Tag Archives: honesty

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 Storytellers and the Scouse Suitcase

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The Box Clever cast, hard at work.  Or something.  From left to right: Helena Bumpus, Benjamin Ridge, Christopher Montague, George Weightman and (partial) Julia Yelland.

Dear reader!  How lovely to see you!  Do come in and get warm.

Storytelling is a great thing, and it takes many forms.  From pop-up books to anecdotes, we all love a good yarn (although after a certain age the pop-up book does tend to attract pitiful glances.)

A couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to explore storytelling for grown-ups, because I don’t think that enjoying a good story is age-specific.  So I emailed my long-suffering Company Manager, and we booked ourselves a show slot at our favourite venue, the Etcetera Theatre in Camden.  The initial idea was to get a group of actors together, ask them to write stories around a theme and then stage the stories using a box of weird props, hence the name Box Clever.

The best laid plans of mice and directors gang aft off-piste, and this was no exception: during rehearsals, it became clear that the stories were fascinating and fun to tell without considering props.  The only “props” we really needed were each other, so what we’ve ended up with is five actors interacting and retelling narratives in completely separate styles.  (There will also be party poppers, but then what is theatre without party poppers?)

The stories are all very different, but equally engaging.  I gave the actors a theme to work with, and under the umbrella of “endings” we have developed a show about friendships, death, robots, Edinburgh and carrying suitcases for a stranger.  (The suitcase in question is being represented by one of our actors, who inexplicably decided that this particular suitcase should a) talk and b) hail from Liverpool.)

Working with stories from real life is a very sensitive business.  Luckily, my actors are all very open, honest and good-humoured people, who may not have known each other before the project, but who have all become very close as they work together on their tales.  It is a privilege to be in a room with these people, and I can’t wait for them to share their stories on stage this week.  There are disturbing moments, thought-provoking ones, and a lot of very funny ones.  (And party poppers.  Did I mention the party poppers?)

Tickets are selling pretty sharpish, but if you’d like to come and join us then click here.

No Man is in Ireland

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Hello, dear reader.  How was your weekend?  I hope you managed to catch up on your sleep.

Last week my lovely friend Katie nominated me on Facebook to post “seven things that you might not know about me”.  I love Katie very dearly, and I respect the fact that she met this challenge, but I will not be completing it myself.  This is for two reasons:

1) Whatever the seven facts about me would be, there’s probably a reason that they’re not common knowledge, i.e. they’re boring as hell.  Who cares about my Year 6 SAT marks?  Not you, that’s for sure.  Not really me, either.

2) I’m a very transparent person, and I’m not sure that there are seven facts about me which aren’t common knowledge.  My Year 6 SAT marks, by the by, were 6, 6 and 5.

I make no apology for the fact that I’m an open book, because I think being honest about yourself is the only way to make real connections with other people.  Obviously I don’t go around with a megaphone broadcasting my personal information to the unsuspecting public of London town, but if someone asks me a question I will do my best to answer it truthfully.  (Except in very specific circumstances, such as when I’m being interrogated by MI5.)

Making connections with other people is important, because we need each other, don’t we?  Even Bernard Black needs Manny.  Ok, here’s something that you might not know about me but could probably guess: I’m very dependent on other people.  I set a lot of store by my friends’ advice, because they’re a pretty wise bunch, and when I’m sad or ill or cranky I want hugs and sympathy.  Sometimes we might berate ourselves for needing other people.  We do this because it doesn’t really fit in with the whole “independent, capable go-getters of the 21st century” persona that we are all so determined to portray, but actually that’s just a knee-jerk reaction to feeling insecure.

It’s all very well to look like a self-sufficient success story, but in reality nobody is completely independent.  No man is an island (or “no man is in Ireland”, which is what I thought the phrase was until I was about 11, and it confused the heck out of me at the time).  Yes, of course we should be able to take care of ourselves, be aware of our own worth and cross roads without other people’s assistance, but there is no shame in respecting and valuing the emotional contributions of the people in our lives.  That’s why we have them in our lives in the first place.

