Monday, 14 December 2015

What Makes You Beautiful...

Let's talk about how beautiful you are.

We don't talk about it enough.

Earlier this week, my mum commented on the interesting hair cut of a man staying in the same hotel as us.

"Does he really look in the mirror and think 'oh yes, my hair looks great today'?"

My immediate response was "do you look in the mirror  and think 'oh yes, my hair looks great today'?"

Let me make it very clear here that I do often think that my mum's hair looks great.

What I meant was that I never look in the mirror and think I look great.

"Do people really do that?"

 (Obviously by 'people' I do not mean Eva Longoria or Davina McCall. I imagine they do it every day.)

The second the words were out of my mouth I realised.

I have actually done that.

I've recently had my hair cut quite a lot shorter than it's been in years, and for the first few days after my trip to the hairdresser I would occasionally catch my reflection and do a double take. 'Great decision, Rebecca, should have had this style years ago,' I would indulgently think to myself.

I feel I should balance this shocking confession out by telling you two things:

1) Earlier this year I lost my mind and decided to get a fringe cut in and spent the following three months crying every time I caught my reflection. So I've earned this moment of glory.

2) My new hair cut has now lost the hairdresser's magic touch and I'm back to being frustrated by everything about it. Rest assured, my ego will not explode.

But I shouldn't feel like this, should I?

Should I feel that I have to balance every good thing I feel about myself with something I dislike, to keep things fair? Fair for who?!

Before I had my hair cut, I mentioned to a friend that I LOVE her hair and was thinking of taking a picture of her to the hairdresser to show her what I wanted.

I expected her to laugh and brush the compliment away.

She ruffled up her perfect locks and replied 'my hair? Yes you should. It's great.' Then smiled.

Granted, it was her sister's engagement party and she had had the odd glass of wine, but it struck me that I absolutely should not have expected this absolutely gorgeous girl to brush the compliment away. I should have expected her to know how great it looks. She gets to see it every day. She should know more than anyone.

(NB. I did copy her hair cut and am now happy. I can confirm that she was right in her advice.)

And in the two and a half weeks that have passed since then, I have noticed more and more that our expectations of what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to opinion on appearance are totally skewed.

I have been given so many opinions on the appearance of other people in the past two weeks, I wish I had counted them up.

They have been about people I know in real life, celebrities on the television, regular humans on the television, people I've heard about but never met, people I've seen but will likely never meet, and everything in between.

And very few of the comments have been complimentary.

One may argue that if I want to sit on my sofa and criticise the appearance of whoever is appearing on my television, or on the internet, then that's my prerogative. What harm can it do? They will never be any the wiser, and I am entitled to my opinion.

Firstly, the problem with that attitude is that it very quickly becomes 'if I want to voice my opinion out and about...', or 'if I want to tweet that person to tell him/her what I think is wrong with their appearance...'

And then people are actually reading everything that I am sure they are aware of themselves, simply confirming that all of their fears are true, they are not good enough, and all of that worrying that they do about their appearance is justified.

The second problem, of course, is that it sends us, and the people around us, into all kinds of frenzy about our own appearance.

If all I hear about Adele- an outrageously talented singer and songwriter who is exceptional at her job- is that she needs to lose weight, then is weight all that matters? Does it mean that all people say about me- an educational professional who's trying desperately to be at the top of my game- is that I need to lose weight?

Equally if I hear one more person say that Cheryl Cole is too skinny, I will eat myself into a coma.

A few weeks ago I was genuinely concerned when a few people in a row made concerned faces and told me I had lost weight.

Had I?

Now that on its own I probably wouldn't have thought much of. People quite often say that to me when I wear a particular pair of trousers because I got them in the sale in a size too big so they do make me look extra small. Makes sense. I haven't lost weight, I was just wearing ill fitting trousers.

Except that during that same week so many people had commented on Cheryl being too skinny.

It really stayed with me, and had me doubting myself.

Have I lost loads of weight? Is there something wrong with me?

I would check myself in the mirror and inspect how far out my tummy comes, whether my arms had got skinny.

I did eventually weigh myself (something I actively avoid because I don't want to get caught up in all this nonsense), and I had lost a couple of pounds since I was last weighed at a medical check in August. Those pounds were back on within a few days. For no rhyme or reason. Probably just the time of day I was weighing myself, and the difference between eating with my boyfriend (during which time I consume more than I do every other day of the week put together), and my colleagues (where we tend to eat salad and fruit to avoid falling asleep post-lunch. Unlike most jobs the busiest part of my day starts at three).

That week that I had lost a couple of pounds though, I was thinking about it more than I have ever thought about my weight before. I was making a game plan for putting it back on over Christmas. I ate a lot of things that are bad for me, and that I didn't even hugely enjoy.

And I, a very sensible (I like to think) and mature twenty-six year old woman, put all of this concern down to the non-stop utter nonsense that I had been bombarded with about Cheryl that week.

I mean, seriously, if Cheryl, an absolutely beautiful, seemingly-warm-hearted, sweet, hard worker who has built a career out of talent, personality, and yes, beauty; and has managed to make it last this long, is not good enough, what kind of chance do I have?! 

Just imagine what this is doing to far younger, less sensible, more impressionable girls and boys across the country.

I spend more time than I should vaguely worrying in the back of my mind about how I'm always a little bit scruffy. When am I going to be one of those perfectly made up, MAC make-up girls with a different coordinated outfit every day of the year, and never a hair out of place?

And then today a friend wrote on social media saying that he had walked past a group of the exact girls I described above, the girl I hope to be one day, and was so grateful that his girlfriend is naturally beautiful and surrounded by lovely friends. Gosh. I didn't realise that we weren't all aspiring to be those girls. Those girls who have made it to that level of perfection also aren't good enough because it's not natural!

How can we ever win?

As just about everyone who has ever spoken to me knows, I work with children and I love every single one of them about thirty seconds after meeting them.

I have a nine month old Godson- the best person in the world- who I do not want growing up thinking he is not good enough. He is more than good enough at nine months old and he is only going to make us prouder.

Do we really want him growing up thinking he's not good enough because of the size of his tummy, his nose, or his teeth? Because he has a mole, a spot, or fluffy hair?

I am not for a second saying that we should ignore beauty.

I am very much a visual learner and love beautiful things.

But I think we should see the beauty and embrace it and all its flaws.

I have read somewhere that you should never comment on a child's appearance at all. All the way down to not commenting that you like her shoes, or his hat.

I don't agree with that at all.

Appearances do matter, that's a part of life.

It shows people who you are, and you have to be able to take appearance into consideration to a certain degree to shape a first impression, and to get by every day.

But why do we have to comment on the negative? Why can't we just comment on the beauty and ignore the flaws around it?

I am surrounded by absolutely beautiful people. Really, really beautiful people. My friends, family, colleagues, the children and their families...everyone. Actually at Pumbaa's wedding even the photographer commented on how gorgeous her family were.

But I imagine that none of them (or very few of them) would describe themselves as beautiful.

I imagine that if you asked them, they would be able to tell you what they would like to change about themselves, but not what makes them beautiful.

A girl who works in Sainsbury's (the Sainsbury's that I am in all the time) that I have never met, spoken to, or had any interaction with before, stopped me at the weekend to tell me that she loved my new haircut. She said it looked great.

I bounced back to work thinking- not of how wonderful my new hair is- but how absolutely gorgeous that girl was. I have noticed her in Sainsbury's before, and once commented to my manager how amazingly patient she was with a very chatty, very old man.

This girl almost oozes light, the kindness shines out of her eyes and her smile, and her gentle manner.

She was absolutely beautiful.

And that's what is beautiful about all the people I love.

When I was sixteen I worked in a cafe. I remember so clearly my Nanny and Grandad once surprising me by appearing at the little ice cream window on the side one Saturday morning. I remember thinking that they really were the most beautiful grandparents. How lucky I am, I thought, to have such absolutely gorgeous relatives.

Of course, in reality they may not have been turning heads of strangers in the street, for being the most attractive pensioners to ever walk the streets of Burnham-on-Crouch.

