Monthly Archives: April 2014

Friendly Advice

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Hello, you lovely human being!  Did you change your hair?  It looks amazing.  No really, you should wear it like that more often.

I’ve talked about this a lot before, but friends are absolutely ace, aren’t they?  (As in actual friends, not the television show.  Although that is ace as well.)  They make you laugh, they inspire you, they encourage you and they accept you for who you are.  Having said all of that, friends are also the most baffling and infuriating people on the planet.  Let me explain:

I love my friends dearly, and in many ways it’s great that a lot of them are drama types.  We all root for each other when we’re doing performances or projects, we’re an outgoing bunch so we tend to have excellent nights out, and every single one of us will drop whatever we’re doing for a good game of Werewolves.  The other main things that we have in common are a tendency to be pretty  emotionally expressive, and a burning desire to analyse everything.  In some extreme cases this can lead to over-thinking, hyper-sensitivity and being a bit of a diva.  In most cases it just creates emotionally aware, interesting people who can talk over a point.  In all cases, it leads to completely contradictory pieces of advice.

This isn’t specific to my drama lot, though.  All of our friends (and human beings in general) are hard-wired to analyse things in a unique manner, and therefore take the same piece of information and come to entirely different conclusions.  For example, consider the scenario of a shopping trip.

You: Shall I buy this?  (Whatever ‘this’ actually is.  Doesn’t really matter.)
Friend 1: Yes, definitely.
Friend 2: Not yet, give it some time.  You can’t rush these things.
Friend 3: Are you sure you really want to buy that?
Friend 1: Of course she does.  Get it!
Friend 3: I don’t think you actually want this item.  I think you actually want something else but you’re hiding behind this other thing.
Friend 2: You just have to wait and see how things turn out with a completely separate item before you decide to purchase this one.
Friend 3: I’m not even sure we’re in the right shop
Friend 4: Huh?  What are we talking about?

Bit of a nightmare, isn’t it?  Advice is very complicated.  Of course it’s good to listen to your friends, and in some cases their advice may be absolutely the best thing for you, but you should always go with your instincts.  Even if you turn out to make a mistake, at least you did what you genuinely thought was best at the time.  That way it is you who takes responsibility for the consequences of your decisions, and also you who reaps the rewards of them.  Besides, the fact that your friends have such different ideas should tell you that the situation is pretty complicated.  It’s best at this stage to give up on the shopping trip and grab a coffee instead.

Speaking of which, why not treat yourself to a fancy coffee today?  You deserve a little midweek pick-me-up.  Have an amazing Wednesday.

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Commute Like A Champion

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Good morning, dear reader.  How are you?

If you are a London-based commuter my heart goes out to you on this, the first full day of the tube strikes.  What a nightmare.  During the last strike it took me three hours on loads of horrible buses to do a forty minute journey.  In hindsight, I wish I’d just hired a Segway and had a bit of fun getting to work.

Given that public transport is not huge amounts of fun at the best of times, I have decided to compile a list of ways to improve our lot.  After all, if we are obliged to spend a couple of hours a day on trains, buses and enchanted broomsticks, we may as well have some fun with it.  You’re a very busy person and your time is precious, so don’t waste those hours being bored or annoyed.  Use the time to your advantage.

  • That is Fascinating

Music is great, but if you’re listening to a podcast by these guys, for example, you will be learning about all kinds of fascinating things just by sitting on a train.  Granted, when I listened to their podcasts on the way to work I tended to have a perpetual “surprised and intrigued” face that looked a bit odd to other people, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of having really learned something before 9am.

  • Story Time

This one might just appeal to me and my friends because we’re all silly drama types who like making stuff up, but it’s basically a fun extension of people watching: make up stories in your head (ONLY in your head) about your fellow passengers.  This one is particularly fun when there is an old lady on board, because I like to think that it’s the queen in disguise monitoring her loyal subjects.  This is especially fun when you get to “Green Park – alight here for Buckingham Palace” and the old lady gets off the train.  What more proof do you need?

  • If You Had To

Again, this is almost definitely something that my friends and I are peculiarly drawn to, but it does pass the time.  You have to select three people from the individuals in your carriage/on your bus whom you would spend the rest of your life with: marriage, kids, mortgage, everything.  (Again, this is just in your head or, if playing with friends, in VERY quiet discussions.)  The joy of this is that at each stop your selection pool changes, and the joy of playing this with male friends is that they take it incredibly seriously.

