You Are Not A Sofa


Happy Tuesday, lovely reader.  Can I get you anything?  Tea?  Squash?  I know I’ve got some biscuits around here somewhere, hang on…

We are (for various reasons to do with a foaming-mouthed tangerine running the free world and our own dear Blighty government being a relentless gaggle of shitehawks) facing some very tough times.  I shan’t offend your intelligence by going off on a rant about it all, especially given that I’m far from savvy when it comes to global politics.  Oh look, I’ve found the chocolate hobnobs.  Take two, go on.

We as a gorgeous, confused and confusing species are prone to clinging to our routines at times such as these, reassuring ourselves with the comforting continuum of our habits and responsibilities.  Get up, check your friendship circle’s WhatsApp group, do your sardine impression on the Northern Line, close Facebook when your boss approaches your desk, eat a weirdly expensive lunch from Pret, go to the pub, do the washing up, call your mum, etcetera ad infinitum.  Ah, life.

One of the strange things about this routine machine is that we tend not to notice straight away when one of the cogs is, if you’ll excuse my language, completely and utterly buggered.  When our job stops being fulfilling or a relationship starts to fall apart it can take quite a while before we realise that the damn thing has rusted to dust and is causing all sorts of problems.  These situations arise for all sorts of reasons and there is no sure fire way to deal with them.  One person’s “I’m cutting you out of my life forever”, for example, is another person’s “let’s put some effort into this friendship and see if we can recover it”.  I’m not going to tell you which is the right thing to do, because obviously the right thing to do is dependent on who you are and what you want.  Help yourself to another biscuit.

The only thing I would like to tell you, you lovely thing, is that you are not a given.  You are not a given under any circumstances.  (That’s right, my dear: italics.  So you know I’m being serious.)  The other day I messaged my friend Abi saying that I missed and loved her and she replied “Aww, that was nice, what was that for?”  The answer I gave her was something along the relatively calm lines of “No reason, just saying”.  The real answer is actually “because you are brilliant and your friendship has changed my life and it would kill me if you ever thought that I took you for granted”, but I think that’s pretty clear as subtext, isn’t it?  It doesn’t take much to remind someone that you care about them.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known someone or been at your job or lived in the same place: you are an autonomous, stunning, worthy individual who should never be taken for granted.  If you really wanted to you could completely change your life in a day.  (You don’t have to, obviously.  Put the sugar-free cook book down.)  When you are not sure what to do or how to fix one of those blasted, broken cogs, remind yourself that you are not a given.  You are unique.  You are not going to be around forever and your life is yours to do with what you bloody well like.  You are not furniture in someone else’s life.

You may as well finish the packet now, go on.  Have a wonderful day.

Gremlins on the Brain

57137-gremlinsHello, dear reader.  How the devil have you been?  Come in, come in, I’ll stick the kettle on.

As you can probably tell from the sporadic nature of my blog posts these days, I’m afraid I only tend to write posts when something properly bugs me.  I’m sorry to say that today is no exception, BUT I hope that by being creative with my annoyance I can do something positive with it.  And of course, it’s always nice to see you for a catch up.  You’re looking very well, by the way.

Now, before we begin properly, I must warn you: I am going to talk about mansplaining.  I’m also going to talk about bad attitudes toward mental health.  If you’re thinking “oh God, are we STILL talking about these things?!  Didn’t we fix them with a hashtag??” then please stop reading now.  We are going to keep talking about them.  We are going to keep talking about them until they become history and then we’ll STILL be talking about them because historians will exist and they will have glorious things to say on Dan Snow’s podcast.  Still here?  Good.  Help yourself to a biscuit.

I recently had an encounter with someone who, heaven preserve us all, managed to combine a sexist attitude, terrible understanding of mental health AND basic bad manners in his conversation.  The way that he spoke to me made me want to calmly but firmly smash his face into the table we were sitting at.  (The fact that I didn’t is a testament to my mother’s child rearing abilities rather than my own self-control.  My mum’s a thoroughly good egg and she taught us well.)

