticated and intelligent as possible, we can edit our posts.  If we are up for an important job we can get rid of the digital evidence of our unemployable silliness.

We’ve all heard (and probably made) arguments for real human contact over use of social media, and in general I tend to agree with them.  It is better to see someone you love in real life, and no amount of filtering can make a beautiful image more moving.  I do believe that social media is useful and a miracle of the technological age we live in, but I think that it’s a mistake to assume that what we say and do online is as important as who we are in reality.

Put very simply, a nice picture of you on Facebook is a marvellous thing, but it will never be as good as seeing your actual face.  Have a glorious day.  Remember to use plenty of sun cream.

Grumpy Alert

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Hello, dear reader.  How are you?

Let’s be honest: on some mornings you wake up and just don’t feel right.  You might have had a bad day yesterday, or not slept very well.  You might wake up with a headache or find that you’ve overslept.  It might be for absolutely no good reason at all, but the fact is that some days just start with a bit of a black cloud.

As I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be quick to decide that we are having a bad day.  However, it’s inevitable that people will be in a bad mood from time to time.  When that happens, it’s important to know how to deal with it.  Here are a few ideas:

Communicate
This will vary from person to person, depending on how they tend to handle stress.  If you’re spending time with colleagues or friends who might need a bit of a heads up about your frame of mind, make them aware.  If someone in your life tells you that they’re in a bad mood, accept the information and ask them questions (depending on how much or little they need to talk).

Don’t Make A Chain
One bad occurrence does not necessarily lead to another: just because you overslept doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to rain.  If you avoid linking small bits of bad luck together, your bad mood won’t last quite so long.

Distract
If you are in a bad mood, you need to stop thinking about it.  Do something else.  Distract yourself with something shiny, or read a book.  If someone in your life is feeling a bit moody, talk to them about a completely unrelated topic, or show them an amusing post on Buzzfeed.  It might not permanently fix the problem, but a distraction is a nice rest from feeling down.

Treat Yourself
Buy a proper coffee with a fancy syrup in it, or download that new album on iTunes.  You are a marvellous human being who is worth investing in, especially when you’re not feeling quite right.  If someone else is in a bad mood, treat them a little bit.  Reminding someone that you care about them, even in a small way, is an excellent tonic for the blues.

Have a fantastic Tuesday.

Working Wonders

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Hello, reader!  How was your weekend?  I hope you’re feeling well-rested and ready for your Monday.

Today I’d like to pay homage to colleagues.  In the working world we have no way of knowing what kinds of people we will end up alongside, or how much their company will influence us throughout our lives.  I have been lucky enough to work with some truly brilliant people, and I hope that you have, too.  Here are a few examples of co-workers we could all do with:

The Boss You’ve Accidentally Turned Into
Classic example of my first boss’ standard behaviour: I turned up to work one day with no make-up on and, as sod’s law dictates, I ran into an ex-boyfriend on my lunch break.  My boss’ response was pretty straightforward: “It’s your own fault, girl.  Why do you think I’m always dressed up, even when it’s just to come to this place?  You’ve got to be prepared.”  Wise, wise woman.  I can’t claim to be as savvy (or as well-dressed) as she was, but sometimes I find myself using her turns of phrase and management tactics, which can only be a good thing.  We all resist turning into our parents, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with turning into our favourite bosses.

The Friend Who Keeps You Going
One of the only things that I miss about my last full-time job is the girl I sat next to in the office.  Over the weeks and months we discovered that we got on extremely well, and that we had some fairly important things in common.  When the job started to go sour and I was feeling pretty down about things, it was this colleague whom I confided in, and whose support was invaluable to me.  I hope that you never have a job that makes you sad, but if you do, I hope that someone in your office can make you smile.  Those people are godsends.

The Cool Kid You Randomly Get On Really Well With
I recently did a stint as a front of house supervisor type thingy on a large-scale kids’ show.  My second in command was absolutely brilliant, but here’s the funny thing: I remember sitting next to her in the group interview stages thinking “dear God, this girl is so cool.  I bet we have nothing in common.  And she’s just given a really good interview answer.  Bollocks.”  It’s nice to look back at that and realise that yes, she is insanely cool, but she’s also really good fun.  Not judging people based on first appearances turns out to be particularly important in the working world.

The One You Keep Hold Of
One of the weirdest aspects of leaving a job is that you can go from spending all of your time with a group of people, getting to know their habits and coffee preferences, and then suddenly not see them for ages.  In certain cases the friendships that you strike up with your colleagues can traverse job hopping, geographical relocation and even months of no contact.  It’s strange to look back over my employment history and see how many ex-colleagues have ended up being good friends, and where our lives have taken us.  Harry is a perfect example: we started out working together in a box office, and now he effectively runs my theatre company.  I’m very glad I kept hold of him, and I hope that you’ve got people from your working life who’ve stuck around for your real life.

I also hope that you have an amazing Monday, and that you get to listen to your favourite music on the way to work.

“Assume” Makes People Donkeys (Or Something)

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Hello, and happy Friday to you!

Friendships work because two people discover that they enjoy spending time together, and the more time they spend together, the better they understand each other.  One of the best aspects of long-standing and particularly close friendships is that we take pride in our complete knowledge of the other person.

Knowing how your friends feel about certain things allows you to anticipate their responses to given situations in a way that reflects how you feel about them; remembering things about their preferences shows that you care.  Here’s a very basic example: my friends know that I can’t stand Keira Knightley, so when they look through a list of potential films for us to see at the cinema, they tend to skip anything with her name in the credits.

This understanding of another person is great for things like choosing how you spend your time together, picking out excellent birthday presents and preventing them from  ingesting things that they’re fatally allergic to.  We recommend books, films, music, websites and even other friends based on our understanding of how the people we love are likely to respond to stuff, and this can be an amazing thing.

Knowing someone really well can also be a bit of a trap, because after a certain amount of time we start to assume that we can anticipate their reactions to almost anything, but the thing is that people can always surprise you.  Think about it from your own perspective: you as a person are constantly changing and growing, forming new opinions based on your experiences of life, and developing your perspective on the world every single day.  Your friends are doing exactly the same thing, and what might have been true of them a year ago may no longer be applicable.  (“I thought you loved How I Met Your Mother?”  “I did, but Lily’s starting to grate on me a bit.  Can we watch Grand Designs instead?”)

It is a mistake to assume that you can predict with one hundred percent accuracy how your friends will feel in a given situation.  Particularly in extreme circumstances like bereavement or stress, people can react in all sorts of ways that do not reflect their day-to-day persona.  If we limit our imaginations and expect a certain type of behaviour from our friends, we are doing them a disservice.  Our friends deserve the opportunity to think and feel whatever comes naturally to them, and if it isn’t what we were expecting then we should just respond out of what we can still be sure of: our love and respect for them.

If it were you in that situation, you would want the same thing, wouldn’t you?  If you woke up tomorrow and decided that you want to completely change your career (for example), you wouldn’t want your best friend to cry “but you’ve always wanted to be a sales data analyst!”  You would want them to say “tree surgery sounds awesome”.  It does sound awesome, actually.  I may have missed my calling…

Have an utterly delightful weekend.