Tag Archives: opportunities

Hey, Where Are You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monopoly Tactics

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Good morning, dear reader!  How are you today?

We have very strange relationships with locations, don’t we?  Our lives are personalised Monopoly boards.  Knowing where the best pubs in your area are is like owning all of the stations, visiting our best friends is like landing on Community Chest, and our homes are obviously Go (although, sadly, we tend not to be awarded £200 every time we get there).

What’s your equivalent to owning hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane?  Where do you go each day that makes you think of picking up a Chance card?  Is there anywhere in your life that may as well be Jail?

Like a game of Monopoly, life tends to bring us back to the same places again and again. It might be a favourite coffee shop or just the place where you happen to work, but you will return to places and build up impressions of them over time, whether it’s over a few days, several months, or a lifetime.  This can be a very good thing: Covent Garden (as in the real place, not the Monopoly square) has been the location of some of my favourite moments in life so far.  I’m thinking in particular of the starry, chilly evening a few years ago, when my dear friend Mario and I went and saw the Jack Daniels Christmas tree made of barrels. We were probably on our way to the theatre or something.  Anyway, Mario got talked into buying me a rose by a very aggressive and amusing flower seller, which I dried and kept.  (The flower, not the salesman.)

Sometimes it’s hard to revisit places that hold a claim over us: places we loved to visit with friends who have long since drifted, old haunts from a broken-up relationship and even previous schools can leave us feeling a bit depressed.  The past is very much the past, and standing in the same place where they happened won’t make the good times come back.

The trick to navigating the Monopoly board of life is not to let your previous turn (as it were) dictate what you do next.  Even though we should cherish and enjoy reliving our pleasant memories of a place, we ought to be looking for opportunities to make more, not regretting the ones that have gone.  For example, I still go to the Southbank a lot.  Sometimes I really don’t want to, because I have very mixed memories of being there, but in the present day it’s usually fun, and it’s interesting, and there’s always something new to discover about it.

With that in mind, I think we should all agree to try and be optimistic about going to work today.  Who knows what new experiences we might have there?

Have an unexpectedly amusing Wednesday.

Weird Wisdom

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Good morning, dear reader!  How are you doing?

Our lives are filled with wise and wonderful (and slightly weird) people.  My favourite thing about my weird/wise friends is the bizarrely pithy stuff they come out with from time to time, and today I would like to share a few of those with you.

My friend Lauren and I are very similar, particularly in terms of how much we worry about things (i.e. way too much).  She and I both have an unfortunate tendency to over-think stuff, which is both bad and good: bad because it takes up quite a lot of our time, but good because we never have to explain ourselves to each other.  Recently we were having a long, involved and fairly over-thought conversation about stuff we’ve said that we wish we could take back, and the idea that you can ruin a lovely situation by saying something prattish.  Lauren came out with this nugget of wisdom: “You can’t say something irreparable to the right person.” It’s true that we all say things from time to time that we wish we hadn’t, but Lauren is absolutely right: if someone really loves you and understands you, you can always fix whatever silly thing you’ve said.  If they won’t let you fix it, they’re probably not a keeper.

Another friend of mine has an incredibly scary, fraught and high-pressure job, and it is still a wonder to me that she doesn’t spend all of her free time drinking wine, muttering and rocking back and forth in a corner.  She is actually a very upbeat and lovely human being who is always up for new experiences, which produces very mixed results.  (For example, she’s just gone camping for a week, and I’m not convinced that she will have packed anything except coffee and sandals.)  I love that my friend is so good at seizing life’s opportunities, but I love this statement of hers even more: “I should really Google things before I agree to them.”  Shouldn’t we all?  Life is for living, but with a due sense of caution and a clear understanding of what the plan is.