This is also true from a professional perspective.  Working in the arts is demanding (not least because the amount of effort you put in very rarely corresponds with your salary), and we need each other’s support in order to stay motivated.  In the case of Tumbling After specifically (the show I’m directing in Edinburgh this year – here’s some more info in case you missed my last post), the devising process means that we all need to trust each other and be as honest as possible.  Just in terms of the admin, the producer and I find that we are more productive if we meet up to swear and glare at our laptops together.  Sure, we could sit at home individually and do the same thing, but we are more productive (and more importantly, much happier) if we have someone to share ideas and coffee with.

Have a beautiful day.  Go and hug someone who contributes to your life.

And They Lived Honestly Ever After

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Hello, dear reader.  How’s your day treating you so far?  Did you remember to return that phone call?

Today I’d like to talk about what makes a modern fairytale.  I used to refer to a friend of mine as having achieved the twenty-first century happy ending, because she went through something that a lot of us understand (but with unexpected results).  When we were in our first year of university she had a very casual, mostly physical relationship with a guy whom she ended up having strong feelings for.  When she told him that she wanted a proper relationship he freaked out and backed off, and they didn’t speak for several months.  One day he woke up, realised that he did want to be in a relationship with her (and had been behaving like a cowardly eejit), dashed over to her student flat and begged her to let down her long, flowing locks.  Or open the door or something; I can’t remember the details.

Let’s face facts: that story is a rare example of how a typically messy dating situation can be resolved atypically (that is, happily).  Why doesn’t that happen more often?  Well, gather round and I shall tell you: because we are too afraid to be honest.

What happened to my friend is quite simple: the guy spoke up as soon as he realised what he wanted.  We like getting what we want, don’t we?  That makes perfect sense.  And yet we fool ourselves into believing that our beloveds would keep quiet on the subject – why?  Why, if the person you adore consciously feels the same about you, haven’t they said so or done anything about it?  Where’s the logic there?  You are fabulous, and the right person for you will not risk letting you get away.

Let’s agree that when someone wants you, they will be honest enough to come and get you.  There’s your happily ever after; next, please.  The problem is the other side of the coin.  Not everyone has the courage to say how they feel when the truth is actually “I’m sorry, but I don’t love you.  Let’s be friends instead.”

That conversation can be hurtful, awkward and difficult.  I know that.  But the thing is that not having it demonstrates a lack of respect for the other person which is a thousand times worse than the fact that you don’t love them (which is, after all, not technically your fault – the heart wants what it wants).  Love is irritatingly uncontrollable, but respect is a human right.  If you don’t have the courage and courtesy to have that conversation you are a) holding up your own happy ending and b) holding up the other person’s.  That’s just rude.

Modern dating is a jumbled up mess of we’re-not-dating-we’re-just-seeing-how-things-go, seeing-each-other-sort-of-officially-but-not-quite, oh-I-thought-we-were-allowed-to-see-other-people, and (if you are my flatmate) skipping-through-a-meadow-holding-hands.  Things are unclear and confusing, so don’t make it worse for yourself and for others by dragging your heels unnecessarily.  No fairytale ends with “and she lived uncertainly ever after, waiting for his phone call and not dating anyone else just in case.”

Have the best Tuesday of the year so far.

CV Essentials

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Hello, dear reader.  How are you?

Have you ever looked at your own CV and thought “who the hell is this?”  Our CV-selves are not us.  They are more smug, they exaggerate their importance in previous job roles, and they are way too hung up on when exactly they got their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.

The problem is that CVs don’t say much about who we really are.  For instance, my GCSE in Photography does not indicate anything about my pathological fear of being late for things, and the latter of those two definitely informs more of my identity.