What was beautiful was that they had taken time out of their Saturday to surprise me.

In the time that I have written this, I have messaged my friends and family asking them 'what is it that makes you beautiful?'

The replies I have received so far almost all go along the same lines.

(Except Minnie Mouse, who replied 'my face.' This is why she is my best friend.)

Everybody else replied something like this: Oh dear, I definitely can't see it at all myself. But I suppose my [insert either smile, eyes, nose or lashes here] because that's what people have complimented me on most.

Which makes sense, doesn't it?

We can't really see ourselves. What we see is a reflection of how people respond to us, and respond to the world around us.

So if I spend a week looking at pictures of Cheryl looking unbelievable, with hugely critical comments underneath pulling her appearance apart, I'm naturally going to wonder what people think of me. When that is paired with concerned faces and 'have you lost weight?!' I'm going to start worrying that everyone really does think all the nasty things they think about Cheryl, about me.

I'm going to become sensitive, insecure, and defensive. Therefore potentially critical of others as well.

When a person I have never spoken to comes over and tells me that she has noticed me enough to notice that my hair has changed, and that she thinks it looks gorgeous, I'm going to see thoughtfulness, and kindness.

And I am going to want to be thoughtful and kind too.

Because I want to ooze that beautiful light the way that she does.

Imagine if we all oozed beautiful light like that lovely girl in Sainsbury's. What an absolutely stunning place the world would be.

Let's try it :)

Monday, 23 November 2015


As I write this I am watching Walking on Sunshine on Netflix. It is, so far, a relatively cheesy but totally lovable musical featuring Hannah Arterton and Leona Lewis. It has a catchy soundtrack, a stunning setting, and a lot of advice about love.

Having spent the past two days in bed with a rotten cold and cough combination, I have watched a lot of television and read a lot (of mostly nonsense) on the internet, both of which have involved being given more than enough advice on love. 

Between that, and various people in my life with the desire to advise me on the language of love, I am drowning in relationship tips. 

I'm not sure whether it's because I am in my mid-twenties and so anyone and everyone above the age of fifty thinks that I need it; or whether it's specifically because I'm the only one of my close friends that isn't yet married. Either way, every man and his dog likes to provide me with advice- from the cashier in Sainsbury's as I'm paying for my milk, to the Grandmother dropping off her Granddaughter at the children's centre I work in. Everyone has something to say that they think I need to hear. 

The thing about love advice though is that it's not hugely clear what you're supposed to believe, is it? 

There's a little picture flying about on social media at the moment that will pop up as being shared by somebody I know at least once a month. 

It's invariably attached to a photo of an old couple who know nothing of this quote and have just been found on Google images. Chances are that they were one another's third spouse but fit the message perfectly because they are old. 

"We were born in a time where if something was broken, we would fix it, not throw it away." 

Of course, this is great advice if you're just going through a bit of a tricky patch. You've got to that stage where the magic has gone slightly and the sound of her chewing is driving you crazy, and if he puts his plate on top of the dishwasher instead of inside it one more time you swear to the heavens you will murder him. 

Yes, okay, you try to fix it. You discuss the annoying things. You book a special holiday. You try to find the magic again. 

But not every broken relationship can be fixed. And as far as I am concerned it's far braver to walk away from a broken relationship, and to have the strength to acknowledge that you deserve better, than it is to stick out misery for the rest of your life because you're worried about what people will think. 

What I'm trying to say is, I think this advice is absolute nonsense.

This film is telling me that 'when you know you know.'

The Granny I mentioned that passed on her wisdom to me at work the other day? She told me that your wedding is like your funeral except you can smell your own flowers. 

Friends is telling me to find my lobster. Once I've found him it doesn't matter how much he messes me around, if he's my lobster then that's it. I've no choice but to be with him. 

Sex and the City is telling me I should stay single forever. (I'm just on season 4.) 

About Time is telling me that I must marry someone kind.

He's Just Not That Into You insinuates that I should wait until I am somebody's 'exception', rather than the rule. 

A Cinderella Story is telling me that I must marry someone who loves me for the real me. 

(I can actually hear you judging me for the list of films I have watched this weekend. I'm not well!)

I read an article the other day that said that society is so hell bent on making us choose our life partner- the most important decision you can make- solely on 'listening to your heart', and that if a person wanted to start a business in the same way that we make this all important decision, the world would stop running altogether. 

All of these people can't be right, when they are saying such different things. 

And who are all these people, to dish out advice on love? Surely what works for one, doesn't work for another? 

There's always the story of the guy who started out as a prat and then learnt his lesson and became a hero husband. That girl then tells her story like she's an expert, and then girls all over are sticking it out with their prat boyfriends hoping that their prat will become a hero. 

There's the story of the girl who didn't even like the guy at first, but then they spent more time together and she somehow fell for him. That guy is the reason that that annoying lad who you have told, painstakingly, that you're just not interested, keeps suggesting various 'activities' for you to do together 'just as friends', in the hope that you'll suddenly fall hopelessly in love with him. 

So, I say, I shall be listening to only one piece of advice when it comes to relationships, and that was from my oh-so-wise friend Pumbaa, who chose not to listen to the disapproval of her friends and family when she first met her husband, because her friends and family weren't 'in this relationship, just watching from the outside. They didn't have a clue.' 

Now, of course, four years later, everybody absolutely loves him. 

And Minnie Mouse, my equally wise friend, often tells the tale of the moment that she realised that actually, Pumbaa's new boyfriend was the man that she, Pumbaa, would go on to marry. "It was when she stopped talking about her relationship. She had nothing to say anymore. She was just happy. And nobody ever talks about that." 

She's right. 

Nobody ever talks about that. 

People provide you with all this nonsense advice when you're unhappy. You think anyone in a happy relationship cares about whether or not bad relationships should be fixed or given up on? You think they need reminding to follow their heart? To find their lobster? To check that their partner is kind? To make sure they love the real them? Do you think that Gran from work the other day has been happily married for fifty years? 

Of course not. 

Nobody ever talks about the fact that they are happy. 

Until now. 

I have decided to remedy this. 

This all started last week when I realised that I wanted to record every single thing that my boyfriend says and play it to the rest of the world. 

I, obviously, think he's the funniest, most brilliant person on the planet and think that everyone should have the pleasure of witnessing how great he is. 

That's when I realised that, actually, the rest of the world would probably find that weird. We don't shout about things like that. It is, as my dad's girlfriend would say, uncouth. 

But I've decided to go for it anyway. 

I started off by asking all of my nearest and dearest what their favourite things about being in a relationship are. How their lives would be different for the worst if they hadn't met their other halves.

I got some cracking replies...

  • "I wouldn't have someone to get up to get me a drink in the middle of the night."
  • "We're so close to each other's families. Without each other, there's a huge group of wonderful people we wouldn't know." 
  • "I wouldn't have been able to try out so many career options without his support." 
  • "She provides me with moral support during my hangovers." 
  • "He made me try baked beans. It turns out I like them."
  • "I love having one person to make lots of memories with that we can treasure forever." 
  • "If it wasn't for my husband, I  would probably still think Egypt was in Europe." 
  • "I met my best girl friend through my husband. If I hadn't met him, I wouldn't have her." 
  • "She helps me decide what to have for dinner." 
  • "Just a cuddle from him can make all my worries go away." 
  • "I wouldn't have been able to quit the job that made me so miserable." 
  • "If we were ever to break up I would really miss his dogs. They would never understand why I stopped being around."
  • "I would never have heard of my favourite band." 
  • "I would have to make my own cups of tea." 
  • "I wouldn't have a baby kicking inside me as we speak." 
  • "I love being able to just be myself and not be judged." 
  • "I wouldn't have somebody to get rid of spiders." 
  • "Without my husband I would have to stand on the toilet to open the bathroom window. I can't reach on my own." 
  • "I wouldn't be able to cope with my Dad's sickness if I didn't have my husband there with me." 
  • "If I wasn't married to my husband, my most embarrassing stories probably wouldn't be broadcast across Essex." (He works in radio. He's not just a loud mouth.) 
  • "When I poo and it doesn't flush he gets rid of it for me." 
Before sending these great reasons to love love, most of my friends immediately replied that they had no idea what to say. Could I give them an example? 