  • Magic Tricks

If you commute for long enough you learn all sorts of transferable skills.  You can essentially teach yourself Houdini-esque body contortions by boarding a train bound for Marylebone from Aylesbury before 8am, and ladies tend to get very good at applying make-up in extreme turbulence.  Think of your commute as an opportunity to hone these magic tricks of yours, and be proud of yourself for mastering them.  I personally am at Level 6: Liquid Eye Liner on the DLR.

  • Make Someone Else’s Day

This is as fun for you as it is for the other person: smile at someone (BRIEFLY – this is England, for heaven’s sake), give up your seat, help an old lady with her granny shopper or a mum with her pushchair.  It  takes two seconds and you’re making someone else happy.  Plus, you know, you can legitimately feel pretty smug for at least half an hour.

  • This is My Stop

I have actually done this one on a lift before, but one day on a tube train (two seconds before my stop, obviously), I really want to open my handbag, peer into it and say “have you got enough air in there?”  I will then close my handbag, look at the other passengers suspiciously and draw my handbag closer to myself in a fit of protective fear before sweeping off the train with a haughty sniff.

Have an absolute cracker of a Tuesday.

Why Would an Elephant Want to Tap Dance?

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Hello and a very merry Monday to you, you lovely reader!  How was your weekend?  I hope you got some decent rest.

A lot of my weekend was taken up with a film project for my theatre company, Empty Photo.  We were filming a bunch of actor types doing monologues, and I must say they were all bloody marvellous.  The cameraman was my friend Paul, who is an excellent photographer, keen fan of coffee and all-round digital genius.

On the second day of filming he got pretty irate, because some people elsewhere in the studio building were being incredibly noisy.  I mean, elephants-having-a-tap-dancing-lesson kind of noisy, and it was affecting our recordings. This was a real shame, especially when the actors’ performances were so flipping good.  C’est la shared studio space.  I’m sure we’ll find a way to sort the sound out.

The reason I brought that up is because Paul got so cross that he expressed a desire to go upstairs and physically assault the unknown person or persons who were responsible for making such a racket.  While I completely understood and shared his feelings, I realised that people tend to be a lot more vocal and expressive about their anger when it’s directed at strangers.  Isn’t that odd?

We all get cross from time to time, and with people whom we might never meet: noisy neighbours, the person who pulled the emergency brake on your train and made you late for work, whoever it was that used up the loo roll in a public toilet.  These are all people whom we mentally direct venom, anger and disbelief towards: “how could anyone DO such a thing?!” we think.  Well, the awkward thing is that we’ve probably done some of those things ourselves, perhaps without even realising it.  After all, you’re a wonderful human being, but you’re not perfect.

Let’s look at this from the other side: how upset would you be if a stranger came up to you in the street, pointed an accusing finger at you and yelled, “YOU!  You’re the pratface who accidentally knocked my ankles with a pushchair in a shopping centre four months ago!  How do you sleep at night??”  You’d be mortified, wouldn’t you?  First of all, you didn’t mean to spoil this person’s day, but also you’re a complex person who says, does and thinks all sorts of things.  How can someone judge you for having made one mistake when there’s so much more to you?

That’s how I’m trying to think about the noisy people in the other studio yesterday.  I will only ever see them (or hear them, I suppose) as pachyderms with a Billy Elliot complex, but I’m sure that they are many-layered people who have hopes, dreams, sandwich preferences and allergies.

Have the kind of Monday that should be in a movie montage.

Sticking to Your (Metaphorical) Guns

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Good morning, lovely reader.  How is your weekend going so far?

As those of you who have read this post about me bullying a pepper pot will already know, I recently made a sweeping declaration about a particular aspect of my life, i.e. that if something hadn’t changed by a certain point in time, I would have to radically change my behaviour.  Without delving too far into the hows and the whys and the “do you mind if I don’t?”s (sorry – I can’t resist the opportunity to include a Blackadder reference), I will tell you that the deadline for something to change is today.  I now realise that I was being ludicrously optimistic about that time frame.  Radically changed behaviour, here I come.

When my house mate gave up smoking, she went completely cold turkey straight away.  I have rarely seen such impressive will power, especially given that she went to a snazzy industry party in Soho three nights later and could very easily have reneged on her decision.  She was out in central London with a lot of booze, a lot of smokers and some very famous actors, but she didn’t give in.  Amazing, isn’t it?  I know.  She’s a legend.

