Tag Archives: children

Mind-Altering Circumstances

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Hello, reader!  How are you?  Take a seat.  Don’t mind the mess, I’m still unpacking.  Would you like a coffee?

I recently discovered that many forms of urban wildlife like to visit my garden, and in my naive, not-a-real-Londoner state I was delighted.  “I’m living in The Animals of Farthing Wood!” I thought.  (Except that time I saw a squirrel eating a potato waffle – pictured above – which was just baffling.)

Well, waking up this morning to discover that said wildlife had seen fit to POO on the patio made me rethink my position.  I have spent the last hour Googling how to deter foxes, with mixed success.  According to this nice pest control man, “young male urine” will do the trick.  Excuse me, but a) gross and b) I live with my sister.  How on EARTH are we supposed to ask our next young male visitor to oblige us with that particular type of pesticide?  It’s just not happening.

Anyway, vulpine poo problems aside, this last week or so has demonstrated to me that changing your mind is an inevitable part of life.  It doesn’t even take an unwelcome surprise (as it were) to create the change: as we experience life, we discover that our feelings about the world change accordingly.  This is a good thing, because it shows that we are not closed-minded people, but it’s also a bit disorientating, because our opinions form an integral part of who we are.  Here are some of the things I think we worry about too much in terms of where we stand:

The Career Conundrum
I won’t lie to you: pursuing a writing career is hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and this is coming from someone who’s been to Hackney at night time.  Sometimes our choice of job or pursuit of passion leaves us feeling a bit lost, and we start to wonder whether we’ve made the right decisions.  This week I genuinely started to panic about the writing thing, and even though it’s sort-of on the wane now, it was weird how unappealing my lifelong passion started to look.
I really don’t believe that it is ever too late to change your mind about what you want to do.  I have a friend who is doing a degree course at the age of 26 (and getting insanely high marks as well, the jammy madam).  A lot of people I know – especially those lovely creative types – are constantly turning their hands to all sorts of endeavours, and it makes them much more rounded and fascinating people.  Society tells us that we must introduce ourselves with our job titles, as though our careers defined us.  They don’t, even though they do take up a lot of our time.  It’s not worth wasting time worrying about what your job title sounds like when the main thing is to be happy.  If you change your mind about what you want to do, that’s your business.  As far as I’m concerned, you should be allowed to introduce yourself as Grand High Master of the Universe for all that your job title actually matters.

The Marriage and Kids Debate
“I definitely want to get married one day.”  “I want lots of kids, but not marriage.”  “I would never have a church wedding.”  We’ve all had these conversations, haven’t we?  Especially once you hit my age, lots of people start to seriously consider what the long-term landscape of their personal lives is going to be.  At this point, particularly if you have a serious boy/girlfriend, it becomes very important to be completely honest with yourself about what you really want.  You may have spent your entire life saying that you categorically MUST be married by a certain age or have a minimum number of children, but of all things your vision of familial happiness has to be allowed to change.  It’s nice to have a hypothetical idea of what you want, but you have to be able to adapt to what your heart tells you as you get older.  At sixteen you may have been adamant that marriage was not for you, but if you meet the man/woman of your dreams at twenty-six and you change your mind, don’t fight it.  Your past self had no idea what life had in store for you, so why does s/he get to dictate your decisions now?

The Really Big Issues
It is a truly excellent thing to have an informed opinion about Syria, Scottish independence, euthanasia and how we can persuade David Cameron’s home planet to take him back.  The key word in that sentence is “informed” – new information and updates about all of these issues appear on a daily basis, and if situations change we are supposed to readjust our views accordingly.  It takes a much more intelligent and honest person to change their mind about huge political problems than it does to stick to narrow-minded guns.  Consistency is all very well and good, but have you noticed that the news is not consistent?  It changes every day, in fact.  We need to keep up, otherwise we’ll end up like those eejits who think that gay marriage causes hurricanes or whatever.

The main thing to remember is that changing our minds once doesn’t mean we’ll never change them back, or that we won’t form a new opinion entirely.  My writing worries will go, I’m sure, as soon I get stuck into my next play.  If they don’t, I could always retrain as an accountant or something.

Ok, that will NEVER happen.  But the point is that we can and should keep our options (and minds) open.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Thursday.

My (Slightly Less) Naughty Little Sister

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s life treating you today?

