Sunday, 15 June 2014

We're All Mad Here

At around the age of 14 I began to notice that a lot of people around me liked to refer to themselves as different. 

"I am not normal", they'd giggle after making a funny face for a camera. They'd have their MSN messenger status as "nOt YoUr AvErAgE gIrL", and they'd say "I know I'm crazy but I just don't care" approximately five hundred times a day.

In my early teens I did not understand this at all. 

Why would you not want to be normal?

Surely if you consider what you're doing to be not normal then it isn't natural for you to be doing it?

I remember looking at one of these girls once and thinking: but you are normal. Apart from the whole consistently referring to yourself as weird thing, you are normal. 

She was a fourteen year old girl. She liked boys, disliked Maths, argued with her sister, watched Friends, moaned about our Food Tech teacher and spent far too much time playing The Sims.

In a well respected home counties secondary school in 2003 that was fairly average.

I never went through that phase. I always wanted to be normal and I am, quite frankly, the most normal person I have ever met.

Instead, I went through a (relatively long) phase of pretending to like things that I didn't really like in order to be the person I quite fancied being.

I know that the world tells us to "be who we want to be" and "reinvent" ourselves if we're not happy but trying to be something that isn't natural to you is exhausting. And actually not that fun.

I used to rave that I loved spicy food. I would order spicy food when we were out, say yes if it was offered at a friend's house, take the spiciest things at the buffet....and suffer with my mouth on fire and all my taste buds diminished for the rest of the evening.

All because Polly from the film Along Came Polly loved spicy food and I thought that if I wanted to have an exciting life and travel like she did, I would need to like ridiculously hot dishes. I vaguely remember seeing it as some kind of metaphor for life as well...as though people who order a korma from the local takeaway sit inside bored and alone all day every day whereas those that like a vindaloo go sky diving and bungee jump in their spare time.

I also listened to what I honestly think is really boring music, whilst wearing dodgy clothes, too much eyeliner and pretending to be passionate about musicians who died before I was born in an attempt to be a grunger because that's what my first boyfriend was.

(I am aware that I've probably offended a lot of people with that last sentence. I didn't find the music boring as background music at home but a whole concert of it? Talking about it all day and night and nothing else?)

I was actually really happy during this time- I loved pretending to love the music and fitting in with a specific group of people, dressing up so that it would be known that I was one of them as soon as I walked in.

But I couldn't have kept it up any longer because it wasn't me. 

Since then I've been through my fair share of denial/pretending phases (Pendulum and Family Guy to name a couple) but I like to think that I'm an open book now, and that I'm comfortable enough with myself to be honest.

Now I'm going through a new phase.

A phase which my mum, 22 years my senior (sorry mum) tells me she's still going through....

The One Day phase.

I look at other people and think one day I'll be like that. When in fact, chances are I won't. I'll grow older and wiser. I'll gain experiences and memories that will change me forever. Some of my personality traits will grow even more prominent, whilst others will disappear altogether.

 But I will never be the lady who has immaculate, fresh-looking lipgloss every single second of the day. I will never be the girl who manages to glide gracefully through a door without pushing right next to the Pull sign first. I'll always be the one that manages to throw my drink down myself and randomly trip over nothing.

I'm not putting myself down- I know I will also never ignore a street charity fundraiser, I'll never take my bad day out on a stranger and I'll always have plenty of hand sanitiser with me...

Anyway, recently I've caught myself thinking it more and more- when will I be like that? So I thought I'd share with you the various personality traits that the voice inside my head is certain I will develop some time soon....

1. Immaculate Grooming

On Monday I went to the hairdresser. When I told her I wanted my fringe cut back in (such a relief to not have to sound ridiculous saying bangs in my Essex accent, by the way) she replied "okay, fine or heavy?"

Um...what now? After staring at her blankly for a few seconds then listening to her repeat it three times I eventually understood that she was asking how thick I wanted my fringe to be. I didn't really have an opinion.

She then went on to ask me where exactly my parting is supposed to be? I didn't really know. It just falls where it falls normally.

"O...kay. And um..." she ran her fingers through my hair and looked at the ends, "when exactly did you last have your hair cut? We do recommend every six weeks."

I nodded and mumbled something about it having been slightly longer than six weeks.

I always feel stupid in the hairdressers. I never know what they're asking and even when I understand I never know the answers about my own hair. Does anyone take that much notice of their own hair? Turns out I don't.

I feel exactly the same about waxing, nails and fake tan.

When am I going to have a routine for this stuff? 

2. Playing by the rules

There's a part in Notting Hill in which Julia Roberts suggests going into a locked communal garden at night, and Hugh Grant explains to her that they can't because only the people who live around the edges are allowed in. When she smirks and asks him "you abide by rules like that?" He replies "heck, no. Other people do. But not me, I just do what I want."

I feel like Hugh Grant at that moment sums me up.

I so badly want to not care, to break the rules and deal with the consequences. It would be so much cooler, and so much easier- less worrying- to be like that. But I'm not. It's not in Hugh's (well, the character's) nature to be like that and it's not in mine.

I like to think that One Day I'll be the kind of care-free person that does whatever she likes, that doesn't care what other people think and that will stand up for herself if she gets caught and explain her actions.

I don't think I will ever be like that. However stupid the rule, however ridiculous the request, even if everybody else is breaking it, if it is a rule I will stick to it. I will explain to everyone around me why I think it's stupid and why I think it should be changed then I'll smile sweetly at whoever's come up with the ridiculous thing and do as I'm told.

When will I stop caring about the rules and just do what I think makes sense? 

3. Fashion.

I like shopping. Really, I do. Sometimes I pop into New Look on the way home and buy a new skirt, or a pair of shoes.

I get excited the first time I wear them and I do enjoy looking nice but...I feel like I don't necessarily care as much as a lot of the people around me.

I was once with a friend who, when discussing Pandora bracelets, said that she couldn't wear them because her style is "more chunky necklaces and dainty bracelets." As soon as she said it I realised she was right- she does always wear chunky necklaces and dainty bracelets.

What do I always wear?

I also have two gorgeous friends who launched their own clothing line and were featured on ASOS as a "hot couple we love." In an interview they were asked to describe each other's style. They used fashionable sounding words that made their wardrobes- and somehow their  lives- seem amazing. I tried to imagine me and Dale doing an interview like that and giggled. Later I showed Dale the interview and mentioned that we could never do an interview like that. At this Dale began to describe his own style using equally cool words.

It's not that I don't care how I look- I have only ever met one person in my entire life who genuinely doesn't care how he looks and he, fortunately, is naturally absolutely gorgeous, brimming with a special kind of self confidence and- I believe- totally oblivious to the fact that he really possesses this rare quality.

Obviously I care, just in a slightly different, more casual and comfortable way...

When am I going to know- and care about- my style? 

4. The Little Things

I am generally able to deal with the big things in life. I've never had any trouble keeping a job, house or boyfriend, I've never particularly fallen out with a friend or got myself into huge debt (unless you count my student loan which nobody does...do they?), but for some reason I just can't cope with the little things.

I spent my time clothes shopping last Tuesday attempting to word this in a way that doesn't make me sound like a social outcast.

I am an awkward person. I am. But when I say I'm an awkward person it immediately conjures a picture of a socially awkward, shy/rude, not-particularly-good-with-people, wears-dodgy-glasses-and-braces-to-hold-up-plaid-skirt kind of girl, don't you think?

Which I like to think I'm not.

I like to think I'm a chatty, sociable, easy-to-get-to-know, nice person.

I tried to think of a sensible way that I could word this as I stood waiting for a changing room in Forever 21. Just as I began to fear writer's block a lady came out with an arm full of clothes, strolled right up to me and gave me the majority of them saying "I'm just going to keep these ones, thanks."

She thought I worked there.

One Day, this will only happen to me in top class designer shops and One Day I will know the perfect actions in this situation and promptly deal with it accordingly.

The current me, however, the Rebecca that was in Forever 21 that day, responded "Lovely, thank you. And have you got your changing room number? Perfect, thanks. Enjoy the rest of your day", then stood like an idiot with an arm full of too-large clothes and a number but unable to go into the now empty changing room without being seen by a member of staff for fear of being accused of stealing.

Another excellent example of the kind of awkwardness I am referring to happened to me on Wednesday....