Last but by no means least, one of my favourite things about living with a close friend is that we have learned to appreciate (or at least tolerate) all sorts of weird behaviour from one another.  We reached a pinnacle of love and friendship fairly recently when Ash gave me this (sort-of) compliment: “I really enjoy how sometimes you sound like a Greek man.”  I wasn’t aware that I did, but if I do, I’m glad that my best friend enjoys it.  It’s very important to surround yourself with people who enjoy the weird things about you.

Speaking of which, two of my friends stayed over last night, so I should probably go and offer them beverages.  Have a miraculous Sunday.  Surprise someone with a romantic gesture or something.

Jack Sparrow Knows His Stuff

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Good morning, you fabulous creature!  How’s your bank holiday weekend treating you so far?

Today I’d like to talk to you about something that I think worries all of us: timing.  It’s the secret of good comedy, good cooking and a happy social life, and sometimes it completely eludes us.

It might surprise you to learn that I very much enjoy the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, even though Keira Knightley features quite heavily in it.  (My only explanation for this anomaly is that she spends most of the film being slapped by pirates or made to walk the plank, so maybe that’s why I’m ok with it.)  Anyway, despite being pretty infuriating, Jack Sparrow is an incredibly compelling character – which is probably helped by the fact that he’s portrayed by the wonderful Johnny Depp – who came out with a line that I think we could all learn from: “Wait for the opportune moment.”

I think that a lot of us live in fear of timing things badly.  We hate to miss out on anything, and the idea of a lost opportunity is horrifying.  In many cases we are just plain impatient.  Friends as young as twenty-two talk to me about not wanting to have regrets on their death bed, which is understandable (if a little morbid at their age).  That’s why we sometimes stay out longer than we mean to, or go to that party that we know we won’t enjoy.  It’s why we apply for all kinds of jobs, regardless of whether they’re the right ones, and why we travel all over the world.  We want to know everything, see everything and miss out on nothing.  That’s a lot to ask of ourselves.

Of course we should take opportunities, but I think that we should take them out of joy and optimism rather than fear of regret.  Grabbing everything that comes your way can be incredibly rewarding, but it might not leave you much time to stop and appreciate where you are.

We don’t have to do everything right now.  We don’t have to achieve all of our life goals right this second, and we don’t need to have done everything we ever wanted to do by the end of the week.  Watch this – Bill Bailey knows what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely think that you should pursue your passion, go to the places you’re curious about and live life to the full, but don’t worry so much.  What’s the point of rushing around taking all of life’s chances if you’re not stopping to enjoy them?

Take it from someone who has a history of rushing into doing and saying things at the wrong moment: you’ve got time.  Wait for the opportune moment.  If you think you’ve missed one, don’t panic.  There will be another one along very soon.

Have a brilliant Saturday!  Maybe treat yourself to the posh coffee today.  Why not?  You deserve it.

I’ve Got “Changes” Stuck in My Head Now

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Happy Friday, lovely reader!  Got any nice plans for your weekend?

Last night I watched the season finale of My Mad Fat Diary on that absolute blessing of a website, 4oD.  For those of you who don’t watch it, don’t worry: I’m not going to go into any massive amount of detail about it (although it’s well-worth watching just for Nico Mirallegro, who is beautiful, as you can see).  For those of you who do watch the show but haven’t seen the finale yet, also don’t worry: I won’t spoil it for you.

The reason that I brought it up at all is because one of the key messages that came out of the episode is that you really never know how things are going to change.  You might think that you know how you feel about something, and then find that your opinion is entirely turned around.  (For example, I live in hope that one day I will wake up and discover that I like olives.)  You can think that you know how you feel about a person, and that can change without you even noticing.  That’s how old friends fall in love and old couples fall apart; sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s terrible, but it does happen.  You never know how you might change.

I’ve just typed the word “change” so many times that I’ve now got Bowie’s Changes stuck in my head.  (Weird fact about that song: when it was released as a single in 1972 it never reached the Top 40 in America or the UK, but it got great reviews and has since been listed as #127 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.)

