Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tricky Definitions

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Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve all decided whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat.  These are the kind of decisions that can really make or break the start of your weekend.

Today’s blog is about definitions, and why they can be really good OR spectacularly awful.  We use them all the time, perhaps without even realising in some cases.  Definitions are meant to provide clarity and make something that is unknown more imaginable, but in some situations they may do more harm than good.

Let’s start with the basics: a dictionary defines words for us.  This is a wonderful thing, except when people start a speech or essay with the words “The Oxford English Dictionary defines (insert random abstract noun) as follows”.  That needs to stop.

In terms of human definitions, the most obvious initial one is whether a person is male or female.  Without delving too far into the complex issue of gender politics, I do think that this is quite an interesting one.  Firstly, there are people who are biologically one gender who identify more strongly with the other, and some prefer an androgynous identity.  In literature, many authors have chosen to use their initials rather than gender-specific first names: P.D. James, for example, and J. K. Rowling.  Again, I really am not trying to start a debate about whether women are at a disadvantage in literary circles and anonymity is necessary, but I do think it’s interesting that something as arbitrary as gender definition has a role in somebody’s reputation as a writer.

Physical definitions are incredibly tricky, and they come up most often in life.  When you’re talking to a friend and describing someone they can’t remember, physical definition is the first thing you turn to: “You know Simon.  Tall, dark hair.  Always wears a leather jacket.”  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, because it’s an aide to memory, but in some cases it can get pretty nasty.  Online dating profiles, for example, or when discussing the pros and cons of a potential partner: “She’s nice, but she’s got a really big nose.”  “I’m a curvy, bubbly socialite with long, blonde hair.”  Cringe o’clock.  These definitions are more disturbing than the memory aides because they are not about reinforcing a previous observation: they are about trying to create a mental picture of someone that allows you to judge them.  Why is an appearance-based picture of someone more important than what they’re actually like?

Appearance-based definitions are absolutely huge in the performing arts world.  Casting briefs can be incredibly specific about height, weight, eye colour and all sorts of other physical attributes.  As a writer and director I understand that you may have a very clear mental image of what a character needs to look like, but my favourite thing about casting is when somebody surprises you by being like the character, not necessarily looking like them.  On a fundamental level, I resent the idea that you could go through life being an extremely talented actor who doesn’t look “marketable”, and therefore miss out on work.  What on earth is the point of investing thousands of pounds in your education at a drama school, working hard to develop your skills and repertoire, only to discover that you just don’t look right?

Sometimes definitions can be helpful.  In rehearsals, I encourage my actors to work out as much specific detail about their characters as possible: favourite foods, pet peeves, family backgrounds and more.  These definitions may never be referred to in the performance, but they help the actors to build up as complete a mental picture as possible of who they are trying to portray.  But here’s the thing: this mental picture is based on personality attributes, not physical, and it’s there to help them do their jobs.

The issue of relationship status definition is among the most prevalent in today’s society, particularly for people my age: as those of you who have read this blog post will know, I hate the entire damn thing.  “We’re just dating.”  “We’re sort of seeing each other.”  “We’re not official.”  FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, people who are “officially” together do not have a certificate from the government or a permit from their local council; they’re just together.  And whatever you are to someone, it doesn’t matter in the slightest how the rest of the world sees your relationship as long as YOU know what the terms are.  What good does it do you if you tell your friends that you’re “not exclusive” with someone if, when they go out and sleep with someone else, it upsets you because you secretly hoped that the relationship was more serious than that?  Well, you may THINK you feel emotionally betrayed, but actually your social circle can testify that your relationship definition was “non-exclusive”, so actually you have no right to be sad.  Oh, ok.  I’ll switch my emotions off, then.  Ridiculous.

The main thing about definitions is that, if we do need to use them, I think we should use them for good things.  Aides to memory – fine.  Character analysis – fine.  (I hope so, anyway, because I get my actors to do a lot of work on that!)  But definitions that reduce a person in any way, or encourage others to judge them for something completely arbitrary, are a no-no.

Have a lovely Friday.  May your trains/buses/flying monkeys run exactly to schedule.

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Top Tips for the Thames

Good morning!  How’s your Thursday going so far?

I live in London, and although I am fairly far north I tend to gravitate towards the banks and bridges of the Thames whenever I can.  I love the river in this city, and it has a lot to offer that all Londoners know about: the BFI, the National Theatre and so on.  However, today I would like to recommend some less established entertainment and activities that the Thames offers.  Some of them are ridiculous, but I think they’re all definitely worth doing.  If you’re a proper grown up you might not agree with me, but then I’d rather be silly than sensible.  Being silly is how you have fun.  Speaking of which:

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1) Play pooh sticks on a bridge

My friend Paul and I did this on New Year’s Eve (daytime) a couple of years ago, and we loved it.  It was a snap decision made in a coffee shop somewhere off Wardour Street.  Finding sticks between Soho and Embankment was a bit of a challenge, so if you do this I’d recommend raiding a park beforehand.  The added challenge with Embankment Bridge is that people are crossing it all the time, so you have a game-within-a-game situation whereby you’re playing Dodge the Tourist as you dash across the bridge.  If you don’t know what pooh sticks is (and you’d be surprised how many people don’t), then you need help.  Here is help.