I was having a bad day. I didn't feel too wonderful and I just wanted to get home when a lady at the train station was ridiculously rude and really upset me. So I stormed home, planning all of the things I would say to her next time I saw her, I put my key in the lock and...someone opened it.

My housemate's friend?

"Hello!" I put on a false cheery voice, "how are you?"

Her face darkened.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Um..." my smile faltered. "Have I come to the wrong flat...?" I looked towards the stairs. Mine is on the middle floor- the only floor with stairs going up and down. There were stairs going up and down. 

"No I haven't...I am at the right flat."

"No. No you're not."

"I'm not?"

"You. Do. Not. Live. Here."

"Oh...okay...I'm really sorry. I'm having a bad day actually, I don't feel well and I was really angry and I guess I...I...well I obviously wasn't concentrating walking...um...walking up the stairs. I'm sorry. I'm Rebecca, by the way. Sorry. Bye."

Turns out there's more than one floor with stairs going both ways.

When am I going to stop being so awkward and be a smooth-talking adult? 


5. Presentation.

Yesterday I was thinking about the other ways I'm awkward. I could think of quite a few examples of incidents but I couldn't think of a way to link them all together when....

 I looked down to see that I had cous cous in my hair.

And I realised: my self-presentation. My ability to make the effort I make getting ready in the morning last past lunch....

There are women who always look like they have just stepped straight out of a tumble dryer. Their clothes always look just washed and ironed, their hair and makeup look freshly perfected, their handbags look as though they've just been plucked from the designer shelf and their nails just manicured- I see and marvel at them every day as they leave the theatre looking immaculate, despite having just watched the emotional rollercoaster that is The Lion King. 

I step out of the shower, moisturise, apply my makeup, dry my hair, step into my freshly laundered clothes and paint my nails. I take a sip of my drink- oh no! I was holding it in a weird way because of my wet nails and I've poured it down my top. Now it's gone down the wrong hole and I'm choking. Oh no, I'm really choking. I drink some more but where I'm choking I abandon the weird hold of the cup and smudge all my nails. My makeup goes streaming down my face as I choke and now the tears have dried around my eyes making them all tight and puffy. I remove the nail varnish and attempt to salvage the mascara but now my eyelashes are all stuck together where they got wet....

And then I leave the house.

I've always known this about myself and I do always vow to stop being like that but I don't mean to do it. It just happens.

I have always got a stain on me. Whether it's coffee, juice, a leaked pen, cous cous, ketchup or chocolate I am always covered in something. I hadn't thought much about this for ages until last week I spent a whole afternoon with someone I don't often spend long periods of time with.

In his presence I spilt Pimms all down myself (I was trying to dig out the fruit- such a classy girl), splattered curry all up my jumper (missing everyone else) and threw yoghurt dressing all over the table- seeing myself through his eyes reminded me that One Day I need to change.

I have endless embarrassing (and some really funny) stories about inappropriately throwing food or drink in public but for some reason insist that one day it's going to end and I'm going to be a perfectly presented lady at all times.

When is that going to be? 

6. Food.

Once, a few years ago, one of my friends said they ate half an Easter egg in one go! She said in a way that implied absolute scandal- imagine being so greedy as to eat half an Easter egg in one go?!

All my friends giggled at the hilarity and sheer cheek of it all...except me.

This was my first year at uni and I guess I had never discussed Easter Egg eating habits with anyone outside of my family before but in my house it is absolutely acceptable, expected even, to eat a whole one in one go. Sweets and all. For breakfast. A week before Good Friday.

I had no idea people ate them in halves- or even smaller parts than that?!

I remember Happy once telling me about a friend who used to eat a Matchmaker- you know those minty sticks- a day, and make the packet last a ridiculous length of time...I was 15 and doing my work experience and marveled that anyone like that could exist.

Now, though, I am convinced that that one will day be me. One day, I will eat half a twix, wrap up the other half and save it for tomorrow. One day, I will be able to buy a box of six cherry bakewells and make them last six days. One day, I will be able to buy ice cream, take it home and put it straight in the freezer (instead of finding a spoon and digging in before the front door's even shut behind me), and leave it there until after my dinner, maybe even forgetting about it for a couple of weeks....

I am so, so certain that this will one day be me, that for the moment I don't feel so bad continuing to eat these things in bulk...I know I'll make up for it in the future.

When am I going to start being sensible with sweets? 

7. Standing Up For Myself

This is the trait that I think about the most. This is the one that I'm most excited about discovering inside myself. I have actually tried working on this one because I really do want it to become a part of me but it's not going that well just yet....

I know when I'm being taken advantage of. I know when I am being treated in a way that I do not deserve and I have enough self-confidence to know that I deserve better. When this happens, I calmly but firmly explain why this behaviour is not good enough, what needs to change for it to be acceptable and that they can try again when they've decided to have some respect. In my head.

In my head I have all the right words, the right phrases and the right tone.  In reality, my voice goes unreasonably high and shaky, my eyes leak and my mouth does this weird down-turning thing. I cry. I am a crier, always have been and it's looking as though I always will be.

I don't want to be, I really, really don't, but my body lets me down every time.

One Day I will learn to control my emotions and stand up for myself.

When? 

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that none of these things (sadly) comes naturally to me, so I'm not sure that any of these will ever actually find their way into my life. It might be time to make peace with the fact that these- along with my life as a popstar- may never come to fruition. It's just another phase.

And I've noticed recently that as I've slipped into my One Day phase, others around me appear to have returned to the crazy phase. I'm not sure whether it did disappear for a while or whether I just stopped noticing it, but I'm seeing it more and more.

When I first arrived home from America I went to a job interview which involved sitting in a circle around a pile of plush toys. As we sat down the girls around me began to giggle "oh my goodness, I'm such a child, I just want to play with them. Aren't I mad?"

"Ha, we're terrible, aren't we?" another replied, looking down at the toys.

"Oh my goodness this is so embarrassing, but I have actually thought about buying a Woody toy from the Disney Store," a third girl added.

Um...first of all, of course you want to play with them- they're toys! That's what they're for! Haven't you ever seen dads with lego, and Grandads with train sets? We're human, we want to play with toys. Second of all, my bed has eight plush toys on it and I don't think I'm crazy at all. Stop calling yourself crazy.

I shared this story with the girls I now work with at The Lion King. They had the same reaction as me. On discussing it, one of them suggested that people exaggerate that kind of thing and refer to themselves as crazy because they want to be different. They want to be special. 

We all have our quirks, but we tend to be aware that they're weird. Whilst everyone else reaches for chips when they're drunk, I reach for banana and marmite on toast. I know it's weird, but I also know that everyone has their weird things, which makes it not that weird...does that make sense? One of my friends eats whole balls of mozzarella like apples. Another sneaks up behind people making cricket noises. My little brother pronounces the letter r weirdly behind closed doors- he doesn't have a speech impediment, he just thinks it's hilarious. Another friend makes chocolate digestives out of plain biscuits and nutella. My mum has a freakish little toe and loves Monkey World to a ridiculous level (her friends think it's hilarious that she regularly wears her MW t shirt despite the fact she doesn't work there). My brother's girlfriend drives forwards onto our drive whilst everyone else reverses. Madame Adelaide loves her cat more than I believe she could ever love a child. When Minnie Mouse moved house she had a box the same size as my case for an entire year in America labelled "Nail Stuff", and Pumbaa and her fiance slept in separate beds on their holiday rather than pushing the two singles together.

We're all so different that we can't compete with each other.

Which makes us all the same really.

So let's stop competing. Let's stop trying to be crazier, weirder, wilder, zanier. Stop trying to 'not be normal', and just be who it comes naturally to you to be- that's bound to be strange to someone.

I am surrounded by amazing people who are weird and wonderful and their own brand of normal every single day and they are so loved for what they are.

I love being normal, and now that I've made my peace with mild food and cheesy music hope to go on to embrace the slightly awkward, easily-walked-over, ketchup-and-coffee-covered, chocolate-worshipping girl that it looks like I'm stuck with until that One Day comes.

Luckily for me my wonderland is full of equally normal, real, loveable, interesting-food-eating, quirky-habit-fulfilling, funny-idea-voicing individuals for me to share my adventure with: and so is yours.

Because we're all the same. 

We're all mad here. 



Friday, 9 May 2014

Just a little change...

