Tag Archives: Stephen Fry

The Mean Girls Morality

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Hello, you.  How’s it going?  Did you remember to eat a balanced breakfast?

When I started attending primary school at the tender age of four and a bit, I felt pretty overwhelmed.  Not by the lessons (organised colouring in and obligatory dressing up sessions?  I’m all over that), or the social aspect (I have four siblings.  Social stuff is a doddle), or even the school dinners (packed lunches for the win).  I was overwhelmed by the older children.  I remember walking into my first ever school assembly and being awestruck by the Year 6 kids.  Who were these impossibly grown up people?

The Year 6 kids got to sit on benches.  They had a different colour tie from the rest of us.  They would soon be leaving to go to – whisper it – big school.  For some reason, they seemed older and wiser to us than the teachers or our parents.  No matter that as an adult I am now friends with people who are the same age – and in some cases, older than – those Year 6 children would be now.  Stephen Fry said something similar in his novel The Liar; the older children from our early lives will live in our memories as the most mature and intimidating people we’ll ever know.  No matter how long I live or how many people I meet, no one will ever be as impressive or as impossibly cool as those bored eleven year-olds who sat at the back of the school hall.

It would be nice to think that, twenty-something years on, I have outgrown the tendency to feel intimidated by ‘cool kids’, but I haven’t.  None of us really have.  This is for two reasons: firstly, I am friends (or friends of friends) with a lot of incredibly talented people, who are nearly famous if not already so.  They deserve to be.  Like I said, they are awesome people.  The second reason is that we live in a society which encourages us to feel small in the wake of giants, whether they be intellectual ones, culturally influential ones or just unnaturally beautiful ones.  Don’t you just hate the beautiful ones?

The problem with the ‘cool kids’ syndrome is that, unless it’s based on actual merit, we are perpetrating a ludicrous fantasy (à la Mean Girls).  Believing that supermodels are worthy of special treatment is how teenagers start to think that anorexia is a solution for their low self-esteem.  Allowing reality television celebrities to dominate our screens is making us all forget that real talent is a thing that exists.  Thinking that hipster values are cool is how we end up with parts of London being no-go-for-normals territory: for example, I wouldn’t go to Shoreditch if Noel Fielding himself invited me.  And London is a big, beautiful city with a lot to offer – why are we letting ‘cool kids’ shotgun certain parts of it?

Believing other people are cooler than you are automatically undermines your self-image.  Of course it’s good to look up to people who are worthy of our respect, but we should look up to them because they can teach us something, or because they already have.  Feeling intimidated by people who are more famous, more attractive or just more arrogant than you are is silly, and as I keep telling you, you should be far too busy being your lovely self to give a monkey’s what the ‘cool kids’ think of you.

With that in mind, go and finish your Christmas shopping.  It’s getting a bit close for comfort.

Dull Young Things

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Good morning, dear reader!  How was your weekend?

Reality television is a double-edged tennis racket.  On the one hand, shows like Come Dine With Me are very entertaining, and you can get recipe ideas from them.  On the other hand, Made In Chelsea is an abomination before God and our eyeballs.

When we were first exposed to reality television, it was in the form of a socio-psychological experiment that had a few ethical grey areas, but was essentially an educational undertaking: the first series of Big Brother.  That show in particular has become hideously bloated into something that manages to be skull-crackingly boring and criminally immoral and a damning indictment on the state of television.  Almost an achievement, isn’t it?

The ones that worry me most are the geographically specific shows that follow a set of people around: Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Essex, and now We Are Watford, which makes me want to burn my home town to the ground, just to prevent the show from being filmed.  The participants of these shows have sold their social lives and rights to privacy.  They have allowed a producer to tell them how to conduct their love lives and friendships, and they have the conceit to believe that a soulless, fabricated version of their petty little lives is television-worthy.  The worst thing is that we watch, and we validate them.

