Tag Archives: Christmas

It’s Not Called “Boiled Wine”

 

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Season’s greetings, lovely reader!  How’s the wrapping going?

I won’t beat around the bush, because we’re all busy people and those mince pies aren’t going to eat themselves: 2016 has been weird.

Setting aside the national, global and celebrity death issues, it seems to me that a lot of us have been going through our own personal annus horribilis (which is Latin for “what the HELL happened this year?!”).

In my case it’s been a year of boiling points, especially with my friends.  Issues and unspoken gripes that had been simmering for a long time began to bubble up and spill, and at certain points I found myself not speaking to people who have been very close friends of mine for years and years.

In one instance – and I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you this story, because we’re grand now – I fell out with one of my best friends for about three months.  I was in the wrong for causing the argument, but her decision to temporarily cut me out of her life seemed disproportionate to me: it wasn’t that big of a row.  When we met up a few weeks ago to sort things out, it transpired that she had actually been upset with me for various reasons.  Thoughtless actions or badly-chosen words on my part had been upsetting her for a while, and she’d never said anything about them.  So what I thought was an over-reaction turned out to be totally justified: she was boiling over after months of unspoken annoyance.

Now, obviously, this makes me feel like an absolutely rubbish friend and I am not proud of this story at all.  I cannot bear to think that I was merrily running around thinking everything was ok when in fact one of my closest friends was feeling hurt by my actions.  I did the same thing myself with another friend: her behaviour upset me for a long time, but I plodded on with the usual useless thoughts of “that’s just what she’s like” and “well, what can you do?”, the way we all do when we love someone who occasionally irritates us.  That situation blew up in my face, too.  I thought I was being patient when all I was doing was giving myself permission to approach boiling point.

What I have tried to take away from these nasty situations is that it is important to be honest when someone close to you is hurting your feelings.  This is really not an easy thing to do.  We’ve all been in situations where it is difficult to be honest with someone, either because of circumstances or because we’re not sure how they’ll take it.  You know the sort of thing:

“Hey, listen, about your new boyfriend…”
“Oh my God, he’s great, right?  So smart, and SO funny.  What was that joke he made the other day?  Something about your hair?  How bad it looked?  Oh my God, that was HILARIOUS.”
“Er…yeah…”

No fun to be had there.  But the thing about letting things simmer for too long is that they always boil over: that’s physics.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m damned if I’m going to have another year of emotional eruptions and friendship disruptions.  Let us mull the wine of friendship, not allow it to boil over into a claggy claret mess.

Merry Christmas to you, lovely reader.  I’ll see you in 2017.

The Conservatory of the Mind Palace

sherlock__s_mind_palace_by_firelight_12-d4oc1nhWith absolutely no disrespect meant to Benedict Cumberbatch, he doesn’t own the phrase “mind palace”.  Using the method of loci (or going to your mind palace or whatever you want to call it) is a very useful thing to do, especially if you’re like me and your memory is about as reliable as Southern Rail.  I’m currently working on a show at the VAULT Festival, and a lot of the conversations I have with my producer Kate rely upon the idea of a mind palace, because we’ve got so many things to do:

“What was that rehearsal technique I said I wanted to use next week?”
“I don’t know, dear.  Look in your mind palace.”

“We said we were going to email Adam about something.  What on earth was it?”
“Er…I dunno, let me look in my mind palace…I can’t find it.”
“Have you checked the library?”
“Yep.”
“The ballroom?”
“Yep.”
“The cupboard under the stairs?!”

So far, so silly.  But what I am discovering is that, quite apart from being just an excellent memory aide, having a mind palace is a very healthy thing to do for emotional reasons.

For example, people talk about burying their feelings or locking negative thoughts away.  This would be very easy to do in a mind palace, because you could build yourself a cellar or a dungeon or whatever else took your fancy.  However, being the proud architect of a mind palace makes you feel the need to be more creative about these things.  For example, when I come across a particular fear or worry I let it loose in the palace grounds to run around the rose garden and splash in the ornamental fountains.  Mentally ‘releasing’ bad feelings is very helpful, because you can acknowledge their existence in your life without constantly feeling the need to monitor them.  They can really get under your feet if you keep them cooped up all the time.

“Hey Vicki, nice mind palace.  Where’s your fear of commitment got to?”
“Oh, he’s running around on the croquet lawn with my concerns about career trajectory.  They’re having a great time, don’t worry.  Would you like some tea?”

The best room in my mind palace is the conservatory.  It has no strange wicker/fabric combo bits of furniture in it, and it most certainly does not have leaves all over the roof.  It is a quiet, calm room where there is always sunlight streaming in from all angles, and it’s very warm and cosy the whole year round.