Since beginning my job in London six weeks ago sleeping in my own bed has become an increasingly rare occurrence. Between tube strikes, dodgy train times, Chip moving to Magaluf (and therefore being unable to drive me anywhere) and the other members of my family having their own social lives, I have found getting home from work safely every night of the week to be impossible.

It's a nightmare.

I now carry a bag of underwear, makeup remover, toothbrush, toothpaste, pyjamas and deodorant with me all the time, and have paid Boots an absolute fortune in replacement makeup as I continue to leave it at various homes and hotels in and around London.

Whilst this has been a huge pain- and it has- I am a very independent person and hate having to rely on others and be a nuisance to them, particularly when there is not much I can do to help them in return- it has become something of an adventure.

Each one of these adventures has led me to think about change...change in my own life, change in other people, and change in the world in general....

1. Hudson Hornet

Thanks to a combination of the events listed above, this time last week I found myself knocking on the front door of a very old friend. Hudson Hornet was my boyfriend between the ages of sixteen and nineteen and, although it was an easy, happy, friendly break up, until the tube strikes brought my life to a halt last Tuesday we had not seen each other in almost six years.

It was surreal.

Not because it was weird, or because we felt like strangers, or like we were still a couple. We didn't slip back into our old ways or struggle to find things to talk about.

It was surreal because it was like no time had passed at all- but we were suddenly grown ups.

And we've changed.

I didn't realise I had changed. In fact, I would go as far as to say I almost prided myself on the fact that I haven't changed.

I don't think I've changed hugely. My manner and nature and general personality haven't particularly changed since I was about 2 really.

But little parts of me that matter more than I had ever considered are different from when I was 19, and sitting there, on Hudson Hornet's sofa at 2am on a Tuesday almost six years on from when we had last seen each other, those tiny changes became more apparent than ever.

I should have known.

I actually was given a huge hint that those little things had changed last year when I was in America- and the suggestion did throw me at the time before I brushed it aside and didn't give it another thought.

I was always Monica from Friends.

Always.

From when I was about 14 I was compared to her.

I was bossy, insanely tidy, compulsively organised, slightly controlling, amazingly self disciplined and had a ridiculous amount of energy at all times.

Then last year we were discussing which Friends character each person in the group was and someone casually commented 'Rebecca's obviously Rachel', before everyone murmured in agreement as though it was so obvious it didn't need discussing and moved on to the next person.

When did I become Rachel?

I mentioned it to my mum as a weird thing for everyone to say then moved on and didn't really think about it again.

Until I was sitting on Hudson's sofa.

He asked me what time I started work on Wednesday morning.

"Mm well I thought I started at 11 but thinking about it nobody ever starts at 11...must be 11.15 or 11.30 maybe. It's written in my diary but I'm not sure which of my bags it's in...I'll check in a minute..."

Hudson looked at me open-mouthed and shook his head, before muttering "well you've still got a diary, I suppose that's something..."

I should probably mention that in the six years we've been apart Hudson has earned a degree and built himself an extremely successful career in banking and is now living in a very posh flat in a trendy area of London and offered to 'leave the keys with the concierge' if I needed to get in during the day.

All of which perhaps magnified the lack of organisation and order in my life.

He asked me what I do when I get to work so early.

I sit in coffee shops and write.

"Oh no you're one of those." 

"One of what?" I brushed my wavy-because-I-slept-in-plaits hair out of my eyes and looked at him indignantly.

Suddenly I felt like another of Jennifer Aniston's characters- the one in Along Came Polly. 

He caught me up on six years of building a steady, successful life in London and I told him about my six years of bouncing around the planet; of my adventures around the world.

He said things like "It's a bank holiday in most of Europe tomorrow so I'm manning ten desks on my own. Nightmare!" whilst I nodded knowingly and shared my own nightmare stories like "I was massively held up today because the elephant's trunk broke so I chatted to its leg while Zazu decided which merchandise he would buy if he were a guest."

I shook my head in amazement. Why was the seventeen year old boy that answered to the wrong name to my Grandad for two and a half years because he was too scared to correct him manning desks for banks across Europe?

He looked at me with equal confusion.

Why was the girl who had named her children by the age of seven and treated her degree like it would change the universe wandering around the world's coffee shops writing?

How are we both almost 25 and how have we changed so much? 

Overall Hudson, like me, hadn't changed at all. He still had the same manner, nature and general personality and yet...he was so different. We were so different.

2.Madame Adelaide and Pumbaa

After two nights at Hudson's my next adventure was to be to stay at Madame Adelaide's with Pumbaa.

It started, as most hilarious nights do, in a most sophisticated and sensible manner.

Pumbaa picked me up from mine and we spent the entire journey discussing a combination of weddings and a certain very entertaining friend I have, then arrived at Madame Adelaide's absolutely beautiful home for pizza and wine.

We talked, laughed, reminisced and planned until it was finally time to book the taxi and make my first foray into the real Essex.

Sugar Hut.

What. A. Treat.

I actually had a fab time but I think perhaps that had more to do with the company than the hordes of suited and booted men crowding around us and attempting to rap the words to Baby Got Back.

Apart from being reminded that I have the most beautiful, funny and entertaining best friends in the entire world, my night in Sugar Hut also reminded me that some things never change. It did this by reminding me of two core facts that are unlikely ever to change in my lifetime....

a) Drunk men are terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.

They display things about themselves (like the fact that they know every word to the rap in Waterfalls by TLC) that they would never dream of admitting without a few jagerbombs. And they look proud of it.

Drink also seems to give them the idea that they are invincible when it comes to girls.

They could approach any girl, with any line, and if that girl is not immediately falling at their feet there must be something wrong with her. 

The first lad came over with a Flynn-Ryder style half grin on his face, clearly prepared to bring out the charm and watch me swoon. When I didn't react to his very impressive rapping along to Hotel Room Service he shouted in my ear that I 'must have a boyfriend.'

As it happens I do, but I don't think that Dale has taken away my ability to appreciate a man who decided to wear a wedding suit to a club and rap in my face.

I don't think I had that ability in the first place. 

The second lad was so sure that Pumbaa was definitely interested in him- despite the engagement ring, and the fact that she, and then Madame Adelaide, and then I had all told him she wasn't, that he proceeded to half hover over her shoulder for the entirety of the night.

The third lad has actually won me a dare.

Years ago, I was sitting with my friend Timon (who I sincerely hope is reading this) making a make-believe list of qualities the man I would marry would have, when I said 'he's going to be tall.'

At this, Timon burst out laughing and replied 'I dare you to find a man shorter than you. There aren't any.'

Timon, it took me six years, but I've found him. And I believe he's interested.

Because on Friday night he came up to me, gestured for me to bend down so that I could hear him (yes, he was that short) and said seductively in my ear 'I'm Matt, how old are you?'

I wish, really wish with all my heart, that I could tell you that I replied 'I'm Rebecca, how tall are you?'

But I didn't think of it quick enough.

I am aware that I sound very much like a moaning feminist here and that my little brother would be outraged if he read it back. But that's not how I mean it.

As I was standing there in the club surrounded by these classic nightclub idiots, I realised that I had been here a million times before. All the way through uni, the nights out in Italy, the random odd nights out I've had when I've been back in Essex, the nights out I had in America....nothing's changed. The next morning I shared these stories with my mum and she told her own stories of the same thing happening when she was my age. I expect my Grandma has stories of stupid men making ridiculous decisions when she was my age.

Having spent the past few months moving countries, houses and jobs; preparing to move houses again soon, preparing for my friends to all be married by the middle of October, preparing to settle in Essex for the first time since 2007, I found it strangely reassuring that some formulas can't be messed with. Which leads me to....

b) The second thing I learnt- well I didn't exactly learn. I was already perfectly aware but it was a nice reminder such as I have not had since our trip to Dublin in 2010: Pumbaa is also terrifying and hilarious in equal measure when she's drunk.

I won't bore you with everything she did but my absolute favourite moment of the night- potentially my favourite Pumbaa moment ever: was when we asked whether she needed to text her fiance to let him know she was safe and sound back at Madame Adelaide's.

"Yes. I need to make sure all of the radio producers in Essex get drunk."

"Um...sorry Pumbaa?"

"All of the radio producers in Essex need to get drunk."

"Okay. Pumbaa, why do all the radio producers in Essex need to get drunk?"

"I don't know, who said that?"

"Umm...you did..."

"Did I? When?"