In the 1920s, tabloid journalists and photographers made a huge fuss of a group of socialites and aristocrats, referred to as the Bright Young Things (or Bright Young People).  After the huge losses suffered in the First World War, the young people of London decided to take life into their own hands and really, loudly, raucously live it.

The difference between the Bright Young Things and the cretins on reality television is that the 1920s counterparts didn’t sell themselves to producers who then orchestrated their lives.  Bright Young Things is an excellent film (based on Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh) that tells us what we should have learned in over ninety years: other people’s lives are not supposed to be pursued by the media.

Besides, you’re flipping brilliant.  Your life is immensely fascinating and important, and living it takes up quite a lot of your time,  so why would you want to watch a bunch of morons leading their own lives badly?  People tell me that it amuses them and it’s a case of “it could be worse; I could be him/her”, but I don’t think that that’s enough to waste a whole hour of your life on once a week. Have an absolutely spiffing Monday.

Did You Know…?

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Hello, reader!  How’s your weekend going so far?

Today I wanted to take the opportunity to round up on a few things I’ve mentioned this week: following this post, I did indeed call my friend Becca, and today I will be hopping on a train to see her.  I foresee gallons of coffee, a Sunday roast and a very long catch up.  Marvellous.

I did visit some friends yesterday, but we didn’t end up putting furniture together.  Instead we watched Point Break, and I have to say that “Why don’t you astonish me, shitface?” is my new favourite question.  (I will save it for people less lovely than you, reader, don’t worry.)

The “will we won’t we?” saga of Pointless rattles on, and at this point Ash and I have no idea whether we’ll ever find dates that work.  In the meantime, I will keep revising.  Here are some of the interesting things I’ve discovered so far:

1) Joseph Merrick (AKA The Elephant Man) had something in common with Amy Winehouse and James Dean: he died aged 27.

2) Before she married Paul McCartney, Linda Eastman went out with Jimi Hendrix.  She also fancied John Lennon when she first met the Beatles.

3) Winnie the Pooh’s real name is Edward Bear.

4) David Cameron used to be president of the Oxfordshire Bee Keepers’ Association.

5) The word for swearing when you stub your toe is lalochezia.

6) More than a fifth of British households don’t own a kettle.  (Quick question: how do you people LIVE?)

7) France contains six villages called Silly, twelve called Billy and two called Prat.

8) Alaska is the northernmost, westernmost and easternmost state in America.

9) Diamonds boil.  (I know.  What the actual hell.)  Apparently this happens at 4027 degrees Centigrade.

10) Samuel Taylor Coleridge invented rock-climbing, which I wish I’d known during sixth form when we were studying Kubla Khan.  That poem’s got extreme sports (and opium) written all over it.

I hope you find these titbits of information interesting.  If not, take it up with Stephen Fry.  Have a glorious Sunday!

The Polymath Problem

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Hello and happy Tuesday, lovely reader!

This morning I met up with an old friend from university.  We don’t get to see each other often enough, so inevitably our coffee mornings consist of work updates, living situation discussions, frank bemusement at the behaviour of men and excessive giggling.

Sometimes (not always), we get around to discussing our mutual passion: the arts.  This friend of mine has a lifelong passion for the arts in all its forms: she is a wonderful baker of lovely cakes, she dances, makes amazing craft stuff and is, of course, a fellow Drama graduate.  She co-runs a charity called Ingeenium which does beautiful and inspiring work with vulnerable people, she is a nanny and she currently works for the government in a top-secret, slightly scary capacity.  Oh, and she’s also studying for her PhD.  Superwoman?  I think so, but I’ve never seen her wear a cape, so it’s hard to tell.  The posh term for this friend of mine is a polymath, which sounds like something out of Red Dwarf, but is actually a real thing.  I like that word, don’t you?

This morning she and I were discussing the problem with being a polymath, although the terms we actually couched it in were more along the lines of “What are we actually DOING with our lives?”  The answer is, currently at least, loads of stuff: we are both trying to pursue careers which support as financially as well as challenge and inspire us, we feel very strongly about a lot of things but are not sure what exactly to do about them, and on top of everything the spectre of George Osborne looms menacingly, reminding us that whatever we choose to do, we will still never be able to afford a mortgage.  Do shut up, George, there’s a dear.