I realised as soon as I received these messages that it is a hard question to answer. We're not used to discussing the wonderful things about our relationship. But I've thought about it, and much to Dale's absolute horror, made my own list...

Having someone to point out that I'm about to make a huge mistake using my own words. 

Whenever I suggest going somewhere cold he immediately reminds me of the time we were in New York for Christmas and I said, through gritted teeth, "if I ever suggest going to Lapland, Canada, or anywhere involving snow, remind me of this moment." 

He has had so many opportunities to remind me of that moment. It's amazing how quickly you forget yourself. 

Similarly, we regularly have conversations that sound like this...

"Hm, I'm thinking of getting my hair cut differently, what do you think?" 

"Remember the fringe?" 

Oh right. 

Having someone to bring over the Home Alone Boxset, the ingredients for a roast dinner, and my favourite caramel cupcake when I'm suffering with a cold and a cough. 

We didn't watch the Home Alone Boxset. We decided it wasn't close enough to Christmas and watched The Worst Week of My Life instead. Which leads me to...

Having someone to organise things I would not have considered

We're a strange combination really. I don't think about day to day things in too much detail. If I want to stay in a hotel I'll book the first one I find. If I want to go to a show I'll buy the tickets and worry about travelling there when it gets to the day. I never consider parking until I arrive, and I am a nightmare for leaving directions until the last minute, and therefore spend at least half of my life lost. I worry about where we're going to live, what jobs we're going to be doing in ten years, and how we are ever going to afford a mortgage. 
Dale thinks all that future stuff will work itself out. But I genuinely have never seen him so horrified as when I went on one hotel comparison site and was going to book the best one there and then. We didn't book it. He needs to do days of research before something like that. Then yesterday when I suggested watching the Home Alone Boxset, it was he that reminded me that it's only the 22nd November. That maybe we should leave those, along with The Santa Clause (my absolute favourite), Elf (close second), and A Muppet's Christmas Carol (his favourite) until closer to Christmas Day. He wanted to make a spread sheet. We settled with making a list in our heads. 

Having said that, I am grateful for...

Having someone to do spreadsheets for me. Seriously. Dale is so good at organising holidays that friends and family, and even friends of friends and family ask him to organise their holidays for them. 

I truly believe he should start a business.

Having someone to make my life magical. 

A few weeks ago, he- for absolutely no reason at all- woke me up with pancakes and a bag of presents. He had got up and driven to Asda, bought ingredients, and made them, letting me sleep in until eleven. 

Having someone to make me laugh. All.The.Time. 

He makes me laugh about things I'm angry about. About things I'm sad about. When I'm stressed because we've been in Boots for forty-five minutes and I still haven't found anything for that one relative that I don't have a clue what to buy for, he comes round the corner holding Santa earrings up to his ears. "For Grandad Derek?" 

He also likes to sing a lot. He woke me up the first morning of our Disneyland Paris trip this year by flinging open the curtains and singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Okay, I don't like relationship advice and I don't like those nonsense meme things that fly about. But I do think that if someone can make me laugh waking me up at seven am, he probably is a keeper. 

His mum once told me that he sings more when I'm around. I thought I might cry. 

The number one thing that everybody replied when I asked them about this was that they didn't want to be cheesy, or provide a cliche for their answer. 

None of them did. 

Except maybe Mickey Mouse. 

Mickey Mouse said "the best thing about my marriage is getting to spend every day with my best friend." 

I honestly believe that Mickey Mouse said what every other person that I asked wanted to say. 

Because that is the best thing about relationships surely? Even if you don't see each other every day. The knowledge that you will talk to your best friend every day without exception is wonderful. If Dale didn't organise wonderful holidays, keep a check on my Christmas spirit, and randomly make me pancakes, he would still be my best friend and would still be the biggest part of my life, and that's what makes it magical. 

(If it makes it feel any less cheesy or cliche, he did follow it up with something very rude and un-Mickey-Mouse-like. I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what that may have been.) 

So please, lovely readers, continue to read, watch, listen, and learn from the relationships and love stories of those before you. Enjoy the catchy soundtracks, the funny anecdotes, and the beautiful scenery. 

But make your own mistakes, find your own rules, write your own story and create your own advice. 

And occasionally, just occasionally, allow yourself that rare and uncouth treat, of discussing what makes you happy :)

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Future Conditional

It's September 2014 and I am at an assessment day for a grown up job. The first grown up job I've had since 2010. The brilliantly animated MD of the company is standing at the front warning us of what we might be taking on if we are successful and choose to accept the position.

"You are going to take this work home with you. You are going to wake up in the middle of the night concerned about whether or not you made the right decision about Little Jamie's national curriculum levels. You will think about work on your days off, and have a lot to get done during the week."

Fast forward thirteen months.

It's my weekend and I feel compelled to write a blog post about my job.

My parents, brothers, and boyfriend know the ins and outs of my job as though they do it themselves, so much do I feel the need to talk about it. My dad and boyfriend, in particular, probably feel that listening to me go on about my job is an extra full time job that they took on the day that I accepted it.

I work with children, ladies and gents, and I work in education, and with that comes huge responsibility and a lot of laughter.

Over the past few weeks I have seen several plays related to working with children and in education, and both gave me a lot to think about.

The first was Matilda. If you haven't seen it, go. It's wonderful. (Disclaimer: if you seriously love the movie or the book of Matilda, still consider going, but cautiously. It's not the same, and hearts may break.)

Matilda explores the importance of education, and the importance of those who work in the field, in a bright, colourful and fun musical with a catchy soundtrack and outrageously talented children.

It's beautiful, and there were a few times that the lyrics well and truly got me (mainly during the song 'When I Grow Up' which I'm sure I will use in a future blog.)

It left me with that distinct, 'children are wonderful and I am so lucky I get to work with them every day' feeling, and made me count the ways that my job is so magical....

1) The children make me laugh. So much.

I quite regularly ask the children if they have any questions. Obviously I mean about their work. This week I did get plenty of questions about maths and English but to my absolute delight I was also asked...

a) Are you a vegetarian or a meat eater?

b) What's your favourite colour?


c) Rebecca, which of Spiderman's powers do you think are most impressive?

2) Every day contains at least one surreal sentence. I know that I have mentioned this regarding previous jobs with children, but my favourites from my current job are below. All of the sentences below were said by an adult to a child, but please imagine, as you read this, that I don't work with children, that all of these were said in an office job involving other adults:

a) 'Please stop eating the chairs.'

b) 'We do not do drum rolls on other people's heads.'

c) 'Where's Gary? Oh he's...he's under the table.'

d) 'My name's not Tracey. It's Jasmine. Stop calling me Tracey.'

e) 'I'm sorry I said that I think the Wonder Gecko is the best lizard. You're right, now that I have read up on it I agree that it is actually quite a disgusting creature.'

f) ''I know that the story is going to be about detectives because Rebecca told me' is not a good enough answer to your comprehension, Gary.'

g) 'You didn't go abroad? Just to Spain? Oh right.'

(You'll notice I used the name Gary. I'm sure you've heard the big news lately that there have been no new Garys since 1999, so you can be assured I'm keeping everyone totally anonymous.)

3) I always know where I stand.

I was once explaining to a child why his behaviour was not acceptable. He tipped his head to the side and replied 'your hair looks stupid like that.' That evening Dale and I went out for dinner. As we walked into the restaurant I caught myself in the mirror. He had been right. My hair looked ridiculous like that.

A couple of weeks ago a child said to my manager: 'I really, really like you.'

When was the last time someone said that to your face within five minutes of meeting you?

4) I know I make a difference.

I know I make a difference because I work with people, and everyone who works with people makes a difference. But I also know I make a difference because the children tell me every day. See point number three again.

5) I really, really care about every aspect of my job.

