Monthly Archives: November 2014

Tutoring Tales

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The very warmest of salutations to you, lovely reader, on this long-awaited day of Fri.  On an unrelated note, my brain is very fuzzy and I am in desperate need of coffee.  Would you like anything from the kettle?

To supplement my rock ‘n’ roll writer’s lifestyle (ahem), I tutor some kids in English and Maths.  The kids are aged between six and ten, and I love them all to bits.  Some of them have their “challenging” moments, and to be perfectly honest I’m not always in the mood to rehash the five times table, but there’s no question that I love my job.

I also love the bizarre (but usually fairly sound) wisdom that my students come out with.  Here are some of the funniest, sweetest and weirdest things my little ones have said during lessons.  (By the way, I put a couple of these on Facebook as and when they occurred, so apologies for the repetition.)

1) The would-be dinosaur owner

Child: did the dinosaurs go to heaven?
Me: oh, yeah, definitely.
Child: do people in heaven get to have dinosaur pets?
Me: probably.
Child: you’ll go to heaven before me, because I’m only six and you’re about a hundred. Will you save me a dinosaur?

Yes, you evil little legend. Yes I will.  Although I should point out that I am twenty-five, which is A LOT nearer to six than it is to a hundred.  I wouldn’t usually mind too much about something like that, but we were at the ends of a Maths lesson…

2) The future feminist

Me: So what kind of characters do you usually find in fairy stories?
Child: Baddies and witches and a Prince Charming.
Pause.
Child: Why isn’t there a Princess Charming?
Me: I don’t know. Why?
Child: Because us guys are sometimes stupid and we need girls to help us.

The cutest thing about this one is that the kid genuinely wanted to know.  It was obvious to him that men need saving as much as women do, and he was baffled by the notion that men didn’t get a chance to swoon and women to ride in and kill the dragon.  Feminists, rejoice and be glad: this kid is a winner.

3) The paranoid artist

Child: I can’t finish colouring this picture in.
Me: ‘Course you can.
Child: No.  No, I can’t.
Me: Why not?
Child: I’ve been poisoned.
Me: …with what?
Child: Poison.
Me: Ok.  Who poisoned you?
Pause.
Child: Robert Mugabe.

Either this kid has been watching too much evening news, or he is an incredibly well-disguised political enemy of Zimbabwe’s current government.  I sort of hope it’s the second one.

4) The sibling swapper

Child: My brother is so annoying.  Do you have a brother?
Me: Yep.
Child: Do you get annoyed with him?
Me: Nah.  We used to wind each other up when we were your age, but we’re very close friends now.
Child: Is he nice to you?
Me: Yeah, he’s very nice.
Child: Can I borrow him sometimes?  You can borrow mine.

Seems fair, doesn’t it?  No?  I’m not allowed to abduct a six year-old boy who can burp the alphabet in exchange for my twenty-three year-old brother (who is pretty busy with his degree but would totally be up for this because it’s an excuse to play with Lego)?  Well, I wish someone’d said.  

5) The one who won’t be fooled

Child: Mum says I need to know about Maths for when I’m a grown up.
Me: She’s absolutely right.
Child: She says if I don’t know Maths no one will talk to me and I’ll have to wear a big pink badge saying “I don’t know Maths” and people will laugh at me.
Me: …
Child: I don’t really believe that, though.  I think I just need it for looking after my money and stuff.

God bless that mother, trying so hard to capture her son’s imagination when all she had to do was tell him the truth.  Apparently, six year-olds are ok with their future financial responsibilities.  Who knew?

Have a glorious Friday, you lovely thing.

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Tripping Up the Kardashians

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Dear and lovely reader, I must start today’s blog with a bit of a confession: I’m really rubbish at keeping up with the news.  When I say “news”, what I actually mean is “the biggest trending stories on the internet”, which usually involve a jaw-dropping image, some hilarious video footage or an insane quotation from a celebrity.  There are three reasons for my lacklustre approach to the contagious caterwauling of online updates:

1) I think that celebrity culture is an inherently dreadful concept which encourages people to feel insecure about themselves, and to value notoriety over talent.
2) Wireless internet, as comedian Chris Addison very wisely pointed out, is an absolute miracle of modern living.  It should be used to educate our minds, widen channels of communication and bring joy to our lives, not as a harmful gossip machine of hatred.
3) Like you, dear reader, I’m actually too busy for any of this nonsense.