Does anyone remember those stories about a little girl who was incredibly naughty, but essentially loveable?  They were called “My Naughty Little Sister”, and I remember reading them as a child and feeling a bit cheated by the stories’ inevitable happy endings.  If I’d got up to half of her shenanigans, I would never have been able to charm my way out of trouble the way that little girl did.  In fact, on many occasions I was that naughty, and it’s shocking how useless a winning smile and puppy dog eyes are when you’re dealing with angry teachers/parents/older siblings.

Anyway, as most of my social circle know, my siblings are the most important people in my life.  We are five very different people who happen to have the same face, and despite the obligatory childhood scraps and rivalries, we have ended up being very close friends as adults.  Last night I had a long phone conversation with my little sister: nothing major, just a nice, lengthy catch up and a bit of gossip.  But it was, as all of my conversations with my siblings are, very rewarding.  There are a few reasons for this, and for the existence of siblings in general being a brilliant thing.

First of all, there is nothing like having someone just like you around to validate your existence (and personality, in some cases).  I know that I can say to my little sister “I’m worried about this”, or “I really don’t like that”, and she will always understand where I’m coming from.  Like everyone else, I sometimes worry that I am very weird and that everyone else is a lot better at life than I am.  Having four people in my life who share my neuroses, genetic predispositions and slightly odd frame of cultural reference makes me feel like a proper human being.  I may well be very weird, but I am not alone.  Having siblings puts you into context, and that’s extremely valuable.

Secondly, siblings – even twins – are never entirely identical as people, and it’s a constant source of pride and joy to me that my siblings all pursue different ambitions.  It’s amazing how different close relatives can really be, and talking to my little sister about her degree (which is in science, of all things.  Can you imagine?) reminds me how important it is to respect other people’s passions.  It’s easy to go through life assuming that we know pretty much everything about our nearest and dearest, and we may not share their beliefs or aspirations, but it’s always worth checking in on them from time to time.  I love hearing my little sister talk about her life, because it’s so different from mine.

Thirdly, I am a very typical big sister in that I hate the idea of my younger siblings repeating my mistakes.  I mean, really.  If you’re going to mess things up then at least have the decency to be original about it.  Jeez.  Seriously, though: I have messed up enough times and been hurt often enough to recognise the danger signs in my little brother and sister, and I dread to think of them going through some of the rubbish that I put myself through at their age because of pride, misplaced affections or your basic, thoughtless drunkenness.  Thankfully, my younger siblings are a lot more sensible than I am, and my little sister in particular is a wise old soul (for a twenty-one year old).  Talking to her and hearing her opinions reminds me that she is a lot smarter than I was at her age, and if she is slightly less naughty than I am, that can only be a good thing.

I know that I am very, very lucky to get on so well with my multitudinous siblings, but I think that the essential elements of our relationships are the same for friends and family members from all walks of life.  It doesn’t matter how alienated you may be now, or how little you think you have in common: your siblings are the people most like you on earth, whether that’s in terms of personality or physical appearance, and their influence on your life is incomparable with anything else.  Even if they annoy you, bore you or just have far too many embarrassing stories to tell about you: they will always be a huge part of who you are.

And that’s a very good thing, because you’re wonderful.  Have a cracker of a Wednesday.

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.

Hey, Where Are You?

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Happy Friday, you gorgeous thing!  The weekend is almost upon us!

Do you remember the other day when I said that our lives are personalised Monopoly boards?  Well, it turns out that in life we are playing all sorts of board games.  The world of dating demands a Battleships-type strategy, venturing onto the London Underground during planned engineering works is essentially one big Risk, and when someone’s lunch goes missing from the staff room kitchen, you’re probably going to get stuck in a bizarre version of workplace Cluedo.

This is because we all develop different techniques for thriving and surviving different periods of our lives, and although we may think that being the same age as someone puts us on a level playing field with them, that is hardly ever the case.  For instance, my friend Andy is a few months younger than I am.  He is in a very long-term couple; I am not.  He is about to buy a house with his lovely girlfriend; I am renting a flat with my insane (but brilliant) best friend, which is known by our most frequent guests as Bag End.  Andy is essentially being a grown-up, and I am not.

I am absolutely fine with that.  Andy’s position in life (i.e. on the verge of house-purchasing) is a wonderful thing, because he and his girlfriend have been looking forward to this moment for ages, they’ve worked hard to save up the money for a deposit, and they’re very much in love.