Which brings me to the second play that I saw that revolves around education and children.

Future Conditional. 

Future Conditional is Rob Brydon's latest project and it's wonderful.

I thought that the name Future Conditional was particularly brilliant. I feel the need to say this because I heard a pompous theatre snob saying he didn't feel it was strong enough for the play. I think the reason he didn't feel it was strong enough is that he didn't understand it. It wasn't aimed at pompous theatre snobs, it was aimed at people in education. I therefore did the very British thing of explaining it particularly loudly to Dale as we walked past him. Future conditional is a tense in English (I'll not explain it now. Partly because I did just write it all out and realise it would be quite boring to read, partly because a teeny part of me is terrified I'll explain it wrong. Still, it's a key part of the English language and something that children learn at school, that's all you need to know). It also refers to the fact that children are permanently told that their future depends on their learning and behaviour now- it will be positive under the conditions that they work hard, and negative if they don't. It also refers to how our future, the future of our country, rides on current pupils in our schools. Genius title.

It actually wasn't particularly easy watching for me. During the interval Dale asked whether I would be recommending it to colleagues, and I told him no. It was too stressful. Too close to home. Then  at one point when the rest of the audience (clearly not people with my job) were laughing, Dale leant over and told me I looked like I was going to burst into tears. I was watching discussions that I have every day play out in front of me. I was listening to debates that I'm asked my opinion on every week, and was having to bite my tongue to not shout out from the audience. (It was a very intimate theatre. It felt possible.)

It was hard to watch and stirred emotions in me as no other play ever has.

At the end I watched potentially the most emotive scene I've ever watched.

It was about a teacher- which I am not- but I related to it. As a Nanny, an Activity Instructor, a Beaver leader, even a babysitter, and as part of my current job. He explained how much he cares about every child. Every single one. And that he doesn't forget them easily, and never stops rooting for them. He is always on their side.

People do not work with children for the money. As my MD said back on that day in September 2014, working with children- and particularly in education- involves waking up in the night worrying about them, thinking about it at all hours, calling work on your day off because you've just remembered something and want to check up on it, worrying all the time that you're not there.

A few weeks ago my manager saw a child that she used to work with. The child's mother was absolutely flabbergasted that she remembered the child. Of course she did! It was a year ago but they spent a lot of time together. Chances are my manager woke up in the night worrying about that child, and spent her weekends thinking about how she could help her.

Parents regularly call up and say 'hello, my name is Kristen, my son Gary comes to you.' I know! I know that your name is Kristen, I know your husband's name is Fred, I know that you have just got two puppies called Pickle and Sausage, and that Sausage is a bit of a nightmare. I know that Gary does karate on a Wednesday and basketball on a Friday, that his favourite dinosaur is a triceratops, and that he is left handed and so finds using a mouse tricky. I know all of this and have spent my weekend thinking about how we could get triceratops stickers to motivate him, and that I must order a pencil grip for him, and I woke up last night thinking maybe we could put a red dot on the side of the mouse that he should click to remind him and help him get into the habit.

But of course Kristen isn't to know that.

To her I'm just a (hopefully) nice lady that is there when he is dropped off and picked up at one of the many places that he goes to, and that he occasionally talks about on the way home.

But I genuinely care. I build his confidence and I listen to his stories, I ask him questions and I answer his brilliant ones to the best of my ability. I laugh out loud at his jokes, celebrate his achievements and spend time reassuring him over the disappointments. I watch out for his safety and well being, and occasionally (very occasionally in my current job, thank goodness, but more often in previous jobs) clear up his sick and his pee. And that's before I've taught him anything even remotely related to the national curriculum.

And through it all- through every second of it- I have his best interests at heart, and know that the decision to take the job thirteen months ago was an absolutely brilliant one- constant worry and all.

This is my future- unconditional- the one that I worked hard through my entire school life for- and I am loving every second of being a part of shaping the conditional futures of these children.

Of course my future continues to be conditional and always will be.

But for the moment, what a happy ending to my first grown up adventure :)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Flying Without Wings

This evening I came home to post.

Depending on your age, I imagine this will mean different things to you. 

Post as a child is the Best. Thing. Ever. Because it normally means that it's either your birthday or Christmas.

Post in your twenties (for those of us who have not fully grown up yet) consists of a mixed bag of phone bills, wedding and christening invitations, and the occasional catalogue from the company that you gave your email address to when you were sixteen and who haven't quite got the hint yet. (The envelope is normally handwritten on that last one and for a few brilliant seconds you think it's a surprise package. It never is.) 

Which is why this evening I was delighted to find an exciting piece of post on the kitchen side. Addressed to me. Handwritten, but clearly not selling anything. It's not my birthday. And even Monica didn't get her Christmas cards out in September. 

What could it be? 

It was an anniversary card. 

A ten year anniversary card. 

From Pumbaa. 

Pumbaa is one of my five best friends and one of the five best people on the entire planet. 

And I was lucky enough to meet her ten years ago this week. 

And she remembered, and she sent me a flipagram video of our years together, and then she sent me a card. To my house. She saw me yesterday. She's seeing me tomorrow. But she made it magical by putting it in the post. 

I imagine that from what I've said so far you will have an idea of just how wonderful my friends are. 

Recently I have been quite stressed, and have been- as Dale puts it- a little bit of a Negative Nancy as a result. During this time they were talking on the radio about those things in life that give you a rush of love for the world and make you feel overwhelming grateful that you were in that place at that time. 

Upon hearing this on the radio, I have looked out for those magical moments in my own world.

I had one at work, when I had to- dead seriously- use the sentence "we do not do drumrolls on other children's heads' and then immediately realised that I have the best job in the world. 

I had one at my Mum's, when Mowgli and I both said at the exact same time "I can't take her seriously with that haircut". About the dog.

I had one at my dad's, when Dale woke me up with pancakes and actual wrapped up presents for no reason at all. 

But the biggest proportion of what I call my Flying Without Wings moments, are down to my best friends. 

(They're called this, in case you hadn't realised, because those moments are exactly what the 90s Westlife song is about. Westlife are actually very wise.) 

I was recently on the verge of tears in Minnie Mouse's living room, absolutely devastated about something that had happened, at a loss as to how to handle it. Minnie and Pumbaa laughed their heads off, and managed to make me literally laugh my despair away. 

Sometimes, Lady Adelaide will very seriously explain to me the order in which she ranks Pixar films and why. 

At least once a week, Jiminy Cricket will message me with something magical that happened to her in London. Last week, when I received her Magical Text, it came with a picture of a baby scan. 

When I was sixteen and I left school to go to a college that it took me a train and an outrageously long bus journey to get to so that I could 'meet new people', one particular family friend continually told me that it was very brave, and that he was super impressed. 

I couldn't understand why. I didn't think it was brave at all, it just felt like the right thing- something I have to justify quite regularly to the logical people around me. 

But it was the right thing.

Because it was there, at that college, aged sixteen, that I met Pumbaa, Minnie Mouse, Lady Adelaide, Jiminy Cricket, and Rex. 

And I wouldn't be me without them. 

I remember when I was about ten reading in a magazine that Ant and Dec had been best friends since they were fourteen. I thought fourteen was a ridiculous age to meet your best friend. Surely you've made all your friends by the time you're fourteen?! That was very late. 

Now, of course, I know that meeting your best friends for life when you're sixteen is outrageously young. And I just cannot believe my luck that I met them all in the same building. 

I have written a post before on how we all met so I won't bore you with that again. Instead, enjoy the top ten moments I have shared with the best people in the entire world over the past ten years...

1) 2005: The Year We Met. I thought Pumbaa was a Mature Student. Minnie Mouse told me I looked a fool. Everybody knew Lady Adelaide and I couldn't believe she would ever be my friend. I forgot Jiminy Cricket's name and only remembered when we simultaneously put our hands up and called 'that's me' when our Psychology teacher called out 'Rebecca?' Rex was just about the coolest person I had ever met because he, unlike everybody else I had ever spoken to, knew a song by Goo Goo Dolls that wasn't Iris, and had heard of John Mayer outside of celebrity gossip pages. 