Before we go any further, let me be emphatically clear: I am not saying that all men are like this, or even a particular group of men: I am saying that this one individual man behaved this way and it made me angry.  Also, this guy was not someone I was on a date with or anything like that.  After this conversation he will barely be an acquaintance.

I won’t go into the gory details of the conversation, because it would be unnecessary and a bit vindictive, but here are the highlights:

  • Using the phrase “I want to talk to you about” when what he meant was “I want to talk AT you about”.
  • Asking me a question and then immediately looking annoyed when I gave an answer (and even, occasionally, an OPINION) rather than letting him carry on talking.
  • Talking about theatre as though he were the intrepid pioneer who discovered it as a concept. (Tiny point to make here, real quick: theatre directing is literally my job.  And not to be a twat about it, but I’ve won an award for doing it, so…in the most mature and polite possible way, I guess what I’m trying to say is OH, SOD OFF.)

Now, all of these things were patronising and annoying and obviously a bit of a bummer, but the one that really got me was when he started talking about mental health.  Mental health is complicated, painful, comes in many forms, can often be invisible and affects millions of people in various ways.  This chap claimed to know all of these things, and yet he spoke about mental health as though he were the sole survivor of a sanity shipwreck, which for many reasons I found offensive and hurtful.

It is stupid at best and evil at worst to launch into an ill-informed diatribe about mental health to someone you don’t know very well.  How on earth do you know whether the other person is affected by mental health issues?  Even if they’re not, they still have the right to be offended by the way you discuss them.  Every single person you talk to all day long has had a completely unique experience of life, and assuming that you can hop up on a soapbox about mental health without considering their feelings or experiences is just a terrible way to behave.  For all this guy knew I could be struggling to come to terms with my own diagnosis of mental illness, or trying to support a loved one with mental health issues, or even contemplating suicide.  He had no way of knowing because he was not interested in my opinions about anything or who I was as a person.  I was just an audience member.

If he’d bothered to ask, this guy would have found out that I have a lot of experience of mental health issues.  He would have found out that I and several of my loved ones suffer with mental health problems; that my manic depression affects my friendships; that the subsequent behaviours of my mental illness have very recently scuppered a budding relationship; that one of my coping mechanisms is to refer to my negative thoughts as gremlins which run around inside my head and mess things up.  We could have had an honest conversation with each other about how we feel and what we experience as people – not a man and a woman, or two theatrical types, but as people.  I’m sure I would have found out some very important and honest information about him, too.

I am extremely fortunate to have so many friends and family members who are willing to discuss mental health in an open and honest way.  It is a great source of pride to me that my favourite people want to understand mental illness, and that those of them who have their own crosses to bear in that department are very aware of the fact that no one has the monopoly on it.  No one’s mental health struggle is more important than someone else’s because we are all unique people and our brains are all wired differently.  It can be hard to ask questions about it, but if we truly want to love and understand people better then those questions will never be taken the wrong way because they come from a good place in us.

Thank you for letting me talk about all of that stuff.  You’re a good friend and I appreciate it.  Go and eat something very yummy for lunch.


For Crying Out Loud, Back Yourself


Lovely reader, how on earth have you been?  It’s been AGES.  You have a seat and I’ll stick the kettle on.

“I’m sure,” my friend Erin said to me recently “that we must have one friend who isn’t an overachiever.”  We don’t, by the way.  Our mutual social circle includes composers, published novelists and internationally renowned comedians.  She herself is a ludicrously intelligent and powerful producer, and I can type really fast.  So.

In all seriousness, it is important to celebrate your achievements and the achievements of people around you.  I am sick to the back teeth (which is a weird expression that I’ve just realised I got from my dad and must remember to ask him about later) of listening to people I love putting themselves down.  Unfortunately, this comes in several forms.

Firstly, the refusal to admit that something they’ve achieved is absolutely spectacular.  One of my sisters has just completed a challenge that she set herself a year ago: to run thirty 10km runs while she is thirty years old.  (I KNOW.)  Is my sister happy and proud of herself?  Sure.  Is she as proud of herself as I think she ought to be?  Nope.  Not by about 300km.