The sunlight in this room is a concoction of all of the things that make me happy: memories, people and other bits and pieces of life.  Highlights include the moment in Moulin Rouge when Jim Broadbent runs away screaming “LIKE A VIRGIN!”, my friend Andy’s laugh, the smell of coffee, the Dad’s Army theme tune, cheese jokes, watching Christmas movies with my family and excitement about my best friend’s wedding next year.

The reason why I am talking about these big, small and silly things that make me happy in my mind palace conservatory is that they are a huge part of how I maintain my mental health.  I think mental wellbeing is a very specific thing, and a huge part of why we struggle with it is that we always end up feeling isolated by our own thought processes.

One of the greatest and loveliest things about the show that I’m working on is that we teamed up with mental health charity Mind.  Mind do incredible work for people who struggle with their mental health, and I am so pleased and proud that they promote conversation about what is still a pretty taboo topic.  They effectively knock on the door of everyone’s mind palace to check that they’re ok, and to reassure you that you’re never alone.  Mind palaces exist in neighbourhoods.

So to conclude, dear reader, go and build yourself a mind palace that you would love to live in, and invite people in who will appreciate being there.

Have a stupendous evening.

 

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas

Hipster-Christmas-eCommerce1‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the house
I could hear a strange scuttle – please God, not a mouse –
I’d rewired the doorbell with cynical care,
In hopes that I’d hear when my parcel was there.

The children next door had now gone to their beds,
Having spent the whole evening screaming off their heads.
And my friends in their onesies, with gifts yet to wrap,
Had just settled our brains to watch Christmassy crap.

When out on the street there arose such a clatter,
We looked up from Netflix to say “what’s the matter?”
Away to the front door I went, unaware
That I’d stepped on the cheeseboard and left my sock there.

Some rushed along with me to look at the street,
While others snatched up the Brie under their feet.
When, what to our wondering eyes should appear,
But our tipsy friend Nick, holding eight tins of beer.

Then one girl poked her head out, and said very quick,
“That isn’t enough beer for all of us, Nick!”
More rapid than eagles his answers they came,
And he ranted, and shouted, and called us rude names.

“You ******! You ******!  I brought you guys beer!
I had to get on a night bus to get here!
I can’t find my keys! I forgot my ID!
I’m lucky the guy in the shop would serve me!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-tops his diatribe flew,
And he woke up a dog, and the neighbour’s kids, too.

And that point we dragged our friend Nick through the door,
Telling him to shut up and sit down on the floor.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
I saw him head for the cheeseboard with a bound.

He was dressed like a hipster, from head to footwear,
And we raised our eyebrows at his strangely styled hair.
His new job in Shoreditch paid Nick “loads of dough”,
But he looked like a wanker, and we told him so.

Though ’twas stuffed with cheddar, his face looked annoyed.
He said (very muffled), “I’m hashtag employed!”
Exchanging expressions of wary dismay,
We tried, as a team, to decide what to say.

“The thing is, Nick, mate,” one brave soul began,
“We’ve been putting this off for as long as we can,
But the fact is that your job has made you act like
A git who takes selfies on a Boris bike.”

“But James works in East London!” Nick cried with rage,
“He posts cat videos on his Facebook page!”
“The difference,” James said, “is that I am a banker,
And as such, I was always a bit of a wanker.”

For a while Nick became a right grumpy old sod,
But conceded he had become just a bit odd.
He saw that we meant well, and though it was cruel,
His true friends just had to provide ridicule.

We shared out the beers and we finished the feta,
And soon Nick’s demeanour had changed for the better.
We spoke of times past, of embarrassments shared,
Of what had become of May’s ex (no one cared).

We ate and we drank and we laughed through the night,
And soon we’d forgotten our earlier fight.
And I heard Nick exclaim, just before he passed out,
“Happy Christmas to all…hashtag great night out.”

Pooh Sticks and Perfect Intentions

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Happy 2015, dear reader.  How are you?  I hope your festive season was joyful, relaxing and as sparkly as possible.

I’m sure that everyone’s Christmas experience is unique, but there are a couple of thoughts that most (if not all) of us have towards the end of the holiday season:

1) I love my family, but I could probably go a few weeks/months/decades without seeing them now.
2) I have GOT to eat a salad.

Ending the year with good intentions for the future leads me neatly onto my main topic for today, which is new year’s resolutions.  Of course, many people don’t want or need the excuse of January 1st to try new things or give stuff up.  In some ways it seems bizarre to block out twelve months of our lives and classify them as having been collectively “good” or “bad”, and to make decisions about our future based on the events that took place during that time.  Is that why the tradition of making resolutions prevails in our culture?  Because we need to believe that we can divide our lives into units of what we have done and what we are going to do?