If a friend your age is getting married, it has absolutely no reflection on your love life.  If a university peer gets promoted, it doesn’t impact negatively on your career.  We need to stop looking at the people in our age bracket and thinking that what happens to them “must” happen to us immediately too, because what’s right for one person might be hideously badly timed for another.  Case in point: I am not ready for Andy’s life.  I am not ready to live with a partner, I am not ready to commit to a mortgage, and I’m definitely not ready to settle down in one geographical area.   I’ve never even been to Blackpool, for crying out loud.

I’m sure that when we’re with the right person all of the house-marriage-kids stuff will fall into place, just as I’m sure that our careers will have their turning points at the opportune moment.  These things will happen to us when we’re actually ready for them.  Not only that, but they will probably happen because we’re actually ready for them.  Why would you want someone else’s life now, when you get to have yours in the future?  Why does where they are matter more than where you are?

Have something very delicious for lunch today.  You deserve it.

What Kind of Day Are You Having?

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Good morning, dear reader!  How’s your weekend going?

Firstly, I’m very sorry that I didn’t get time to write a blog post yesterday.  I have failed you, and I am accordingly ashamed.  I can only plead as an excuse that I have had absolutely no free time recently, and I am in a constant state of being almost asleep.

This morning, however, I am awake and alert (and a bit high on coffee), and I am determined to make my absence up to you by writing an extra joyful blog post.  Here we go.

Today I would like to discuss what determines a day as good or bad, and what kind of things we let affect the balance.  If we miss our train, receive some bad news or have an argument with someone we tend to dismiss the day as a write-off.  If we receive good news, go on a lovely date or something funny happens at work, we decide that we are having a good day.

Deciding how good, bad or boring a day is based on small incidents is very central to human nature, but it’s alarming how quickly we make the choice.  If something slightly annoying happens to us as soon as we leave the house, we sometimes decide in advance that this is going to be one of “those” days.  I would like to use yesterday as an example of why we are wrong to do so.

Yesterday I woke up late, was feeling a bit ill, and had a hectic day at work involving tricky customers, calling an ambulance for someone who was unwell, technology failing and other small stresses that inevitably accompany front of house theatre work.  I am very lucky to be working with a brilliant bunch of people on this show, but the fact is that we are all dying ever so slightly at the moment.

We had all, by about half past eleven in the morning, decided that we were communally having a bad day.  Luckily, at about half past three in the afternoon something happened that turned the day around entirely.  Something small, but very significant.

The show I’m currently working on is aimed at very small children, and at various points during the day there are a lot of families milling about in the venue.  At around half past three I saw a very small boy wriggling around in his pram, clearly pretty tired, hot and irritable.  At that moment, another family arrived next to the little boy’s, including a similarly young girl who was also in a pushchair, and also looking fairly stressed.

The families were strangers who just happened to be next to one another in a queue, but at that moment the little boy and the little girl made eye contact, and they both broke into enraptured smiles.  They stopped fussing and fretting, and just gazed at each other in silent awe.  The girl’s family moved away after a moment, but the magical moment didn’t end there: the children kept staring at each other in wonder until the girl’s family was out of the room.

I’m pretty sure that today I saw love at first sight happen between two toddlers, and even though it was a tiny incident, it unquestionably made my day.  I am telling you about it, you lovely thing, for two reasons: firstly, I hope that it makes you smile and warms the cockles of your heart.  Secondly, it reiterates the point that I’m trying to make: we should not allow the amalgamation of small inconveniences to blind us to the joy that happens all around us.  If we are going to let small bad things ruin our day, we must also be willing to let small brilliant things make them better.

In the spirit of which, I wish you the best Sunday since records began.

10 Things All Theatre Types Do

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Hello, you lovely thing.  How’s this week treating you so far?

Firstly, I should apologise for the fact that I might not have time to blog every day for the next few weeks.  I’ve just started working on a kids’ show in Greenwich, and I will essentially be eating, sleeping and breathing children’s theatre for a while.  I will do my best to keep up with you lovely people, but please do bear with me if I don’t quite manage it.

Today’s blog is (predictably) a theatre-based list of stuff that happens to everyone when they start working on a new show, particularly in a front of house capacity:

1) You work out very quickly who is going to make you laugh during the nightmare shifts – look out for the people who tend to mutter witticisms under their breath during briefings and people who are good at pulling silly faces.

2) You remember how much fun it is to use radios – you’re basically getting paid to play with walkie talkies.

3) You make a new best friend – in my case, one of my fellow supervisors has already “claimed” me as his latest fag hag.  I feel so honoured.