It is examples of self-control like that one which make me determined not to go back on my deadline thing.  It’s going to be painful and difficult.  I will probably change my mind about it in the next few days, hours or even minutes.  I feel incredibly sorry for my friends, who are going to have to put up with a lot from me for the next few weeks, but it has to be done.  This may have started with a sweeping declaration and an unfortunate condiment container, but I think we all know that when we try to make big decisions about our lives it’s because we recognise that something is wrong, and our job as human beings with a sense of self-preservation is to get the heck out.

Who knows what we are missing by pursuing things that are bad for us?  What kind of amazing stuff is happening that we don’t even know about because we’re too busy being addicted to a harmful substance, malingering in a dead end job or chasing after someone who doesn’t love us?  I can tell you for certain that you are a fascinating person with a lot to offer, and I hate to think of you wasting your time on something that is hurting you or holding you back.  Make the decision to stop what you’re doing, and then stick to your guns.  I cannot stress enough how utterly and completely metaphorical these guns should be (unless you’ve got water pistols, which are just cool).

Have the kind of Sunday that will make for a great anecdote tomorrow.

Richard Curtis Ruins Everything

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Good morning, you attractive and more intelligent than average person!  How’s the start of your weekend so far?

Today’s blog is about words and how we tend to misuse them.  As a writer and all-round pretty verbose gal, it feels a bit strange to be writing a blog post (using words, no less) about such a topic, but bear with me, because I think I can explain myself.  Having said that, I will be attempting to explain myself using, er…more words.  Flipping heck, this is going to be tricky…

We all have moments when we say something that we immediately wish we could take back.  You know the drill:

What your brain tells you: Hey, say this!  It’s witty, it’s apt and it’s actually pretty topical, too.  Saying this sentence will make you seem more attractive and intelligent to everyone in the room.

What actually comes out of your mouth: Something pretty obscure, mildly offensive and more than a bit weird.  People are now staring at you with slight fear and a lot of pity.  Back away slowly until you’re near enough to the door to make a run for it, and never see or speak to any of these people again.

When you’re tired, it gets worse.

Brain: Er…try saying this.  It might work. Who are we talking to, again?
What comes out of your mouth: Noises which are probably not even real words, and a bit of dribble.

And, of course, when you’re drunk:

Brain: Hey look, a random thought/complete overreaction/declaration of undying love!  Say that!!
What comes out of your mouth: a random thought/complete overreaction/declaration of undying love in glorious surround sound, probably a bit too loud and marred only by slurring.

Whether we’re sober, drunk or just too tired for proper sentences, we all say things from time to time that seem a bit silly in hindsight.  But when the conversation is truly important it feels so much worse to have messed it up.  Essentially, Richard Curtis films have ruined eloquence for all of us.   Even his most ridiculous characters manage to say the right words at the crucial moment (I’m looking at you, every Hugh Grant character ever), and that makes the rest of us feel bad when what we really need to do is just say “I’m sorry, I messed that up.  Can I start again?”

The other problem with this is that the person you’re talking to is the one who gets to decide whether or not you can have a second chance.  There are people in my life whom I love enormously, partly because they are kind, funny, interesting people, but mainly because they let me try again when the words I choose the first time around are not good enough.  I hope that you have people like that in your life, but more than that I hope that you are one of those people who give second chances.

Most of all, I hope that you have a glorious Saturday.

Take Care of Yourself

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Hello and happy Friday to you, you gorgeous human being!

Yesterday my house mate Ash and I pootled off to Elstree for our second recording of Pointless, and while I’m not allowed to say very much about it specifically, I can tell you that we had a lovely time and that everyone we met was very nice, if a tad confused by us.  Let me explain.

When we were on our way to the bus stop at stupid o’clock yesterday morning, Ash suggested pausing at our local Tesco to get a couple of diet cokes.  The buy one get one free offer being what it was, we ended up filling her suitcase with twelve cans of the stuff.  While this seemed perfectly reasonable to us, it did make us look like we were carrying a mini bar around.  Whenever one of us said “could you pass me a diet coke please, love?” and the other one opened our case of caffeinated treasure, the looks on people’s faces were priceless.  One might argue that Ash and I have a slight problem…

I am about to make an incredibly hypocritical statement, but bear with me, because it comes with the best intentions: we all need to take better care of ourselves.  Ash and I both drink water, eat vegetables and exercise, but we are also (clearly) addicted to a very unhealthy beverage.  A lot of my friends who work hard are making leaps and bounds professionally, but health-wise they are running themselves into the ground.  This worries me.  The Irish grandmother bit of my brain bursts into tears when people  I love tell me that they don’t have time to eat proper meals.

