Tag Archives: characters

I Love You John Hannah, But Please Shut Up

John Hannah (Vanya), Joe Dixon (Astrov) and Alan Francis (Telygin) in Uncle Vanya at St James Theatre. Credit Simon Annand.

Hello, reader!  How are you doing?  You’re looking very well, I must say.

Last week I went to see Anya Reiss’ modernised version of Uncle Vanya at the St James Theatre, starring the relentlessly wonderful John Hannah as Vanya.  Having studied all kinds of plays at uni – including the work of that cheerless bunch of bastards known as “the Naturalists” – I am already as familiar as I want to be with Chekhov’s story of love, labour, loss and smug gits.  I mainly went to see John Hannah, if I’m honest.

For those of you who were not forced to read two Naturalist plays a week for a year, all you really need to know is this: traditionally Naturalist plays are characterised by all of the characters being miserable, and unanimously doing sod all about it.  Actually, that’s not very fair: sometimes they commit suicide.  But that’s about it in terms of problem-solving techniques.

What these characters do instead of pro-actively fixing their lives is talk.  They bitch about each other, they speculate on each other’s love lives and futures, they whine a LOT about the causes of their constant unhappiness, and they make terrible jokes.  What I like about Uncle Vanya as a play is that someone finally picks another character up on this.  Vanya is to be pitied for falling in love with a much younger, married woman, but it’s not her fault that she doesn’t feel the same way.  Will he shut up about it and behave with a shred of dignity?  Will he calmly and quietly enjoy their friendship for what it is?  Will he resist the temptation to constantly attempt emotional blackmail?  Of course not.  Understandably, Yelena cracks in the face of Vanya’s relentless whining and tells him to shut up.  Well, wouldn’t you?  I mean, John Hannah is absolutely wonderful, but even in his sultry Scottish voice, Vanya’s lines sound pathetic.

I am a big fan of words, talking and verbal communication in general.  I think that it is healthy and positive to have conversations about your feelings, and to process ideas and upheavals by discussing them with loved ones.  But venting about our problems means absolutely nothing if we are not willing to do anything about them.  It’s all very well and good to bemoan a bad situation, but if there are steps you can take towards resolving it – even if it’s just walking away with your dignity intact – why not take the flipping steps?

It makes no sense to talk the talk without walking the walk, especially when it comes to our emotional well-being.  Talking about stuff is wonderful, but (unfortunately) it won’t always solve our problems.  If you think about it there is always something that you can actively do to make a situation better for yourself, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential it might be.

Also, acting upon your social survival instincts can lead to good things, and it teaches us to follow through with stuff we know is good for us.  For example, since I came back from the Fringe I have been contemplating (out loud and in front of witnesses.  Oops) taking up indoor climbing.  The time has come for me to face my fear (and a wall, presumably), so tomorrow I will be going climbing with a friend of mine who has given me strict instructions not to “fall off and die”.  I will do my best.  Assuming that I’m successful, I’ll report back on Friday.

Have an amazing week.  Eat super tasty breakfasts every day.

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Sex and the (Hammersmith and) City

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Hello, you brilliant human being!  How are things?  I can see you’ve caught the sun.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Sex and the City as much as the next twenty-something girl.  It’s funny, sometimes touching, and a few of the characters are actually quite loveable.  It’s excellent put-your-feet-up, do-we-have-any-junk-food, sod-it-let’s-have-a-duvet-day television.  Best of all, watching it with your best friend gives you ample opportunity to complain about the insane behaviour of the characters, the implausibility of the plot lines and the animal cruelty issue of Sarah Jessica Parker being forced to act.

Maybe New York is exactly like Sex and the City, and we London girls are missing out on a whole metropolitan man-fest.  I doubt it, though.  Anyway, Sex and the City just wouldn’t work on our side of the pond.  Here’s why:

1) Is It Actually Raining Men?
As far as I can tell, New York is having some kind of eligible bachelor epidemic, because the four main characters meet men all the time.  I mean they can barely get out of the front door in the morning before a charming chap with a cheeky grin comes along.  That would never work here.  Londoners are usually slightly cross-looking and in a tearing hurry; we don’t have time to stop and smile winningly at random strangers.  Also, we’re British, for God’s sake – we don’t smile at strangers.