Secondly, the inability to accept that progress has been made.  If you are on a diet and you have a cheat day, you haven’t failed.  If you spend months trying to get over someone and then one day allow yourself to look at their Facebook page, you haven’t failed.  If you promise yourself that you’re going to make more of an effort to stay in contact with someone and then forget to call them, you haven’t failed.  Changing your life in the long term is a process and you only “fail” a process when you terminate it entirely.  I cannot stand to hear my friends put themselves down when they have made one mistake, because it undermines all of the good work they’ve done already and all of the process that’s still to come.

Thirdly (and this is the one that makes me most cross), assuming the worst.  “She’d never like me back”, “I probably won’t even get an interview”, “He’ll definitely say no”.  What are you basing that on?  Where is your evidence?  Are you making measured judgements based on empirical fact, or are you assuming the worst because it’s easier to aggressively chase down disappointment than to allow yourself to hope?  Even if your entire life experience so far leads you to believe that you might fail, you have no right to put yourself down by refusing to admit that there’s a chance you’ll succeed.

I’m being a bit of a hypocrite, because I am awful for putting myself down, but I’m going to try and change that.  (And if I slip up a few times, I will not have failed.)  I know that loving yourself is not always as easy as loving someone else, and I know that sometimes being proud of ourselves feels like bragging or an invitation for karma to smite us where we stand.  Having said that, if we constantly put ourselves down we are tacitly demanding that others do the same, which is just stupid.  If we cannot accept praise and pride from our loved ones then we are diminishing ourselves and also showing basic disrespect for their opinions about us.  You might feel as though you haven’t achieved much, but if someone who loves you tells you that they are proud of you then you don’t get to contradict them.

I met up with my friend Andy the other day.  He’s an actor who works a lot in touring theatre, so whenever he lands in London I try to see him, even if it’s just for a quick drink.  When I saw him on Sunday we didn’t get a chance to catch up properly, we didn’t discuss the finer details of our lives at the moment and we certainly didn’t get to put the world to rights.  However, towards the end of our time together he unapologetically said that he is good at what he does, and that made me unbelievably happy.  It made me happy because a) he is absolutely correct, and b) I know that he is happy.

Back yourself.  Not because if you don’t no one else will, and not because positive thinking makes you a better person: because self-respect is the backbone of a happy person, and you absolutely deserve to be a happy person, you lovely thing.

You are brilliant.  Shut up and accept it.

Dear Daughter



To my (at this point fictional) daughter,

I want you to know a few things about your old mum.  First of all, I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my life.  I have a loving family and wonderful friends.  I have been  fed, clothed, educated and supported.  I sincerely hope that if you ever become a real person then the same will be true for you, and that you and I don’t argue very often.  I hope that you haven’t inherited my crippling addiction to caffeine.

Secondly, I owe you an apology.  I owe you an apology because I have already failed you, even though right now you don’t exist.  I didn’t act when I should have and I want to make sure that you never repeat my mistake.

I was walking along a busy road in North London – you know all those stories your aunts and uncle tell you about your mother’s hedonistic twenties?  This was around that time.  It was a perfectly normal Wednesday and I was on my way to work.  (This was before I was made Artistic Director of the National Theatre, by the way.  I was still working at a box office back then.)  I was walking along with my earphones in, listening to a podcast and generally minding my own business, when a man who was walking past me hit me on the arm and said “smile!”

This is the part where I failed you.

I tried to pretend that nothing had happened and I walked away.  I didn’t say a word.  When I got to work I told my colleagues what had happened in a throwaway, “isn’t London hilarious and weird?” kind of fashion.  I should not have done that.

What I should have done was tell him not to touch me.  I should have asked him why he believed that he had the right to tell someone what to do with their own face.  I should have made it clear to him that everyone has the right to walk along a street without being accosted by an unpleasant stranger.  (The other thing I should have at least considered was beating him to death with my lunchbox, but never mind.)