2) 2006: Getting drunk in aid of the World Cup. Because that's what you do when you're 17. I had bright blonde hair and bushman eyebrows. I drank a "Pumbaa" measure of Vodka and Coke at her house straight from college. I fell over, in front of her mum, at 5 in the afternoon. Whilst attempting to act sober. Then we went to a pub where we got beer poured over us every time a goal was scored, and I had to get the train home alone smelling like an empty pub post smoking ban. It's genuinely one of my favourite memories. 

3) 2007: The Year of Parties: The year you turn eighteen your social life goes out of control. Even if you're the youngest like I am. I had a party to go to every Friday and Saturday night for a whole year. Which left lunch breaks and free periods to plan my own party down to the last song.  

4) 2008: The Holiday. Pumbaa and I went to Spain for five days and our lives changed forever. We drank too much, ate too much, showed our true colours (I genuinely believe it was Pumbaa who coined the term 'hangry' after five days with me), fell in love with the boys in the room opposite, and then laughed at the memories for the next seven years. 

Just to be clear: this is not the boy we fell in love with. 

5) 2009: The Big Holiday. This time, four of us went. It's a blur of cocktails, laughter, sand, and, unfortunately, singing. One of my favourite pastimes when hanging out with Lady Adelaide is to cringe at singing 'We love you Essex we do' dancing down a street on a Greek Island. We probably feature on some awful secret channel 4 documentary. 

6) 2010: The First Engagement. Jiminy and Rex- four years after had first introduced them (I know, what a hero) were the first of my friends to get engaged. Rex set up a treasure hunt around a hotel room that eventually led to a ring <3 

7) 2011: Radio One. We went onto Feet Up Friday with Greg James and it was an absolute dream. When Greg and I are married I'm sure we'll laugh at the memories. 

8) 2012: 2012 was a hard year. All five of them sent flowers to Ireland, where I was living, to cheer me up. Lady Adelaide got on a plane, brought a suitcase full of chocolate and the DVD Bridesmaids and turned up at the front door. 

9) 2013: The Year of The Mouse: I was away for the entirety of 2013, and still these absolute heroes trooped on with the job of being best pals with a restless wanderer. We had Skype dates, whatsapp groups, shared albums. They received pictures and sound bites and all kinds of nonsense from their overexcited friend. And I received a picture of an engagement ring. 

10) 2014: The Year of the Wedding. Pumbaa found Baloo. Minnie found Mickey. Lady Adelaide found Mufasa, and of course, Rex already had Jiminy. In 2014 every single one of my best friends got married. It was one of the most magical years of my life so far. At the time I thought it might be the most magical year ever.

But then in 2015 Minnie Mouse gave birth to Jack-Jack. Pumbaa bought her first house. Rex and Jiminy announced their pregnancy, and Lady Adelaide threw me the most thoughtful, magical twenty-sixth birthday party. The Flying Without Wings moments have kept coming.

These people have been there through everything. The good, the bad, and the truly hideous, and still want to be friends with me, still make my world magical every day.

What makes you feel like you're flying without wings? 

I imagine it's a person. Or people. 

Tell them. Right now. Text them, call them, hug them, kiss them. Squeeze them until you're concerned for their health. 

And look out for the times you think you might have made someone else feel that way. 

Because you do make other people feel that way. 

We just don't tell each other very often. 

There's a section of that truly devastating episode of 8 Simple Rules where they find the last article that Paul wrote before he died. It says this: 

"I know, that whenever my kids insult me, whether it's a 'you're an idiot', 'what a geek', or even 'I hate you', I know that an 'I love you' isn't far behind. And it's the knowledge that my wife and kids love me that makes it safe for me to wear pyjamas and black socks to the breakfast table.'

Do you know what told me, more than anything else, that Pumbaa must really love me? 

At the end of the card, she wrote 'P.S. Sorry for any spelling mistakes.' 

For someone to know very well that despite the thought, effort and kindness that went into that card, I would be checking it for spelling mistakes, and still want to send it, and still want anything  to do with me, is just as special to me as a having an 'I love you Rebecca' banner flapping on the back of  a plane. 

Except that I don't need the plane. Thanks to these magical characters, I'm flying without wings <3 

Friday, 28 August 2015


Don’t believe everything you hear.

That’s what we’re told from a young age, right?

And I am the first to admit that I tend not to believe anything I hear without good solid proof. I don’t want to be taken for a fool. No wool is being pulled over my eyes, thank you very much. 

My personal need for explanation comes from two places:

       1) Being Mowgli’s sister. Mowgli is a first class wind up merchant and loves nothing more than to laugh at the people he loves. Which means that as his big sister I have been the brunt of many hilarious jokes, including him once telling me in front of a room full of football supporters (I’m not one I’m afraid. Nothing against them, just never got involved) that a team I’d never heard of had won against a team I had vaguely heard of. I replied with the standard ‘oh right, brilliant!’ (Not in a sarcastic voice, I hasten to add. I’ve always attempted to feign some kind of interest to keep my brothers talking to me) and everyone laughed because of course the team I’ve never heard of hadn't won against Real Madrid. Duh.

So that’s left me scarred for life, and is the reason that I would now need to know everything about both teams and hear the score from a source besides my brothers before I made a decision about whether this was true. It is also the reason that I really dislike people talking about things I don’t understand and therefore have personality trait number 2….

       2)Being interested in everything. I need to know about everything. Got an opinion? I want to know why you’ve got that opinion. I want to find people who have the opposite opinion and find out why they have it. I want to talk to as many people as possible about it and think about it for days and then I want my own opinion. I want to read and talk and listen to facts and opinions and then share mine. I mentally write blog posts every single day on various topics that I’m still deciding my opinion on that never see the light of day. My best friends regularly receive ‘you’re in this situation, what would you do?’ messages- it’s not a situation I’m in, it’s come from something I’ve been discussing and I want their honest opinion. Sometimes I’ll just ask an opinion and people will think I’m trying to argue. I’m not. The other day I asked my dad his opinion on a very controversial topic and actually his opinion totally matched mine. But when I asked him how he got to that opinion he replied, totally uncharacteristically, “I just do!” until I told him I agree. Then he gave a perfectly acceptable reason.

Anyway, the point is that I am a terrible culprit for needing to understand everything.

But recently I have begun to think that maybe there’s a fine line between avoiding being taken for a fool and actually missing out on a whole lot.

Because recently a lot of magical things have happened around me, and I’ve found myself questioning how much I believe in it…

1)      Literal magic.  Dale and I took a relatively new but very important character- Abu- to see Impossible- a West End show involving the world’s leading five magicians blowing our minds. They cut women in half, read minds, made huge objects disappear (I’m being deliberately vague in case you decide to see it) and broke all laws of gravity. I spent at least half of the show trying to work out how they were doing it.

2)      Other-worldly magic. I saw a medium. I am not wanting to discuss the merits or otherwise of seeing a medium, and any comments on my blog site or on any of my social media pages regarding an opinion on this will be immediately deleted. But I spent the whole time trying to justify everything that was said to me. When I couldn't find my phone during the break I was absolutely convinced that the medium had taken my phone and that was how she knew so much about me. I’d left it on the kitchen side in my dad’s house.

3)      Future magic. Similar to the one above, I guess. I had my cards read. This was actually last November, and whenever I’ve mentioned it to people since they've suggested all kinds of solutions as to how she could have described my job with better precision than I can. But that’s what we do, naturally. When I tell people about my experience, saying I just have no idea how she could have known so much, they want to explain it to me, for their own peace of mind. Maybe the organiser of the charity event that this was at took time out amongst all the organising and her full time job to Facebook stalk me and pass everything on to the lady before I went. Maybe she overheard my friends discussing at length what I do- because that’s what my friends do with their time. Discuss my job. Maybe she secretly asked the girl who was in there before me- who happened to be my best friend- what I do.

Or maybe we will never know how she knew. And maybe that’s okay.