2) “And just like that…”
Probably as a result of number 1), the main characters go through the same emotional roller-coaster in pretty much every episode: meet man, flirt, date, sleep together, discover unconquerable flaw, have internal struggle, break up with man, feel immediately ready to go back out there.  I know some Londoners do date like that, but in general our cycle seems to be much more meet man, try to flirt but end up saying something silly/embarrassing, show great surprise and glee when he gets in contact, go on dates, discover a slightly concerning flaw, think about it, carry on dating until an actual problem comes up, break up, feel sad/angry/hungry, get back out there several weeks later feeling insecure because of getting hurt and having put on weight from all the ice-cream.  Not good television, perhaps, but it’s how we do things on this side of the pond.

3) We Don’t Talk Like That
I realise that as a smart, city-slick show about a fast-paced lifestyle, it makes sense to script sharp and sassy dialogue for the main characters.  Here is my problem: London girls are totally capable of being witty and hilarious, of course, but a) not ALL THE TIME – we all have off days when all we can manage is a “nhuh?” and b) not when our friends are telling us about their emotional problems.

4) No one Would be Friends with Carrie
Which leads me neatly on to my next point – why are the other three friends with Carrie?  She is so busy trying to be funny that she never listens to her friends, and as a heroine she leads a spectacularly bad example of whining, hair-tossing and flirting in the most cringe-worthy manner.  If she were a London girl her friends would have taken her aside a long time ago and told her to stop being such a diva.  And for God’s sake, stop putting your cigarettes between your teeth, you look ridiculous.

5) We’re a Bit Busy, Really…
One thing I really do appreciate about the concept of Sex and the City is that it spins a typical female insecurity on its head to make women laugh, i.e. it portrays women comparing men in bed rather than the other way around.  Having said that, the four main characters always manage to get the conversation back to sex, even when one of them is having a major life event, like a career crisis or getting married.  I mean, REALLY.  Talking about sex that much is just too time-consuming, too awkward and too un-British to work over here.  When would we find time to talk about the weather and public transport, for goodness’ sake?

Have a beautiful Thursday.

Get Off the Roundabout

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Hello, you lovely thing. How’s your Wednesday treating you so far?

Today is a sad day. Today I have decided to give up on a book, which never happens.  The book in questions is Howards End, and I’m having to give up because so far I hate pretty much all of the characters. Also, E.M. Forster’s writing style is incredibly long-winded and patronising. The story might actually be quite interesting, but I wouldn’t know because the narrative is sending me to sleep.

Anyway, giving up on a book made me question my personality, my priorities and the inner workings of my very soul (or perhaps something a little bit less melodramatic). I’m being silly, but the truth is that when we choose to give up on something that we consider a big part of who we are, it does tend to make us stop and think.

A friend of mine who loves cheer leading is having to give it up due to health problems, which is a huge shame. When we are forced by circumstance to give up on something we love, there can be an element of resentment and feeling hard done by.  Is it better, then, to be able to choose to give up?  Is there more dignity in a decision than there is in obligation?

Yes and no.  Making the decision to give up something – a vice, a pastime, an unhealthy relationship – gives us a feeling of control and self-discipline, which can be very good for us.  Having said that, we are only making the decisions now because we know that later on the decision will be taken away from us, and it will become a case of necessity rather than independent action.

The other thing to consider is that you are not defined by the sort of things that you might find yourself giving up, even if it was a potential (or current) career.  I am not defined by the fact that I read a lot, any more than you are defined by your typical Saturday afternoon activities or your preference of hot beverage.

Besides, people change all of the time.  You are not who you were a couple of years ago, and you are not who you will be next week.  You never know what life is going to give you, and if you have to give something else up in order to move forward, so be it.  You might spend years thinking of yourself in one way, and then find that you’ve been going round and round and getting nowhere.  Get off the roundabout and find something new.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Wednesday.  May your lunch be truly worthy of Instagramming.

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.

What A Character!

Good morning, dear reader.  I hope you’re feeling well-rested today.

Yesterday was a very sad day for comedy fans everywhere: it brought news that Rik Mayall had died at the untimely age of 56.  My heart goes out to his family and friends, and although there is sadly nothing I personally can do to comfort them, I would like to pay a small, silly homage to Mayall in today’s blog post.

Performers like Mayall are a rare and wonderful breed: not only do they portray truly unique and memorable characters, but they do it with a very individual skill and energy. We love these characters because they are like and unlike us at the same time: we could never (for reasons of practicality, society and/or the law) be these characters, but something about them speaks to us very clearly.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Rik Mayall – Flashheart

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The bolshy, boisterous and alarmingly cavalier Casanova of the Blackadder series – a perfectly outrageous foil for Rowan Atkinson’s devastatingly sarcastic protagonist.  In Blackadder Goes Forth, Flashheart’s daring exploits, enjoyment of adventure and constant references to his sexual prowess represented everything that the British public secretly wanted their men in the air to be.  We would all like to think that we could be as dry and witty as Edmund Blackadder, but there can be no question that we would also love to have Flashheart’s eye-watering confidence and bravado.  After all, it does seem to pay off.