Sometimes when I’ve ignored the internet for a little while, I find that it’s rather like having left a toddler unsupervised in a zoo with a box of crayons: there is a HELL of a mess and a lot of random noise going.  Take yesterday morning, for example: Lily Allen’s comments about Band Aid 30 were going viral, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen’s theme park closed after a day and people are still sounding off about Kim Kardashian’s ass photo.

Let’s focus on the Kardashian issue for a moment: lots of people are understandably very annoyed by her behaviour, and are saying that viral photos on the internet should be of woman like Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and Sylvia Pankhurst, i.e. women who made a very obvious contribution to the world we live in today.  This is an absolutely understandable and excellent argument.  People are also making noises about nudity on the internet, offensive and anti-feminist notions, etcetera.  This is a complicated issue concerning censorship and freedom of speech (and freedom of ass, I guess).

If you’ll allow me to return to the toddler similie, the Kardashians and other like-minded ass exhibitionists are just like small kids making a mess in a zoo: why are we even paying attention to them?  Who gives a monkey’s if people want to “break the internet” with silly and superficial imagery?  Like most spoilt brats, they will be most likely to change their behaviour if we do not reinforce their sensationalist stunts with any publicity at all.

Do you know what else?  I don’t have the faintest notion why the Kardashians are famous in the first place.  And what is more, I cannot be bothered to Google it.  I will quite happily spend the rest of my life not knowing why those strange, sad people are in the public eye.

Don’t pay attention to the crap news.  Lily Allen’s opinion of Band Aid 30 will not change your future, and Kim Kardashian’s ass has no effect on your career.  Pay attention to the news that affects your life and the people you love.  Read up about what’s going on in Syria, sign a petition against the privatisation of our nation’s assets, or even write a heartfelt email to Putin telling him that we’ll still love him when he eventually comes out of the rainbow-painted closet.  Don’t waste your time sharing petty little pittances of “news” when there are so many fascinating, world-changing and historically significant things going on.

Could someone help me down off my soapbox, please?  Cheers.  Shall we go and get some brunch?

Growing Pains

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Happy Friday, lovely reader!  How are you?  Shall I stick the kettle on?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we don’t know what we’re doing.  This applies to all aspects of life, including Zumba classes (left step right step turn step jump step trip over your own shoelace step) and the bigger questions like “where is my life going?”, “how do I find happiness?” and “will I ever achieve my goals?”

I had a small meltdown this week about those questions – although it turns out that Zumba is actually a lot of fun, and it’s ok to fudge your way through the trickier moves – and turned to a friend of mine who is in a similar position, i.e. in his mid-twenties with a passionate desire to succeed but no clear idea of how to do so.  When we boiled the issue down to its essentials, we decided that no one knows what they’re doing at our age, and that we’re not really supposed to.  This made me ask another scary question: “when are we supposed to know what we’re doing?”

We have all been brought up to believe that the older, wiser and taller people around us know what is going on: teachers, parents and older siblings have all made it clear to us that they can be trusted to know what they’re doing.  This led us to believe that one day we will know what we’re doing, too.  But when is this elusive day of understanding?  At what age should we be waking up and saying to ourselves, “I’m pretty sure I’ve got the hang of this ‘life’ thing now”?

I have friends my age (or thereabouts) who are teachers, home-owners, paramedics, married, producers, in possession of a pension plan, and even parents.  They are, as far as the world is concerned, sorted.  But internally they worry just as much as people who are unattached, students, renting flats, between jobs or between life ambitions.  In many cases, their external lives have little or no relevance to their internal persona.  My own mother, who has five grown-up children and a life-long teaching career, admits that she doesn’t feel like an adult most of the time.  (I can believe that.  For starters, her ridiculous sense of humour completely belies her actual age.)

So what hope do we have, if our apparently grown-up friends and actually grown-up parents do not think of themselves as sorted, respectable adults?  Are we doomed to feel a bit lost and uncertain for the rest of our lives?

The short answer is: yes.  The long answer is: yes, but that is actually a very, very good thing.  When we have everything that we want in life, we stop looking for anything else.  We stop pursuing new ambitions, pushing ourselves to achieve and chasing after our goals.  Not knowing what we’re doing is scary, but it also motivates us to keep looking, and to keep finding things to learn about and enjoy in the world around us.  Essentially, happiness and feeling ‘sorted’ is fine, but it doesn’t open your mind or make you grow.  Uncertainty, ambition and passion make you keep going.

It almost doesn’t matter whether we find the elusive feeling of knowing what we’re doing.  As long as we keep looking for it, we will be learning new skills, travelling to new places, meeting new people and trying to be the best possible versions of ourselves.  Pursuing that feeling is what shapes your attitudes and makes you a fascinating person, and if you really think about it, being interesting is much more important than being a ‘proper grown-up’.