I know that it’s difficult when you’re frantically busy, but I really, really want you (yes, YOU specifically) to look after yourself.  I have a few very good reasons for this:

  • You will get ill.  It’s just a fact.  Whether it’s a cold or full-blown influenza, you cannot eat badly (or not enough) for long without your body throwing a hissy fit about it.  Pay attention to your body, because you need it to get you places and house your brain and stuff.
  • You will feel like hell.  It’s bizarre how quickly our minds and bodies shut down when we’re not getting enough nutrients, but think about it: we all get grumpy when we’re hungry.  Mood swings are your brain’s way of telling you to eat a sandwich.
  • You are needed.  The majority of people who read this blog know me personally, so to you lovely people: I NEED YOU.  If you are not healthy and happy then the Irish grandmother in my head will be very upset, and you don’t want that.  (She’s very loud when she’s upset, and she’s been known to force-feed people.)  To those of you whom I don’t have the pleasure of being acquainted with: the people in your life need you.  They want you to be happy and they need you to take care of yourself, because there are no spare copies of you lying around.  You are unique and important, and if you scupper yourself health-wise then the people you love will be hurt.

Bearing that in mind, I hope that you eat a balanced, nutritious and delicious lunch.  Treat yourself to some cake or something, as well.  It is Friday, after all.

Time is of the (Vanilla) Essence

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Good morning, you lovely thing!  How’s your week going so far?

If you’ve read my blog post about deadlines you will already know that I think working towards deadlines can be very good for us, but that we should have faith in the idea that opportunities don’t just come around once.  This post was similarly positive in tone, and dealt with the idea that we can afford to wait for the opportune moment.  Having made these fairly optimistic assertions, I would now like to talk about the slightly more frustrating side of things: the best laid plans of mice, men and mortgage brokers can be utterly scuppered by bad timing.  Good timing is like a ticket to your dream gig: you know some people have managed to get hold of it, but your best endeavours haven’t got you anywhere.  Sadly, there is no eBay equivalent for those of us who can’t seem to time things correctly.

In many cases, timing is problematic because it isn’t something we can entirely control.  Your best friend’s birthday party inevitably falls the night before your big job interview, and the season finale of your favourite television show is always showing when you’ve got a hefty essay due in.  In my house, we tend realise that we’ve run out of vanilla essence three minutes after Asda closes on the evening before some kind of cake-centred event.  (For the record, almost all of mine and Ash’s social interactions revolve around cake, and we are not ashamed.)

Currently, timing is just being a bit inconsiderate: I somehow managed to get ill just before today’s recording of Pointless.  This is an absolute pain in the sinuses, but I have two very good reasons not to let this bother me:

1) I have an incredibly compassionate flat mate who is very good at taking care of sickies, and who is unfailingly sympathetic when all I can muster by way of conversation is a feeble “uuuuuurgh my face hurts”.  Everyone should have an Ash in their lives, especially one who always has Olbas oil and vapour rub.

2) Pretty much everyone I know is ill at the moment, and we all know that lurgy loves company.

That’s the main point, isn’t it?  The worst feeling in the world is not necessarily going through something difficult, but feeling that you’re going through it alone.  Bad things don’t necessarily come in threes, but they definitely come in large numbers.  Sometimes it seems that we have stumbled across a school trip of bad news, and the little gits have taken over our mental landscapes with their lunch boxes of doom.  It isn’t necessarily encouraging per se that all of our friends get ill at the same time, that lots of couples break up within a few weeks of each other and that everyone seems to be in a bad mood on the same day, but our problems are so much easier to deal with when we realise that our loved ones understand them.  In many cases, their experiences of your situation will qualify them to offer you good advice, lots of empathy and, where necessary, decongestants.

Have a truly marvellous Thursday.  You deserve it.

Here We Go Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looming/Loving Deadlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have the kind of Tuesday that is worthy of folklore.

Connection Error

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

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

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

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

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

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