Even when we are allowed to reveal something about who we are, such as when we are asked to list our strengths and weaknesses, we are obliged to transform our real characteristics into meek-faced, employable ones.  For example: your actual weaknesses may be drinking milk out of the bottle and stalking your ex on Facebook.  In a job interview, you would demurely confide that you might sometimes be a bit too much of a perfectionist about work tasks.

So what should actually go on our CVs?  Which facts and figures can we use to truly represent who we are?  I have a few ideas of things that would say a lot about us as real people:

  • Stories from friends – what do your friends say about you?  When they bring you up in conversation, which anecdote would they tell first?  My friends would probably go for “the time Vicki locked herself in her own porch”, which I’m sure speaks volumes about my grasp on life.
  • Speciality dish – what’s your favourite thing to cook?  Is it a big dish that serves lots of people, or a snazzy starter that requires obscure spices?  Where did you learn how to make it?  Did your grandmother teach you?  Is it a recipe you picked up while travelling abroad?
  • Emergency – never mind that “tell us about a time you had to solve a problem at work” stuff – how do you actually respond to emergency situations?  That’s your instincts taking over, which say a heck of a lot about you.
  • Childhood character – who did you play in your primary school Nativity? No, seriously, think about it: everyone knows a pretty, popular girl who played Mary, a mild-mannered ex-Shepherd and a seriously disgruntled Third Guest at the Inn who feels overlooked in life.  (I was a Narrator.  That makes sense, right?  I do like to describe stuff.)
  • Conflict – again, not in a serious “how would you resolve a dispute with a colleague?” way, but in day-to-day life.  Are you prone to bickering with your partner?  Do you lose your temper when a friend tells you that you’re wrong?  Do you bury your head in the sand and refuse to confront an issue?
  • Strength and weakness – what are your actual, truthful, honest-to-goodness strengths and weaknesses?  Are you a Candy Crush addict?  Do your friends usually turn to you in a crisis?  Have you ever cheated on someone?  Do you tend to make newcomers feel welcome in social situations?  Are you one of those appalling people who doesn’t put their hand in front of their mouth when they cough?

Our CVs encourage us to present a modified version of who we are in order to be employable entities.  Of course we should present ourselves in the best possible light to the world, but I think that the real people are far more fun and interesting than their class of university degree.

Have a magical Friday.  If anyone finds Narnia, give me a shout.

A Realistic Romance Recipe

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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.

Chance is a Pretty Fine Thing

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Good morning, reader!  How are you feeling?  Ready for your weekend, I’ll bet.

Let me tell you a story.  Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess (i.e. a very good friend of mine) who had just come out of a horrible relationship.  Her ex-boyfriend had lied to her, stolen money from her and shown her no respect.  Out of shame and sadness, the princess had hidden most of this behaviour from the world, including the nasty boyfriend’s best friend.  The princess had always been good friends with the ex’s best friend, who was horrified when he discovered how badly his friend had been treating the princess.  In a fit of chivalry, he ditched the nasty friend, rushed to the princess’ side and vowed to support her – just as friends, you understand – with anything that she needed.  They rapidly became very good friends.

After several months of this very sweet friendship being strictly platonic and respectful, some courtiers (i.e. me and the girl’s parents) clocked that a pretty serious mutual crush was afoot.  Through subtle prodding and gentle encouragement – which mainly took the form of blatant chivvying – we got the girl to admit how she felt, and eventually she told him, too.  I believe his exact response to her declaration was “Thank God”.

I like that story for two major reasons: firstly, the girl in question is very important to me, and she really, really deserves that fairy tale ending.  Secondly, it was excruciatingly obvious to the rest of us that those two were nuts about each other, but in their respectively awkward situations they didn’t believe that the other person would or could feel the same.  The only way to find out conclusively was to take a chance.