Right, kettle’s boiled now.  Could you grab the milk out of the fridge, please?

The Lie In, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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Hello there, dear reader!  How are you doing?  I’ve just made some biscuits, do you want one?  Careful, they’re still pretty hot.

Winter can be a magical time filled with joy, love and yummy food.  It can also be an absolute pain, complete with freakish weather situations, the stress of Christmas shopping and the inevitable do-we-don’t-we of turning on the central heating.  Here are some of the most common occurrences in the lives of twenty-somethings during the winter of our discontent (or disorganisation, in all likelihood):

  • The ‘where are we meeting?’ argument:
    “I don’t mind hosting.”
    “You’re just saying that because you don’t want to go outside.”
    “Well…yeah.  And I’ve got mulled wine here.”
    “Well played, my friend.  Well played”
  • The lie in:
    “I am NOT GETTING OUT OF BED until this house stops feeling like a BLOODY IGLOO.”
    “You’ve got work in forty minutes.”
    “Shh.  Inuits don’t have to get the Northern Line.”
  • The witch:
    “I’m not coming out tonight.”
    “Why not?”
    “Urgh.  I feel disgusting.  I’m so snotty.  My voice sounds all croaky and evil.”
    “You’ve got a cold.”
    “No, I’m dying.”
    “It’s just a cold.”
    “Were you not listening?  I feel like DEATH.  I’m not even sure that I’m HUMAN anymore.”
    “Yeah, you’re the whinging witch of the east.  Drink some Lemsip.”
  • The wardrobe:
    “It is SO COLD outside.  Should I wear tights or leggings?”
    “Tights UNDER leggings.”
    “You’re a genius.”
  • The transport issue:
    “Why did I wear tights under leggings?!  It’s hotter than Mount Doom on this bus!”
  • The prodigal glove:
    “I had two gloves last year.  I had two matching gloves.  A pair of gloves, in fact.   They live in that drawer.  Neither of them has had any reason to leave the drawer since February.  As far as I know, those gloves have been the best of friends for the past ten months.  One of them is here, in the drawer.  So where the HELL is the other one?  Did they have a row or something?!”
  • The festive season:
    “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?”
    “Nope.”
    “Me neither.”
    “Amazon?”
    “Amazon.”
  • The festive reason:
    “We’ve only been going out for two weeks, but we were seeing each other for nearly three months before that, and technically we met over the Easter weekend, so should I buy him a Christmas present or not?”
    “I have no idea, but please throw your calendar away.  It’s creepy.”
  • The festive treason:
    “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?”
    “Yep.  Everything’s bought, wrapped and safely hidden.”
    “I hate you.”

Have a lovely day.  Take a couple more biscuits for the road if you like.

Modern Moscow Rules

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Hello there, lovely reader!  How has your week been?

As we all know (and occasionally grumble about), life is governed by rules.  Laws are in place to protect us, moral guidelines exist to shape our behaviour appropriately, and social etiquette is there to make awkward dinner parties more bearable.
During the Cold War, a (probably fictional) list of instructions called the Moscow Rules were developed, supposedly to be used as rules of thumb for spies and other shady characters.  There are various versions of the Moscow Rules in fiction and online, and although they are mainly for the use of espionage enthusiasts, I have decided to appropriate some of them for the benefit of the rest of us.  Here goes:

1) Assume nothing
Never assume that someone will definitely see your Facebook status, read your blog (ahem) or monitor your Twitter stream.  Then again, whatever you put on the internet is public, so never assume that you can get away with saying things like “omg I hate it when people are two-faced bitches, you know who you are!!!”  That kind of thing is just embarrassing for everyone.

2) Murphy is right
Murphy’s law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and is more commonly known these days as sod’s law.  I don’t think I even need to elaborate on this one, do I?

3) Never go against your gut
This can be explained for spying purposes as “if the circumstances of an operation feel wrong, they probably are.  Abort the mission.”  Despite the nebulous and unquantifiable nature of our gut feelings, we always feel a bit off when we go against them, don’t we?  Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts.

4) Don’t look back; you are never completely alone
Again, in terms of espionage this means something a bit paranoid: essentially, the enemy and/or your superiors are never far away.  For those of us who are not trying to covertly execute a dead letter drop, what I think we can take away from this rule is comfort.  Don’t look back at your past because it has…er…passed, as it were, and there’s nothing we can do about that.  You are never completely alone because the best people from your past are still with you now.  Old friends, long-term partners, family members etc. have stuck around and are therefore worth paying attention to in the present.