Madame Adelaide and I caught eyes and stifled giggles and laughed hysterically regaling this story to Pumbaa the next morning.

At this point I looked at the two of them and felt the total opposite of what I had felt at Hudson's.

How are we all almost 25 and how have we managed to not change at all?

3. Tigger

Later in the week Tigger came down from Banbury and out with me and my friends from work before the two of us stayed in a hotel in London together.

When we were still in America there were a few suggestions from people that it's never the same when you meet your friends from abroad back in the UK. I have never found this when I've met up with friends from jobs abroad before but perhaps it's because I never expected it to be exactly the same.

It's a bit like when you're in Primary School and you have your friends round to play...do you remember that? It never feels the same talking to them when it's just two or three of you in your own house as it does when you see them in the full classroom in school.

Anyway. A year is the longest I've spent in one place away from home so I did wonder whether this might be the time that everything feels different.

But I spent a lot of time on my own with Tigger in Disney. In parks, resorts, restaurants, supermarkets, housing and on buses...and it was always the same. So there was no reason for this to be any different.

And it wasn't.

We had already Skyped for almost two hours earlier in the week and still managed to have a million things to tell one another in London.

How did we even manage two months apart? Nothing's changed. 

4. Jiminy Cricket and Rex.

The next night was spent with one of my favourite couples ever (I came up with their aliases separately and am aware that they are slightly strange together. Just go with it.).

I came out of the station, saw them sitting in their red fiesta ready to pick me up and felt as though I had been whizzed forward in time to experience a day in the life of their daughter.

I hopped in the back and they told me that they had originally thought that the girl waiting at the bus stop was me because she looked like she might be wearing a Lion King costume.

She was in fancy dress.

(I did have a brief moment of wishing the merchandise cast members were allowed to dress up lions...I might suggest it....)

They drove me back to their gorgeous house in Rayleigh and I had another rush of realisation similar to the one I had had whilst staying at Hudson's.

Jiminy Cricket had become Monica from Friends. For some reason when we discussed it at college she always came out as Julie (perhaps because Rex always came out as Ross), but now she was so clearly Monica.

I went through the front door and sat on the sofa where Jiminy almost immediately brought me a glass of water and explained that she had set up two of the guest bedrooms so I had the choice of the comfier bed or the double bed. I feel I should also tell you that Rex brought me a cup of tea in the morning just as my alarm went off. Just like staying at Monica's. 

As with Hudson, Madame Adelaide and Pumbaa, we laughed, chatted, reminisced and planned, swapping stories and catching up, leaving me feeling both impressed and proud at having such wonderful friends, mixed with a pang of when-did-they-grow-up-and-leave-me-behind?

I told Rex and Jiminy about staying with Hudson and about how the ways I've changed had become so apparent when I was with him.

Rex suggested that perhaps it isn't me that's changed; but everyone else. He said that he quite often thinks that I never change; that he was certain I never have, it must be something else.

I thought about this over the next few days. I definitely have changed: those little things about me are different. I've become Rachel.

But I do think Rex might have a point.

I think perhaps it isn't that I've changed, as such, but more likely that I have accepted what I am and am happy to just be....this.

Maybe I've always been Rachel.

I think perhaps I always thought I should be organised and bossy and self-disciplined and so tried my absolute best to be but actually...I'm not. And that's okay.

I had an amazing time on my night out with Tigger but there came a point when I thought: that's enough. I want my bed and a hot chocolate now.

So that's what we did.

We left. And when everyone called us boring and told us to stay, we said, Miranda-style: No thanks. It's hot drink and duvet time for us.

How am I almost 25 and when did I become so willing to admit that I'd rather be snuggled up with a warm beverage for a chat with a friend than throwing some drunken shapes to Beyonce? 

5. Facebook.

The final realisation in my acceptance of change came in the form of those ridiculous '25 things about me' posts that were the height of fashion in 2008.

2008 was the year that I last saw Hudson. The year that I apparently began to change.

That year I was nominated (or whatever the word was back then) by Pumbaa to write down 25 little known things about myself and post them in my 'notes' section on Facebook.

I recently found them and was hugely surprised to find:

21. I want to work in Disneyland, Italy, Greece and Spain when I finish my degree. 

So maybe even the ultra-organised, named-all-her-children-already, self-disciplined, determined-to-be-successful 19 year old that said goodbye to Hudson in 2008 would have been delighted to find this 25 year old version of her sitting on his sofa six years later; flyaway hair, unorthodox life and all. 

Then. Just as I thought I had thought this one to death and it was time to move on, I got sick. And had all the time in the world to analyse life and all its mysteries. 

So to while away the time I decided to start watching Friends from the beginning, and discovered something I cannot believe I had never discovered before. 

The whole basis for the first series of my favourite tv programme of all time is that all six of the characters are going through a quarter life crisis. 

There's a moment in which Monica tells Rachel that everything 'just will work out', and Rachel says 'but what if it doesn't?' This is the thought that has been going round and round in my head ever since my crisis started back in March. 

But the magical thing about being a Friends fan in 2014 is that we know that everything works out in the end. 

So maybe when I see Hudson again in 2020 I'll still be finding my way like Rachel. Maybe I'll be a happily married, working mum like Monica. Or maybe I'll keep going with this hippy thing I seem to have going on right now and I'll be a full blown Phoebe. 

What I do know is that as much as I might worry that I've changed, as much as I might stress that I'm going to change- or that I'm not- and as much as I might go on about not knowing what's going to happen next, I know that one day I will look back on these young, free, unpredictable days with a huge amount of nostalgia- perhaps with Hudson, Pumbaa, Madame, Tigger, Rex and Jiminy sitting on my sofa though ;) 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Someday...

It was 1am on a random Wednesday in April 2003. Tears were streaming down my face, my hair was sticking out at all angles where my frustrated hands had raked through it far too many times. My mum's sleepy eyes looked across the kitchen table at me with a mixture of sympathy and despair.

I was 13 and attempting to make a life changing decision.

What options was I going to take for GCSE?

I didn't have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I wanted to be a kid's rep for a summer and to work for Disney one day, but unfortunately my school didn't offer a 'work in the sunshine' qualification, so I was stumped.

What if I made a decision then in five years found that I couldn't do my dream job because of the options I'd chosen when I was 13? That's a lot of pressure for a child. Pressure from adults who thought they knew best.

What I'm leading up to here is a confession.

My name is Rebecca and I am having a Quarter Life Crisis. (I would like to thank Sleepy for putting a name  to what I am going through right now. It suggests that I am not the first to go through it and I can't tell you what a relief that is.)

I am 24 years and 11 months old. It's 11 years since I sat at that kitchen table crying because I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grow up. I have not, I am pleased to tell you, found myself back at that table in tears just yet.

Instead I have found myself reaching for a pen and notepad to write all of this down to make sense of it.

Because right now I feel exactly the same as I did in 2003.

I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

And there's pressure- well-intended pressure- maybe even unintended pressure, coming from adults all around me to decide.

I am aware that a lot of that pressure is coming from me. The majority of these adults are just making conversation with me- asking me what I want to do next and making casual throw-away comments that they don't realise I will internalise and continue to repeat over and over in my head.

A family friend recently told me that she didn't think her daughter would ever have children because 'she's already 28 and hasn't got pregnant yet.' Oh. No children for me either then?

A man on the train was telling two fourteen year old girls that they need to have decided what they want to be when they grow up by the end of this year otherwise they are guaranteed to be failures.

(I should explain that he followed this by serenading the entire carriage with Why Do Fools Fall In Love?  before declaring in his strong London accent that he'd got on this train by accident- he didn't live here at all, but in Phoenix, Arizona. He then gave his business card to the 14 year olds, suggesting they called him for work experience, and stumbled off at Shenfield muttering something about being in the dog house. So maybe he wasn't the most reliable source for life advice but it bothered me all the same.)

Somebody else told me that there comes a time when you have to stop prancing about having fun, and take some responsibility for your life- start considering other people and the future.

Other people are so certain that I'm going to be a success that I'm overwhelmed with the need to discover exactly how I'm going to manage that.

Then there's the look I get when I explain that I want to be a writer but I'm working in a theatre just now.

You know when that woman walks on stage during the early rounds of the X Factor? She normally works as a dinner lady at her local school but has swapped her dreary tabard for a white skirt that is far higher than socially acceptable for a lady born in the late 50s, paired with a bright red top featuring one too many sparkling diamantes. Her hair is platinum blonde with super sexy dark roots, and she toddles onto the stage in white, diamante-clad heels she can't walk like an adult in, declaring that she truly believes that she is 'the next Whitney'.