Here is the thing about chances: we take them all the time without realising.  You cross a road because you expect to get to the other side (unless you are one of those mavericks who doesn’t wait for the green man, in which case you’ve really taken your life into your own hands).  We make suggestions in meetings at work, we pipe up with answers in lessons and we make jokes in the pub.  Nine times out of ten nothing terrible comes from these situations, but very occasionally your suggestion might be off-piste, your answer wrong and your joke unfunny.  We take the risk because we’ve calculated that the chance of a negative outcome is pretty small.  That’s brilliant, but we only got there by doing the research: the school kid gets cleverer by being brave enough to put their hand up and give answers every day.  The funny person discovers that they can make people laugh by making those quips or comments whenever they come to mind, and getting a good response.  We reduce risks all the way through life by playing to win from an early age, and learning from the situation when we lose.

As we get older, the chances that we take are much bigger: job applications, going travelling, proposing to someone, getting a mortgage.  Sometimes these are terrifying, but the principal of confidence still applies: we go for these things because we know, deep down, that we can do this.  There is always the possibility of defeat, but we are also very sure that success is obtainable, if not certain.  We take a chance because the chance is there to take.

It’s important to jump at opportunities because it builds up your confidence to tackle those same risks over and over, and build up your odds of winning: it’s the same as raising your hand in a classroom.  Doing it over and over again will make you wiser and more capable of dealing with wrong answers.  (As someone who is friends with a lot of teachers, I realise that it might also drive your educators mad, but you need to learn as much as possible.  Also, this is mainly a metaphor.)

Take a chance on something this weekend. It doesn’t matter how small or large it is: see that film you’re not too sure about or declare your love to someone; book a plane ticket to a faraway place or read a different newspaper.  It’s up to you.  But your weekend is so much more likely to be awesome (or at least memorable) if you use it to do something new.

Enjoy your Friday!

The Great British Nightmares

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Good morning and happy Saturday!  I hope that you drank in moderation last night, and if you didn’t, that your house mate/partner/unexpected guest has some painkillers for you.

As comedian Bill Bailey said in his show Part Troll, it’s very difficult to describe being British to someone who’s not from these blessed isles.  He came up with a pretty accurate description, though:

“We have strong prevailing south westerly winds, um…52% of our days are overcast, so as a nation we’re infused with a wistful melancholy…but we remain a relentlessly chipper population, prone to mild eccentricity, binge drinking and casual violence.”

I love that quotation, but I think that there’s another way to describe Britain – or rather, what it’s like to be British – to someone from a foreign land.  Predictably, I have chosen a method that allows me to provide you, dear reader, with a top ten list.  Here are the ten worst nightmares of British people:

1) How was your trip?

Particularly in London, people walk with purpose, direction and whenever possible, the speed with which to overtake the tourists just in front.  It is devastating, therefore, to massively stack it in the middle of a public place.  Sod’s law dictates that this will happen when you are walking past a group of threatening-looking youths, wearing supposedly flattering high heels or in a tube station during rush hour.

2) Stand clear of the closing doors

Speaking of the tube, it’s a wonderful feeling when you manage to squeeze into a crowded carriage on your commute, and if you’re the last one in there’s an Indiana Jones, just-in-the-nick-of-time element to your euphoria.  But this joy is short-lived if and when you discover that your errant coat/bag/scarf is the reason that the TFL guy on the platform keeps shouting “Stand CLEAR of the CLOSING DOORS, please!”

3) London is not your Oyster

Another London-based issue, and again this relates most strongly to the havoc of rush hour: being the person who queues up for ages to get to the ticket barrier, only to discover that your Oyster card simply does not want to play ball.  You definitely topped it up this morning, so what’s its problem?  “Seek assistance”, indeed.  I will try, but I have to apologetically shuffle back through this crowd of cross commuters waiting to use the barrier first!