Lots of us think that things happen to us, and that we are forced to adjust to them.  Sometimes this is true, but a lot of the time we actually have more of a say in how we feel than we realise.  If something changes that you genuinely can’t help, you can always find a way to adapt to it.  For example, when I lost my job a month or so ago I could have sat around feeling sorry for myself, but I didn’t.  (My friends and loved ones would never have let me do that, because they’re brilliant.)  I have registered as self-employed, I’m writing this blog and articles on other websites, and I’m finally giving my theatre company some much needed attention.  I have time to see my friends, and I can appreciate living in London for what it is: a bizarre adventure.  Sometimes it can be confusing or a bit lonely, but mostly it’s bloody good fun.

I decided to take that course of action.  I chose not to accept “Episode 7: The One Where Vicki Loses Her Job” as the season finale.  Think about times when something’s gone wrong for you in the past.  Did you sit around and feel sorry for yourself?  Maybe for a while.  But where are you now?  Are you still sulking?  Of course not.  You’re a wonderful human being with a lot of brilliant stuff to do.  You chose to respond to that situation by getting the flip on with your life.  You, my friend, have been commissioned for an additional twelve seasons at least.  (I don’t know why I picked twelve.  I have no idea how the television industry works.)

Most of this week (as you may have noticed from previous posts) I have been in a bit of a strop on behalf of myself and my friends, because we think that having feelings for people makes us vulnerable, and we don’t like that at all.  No siree.  But I had a truly enlightening conversation with a friend the other day, who told me that loving someone (in any way, not just romantically) is not just something that happens to you; it’s something that you decide to do.  You can fight your feelings and you can hide them, but they’ll still be there.  Isn’t it better to use them for something positive, even if you don’t know what will happen?  You don’t necessarily have to make massive declarations of eternal devotion or (God help us all) some kind of huge gesture worthy of a Hollywood rom-com.  You just have to be brave.  You have to admit to yourself how you feel, and then see where it takes you.  I suppose that’s an example of instigating change rather than being a victim of it, which can only be a positive step.

I think that that’s a big ask (especially on a Friday, for crying out loud), and I think it takes most people a while to be able to do that.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite there yet.  Although surely if I can master that bit, the olives thing will just happen automatically?

Have the Friday to end all Fridays.

Twenty-Four Going on Sixteen

Hello and welcome to Wednesday!  I hope your week is treating you extremely well so far.

Last night two actor friends of mine came round for the first rehearsal of a short play that we’re performing in Camden in April.  The piece is about two people whose friendship is on the rocks, because they’re no longer sure what they want from each other.  The rehearsal went really well and we had a lot of fun (especially a certain unnamed actor who got a very serious case of the giggles), but we also had a very interesting discussion about relationships, friendships and how our feelings make us behave.

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As you can see, we took the rehearsal very seriously.  Anyway, as those of you who read yesterday’s blog will already know, my friends and I are not fond of fancying people.  It’s difficult and stressful and it makes us feel unnecessarily girly (and yes, that includes my male friends).  Apart from the obvious vulnerability that goes with having feelings for someone, I think that one of the problems my generation has with the entire dating thing is that it makes us feel like we’re still sixteen.  Even in our mid-twenties, when we have  a fair amount of emotional experience under our belts, we’re still not entirely sure what we’re doing or what the other person is thinking.  That’s hard to process.  How can we not have conquered this in a decade?

We as a generation have been programmed to aim high: we’re fighting against a tidal wave of economic uncertainty, we have to fight hard to get jobs (and even interviews) in a way that not many generations have had to do before, and we are annually told that our excellent A Level grades don’t mean anything.  Of course the exams are getting easier; why would we be getting cleverer or more conscientious?  It’s not like we’re trying to succeed at life or anything.  OH NO WAIT.

If we are so good at working hard for professional success, why are we so bad at coping with our personal lives?  When we were discussing this last night, one of my actors made a very good point: to a certain extent, we have control over our professional progress.  We might not always get the jobs or the opportunities that we want or think we deserve, but to a degree fate favours the people who put the hours in.  When it comes to relationships, friendships and other people in general, we have absolutely no control over how they feel about us.  Sure, we can dress nicely, smile a lot and be the best possible version of ourselves, but there’s no equity involved: being as awesome as you can be doesn’t guarantee that someone will like you.  Unfair, but true.