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2) Go on the merry go round next to the Southbank Centre

I know you’re a grown up.  I know you feel silly.  But it’s a wonderful feeling to be soaring through the air on a noble steed, laughing your head off with your friends and watching the river swing around.  I’m sure we looked like eejits, but it felt brilliant.  And what is the point in looking normal/sensible/good when you could be having a good time?

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3) Re-enact the end of Sliding Doors where Gwyneth Paltrow is yelling at John Hannah and then they make up

This one is particularly good for Londoners, because it rains often enough to give you plenty of opportunities.  For a bit of variation, you could try Miranda and Steve’s reunion in the Sex and the City Movie or Anastasia; pick a film with a bridge in it and go for your life.  Maybe stay away from The Bridge on the River Kwai, though.

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4) Stop and have a boogie to one of the buskers

One of my favourite things about the summer months in London is the buskers who play steel drums along the bridges.  Next time I see one, I’m going to stop and have a little dance.  No big deal, just a few minutes of boogie.  I’m a terrible dancer, but whatever.  I hope that whoever accompanies me on this occasion will be prepared to cut a rug (knowing my friends, they probably will be.  Hell, they’ll probably bring tap shoes).

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5) Just look at it

The Thames is amazing.  Especially on days like yesterday, when that photo was taken.  When I’m upset or confused or just feeling a bit weird, I love going and looking at the river.  Sometimes I go with someone and talk, but I’ve also been known to have a wander and ponder by myself.  Londoners sometimes look at the river as a barrier: something to traverse, something that could flood, something that makes the air colder.  But it’s actually a very beautiful thing that unites loads of parts of the city, and personally I think it’s London’s best feature.

Have a brilliant day – I hope your lunch break is the perfect length of time.

Top Ten Lessons Not to Learn from Rom-Coms

Hello, lovely reader! Congratulations on being half-way through the week.  You’re doing great.

Today I’ve been thinking about romantic comedy films, and how quickly we are willing to exchange our common sense for warm and fuzzy feelings.  Don’t get me wrong: I love rom-coms, and Richard Curtis provides me and my friends with ample opportunity to waste an evening bewailing our boringly realistic love lives, but seriously.  The morals and attitudes encouraged by Hollywood’s happy endings are appalling.

If we actually examine the lessons in rom-coms instead of concentrating on the smouldering glances and mushy moments, we can see that these films are dangerous.  They could create a generation of women who will negotiate the dating world with all the skill and success of a neo-Nazi who has halitosis.  (This may be slightly melodramatic, but you know what I mean.)

As I said, I do love these films, but I also worry that there’s some murky moral ground being covered.  Here are some lessons that I really hope none of us learn from our favourite romantic comedies:

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1) Grease

If your boyfriend is nice to you when you’re alone and acts like an asshat in front of his friends, get a makeover and wear clothes tight enough to give you gangrene.  That’ll get him back.  Obviously, you are the one who is not good enough and you need to adapt to his shallowness.

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2) Pretty Woman

Go on the game.  A handsome, rich and charming man will inevitably sweep you off your feet and fall madly in love with you.  You will definitely not get pregnant, contract a horrible disease or be putting yourself in serious harm’s way every night.  Not even a little bit.

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3) Four Weddings and a Funeral

Be horrible to a guy for ages, sleep with him a bit, get engaged to someone else, sleep with him again, take him WEDDING DRESS SHOPPING and then turn up on his doorstep just after he gets punched in the face at the altar.  Also, lose the ability to notice basic environmental factors like whether it’s raining or not.

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4) Bridget Jones’ Diary

Waddle everywhere.  Colin Firth will totally fall for you.

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5) Serendipity

Let the amazing guy you just met get away because a piece of paper flew away.  Obviously it’s fate and not just the traffic passing you by in the middle of a New York highway.

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6) America’s Sweethearts

Keep quiet about your feelings for years, and then get annoyed with the guy without explaining yourself.  Also, spend your entire life slaving away after your bratty sister.  Way to respect yourself.

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7) The Princess Bride

When the love of your life reappears after a few years, completely ignore his height, voice and facial features.  A few inches of eye mask should completely obscure any idea you might have about his identity.  Sure, you love him, but you’re blind and deaf, ok?

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8) 10 Things I Hate About You

Lead a guy on for as long as you can, and only be nice to him when he’s gone through ridiculous amounts of nonsense to make you happy.  If your big sister has ideals and can be a bit snappy about them, make sure that you use her as a pawn in your relationship games.  Being manipulative means that you deserve your happy ending; after all, you’ve worked for it.  Or at least your boyfriend has.