Dylan Moran – Bernard Black    

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Moran’s performance perfectly captures the absurdity and lovable awfulness of this very unique character.  On the surface of things, there is nothing particularly sympathetic about a man who drinks, smokes and tyrannises his way through life; this is a bookseller who cannot stand to sell books.  The reason we love this man so much is because he is acting out all of the ridiculous, socially unacceptable and vice-based behaviours that we all wish we could get away with.  Narcissistic, alcoholic, abusive and anti-social: oh, to be allowed to behave like Bernard Black!

Richard Ayoade – Maurice Moss

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Setting aside for a moment that Ayoade is just a freaking awesome human being who has far too much talent for one person, Moss is one of the nation’s favourite comedy characters because he is a naive genius: his intellect is superior, but his experience is lacking.  Moss reminds us that it is possible to be unbelievably clever and endearingly ignorant at the same time.  We tend not to want that trait for ourselves, but the uncomfortable fact is that we all do it from time to time – we just couldn’t function with the same levels of extremity that Moss does.  Who else could become embroiled in the dark underground world of street Countdown?

 Emma Chambers – Alice Tinker

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Loyal, loving and full of joy, Alice Tinker is also (as the other characters constantly point out) very, very stupid.  If we went around saying the kind of things she says in The Vicar of Dibley, none of us would be able to leave the house unsupervised, let alone get a job, make friends or find true love.  Yet despite all of her eccentric idiocy (“I haven’t been so excited since I won that Beauty Contest, d’you remember?”  “Yes.  We were playing Monopoly at the time, weren’t we Alice?”) the other characters genuinely love her.  Sadly but truly, we could never live in her fantasy world, but we love her because she gives us hope that even those of us with the most extreme deficiencies can be happy and be loved by others.

I’m not suggesting that you have any extreme deficiencies, obviously.  You’re flipping wonderful.  Have a spectacular Tuesday.

A Realistic Romance Recipe

One Day - Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess

Hello and happy Wednesday!  You’re looking lovely today, if I may say so.

Not for the first time, my inspiration for a blog post has come from an episode of How I Met Your Mother.  If you’re not a fan, don’t worry – I’m only using a tiny snippet.  Two of the characters are discussing what it takes to make a relationship materialise, and one of them claims that chemistry is the key ingredient, and that “if you have chemistry, you only need one other thing: timing, but timing’s a bitch.”

Chemistry between two people is obviously very important in romantic situations, and timing is clearly essential (and also a bit of a bitch).  But relationships are very rarely that simple, and I think we need a few more bits and pieces to make the blasted things work:

Referees

As in people who provide references, not the football people.  I’m not suggesting that we turn the pursuit of a relationship into some kind of emotional job hunt, but it can be much easier to let your guard down with someone if a mutual friend will vouch for their behaviour.  Lots of people meet their significant others through friends or family, and I think that they start relationships with a very clear advantage.  If you meet someone in a bar and they make a great first impression then that’s lovely, but it’s a massive bonus if someone you trust can tell you for certain that this person has no criminal record, is good with kids and usually remembers to return phone calls.

Confidence

As Dexter says to Emma in One Day, “You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this: confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle.”  Confidence covers all sorts of things, including the belief that you are a lovable person, the ability to look (and more importantly feel) good in your own clothes, and the willingness to start a conversation.  You might have unbelievably strong chemistry with someone and the timing may be perfect, but if all you can do is mumble into your shoes then your would-be romance will go nowhere incredibly rapidly.

Communication

This one is the most difficult (especially for us Brits), and annoyingly it is also the most important.  Nothing will work between two people unless they communicate.  (I’m starting to feel uncomfortable even typing this bit, to be honest.)  We don’t like talking about our feelings, do we?  Oh, sure, over a drink with our friends or in a post-break up rant, absolutely.  But with the person we want to go out with?  Good heavens, no.  It can’t be done!  We’re supposed to tell each other where we stand, how we feel and make sure that no one is being led on or getting confused?  What a ridiculous notion.

Communication issues are the reason that Jane Austen novels are longer than two pages, why Bridget Jones takes so long to get Mark Darcy, and they make up the basic plot line of every rom-com film ever made.  If the characters told each other the truth earlier on in these stories, they would be happier much sooner.  Sure, the films would be rubbish and the books would be abysmal, but you are not a character in a story.  You’re a real person, and no one is going to write your happy ending unless you flipping get on with it.