The bizarrely reassuring thing about this whole situation is that it gives us all a level playing field: nobody feels completely sorted when it comes to this stuff, and even the highest-flying executive can be baffled by a crush.  We have learned a lot since we were teenagers, but no one has yet conclusively proved how feelings work, so at least we’re not alone in our confusion.

Have a wonderful day, and make sure you have something delicious for dinner.

It’s Only Monday

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Good morning and welcome to the new week!

Lots of people hate Mondays, including Garfield, the Bangles and the Boomtown Rats.  I personally quite like them, for the same reason that I love early mornings: the potential.  The beginning of something is always full of possibilities to explore and opportunities not yet taken.  Inevitably, Mondays (and early mornings) are also riddled with moments of clumsiness, missed trains and coffee spillages, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the good stuff yet to come that’s worth thinking about.  Who knows what this week might hold?

This time of year is a bit of an odd one, because British people’s moods are almost solely dictated by the weather: some people are a bit blue because it’s so chilly and there’s a lot of damage to be fixed after the floods, whereas others are tilting their faces towards the lukewarm sunshine and thinking dreamily of summer.  It is technically British Summer Time now…but we have to show some self-control.  Put down the deck chairs; we’ve got a few months and several degrees to go.

Apparently, people have always tended to be feeling a bit extreme around this date.  Whether these were all on Mondays or just end-of-March madness we’ll never know, but let’s look at some examples:

1603: After about a year of watching her closest mates drop dead one by one, Queen Elizabeth I succumbs to peer pressure and follows suit.  After forty-four and a half years on the throne she must be knackered, poor thing.

1832: Mormon Joseph Smith is beaten, tarred and feathered in Ohio.  I know I should be appalled by that, but actually it just made me giggle.  It’s the idea of a religious fanatic running around covered in feathers; how on earth could anyone take that zealous lunatic seriously after that?

1837: Canada gives black people the right to vote.  This is pretty amazing, especially when you consider the fact that America took another thirty-three years and a civil war to come to the same decision.  Good for you, Canada.

1882: German scientist Robert Koch announces the discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.  The disease has been considered hereditary until this point, but Koch’s work discovers the truth (and wins him a Nobel prize in 1905, and undoubtedly saves a heck of a lot of lives).

1906: A census of the British Empire reveals that Britain rules a fifth of the world.  Slightly awkward to look back at now, but is beautifully summarised by this Eddie Izzard clip.

1972: Northern Ireland’s Parliament is suspended after the prime minister resigns.  Britain’s direct rule over Northern Ireland is introduced.  This is just getting embarrassing.

1973: This one isn’t an example of March madness by any means, but on this day The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons is born.  He is looking very well for someone who hit the big four-one today, I must say.

I hope you enjoyed your miniature history lesson.  May your Monday turn out to contain all sorts of amazing things, such as the legendary all-chocolate Kit Kat.

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!

Let It Go (or Drop it Like it’s Hot, if You Prefer)

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Happy Friday, everyone!  Did you know that on this day in 1958 Grace Kelly gave birth to Prince Albert of Monaco?  Me neither.

As you may already know from previous blog posts, the songs from the film Frozen have been very popular in my flat of late.  The sound of my house mate wandering around singing “do you wanna build a snowman?” has become pretty normal background noise.  The other song from the film that’s had a lot of attention (and not just in our bizarre little household) is Let it Go, which was made unbelievably creepy by this kid on YouTube.  I like the song (film version, not scary children’s choir version) because it has such a simple message: let go of things that are not good for your well-being.  Fair enough.  It seems like very basic common sense, but how easy is it to actually do?  And how many of us are holding on to things that we shouldn’t?