After all this wondering, thinking, rethinking, questioning, discussing, writing, reading, and listening, I realised.

I don’t need to know the answer.

The performers in the magic show weren't pulling any wool over my eyes. They weren't trying to trick or hurt me. They weren't trying to keep anything from me, or make me look a fool. They were trying to make my ordinary life feel a little bit extraordinary for a day. They were trying to get me excited about something, to make me feel that there’s more to life, and that I was impressed. That my constantly working mind couldn't work this out because it was just magic. 

Mediums, card-readers. They’re not trying to make me out to be an idiot, or to get my hopes up for nothing. If it turns out that none of its true, that there is some kind of trick behind it like the London show, what harm did it do? It reassured me at a time that I clearly needed to be reassured, and gave me hope that I didn’t realise I had been desperate to be given.

Who cares how real it is?

Now this was a big revelation for me, as someone who needs to know everything. 

But there's one area that I've always embraced my desire for less knowledge and more magic. 


Much to the amusement of everyone I know that works and has worked for Disney, I hate knowing backstage secrets. I loved working for Disney and everyone that meets me says that they can totally imagine it, but actually the part of both of my jobs for Disney that I hated was knowing what’s Behind the Magic.

There are endless social media posts and blogs that claim to reveal these secrets. My best friend recently sent me a screen shot of one asking whether they were true. They weren’t. But not many people would get the truth out of me anyway, I hate hearing secrets and I hate giving them away.

And I don’t understand people’s obsession with knowing the truth behind the magic.

I recently heard that the reason that men have historically wanted to know the truth behind magic tricks is that they wanted to be able to explain things to their wives. I did say historically. I think it’s the same with Disney. People don’t want to know for themselves, they want to know so that they can tell other people, and because- as I mentioned- they're so frightened of being taken for fools. 

Remember when you were little, and believed in everything? 

What a magical time that was. And I wouldn't change it for the world. It didn't make me foolish or gullible, it made every day exciting. 

When I was a Nanny I used to come out with all sorts to make life fun for the children, and I do often wonder how old they'll be before they realise they're not true. 

I once took them on a hunt for evidence that reindeer had been around looking at the house. We found it everywhere. And now, four years later, even I still subconsciously acknowledge that random grooves in the pavement mean reindeer have been here. 

Equally I wonder whether in fifteen years time they will be adults eating their shepherd's pie thinking it will make them a cowboy. 

I began thinking about the things that I believed as a child. Of course we all had Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, square eyes from watching television and curly hair from eating our veg, but some of my nearest and dearest had some absolutely brilliant beliefs when they were little...

1) All the clever people work in London, and the capital city is full of geniuses. This friend learnt the hard way that this is not true when she witnessed a grown man walking straight into a pole at 9 in the morning. 

2) Tea is for women and coffee is for men. 

3) If you swallow a fruit seed that fruit will proceed to grow in your tummy. There was an episode of The Rugrats in which Chuckie swallowed a watermelon seed and exactly that happened. Cue fear in children everywhere. 

4) Being a policeman is definitely the best job because policemen live forever. 

5) Going to the hairdresser is only for teenagers.  

6) Power generators that have smoke coming out of the top of them are actually cloud making machines. 

7) Lorry drivers and bearded men are secretly monsters.

8) The moon really is made of cheese and there really is a little man who lives on there on his own.

9) Radio involves a series of performers singing there and then for the presenter. 

10) This last one actually isn't really a belief, but it really made me laugh when one friend messaged me saying that she thought the lyrics to the Mickey Mouse March were M-I-C Katie White M-O-U-S-E. 


So this is me, lovely readers, declaring that I am going to embrace belief. I am, for once, not going to vow to be more grown up, but am going to vow to be more childlike. I am going to stop being so scared of others making a fool of me (I do enough of that myself, no idea why I worry really), and am going to accept the magic around me at face value. 

I believe that it will make me less sceptical. 

I believe that it will make my ordinary life more extraordinary. 

And I believe that it will make me happier <3 


Monday, 13 July 2015

Be The Change

I have noticed recently that it is the height of fashion to be offended.

It seems that if everybody is not catering to your every whim, you have every right to be angry about it. To write about it. To declare to everyone that you are offended. To erase the oh-so-offensive person from your life. 

I have seen people write Facebook statuses: 'anyone who expresses the opinion that [insert opinion here] will be deleted.' 

Seriously? Is that what you do in real life? I happen to know that I disagree, on a few fairly hefty subjects, with my grandparents. Would that be good reason to tell them that I don't think that we should spend time together any more? The fact that they are all round brilliant people, that they make me laugh and they send my self-esteem through the roof is not enough if they do not one hundred per cent agree with everything that I believe in? 

I understand that it may be slightly different if it's a girl you went to Primary School with and haven't actually seen for twenty years, but still. I imagine that even if she doesn't agree with every single one of your strong opinions it doesn't mean that she's a nasty person. That she deserves to notice that you deleted her from your life without any explanation. 

I did actually have a moment of doubt myself recently. A friend put a status declaring that he was angry about gay marriage being legalised in America. I read it to my mum and her boyfriend, shocked and horrified. Not so much that he had a different opinion from me, but that he had felt a need to post it at the height of the majority's excitement. I told my mum and her boyfriend that I wasn't sure what to do about it. They said, quite rightly, do nothing. 

I sat and thought about it. Of course. I think that if I had an opinion that well and truly went against the majority I probably wouldn't choose that moment to share it. But that doesn't mean that I have to do anything about his opinion. I read his reasons, I thought about them, I hugely disagreed with them. 

And then I accepted it. 

It's okay that we have different opinions. Because a lot of the time, the rest of the things that he posts make me smile. He's a nice person. We're not good friends, I don't see him ever, and will never see him again. (He was a random add after an evening sat next to each other in the library in 2010. We all have them.) But actually the thought of not following his life any more- not hearing about his adventures and knowing what he's doing now, made me feel quite sad. 

I've read a lot of posts that say that Facebook stops us communicating in  real life. There is always- without exception- somebody that writes on Father's Day- 'don't do your dad a Facebook status this year- tell him in real life.' 

Believe it or not- I'd say most people do both. 

In my house, at least, we don't all search for old photos, think carefully about what we want to say to the world about our dad, post it for everyone to see, and then sit with him at lunch and fail to acknowledge the special day. He does still, of course, get a card and a present and a lunch and a hug. Facebook is just an extra way to celebrate.

Equally, I don't believe that Facebook stops us communicating in real life to old friends, either. 

If I didn't have Facebook there's no way I would still be in  contact with that random lad that I met in the library five years ago. I probably wouldn't be in contact with people that I lived with for four months in France. I wouldn't know what my closest friends from university were doing- I know that, because some of them don't have Facebook and I haven't spoken to them for five years. 

I appreciate that maybe pre-internet we would have written letters, or used the home phone to call them. But since university I have lived in eleven different cities. I have had close friends in every one of those cities. If I had to phone and write letters to keep up with all of them I wouldn't be able to hold down a full time job. 

And actually I tend to care about everyone I meet. If it were up to me I would speak to everyone that I've ever met every day. I love that I can keep up with everyone's weddings and babies, their new jobs and travels- it is amazing that I know that my old neighbour's niece was born last week. 

I have, desperately sadly, also managed to offend people with my endlessly happy and positive blog posts. There are only a couple of incidents of this- as far as I know- but they were so unintended I cannot even begin to explain. 

I speak to people almost every day that are offended by what I do as a job. Last year, when I was working at The Lion King, somebody told me that they thought that my job was despicable, disgustingly unethical. The next day I was at a wedding and mentioned that this had happened. You can imagine the reaction of the make up artist when my answer to 'oh my goodness, what on earth do you do?!' was 'work in a Disney merchandise shop.' 

In my current job people are offended because I don't teach French to adults, which is really what they need and it's highly inconvenient that that's not what I do. I'd make a killing if I did decide to do that because that's what's needed round here. 

(I wouldn't, because I can't speak French. It would be like when Joey from Friends tries to teach dance.) 

