Tag Archives: knowledge

Growing Pains

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Happy Friday, lovely reader!  How are you?  Shall I stick the kettle on?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we don’t know what we’re doing.  This applies to all aspects of life, including Zumba classes (left step right step turn step jump step trip over your own shoelace step) and the bigger questions like “where is my life going?”, “how do I find happiness?” and “will I ever achieve my goals?”

I had a small meltdown this week about those questions – although it turns out that Zumba is actually a lot of fun, and it’s ok to fudge your way through the trickier moves – and turned to a friend of mine who is in a similar position, i.e. in his mid-twenties with a passionate desire to succeed but no clear idea of how to do so.  When we boiled the issue down to its essentials, we decided that no one knows what they’re doing at our age, and that we’re not really supposed to.  This made me ask another scary question: “when are we supposed to know what we’re doing?”

We have all been brought up to believe that the older, wiser and taller people around us know what is going on: teachers, parents and older siblings have all made it clear to us that they can be trusted to know what they’re doing.  This led us to believe that one day we will know what we’re doing, too.  But when is this elusive day of understanding?  At what age should we be waking up and saying to ourselves, “I’m pretty sure I’ve got the hang of this ‘life’ thing now”?

I have friends my age (or thereabouts) who are teachers, home-owners, paramedics, married, producers, in possession of a pension plan, and even parents.  They are, as far as the world is concerned, sorted.  But internally they worry just as much as people who are unattached, students, renting flats, between jobs or between life ambitions.  In many cases, their external lives have little or no relevance to their internal persona.  My own mother, who has five grown-up children and a life-long teaching career, admits that she doesn’t feel like an adult most of the time.  (I can believe that.  For starters, her ridiculous sense of humour completely belies her actual age.)

So what hope do we have, if our apparently grown-up friends and actually grown-up parents do not think of themselves as sorted, respectable adults?  Are we doomed to feel a bit lost and uncertain for the rest of our lives?

The short answer is: yes.  The long answer is: yes, but that is actually a very, very good thing.  When we have everything that we want in life, we stop looking for anything else.  We stop pursuing new ambitions, pushing ourselves to achieve and chasing after our goals.  Not knowing what we’re doing is scary, but it also motivates us to keep looking, and to keep finding things to learn about and enjoy in the world around us.  Essentially, happiness and feeling ‘sorted’ is fine, but it doesn’t open your mind or make you grow.  Uncertainty, ambition and passion make you keep going.

It almost doesn’t matter whether we find the elusive feeling of knowing what we’re doing.  As long as we keep looking for it, we will be learning new skills, travelling to new places, meeting new people and trying to be the best possible versions of ourselves.  Pursuing that feeling is what shapes your attitudes and makes you a fascinating person, and if you really think about it, being interesting is much more important than being a ‘proper grown-up’.

Right, kettle’s boiled now.  Could you grab the milk out of the fridge, please?

“Assume” Makes People Donkeys (Or Something)

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Hello, and happy Friday to you!

Friendships work because two people discover that they enjoy spending time together, and the more time they spend together, the better they understand each other.  One of the best aspects of long-standing and particularly close friendships is that we take pride in our complete knowledge of the other person.

Knowing how your friends feel about certain things allows you to anticipate their responses to given situations in a way that reflects how you feel about them; remembering things about their preferences shows that you care.  Here’s a very basic example: my friends know that I can’t stand Keira Knightley, so when they look through a list of potential films for us to see at the cinema, they tend to skip anything with her name in the credits.

This understanding of another person is great for things like choosing how you spend your time together, picking out excellent birthday presents and preventing them from  ingesting things that they’re fatally allergic to.  We recommend books, films, music, websites and even other friends based on our understanding of how the people we love are likely to respond to stuff, and this can be an amazing thing.

Knowing someone really well can also be a bit of a trap, because after a certain amount of time we start to assume that we can anticipate their reactions to almost anything, but the thing is that people can always surprise you.  Think about it from your own perspective: you as a person are constantly changing and growing, forming new opinions based on your experiences of life, and developing your perspective on the world every single day.  Your friends are doing exactly the same thing, and what might have been true of them a year ago may no longer be applicable.  (“I thought you loved How I Met Your Mother?”  “I did, but Lily’s starting to grate on me a bit.  Can we watch Grand Designs instead?”)