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9) Friends With Benefits

Define what you want from your relationship with a guy, and then completely change your mind.  Make sure that he is unaware of this for as long as possible.  Remember, only a flash mob is enough to regain your attention, preferably in a busy train station at peak time.

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10) One Day

Keep chasing the unobtainable guy who probably wouldn’t make you happy anyway, and in the meantime settle for someone you don’t really love.  Also, change your accent a lot.

Have a great Wednesday, and please enjoy your rom-coms responsibly.

The Polymath Problem

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Hello and happy Tuesday, lovely reader!

This morning I met up with an old friend from university.  We don’t get to see each other often enough, so inevitably our coffee mornings consist of work updates, living situation discussions, frank bemusement at the behaviour of men and excessive giggling.

Sometimes (not always), we get around to discussing our mutual passion: the arts.  This friend of mine has a lifelong passion for the arts in all its forms: she is a wonderful baker of lovely cakes, she dances, makes amazing craft stuff and is, of course, a fellow Drama graduate.  She co-runs a charity called Ingeenium which does beautiful and inspiring work with vulnerable people, she is a nanny and she currently works for the government in a top-secret, slightly scary capacity.  Oh, and she’s also studying for her PhD.  Superwoman?  I think so, but I’ve never seen her wear a cape, so it’s hard to tell.  The posh term for this friend of mine is a polymath, which sounds like something out of Red Dwarf, but is actually a real thing.  I like that word, don’t you?

This morning she and I were discussing the problem with being a polymath, although the terms we actually couched it in were more along the lines of “What are we actually DOING with our lives?”  The answer is, currently at least, loads of stuff: we are both trying to pursue careers which support as financially as well as challenge and inspire us, we feel very strongly about a lot of things but are not sure what exactly to do about them, and on top of everything the spectre of George Osborne looms menacingly, reminding us that whatever we choose to do, we will still never be able to afford a mortgage.  Do shut up, George, there’s a dear.

My friend was saying that she wishes she could just have one job and pursue one goal, but I had two concerns about this:

1) Sure, it would be amazing to know from an early age exactly what you want to do with your life, but what happens if that dream fails?  What if your one ambition in life is to become a footballer, and you contract Motor Neurone Disease?  What happens if an aspiring doctor fails their exams?  How does a person recover from the abolition of a life-long dream?

2) Pursuing more than one ambition is not only practical in terms of personal investment; it’s a really, really good idea.  Being good at lots of things is something to be proud of, and caring about lots of things makes you a more rounded human being.  Working in several domains can actually improve your skills in certain areas: having acted (a bit), I consider myself to be a more empathetic director.  Besides, there are many awesome people who can be referred to as polymaths.

Here are a few examples:

1) Mark Watson

An excellent stand-up comedian, Mark Watson has also written some brilliant books.  His writing style is engaging, unbelievably touching in some places and (predictably) very funny.  The stories are completely unique, but the characters are very true to life (terrible phrase, that, but it’s the best I can think of).  His books are novels with little or no relation to his comedy career, so much so that it took me quite a while to twig that the author of some of my favourite books was the same person I’d seen on Mock the Week.

2) Kenneth Branagh

The man can act and direct simultaneously.  I have no idea how he does it (especially given that I can barely walk and talk at the same time), but his adaptations of Shakespearean plays into films are intelligent, moving and spectacularly performed.  Since acting and directing technically fall under the same sector I suppose he’s not technically a polymath, but I think he should get bonus points for being able to realise his artistic vision (ANOTHER terrible phrase – sorry, I’ve no idea what’s happened to my cliché filter today!) within two separate roles.

3) Laura Lexx

Another friend of mine from uni, Laura is excellent at pretty much everything she puts her mind to.  It’s mildly sickening.  A formidable academic success, Laura is also an excellent writer (of blogs, plays and more), an hysterically funny stand-up comedian, a queen bee of baking and “one of those” actors.  By “one of those”, I mean those people that you see on stage and wonder how on earth other performers can bear to compete.  She’s also a very lovely person with an excellent impersonation of a dinosaur in her repertoire.

4) Hannah Barnett

Yet another superwoman that I am lucky enough to be friends with, Hannah is *deep breath* a producer, actress, stage manager, unbelievably talented guitarist and singer with the voice of a particularly well-behaved angel.  Hannah is simultaneously the most organised and most easily distracted person I know.  That takes a lot of skill.  Why do I surround myself with these sickeningly talented people?  Oh, yeah – because they’re awesome.