You know when she's finished the weird, high screeching noises that made up her cover of Mariah Carey's Hero, and she still insists that she could win and go on to be the Next Big Thing?

Still with me?

Fab.

You know that look that the judges all give her? You probably do it at your TV screen too.

That's the look I get when I say I want to be a writer but I'm working in theatre just now.

And it's soul destroying.

In that single look all of the faith and confidence that my nearest and dearest have instilled in me suddenly has a question mark hanging over it.

Maybe I can't do this?

The truth is that I have never had any plans to solely be a writer. I want to be lots of things. I want to have a career and write, and be a mum and a wife and a sister and a daughter and a granddaughter and a best friend, and to do all of these to the best of my ability.

But nobody ever asks about those other things. People want to know what you're doing with your life. And by doing they mean being paid to do.

And maybe because I've just returned to Essex for what's looking likely to be a substantial amount of time for the first time in a long time, people are particularly interested in what I'm going to do.

But I don't know.

I don't know whether I want to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future. If I do, I need to grow up.

But I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I've thought about being a midwife, or a speech therapist, or a researcher, or a psychologist, or a guest service expert, or a travel agent, or a teacher....but I still feel like that 14 year old, looking at these jobs blankly as though they might be for me in ten years but not yet. I'm far too young.

Aren't I?

But my three best friends have it together more than anyone else I know. They all have beautiful houses, wonderful fianc├ęs, glamorous wedding plans and high flying careers. They go on holidays, to shows and concerts, parties and clubs, can always make family occasions and make all the weekend plans that they can fit in because they know that they will never be working on a Saturday.

On the other hand, I'm currently working in a theatre with performers. Performers who have spent their lives studying, working towards and building up to the career that they're in now. They're all headed toward big things and are excited for them to happen. They miss family occasions, can never make plans at the weekend because they probably will be working, and have to book anything that involves tickets at the last minute because they never know where they'll be more than a couple of months in advance.

Then there's me.

Somewhere in between.

Possibly ready for the settled routine life (?) but with no idea where to start. Enjoying the random, unpredictable scene but not heading in any particular direction.

In my attempts to make sense of my Quarter Life Crisis I have talked to anyone and everyone who will listen, and have found some interesting answers in the minds and lives of those around me...

1. Don't listen to everyone.

Firstly I talked to my best friends. Who revealed something so unexpected that I did that annoying thing on the train and made a noise at my own phone (very irritating in other people but actually unavoidable if you get a juicy text on public transport.)

They get told that they are too young to have it this together. For every 'Ooh but you should settle soon, biological clock and all that', that I get, my wonderfully together friends get 'you're far too young to be settling, you've got years in you before you need to worry about that.'

I know I shouldn't be happy that my friends get a hard time too, but I felt so much better after this conversation. It put all my worrying into perspective and reminded me that people just want to have their say: chances are it's the same people that are telling me to hurry up that would just as soon tell me to slow down. People just talk. They like the sounds of their own voices. They like to envision themselves as wise. They aren't necessarily.

2. Stop taking everything so seriously!

Then I talked to a lad at work. Who, when I poured my heart out to him about all the pressure I feel, and about this whole Quarter Life Crisis disaster, said 'sounds to me like you've got Peter Pan Syndrome.'

Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a big problem anymore.

3. Be Yourself.

I always think I'm very good at being happy. I'm happy 99.9% of the time and am rarely seen to be in a bad mood. So normally when I read those online quotes or Buzzfeed entries about how to be happy I nod smugly, roll my eyes at how obvious they are and continue with my day. But today as I was writing this post, the following quote popped up, as though to remind me who I really am and how I normally think:

The secret of being happy is accepting where you are in life and making the most out of every day.

I have always, and still always, see the magic in everything. I see magic on my journey to and from work, I see infinite amounts of it during work and am lucky enough to experience it every time I see any member of my family or my friends.

But recently I have uncharacteristically taken my eye off of the present and directed it toward the future, mounting an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself.

Last time I found myself worrying about the future so much was when I chose my Options at age 13.

I now know, of course, that it didn't matter in the slightest. The only real difference I imagine it made to my life was that because I chose Food Technology I was forced to work with Cruella Devil- the Regina George of my school who set out (wearing more makeup than the entire cast of TOWIE combined and fashioning unfathomably red hair) to make every nice girl's life miserable.

With fourteen year old me- you may be surprised to know- she came up against an unlikely barrier.

When she came over to my cosy corner of the classroom I imagine she planned on briefly embarrassing me then returning to her cronies to have a good laugh about it. What happened was that I politely (because I never would have broken a rule in school and I rarely get angry enough to forget my manners) shocked everyone (not least myself) by telling her where to go.

I can't remember exactly what happened, but what I do remember is being overwhelmed with adrenaline, seeing a flash of red, then watching as everyone's shocked eyes moved from me to her as she skulked back to her own table, confused, no doubt, as to what had just happened.

Cruella did, of course, proceed to attempt to continue to make my life hell for the next couple of weeks before she got bored of watching me and my relatively quiet, unassuming friends stand up for ourselves, and moved on.

What if I had taken History instead?

History had been my first choice- the subject I wanted to take more than Food- but because of a flaw in the system (which they decided to fix the following year) I had to take my second choice. If I had taken History, would it have changed the entire course of my life? Would I now be an archaeologist,  fulfilling a passion for studies of the past until my heart's content?

Probably not.

But I also probably would not have had a run in with Cruella, and would not have discovered on that day of that year that I possessed this fierce ability to stand up for myself.

That, actually, was probably a far more important lesson for me to have learned to prepare for me for adulthood than the order in which Henry VIII married and disposed of his wives.

So maybe this is where I'm supposed to be right now. Maybe I'm learning far more important lessons bouncing through life somewhat haphazardly than I would be in a sensible, straight-laced profession. Maybe I'm meeting the people who are shaping me into the person that I need to be to be a success. Maybe I was destined not to be a huge success, not to change the world, but just to be happy. Which I am.

As I was mentally writing this post on my way home from work two nights ago, I walked off of my Central Line train and stepped onto an escalator, watching a man setting up to sing as I did so. As I decided on the last few words I would use when writing this, he broke into a song that made me change my mind.

He started singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

Turns out I was right. I was where I was meant to be :)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

At The Age of Not Believing...

A few nights ago I was sitting around my kitchen table with two cups of tea, a mug of hot water with lemon and two of my best friends. We spent the entire evening laughing as we caught up on thirteen whole months worth of stories, adventures, escapades and mishaps.

We had been sitting there for about an hour when Pumbaa started discussing the absolute nightmare she'd had with finding a wedding venue that doesn't insist upon seat covers. She is strongly opposed to seat covers and couldn't possibly have them at her own wedding.

Madame Adelaide joined in. She also has issues with seat covers but didn't have too much hassle when organising her wedding because it's such an intimate event.

They both nodded in agreement over the top of their steaming mugs of tea and turned to me for my opinion.

Um.

Am I supposed to have an opinion on seat covers?

It was then that it hit me.

I am a grown up.

And yes, I am expected to have an opinion on seat covers. And on the missing aeroplane. And on house locations, the education system, and whether or not Oscar Pistorius is guilty.

(I have been asked my opinion on every single one of the topics mentioned above in the last two weeks and have gazed stupidly at the person mistakenly speaking to me like an adult and changed the subject to something Disney related. For that I do apologise.)

It seems like only yesterday that my ideal night consisted of drinking too many vodka and cokes, having a deep discussion with Pumbaa about how unfair it was that every gorgeous lad we met looked straight through me to get to her, and crying to her dad that 'I'm a minger' before serenading him with Beverley Craven's biggest (and only?) hit when he picked us up at 3am. Now it involves too many hot water and lemons, having a deep discussion with Pumbaa about how unfair it was that they insisted she have seat covers, and swiftly changing the subject to dresses before waving her off at around 11pm.

I am not complaining about this change at all- I would genuinely far rather the second night (which is maybe what worries me). What I would like to know is....when did this happen?

Was it happening in the years leading up to my Disney adventure, and I was too busy playing abroad to notice? Or is there a big jump between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-four that nobody warned me about?