4) You end up working with someone you already know – I love this about theatre.  Nine times out of ten, we end up reconnecting with a friend or ex-colleague in a wholly unexpected context, and that really helps us to relax into new working situations.

5) You find a fittie – don’t look at me like that.  Everyone does this.  We’re not proud of it, but we all like to work out as early as possible whether there’s going to be anyone in our team who is nice to look at.  Just look at, mind.  We’re professionals, after all.

6) You know the show off by heart within two shifts.

7) You are insanely bored of the show within three shifts.

8) You passionately hate the show within three and a half shifts.

9) You find and immediately set up camp in the nearest decent pub.

10) Cheesy as it sounds, you fall in love with theatre all over again.

Right, I’m off to Greenwich to bring joy to hundreds of children.  You have yourself the most enjoyable Thursday of every Thursday ever.

Happy Egg and Controversial Rabbit Day!

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Hello and a very Happy Easter to you!

When I was a child my parents were extremely strict about observing the Catholic faith.  Nowadays my siblings and I don’t so much observe it as comment absent-mindedly when we catch a glimpse of it, but it hasn’t always been that way.

I am grateful for the thorough religious education my parents gave me, although I must confess that I absolutely hated it at the time, and that a lot of it made no sense to me.  With the exception of a few small things, I think I’ve grown out of my aversion to and confusion over Christianity.

What are these few small things?  Oh, nothing, just, you know…Easter.  I’m sorry, I know lots of people love it, and I don’t hate it or anything; I just don’t understand it.  We have a rabbit delivering eggs – not even real eggs, but eggs made of some fancy Aztec concoction called “chocolate” – to small children.  Let me try to disentangle this ridiculous chain of tradition:

  • Sometime between 33 and 39 AD: Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Jewish festival Passover when Jesus decides to turn the whole shindig into the Last Supper.  He is crucified, resurrected three days later and has fun for a while reappearing and scaring the crap out of his mournful disciples.  At the same sort of time Pliny, Plutarch and that whole ancient intellectuals gang are going around thinking that hares are hermaphrodites, and can therefore have babies without losing their virginity.
  • Sometime between 100 and 200 AD: Earliest Christians are recorded as celebrating Easter the same way as Jewish holidays are celebrated, i.e. based on a lunisolar calendar.  This makes sense, since a lot of early Christians were converts from Judaism.  Oh, also, Mesopotamians start staining chicken eggs red to symbolise the blood shed by Jesus at the Crucifixion.
  • 325 AD: First Council of Nicaea (i.e. a party of head honcho-type bishops) decide that Easter will always fall on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox.  Good for them.
  • Sometime between 500 and 1500 AD: Plutarch and his gang’s belief that hares could reproduce without loss of virginity has led to hares being associated with the Virgin Mary, and so images of hares sometimes show up in illuminated manuscripts.  There is also an argument that hares and rabbits are a symbol of fertility pre-dating Christian times, which is why they get a look in on this festival, but I prefer the idea of Plutarch and that lot having their crazy theories accidentally adopted into lore.
  • 1610 AD: Pope Paul V officially adopts the Mesopotamians’ egg-staining thing, making eggs a Christian symbol of the resurrection.  Didn’t he have better (or less weird) things to do in his papal capacity?!
  • Sometime during the 18th century: German immigrants in Dutch Pennsylvania tell their American hosts about the “Osterhase”, a hare which brings those traditional (by now) coloured eggs to good children at Easter.  Some regions of Germany also had an Easter Fox (“Osterfuchs”) for the same job.  The Americans pick it up and run with it.
  • Modern day: Despite the traditional coloured eggs being perfectly edible, we live in a world where things made of chocolate are infinitely superior to all others.  Hence: Easter stuff is made of chocolate.

I hope that you enjoyed your crash course in Easter history, and that you have a brilliant time eating your Osterhase (or Osterfuchs) goodies.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day!

Today is obviously a good day to tell your mum how much she means to you, and as soon as I’ve written this I will skidaddle off to Watford to do just that.  Before I do, I’d like to pay homage to some of the best mums I know:

  • The Single Mums

One of my best friends is a single mum, and she manages to juggle a career in the arts (and all the ambition, uncertainty and madness that goes along with it) with being a mum to a gorgeous little boy.  When I was a teenager I used to babysit for a single mum who had been through a lot of terrible things, but she was the most gentle, compassionate and fun person I’d ever met.  I have so much respect for single mums and dads who raise their children with high standards and a lot of love.

