Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Mean Girls Morality

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Hello, you.  How’s it going?  Did you remember to eat a balanced breakfast?

When I started attending primary school at the tender age of four and a bit, I felt pretty overwhelmed.  Not by the lessons (organised colouring in and obligatory dressing up sessions?  I’m all over that), or the social aspect (I have four siblings.  Social stuff is a doddle), or even the school dinners (packed lunches for the win).  I was overwhelmed by the older children.  I remember walking into my first ever school assembly and being awestruck by the Year 6 kids.  Who were these impossibly grown up people?

The Year 6 kids got to sit on benches.  They had a different colour tie from the rest of us.  They would soon be leaving to go to – whisper it – big school.  For some reason, they seemed older and wiser to us than the teachers or our parents.  No matter that as an adult I am now friends with people who are the same age – and in some cases, older than – those Year 6 children would be now.  Stephen Fry said something similar in his novel The Liar; the older children from our early lives will live in our memories as the most mature and intimidating people we’ll ever know.  No matter how long I live or how many people I meet, no one will ever be as impressive or as impossibly cool as those bored eleven year-olds who sat at the back of the school hall.

It would be nice to think that, twenty-something years on, I have outgrown the tendency to feel intimidated by ‘cool kids’, but I haven’t.  None of us really have.  This is for two reasons: firstly, I am friends (or friends of friends) with a lot of incredibly talented people, who are nearly famous if not already so.  They deserve to be.  Like I said, they are awesome people.  The second reason is that we live in a society which encourages us to feel small in the wake of giants, whether they be intellectual ones, culturally influential ones or just unnaturally beautiful ones.  Don’t you just hate the beautiful ones?

The problem with the ‘cool kids’ syndrome is that, unless it’s based on actual merit, we are perpetrating a ludicrous fantasy (à la Mean Girls).  Believing that supermodels are worthy of special treatment is how teenagers start to think that anorexia is a solution for their low self-esteem.  Allowing reality television celebrities to dominate our screens is making us all forget that real talent is a thing that exists.  Thinking that hipster values are cool is how we end up with parts of London being no-go-for-normals territory: for example, I wouldn’t go to Shoreditch if Noel Fielding himself invited me.  And London is a big, beautiful city with a lot to offer – why are we letting ‘cool kids’ shotgun certain parts of it?

Believing other people are cooler than you are automatically undermines your self-image.  Of course it’s good to look up to people who are worthy of our respect, but we should look up to them because they can teach us something, or because they already have.  Feeling intimidated by people who are more famous, more attractive or just more arrogant than you are is silly, and as I keep telling you, you should be far too busy being your lovely self to give a monkey’s what the ‘cool kids’ think of you.

With that in mind, go and finish your Christmas shopping.  It’s getting a bit close for comfort.

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You Are Not A Casserole

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Hello, you fabulous human being.  How’s this week been for you?  Busy?  Me too.  Put your feet up for a bit.

One of the most enjoyable experiences in life is the overheard conversation snippet.  You know the sort of thing: you’re walking past a couple of friends who are in the middle of an in depth chat, and as you pass you hear one of them say something insane like “…and then the whole thing went bright blue!”  Not knowing the context of a conversation can make for very confusing and amusing listening.

The other day I was sitting outside a pub with a couple of my lovely girl friends, discussing life, the universe and everything (i.e. boys).  Don’t get me wrong – my friends and I cover many fascinating and intelligent topics of conversation on a regular basis, but even the most sassy and savvy of us occasionally need to rant about the opposite sex.  On this occasion, one of my friends was asking for advice about a guy she thinks she’s dating, but isn’t sure.  Here is an extract from the discussion:

“He’s going to house-sit with me at the weekend, and he took me out for an amazing dinner, and he calls me “his girl”…”
“Well, that sounds promising.”
“Yeah, really promising.”
“But what does it MEAN?!”

And so on and so forth.  Despite being clever, worldly, independent and hopefully fairly likeable young women, my friends and I are still flummoxed by what men’s behaviour “means” more often than we’d like to admit.  We have all – including you, fabulous reader – learned a lot during our short stays on Earth so far, including our strengths, weaknesses and alcohol tolerance levels.  Why then have we not learned something very simple, something that even tiny children understand: that we only get answers by asking questions?