It is a mistake to assume that you can predict with one hundred percent accuracy how your friends will feel in a given situation.  Particularly in extreme circumstances like bereavement or stress, people can react in all sorts of ways that do not reflect their day-to-day persona.  If we limit our imaginations and expect a certain type of behaviour from our friends, we are doing them a disservice.  Our friends deserve the opportunity to think and feel whatever comes naturally to them, and if it isn’t what we were expecting then we should just respond out of what we can still be sure of: our love and respect for them.

If it were you in that situation, you would want the same thing, wouldn’t you?  If you woke up tomorrow and decided that you want to completely change your career (for example), you wouldn’t want your best friend to cry “but you’ve always wanted to be a sales data analyst!”  You would want them to say “tree surgery sounds awesome”.  It does sound awesome, actually.  I may have missed my calling…

Have an utterly delightful weekend.

Valid (and Silly) Questions

Hello, dear reader.  How are you?

Today’s blog is a bit of a random one, based entirely on my realisation that there are some very simple questions in life that I just don’t know the answers to.  So on behalf myself and anyone else who is baffled by the universe, I’ve done some very (very, very) basic research and investigation into a few random wonderments.  Enjoy.

  • Why can’t we see stars during the day?
    One of my favourite weird things about nature is that sometimes we get to see the moon during the day.  I love the moon.  It’s such a maverick: “I know it ain’t night time yet, but screw you guys!  I’m coming out now!!”  However, it seems a bit unfair that stars, which are after all the basis of many wishes being made and songs being written, do not get to show off whenever they feel like it.  I am reliably informed (by a guy who is training to be a physics teacher, no less) that this imbalance is because the moon is perspectively much bigger than stars are, so it reflects enough of the sun’s light to be visible during daylight hours.  Clearly bigger is indeed better!
  • Why do we have earwax?
    No, seriously, what the heck is it for?  It’s gross and weird and does not – despite what the movie Shrek tells us – make good candles.  Having done a bit of (reluctant) research, I can tell you that earwax is similar to tears, mucus and other joyous bodily fluids, which actually serve a cleansing purpose even though they’re pretty disgusting themselves.  Let’s move on…
  • Why do the English pronounce “lieutenant” “leftenant”?
    The word “lieutenant” comes from two French words: “lieu” meaning “place”, and “tenant” meaning “holding”.  Thus, a lieutenant is someone who holds the place of a superior officer, should said superior officer die or go to the loo at an inopportune moment or something.  The confusion over pronunciation derives from the fact that the Modern French “lieu” was occasionally written as “luef” in Old French.  As far as I can tell, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth armies tend to say “leftenant” (whereas the Americans stick to the more modern pronunciation) purely because we’re a pretty old-fashioned bunch.
  • What the heck is a mint julep?
    Whenever my flat mate and I are pretending to be Southern belles (which is a lot more often than we’d like to admit), we inevitably claim that we need a mint julep.  It occurred to me yesterday that I don’t actually know what a mint julep is, but thanks to the good people of Wikipedia I can tell you that it is a cocktail traditionally comprised of bourbon, mint leaves, sugar and water.  Fascinating, no?
  • And last, but by no means least:
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I genuinely don’t know.  Have a gorgeous Wednesday.

Aaaaaaaay Macarena!

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Good morning, and a very merry Sunday to you!  I’ve just put the kettle on.  Do you take sugar?

Last night a friend and I went to a dance performance at Sadler’s Wells.  My friend is a ballerina and all-round dance expert, whereas my knowledge of dance extends as far as the Macarena, so the experience was a new one for me.

When we left the theatre after the show, I genuinely had no idea what I thought of the piece.  I have never, ever left a theatre without having formed a strong opinion on what I’ve just seen, so I was a bit discombobulated by this turn of events.  As far as I could see, the show was an extremely well-executed performance of the bleep test, combined with some energetic writhing.  That is not an insult to the show or the performers in any way; I’m sure that to a fan of dance the piece was extraordinary.  But I am not a dance fan.  I’m a words girl.  I can’t feel anything about a show that doesn’t have any words in it.

Bizarrely, the friend I saw the show with had the opposite view.  To quote her directly, “I don’t want to hear words.  Tell me the story with your bodies!”  This confuses me slightly because she did a Drama degree…the same one that I did, in fact, which is how we met.  And there were, as I recall, a fair few words involved in that.

