Monthly Archives: June 2014

You Are Not Sandra Dee (Thank Goodness)

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Good morning and welcome to a brand new week!  How the devil are you?

First and foremost, I would like to apologise for the gaps inbetween my blog posts recently.  My work schedule has prevented me from writing every day, for which I can only apologise and offer you a compensatory biscuit.  That being said, I have decided that from now on I will only be posting on weekdays, mainly so that you can go about your weekend unpestered by my ramblings.  Sound good?  Marvellous.

Today’s blog post is about the sneaking suspicion most girls have about themselves, which is (brace yourselves, ladies) that we don’t actually want to be the heroine of a story.  Oh, sure, we want the romance and the struggle and the ultimate happy ending, but we want to be allowed to get there on our terms.  We want to know that we can succeed without the necessary caveat of being beautiful, or the genetic good luck to have incredibly long, climbable hair.  The women we most admire and aspire to are the funny best friends and the sarcastic sidekicks – the characters who get the best lines and the best results.

Female characters who have an amusing foible or a deplorable flaw are, in film, literature and television, much more empathetic to modern women than their swooning, seductive counterparts.  The heroines of stories are willed by the reader or viewer to get the prescribed happy ending, because that’s what we are programmed to expect: give us a pretty girl in a pickle and we are desperate for her to find her bliss.  But show us a character who is less impeachably perfect and more honestly human, and that’s who we want to be.  We want to be the girl on the sideline who manages to win just by being herself.

Wouldn’t you rather be a Rizzo than a Sandy?  Nessa wins over Stacey, outright.  And deep down, don’t you think it would be fun to be more of a Karen than a Grace?  Why do you think movie writers keep inventing ‘kooky friend’ characters, anyway?  Because they know that those are the women we actually relate to.

These female characters are not perfect, but they are perfectly believable, which is definitely more important.  They might be bitchy, crazy or even prone to singing at high school for no reason, but there are worse things they could do.  (Geddit?)  These women are actually doing us all a favour by reminding us that you don’t have to be blonde, adorable or star-crossed in order to get what you want – you can (and should) just be yourself.

And why wouldn’t you be yourself, while we’re at it?  You’re brilliant!

Have a miraculous Monday.

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Smells Like Team Spirit

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s your week progressing?  Getting through your to do list at a pleasing pace, I hope?

“Team work” is one of those phrases that fills us with dread and fear.  This is because we secretly think that “team work” means “unable to think for yourself”, “willing to let others do your work” or, horror of horrors, “always up for those God-awful trust exercises that supposedly break the ice, but actually make everyone feel cripplingly embarrassed”.

What you discover very quickly in working world (particularly when you work in the arts) is that when it actually happens, team work is flipping brilliant.  Of course we should all have independent approaches, unique ideas and confidence in what we bring to the job as individuals, but we should also enjoy the many advantages that proper team work offers.

As you might remember from previous posts, I am currently working in a front of house team on a large-scale kids’ show in London.  The job is difficult and the show is not really aimed at my demographic, but the experience is ace.  As they say in The Lego Movie song, everything is cool when you’re part of a team.  Here are a few lovely things about team work that might dispel some of those trust exercise (shudder) memories:

In jokes – weeks, months and even years after the event, in jokes can help a team to feel connected to one another.  In jokes are also a good way to just have a bit of fun at work when the chips are down.

People understand why you’re stressed – if you turn to a colleague and go “aaaargh” (or something slightly more articulate), nine times out of ten they will get what you’re on about.  Not having to explain your stress and still managing to get sympathy is pretty darn efficient.

The play’s the thing – working with a whole bunch of people who care about the same project you do is brilliant, because you are constantly reminded that you are all working towards something bigger than any of you.  This can be scary and inspirational in equal measure, but it is always a motivator.

Down time – it is so nice to unwind in the company of people whose day you’ve shared.  There’s a sense of mutual achievement and good humour when my colleagues and I get the train home from work together, even though most of us have at least an hour’s commute ahead of us.  Stopping at the amazing frozen yoghurt place on our way from work to the station helps, too.