Actually what I find offensive is that everybody thinks that their opinion is necessary. 

I believe that the internet has given us all a false sense of importance. My mum's opinion on what I do for a job means the whole world to me. If she was disgusted with me then ohmygoodness I just wouldn't be doing it. That woman that approached me at The Lion King to tell me she thought my job was disgusting really didn't need to tell me that. Why does she think I would care about her opinion? Does she think I would go and hand my notice in there and then because of her opinion? I'm sure her opinion is valued somewhere in her world. At her own job. With her own family. But not for me. Especially as she didn't even have a ticket. She had come in to the theatre precisely to tell me her opinion on selling merchandise. I genuinely don't care what she thinks, and I didn't go and hand in my  notice. 

But it doesn't mean that I didn't go and cry on my break, and then proceed to think about it for the next fifteen months. 

So all she succeeded in doing was ruining my day. 

Same as these outrageous trolls on the internet. I can't even believe that they exist. Have you ever seen the feature on Jimmy Kimmel Live where he has celebrities read out the nasty tweets that they have received? The feature itself is brilliant in that it is a reminder that what is typed into the keyboard is received by an actual human being, and it shows how ridiculous and unfounded these mean messages are, but the fact that it can exist is just the most outrageous thing I've ever heard. 

Does the middle aged woman from Texas really think that Gwyneth Paltrow cares about her opinion on her nose? Does the teenager from New York think that Lena Dunham cares what he thinks of her body? 

Because neither of them actually care about those individuals' opinions. But I imagine they were fairly hurt that somebody had taken the time to write and send them. 

Somebody wrote a nasty message on one of my blog posts once. Which I know comes with the territory, and is something that I had been ready for. This person was a friend of a friend, clearly unhinged, has a bit of a reputation, not somebody that I will ever meet. 

But it doesn't mean that I wasn't gutted. 

It seems to me that because everybody thinks that they are entitled to an opinion on everything, even things they know nothing about, even things that nobody cares for their thoughts on, nastiness is being accepted just now. 

It's something to expect if you're out there, doing something, trying to make a difference, trying your best. 

I absolutely disagree.  I think if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. 

There's the age old saying that you shouldn't judge a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes. At the moment it's been rewritten and is being shared left, right and centre on the internet using far more dramatic language along the lines of: you have no idea of the battles I'm facing, I use a smile to cover it but it's the people who smile the most that are hiding the biggest problems. Something like that. 

I fear that even that now, is being shared as a way of saying 'I'm far worse off than you, just consider that when you're with me, won't you?' 

I think that what we need to remember is that we are all facing battles that others don't know about. Every single one of us. So instead of harping on about the battles that we are facing, perhaps we ought to be thinking that with every single person that we meet. 

Maybe we didn't get the best waitress service today because she had horrendous news on her way into work. Maybe that driver didn't say thank you when you let him out because he's just driven away from his marriage. Maybe you haven't heard from that friend for a while because they're under so much stress at work. 

This is me telling the world that I am trying my best. I am trying to be the best friend, sister, daughter, colleague, granddaughter, employee, auntie and girlfriend that I can be. I'm trying to keep everyone happy. 

Chances are I am thinking of you every day. Every time I sneeze I think of the girl from secondary school who used to say 'bless-you-me' and then laugh her head off. I've been meaning to message her for ages to see how she is but never actually get round to it. Every time we have a child in work with the same name as your child, I think of you. And I think that I must message you to see how he's getting on, but then I get caught up in life and never quite get round to it. Almost every day I remember that it's the birthday of somebody I know- I have a weird memory for birthdays- but once again the year has gone by and I forgot to ask for their latest address, so it's just another online greeting for them. 

I've spoken to a lot of people about this lately. The pressure of being everything to everyone when you have so many people in your life- and everyone finds it hard.  My dad told me that it's part of being an adult. He has friends that he's desperate to see, but the time just goes. My best friends listed the people that they wish that they could find the time to see, call, message. 

But I wanted you to know. I wanted you to know that we all feel the pressure to be wonderful to everyone, to never snap, never forget to send a card, to be the thoughtful one, the helpful one, the kind one. To always see everything from everyone's point of view. And that we are all doing our best. 

So stop worrying so much.

Accept that other people are doing their best too- try not to get frustrated if you don't hear from them the second that your baby is born: they've got their own stuff to deal with. Don't complain the second something doesn't go your way- the person behind it is spinning a lot of plates, and it was yours that fell this time. That's not your fault but neither is it really theirs. Don't be offended if somebody doesn't have the same opinion as you- it's okay to disagree and move on. Even from the big things. Don't voice your opinion unless it's somehow going to make a positive impact. We don't need any more negativity just now. I recently saw a friend's status (distant friend- wouldn't be in touch were it not for the internet) that said 'be the change.' I thought it was brilliant. That doesn't mean end wars, or give up your job and go and volunteer, it means be nice. Think about how you're going to affect people with your actions. Be empathetic. Try and understand. And for goodness sake don't delete people from your life because you didn't understand them. What a huge loss for both of you. 

And remember that your best is enough. 

You're doing brilliantly.  

At least I think so. 

Even I don't quite get round to telling you often enough. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow...

It's early summer 2005.

I've finished my GCSEs, I've got the whole summer stretching in front of me, and I'm standing in the sunshine with two of my favourite people. 

My best friend, Harriett, and my prom date, James. 

My boyfriend is also there (yes, I had a boyfriend and a prom date), and so is Harriett's. 
I'm wearing a pale pink, floor length dress that doesn't quite fit properly, and my hair has been twisted into all kinds of shapes in a pile on top of my head. 

We are at our year eleven prom. 

Imagining our reunion. 

I had the clearest picture in my head. 

We'd look more or less as we do now- except we'd be wearing trouser suits (because that's what people as old as twenty six do), and we'd be sipping wine instead of apple juice. I'd have my hair done in the amazing bun style that my mum had at a posh charity dinner a few years before. 

Harriett and I would obviously still be best friends, so we'd go together. One of our husbands would probably drop us off, and the other pick us up.

It would be in the school hall, in a very similar set up to the prom. 

We'd all have name stickers on, and would stand around bopping in that adult way, chatting about our spouses and kids and the good old days of school. 

 I would be a hugely successful events planner by then, and would have organised the whole thing myself. People would keep complimenting me on its huge success, and on how much more elegant and beautiful I had become since school. 

Fast forward ten years. 

I'm alone in my little red Ka, pulling in to a pub car park. 

I'm wearing leggings, shorts, and a plain top, my hair is in a pony tail, and I'm about to walk into my ten year reunion. 

I walk in. 

Which I think is a very brave thing to do on my own. 

There are two girls just inside the door way. I don't recognise them at all, but they're around my age and very dressed up. They both look beautiful. One of them has a huge bun piled on top of her head, and the other is wearing a maxi dress. 

Oh God. 

I look like I just wandered out of work. 

I did just wander out of work. 

(Actually I did get changed. I don't wear leggings and shorts to work.) 

Still, I looked...plain. 
I take a deep breath and walk right into the pub, secretly hoping I'll find the wedding party that the beautiful girls wandered out of. 

No wedding party. No other beautifully dressed people. Nobody I recognise. 

I remind myself that they haven't closed the pub down for the reunion- if I don't see anybody I know I can just pretend I'm meeting a friend. Yes. If I don't see anybody I know I'll do an elaborate mime with my phone to demonstrate to everybody that my friend has just text me telling me to meet her in a different pub. 

I can be an excellent actress when I need to be. 

I'm about to pull my phone out of my bag when the outrageously tall man standing at the bar turns around, calls my name, and scoops me up into his arms. 

It's Prom Date James. 

The last time I saw him he was a tiny bit taller than me. had spiky brown hair and a pale pink tie to match my dress. 

Now he's at least nine foot tall (he's insisting that he's 6.3 but I'm sure that's not true), has those huge, fashion glasses, and a successful career as a building surveyor. Oh, and he's no longer James. He's now Jimmy. 

