Tag Archives: rules

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.

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Get That Poncho Away From Me

Hello, dear reader!  How’s the world with you today?  I hope you’ve remembered your umbrella.

So I am now ankle-deep in rehearsals for the Edinburgh Fringe, and already I have started to rediscover some of the things that inevitably happen in the run up to a show, including issues with rehearsal schedules, quandaries about the best place to buy lunch and realising that the script I’ve printed isn’t the most recent version (“Um, Vicki…didn’t we change that line?” “Oh shit, yeah we did…ok, cross that out.”  “It’s ok Vicks, don’t worry.”  “I DO worry!  This is UNACCEPTABLE!”)

It’s almost impossible to avoid hitting a few clichés when you work in the performing arts, but as a director there are a few traditional tendencies that I’m very keen to avoid.  Basically, I’m desperately trying not to turn into this guy from Friends:

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“You are BAD ACTORS!  This is a TERRIBLE play!!”

Here are a few directing dramas which I sincerely hope don’t make an appearance in the run up to Chris is Dead:

Sleeping with the Star
The “casting couch” cliché is well-known in the film and theatre industries, but I think we can safely avoid this one for three reasons: firstly, I cast this show over a year ago, and there was absolutely no funny business involved at that point.  Secondly, everyone involved with this show is technically taken, so we won’t be looking for anything romantic inside the rehearsal room, and thirdly these people are all good friends who know each other far too well (and have seen each other in far too many compromising situations) to find each other attractive.

Being a Diva
We have a running joke in rehearsals that I refer to the actors as “my talking props”, which I have never and will never do with any serious intent.   Having said that, directors are under a lot of pressure to bring a show together and make all of the elements work, so it’s understandable that sometimes there’s a bit of egotism or drama queenishness involved.  I am very lucky because I know for certain that my cast and operations manager will tell me in no uncertain terms if they think I am heading that way.

Being a Tyrant
As a fairly maternal and “scary-eyed” (not my words) director, the few strict rules I have laid down tend to be followed to the letter.  These are, I hope, all fairly straightforward and reasonable: no alcohol before rehearsals, let us know in advance if you know you’re going to be late, don’t turn up unprepared.  Some directors (myself included) have a natural propensity to take control of situations, but I think that it’s important to keep the balance between laying down sensible laws and throwing your weight around for the sake of it.

Dressing Like an Eejit
It makes sense for directors as well as actors to wear sensible, practical rehearsal clothing.  Today, for instance, I will be rocking the “trainers and ancient jumper” look.  If you ever see me wearing a poncho and beret, you have my permission to shoot.

Have an incredibly amusing Thursday.

5 Things It’s Actually Ok to Do

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Hello, and welcome to Thursday!  Do come in.  Don’t worry about taking your shoes off or anything.

We live, as I’m sure you already know, in a society that is almost entirely based on rules and regulations: please stand on the right, do not feed the pigeons, and don’t mention the war.  I have come to the conclusion that there are certain behaviours which we shun theoretically, but which in practice are actually completely ok to do.  Here are a few things that society might frown upon, but we as individuals should embrace:

1) It’s ok to be the mad people laughing on a train

Last night, my house mate and I found ourselves travelling home via the Northern Line, and a slightly bizarre conversation took place:

Train announcement: “This train terminates at High Barnet.”
Ash (turning to me): “YOU terminate at High Barnet!”
Me: “It’s true.  I do.”
Ash: “Every day!”
Me: “I know.”
Ash: “Always terminating at High Barnet!”
Me: “Except for that one time when I terminated at Edgware.  That was weird.”

As you can tell, Ash and I are not prone to sensible discussion.  This silly little interchange had us laughing like drains for much longer than was decent or necessary, and we were unquestionably the crazy (and I dare say annoying) people in our tube carriage.

2) It’s ok to stay in on a Saturday night

There’s always something to go to, isn’t there?  Friends’ birthdays, colleagues’ leaving drinks, pub quizzes, house-warming parties etc. all claim our time and livers, weekend after weekend.  But we are allowed to say “no”.  We are allowed to stay home, get into our pyjamas at 7pm and watch rubbish television until bedtime.  We’ve earned it.  I’m not suggesting that we become hermits, but I think that a quiet night in every so often can do us the world of good.