Going crazy – work can sometimes take over our lives a bit, and when it does it’s nice to know that the people you work with are going crazy at exactly the same rate, in pretty much the same way and for precisely the same reason.  For instance, the kids’ show I’m working includes some very distinctive music.  Surprisingly, it’s actually very cheering to hear my colleagues humming it all day long, because it means that I’m not alone.  The one time that it’s good to crazy is when you’re in great company.

Have a delightful Friday.

Valid (and Silly) Questions

Hello, dear reader.  How are you?

Today’s blog is a bit of a random one, based entirely on my realisation that there are some very simple questions in life that I just don’t know the answers to.  So on behalf myself and anyone else who is baffled by the universe, I’ve done some very (very, very) basic research and investigation into a few random wonderments.  Enjoy.

  • Why can’t we see stars during the day?
    One of my favourite weird things about nature is that sometimes we get to see the moon during the day.  I love the moon.  It’s such a maverick: “I know it ain’t night time yet, but screw you guys!  I’m coming out now!!”  However, it seems a bit unfair that stars, which are after all the basis of many wishes being made and songs being written, do not get to show off whenever they feel like it.  I am reliably informed (by a guy who is training to be a physics teacher, no less) that this imbalance is because the moon is perspectively much bigger than stars are, so it reflects enough of the sun’s light to be visible during daylight hours.  Clearly bigger is indeed better!
  • Why do we have earwax?
    No, seriously, what the heck is it for?  It’s gross and weird and does not – despite what the movie Shrek tells us – make good candles.  Having done a bit of (reluctant) research, I can tell you that earwax is similar to tears, mucus and other joyous bodily fluids, which actually serve a cleansing purpose even though they’re pretty disgusting themselves.  Let’s move on…
  • Why do the English pronounce “lieutenant” “leftenant”?
    The word “lieutenant” comes from two French words: “lieu” meaning “place”, and “tenant” meaning “holding”.  Thus, a lieutenant is someone who holds the place of a superior officer, should said superior officer die or go to the loo at an inopportune moment or something.  The confusion over pronunciation derives from the fact that the Modern French “lieu” was occasionally written as “luef” in Old French.  As far as I can tell, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth armies tend to say “leftenant” (whereas the Americans stick to the more modern pronunciation) purely because we’re a pretty old-fashioned bunch.
  • What the heck is a mint julep?
    Whenever my flat mate and I are pretending to be Southern belles (which is a lot more often than we’d like to admit), we inevitably claim that we need a mint julep.  It occurred to me yesterday that I don’t actually know what a mint julep is, but thanks to the good people of Wikipedia I can tell you that it is a cocktail traditionally comprised of bourbon, mint leaves, sugar and water.  Fascinating, no?
  • And last, but by no means least:
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I genuinely don’t know.  Have a gorgeous Wednesday.

They Know Too Much

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Hello, and happy Tuesday to you, you gorgeous creature!

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about personas, and how what we present to the world doesn’t match up with what we’re actually like.  Sometimes we come across well-meaning individuals who tell us that they can “see through” us, and that they know what we’re “really” like.

This is obviously infuriating for several reasons, not least because it’s pretty disrespectful not to take someone at face value.  Of course we all have many layers and sides and depths that we don’t reveal in everyday conversation, but I think we’re all at an age when we have arranged our social personas to be a good balance of what is accurate and what is acceptable.

Only a very few people in our lives are allowed to say that they “see through” us (and a good way of identifying them is that they very rarely feel the need to tell you so).  There are people in all of our lives whom we never want to lose, if only because they know too much about us.  It can be alarming and disarming to realise that your friends and loved ones understand some supposedly secret things about you, but I think that if we take a closer look we will see that this is an excellent thing.  Here are a few things that our true friends know about us:

What We’re Like When We’re Drunk
The friends who know you best will be able to tell at twenty paces how many drinks you’ve had, and in some cases what those drinks actually were.  (“Good Christ, she’s absolutely gone.  Must be between seven and nine ciders.”  “No, she’s only had six, but there was definitely a Jägerbomb between four and five.”)  While this can be annoying in terms of next-day debriefs, it’s also a very valuable asset.  Your friends know exactly when to humour your tipsy ramblings, dissuade you from drunk dialling, pour you into a taxi or even pour you another drink.  (That last one depends on how drunk they are in comparison to you, of course.)