There is nothing wrong with doing this, of course, or with most traditions in general.  Tradition – as the characters of Fiddler on the Roof know very well – is extremely important.  Traditions can be religious, cultural or local.  They can even be something that only you and one other person abide by, such as the annual game of pooh sticks that I play on Hungerford Bridge with my friend Paul.  We do it on New Year’s Day, and each stick represents a resolution for the year ahead.  The original idea was that the person whose stick came out first was most likely to keep their resolution.  This year it was so windy that our sticks kept flying back to hit us in the knees, so we had to improvise slightly.  (“Shall we just go to the other side of the bridge and chuck them downriver?”  “Er…yeah.”)

I don’t know about you, but Paul and I usually find that our resolutions stay fairly similar year on year: there’s always a resolution about learning to manage our money, and another about improving ourselves in general.  There also tends to be something project-based (Paul: “Build a PC!”) and an optimistic love life goal (Me: “Sort it out”).  In some ways it is disheartening to think that our aims are inching rather than leaping forward, but then who can be expected to completely change their lives in just one year?  Or two?  Or three?  Or…oh…I’m spotting a problem here…

People’s resolutions stay similar because we are only human.  No matter how many years we are given or how good our intentions are at the time of resolve, we will probably never achieve complete perfection.  Paul, God bless him, never criticises me for the fact that “clear my overdraft” has been on my resolutions list for the last three years in a row, and I appreciate that.  He does remind me of my successes, e.g. last year I resolved to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe, which I did.

This time of year can be very tricky, because we are caught in a limbo world of recovering from the previous year and trying to plan the next.  If we think that we have made little progress over the past year, we can become pessimistic about what we are capable of in the next one.  The important thing is to keep going, keep trying, and to make sure that you have people around you who will remind you of how far you’ve come.

Have a glorious Friday, and a wonderful 2015.  You have achieved a lot more than you think.

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.

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.

The Summer – Autumn Trade-Offs

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Happy Monday, reader!  How was your weekend?

Despite making a glorious comeback effort over the past week, Summer’s career is definitely over.  Make way for Autumn, the awkward but loveable bassist of the seasons.  It’s time to trade our flip flops for wellies, and to have The Discussion about turning the central heating on.

A lot of us tend to regard this time of year with trepidation and mild despair, because the days are getting shorter and before we know it we’ll be panic-buying for Christmas.  If we think about it, Autumn has a lot of fun stuff to offer that makes up for losing our Summer sensibilities.  Here are a few examples:

Sunbathing to Sauntering
No more sunbathing at every available opportunity, but now we get to enjoy leisurely walks on crisp, cold days.  We might not be able to top up our tans, but we can still enjoy the fresh air.  Even if it’s raining and miserable, there’s always the jumping-in-puddles option (as long as you’re wearing wellies.  This activity is not appropriate for those of us who favour canvas shoes).

Floaty to Fur-Lined
Pretty summer dresses get relegated to the back of the wardrobe, but on the plus side, wrapping up season is here.  There’s a lot of joy to be taken from being snug in a scarf, and being justifiably smug about owning a matching pair of gloves.  I personally am very excited about wearing my penguin jumper, because it’s SO COMFY.  Childish but not chilly is how to dress this season (although I confess I haven’t consulted any women’s magazines about this point).

Picnics to Pies
Goodbye, healthy salad and picnic snacks.  Hello, hearty stews and home-made pies.  Actually, this isn’t even a trade-off thing: who would choose salad over pie?!

Lazy Days to Long Nights
Like everyone who possesses an iota of sanity, I hate getting out up when it’s cold and dark.  If the sun isn’t out of bed yet, then why the hell should we be?!  Equally, getting home in the dark when it’s something stupid like five in the afternoon is just depressing.  What happened to long, drawn-out, sunny evenings and early, blazing sunrises?  They’re gone, I’m afraid.  There’ll be a reunion tour next year.  In the meantime, we can partly dismiss our despair by remembering that we are more likely to get to sleep at a decent time during the winter, because the earlier sunsets make us feel more tired, and that a sunrise that happens at 11.32 am (I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean) is still a sunrise.  A sunrise which we’re more likely to see, in fact, because who is ever awake at 5.34 am during the summer?  Exactly.

Festivals to Festivities
Festival season is over: pack up your tents and put away your dry shampoo.  Wherever you’ve been this summer, I hope you have some nice memories and several entertaining photos.  We also have a lot of great events to look forward to in the next few months – Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, Christmas, New Year – and there may even be a few birthdays and engagement parties in the mix.  Summer is a great time to meet new people, spend time with old friends and go on bizarre adventures, but let’s not forget that Autumn is pretty good for all of those things, too.

Have a superlatively hilarious Monday.