It’s not as easy as all that, I know.  And we’ve talked about this before: the importance of being emotionally honest even though it feels so alien to us, the terror we feel when we have to be frank about what we want, and the excruciating embarrassment we feel about having strong feelings at all.  Needing an answer from someone, whether they’re male or female, has somehow started to mean that we are needy full stop.  Not to the person we’re confused about, necessarily, but definitely in our own heads.  And so we don’t ask; we just stew.

What the conversation boiled down to – if you’ll excuse the appalling pun – is that stewing does nobody any good.  In the heat of our debate about the virtues of honesty and openness, I ended up declaring “YOU ARE NOT A CASSEROLE” to my lovely, confused friend.  At that precise moment an unfortunate young man walked past and gave us a very strange look.  I do not blame him in the slightest.  Context was particularly important there.

But my point stands: we are not casseroles.  We should not leave ourselves to stew in the pressure cookers of uncertainty, waiting for the vegetables of heartbreak and the dumplings of rejection to descend into our lives.  The happiest people I know are not the ones who never get broken up with, rejected or hurt.  They are the ones who save themselves a lot of time by asking questions, finding out what other people want from them and getting on with life in the aftermath, whatever the outcome is.  I know – BELIEVE me, I know – that asking people questions like “how do you see our relationship?” etc. is a daunting prospect, but if we don’t ask we won’t find out.  If we don’t find out, we are wasting our time.

And who on earth has got time to waste?  Not you, that’s for sure.

Christmas Presence

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Happy Tuesday, you lovely thing!  Boy, am I glad to see you.  Have a seat, I’ve got a rant to get through.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting outside a coffee shop in Camden, waiting for a friend and quietly minding my own business.  As anyone who lives in an urban area will know, sometimes when you’re out and about you have to talk to strangers.  Most people approach you to ask for the time, directions or to hand you a flyer, but the guy I encountered yesterday was a whole new breed of weird stranger (even by Camden’s gloriously bizarre standards).  He approached me to ask for my opinion on his hand-made Christmas cards, which were the most horrific, disturbing and unsettling images I have seen in a very long time.  Genuine excerpt from our conversation:

Stranger: “So, which one do you prefer?  There’s this one, which is the masses of sheep – the consumers, you get me? – bowing down to a tree made of bloodstained iPods, the one of Jesus shooting Ronald McDonald in the face, or the creepy Santa with a bag of kids’ faces.  What do you think?”
Me: “…I think you should talk to someone.”
Stranger: “So you don’t want to buy one?”
Me: “No, thank you.  I really like Christmas.”

And I do, I love Christmas.  I love the carols, parties, decorations, lovely food, sparkling drinks, shiny wrapping paper and rubbish cracker jokes.  (I would love the silly hats too, but they don’t fit over my ridiculous hair.  True story.)  I also love presents, as of course we all do.   I understand that the consumer-driven chaos of Christmas is what the guy in Camden was angry about, and I can respect that.  I also realise that most of the things I’ve just listed as ‘reasons to love Christmas’ are consumerist and non-essential.  I’m not going to apologise for liking things that don’t really matter, because I don’t think that crackers and all that stuff are more important than being with my family, or showing my friends how much I love and appreciate them.

Last year we Brits gobbled approximately 10 million turkeys, spent nearly £600 each on gifts, and probably splashed out thousands of pounds on stamps for our Christmas cards.  This is all in keeping with the Camden guy’s anti-establishment rage, but I don’t believe that the way to fix that is to send grotesque greeting cards.  Don’t get me wrong: I am not disputing this man’s right to express his opinion or use his creativity – fair play to him for coming up with such striking/memorable images – but I personally will not be swayed by his view.  (Although I will concede that this year’s Christmas advert war is starting to grate just a bit.)

Not to get all Tiny Tim about it, but the most important thing about Christmas is the people we spend it with: friends, family and loved ones.  (For instance, the photograph at the top of this post is courtesy of my dad, who captured this lovely moment of typical sibling silliness on Christmas day last year.)  We are allowed to enjoy the consumer stuff like food, drink and presents because they are much less important, but more controllable.  You can hope and pray that your parents won’t get into a row over dinner, or that your granddad won’t get drunk and be loudly racist, or that your sister will cheer up even though she got dumped a week ago, but you cannot make these things happen.  You can make nice food and an effort to find thoughtful gifts.

Even if you don’t have a completely harmonious, sober or exuberant Christmas, the consumer crap is a way of saying to people “I love you, and I want us to have a special day together.”  If we burn the turkey and get terrible presents, it doesn’t matter because it is just stuff and at least we tried.  I know that that’s not why the festive season is so financially spectacular, but if we’ve got this cultural phenomenon we might as well find the positive aspects of it.