When We’re Not Ok
It would be lovely to be able to go through life appearing as competent, happy and organised human beings, wouldn’t it?  A lot of the time, even when we are feeling very far from alright indeed, we can fool a lot of people into assuming that everything’s fine.  People who love us can always tell when we’re faking a smile or pretending to have fun, and it’s sometimes difficult to admit to when we’re trying to keep ourselves together.  You must know that feeling when someone offers you a hug and you refuse, just because you know that you’ll cry if you say yes?  Well, let’s all agree to stop doing that.  Take the hug.

When We’re Lying
I’m not suggesting that we’re all terrible fib-tellers, but our closest companions can always tell when we’re not being entirely truthful.  That might be when we’re umming and erring, trying not to offend them with our honest opinion, or when we’re being falsely bright with a person they know we can’t stand, or when we answer “yes” to the question “are you sure you don’t want seconds?”

What Our Weaknesses Are
Someone who has been in your life for a long time knows what your Achilles’ heel is, even if you’ve never explicitly revealed it to them.  It might be a particular food, a favourite film or even another person, but don’t forget that your real friends always know.  For example, my friends know that I am easily placated by shiny things (up to and including tin foil).  The great thing about weaknesses is that sometimes you discover that you share yours with someone you care about, which makes them more fun to indulge in.

I think that the main problem we have with our friends being so flipping knowledgeable about us is that it can make us feel vulnerable, and their understanding of us does sort of undermine the persona we present to the world.  Having said that, it’s only by being vulnerable with the people who love us that we are able to be who we actually are.  It’s so much better to let people in on your secrets than it is to go around pretending to be normal all of the time.

Have a glorious Tuesday.

4 Things We Shouldn’t Photograph

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Good morning, lovely reader!  How was your weekend?

One of my favourite things about my generation is that in twenty (ish) years, we will be able to tell our children anything they want to know about what our lives were like when we were their age.  Social media has become a sort of personal encyclopaedia of each user’s life: all of our memories, friendships, photographs and Buzzfeed quiz results are mere clicks away.

I particularly love being able to share photographs on social media, but for some reason I cannot get on with apps like Instagram – I just want a photo.  Why must everything be square and made sepia?  Photography really propels people around social media sites, catching people’s attention and storing their significant moments.  This is a marvellous and brilliant thing (although if I see any more images of flipping meals, which are always captioned with something horrendous like “baked beans for dinner lol I well love this particular type of phaseolus vulgaris innit #bakedbeans #Heinz4lyf #yolo”, I will probably scream).  Having said that, I think that there are some moments in life which are better left unphotographed – amazing, beautiful moments, but moments which should be allowed to go unrecorded.

1) Gigs
Let’s get this one out of the way nice and early: why do people record videos and take photos all the way through concerts?  LISTEN TO THE FLIPPING MUSIC OR GO HOME AND PUT ON THE ALBUM.  Of course it’s nice to have something to remember the gig by, but the photographs never come out how you want them to, and the videos are always rubbish.  Put your smartphone away and just enjoy the experience.  Maybe have a bit of a boogie as well.

2) Pyrotechnics
I was at a friend’s birthday party this weekend, which was a mini camping trip in a beautiful woodland half an hour outside South London.  We had bunting, a barbecue and a flipping great time.  We also had a camp fire, which is one of my favourite things in the world.  Although when you look around a camp fire or a firework display the faces of your companions seem warmly lit, photos of these joyful communal experiences never show as much clarity or illumination as you remember from the moment itself.  Best just to sit back and join in with the “ooh”s and “aah”s, then.

3) Split Seconds
Don’t you just love it when something hilarious or ridiculous happens without any warning?  Moments of sheer joy between friends, loved ones and strangers can be lifelong fond memories.  It would be great if we could relive them over and over again in HD quality, but inevitably we find ourselves saying “Oh, I wish I had recorded that!” and being left with just our memory of the event.  It does seem a shame, but then if we went around recording everything all the time, just in case something funny happened, we wouldn’t be properly engaging with the world around us.  Bizarrely, we would end up looking so hard for these moments that we’d end up missing them completely.