Besides, you deserve to be happy.  You’re a legend.

Have a superb Wednesday.

Bookworm Woes

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Good morning, and welcome to what I hope will be the most marvellous Thursday of your life so far!

Today I would like to talk about a subject very close to my heart: reading.  Specifically, reading in public.  Here are some of the most irritating and troublesome aspects of being a public bookworm:

  • Who are you looking at?  Sometimes when you’ve been reading for a while, you look up from the page to go over a moment in your head or work something out about the storyline.  If you are sitting in public and you look up to make accidental eye contact with a stranger, they tend to look a bit confused.  Unfortunately, it’s not socially acceptable to say “I’m not looking at you, I’m reading.  Go back to your life.”
  • Unnecessary baggage: If you’re about to leave the house and you’ve only got a few pages left in a book, you have to take a spare one with you, don’t you?  It doesn’t really matter where we’re going:  we must always, always have a good chunk of book available to read.  If this means that we sometimes end up taking large handbags to nightclubs, so be it.
  • Anti-social issues: When meeting friends, we tend to arrive a bit early so that we can get some extra reading in.  Woe betide the friend who turns up in the middle of a chapter, and God help the poor soul who arrives expecting conversation from us when we’ve only got two pages of a thriller novel left.
  • What the heck is going on?  This one is especially true if you’re on public transport: reading can be an all-consuming activity, and if you’re not careful you can miss your bus stop without even noticing.  If you’re sitting on a park bench it can start to get dark or rain without you realising, and in some cases it takes physical prodding from a loved one to bring you back to reality.
  • I’m not crazy; I’m a bookworm.  Sometimes you are reading a book that is so surprising and engaging that you genuinely have to react verbally (potentially by swearing), or so funny that you laugh out loud.  Apparently in public situations this kind of behaviour is a little disconcerting for strangers.  Well, strangers, you’ll just have to deal with it.  I’m reading an awesome story over here.

Well, I’m off to finish The Subtle Knife.  Have a glorious day.

 

Shameless Plug Alert

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

Life takes you to some very strange places.  For example, my first play was written in a blind panic over two days because we needed a play to perform for an assessment, and we ended up doing it at the Edinburgh Fringe.  A few months ago I sat down in a sulk and started writing a scene that is being performed tonight as part of a new writing showcase.  Who’d have thought that having a hissy fit would be so productive?

It’s not as simple as that, of course.  Life is full of twists and turns and very confusing states of affairs, all of which combine and conspire to get us places.  The scene that’s being performed tonight may have started off as my exorcism of a bad mood, but it’s turned into something very different.  The actors have definitely made the characters their own, and the original source of inspiration is all but obsolete.

It can be very difficult to let your ideas change, but most of the time we have to trust that they are changing for the better.  As time goes by your attitude changes, you hear other people’s opinions, and you adapt to circumstances.  For example, the piece that’s on tonight (and tomorrow and next Sunday, just by the by) is called Irresistibly Drained, which is a reference to a Conan Doyle quotation that sounds a lot more emotionally fraught than it was meant to.  When I originally came up with the title I thought it was fine, but as time passes I feel less and less comfortable about it.  It kind of sounds like I’ve written a romantic melodrama worthy of Mills & Boon.

Letting your ideas change is something that comes up a lot for writers in particular, because you can imagine a line being spoken one way, but then an actor will interpret it completely differently.  Lines that I didn’t realise could be amusing in Chris is Dead (which will be on at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, just FYI) were made hilarious by the actors’ performances, and I loved that.

The main thing about letting your ideas change and develop is that you have no way of knowing how much better it could be.  Letting other people make their mark on your work could open it up to all sorts of possibilities, and you might unlock a huge amount of your own potential.

Whatever you’re up to today, have a glorious Sunday.  If you’re around in Kennington at 6pm, do swing by and see the new writing festival.  Details are here.

Two Towers, No Hobbits

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Good morning, lovely reader!  Got any nice plans for your weekend?  I know for a fact that there are barbecues happening in London over the next couple of days.  Loving that weather-based optimism.