5) Go with the flow, blend in
For the love of all that is good, pure, righteous and holy, stand on the right-hand side of tube escalators.

6) Don’t harass the opposition
Bitching, aggression, violence and snide remarks on social media are just not necessary.  Why waste your time digging at people you don’t like when you could be getting on with your life?

7) Everyone is potentially under opposition control
Good HEAVENS, Cold War spies were paranoid!  I suppose in some cases they were right to be, but really.  We are not living in an episode of The Demon Headmaster here.  The closest thing we have to ‘opposition control’ these days is the board of executives behind The X Factor.  What I think we could take from this rule is similar to the gist of rule 3: only you know exactly what is right for you in life.  Your friends and loved ones may mean well, but when it comes to drugs, fashion choices, watching reality television and the like, “everyone else is doing it” is not a good enough reason to fall into line.

8) Pick the time and place for action
Take control of your life.  Organise meetings, ask people out and get in touch with that friend who’s dropped off the radar.  Orchestrate your day so that everything works to your advantage as much as possible.  Don’t be afraid to say what you want.  Be prepared.  Tuck your shirt in, all that stuff.

9) Vary your pattern and stay within your cover
You can wear spots and stripes in the same outfit.  Always remember to take an umbrella.  (Yes, I know that that’s not at all what the original rule meant, but you’ve got to admit that the umbrella thing is very sound advice.)

10) Keep your options open
We are all under a lot of pressure to settle down into long-term careers, marriages and mortgages.  If you’re ready for any or indeed all of those things, then good for you.  If not, don’t worry.  We have no way of knowing what kind of opportunities, people and prospects we are going to come across from one day to the next, and it is no bad thing to keep your options open.

Have a spectacular weekend.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Worriers

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Hola and a very merry Friday to you, you lovely thing.  I hope that your week has been productive, enjoyable and unusually amusing.

Today I would like to have a chat about worrying, and specifically worrying about someone you love.  It’s completely acceptable to worry about someone, because it means that you quite like them and want them to be alright.  Similarly, it’s usually quite touching to be told that someone else is worried about you, because it means that they’re thinking about you and wishing you the best.

So worrying comes from a good place, but what is it good for?  (“Absolutely nothin’, say it again y’all!”  Etc.)  Worrying about a loved one doesn’t actually fix their problems, and it’s not going to do you a huge amount of good, either.  Unfortunately, nobody has handed you a magic wand/fairy dust/a time machine with which to fix your loved one’s troubles.  So you feel a bit rubbish and you’re also aware that that feeling isn’t doing any actual good.  This is decidedly not cool.

The way to deal with worry is to act upon it.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that we follow people around saying “are you ok?  Are you sure you’re ok?  What’s the matter?  You look annoyed.  Are you annoyed?  I’M WORRIED ABOUT YOU” ad infinitum.  That is definitely not the answer, for obvious reasons.  However, I think we can agree that we need practical ways to deal with our worry:

1) Say something
Tell the person that you’re worried about them.  Not to make them feel more stressed or guilty for upsetting you, but to reassure them that someone (i.e. you, you super star) is thinking about them.

2) Say something to someone else
If the person you’re worried about has confided in you, obviously don’t go blathering their secrets around your social circle.  But if you have a mutual friend or family member who will understand how you feel (and may already feel the same way), share the load.  For example: I have four siblings, and if I’m worried about one of them I automatically rally the other three.  There’s a lot to be said for strength in numbers.

3) Say something helpful
Offer your support.  Make sure that your friend/loved one knows that you are willing and able to help them if they need you.

4) Really mean it
Only offer support that you know you can give.  You may not be able to fix their entire life, but offering someone a shoulder to cry on or a good distraction from their woes is still very valuable.

5) Really mean it and prepare for it
Stocking up for emotional emergencies is a lot more fun than panic-buying for the end of the world.  For example, I have a secret stash of nice things – chocolate, fancy coffee, etc. – just in case one of my friends comes round and needs cheering up.  On a slightly more serious/less sugar-based note, if someone you care about is going for a scary hospital appointment, for example, clear your schedule for that day as much as possible.  They may claim to be ok, but they might change their mind at the last minute and need you to go with them.

6) Really mean it and prepare for it and then do it
If there is anything that you can actually physically do to help, do it.  If you’ve offered help to someone and they’ve taken you up on it, that demonstrates a huge amount of trust on their part.  Respect their trust and don’t push them to do/say things they’re not ready for.  Worrying is hard, but being worried about is also a big deal.