Right, rant over.  I’m going to make some mince pies.  You go and have a marvellous day, whatever you’re up to.

Sisterly Wisdomousness

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Happy Friday, dear reader!  I hope that your weekend plans are coming together nicely.

Just like the leaves on trees and Nick Clegg’s policies, our relationships change.  (Cheap shot, I know, but I’m still really angry about the student fees thing.)  My relationship with my oldest sister, for instance, has changed a lot since we were children.  When we were younger she was very good at bossing us around with the impenetrable “Because I’m older than you” justification.  It’s very difficult to counter that one, as it turns out.  And it never stops being true.

Don’t get me wrong: she is and has always been a brilliant big sister.  Now that we are adults, our relationship has changed to become a very close friendship, which is lovely.  She doesn’t tell me what to do anymore, but she does have some very sage advice and ingenious ideas.

My sister has taught me loads of lessons over the years, most of the time without even realising it.  She taught me not to take myself too seriously, and to laugh at myself when I’ve done something stupid.  She taught me the value of being adventurous (standard telephone conversation: “I’m bored.  I think I’ll go to Burma”) and taking an interest in the wider world.  She taught me that it’s ok not to be a “proper” adult, and that you can find happiness in places you didn’t expect.  She is also very good at seeing things from an older, wiser perspective, and using the five extra years she’s got on me to help me see things differently.  In that respect, I’m never going to catch up.  (Because of time and physics and stuff, but also because she’s just very wise.)

In the interests of Christmas spirit, human kindness and practical living, here is a snippet of sisterly wisdom:

  • Don’t buy a piece of clothing unless you’re in love with it
    I think we’ve all picked something up in a shop and thought “meh, it’ll do”, or “it’s not perfect, but I just need something to wear for x event”.  We should not be doing this, for two very key reasons: firstly, it’s a waste of money.  Secondly, it’s a waste of confidence.  If you build up a wardrobe over months and years which contains a whole load of “meh” items, you will never feel your best, no matter what you wear.  Your wardrobe should be full of things that make you look and feel great.
  • Fakemas
    Very simple concept: have a fake Christmas day with your friends.  Food, presents, silly hats, the lot.  My sister claims to have invented the term “Fakemas” for this, and if you think she’s wrong then by all means take it up with her.  I wish you luck.
  • A wise man/woman wees when s/he can
    Another fairly straightforward piece of advice, ensuring that you are never caught short at an inopportune moment.
  • It’s all about the roast potatoes
    Roast potatoes are the heart of a good Sunday roast.  Get them right, and everything else will fall into place.  This is especially important if you have vegetarians at your dinner table, because they can hardly be expected to get excited about a properly-roasted chicken, can they?  Exactly.

Have a glorious Friday and a superlatively relaxing weekend.

14 Moments in Life When We Are All Joey Tribbiani

Hello, dear reader.  How’s life been treating you?

We all spend a lot of time quoting stuff at each other, whether it’s religiously meaningful, historically significant or something funny from a film we like.  My generation are particularly prone to this, because we grew up watching Friends.  Although we all love a Phoebe weird-ism or a choice Chandler put down, the truth is that we tend to cope better with life when we view the world through Joey’s eyes.  That’s right: Joey.  The oversexed, jobbing actor with an insatiable appetite and a tendency to come across as a bit dim.  I’m not suggesting that we possess those characteristics ourselves – not all of them, anyway – but for some reason, Joey’s sweet and simple nature makes him the most quotable character in the whole show.  Don’t believe me?  Here are some of the most prevalent life moments when a Joey quotation is the only way to go:

1) When you try but fail to understand current trends.
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2) When you don’t understand what’s going on in your social circle.
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3) When you don’t understand what’s going on AT ALL.
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4) When you need a way to explain how much something means to you – maybe even food.
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5) When you need an excuse to be childish.
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6) When you need to express your fear of ageing.
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7) When YOU’RE CURVY, AND YOU LIKE IT.
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8) When something has come back into circulation that really, really shouldn’t have – I used this one the other day in reference to scrunchies coming back into fashion.  The horror.
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9) When you’re not even sorry
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10) When you’re lost.  (This one happens to me a lot.)

11) When you’re so angry that you don’t make a lot of sense.
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12) When you’re really trying to encourage your friend.
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13) When YOU know what you mean (even if no one else does).
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14) And of course, last but by no means least: when you’re flirting…sort of.
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