I love going to the theatre with people whose views are so different to mine.  I have a friend whom I go to the theatre with quite regularly, and we nearly always agree on what we like and dislike about performances, which is great.  It’s always nice to have your opinions validated by someone you like and respect.  But it’s also a lot of fun to expose yourself to the weird and wonderful, and to try to see something you care about (i.e. performance) through someone else’ eyes.  I’m not saying that everyone should love every genre of performance, but it’s good to challenge ourselves a bit from time to time.  Go and see that show you’re not so sure about, or read that book that’s had mixed reviews.

But first, have a coffee and relax a bit.  It is Sunday, after all.

Pointless Preparation

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Hello, dear reader!  How are you getting on?

I admit that I’m a control freak (although we prefer the term “relaxationally challenged”).  It probably explains why I like directing so much, and why I enjoyed being the social secretary of a drama society when I was at university.  I like to know where I’m going, what I’m doing and when.  Unfortunately I’m not very organised, so despite my best intentions I very rarely have a clue what on earth is going on.

This weekend is a perfect example.  I have to be in several different places over the course of a few days, and I have not yet figured out transport, timings or how much clothing to pack.  (While we’re at it, what the heck have I done with my suitcase?)  One of the places I have to be is a television studio in Elstree, because tomorrow Ash and I will finally be going on Pointless.

I am, if I may use the common parlance, pooing myself a bit.  I know that this brilliant opportunity has been on the cards for a while, but because there were so many dates that Ash and I couldn’t do I sort of convinced myself that it wasn’t really going to happen.  Except now it is.  Oh crap.  I mean, oh good.

In this situation the only control I have is over my last-minute revision.  I should be poring over a map of the world learning all the countries that border Germany, or finding lists of obscure films featuring Sandra Bullock.  I will probably do both of those things later.  This morning my plan is to write this blog, dye my roots and find my favourite nail varnish.  I have never been one for sensible prioritising (or being able to find suitcases, apparently).

I think that a lot of people have this problem: when we are worried about something, we deliberately under-prepare for it so that we can always claim “well, I didn’t try very hard” if we fail.  It’s a philosophy that got me a very mixed bag of GCSE results, but given that I am knocking on twenty-five I should probably have grown out of that approach by now.

It’s a bit late at this stage to do any serious learning, but I promise I will try.  It might be too late to change my personality and become sensible, well-prepared and knowledgeable, but at times like this we have to stay optimistic.  You never know what you can achieve if you try, even just a little bit.

Ash and I have to be at the studio appallingly early tomorrow, so I will update you lovely people on our progress when we’ve finished recording.  Wish us luck!

Have a fantastic Thursday.

P.S. Ash just called me to tell that the Piccadilly line is on fire.  This does not bode well…

Television Teaches Us

Good morning, reader!  Did you enjoy the sunshine this weekend?  Oh good, me too.

As those of you who read yesterday’s slightly frantic blog post will know, my house mate and I have cause to revise our general knowledge in the next, er…twenty five hours.  I’m sure we can manage that.  You will also know that I have a fondness for the television show Dad’s Army.

It might seem strange that a television show from the seventies about the forties resonates so strongly with someone who arrived in the world right at the end of the eighties, but I love the show because I think it’s taught me quite a lot.  In general, television shows have given me an education that rivals my A Levels in terms of relevance to the world, and definitely overtakes my degree in terms of practicality.  Here are a few examples:

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1) Dad’s Army

Community is important.  Life is full of people with idiosyncrasies, funny foibles and general oddities, and they all matter as human beings.  However bizarre your colleagues, friends and family may be, you are stronger united than you are on your own.  Also, don’t panic (especially if your name is Mr. Mainwaring).

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2) Blackadder

This show is responsible for about ninety percent of my historical knowledge.  My sincere apologies to anyone who taught me History at school, but if you want me to retain information I need to hear it with a massive dose of sarcasm, preferably from Rowan Atkinson.

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3) How I Met Your Mother

Oh, so many things: nothing good happens after 2am; bros before hos (or sisters before misters, I suppose); the Hot/Crazy scale is scarily accurate; never invite an ex to your wedding.  Also, the best thing you can ask for from life is an evening in your favourite pub with your best friends.

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4) Red Dwarf

Similarly to the Dad’s Army ethos, when you’re stuck in a space ship three million years from Earth, you need to be a team.  Even if that team is made up of a robot, a dead hologram, a genetic mesh of cat and human and a Liverpudlian layabout.