You may well be thinking, “God, Mum, you’re SUCH a drama queen!  Why is this such a big deal?  It’s not like he attacked you, you loser.”  And you’d be right, darling, but please don’t speak to your mother like that.

It doesn’t matter that the physical contact was not particularly painful, or that the language the man used was not seriously abusive.  What matters is that this man genuinely believed that he had the right to treat a stranger that way.

I am extraordinarily lucky because I am one of very few women who has only had to deal with these kinds of low-level examples of sexism and harassment.  Millions of women have to deal with far worse than this, all the time, with little or no hope of being able to assert themselves.  (Ask any barmaid in the world.)

Most women feel like walking around in the world makes them intruders into men’s personal playgrounds, and that at any point we can (and should) expect to called out as trespassers.  Having the nerve to go to work, socialise, drink alcohol, wear clothes that we like and take photographs makes us “fair game”.  Apparently.  Men own the world and if we’re in it then it is because they permit it.

Not all men are like this, of course.  Your father (whoever the hell he has turned out to be) is a loving and wonderful man.  But the fact remains that men who genuinely think that they have the right to tell you what to do, touch you without your permission and make you feel threatened must not be permitted to get away with it.  If any of those things ever happen to you I want you to make the biggest song and dance you possibly can.  I want you to create a huge and humiliating scene for the stupid bastard.  (Don’t tell your dad I swore.)  If you experience or witness harassment in any form I want you to make the most unimaginable fuss about it.  I would rather that a daughter of mine were arrested for disturbance of the peace than quietly walked away from a stranger who was trying to hurt her.

That’s it, really.  I hope you can understand why I think that this is so important.  I really hope that by the time I actually have a daughter this whole letter will be unnecessary and meaningless, because society will have disregarded harassment as a completely unacceptable and stupid thing, but you never know.  This is just in case.

Also, please don’t get any tattoos until you’re eighteen.

Lots of love,

Mum xx




Inevitability Works Both Ways

kim_jong_il_team_america1Hello, lovely reader.  Do come in.  Shall we sit in the garden for a change?

Very often in life it seems that we get ourselves into strange holding patterns: we repeat unhealthy behaviours, keep staying up late on school nights, and even convince ourselves that THIS TIME going shopping on a Saturday will not be hellish.  (It is always hellish.  There are no exceptions.)

Part of the psychology behind repeating the same mistakes is, I reckon, to do with being comforted by routine.  Better the devil you know and all that.  If we burden ourselves with grimly grotesque hangovers weekend after weekend then it’s ok, because we understand them.  Hangovers are the logical conclusion of drinking too much.  Getting into a row with your friend about the same football team all season is ok because after a while the argument may as well be scripted: you both know where you stand.  When it comes to matters of the heart, pursuing a relationship with someone who is just as unsuitable as any of your exes has a certain appeal because it’s familiar.  We can tell ourselves that “this time” it will either a) go wrong in a way that we already know we can cope with or b) work out marvellously, which would be a pleasant surprise.

I, for example, have an unhealthy habit of going after men who are emotionally unavailable.  (Let’s not fall into the horrific rabbit hole of reason for that particular tendency.  It ain’t pretty down there.)  Every time I start to like someone I go through the exact same stages of excitement, nerves, overthinking, panic and eventually resignation.  The pattern ends at a very unhappy stage called “well, rejection was inevitable”.  What I usually fail to realise is that I am responsible for the inevitability.  It’s a large part of the reason that I was attracted to the guy in the first place.

The main thing that I wanted to say to you, lovely reader, is that inevitability can be good as well as shite.  Throughout my stupid cycle of fancying someone, my friends inevitably rise to the occasion with magnificent love and kindness.  I am extremely lucky in that respect (and I’m aware that they deserve better than having to spend several months at a time listening to me crying/sighing/whinging down the phone).  The other inevitable aspect of failed romance is that you do always get over it.  No matter how hurt or angry or confused you are at the tipping point, you will always be happy again.  You know that because it’s always happened before.