4) Turn around (every now and then I drop my drink)

Assuming that you manage to navigate your way through the streets and train networks, you might make your way to a pub to see some friends and enjoy a nice, cold drink.  On a weekend night in particular, the inevitable queueing process at a bar is arduous (but it will not defeat you – you’re British after all, and you know how this works).  So once you’ve finally got your drink in hand, the next task is simply to turn away from the bar, carry your drink through the crowd of soon-to-be-sozzled people and find your table.  Easier said than done.  One errant elbow from an inattentive stranger and your pint/wine glass/soda and lime can go hurtling onto the floor.  Back of the queue.

5) Decaf soya latte with sugar free hazelnut syrup, thanks

The beverage-related nightmare doesn’t end there: as a nation we are globally renowned for our love of hot beverages, and it’s always alarming when you come across somebody who doesn’t drink tea or coffee.  (Honestly, it gives me the heebie jeebies just typing those words.)  Worse than that is to be a coffee or tea lover, but to be very particular about how you take your drink.  We live in a world where syrups, soya milk and cinnamon topping (why?) are available in coffee shops all over the country, but if you’re at someone’s house and they offer you a hot drink, it’s excruciating to have to say “er…do you have any brown sugar?”, or make a similarly difficult request.  I come up against this embarrassing situation quite often, because I’m allergic to dairy stuff and I don’t like black coffee.  It’s not  really my fault, but I’m English, ergo I am embarrassed by being honest about my preferences.

6) Well, gosh, I suppose, um…well, yes, actually, I do think you’re rather…I mean to say I think you’re very…no, silly me, forget I said anything

Being honest in general is not something that this country is good at.  We love a good moan as much as the next nation (by the way that’s not a dig at France, who are technically the next nation), but when it comes to being open and frank we are petrified.  I had coffee with a friend yesterday who advised me to be honest with someone about my feelings – Christ, can you imagine?!  One shudders at the very thought.  Getting a British person to be communicative on an emotional level is like teaching Keira Knightley how to act.  It really should be done at some point, but heaven knows how difficult and painful it would be.

7) The sneezing spree

Speaking of painful, sneezing several times in a row (for NO APPARENT REASON) is horrendously embarrassing, and it provokes most people to adopt a furious, baffled “what on earth is wrong with my sinuses?!” expression, in order to demonstrate to their companions that this is a completely unintentional display of violent noise.  The same applies to coughing fits, even if you’re ill and you’ve forewarned people of the fact.

8) Please leave a message after the person you’re calling has scrambled around in their bag, desperately trying to turn their phone off

Making any unintentional noise in public is excruciating to a British person.  Last night I genuinely had a nightmare that this happened to me: I had forgotten to turn my phone off, and someone called me in the middle of a theatre performance.  I go to the theatre most weeks and my memory for small tasks is terrible, so this event is a very real possibility, but only a British woman would wake up in terror at four in the morning because she subconsciously imagined her phone ringing during a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.  Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were playing Blanche and Stella, as I recall.  Sterling performances.

9) Shall we dance?

You’re walking along.  Someone is walking in the opposite direction.  You’re on a collision course.  Panic stations: you edge left, and they move to their right.  You go the other way, and so do they.  CRISIS.  Instead of apologising and running across the road in blind terror, I think that we should all use the opportunity to have an impromptu boogie.  The next time this happens, take the other person’s hands and launch into a spirited impersonation of the ballroom dancing scene in The King and I.

10) Always take the weather with you

Last but not least, that great and faithful ally of awkward conversations: the British weather.  In this instance, it can create a nightmare scenario by simply changing halfway through the day.  When a gloriously sunny morning fools you into thinking that an umbrella won’t be necessary and then a downpour strikes as you leave the office; when a brisk morning leads you to don a jumper, only to find that the day has become a record-breaking scorcher by lunchtime; when the weather forecasters scoff in the face of a possible snowstorm, and within an hour of you leaving home the world looks like a Christmas card.  This is why many British people carry sun cream, an umbrella and gloves with them at all times.  (I’m not joking.  You should see my hand bag.)  Better to be overloaded with stuff than to let the weather lull you into a false sense of security.

Have a stupendously wonderful day, everyone.