5) Josh Widdicombe

Putting aside the fact that I love Josh Widdicombe quite a lot anyway, he is a brilliant example of why it’s good to have many talents.  Well-known as a stand-up comedian, he is also a talented DJ who hosts a weekly show on Xfm, which he uses as a platform to promote his friends and colleagues in the comedy world.  I am a massive fan of “paying it forward”, i.e. using your experience and opportunities to help others in similar situations.  (One of my favourite things about my university year group is that even now, we still tell each other when we see jobs or opportunities on IdeasTap that we think others in the group would be interested in.)  Josh Widdicombe is substantially more successful than any of my lot are right now, but he still uses his multiple roles to help out his mates.  I think that’s brilliant.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other examples of polymaths around, including national treasures like Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, and they are all to be congratulated on their ability to pursue many dreams.  It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, but I think that being good at and enjoying several activities is a more realistic and open-minded way to live.

By the way, actors turned models and anyone turned reality television “star” (please read enormous sarcasm into the speech marks around the word star, there), do not count.  Being pretty, greedy for money or desperate for attention cannot in any way be classed as a skill.  That’s just sad, and those people need a hug/slap/stern talking to.

Have a glorious afternoon!

Stuff I’m Definitely Going to Teach My Kids

Hello, reader!  I hope you know that by getting this far on a Monday you are a champion.  Mondays are rubbish, and you are clearly owning this one already.  Good for you.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about stuff we the mid-twenties team are too old to do now, and my house mate Ash wrote a brilliant response about stuff she knows she shouldn’t do, but still does: take a look at it here.  Ash and I both have birthdays around the corner, which could explain why we have ageing and childhood on our minds.  As Ash points out in her blog post, when you’re younger your birthdays are milestones of opportunity – you can drive now, you can drink now, you can drink in America now – but as the milestones go by you start to look back and see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do anymore.

It might seem a bit rich for two girls in their mid-twenties to make grand, tragic statements about the perils of ageing, so my apologies to anyone who thinks that we’re drama queens.  I can only defend us by saying that a) we are so recently past the last “good” milestone that we are still adjusting to the idea of birthdays being bad, and b) we are drama queens.  We have our own tiaras and everything.

Today I have decided to take a more positive approach about this loss-of-childhood thing: I have thought about what kind of childhood I will want my kids to have, and what kind of lessons I most want them to learn.

1) How to Bake
My mum is wonderful for many reasons, but I think one of my favourite things about her is that she taught us all how to bake.  I can whip up a sponge cake in half an hour (including cooking time.  That’s right.  Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me) because many years ago my mum took the time to show me, and to have fun with her daughter as well as teach her a great life skill.  Baking is one of the few loopholes that allows grown-ups to behave like kids: you can make a mess, you can make incredibly unhealthy but yummy food, and you can decorate the crap out of said food with glitter and icing.
Baking also results in being able to feed people nice things.  It’s probably the Irish genes coming through, but I love making people birthday cakes, biscuits and what have you.  Ash (who is, if anything, even more obsessed with baking than I am) would agree with me that one of the greatest joys in life is giving people cake.  Such a simple activity results in so much joy.  I want my children to have fun learning to bake, and to spend the rest of their lives using that skill to make themselves and other people happy.

2) Creativity is a Super Power
Speaking of my mum and baking, I have to take this opportunity to say that the woman makes INCREDIBLE cakes.  Kids’ cakes, wedding cakes, beautiful cupcakes arranged in a weird tower thingy: you name it, she can do it.  Look at these:600133_10151800790980083_1127455735_n photo (5)646_112469255082_353_n

The woman made a DINOSAUR CAKE, for crying out loud.  That is the closest thing to a super power that anyone could have, in my opinion.  She passed her amazing artistic abilities down to us in varying degrees, but the most active artist among us is my brother, who paints stuff like this:

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It makes me sick that he can paint so well, and I can’t even draw stick people.  These are just two examples of the kind of creativity that makes my jaw drop, but my life is full of people who excel at singing, acting, writing, dancing and all manner of other things.  I want my children to understand that having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing that allows you to process all kinds of thoughts, emotions and impulses, and that creativity in others is something to love and respect.  Which leads me neatly onto my next lesson…

3) Respect
This is a big one, and it covers all sorts of things.  If I ever have a daughter, I want her to respect herself.  I want her to ignore global media’s insistence that women are supposed to be as thin, tall and beautiful as possible.  If I have a son, I want him to respect himself too.  I want him to shun masculine stereotypes and just be himself, not what society tells him to be.  I want my kids to respect their family, their friends and their colleagues.  I hope that my children will understand from an early age that it is not acceptable to take their stress out on other people, and that every person they meet deserves to be spoken to politely and listened to attentively.  They will say “please” and “thank you”, they will not judge others based on race, religion, sexual preference or appearance, and I’ll be damned if they ever do the unthinkable and jump a queue.