Next I saw Andrew (now Andy) and Bobby (still Bobby), who- like James- went to the same Primary and Secondary school as me. 

Both tell me that I haven't changed since Mrs Richards' class. (She taught us in Reception.) 

"Literally has barely even grown since we were five- she's so tiny!" somebody voices behind me. 

"She actually might have shrunk," another adds. 

Nothing has changed. I may as well be standing beside my locker getting my things together for Spanish. 

Only one thing is missing. 


If I had left school knowing that seeing Harriett again in ten years would be a treat rather than the norm, I doubt I ever would have left. She was my best friend in the entire world. I hug her super tight, and note- somewhat stupidly- that she smells exactly the same as she did in 2005. 

We sit in a group and begin catching up when the glamorous girls from earlier appear and join in with the group beside us. So they are part of the reunion. 

"I don't remember them at all. They both look gorgeous. I thought I'd got the dress code totally wrong when I saw them looking so beautiful."

"I don't like girls with buns," Jimmy says, grinning. "And what do you mean they look gorgeous? You gay now?" 

Jimmy has reverted back to being James. We've all reverted back to being sixteen. I'm sure he doesn't say things like that in front of his surveyor pals. 

I thought that I had school at the forefront of my mind a lot of the time. I want to be a teacher, I work with children, I visit schools at least once if not twice a week, and I  have a stepbrother and sister who are both still there, but somehow- I realise as the conversation develops-  I've forgotten so much about school life...

1) The teachers. 

I do think of some of my teachers every now and then. My mum loves to tell the story of the art teacher who threw my- and only my- clay pot in the bin, saying it 'would be a waste of the kiln.' 

(Just to be clear my mum tells it a lot because she's still angry, not because she agrees that my was worth nothing.)

I rarely think about these though....

  • The teacher that only had one arm. I was terrified of being around her. Not because I was worried in any way that she would hurt me or was scary, but because I was convinced that one day I was going to accidentally shout 'you've only got one arm' at the sight of her and be expelled forever. 
  • The time my tutor group laid the lockers on their side and put them across the classroom door whilst my tutor was in there, then danced about waving at and taunting him.
  • The time the tiny, evil PE teacher was shouting a normally very well behaved girl (me) who was not taking it seriously enough. She was marching toward the girl as she humiliatingly shouted at her in front of everyone. The teacher- too focused on the girl to notice- walked straight into a volleyball net and got completely caught up in it and had to abandon her shouting. I have never laughed so much in my life. Especially not in front of a teacher. 
  • When we used to (and by we I genuinely mean in no terms me) knock on the underside of our tables so that the teacher would go out into the corridor to find out what was going on. 
2) The rumours...

  • If you stare at her fake arm too long she'll hit you with it. 

  • The teacher who makes the girls stand on chairs whilst he walks around looking up their skirts at their underwear. (Nobody you knew was ever made to do that but a friend of a friend was so it's definitely true.) 

  • The PE teachers that were actually a lesbian couple. 

  • The French teacher that was having an affair with the Physics teacher. It was definitely true because the cleaner was your friends' mum's friend and she had caught them in the cupboard after school one Thursday evening. (I shouldn't joke about this one because I'm quite sure this really did happen once.) 

  • The teacher that had a nervous breakdown because 8F hid her shoes in the drama cupboard. 
(I should make it clear at this moment that I do not want to be a teacher in a secondary school.) 

3) The trends...

  • Trouser skirts. You weren't cool unless you were wearing both trousers and a skirt. Why?
  • Converse trainers. More specifically in my school (not sure if this was a nationwide trend)- different coloured converse with different coloured laces. I used to wear one lime green one with pink laces, and one bright pink one with white laces. I was so cool. 
  • MSN messenger. Spending all day at school thinking of the most poignant song lyrics to put in the top bar to let him know how you felt. aNd  tHeN WrItInG tHeM LiKe ThIs. Waiting all evening for him to appear online, playing it cool for a few minutes to see if he'll say hey first need to get off the internet so that your mum can make a phone call. Your whole life is ruined. 
  • Nokia 3310. It could only hold seven messages and played havoc with those of us too sentimental to delete. Harriett reminds me at the reunion that I used to cover my eyes and tell her to delete them for me. 
          "Okay, it's from Jake and it says he couldn't believe what happened in The OC either." 

         "Oh nooo, not that one, don't delete that one. Fine. Do it. Just don't let me look." 

  • Louise Rennison books. I used to cry with laughter on the beach on my summer holidays then spend the whole first term of school quoting them at Harriett. 
  • Limewire. You could almost instantly listen to your new favourite song. When the internet was fast enough. And nobody else needed the computer. And you could find it among the thousands of options. It was brilliant until my dad's friend told him he could get arrested if I kept using it. 
  • Combat trousers with tassels. I had them in green and pink, and had net vest tops in the same colour. They were my non-uniform day outfit of choice three years in a row. 
I spent the whole of my school life being told that "school is the best time of your life," and to "make the most of it, life will never be like this again." 

So I did. I soaked up every second. Enjoyed all of it. Immersed myself in everything- including the desperate dramas of secondary school like the fact that Tom- the boy who looked just like Calvin from S Club Juniors and who I was so certain I would marry- saw me in the card aisle in Asda with my mum and my life was OVER. Like the fact that my dad confiscated my phone phone for one WHOLE night and I may as well consign myself to a life alone there and then because WHAT WAS THE POINT ANYMORE?! I stressed outrageously about my year nine options. I- stupidly- took my teachers seriously when they told me my options would determine the rest of my life. I worked bloody hard. I entered the school talent show. I did all my homework to exam standard- even Art which I hated and was horrendous at. And I made sure I appreciated every second of it because it would never get better than this. 

One of my absolute favourite songwriters- John Mayer- wrote a brilliant song about school that says "they love to tell you stay inside the lines, but something's better on the other side."

Who knew?! 

College was even better than school. University was even better than that. 

My first three jobs were better still. 

Then I moved to Walt Disney World. 

When that happened I really did think that life would never get better. 

Then I met Dale. Jack was born. I discovered that Reese's peanut butter cups do exist in the UK. 

Still, I'm delighted that I was told that life would never get better than school. It's instilled in me the ability to appreciate every second: to be grateful, always.

As I sit with James, Bobby, Andrew and Harriett, laughing at old times, and catching up on everyone's current lives, something nothing short of profound hits me. 

This is the real world they told us about. 

All those years spent at school being told "you won't get away with that in the real world", "you're going to have a shock when you get into the real world," and you wait until you get into the real world."

Guess what? We're all here, and we're all okay. 

My memory flicks back over the past few months. 

I'm at Pumbaa's house. It's about 10pm. We're sitting on the sofa eating pizza and Haribo, having just said goodnight to her husband. 

Suddenly, he bursts back into the room. 

"You evil, evil woman."

Pumbaa smirks. 

"I'm just making the girls' teas."

"I don't care!" He replies, half angry, half trying not to laugh. "Go upstairs and fix it now. I can't do it myself. I'll make their teas." 

They both start laughing, as they play fight in an attempt to be the one to make the tea. 

Not the one to put the sheets on the bed. 

This is the real world. Play fighting with your husband about who does the awful job- the job that never stops being awful- of making up the bed. 

I'm at Minnie Mouse's house. She's more or less just given birth. (A few days, give or take.) Pumbaa's husband looks around at Minnie, her husband, his own wife and me. 

"Feels a bit weird having a baby with us and no adults." 
This is the real world. Being twenty six. Feeling sixteen. 

The next line of that genius song by John Mayer pops into my head. 

"I wanna run through the halls in my high school, I wanna scream at the top of my lungs. I just found out there's no such thing as the real world. Just a lie you have to rise above."

I've been listening to that song for at least ten years. And it finally makes sense. 

As I kiss these brilliant adults goodbye, vowing not to leave it until 2025 to meet up again, the final lines of the song fill my head...

"I just can't wait 'til my ten year reunion, I wanna bust down the double doors. And when I stand on these tables before you, you will know what all this time was for..."