  • The Dear Departed Mums

My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a parent.  I can’t imagine the pain that that kind of loss entails.  To the mothers who are no longer with us: we miss you.  Thank you for the lives you made.  You have left your families with fond and happy memories, and they will think of you during good times and bad for the rest of their lives.  Your example will serve as an inspiration to your children whenever they have to make a decision or work through difficulties.

  • The Not Yet Mums

I am not a mother and neither is my house mate Ash, but she definitely takes care of me the way a mother would.  My life is full of maternal, compassionate people who are not mothers but will make damn good ones one day (except the boys; they’ll be terrible mothers), and I’m very grateful for them.  If you have a nurturing instinct you can guarantee that your friends adore you for it, because there’s an incredible sense of safety and confidence that comes from knowing someone will always look after you.

  • The Surrogate Mums

It might be because I’m very close to my family, but I’ve always thought it was important to make an effort to connect with my friends’ families.  Sometimes I have taken it too far: my two oldest friends’ mothers essentially dragged me up (and one of them was still force-feeding me vitamins when I was nineteen).  Wonderful, generous, warm-hearted women they may be, but they’re also honorary parents in my head.

  • My Actual Mum

My mother has given me so much: a terrible short-term memory, the tendency to leave mugs of coffee all over the place, four lunatic siblings whom I cannot live without, inspiration, a brilliant example, confidence, an education, humour and above all an enormous amount of love.  I am constantly bowled over by the lengths my mum will go to to look after her children, and I hope that if I ever become a mother I will be just like her: selfless, strong and incredibly kind.  (It’s highly likely that I will be more prone to sarcasm, forgetfulness and accidentally leaving my kids in shopping centres, but her characteristics are what I’ll be aiming for.)

Happy Mother’s Day one and all.  I hope that your Sunday involves awesome things like Yorkshire pudding.

Let’s Go on the Swings

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Hello, lovely reader.  How are you doing this morning?

Today I’d like to talk about spontaneity, which I just decided right this second.  (Not really, but that would have been so cool!)  Spontaneity in popular culture is often portrayed as one of two things: irresponsible or romantic.  Katherine Heigl jumping onto an already moving boat at the end of 27 Dresses is a good example of both.  That jump is a ridiculous thing to do in heels, but the woman had to get to James Marsden.  Fair enough.

Small children are very good at being spontaneous in their own way, because they haven’t learned “the rules” yet.  If they see something that interests them, regardless of what they were already doing, they will toddle off towards it on a determined voyage of discovery.  Nine times out of ten they will also try to grab it and/or eat it.  As teenagers we rediscover this sense of freedom in momentary decisions, but this time we call it “rebellion” because we are testing out a new set of toys: drinking, going on road trips, pulling all-nighters, driving to McDonalds at six in the morning and so on and so forth.  At the same time we are also learning to make decisions based on long-term considerations: which subjects to study, which universities to apply to, where to travel on our gap year.  We are slowly being drawn out of the world of irresponsible snap-decisions into the scary scenario of proper grown-up stuff, and although we don’t like it, we all give in eventually.

As we get older the moments of spontaneity become smaller and less consequential to the course of our lives.  That’s a massive generalisation, because obviously people of all ages can make huge, life-changing decisions on a whim, but think about it: spontaneity when I was nineteen was getting a tattoo.  Nowadays it’s going to an unfamiliar pub.

Having said that, last night some friends and I went to a pub quiz in Islington (which we came second in.  Very proud).  We were having such a great time that we decided to move on to another pub – it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all – but we got distracted by a children’s playground for several minutes.  We went on the swings, the see-saw and a weird spirally thing that none of us understood, but was pretty cool.  One or more of us may have fallen off at one point, but that’s by the by.

Childish whimsy aside, the spontaneity of doing something fun just because it’s there in front of you is a wonderful activity to rediscover, and I highly recommend it to you.  As adults spontaneity has become an expensive and/or a bad thing: that last round of drinks that you’ll regret tomorrow morning, for example.  I think it would be nice to rediscover the potential joy in spontaneity, particularly because there are ways to experience it without terrible consequences.  I mean, I’ve got a bruise on my knee from last night’s excursions, but that’s no big deal.  When I was six years old that happened all the time.

Have an amazing Tuesday.  Give me a shout if you fancy going on the swings.