4) Learning is for Life, not just for Christmas
My family is full of people who learn like it’s going out of fashion.  As far as I’m concerned, my maternal grandfather knew everything there was to know, and he instilled a passion in me for knowledge and understanding.  Similarly, I have absolutely no idea how my dad’s head can contain all of the information that it does, or how he has had the time to acquire so much knowledge.  My eldest sister is passionate about travel, and she loves exploring far-away places and learning about their cultures.  This also ties in with my genetic predisposition to read everything I can, which I sincerely hope my children inherit.  Life is a long and fascinating process of discovery, and I want my kids to love learning.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but wanting to understand the world we live in is a wonderful trait, and I prefer dogs to cats anyway.

5) Passion
If my genes are anything to go by, my children will be stubborn, impulsive and in all likelihood addicted to coffee by the time they’re sixteen.  They will probably be very sociable and prone to excessive sarcasm.  That’s all fine.  They will also, I hope, have dreams and ambitions.  I want them to have the commitment and energy to pursue their passions, and to encourage others to do the same.  I also want them to love people whole-heartedly, and to avoid the commitment-phobic, “we don’t want to put a label on it”, casual relationships that dominate my generation.  I don’t know how things will have changed in the dating world by the time my kids are of age to fancy people, but if they have the self-respect and ability to love that I want them to, then they will know better than to accept sub-standard relationships and undefined entanglements.  If that fails, then hopefully the future father of my children will have a shovel at the ready to discourage would-be unsuitable suitors.

There are loads of other little bits and pieces that I want to teach my children, such as how to ride a bicycle and where babies come from, but these five lessons represent my future parenting priorities.  I also realise that this blog has essentially been a vehicle for me to extol the virtues of my lovely family, but I don’t think that’s surprising given that they are the people who shaped my childhood.  I owe them a lot, and I can’t wait for my future children to meet them.

Have a cracking Monday!

Top Ten Things We Are Officially Too Old For

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Hello, reader! Long time no see!  How was your week?

After a few days’ hiatus while I was running amok in Paris, I am back in Blighty and brimming with blog ideas.  I also appear to be massively over-using the letter “b”, for some reason.

My favourite bit of the Paris trip was visiting the Eiffel Tower.  It says a lot that this was my favourite part of the weekend, because we had to queue for TWO HOURS to get inside.  Being British we were completely comfortable with the queueing process, but Mario and I were nonetheless obliged to play some fairly silly games while we waited, including the classic Would You Rather.  Here’s an example:

Me: Would you rather live in a cave for the rest of your life, or at the top of the Eiffel Tower?
Mario: Would you be able to leave to go shopping and stuff?
Me: Um…no.
Mario: Top of the Eiffel Tower, obviously.
Me: How would you get your shopping, then?
Mario: I’d get it flown in.
Me: How?  There’s no helipad or anything up there.
Mario: I’d get the people to throw the stuff at me and I’d catch it.
Me: Oh, of course.

In front of us in the queue were two families, both British, with five kids between them of various ages between six and twelve-ish.  Understandably these kids were as bored as we were, so they ran around, played games, annoyed each other and climbed on the railings.  I have two problems with this:

1) There is no way on earth my parents would EVER have let us behave that way when we were kids.  If we so much as raised our voices in public when we were little we didn’t know which way was up, I can tell you.  It’s so unfair that these kids can get away with messing around when I never did.  Mutter, grumble, back in my day etc.

2) Damn it, I’m a grown up now!  I’ll never get to run around and play silly games in public!  I’ve missed my opportunity forever!  More muttering and grumbling.

With this horrific injustice in mind, Mario and I came up with a list of the Top Ten Things We Are Officially Too Old For.  By “we” I mean people in their mid-twenties,  and by “officially” I mean “according to me and Mario, who are not qualified to be authorities on this kind of stuff, but we’re pretty sure we’re right”.  Let me know what you think:

1) Running around and messing about in queues
Even as a drama graduate with a Masters in (essentially) Messing About and Doing Silly Voices, I know that that’s not cool.

2) Ordering kids’ meals in restaurants
I tried this one in a Wetherspoons last week.  I’ve never seen such fear and confusion on another human being’s face before.

3) Drinking Nesquik
Mario argued this one, but would you drink it in public?  No.  Same goes for Panda Pops, sadly.

4) Friendship bracelets
Unless some kind of bizarre retro-kitsch fad comes around (and I’m not ruling it out), these lovely tokens are off-limits to us now, even ironically.  If you want to give your friend something that says “I like you, you’re pretty fun” you have to buy them a pint.  Or a puppy or something.

5) Weird hair ornaments
Scrunchies, Alice bands, smiley-face hair clips, glittery hair bobbles – basically anything from Claire’s Accessories is a no-no.

6) Crying in photos
As a baby or small child, crying or looking grumpy in photos is completely fine, and often makes for ammunition that your parents will use when you bring home your first girl/boyfriend.  I know of several school/family photos that meet the gleeful criteria of parents in those circumstances, but nobody cries in their graduation photo (I hope).

