Tag Archives: control

Modern Moscow Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a spectacular weekend.

Bye Bye, Bag End

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Hello, you lovely thing.  Are you excited about your weekend?

This post is one that I’ve been avoiding for a while, because I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to write.  The subject matter makes me want to cry and stamp my feet, so do bear with me.  If I start getting hysterical just throw a biscuit at me or something.

At the end of this month, Ash and I will be vacating our beloved flat.  We’ve been living in Bag End for a year, and we’ve had an amazing time here.  We have had lots of lovely friends round to visit, hosted parties that defy the (minuscule) proportions of the floor space, danced around the kitchen to cheesy music, spilled coffee everywhere , had heart to hearts in the middle of the night and eaten unholy amounts of cheese.  It’s been bloody brilliant.

When we leave Bag End Ash will be moving home to save up for her trip to New York, and I will be moving to South London with one of my sisters.  Both of these are excellent and exciting things, but they are big changes.  I freaking hate changes.

Change is difficult for a lot of people to cope with because it involves uncertainty, which is something that humans are not wired to cope with very well.  We fear things like death and the dark because they represent obscurity: we have no way of knowing what they contain.  It’s the same with big changes.  How on earth can we be happy about them when we don’t know what they’ll entail?

It also comes down to a control and participation issue.  When we voluntarily make decisions that affect change, we can be happy because we’ve elected them.  Booking trips abroad, starting a new job and getting into relationships all fall into this category.  Being forced into change by other people’s decisions or circumstances beyond our control creates the opposite feeling: why should we have to participate in changes that we never wanted?  Why should we be forced into changing jobs, moving house or changing our relationship status?  If I may paraphrase William Ernest Henley’s poem slightly: “I am the master of my Facebook profile; I am the captain of my post code.”

I have realised that the trick to dealing with unwanted change is to look at it as an adventure rather than a crisis.  Bilbo Baggins didn’t want to leave Bag End any more than I do, but he went on to have a very jolly time.  (You know, except for the orcs and the massive spiders and stealing treasure from a dragon and everything.)  If we are never forced out of our comfort zones we never get to explore who we are or challenge ourselves, and both of those are very important things to do.

The other thing is that if we choose to look at enforced life changes in a negative way, it won’t affect any of the outcomes.  When we choose resentment over optimism we are only hurting ourselves.  Universal justice, fate, God or whatever life-affecting force you believe in probably doesn’t respond to sulking.

With that in mind, I’m going to start packing up my stuff.  I am choosing to look at this as an opportunity to re-alphabetise my books (which may sound like a pretty tremulous silver lining, but that kind of thing genuinely matters to me, because I’m a nerd).  Have a glorious weekend.

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.

Why Are We Waiting?

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Hello, reader.  How are you doing?  Excited about your weekend?  Oh good, me too.

Time is a tricky git, and it seems to speed up and slow down according to its own capricious will.  We have all fallen victim to this phenomenon: the last half hour at work on Friday feels like an eternity, but Netflix can take up an entire evening in what feels like seconds.

Some stuff just takes flipping ages for no good reason.  For example, going to bed.  In theory we should get tired, get into bed and fall asleep.  In practice, going to bed takes a lot of work: getting clothes ready for the next day, brushing your teeth, changing into pjs, taking make-up off, locking up the house, switching everything off, getting into bed, replying to the texts you forgot about earlier, swearing and getting back out of bed because you’ve left your phone charger in a different room, grumbling about your phone and demanding to know why it doesn’t know how to use less battery power if it’s so bloody smart, getting back into bed, setting your alarm for the next day and then not being able to fall asleep for ages because you’re sure you’ve forgotten about something.

The same sort of thing occurs when we are waiting for something good to happen in life: we feel that we have jumped through all manner of hoop-type obstacles and worked hard for a good end result.  This is particularly true when we are waiting for our degree results, or to hear back about a job.  We’ve done everything we were supposed to, so why are we waiting?  What is taking so flipping long?