What I do know is that a lot of things have happened to draw my attention to my new grown-up status in the last two weeks...

1. Mowgli and Chip.

In the weeks leading up to my departure from Walt Disney World, most of my guests asked me what I was most looking forward to getting home to.

My absolute, unequivocal answer every time was Mowgli and Chip. My two baby brothers.

Within around fifteen minutes of us all being in the same room again my mum wanted a photo to mark the occasion. So we had the photo taken and I immediately posted it online.

It got a lot of attention.

And it wasn't until I went back to look at the notifications that I saw it through the eyes of the rest of the world.

My baby brothers aren't babies. They're men. Actual men.

My mum also posted the picture and somebody made a comment about 'the eldest.' None of us know who she was referring to, because I think you would have a job guessing which one of us is the eldest. It isn't obvious anymore.

This was then confirmed a few days later when the three of us went to a Christening and somebody commented that 'Mowgli must be the eldest, then Rebecca, then Chip.' Guess again.

Actually throughout the whole Christening I did have to remind myself that we're adults now. I don't know whether you find this with your siblings but whenever I'm with my brothers (perhaps because this whole grown up thing seems to have crept up on me a bit) I revert back to being an eight year old. Which means that observing me at the Christening probably would have been much like watching Elf.

I still marvel when Mowgli gives someone directions or Chip starts expressing his theories on the American government. Even going to the Christening in the car with just my two brothers threw me a little bit. When did we get old enough to do that? 

I always had a theory when I was little that once we were eighteen, sixteen and thirteen we would be a real, adult family. When that didn't happen I guess I assumed it never would. And now somehow, totally out of the blue, it has.

But then Mowgli will jump out from behind the kitchen counter to make me jump and hide the pasta sauce that I was about to use and all will feel right with the world again.

2. Zzzzz

This story is not actually mine, it's Pumbaa's, but it's wonderful and demonstrates exactly what I'm trying to explain: that my friends and I have suddenly grown up.

Pumbaa, one of my best friends and favourite people in the entire world, was in a meeting in which her team were attempting to come up with a name for a product targeted at young people. One of the suggestions involved using the word 'beats'. Upon this suggestion, Pumbaa's reaction was:

Ooh, yes! Beatz with a z?

At which point someone had to explain to her that the letter z does not make things cool.

She was also later told that her work location would no longer be taking her opinion into account regarding products targeted at 'young people' because she's now 25 and therefore outside of that bracket.

When did we stop being young?

3. Flights.

On a similar note, I was recently discussing holiday plans with Dale for later this year. When I commented that we would need to take into consideration the cost of the flights, he casually responded:

Yep you need to remember that you won't get a young persons discount after May so fill your boots.

I hadn't even thought of that.

4. Sport Relief.

On Friday night I snuggled up on the sofa with a hot chocolate and a cherry bakewell (welcome back to England, indeed) to watch Sport Relief with my dad. When the charity version of Greatest Day came on I was listening but was also in a battle with my new phone, so wasn't paying a huge amount of attention to the tv screen. Part way through my dad asked:

Who's that girl with the red hair, Rebecca?

Here we go, I thought. It's nice to be asked a question you'll definitely know the answer to. Like when family friends suggest a board game at Christmas then pull out the Friends quiz game. Or when an episode of Catchphrase comes on that you've already seen (that's never actually happened to me but it happened to Mowgli once and he loved impressing us all the way through then admitted the truth at the end).

Dad rewound it.

I didn't know who the girl with the red hair was.

Or the girl with the black hair.

In fact, I didn't know anyone until Baby Spice appeared.

Then I realised. I also don't know who number one is right now.

I don't even know who presents the top 40 anymore.

I am turning into my parents far too quickly.


5. Ringtone. 

I was in the car with Pumbaa on my way home from my first Nando's in over a year (what a treat), when her phone started ringing.

Is that your phone Pumbaa? Would you like me to answer it?

She looked at me and burst out laughing.

When she finally had enough breath to do so, she told me that no, it wasn't her phone.

It was part of the song.


6. Since I've been home I've had two brand new but fairly important characters introduced into my life. Both of them have asked me how old Dale is. And both of them (much to my disappointment) have had the same reaction.

Dale is almost 27.

Which I think is outrageously old. When did I get old enough to have a 27 year old boyfriend?!

Is that the reaction that these two new characters had?

No. To my absolute horror both of them replied:

Ah so not much of an age gap at all then. That's nice.

7. Having moved back to the UK with a lot of new items it has taken a lot of organising in my bedroom over the past two weeks to get everything sorted. Whilst sorting through my things for what felt like the one hundredth time I found the photo album that Pumbaa (who, I assure you, is not my only friend despite more mentions in this post than is socially acceptable) made me for my eighteenth birthday of the previous two years.

I made a lot of fashion faux pas (particularly in the hair department) and had a very round face between 2005 and 2007.

I had blonde hair.

If you take nothing else away from reading this post today, please take this: never, ever let me have blonde hair again. It clashes with my skin. And my eyebrows. And my eyelashes.

Whilst I can fully believe that I ever made fashion mistakes, what I cannot get my head around is that I'm cringing at pictures of 2006.

Hasn't 2006 only just finished?

No, it hasn't. Those pictures are eight years old. It is eight whole years since I turned seventeen. It is perfectly normal to look back at pictures from eight years ago and wonder what on earth you were thinking.

I am so old.


8. Children.

I cannot believe that I am now at an age that I can look at fifteen year olds and think (but only think- because I think you need grandchildren before you're old enough to say it out loud):

It feels like only yesterday that I was reading The Gruffalo to you and tucking your little three old self into bed at 7pm.

How are you an adult discussing studying midwifery?

9. Weddings.

As those of you who know me well will know, I have five best friends here in Essex. I am aware that I sound like a six year old saying I have five best friends, but I'm sure you know what I mean. Absolute, true friends that I know will be friends for life and that I would call at 3am without hesitating if I needed them.

Every single one of them is getting married this year.

There was a time when I knew the odd couples getting married and everyone would say 'well they are very young.'

That doesn't happen anymore.

My friends have houses, mortgages, husbands, in-laws and seat-cover-issues, and that's perfectly acceptable. Expected, even.

They are grown-ups.


And apparently, so am I.

And I'm quite excited about it.

It means I have three weddings left to attend, three hen celebrations and three new pairs of shoes to buy. It means that I have an excuse to stay in the UK for at least  the next seven months, a group of fifteen year olds to discuss the teen book that I am about to attempt writing, and plenty of funny stories to tell. It means I can get cheaper insurance, rent a car for half the price and go speed dating (I won't, but it's nice to know the option's there). It means that I can seriously begin to think about what I want to do with my life and start to put it into action without the guilt of 'settling too young.'

Over the next two days I have three job interviews; jobs that are in the UK, that require me to either have a driving licence or a yearly train ticket, and that involve paying vast amounts of tax. It's a small step toward being a grown up but it's the most significant step I have ever taken in that direction.

(Just to give you an idea of how small a step it is that I'm taking, I think you should know that one requires me to take Lego with me, one involves a certain mouse, and one involves a Castle.)

I know myself well enough to know that I will never lose my sense of magic, wonder, or fun (if you have any doubt about an adult managing to maintain that may I direct you to my mum), which means that by stepping into this new, grown-up world, there will only be things to be gained.

Over the past seven years I have watched as my gorgeous, teen best friends have got amazing jobs, worked their way up steep ladders admirably, organised complicated mortgages, bought wonderful houses, fallen in love, been on once-in-a-lifetime holidays, had film-romantic proposals, planned their dream weddings, and become beautiful, strong, funny women.

Maybe this grown-up world has its own magic after all?

Of course it does.

I'm not saying in any way that I'm ready to do all of those things right now. I might find that in November I'm ready for another not-quite-grown-up adventure. Or I might not.

Either way, when the time is right, whenever that may be, I know that it will be a whole new adventure in itself; and will be just as magical and exciting as every other adventure I've ever had.

Just as long as I don't have to deal with seat covers.







Sunday, 16 February 2014

Wishes...

Exactly one year ago today I watched the Magic Kingdom fireworks display- Wishes- for the first time. It was our first day off after arriving in Florida and we were all disappointed to learn that we weren't allowed into the Disney Parks yet.

Instead we slept off our outrageous hangovers from the throw-in that the other cast members had organised to welcome us the night before; then spent the evening at what would go on to become my favourite place in the entire world.