The unhealthiest patterns can be broken and the heart does heal.  The absolute pickle of it all is that it can take time, but that doesn’t mean that the recovery is any less definite than the problem.

Have a stupendous day.

Nobody Wins the Waiting Game


Hello, lovely reader.  How are you?  Would you care for a glass of Berocca?

There’s a very nice pub near my house which my friends and I have nicknamed Hanging Gardens of Babylon, mainly because it has the best beer garden in the entire metropolis.  Last Thursday evening – despite the fact that it had been half-heartedly snowing all day – my friend and I decided to sit in said beer garden and have a jolly good catch up.

Wrapped up warm and clasping our pints, we endured the wintry weather by distracting ourselves with chat, and by militantly turning the outdoor heaters back on whenever they timed out.  After a while the conversation turned to our love lives and it transpired that my friend had recently met someone.  Sort of.  In her own words, she thought that “maybe there might be a sort of thing perhaps but not really oh I don’t know it’s complicated stop looking at me like that Vicki”.  I don’t know what she’s talking about, by the way.  I’ve never given anybody a look in my life.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that the chap clearly likes her and has been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to ask her out on a date via a popular social media messaging platform.  (For the record, lovely reader, it turns out that you can message people on Instagram.  Did you know that?  I had no idea.)  When I suggested that she take the initiative and ask the guy out herself, her first question was “can’t I wait for him to ask me out?”

I had two problems with this.  Firstly, what the hell is this “waiting” nonsense about?  The friend I am talking about is an absolute marvel.  She has found herself great jobs, created huge projects and been promoted umpteen times because she has always had precisely the opposite attitude to waiting around: she knows how to get things done.  Once she has decided that she wants to achieve something, she flipping well works her socks off until she achieves it.  This is a quality in her that many people love and admire, and her refusal to twiddle her thumbs and hope for the best is precisely what makes her such a powerful woman.  So why does she want to wait around to be asked out?

Secondly, this friend of mine was blithely ignoring the fact that the poor guy had been trying to ask her out for several days and that she had wilfully pretended not to notice.  Some people – most of us, if we’re honest – would rather ignore a whole bunch of signals than risk looking foolish by jumping even the tiniest distance from enormous hint to obvious conclusion.

Sadly, I think that a lot of us feel this way when it comes to emotional risks.  It is easier to wait and hope that the other person will be brave, never saying or doing anything that has any implications whatsoever, for fear of looking foolish and being exposed as someone who feels things.  The chap in question clearly felt this way and had been hoping that my friend would bite the bullet.  I suppose it doesn’t help that the metaphors we use for being bold are so violent: jumping the gun, biting the bullet, etc…

I know that succeeding in life and at work are not the same as being successful in love.  If you work hard at a diet then you will get healthier, for example, whereas there is no such guarantee when it comes to relationships.  Feelings are tricky bastards.  Having said that, if everyone sits around waiting for someone else to say something then nothing will ever get said.  The person who “loses” the waiting game is the one who is brave enough to speak up first.  So who is really the loser?

It took me a solid half hour to convince my friend to ask this guy out, and I had to threaten her with some dreadful stuff just to make her consider it: refusing to buy my round, for example, which is not a tactic I enjoy resorting to.  When she did eventually send the message, she immediately downed her pint and called me all sorts of names, which was absolutely fine.  But then she asked me another question: “what if he says no?”

And here we reach the heart of the matter.  What is the worst that can possibly happen if you put yourself out there and declare your true feelings?  What horrendous, life-ruining, earth-shattering consequences arise from risking rejection?  Obviously you lose your job, your friends abandon you and your ears fall off.  That’s how it works, right?  No?  Interesting…

It’s Not Called “Boiled Wine”



Season’s greetings, lovely reader!  How’s the wrapping going?

I won’t beat around the bush, because we’re all busy people and those mince pies aren’t going to eat themselves: 2016 has been weird.

Setting aside the national, global and celebrity death issues, it seems to me that a lot of us have been going through our own personal annus horribilis (which is Latin for “what the HELL happened this year?!”).