My friend was saying that she wishes she could just have one job and pursue one goal, but I had two concerns about this:

1) Sure, it would be amazing to know from an early age exactly what you want to do with your life, but what happens if that dream fails?  What if your one ambition in life is to become a footballer, and you contract Motor Neurone Disease?  What happens if an aspiring doctor fails their exams?  How does a person recover from the abolition of a life-long dream?

2) Pursuing more than one ambition is not only practical in terms of personal investment; it’s a really, really good idea.  Being good at lots of things is something to be proud of, and caring about lots of things makes you a more rounded human being.  Working in several domains can actually improve your skills in certain areas: having acted (a bit), I consider myself to be a more empathetic director.  Besides, there are many awesome people who can be referred to as polymaths.

Here are a few examples:

1) Mark Watson

An excellent stand-up comedian, Mark Watson has also written some brilliant books.  His writing style is engaging, unbelievably touching in some places and (predictably) very funny.  The stories are completely unique, but the characters are very true to life (terrible phrase, that, but it’s the best I can think of).  His books are novels with little or no relation to his comedy career, so much so that it took me quite a while to twig that the author of some of my favourite books was the same person I’d seen on Mock the Week.

2) Kenneth Branagh

The man can act and direct simultaneously.  I have no idea how he does it (especially given that I can barely walk and talk at the same time), but his adaptations of Shakespearean plays into films are intelligent, moving and spectacularly performed.  Since acting and directing technically fall under the same sector I suppose he’s not technically a polymath, but I think he should get bonus points for being able to realise his artistic vision (ANOTHER terrible phrase – sorry, I’ve no idea what’s happened to my cliché filter today!) within two separate roles.

3) Laura Lexx

Another friend of mine from uni, Laura is excellent at pretty much everything she puts her mind to.  It’s mildly sickening.  A formidable academic success, Laura is also an excellent writer (of blogs, plays and more), an hysterically funny stand-up comedian, a queen bee of baking and “one of those” actors.  By “one of those”, I mean those people that you see on stage and wonder how on earth other performers can bear to compete.  She’s also a very lovely person with an excellent impersonation of a dinosaur in her repertoire.

4) Hannah Barnett

Yet another superwoman that I am lucky enough to be friends with, Hannah is *deep breath* a producer, actress, stage manager, unbelievably talented guitarist and singer with the voice of a particularly well-behaved angel.  Hannah is simultaneously the most organised and most easily distracted person I know.  That takes a lot of skill.  Why do I surround myself with these sickeningly talented people?  Oh, yeah – because they’re awesome.

5) Josh Widdicombe

Putting aside the fact that I love Josh Widdicombe quite a lot anyway, he is a brilliant example of why it’s good to have many talents.  Well-known as a stand-up comedian, he is also a talented DJ who hosts a weekly show on Xfm, which he uses as a platform to promote his friends and colleagues in the comedy world.  I am a massive fan of “paying it forward”, i.e. using your experience and opportunities to help others in similar situations.  (One of my favourite things about my university year group is that even now, we still tell each other when we see jobs or opportunities on IdeasTap that we think others in the group would be interested in.)  Josh Widdicombe is substantially more successful than any of my lot are right now, but he still uses his multiple roles to help out his mates.  I think that’s brilliant.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other examples of polymaths around, including national treasures like Stephen Fry and Michael Palin, and they are all to be congratulated on their ability to pursue many dreams.  It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, but I think that being good at and enjoying several activities is a more realistic and open-minded way to live.

By the way, actors turned models and anyone turned reality television “star” (please read enormous sarcasm into the speech marks around the word star, there), do not count.  Being pretty, greedy for money or desperate for attention cannot in any way be classed as a skill.  That’s just sad, and those people need a hug/slap/stern talking to.

Have a glorious afternoon!