When I left university and was a bit depressed about having no career to speak of as yet, and the months seemed to be dragging by with no hope of progress, my beloved friend Mario very wisely told me not to get bogged down by the situation.  His reasoning went thusly: first of all, pretty much everyone we knew was in the same position.  Secondly, when we look back on our post-graduation years as elderly folk, they will seem like a tiny part of our lives.  What dragged on and depressed us as twenty-somethings will seem like a momentary blip of time when we are older.

Ah, you are thinking that that’s all very well and good, but we’re not old yet, are we?  Some of us are still in that nasty post-uni slump.  I agree.  Unfortunately, at this point I have to recommend something that I would find incredibly difficult to do myself: we must be patient.  Being patient is the most irritating thing in the world, because it is a passive, boring and frustrating state that forces us to relinquish control over a situation.  I completely get that.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an alternative.

When we are waiting, we must be patient, and when things are going well, we must enjoy them.  No matter how long it actually takes us to get ready for bed, we do eventually get to sleep.  No matter how long it takes your friend to get ready, you will eventually leave the house and go clubbing.  No matter how long it takes to load, you will at some point get to watch that amusing YouTube video.  There’s a logical ending to all the ridiculous faffing.  Even when it feels like you’re just doing the same things day after day, or that nothing you do is making any difference to your success, have faith that you are always moving closer to your goal.  The passing of time, even when it’s infuriating, is a kind of progress in itself.

Have a magical Friday.

Time is of the (Vanilla) Essence

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

If you’ve read my blog post about deadlines you will already know that I think working towards deadlines can be very good for us, but that we should have faith in the idea that opportunities don’t just come around once.  This post was similarly positive in tone, and dealt with the idea that we can afford to wait for the opportune moment.  Having made these fairly optimistic assertions, I would now like to talk about the slightly more frustrating side of things: the best laid plans of mice, men and mortgage brokers can be utterly scuppered by bad timing.  Good timing is like a ticket to your dream gig: you know some people have managed to get hold of it, but your best endeavours haven’t got you anywhere.  Sadly, there is no eBay equivalent for those of us who can’t seem to time things correctly.

In many cases, timing is problematic because it isn’t something we can entirely control.  Your best friend’s birthday party inevitably falls the night before your big job interview, and the season finale of your favourite television show is always showing when you’ve got a hefty essay due in.  In my house, we tend realise that we’ve run out of vanilla essence three minutes after Asda closes on the evening before some kind of cake-centred event.  (For the record, almost all of mine and Ash’s social interactions revolve around cake, and we are not ashamed.)

Currently, timing is just being a bit inconsiderate: I somehow managed to get ill just before today’s recording of Pointless.  This is an absolute pain in the sinuses, but I have two very good reasons not to let this bother me:

1) I have an incredibly compassionate flat mate who is very good at taking care of sickies, and who is unfailingly sympathetic when all I can muster by way of conversation is a feeble “uuuuuurgh my face hurts”.  Everyone should have an Ash in their lives, especially one who always has Olbas oil and vapour rub.

2) Pretty much everyone I know is ill at the moment, and we all know that lurgy loves company.

That’s the main point, isn’t it?  The worst feeling in the world is not necessarily going through something difficult, but feeling that you’re going through it alone.  Bad things don’t necessarily come in threes, but they definitely come in large numbers.  Sometimes it seems that we have stumbled across a school trip of bad news, and the little gits have taken over our mental landscapes with their lunch boxes of doom.  It isn’t necessarily encouraging per se that all of our friends get ill at the same time, that lots of couples break up within a few weeks of each other and that everyone seems to be in a bad mood on the same day, but our problems are so much easier to deal with when we realise that our loved ones understand them.  In many cases, their experiences of your situation will qualify them to offer you good advice, lots of empathy and, where necessary, decongestants.

Have a truly marvellous Thursday.  You deserve it.

The Best People in Your World

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Good morning to you dear reader, and congratulations on reaching your four-day weekend!  I hope that you have some lovely plans to keep you occupied during this unusually long rest period.