4) Anticipation
You can photograph a moment of happiness, or love, or success.  But we all know that sometimes the anticipation is even better than the event we are waiting for, and you can’t capture anticipation in an image.  You can’t visually explain that second just before you kiss someone for the first time, or the moment just before your team scores a winning goal.  Anticipation is very visceral as an experience: we feel it in strange physiological (as well as cognitive) ways, and it’s something that we should definitely just experience without trying to catch forever.  By its nature, after all, anticipation is fleeting (and hopefully followed by awesomeness).

Have a genuinely stupendous Monday.

Why Are We Waiting?

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Hello, reader.  How are you doing?  Excited about your weekend?  Oh good, me too.

Time is a tricky git, and it seems to speed up and slow down according to its own capricious will.  We have all fallen victim to this phenomenon: the last half hour at work on Friday feels like an eternity, but Netflix can take up an entire evening in what feels like seconds.

Some stuff just takes flipping ages for no good reason.  For example, going to bed.  In theory we should get tired, get into bed and fall asleep.  In practice, going to bed takes a lot of work: getting clothes ready for the next day, brushing your teeth, changing into pjs, taking make-up off, locking up the house, switching everything off, getting into bed, replying to the texts you forgot about earlier, swearing and getting back out of bed because you’ve left your phone charger in a different room, grumbling about your phone and demanding to know why it doesn’t know how to use less battery power if it’s so bloody smart, getting back into bed, setting your alarm for the next day and then not being able to fall asleep for ages because you’re sure you’ve forgotten about something.

The same sort of thing occurs when we are waiting for something good to happen in life: we feel that we have jumped through all manner of hoop-type obstacles and worked hard for a good end result.  This is particularly true when we are waiting for our degree results, or to hear back about a job.  We’ve done everything we were supposed to, so why are we waiting?  What is taking so flipping long?

When I left university and was a bit depressed about having no career to speak of as yet, and the months seemed to be dragging by with no hope of progress, my beloved friend Mario very wisely told me not to get bogged down by the situation.  His reasoning went thusly: first of all, pretty much everyone we knew was in the same position.  Secondly, when we look back on our post-graduation years as elderly folk, they will seem like a tiny part of our lives.  What dragged on and depressed us as twenty-somethings will seem like a momentary blip of time when we are older.

Ah, you are thinking that that’s all very well and good, but we’re not old yet, are we?  Some of us are still in that nasty post-uni slump.  I agree.  Unfortunately, at this point I have to recommend something that I would find incredibly difficult to do myself: we must be patient.  Being patient is the most irritating thing in the world, because it is a passive, boring and frustrating state that forces us to relinquish control over a situation.  I completely get that.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an alternative.

When we are waiting, we must be patient, and when things are going well, we must enjoy them.  No matter how long it actually takes us to get ready for bed, we do eventually get to sleep.  No matter how long it takes your friend to get ready, you will eventually leave the house and go clubbing.  No matter how long it takes to load, you will at some point get to watch that amusing YouTube video.  There’s a logical ending to all the ridiculous faffing.  Even when it feels like you’re just doing the same things day after day, or that nothing you do is making any difference to your success, have faith that you are always moving closer to your goal.  The passing of time, even when it’s infuriating, is a kind of progress in itself.

Have a magical Friday.

Fuel Crisis

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Good morning!  You’re looking very well today, if I may say so.

This week is a bit of a funny one for me.  In theory I’ve got most of the week off work, but in reality that means I should be using the time to catch up on Edinburgh Fringe preparation and other joyous tasks.  I am also doing my best to catch up with as many of my lovely friends as possible, but in practice my half-asleep, fairly ill state is not conducive to effective socialising.  I’m pretty chipper, but I’m being a bit of a zombie.

We all have times in our lives when we are running low on energy, don’t we?  Whether we’re physically exhausted, emotionally drained or mentally befuddled, we all go through phases when we just can’t seem to rally.

There are physical things that can hep us out at times like this: our bodies are fuelled by food and sleep, for instance, and drinking plenty of water is very good for us.  For those of us who need a little bit of extra oomph, caffeine is also good idea.  (Some of my friends and I can tell by our current mood exactly how many more coffees we need in order to function at our best, which is worrying, but it helps us get stuff done.)