In my case it’s been a year of boiling points, especially with my friends.  Issues and unspoken gripes that had been simmering for a long time began to bubble up and spill, and at certain points I found myself not speaking to people who have been very close friends of mine for years and years.

In one instance – and I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you this story, because we’re grand now – I fell out with one of my best friends for about three months.  I was in the wrong for causing the argument, but her decision to temporarily cut me out of her life seemed disproportionate to me: it wasn’t that big of a row.  When we met up a few weeks ago to sort things out, it transpired that she had actually been upset with me for various reasons.  Thoughtless actions or badly-chosen words on my part had been upsetting her for a while, and she’d never said anything about them.  So what I thought was an over-reaction turned out to be totally justified: she was boiling over after months of unspoken annoyance.

Now, obviously, this makes me feel like an absolutely rubbish friend and I am not proud of this story at all.  I cannot bear to think that I was merrily running around thinking everything was ok when in fact one of my closest friends was feeling hurt by my actions.  I did the same thing myself with another friend: her behaviour upset me for a long time, but I plodded on with the usual useless thoughts of “that’s just what she’s like” and “well, what can you do?”, the way we all do when we love someone who occasionally irritates us.  That situation blew up in my face, too.  I thought I was being patient when all I was doing was giving myself permission to approach boiling point.

What I have tried to take away from these nasty situations is that it is important to be honest when someone close to you is hurting your feelings.  This is really not an easy thing to do.  We’ve all been in situations where it is difficult to be honest with someone, either because of circumstances or because we’re not sure how they’ll take it.  You know the sort of thing:

“Hey, listen, about your new boyfriend…”
“Oh my God, he’s great, right?  So smart, and SO funny.  What was that joke he made the other day?  Something about your hair?  How bad it looked?  Oh my God, that was HILARIOUS.”

No fun to be had there.  But the thing about letting things simmer for too long is that they always boil over: that’s physics.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m damned if I’m going to have another year of emotional eruptions and friendship disruptions.  Let us mull the wine of friendship, not allow it to boil over into a claggy claret mess.

Merry Christmas to you, lovely reader.  I’ll see you in 2017.

The Conservatory of the Mind Palace

sherlock__s_mind_palace_by_firelight_12-d4oc1nhWith absolutely no disrespect meant to Benedict Cumberbatch, he doesn’t own the phrase “mind palace”.  Using the method of loci (or going to your mind palace or whatever you want to call it) is a very useful thing to do, especially if you’re like me and your memory is about as reliable as Southern Rail.  I’m currently working on a show at the VAULT Festival, and a lot of the conversations I have with my producer Kate rely upon the idea of a mind palace, because we’ve got so many things to do:

“What was that rehearsal technique I said I wanted to use next week?”
“I don’t know, dear.  Look in your mind palace.”

“We said we were going to email Adam about something.  What on earth was it?”
“Er…I dunno, let me look in my mind palace…I can’t find it.”
“Have you checked the library?”
“The ballroom?”
“The cupboard under the stairs?!”

So far, so silly.  But what I am discovering is that, quite apart from being just an excellent memory aide, having a mind palace is a very healthy thing to do for emotional reasons.

For example, people talk about burying their feelings or locking negative thoughts away.  This would be very easy to do in a mind palace, because you could build yourself a cellar or a dungeon or whatever else took your fancy.  However, being the proud architect of a mind palace makes you feel the need to be more creative about these things.  For example, when I come across a particular fear or worry I let it loose in the palace grounds to run around the rose garden and splash in the ornamental fountains.  Mentally ‘releasing’ bad feelings is very helpful, because you can acknowledge their existence in your life without constantly feeling the need to monitor them.  They can really get under your feet if you keep them cooped up all the time.

“Hey Vicki, nice mind palace.  Where’s your fear of commitment got to?”
“Oh, he’s running around on the croquet lawn with my concerns about career trajectory.  They’re having a great time, don’t worry.  Would you like some tea?”