Being the soppy little so-and-so that I am, I sometimes get a bit sniffly just thinking about my friends and loved ones.  They are incredible people, and I seriously lucked out by meeting each and every one of them.  I hope that the people in your life are just as amazing (and that you are capable of thinking about them without getting all girly and emotional).  Today I’d like to identify some of the best people in all of our lives, because if I’m getting emotional then I’m taking you lot down with me:

  • The person you want to lie in bed and watch stupid films with
    It usually (although not always) takes a very specific amount of love, intimacy and trust to share a bed with someone, but especially on days when you are hungover, ill or just refusing to navigate the confusing world outside your duvet.  Lying in bed with someone watching a film is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and we should feel very glad to have suitable candidates for that activity in our lives (and beds).  This is particularly true of people who will not only allow but often suggest that the film is childish/terrible/ridiculous – for example, Ash and I have been known to cosy up and watch obscure Disney films on our duvet days.  We are also very partial to a musical film version of Cinderella called The Slipper and the Rose, which I heartily recommend to you the next time you’re in the mood for something silly.
  • The person who can make you laugh on your worst day
    I am slightly paraphrasing the Friends theme tune here, but it’s true.  Someone who can make you laugh – not just any laugh, but your real, embarrassing, uncontrollable laugh that only appears when something is incredibly funny – is a treasure.  If a person can take you out of your stress, sadness or generic turmoil, even just for a moment, you need to keep hold of them.
  • The person who remembers tiny things about you
    It’s probably because my own memory is so flipping appalling, but I am always touched when someone remembers a small fact or silly story about me that I wouldn’t have considered massively important.  There are certain things about ourselves that we hope our loved ones remember (allergies being a pretty important one, for example), but what makes up a person is a combination of the tiny things as well as the big ones.  If someone has taken the trouble to remember something seemingly inconsequential about you, it shows that they know and love the whole you, not just the obvious attributes.
  • The person who unknowingly makes your day
    We’ve all had the experience of walking past someone and overhearing a snippet of their conversation, or seeing someone being kind to another stranger in public.  People who don’t know you and will probably never talk to you have the capacity to make your day, and I am grateful to all of those individuals who have unknowingly made me smile.  My biggest thanks must go to the business man – complete with suit and briefcase – who did the Gangnam Style dance all the way down a platform at Marylebone station once.  Whoever you are, I salute you.
  • The person with their head screwed on
    I am not the most practical of people, and I tend to panic in the face of things like technical rehearsals, tax returns and pedestrian crossings.  For these moments (and many more) I invariably turn to Harry, the Operations Manager of my theatre company, excellent friend and all-round voice of reason.  If you are like me, I hope that you have someone just as sensible to calm you down in times of stress.  If you are like Harry, I hope you enjoy being the sensible one with the practical solutions.  To the rest of us, it looks like a super power.
  • The person who wakes you up with a ridiculous text
    There is nothing like starting your day well, and the tiniest things can make a difference: you could put on your favourite outfit, see something funny on the news or eat a delicious breakfast.  But what you really need is the kind of friend who will send you a ridiculous message like “What’s the plural of mongoose?!” before 8am.  That kind of message amuses you, intrigues you, and then it gets you straight out of bed to Google “mongoose”.  It’s mongooses, by the way.  Sounds like it should be mongeese, doesn’t it?  Anyway, the point is that ridiculous questions first thing in the morning are only ok between true and loyal friends, so make sure you appreciate those people.  You never know when niggling curiosity is going to strike you down.
  • The person who reminds you why you love what you do
    I really hope that you enjoy what you do.  I really hope that you like going to work at least most of the time, and that you have a passion to pursue.  More than that, I hope that you have people in your life who remind you that what you are doing is good, and that what you are aiming for is attainable.  I recently met a lovely lady called Angela at a directing thing in Stratford, and in the short time I’ve known her she has wowed me with her enthusiasm, passion for theatre and her generous support for what I’m trying to do with my life.  She hasn’t known me for long enough to “owe” me her encouragement, but she gives it to me anyway.  We all need someone like that.
  • The person who gives you butterflies
    Yes, alright – I know I’ve said that my friends and I don’t like fancying people, and that feelings in general tend to make us feel out of control, but I think that we all need to feel that way from time to time.  If you’ve met someone who makes you feel giddy and nervous that’s a bit scary, but it’s also exciting.   Where would we all be without butterflies?  Exactly.  We’d be caterpillars.

Have a magical Friday.