Physical weariness is fairly easy to fix, but mental and emotional exhaustion can be very tricky.  What works for one person might exacerbate things for someone else, and we need to be mindful of what we actually need to make us better.  For example, some people need a bit of time to themselves when they’re feeling drained.  Others need to blow off steam and possibly even ‘partay’ a tad, while even more (myself included) tend to recover fastest by spending quality time with people who love them.

Whether you end up spending all of your time in a pub or shutting yourself off from society entirely, the most important thing is not to feel guilty.  We all run on a kind on different kinds of fuel, and when we need to top up there is no way around it.  We all go through times when we just have to concentrate on ourselves and on getting better, and the people who love us will understand that.

Apart from anything else, if we are not able to take the time to recover ourselves, we will not be in a position to offer love and support to the people in our lives.  We will be no fun to hang out with or talk to, and we will end up zombie-ing our way through life which, even though Shaun of the Dead is a marvellous film, does not look like it would be much fun.

Have a gorgeous Thursday.  May your plans all run extremely smoothly.

Unsporting Spectators

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Good morning, dear reader!  Happy Wednesday!

Today I would like to talk to you about the idea of standing by while stuff happens.  How often do we get involved with what’s going on around us?

I recently finished reading Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland, which is a bizarre combination of fact and fiction.  It faithfully describes the words and actions of Idi Amin during his tyrannous rule of Uganda, but the narrator is a fictional character who never really existed (although his experiences in the novel are loosely based on those of real people).  The character is a doctor, so it makes absolute sense that he describes the events in the novel with clinical precision and accuracy.  It is difficult, however, to get inside his head and feel that you know him.  Perhaps that’s for the best – his destructive and terrifying friendship with a dictator is not something that we necessarily want to sympathise with – but it was a bit jarring all the same.

There is also a moral dilemma afoot (that’s right: afoot).  Should Nicholas Garrigan (for ‘t’was the narrator’s name) have stepped in at some point?  He was afraid, and he was inexplicably drawn in to Amin’s web, but couldn’t he have done something?  He never says anything and he doesn’t try to create change in Uganda.  The British government repeatedly ask him to kill Amin, or at least to spy on him for them, and he refuses.  What a wuss.

I had a similarly irritated reaction to Robert Graves’ autobiographical account of the First World War, Goodbye to All That.  Graves was, I’m sure, a very brave man who fought well for his country.  Having said that, he comes across in his autobiography as a complete and total prat.  He has an assumed self-importance that some people get when they’ve befriended famous people, or happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Graves is like that about Siegfried Sassoon’s letter to The Times in 1917 – he essentially says “Oh, yeah, I was totally there for that.  Yeah.  Told him not to send it, actually.  Yeah.  Me and Siggy – we’re like that.”

Forgetting for a moment that Sassoon’s letter was a major turning point in public awareness of the horrors of trench warfare and the campaign as a whole, Graves’ approach repels the reader by making them feel that inactivity would have been better than what Sassoon did.  Garrigan and Graves – both too far from fiction to be ignored – are discomfiting people because they show us that not all humans are heroes.  We would all love to think that we would take action when faced with their situations, but the truth is that we have no way of knowing for sure.

Wouldn’t it be weird if Prince Charles finally got the throne, and it turned out that all those years of waiting had turned him into a crazed tyrant?  (Probably not going to happen, but something to bear in mind.)  How do you think you’d behave?  Do you think that you’d speak out against him?  Would you wage a campaign?  Would you help to save those who’d been mauled by corgis in the street for incorrect etiquette (or whatever his problem turns out to be)?

We have no way of knowing how we would behave in situations like that, but I think that we can find smaller ways to find out.  We don’t need a tyrant or a global war to show us who we are.  We can step up to the smaller, everyday moments of injustice, and refuse to accept them, like we do when we donate to charity or run a marathon for cancer research.  That is all excellent stuff to do.

Well, I’m off to the Post Office, because my life is thrilling like that.  You have an absolutely cracking Wednesday.

The Boy Scout Attitude

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Hello dear reader, and welcome to…what day are we on now?  Thursday?  Friday?…oh.  Monday.  That’s a shame.  Anyway, how on earth are you?