7) Light-up trainers
I waited MONTHS to get a pair of blue light-up trainers when I was a kid, and to this day they are my favourite of every pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.  As a grown up I own lots of shoes that I like, but none of them make me feel like a super hero.

8) Having tantrums in public
Let’s be honest: sometimes lying down on the floor, kicking your heels, pounding your fists and screaming blue murder is incredibly appealing.  But as adults we have learned that that’s not always the best way to get what we want, so we have to do more boring things like compromise and negotiate.

9) Drink Calpol
This one makes me the saddest of all, I think.  If I’m ill I have to wander wistfully past the purple syrup of magical well-being and head to the boring, tasteless Ibuprofen.

10) Ask simple questions
There are lots of questions that are seen as cutesy, typical kid questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “What’s love?” “Why can’t we feel the Earth spinning?” and I STILL don’t know the answers to most of them.  I’m too old pull off the eyelash-batting, adorable curiosity thing, so in my ignorant adulthood I turn to a different long-suffering parent: Wikipedia.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend; I hope your Sunday dinner involves the best roast potatoes in the universe.

Ah, L’amour…

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Hello, reader!  You’re looking very well today, I must say.  Loving the hair.

Tomorrow I am going on a mini-break to the capital city of romance: Paris.  I will be drinking wine, walking along the Seine and gazing in awe at the Eiffel Tower with the man in my life, and it will be beautiful.  Sounds like a typical jaunt for a lovey-dovey couple, doesn’t it?  Yep.  Shame I don’t have a boyfriend.

Actually, it’s not a shame at all.  I am rubbish at relationships.  What I am good at are friendships, and the man in my life who will be accompanying me to France is my best friend and Facebook husband.  There has never been less romantic potential between two people on this planet, and that makes him the best person to join me on this trip.

As you might have gathered from this blog post, I am a firm believer in the importance of all kinds of love (and cheese, obviously).  My aforementioned husband is a perfect example of how love can be irrational, uncontrollable and all-enduring.  We have loved each other through drunken tantrums, tragic misunderstandings and a year of separation while he was in San Diego.  We like completely different films, music, food and clothing.  Mario once spent upwards of thirty quid on a Jack Wills t-shirt; until that day I had been under the impression that Jack Wills was some guy in our wider social circle at uni that I hadn’t officially been introduced to yet.

We have worked together as directors, partied together as students and cooked together as people who think that feeding all of our friends in one sitting is perfectly normal (and possible with only three saucepans).  It is common knowledge among our friendship group that I am cheating on him by living with my beloved friend Ash, and that we have been behaving like an elderly married couple since we were eighteen.

I know that it amuses people, and I know that isn’t a real marriage, but it baffles me to think that anyone would think it a shame that we’re having to go to Paris with each other instead of with ‘proper’ partners.  I don’t feel sorry for us at all.  I feel sorry for people who don’t have someone like this in their lives.  I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be such close friends with someone that you can literally say anything to them, and that even after nearly seven years of friendship we still have so much to discover about each other.  How many people can say that their husband fascinates them?  Mine does.  He also likes Mariah Carey, but we try not to talk about that.

Smug?  Weirdly so, given that I’m not in a couple?  Yes, I am.  But I’m about to go on holiday with my best friend, so I think I can be excused a little smugosity.  By the way, this isn’t an attack on people who ARE married: marriage is awesome.  I’m very happy for people who are happily in love.  I’m just very happy for me, too.

Have a fantastic rest of your week, everyone: I will be without internet in Paris, so the next blog will probably be on Sunday.

à bientôt!

February Sucks (But You’re Pretty Awesome)

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Good evening, lovely reader!  I hope that Tuesday has been kind to you.

I hate to sound like a downtrodden farmer’s wife from an awful film, but it’s been a long and difficult winter.  2014 has not started well for lots of people I love.  Having repeatedly insisted to one another that this WILL be our year, I think a lot of us are starting to lose momentum.  We’re nearly two months in, and so far 2014 is a mixed bag to say the least.

On top of the terrifying news about floods, sink holes and that horrible woman torturing people in Russia, we are all living with personal fears and issues.  There are money worries, love life crises and all sorts of other concerns dominating my friends’ mental landscapes, and I personally spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what on earth my hair thinks it’s doing.

Two million people in the UK suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression linked to the seasons and specifically to sunlight.  You can get sunlight-imitating light bulbs and take other small steps to help yourself with the disorder, but there’s no doubt about it this time of year is very hard for people with SAD.

So, to sum up: the world is going to hell on a Boris bike and our own lives are not so great, either.  February sucks.  The British thing to do would be to grumble about it (quietly), and just keep going.  In a fit of non-patriotic activity, I have decided against that tactic.  I want this month to be a really good one, not just the usual post-Christmas “there’s nothing to look forward to” malaise.  So here is what I’m going to do about it, and I hope that other people who are struggling with this month can find similar things to cheer themselves up.