Disney's Polynesian Resort.

We had dinner and drinks inside before moving onto the beach with cocktails. Tangled was playing right up until the moment that the fireworks started; then we stood and watched, open-mouthed and tear stained as the reality of our new lives hit us.

The week that you leave home to do the Cultural Representative Programme is an emotional one. You've said goodbye to your job, friends, family, house, dog, rabbit and Cadbury's chocolate. Most people don't know anyone else who has ever done the programme, so it feels like you're the only person ever to be in this situation, which makes it feel like a big deal. 

And it is a big deal.

For every single person in my arrival group coming to work in Walt Disney World was a dream come true: something that they had been wishing on stars their whole lives for.

Imagine that. Imagine wishing and dreaming about something for as long as you can remember. Imagine going through a lengthy and draining application process. Imagine putting your life on hold and waiting around with baited breath for six months to find out whether you got through. Imagine waiting for another six before your dream can actually happen. Imagine then packing up your life, saying goodbye to everyone and everything you hold dear and boarding a plane alone taking you across the world. A lot can happen in your head and heart in that time and by the time you arrive in Florida you are physically and emotionally exhausted. 

Yes, it's what you always wanted; yes, you made it happen and yes it was all your decision, but it doesn't mean it's easy. It doesn't mean you didn't doubt yourself. It doesn't mean you didn't hesitate when you handed in your notice at the job you loved, turned down the invitation to your best friend's wedding, blew kisses at the bump that you knew would be a one year old boy when you returned, and hugged your parents for the last time in twelve months.

So to then find yourself standing on a beach as Jiminy Cricket tells you that 'the most fantastic, magical things can happen and it all starts with a wish'- telling you that wishes lead to wonderful places, using all your favourite stories and characters from various points in your life to demonstrate this- is somewhat overwhelming.

By the time he was telling me that 'any wish is possible, all it takes is a little courage to set it free' I was convinced that he was talking directly to me.

Those of you who have met me for longer than five minutes will know that I am a highly emotional person. I once cried telling everyone at work what had happened in the film I had watched the night before (Instructions Not Included- have you seen it? Never ask me to tell you what happens. I've got tears pricking my eyes just writing the title). But there are plenty of others in my arrival group and on this programme that will tell you that your first Wishes is emotional. I have been best friends with Dumbo for one year and three days and never, ever seen her cry. But even she shed a few tears at that first Wishes (very discreetly because I didn't know until she told me recently, but still- she admits it's emotional.)

On the anniversary of my first full day in Florida I went to watch Wishes at Magic Kingdom with Dumbo. For the first time I saw real tears in her eyes, and heard her voice crack with emotion. As it finished I croaked that we shouldn't talk for a minute. Tears were streaming down my face and hers, and I thought- as I had done on that first night- that those fireworks are so emotional for anyone in our position. Anyone who is here on a dream come true.

We turned to leave.

There was a group of Brazilian teenagers in front of us, hugging each other and wiping their eyes. There was a couple, standing perfectly still and staring at the castle- having not moved since the show finished. There was a Grandma dabbing gracefully at her eyes with a handkerchief as her family collected their bags together to leave.

And finally, after an entire year of watching that show and believing it was extra special to me, I realised.

That show is extra special to every single person that watches it.

Every single person is dreaming of something. Every single person watching that show is imagining their own dream coming true and recalling memories of wishes that have been fulfilled.

As I watched it that last time I saw my own memories flash before my eyes; like a show reel of my year in Orlando.

It got me thinking about not only all the wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experiences I've had, but the day-to-day memories I've made, and what I'm going to miss most about life here when I leave...

1.Peanut Butter Cups.

I have been repeatedly assured that they do exist in the UK but I had never seen them before I came out here so feel like they are only a part of Florida life. Whatever the occasion, Peanut Butter Cups you have served me well and I will miss you.

2. Popping to Walt Disney World.

Obviously.

There was one particular day this year that I had arranged to Skype my mum and needed to confirm the time. I messaged her to let her know that I was just nipping in to Magic Kingdom but wouldn't be long.

She replied 'that works nicely because we just need to pop to Aldi.'

Just not the same, is it?

3. Eating out three times a day.

I am the first to admit that before I moved out here all of my knowledge of America was based on television shows: primarily Friends and Sex and the City. One thing that I never understood in these shows in why on earth they made jokes about the fact that they never used their ovens. Why didn't they?!

Having lived here for a year, I understand.

People now make those jokes about me.

Obviously I am aware that Americans do cook at home (apart from anything I've watched enough Desperate Housewives to know that), but for single, childless young things living in apartments and earning money it is so easy to eat out for every meal for five months without even noticing.

Perkins, Fridays, BJs, IHOP and Applebee's, I thank you.

4. Always having something to do.

I'm not particularly easily bored. I'm a busy person and would probably manage to make myself a hefty to do list locked in an empty room. But I think that Orlando might just be the most entertaining place on the planet. If I have a spare twenty minutes I can lay by the pool, spare hour I can pop in to work early and get lunch in France; a free day and the possibilities are endless.

London, you have a lot to live up to....

5. The weather.

Enough said.

6. Ibar and Cowboys.

Ibar is a cheesy nightclub in downtown Orlando that involves dancing the night away to Backstreet Boys, NSync and Spice Girls, doing the standard routine to I get knocked down, crying through Closing Time and leaving with inexplicably filthy shoes. It's where I met Drake of Drake and Josh fame, saw Mr Belding from Saved By The Bell and watched Tiffany perform (you will know who she is- she released the original I Think We're Alone Now before Girls Aloud covered it.)


Cowboys is a country and western bar similar to the one that Susan and Edie go to in Desperate Housewives. Everyone wears cowboy boots and stetsons, drinks free beer and line dances to everything from Country Girl Shake It For Me to 22 by Taylor Swift. Amazing.

7. My job.

A few nights ago I went for dinner with some friends after work and we began laughing about the things we love to moan about. I do love to moan about my job. It exasperates me every single day. When I first started working in Walt Disney World, a friend warned me that even the most normal human beings leave their brains (and their manners) at the entrance to the theme parks.Even that couldn't have prepared me for the ridiculousness that is working here.

But I get mad at my job in the same way that I get mad at my little brothers.

With affection. And because it is abundantly obvious to everyone that I love it really. Only my colleagues and I are allowed to criticize it- if you don't work with me- don't even try.

The truth is that I love my job and as grateful as I feel that I will never have to explain Bubble and Squeak again (if you ask me after 5th March expect a sarcastic answer or eye-roll only), I know I'll miss it as soon as I return my dress and pack up my name tag.

The main reason that I am going to miss my job is also the main reason that I am going to miss Disney, Orlando, America and my life out here....

8. The People.

*The Seven Dwarves.

The seven dwarves are seven of the nicest people I have ever been lucky enough to meet. I have spent a lot of time working and socialising with these girls and find myself wearing a huge grin when I see any of their names on the schedule with me.

They are fascinating.

They come out with phrases like 'I was working as a Guest Relations Manager for the whole of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival', and secretly behind each others' backs tell me that they don't feel anywhere near as interesting/beautiful/funny as the others.

Actually they're all interesting, beautiful and funny in equal measure and are all destined for even more magic after Disney.

*The Boys.

Scuttle, Baloo, Olaf, Pinocchio, Fix-It Felix, Toulouse and Dopey are the mainly-Scottish, cheeky chaps that have somehow managed to keep me sane all year. They've made me laugh, hugged me when I cried, reassured me when I was doubting myself, fixed my broken internet, my broken heart and several broken glasses; they looked after me when I sliced my finger open, got sick at work and sick of guests; they've constantly entertained me and provided me with enough material to write my first sit-com.

To seven of the funniest, most thoughtful and genuine people I have ever met: thank you.

*Vanellope.

Vanellope is the only person that I remained friends with straight from my interview for this programme in February 2012. We spent the entire day together, interviewed at the same time, swapped contact details and have continued to communicate ever since. I visited her hometown before coming to America and visited several places there solely on her recommendation.

Vanellope views the world like nobody else I have ever met, and has given me a perspective on life that I never knew I'd have.

Who knew that Walt Disney World held such hidden gems?

*The Blue Fairy.

One of the funniest and most thoughtful people I have ever met. She has had a far bigger impact on those around her this year than she will ever realise.

*Jasper and Horace.