Like most people, I love the idea of being prepared for stuff.  Wouldn’t it be great if we were the kind of people who always had a spare pen and a packet of tissues?  Wouldn’t it be brilliant to be able to reply “yes” whenever someone at work is pleading for painkillers? There are people out there who are reliable, dependable and always able to help.  (Writing that bit has made me realise that I’m basically describing my mum here, which is nice.)

These people seem to have all the answers, because they have thought of every possible outcome of their day before they left home.  To disorganised eejits like me, these people seem to have a prescient affinity with the universe that allows them to foresee and deflect crises. In reality, these people just have their heads screwed on properly, and they are prepared for life because they’ve learned from experience.  For instance, experience tells a British person to always, always, always take sunglasses and an umbrella, just in case.  If you are the kind of person who learns from situations and equips yourself for similar occasions accordingly, then you are a winner.

Sometimes we can’t help but be equipped a certain way, because of who we are and what we do.  For example, I am a writer, so odds are I’ll have loads of pens and at least one notebook on me.  One of my friends, who is a child minder, always has plasters and formula in her handbag.  A friend of mine who works with animals always has hand sanitiser and antihistamines with him.  Where we go and what we get up to dictates how prepared we are for daily life, and to a certain extent this is true of our personal lives, too.

Where you’ve been in life prepares you for emotional situations.  Just as the sensible girl takes a pair of flat shoes along on a night out because she knows that her stilettos will fail her, people who’ve had their hearts broken a few times tend to equip themselves with caution when entering a new relationship.  If you have been brought up to be emotionally expressive then you will be well-equipped to offer someone support and a hug when they are sad.  If you have ever embarrassed yourself on national television, you will be perfectly able to comfort your child if they mess up a line in their school play.  That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you know what I mean: what happens to us equips us.

We have to learn to be Boy Scouts about bad stuff that happens: think of each experience as a badge you’ve earned, which equips you to deal with similar situations next time, and to help other people going through the same thing.  Be prepared.

On that note, I’m off to buy some wellies for a camping trip this weekend.  Have a glorious Monday.

Sunday Significance

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Hello, and happy Sunday to you!  I hope that you’ve had a nice lie-in after staying up to watch the football.  Or a nice lie-in after not staying up to watch the football, because you’re not really bothered about the World Cup, which is perfectly ok.  Basically, I hope you’ve had a nice lie-in.  Unless you’re meant to be at work, in which case I hope you got up on time…this has gotten out of hand.  Let’s carry on.

Sunday is a strange one, because traditionally it has been a day of rest and reverence for millions of years.  (I may be exaggerating the time frame slightly here, but I quite like the idea of dinosaurs going to church, for some reason.)  My many siblings and I were taken to Mass every single Sunday of our childhood, and it was the same routine every week, including the vague effort to dress smartly (“You can’t wear trainers to church.”  “But they’re clean!”  “Jesus wouldn’t wear trainers.”  “No, Jesus would wear flip-flops!!”).

These days, Sundays can involve anything.  As students we used Sundays for recovery, for pub lunches, last-minute essay-writing and part-time jobs.  As graduates Sundays became opportunities to catch up on favourite television shows, quality time with friends and loved ones or just another work day.  To be honest, as an adult my main identifier of Sundays is that I always need something from the supermarket at 5.05 pm, by which point I may as well be in the Arctic for all the shops that are available.  My, how things have changed.

In honour of the original idea behind Sunday (i.e., the Sabbath/a rest day), I would like us all to take it easy and just share a few bits of interesting and Sunday-related information.

  • The Monkees’ 1967 hit Pleasant Valley Sunday was co-written by then-married Gerry Goffin and Carole King (this is a few years before King became famous on her own), and it was supposedly inspired by the road they lived on at the time.  That must have been super awkward when the neighbours heard the lyrics.
  • The most expensive sundae in the world costs $1,000 and has to be ordered 2 days in advance.  Yes, really.  It’s this one here.
  • The actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers likes to clean his house on a Sunday morning.
  • Billie Holliday’s 1941 cover of the “Hungarian Suicide Song” Gloomy Sunday was banned because apparently it was bad for war morale.  Instrumental versions were still allowed, though.
  • Michael J Fox once said “I’m going to marry a Jewish woman, because I like the idea of getting up Sunday morning and going to the deli.”  He did, too.

Whatever you’re up to, have a brilliant Sunday.  See you tomorrow.