1) Eat something delicious for breakfast

It would be nice to eat something delicious for every meal, obviously, but breakfast is the most important meal because it sets up your metabolism for the day ahead.  You don’t want to get half way through your busy morning of being an awesome human being and run out of energy, do you?  Making yourself a great breakfast is good for you emotionally as well as physically, too: treating yourself to your favourite cereal (or whatever you fancy) puts you in a good mood right from the off.

2) Talk to an old friend

A text, a phone call, a coffee: however it happens, make sure it does happen.  Making a small effort to reconnect with someone that you care about but don’t see/speak to regularly is a really nice way to keep your chin up during this time of year.  You get friend points, you get to catch up with someone you love, and you have an opportunity to escape your day-to-day life and laugh with a friend.  People appreciate the gesture, and coffee is always good.

3) Do something selfless

This is a fairly common piece of advice, but it really does work.  Doing something selfless, no matter how small or inconsequential it might seem to be, is always good.  After all, we have no way of knowing how far reaching one selfless action’s effects will be.  Plus, you can be secretly smug about it.  Secretly, mind.  Don’t go bragging or you’ll lose the cosmic brownie points.

4) Tick something off the bucket list

Everyone has things that they absolutely have to have achieved before they die.  They are things that you want to do, you have wanted to do for a long time, and which say a lot about who you are and what matters most to you.  Do one of them.  Seriously, why not?  Why not use this meagre month to achieve something that would genuinely make you happy?  Carpe every diem.

5) Say nice things to people

Compliment people.  It sounds a bit weird as an instruction.  I’m sure you are a perfectly lovely person who gives compliments already, but think about it: if you find something to compliment about every person you speak to on a regular basis, such as your colleagues and house mates, you are training yourself to look at your day-to-day life in a positive light.  Plus, people love receiving compliments.  Even if you don’t like the person, give it a go.  You can do that, can’t you?  Yeah you can.  ‘Cause you’re awesome.

Unbelievably Specific Knowledge

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Given that I no longer have to commute to central London every day, getting up at six o’clock this morning felt very strange (and not a little unfair).  However, I did have a good reason for being awake at the time that my parents refer to as ‘sparrow fart’: my house mate Ash and I had an audition for the television show Pointless.

For those of you haven’t seen the show, get yourself over to BBC iPlayer and watch a few episodes.  It’s so addictive.  The basic premise is that before the show, the production team have asked one hundred people to think of to think of as many ___ as they can in one hundred seconds.  The players have to think of the most obscure (but correct answers); if they come up with a correct answer that none of the pre-show one hundred thought of, the answer is deemed pointless.  For example, in this morning’s audition we had to try to think of the most obscure united football team; I answered Newcastle, which forty-nine people had thought of, so we scored forty-nine.  Given that the idea is to get the lowest score possible this wasn’t great news, but at least I didn’t say Manchester, which would have given us a whopping ninety-eight points.

One of the things that I really like about the show is that you play in pairs: friends, colleagues, spouses and siblings team up and try to balance out each other’s areas of knowledge.  Ash knows a fair amount about celebrity culture (which I think I’m probably allergic to on some level), and I know an obscene amount about Dad’s Army (which Ash is definitely allergic to, and still upset that I forced her to watch an episode once).  Between us we are pretty good on literature, theatre and television, but also woefully ignorant of all things geographical.

At the start of the audition we had to take a general knowledge quiz.  General knowledge doesn’t really exist anymore: the internet has broadened people’s fields of understanding considerably, and there are all sorts of other contributory factors that affect someone’s knowledge base.  The type of school you went to, your cultural heritage, your hobbies, your social circle and your career path all determine what kind of areas you know about.  Someone who went to a public or private school will potentially have a much firmer grip on the history of cricket, for example, than someone who attended a comprehensive.  (That’s hypothetical, by the way.  I’m not suggesting that that’s applicable to everyone, so don’t any of you Eton toffs come after me with a toasting fork.)  Facts and figures that pub quiz regulars used to take for granted have now been obscured by the sheer volume of bizarre and fascinating facts that you can discover in just one sitting of the programme QI.

I love QI.  I love knowing lots of random, useless facts.  I collect trivia like other people collect…er…stamps, if that’s still a thing.  This obsession with compiling snippets of information is also why I love pub quizzes.  The last one I went to was in Finsbury Park, and my team had a fairly wide range of topics covered between them, although in fairness my sister was basically covering music and geography all on her own. My frustration at missing an answer at one of these events is always balanced out by my excitement at finding out what the actual answer is (nerd).  Actually, we came a fairly respectable third in that quiz, and won a whole bag of crisps as our prize.  A bit stingy for a team of six people, but we were proud.