So to round up a week of fairly self-help focused blog posts, here are some things that I think we should all let go of:

1) The Unfinished Argument
The comedian Ed Byrne talks about obsessing over things he wished he’d said in arguments that happened eighteen months ago.  The routine  strikes a chord with people because it taps into a problem that lots of us have, i.e. Post-Argument Eloquence Syndrome.  You can be left spluttering or even speechless by someone’s cutting words in the middle of a row, but hours or even days later the perfect witty response will come to you, unbidden, and usually when it’s far too late to do anything about it.  It’s frustrating that our brains don’t work fast enough to make us the Oscar Wilde of every argument, but there’s nothing we can do about it.  in the long run, it’s probably better that we can’t think of the ultimate put-down when we would have used it.  It probably makes us nicer people (even though it’s not by choice).

2) The One Who Won’t Go Away
A lot of people have an ex whom they always think of as “the one who got away”, who invariably won’t go away in terms of your thoughts and feelings.  I hate to perpetuate a cliché, but honestly, if it’s meant to be – or rather, if getting back together will ever be right for both of you – then it will probably happen.  Your job is to crack on with being a fabulous human being.  It’s not even a case of waiting for that other person; it’s about accepting that things are not what they were, and trying to move on.  Don’t try to get them out of your head just for the sake of it: get them out of your head so that you can concentrate on other things.  There’s a lot of cool stuff to think about, you know.  Like what you would call your pet dragon if you had one.  (Mine would be called Jiminy Billy Bob, and you have to ask why then we can’t be friends.)

3) Bottle It
We’ve talked about this fairly recently: you are the only person who lies awake regretting stupid things you’ve said or done.  No one who loves you or cares about you thinks about inebriated errors you’ve made or silly things you’ve said while sober: they think about nice things you’ve done for them, or times you’ve made them laugh.  I am terrible for thinking about stuff I wish I hadn’t said or done (especially after one too many ciders), but it’s not going to do anyone any good.  You and I will just have to trust that our friends still love us, and that maybe in future we can avoid drunk dialling by turning our phones off at the start of a night out.  Or, you know, by drinking less…but who am I to tell you how to wind down of an evening?

4) Opportunities Wasted
Because so many of my friends work on a freelance basis as actors, writers and suchlike, I have a lot of conversations about ‘perfect’ opportunities that they are dying to grab hold of: casting briefs that seem to have been written for them, directing placements at that brilliant fringe theatre or writing workshops with their literary idol.  We apply for these things in feverish hope that this will be the key turning point in our meandering careers, that this one thing will open doors for us and make us better practitioners, and if we don’t get them we are bitterly disappointed.  That opportunity would have been perfect for us.  Sigh.  I am no stranger to the deflated feeling that comes with professional rejection, but I don’t think that the chances we miss out on were quite right for us in the first place.  On a pretty basic level, why would you want to work for someone who hasn’t got the common sense to accept an application from someone as brilliant as you?  Don’t worry about it.  There will be other jobs and projects.

5) The Artist Previously Known As
You are not who you were ten years ago.  You are not who you were three years ago, or last month, or when you woke up this morning.  We change in tiny, seemingly inconsequential ways every time we feel or experience anything, and that’s something to be happy about.  You know when someone says something odd like “tomorrow will be a better day”?  (How do they know, by the way?  Do they have some kind of prescience that surpasses the freakish knowledge of television weather forecasters?  Very suspicious.)  It’s not tomorrow that’s going to different, or better: it’s you.  In a way, I miss being sixteen and having the time of my life at sixth form (and working my bum off for my A Levels, of course).  I know for certain that I miss being eighteen and feeling like an independent adult for the first time, and being twenty-one and discovering how much I loved directing.  I am not any of those versions of me anymore, and although it would be lovely to keep hold of the good times, we have to trust that the person we are now is all the better for having adapted.

Have a lovely day.  Maybe treat yourself to a take away coffee or something.  What the hell, you deserve it.