The best room in my mind palace is the conservatory.  It has no strange wicker/fabric combo bits of furniture in it, and it most certainly does not have leaves all over the roof.  It is a quiet, calm room where there is always sunlight streaming in from all angles, and it’s very warm and cosy the whole year round.

The sunlight in this room is a concoction of all of the things that make me happy: memories, people and other bits and pieces of life.  Highlights include the moment in Moulin Rouge when Jim Broadbent runs away screaming “LIKE A VIRGIN!”, my friend Andy’s laugh, the smell of coffee, the Dad’s Army theme tune, cheese jokes, watching Christmas movies with my family and excitement about my best friend’s wedding next year.

The reason why I am talking about these big, small and silly things that make me happy in my mind palace conservatory is that they are a huge part of how I maintain my mental health.  I think mental wellbeing is a very specific thing, and a huge part of why we struggle with it is that we always end up feeling isolated by our own thought processes.

One of the greatest and loveliest things about the show that I’m working on is that we teamed up with mental health charity Mind.  Mind do incredible work for people who struggle with their mental health, and I am so pleased and proud that they promote conversation about what is still a pretty taboo topic.  They effectively knock on the door of everyone’s mind palace to check that they’re ok, and to reassure you that you’re never alone.  Mind palaces exist in neighbourhoods.

So to conclude, dear reader, go and build yourself a mind palace that you would love to live in, and invite people in who will appreciate being there.

Have a stupendous evening.


I (Broken) Heart London


Hello, dear reader.  How’s it going?  Anyone taken the plunge and turned their central heating on yet?

Last week my friend Abi and I went for a catch up, which is always a lovely thing to do, because Abi is marvellous.  She and I met on an appalling theatre tour in 2013, and ever since then we’ve been a very good team in a crisis. This was especially important last week because we’d both been through a pretty rough time.  Lowlights included moving house under sad circumstances (Abi), trapping thumbs in train doors (me), and getting our hearts trodden on (both of us).  Don’t worry, I won’t go into details.  Unless you want to know about the thumb-trapping thing, which is so embarrassing that it’s automatically funny.

Anyway, our conversation moved from the specifics of our own failed romances to the general way that dating in London seems to go these days: matching, chatting, meeting, dating and then…nothing.  Technology has made it frighteningly easy for people to disappear just as soon as you think things are going somewhere. Not an encouraging prospect.  Setting aside the fact that love is being left mostly to apps nowadays, the whole new relationship thing does seem to have lost a bit of its charm.

“Where are the flowers?”  Abi demanded.  “Flowers used to be a thing, right?  But when did any of us last get flowers?”
“Er…I got some the other day.”
“What?! From who?”
“Well…my sister.  And she was trying to cheer me up about getting dumped, so…” “Doesn’t count really, does it?”

Generations gone by had rules and systems: courting, proposals, betrothedness. (“Is that a word?” “Too late, she’s said it now.” “Shall we…?” “No, best let her carry on. You’ll only confuse her if you interrupt.”) Our parents and grandparents knew what they were doing, because love in times gone by was a practised dance: everyone knew the rules and which move came next in the sequence. Love in times present is more like a Harlem Shake video, where there are no rules and no discernible moves at all.

Part of the problem, Abi and I decided, is the euphemistic nature of relationships: “dating”, “seeing each other”, “taking things slowly”, etc. I’m all for people discarding labels that don’t work for them, but there is no allowance for progress. No one wants to admit that, eventually, they’d really like a nice partnership with another human being.

Abi told me about a friend of hers who is originally from Germany, and how the non-committal dating scene of London horrifies her. In Germany, this friend says, people go on five dates, kiss, and then they are in a relationship. No tricks, no games, no messing around. Those are the rules. I admit that these rules might not work for everyone, but I like the idea of a structure, of development. Couples who are working towards something as a pair of people who are interested in each other, rather than two individuals who are competing to see who can be less emotionally invested.