I wonder whether the abolition of general knowledge is a good or bad thing: on the one hand, it makes it more difficult to create pub quizzes, game shows and so on that can reliably be said to create a level playing field.  On the other hand, it means that almost everyone I meet and speak to can tell me something new and interesting that I wouldn’t have found out otherwise.  Even friends of mine who are interested in similar things to me – books, films, television, cheese – have a mental stockpile of intriguing information that I don’t.  I like finding out stuff, and I like talking to people: so specific knowledge is, I think, a very good thing.

Have a superlatively awesome Monday.

Disney Princes are Normal Blokes

Hello, lovely reader!  How are you?

Today’s blog concerns that trickiest of childhood tragedies: Disney movies do not represent modern life.  I know.  You spend years watching princesses get swept off their feet, and as an adult there isn’t so much as a dustpan and brush in sight.  How unfair is that?

I’ve had a bit of a think about this, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the kind of mistakes that modern men tend to make (and modern women tend to despair of them because of) are actually pretty similar to the ones made by Disney heroes.  True, there tends to be less at stake: it is unlikely, for example, that a chap you’re enamoured with will accidentally provoke the wrath of an evil sorceress, get his own dad murdered or get the whole of China wiped out.  But go with me on this, because I’ve got some examples up my sleeve:

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1) Simba – the Disappearing Act

Simba is a troubled lad.  Obviously he has very good reasons for disappearing after Jeremy Irons throws his dad into the path of a stampede, but how is Nala supposed to know that?  Did he call?  Did he send her a postcard (or leaf or whatever they use in the jungle)?  No.  As far as Nala was concerned, he pulled a classic disappearing act on her; something that lots of non-cartoon, non-leonine women bemoan happening to them.

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2) Eric – the Can’t Quite Seal the Deal

Eric my lad, you are being serenaded by a crustacean and his motley band of fish, birds, etc.  JUST KISS HER.  I know she hasn’t said a word since you found her bedraggled on a beach, but she CLEARLY likes you.  Man up and seal the deal.  The apparent unwillingness or inability of a guy to make the first move is something that many girls I know get very frustrated with.  There are all sorts of gender roles at play here, but even in our enlightened twenty-first century dating world, the majority ruling still seems to be that guys are ‘supposed’ to make the first move.

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3) Aladdin – the Compulsive Liar

Aladdin is in a bizarre conundrum from the second Robin Williams starts granting him wishes, and although the viewers completely understand why he feels the need to conceal the truth from his lady-love, he lies at a rate that would put most politicians to shame.  Jasmine is clearly a smart cookie, and she works out that something’s up with her new boyfriend pretty sharpish, but does Aladdin confess all and beg for forgiveness?  Nope.  He KEEPS LYING.  I completely understand that being honest when you know it will spell trouble is scary, but I’ve been in Jasmine’s shoes, and I can tell you for a fact that covering lies up with more lies is just not cool.  If I were her, I would have fed him to my pet tiger.

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4) Shang – the Just Won’t Listen

I still can’t quite believe that Disney got away with this one: he refuses to listen to Mulan because she’s a GIRL.  Yeah ok, she made some mistakes too, but this guy basically chooses his culture’s expectations of women over his actual experience of a woman’s abilities, including staying calm under fire, rescuing her entire troop and burying the bad guy under an avalanche.  What an idiot.  This is by no means a gender-specific habit, but it is infuriating when your other half is too stubborn to listen to you, especially if their reasoning is so patently ridiculous.

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5) Beast – the Emotionally Unavailable

Ok, this one is a classic: guy likes girl.  Guy doesn’t think that girl will like him back.  Instant grumpy bastard.  Girl has no way of knowing that this is the problem, so she leaves feeling confused (and a bit chilly in all that snow, I should think).  In fairness, Beast (whose human name is Adam, did you know?) is having a massive confidence crisis, what with being an undefined species of animal, as well having a pretty tight schedule to stick to.  But you get the idea.  I hear a lot of my male friends complaining about the fact that their girlfriends and partners expect them to be mind-readers, but it does work both ways.  When a guy pulls the hot-and-cold behaviour on you, or retreats without warning into complete emotional unavailability, girls tend to panic.  Guys have no idea how fast our brains can work when we think that they don’t like us anymore.

It’s pretty reassuring to look at these Disney classics and discover that at least some aspects of the stories are salvageable as relevant to contemporary life.  I’m slightly upset that I’ll never have a castle or the ability to heal people with my hair, but the essential point of this blog was to demonstrate that even the men we are taught to idolise as knights in shining armour are not perfect.  They do sort themselves out eventually: apologies, explanations and good old-fashioned dashes to the rescue all feature heavily in the climactic endings of Disney movies.  This is relevant to real life too: ladies, we need to accept that men are not perfect, but that the one who is right for us will slay a dragon/storm a castle/run across a magically frozen lake if they have to.