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5) Friends

Of course Friends made the list.  There are many good lessons to learn from the show, but in my opinion the main one is that you can know someone for years and still be surprised by them.  You never know how your heart might change: Ross got the girl after more than a decade, and Monica and Chandler didn’t fall in love until they went to London.  (This raises some questions about London being the new Capital of Romance, but we can come back to that another time.)

Obviously it would be nice to think that the lion’s share of my knowledge comes from books, lectures and academia in general, but I don’t think that it does.  I’m not convinced that that’s such a bad thing, though: surely as long as we are learning something, the source is not too important.

That’s what I’ll tell myself while I stick BBC iPlayer on, anyway.  Have a great Monday.

Revision Panic

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Good morning to you, dear reader!  I hope that you’ve been enjoying this sunny weekend.  Is it barbecue weather yet, d’you think?

If you’ve read this post from a couple of weeks ago, you will already know that my house mate and I recently auditioned to go on the television show Pointless.  I am delighted to announce that our audition was successful, and on Tuesday we will potter off to the studio in hopes of being on the show.

Our appearance isn’t entirely guaranteed, because they have to allow for things like a good spread of age groups, specialist subjects, unexpected drop-outs, etc.  So basically we’ll turn up on Tuesday, but if the other contestants are all drama graduates in their mid-twenties with an unfortunate propensity to get distracted by shiny things, Ash and I might not make it onto that show.  C’est la show business.

Although we’re both very excited, Ash and I have come up with two pretty major concerns.  The first is that we’ve been asked not to wear black clothing or patterns; respectively speaking, that screws me (who never entirely grew out of my ill-advised goth phase) and Ash (who loves a pair of patterned tights) over pretty thoroughly.  We had a mooch round the charity shops yesterday and found a couple of potential outfits, but we each have to take FIVE clothing options to the studio for the wardrobe people to choose from.  FIVE.  If we’re not including hoodies and pyjamas, I’m not sure I even OWN five outfits.  Although my red hoodie is quite presentable, and it’s very comfy…no.  Stop it.  I can’t go on television looking like I just fell out of bed.

I know it shouldn’t worry me too much what I wear, since it’s a show about knowledge rather than appearances, but still: we’re going to be on television.  We don’t want to look rubbish.  Apparently they’re going to do our make-up for us as well, which Ash and I both baulked at.  Ash is a connoisseur of vintage make-up stylings, and is more than capable of making her face look its lovely best.  I usually go for the Claudia Winkleman/panda look myself, and I think it works for me, so I would prefer to be left alone with my gallons of black eye-liner and vampish mascara, thank you very much.

The second concern (which is actually a bigger one than the clothing issue, I promise) is that I don’t think I actually know anything.  Nothing useful, at any rate.  If you put me on QI I would absolutely rock out (mostly because I’ve seen every episode a thousand times, but also) because I’m the queen of the random fact.  But I don’t know the kings and queens of England, or the periodic table, or ANYTHING about geography.  I’ve been watching some episodes of Pointless this week as research, and I can tell you now that if a round about the England cricket team or celebrity culture comes up when we’re on there, I am screwed.  Ash is a clever girl and an excellent actress, so if we get a bad topic I’m sure she’ll style it out, but odds are I will just stand there in open-mouthed horror.  The other possibility is that I will swear loudly, which is probably not the way to go…

Even stuff that I think I do know about, I’m now beginning to second-guess.  When you apply to go on the show, you have to put three specialist subjects on the form.  I put Theatre (I have a Drama degree and I run a theatre company- fair enough), Literature (I read a lot) and Dad’s Army (mainly a joke, but I do love that show).  I HAVE STARTED WATCHING EPISODES OF DAD’S ARMY AS A FORM OF REVISION.  I’m not even enjoying them, because I’m too scared that Alexander Armstrong is going to ask me an obscure question that I won’t be able to answer!  My life has turned into this scene from Short Circuitexcept that I’m panicky rather than curious.

The obvious solution is to calm the heck down, have a cup of tea and brush up on whatever we realistically have to time to revise.  This is perfectly sage and sensible advice.  I will endeavour to do just that.  But could someone please explain to me why, when I was always terrible at exams, have never had a good memory for general knowledge and am almost twenty-five, I have deliberately put myself into a position where I am forced to revise?  Glutton for punishment, perhaps.  Or just a subconscious craving to look stupid on television.  If that’s the case, I sort of wish I’d just applied to Big Brother

Enjoy your Sunday everyone.  Go to the park or something while the weather’s nice.