3) It’s ok to talk about stuff you find fascinating

I am, as I’m sure my friends will tell you, full of absolutely useless information.  I am also prone to “geeking out” (i.e. rambling) about topics that intrigue me, and I tend to enjoy spending time with people who are similarly verbose about their interests.  Even if we might sometimes get carried away, or not find an audience who share our keen enthusiasm, it is absolutely alright to talk about stuff that you are interested in.  After all, your interests a massive part of who you are, and people LOVE who you are.

4) It’s ok to be angry with someone

Again, I’m not condoning socially unacceptable behaviour: throwing stuff and yelling is probably stretching this one a bit far.  What I mean is, it’s alright to go through the feeling of anger about a person or a situation.  Stuff happens and people hurt us sometimes.  That sucks.  But if we repress the perfectly natural reaction (i.e. anger), then we are dismissing an emotion that has a valid place in our psyches.  Let’s be realistic: find a friend, have a rant, eat a lot of cheese and wait for your anger to subside.

5) It’s ok to not get current trends

What the hell is with the backwards cap coming back into fashion?  Why do people like Wagamama so much?  What is the big deal about Game of Thrones?  It’s totally ok not to be engaged with things that are apparently sweeping the world/nation/your social group.  You’re an individual, and if you don’t like something that’s popular with your peers, it doesn’t say anything negative about you.  You’ve just got your own style.

I decided to compile this list because I think we worry far too much about what other people think of us, especially strangers whom we pass in public, or friends who know us well enough to love us regardless of our idiosyncrasies.  The whole point of life (surely) is to enjoy it and do our best in it, and if we are spending time worrying about the opinions of others, that is time we are wasting.  We could be spending that time singing at the top of our lungs even though we can’t hold a tune, or watching terrible 90s sitcoms because we’re feeling a bit nostalgic.

Bearing that in mind, go and have a brilliant Thursday.  If anyone needs me, I will probably be boring one of my colleagues with Spaced trivia.

Girl Code: Not Quite as Complicated as the Enigma Machine

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Hello dear reader, and welcome to your weekend!

First of all, a lot of congratulations are in order: to my friends who just got engaged, the ones who got married yesterday and the ones who, as of this momentous day, can now get married in the UK.  What a fantastic day for love and marriage.

Now, to the topic at hand (which as usual is pretty silly): those of you who watch How I Met Your Mother and/or are male will be aware of a mysterious set of rules called The Bro Code.  This is a list of regulations that men are supposed to abide by when they’re out and about with their mates, and a lot of them pertain to their duties as wingman.  It’s fairly standard stuff about solidarity, the pursuit of women and being manly.  A lot of the guys I know follow this code whether they realise it or not, but here is my question: where’s the Sis Code?  The Magda Carta, if you will?

Well it exists, but it doesn’t, if you see what I mean.  You know how people talk about there being “unwritten rules”?  Well, girls have those rules off by heart backwards, upside down and in seven different languages.  We don’t have to write them down to know exactly what they are, and when we sense someone breaking the Girl Code we can tell over a distance of up to eight hundred metres (reduced to six hundred on a blustery day).  But just so that there are no misunderstandings, I have written a few of the rules down:

  • When a girl shows you a photo of the guy she likes, the appropriate response is only ever “Aw, he’s lovely!”  THAT’S IT.  Don’t comment on his massive ears, don’t start drooling over him yourself, and for heaven’s sake don’t ask what’s up with his facial hair.
  • You must always hate the new girlfriend of your friend’s ex-boyfriend, at least until said friend is over the situation.  Which brings us nicely on to:
  • Your ex’s friends and your friend’s ex are off-limits.  This is non-negotiable.  No, not even then.  Or then.  No, definitely not.  Stop trying to find ways around this; it’s insurmountable.
  • Use your make-up bag for good, not evil: if you’re dressing up and going out, make sure that you are doing it for the sake of your own confidence, not to make another woman feel small or to impress a man.  (Example: don’t wear white to someone else’s wedding.)
  • Always accompany your friend to the bathroom.  Guys never understand this, but there are several possible reasons for making this activity a team effort: being in an unfamiliar place and not wanting to get lost alone on the way; protecting one another from scary loo attendants; continuing a conversation that is already in progress.  There are loads more, but those are the ones that sound least odd.
  • On a related note, if you are out in public and your friend turns to you and says “I need to talk to you”, then you drop everything.  There is probably a socially-awkward situation to diffuse, or a wardrobe emergency.  As you get to know your friends you will be able to communicate this non-verbally across tables, crowded rooms and dance floors, but remember to use your eyebrows sensibly.  You don’t want to end up like Emma Watson, whose acting style is entirely dependent on the caffeine-infused caterpillars above her eyes.
  • Don’t be mean for no good reason.  (Ok, I definitely just broke that one by being mean about Emma Watson, but seriously.  Her eyebrows genuinely worry me.)
  • This one is my biggest pet peeves, and unfortunately loads of girls do this: don’t be a story-topper.  If someone tells you something really good or really bad that’s happened to them, do not under any circumstances say “Well if you think THAT’s good/bad, listen to what happened to me…”  You haven’t been listening to your friend, and it’s painfully obvious.  One day you will hear yourself say “Well if you think’s THAT’s good, I’ve just been made High Majestic Overlord of the Seas and Sky!” and realise how ridiculous you’re being.
  • Always be willing to lend your shoes.  I don’t know why, but it’s important.
  • Take the time to compliment each other, and not just “oh, I love your earrings, where did you get them?” Make the effort to tell people that you think they’re brave, kind, good at roller-skating, etc.  It’ll take you two seconds and it’ll make their day.

There are hundreds more of these, but I won’t keep you from your weekend any longer.  Have an amazing Saturday!

Let’s Go on the Swings

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Hello, lovely reader.  How are you doing this morning?

Today I’d like to talk about spontaneity, which I just decided right this second.  (Not really, but that would have been so cool!)  Spontaneity in popular culture is often portrayed as one of two things: irresponsible or romantic.  Katherine Heigl jumping onto an already moving boat at the end of 27 Dresses is a good example of both.  That jump is a ridiculous thing to do in heels, but the woman had to get to James Marsden.  Fair enough.

Small children are very good at being spontaneous in their own way, because they haven’t learned “the rules” yet.  If they see something that interests them, regardless of what they were already doing, they will toddle off towards it on a determined voyage of discovery.  Nine times out of ten they will also try to grab it and/or eat it.  As teenagers we rediscover this sense of freedom in momentary decisions, but this time we call it “rebellion” because we are testing out a new set of toys: drinking, going on road trips, pulling all-nighters, driving to McDonalds at six in the morning and so on and so forth.  At the same time we are also learning to make decisions based on long-term considerations: which subjects to study, which universities to apply to, where to travel on our gap year.  We are slowly being drawn out of the world of irresponsible snap-decisions into the scary scenario of proper grown-up stuff, and although we don’t like it, we all give in eventually.

As we get older the moments of spontaneity become smaller and less consequential to the course of our lives.  That’s a massive generalisation, because obviously people of all ages can make huge, life-changing decisions on a whim, but think about it: spontaneity when I was nineteen was getting a tattoo.  Nowadays it’s going to an unfamiliar pub.

Having said that, last night some friends and I went to a pub quiz in Islington (which we came second in.  Very proud).  We were having such a great time that we decided to move on to another pub – it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all – but we got distracted by a children’s playground for several minutes.  We went on the swings, the see-saw and a weird spirally thing that none of us understood, but was pretty cool.  One or more of us may have fallen off at one point, but that’s by the by.

Childish whimsy aside, the spontaneity of doing something fun just because it’s there in front of you is a wonderful activity to rediscover, and I highly recommend it to you.  As adults spontaneity has become an expensive and/or a bad thing: that last round of drinks that you’ll regret tomorrow morning, for example.  I think it would be nice to rediscover the potential joy in spontaneity, particularly because there are ways to experience it without terrible consequences.  I mean, I’ve got a bruise on my knee from last night’s excursions, but that’s no big deal.  When I was six years old that happened all the time.

Have an amazing Tuesday.  Give me a shout if you fancy going on the swings.