7) Let them get on with it
If you’ve said all you can say and done all that you can do, your only course of action is to sit back and let them work through whatever’s happening.  You can’t force someone to confide in you, call you when they’re sad or turn to you when they’re scared – some people prefer to do these things alone, and we have to respect that.  But if you’ve made it clear where you stand (i.e. right beside them whenever they need you), then you have already acted upon your worry as much as you can.

One last thing: I completely understand that being told not to worry is a bit annoying, because we don’t have much of a choice in the matter.  But just as your words and actions come from a well-meaning place, so do the intentions of the person who says “don’t worry about it”.  They just don’t like to see you wandering around looking as stressed out as the goldfish at the top of this post.  Poor, worried goldfish.

Have a glorious weekend.

Awkward Conversations with Foreign People

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Hello, reader!  How’s the world treating you today?

One of the best things about living in England is the mutliculturalism.  (What makes it even better is that every time someone says that, Nigel Farage gets a stabbing pain behind his eye.  I have absolutely no evidence to back that up, but you never know…)  This is particularly relevant in London: did you see the re-imagined tube map showing the languages spoken in different parts of London?  Here it is.  How cool is that?!

I don’t understand why UKIP, racists and other generic twats get their knickers in such a twist about British identity.  Firstly, other nationalities have all sorts of beautiful, fascinating and useful things to teach us, as evidenced by all the purloined objects in the British Museum.  If we didn’t think that foreign stuff was cool, we wouldn’t have nicked it in the first place.  Secondly, we’ve kept all the Britishness we’ll ever need.  Seriously, we have.  There are certain British values which to this day remain undiluted, unwavering and inexplicable to people from elsewhere.  Our identity as a nation and our global reputation rest upon these unshakeable pillars of completely peculiar principles.  Here are some examples of things which we Brits are totally fine with, but which we find difficult to explain to people from other countries:

Bonfire Night
“About four hundred years ago, a bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, so now we burn effigies of him.”
“And this is a happy time?”
“Oh, yes.  Fireworks, fairground rides, family outings.  All good fun.”
“You celebrate a four-hundred year-old terrorist attack.”
“…Well, yes.  But it’s a failed terrorist attack, if that helps.”

Queueing
“You just stand in the line?”
“You just stand in the line.”
“What if you’re in a hurry?”
“You have to wait.”
“What if you need the toilet?”
“You wait.”
“What if your feet get pins and needles?!”
“You just wait.”
“What if somebody jumps the queue?”
“Ah, well that’s different!  In that case, you TUT.”
“Yeah?”
Very loudly.  And then you carry on waiting.”

Why Tea is So Important
“It just is.”
“But why?”
“It’s traditional.  It’s English.”
“It’s Chinese, actually.”
“Yes, alright, but we like it over here, too!  It’s comforting!”
“How so?”
“Because it’s…hot?”
“So is coffee.”
“Yes, but…”
“And hot chocolate.  Hence the name, ‘hot’ chocolate.”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t find the queen serving hot chocolate to her guests at Windsor, would you?  She’d serve tea.”
“She’d serve coffee to the Americans, I think.”
“Perhaps.”
“And actually, I don’t think she’d be serving it.  I think she has staff to do that.”
“I’m not having this conversation.  Go and put the kettle on.”

Talking About the Weather
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, comment upon the weather.”
“Why?”
“Because weather is the ONLY thing that you can talk about with absolutely anyone at all, without needing any prior knowledge of them as a person.  Unlike religion, politics, current affairs, art and literature, talking about the weather doesn’t involve having an opinion or risk offending someone else.  It’s an excellent way to start or maintain a conversation with someone by purely stating empirical, uncontroversial facts. No one can argue with ‘nice day today, isn’t it?'”
“If you don’t want to talk to someone about their opinions or discuss interesting topics, why on earth are you talking to them?”
“…I have no idea.”

Sarcasm
“So you’re saying one thing, but you mean the opposite.”
“Yeah.  It’s a type of humour.”
“But why do you need it?  Why can’t you just say what you mean, like America does?”
“Oh yeah, because British people would love to be more like America.”
“Really?”
“NO.  THAT WAS SARCASM.”

So there you have it: the British identity in a nutshell.  Obviously those are all a bit silly, but you know what I mean: we’re a pretty odd bunch, and our identity as a nation isn’t going anywhere.  We are the affable, slightly strange grandfather at the global dinner table, and we’re ok with that.  We also need to be ok with other cultural identities, even if they seem strange to us.  Bearing that in mind, could somebody take Farage’s toys away and send him to his room?  No dessert for intolerant eejits, I’m afraid.

Have an amazing Tuesday!