When I was writing this post I nearly called it “Real British Theatre”, but I disregarded that title for two reasons: firstly, it smacks somewhat of Nigel sodding Farage (and I have many faults, but voting for UKIP is definitely not one of them), and secondly it reminded me a little too forcefully of a university module I think I did, which was called something similar and was about theatre in the nineteenth century.  Maybe.  I think.  I don’t know, it was a very long time ago, and I wasn’t paying attention…

Yesterday I went to the Globe with one of my best buddies to see the play which, time-travel allowing, I’m pretty sure is Shakespeare’s homage to Tarantino: Titus Andronicus.  It was bloody, disturbing and impossible to stop watching.  It also had my absolute favourite characteristic of theatre: dark comedy.  It was funny at odd moments, it lightened the more blood-stained and grotesque scenes with a bit of whimsy, but most worryingly of of all, the actual subject matter and the characters’ situations made us laugh.  They also made us wince in disgust, groan in surprised nausea and sharply peg it out of the way when the actors were running around in the audience.

The actors had two metal towers on wheels to propel themselves around the groundling pit, and they used them spectacularly.  It still amazes me that something so un-British – barging through crowds of people, for heaven’s sake, and actually shouting at them to move, how very rude, I shall write to The Times – is such an integral part of the audience’s experience at the Globe.  The Globe is a beacon of British history and culture, and it attracts people from all over the – well, the globe, I suppose.  Ahem.

The un-British barging in a very British theatre is important, because it makes the story so immediate for the spectators (which is, after all, why they went to the Globe in the first place).  It made us feel genuinely at risk from the seething anger, the all-too-real swords and the fake blood being sprayed everywhere.  It was amazing.

The best things about this country are way beyond what politicians have to say about immigration or the Europe issue.  The best things about this country are the things that people gave us hundreds of years ago, and that we still enjoy today.  This country is about Winston Churchill’s determination, Charles Darwin’s curiosity and William Shakespeare’s imagination.

This country is about standing in the middle of an open air theatre and feeling things that audiences have felt about the same story for four hundred and twenty years.  That’s called a communal experience by the way, Mr. Farage, and the whole flipping point of it is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.

Have an amazing Saturday.  (Not you, UKIP.)

Judgement Call

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Good morning and happy Saturday to you!  D’you know, I only discovered yesterday that this is another bank holiday weekend.  Thank goodness those poor, tired bankers are having a well-earned rest from the arduous task of stealing our money.

As you can see, I’ve just made a mass-judgement about bankers based on the global financial crisis, and although that’s not exactly a controversial opinion, I’m sure that there are nice, compassionate people among the financiers of Canary Wharf.  (Don’t look at me like that.  It could happen.)

What makes you judge someone?  Do you assume that someone is trendy (and therefore a bad person) because they’re sporting a beard and skinny jeans?  Do you dub someone a saint in your mind because you witness them buying a Big Issue?  Do you lose respect for a friend when you discover that they enjoy the musical stylings of Justin Bieber?

I do, and if you’re honest I think you do, too.  Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a preachy post about how we need to be less judgemental (although I think we should probably give it a go, shouldn’t we?  Yeah, alright.  I will if you will).  Instead, I would like to identify a few things that we absolutely should judge people based on:

1) How they talk about their elders
Even if someone doesn’t have the best relationship in the world with their biological parents, everyone has parental figures in their lives from whom they have learned a great deal.  The way that someone talks about their mum, older sibling, grandparent, favourite teacher etc. tells you a lot about what made them who they are, and how big a part of their personality is informed by a sense of respect.

2) Sense of humour
Don’t be misled here: I don’t mean that you should judge people based on which sitcoms they like, or whether they’re fans of the Cornetto Trilogy.  By “sense of humour” I mean how they respond to day-to-day life: do they laugh when they fall over in public, or throw a hissy fit?  Do they snigger at others’ misfortune, or are they sympathetic?  A person’s sense of humour demonstrates very clearly what their priorities are and how much perspective they have.

3) Social standing
Again, don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not suggesting that we split the world into Breakfast Club characters.  What I mean is, you can tell a lot about someone by how their friends behave around them.  For example, my brother is the dad figure in his friendship group at uni.  This amuses me because I know him well enough (obviously) to know that how his friends see him accurately reflects his personality.

4) How (much) they feel about stuff
Obviously we can’t have an opinion about everything, but you can make fairly accurate assumptions about someone based on how much they care about their interests, ambitions and morals.  It doesn’t really matter what the interests are (within the limits of morality and the law, of course) as long as the person cares about them.  Apathy is the enemy of romance, art, the progress of science and half-decent conversation.

5) How they feel about you
For your own sake, you should definitely make judgements based on how someone treats you, and how they feel about you.  Someone who loves you (and acts like it) is clearly an excellent human being, and someone who does not is not worth your time.  Also, who wouldn’t love you?  You’re adorable!

Have a lovely, relaxing Saturday.  Maybe go for a long walk.