I have a group of friends who live in the Highlands, and they are all in happily married couples.  I’m not suggesting that they don’t have problems, or that their relationships have all been super easy, but they have all invested time and energy into making their relationships work.  During my last visit my friend Robyn joked that the only reason for that is, in that part of Scotland, there is nothing else to do.  She was being silly to make me feel better about being single, which I love her for, but I wonder whether there might actually be something in what she said.  Are the men and women of London so distracted by their jobs, pop-up bars, house-warming parties, Oyster cards and Buzzfeed articles that we can’t focus on each other for more than five minutes?  Is there any way to find a half-way point between being busy and being in love?

“Like, half-way between London and Inverness?” Abi asked when I brought this up.

“Yeah,” I said, and then realised something.  “Actually no, because that means we have to move to Blackpool.”

Have an amazing day, gorgeous reader.  Abi and I are both fine, by the way.  We’re certainly not moving to Blackpool just yet.

Where the Hell is Simon Pegg When You Need Him?


Hello, lovely reader!  How the devil are you?

I don’t know whether it’s the heat or Brexit or an angry Norse god having a tantrum, but there’s some dreadful stuff going on with my social circle at the moment.  Everyone seems to be breaking up, getting into arguments, losing jobs or just generally feeling sad.  Imagine the scene in Shaun of the Dead when Dylan Moran wants to kill Penelope Wilton and everyone’s getting hysterical and Liz screams “PLEASE can we all just CALM THE F*** DOWN!”  – That’s the gist of things for us at the moment, except that no one is actually calming down…on the bright side, no one is threatening to shoot anyone’s mum.  So that’s nice.

Apart from all of the serious problems, there are also a lot of people who are giving themselves an identity crisis by accidentally reliving their adolescence.  For example:

“I think I’ve got a crush on someone.”
“Yeah.  I don’t want to sleep with him, I just want to daydream about his hair and giggle.”


“I bought bubblegum the other day.”
“Are you twelve?!”
“Oh God, don’t.  I dug out my Linkin Park CD as well.”
“Good heavens.”

Worst of all, there are a few people who are going through quite serious bad patches in an adolescent way:

“And then SHE was all ‘bla bla bla’, and I was like ‘errrrrr, no!’ And then the OTHER guy was all like, I dunno, weird, and then I just turned round and was all, ‘no way’.  You know?”
“…So you left your job?”

There is most definitely something strange in our neighbourhood.

Everyone knows that the hardest thing about watching your friends struggle is that that’s often all you can do: watch.  When I was seven I got cast as the fairy godmother in the Year 2 production of Cinderella (five stars from the Independent and Time Out’s pick of the week, thank you very much), and the whole beneficent-sorceress-covered-in-glitter thing really went to my head.  To this day I cannot understand why I do not own a real, fully functional magic wand.   I don’t think any of us like not being able to fix things.

When we’re kids we think that everything can and will be fixed, either by an authority figure or by our own, unshakeable confidence in an ethical code (which is usually passed on by said authority figure and begins with “Well MY mum says…”).  As adults we are less equipped to respond to our friends’ problems, partly because of social convention – it’s not really the done thing to interfere with other people’s relationships, jobs etc. – and partly because we actually have no idea what the hell we’re doing in our own lives.

The way I see it, there are two metaphorical ways of handling these bad patches: you either go to Mum’s, kill Philip (Sorry Philip), grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for all of this to blow over, or you get out there and start killing the zombies with a Sade record and a cricket bat.  Both approaches have their own merits, I suppose.

Whichever way you and your friends choose to act, I think the important thing is just to be present.  If your friends are having an absolute shocker and you yourself are not entirely convinced that the “capable adult” costume looks good on you, standing shoulder to shoulder against the zombies is really your only option.  Sometimes it seems easier to run away or hide when things are getting tricky, but then you’re alone, and no one wants to be alone when the apocalypse hits.   Watching catastrophes might be frustrating, but it means the world to your friends to have you there with them.  See if you can rope Simon Pegg in as well; he’s probably good in a crisis.

Have a gorgeous weekend!