The two superstars who have driven the whole of the UK pavilion around for the past seven years, and have been a huge part of mine.

Jasper was there for for my first, terrifying night out. He drove me to the hotel my mum was staying at to see her for the first time in eight months. He was there for first kisses, break-ups, excitement at extensions and sadness at saying goodbye. He literally sees and knows everything, and provides advice and support when he sees fit.

Jasper and Horace drive hundreds of us around and see people leave and arrive every single week. So I was genuinely flattered the other day when I hopped into the taxi and was greeted with: 'Rebecca! I heard you're leaving this week, this makes me sad.'

How lovely.

*Roz and Rafiki.

These two women have been having a huge impact on The Rose and Crown and the cultural representatives who work there for more years than I could work out, and they definitely do not get enough credit for it. I was terrified of both of them when I arrived and now have no idea how I would have coped without them. From Rafiki deciding to join me as I cleaned my tables to discuss the menopause to Roz revealing the dirty little secrets of the new people before I'd even learnt their names, they have kept me thoroughly entertained, sent me crazy and kept me sane: the place simply wouldn't be the same without them.

Merida has a theory that they're actually robots designed by Disney and do not exist in the real world at all. I like to think she's right.

*Merida and Tigger.

Merida and Tigger are two of the most magical people I have ever met. They're both gorgeous and funny and happy to be who they are.

They have provided me with some of my favorite memories of the year and should both be working for Disney for the rest of their lives.

One of my favorite moments at work was when our highest manager, who brings out in me a half-bow and a ridiculous posh accent when she walks in, told Merida that she's not really a princess. If looks could kill our manager would no longer be with us.

Merida is one of those very rare people (that I wish I was too), who have absolutely no fear of authority. She calls Manager Joe Joseph when he annoys her, blames our highest manager when she smashes a glass and tells the management team when she feels that they're being unprofessional. And she's only 20.

What a hero.

*My arrival group.

Russell, Woody, Aladdin, Ariel, Daisy Duck and Periwinkle. We did it! And it wouldn't have been the same without you....

*Piglet, Dumbo and Sid.

These three are true friends. They are the only three people I have met this year that I know I could tell anything to and trust that nobody would ever find out. They have been there for every single second of this journey, and I know that they will continue to be there for the rest of my adventures. I could write a novel just on memories that these have given me and why I think they are so wonderful. I won't. But I could.

Thank you.

*Dale.

Dale is absolutely the best thing about this year. That's all.



I mentioned above that the week that you leave home to do the Cultural Representative Programme is an emotional one.

So is the week that you leave the Cultural Representative Programme to go home. You've said goodbye to your job, friends, new family, house, Mickey, Cinderella and peanut butter cups. You've seen others leave but they weren't in your arrival group. It never felt like your group was going to leave, which makes it feel like a big deal. 

And it is a big deal.

Yes, you've missed home; yes, you're excited to see your family and yes you always knew it was just for a year, but it doesn't mean it's easy.

Vanellope very wisely reminded me a few days ago that there are very few other situations where you would live somewhere for an entire year- make a life there, have a job and an apartment and amazing friends, then just up and return to your old life, leaving everything behind. It's a big deal.

Except I won't be leaving everything behind. I'm taking so much with me; so many wonderful memories, life-long friends and lessons learned.

So as I head to Magic Kingdom for the last time, to join the hoardes of dreamers as we make our wishes and silently appreciate the ones that have already come true, I will once again experience the show reel of my year in Florida.

But this time, I will also be thinking of the future.

You see, the most fantastic, magical things can happen. And it all starts with a wish....


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Happily Ever After (?)

I can't sleep.

In four weeks today I will be moving out of the apartment that I have called home for a year, saying goodbye to the people that have become my best friends, and leaving the job that I spent my entire life dreaming about.

I was surprised at the number of people that emailed me during my first month in Florida. I had the emails that I expected- from my best friends and family- but I also had a lot from unexpected sources. From people that I never would have guessed would think of me. And every email said the same thing.

I was worried about you Rebecca. I was worried about the repercussions of having your dream come true. 

I was surprised and flattered in equal measure that people would take the time to think- and worry- about the fact that my dream had come true.

It never even occurred to me to worry about that, let alone people I hadn't spoken to for six months.

At the time I told them not to worry- that my dream coming true was absolutely nothing to be concerned about, thank you very much.

But I do vaguely remember thinking- what about when it's over? Surely that's the time to worry about? That's the time that the repercussions are going to set in?

Where do you go from your biggest, wildest dream?

I can only imagine that people were worried that working for Disney wasn't going to be what I had thought.

Fortunately it was my dream for a reason- I had done enough research to know that it was exactly what I wanted.

What I hadn't considered was that it would finish. 

I have managed to stay in denial about this fact for almost an entire year, but as the rest of my arrival group began booking flights and applying for jobs in the UK I had to begin to face reality.


I remember somebody posting on Facebook once that I wouldn't be able to live in the real world again after living in Walt Disney World for an entire year. My response to that was that I don't think I ever did.

And why should I?

If I can find a way to remain a functional member of society, to earn my own money, pay my own way and respect those around me, what's wrong with seeing the magic in everything?

Since deciding to accept my fate I have, alongside flights and UK jobs, started to look for magic outside of Walt Disney World, to prove to myself (and now you) that this isn't where all the magic lives, that I can continue to be happy outside of the happiest place on earth, and that I can Keep It Magical wherever I may go next...

1. Pumbaa.

Three weeks ago Pumbaa was asleep in her bed when her boyfriend came in and woke her up with a cup of tea and a wrapped present- a DVD. Padding downstairs in her onesie, cup of tea in hand, she put the DVD on and began to watch it.

It was a series of photos of her and her boyfriend set to the song Love Is Easy by Mcfly. If you don't know this song- in fact, even if you do- please listen to it now. It's wonderful. The song in itself is proof that magic exists outside of Walt Disney World.

When the video finished playing, she turned around to find her boyfriend on one knee.

2. Saks Fifth Avenue

When I was in New York we were wandering down a street in search of the Rockefeller Centre (I was wandering. I'm fairly sure that Dale knew exactly where we were going), when we saw 3.52 until show time! projected in huge red letters on the side of the building on the opposite side of the street.

On closer inspection we saw that that building was, in fact, Saks Fifth Avenue (and we were almost right outside the Rockefeller Centre) but we still had no idea what was going to happen.

When the time was up the entire wall was filled with the story of a modern Christmas- presents, ice skaters and decorations accompanied by powerful, dramatic music made it an absolutely beautiful show, and provided magic to the streets of New York on a freezing cold, December evening.

3. Merida.

This one, I will admit, did happen in Walt Disney World, but it was the person that I am about to quote that made this magical, and I totally believe that she would have said this wherever we were.

"I'm being very magical tonight Rebecca. I think it's because I've got curly hair today. It just makes me feel magical."

4. Exciting news.

Almost two weeks ago I woke up to a message from a friend. A good friend that I hadn't spoken to for a while. The message said: Let me know when you're free to talk.

A rock immediately hit the bottom of my stomach.

It must be bad news. If she didn't have something specific to tell me, she would have asked how I was. Or said she hoped I was doing well. Or something. 

I replied immediately asking if she was okay.

A while later, having still not heard from her, I hopped in the shower.

When I got out again, I had another message: Are you still there?

Definitely bad news.

I typed out, with shaky hands, that I was back again.

While I waited for her reply, I put my new favourite song on: Love is Easy by Mcfly (at this point Pumbaa had been engaged for eight days and I had listened to no other band).

Just as the song reached the chorus, she replied.

With a baby scan.

5. Monopoly

I recently Skyped my brothers and their girlfriends whilst they were playing Monopoly with my mum and her boyfriend.

Mowgli was winning.

Thank goodness.

Mowgli once got so competitive during an evening playing on the eye toy (do you remember the eye toy? It was like the original, and far more basic, wii) that he ran upstairs and changed into his gym gear for a running race. When I beat him in my dress and leggings I thought he might actually kill me.

So Mowgli has always been competitive and this time was no exception. While he was gloating about the number of houses he had, Chip was making fun of him. My mum was saying silly things in silly voices because she always does. My brothers' girlfriends were sitting on the floor with huge (ridiculously beautiful) smiles whilst the dog was running around and barking in the background.

For anyone that's never been away from their family this probably doesn't sound magical at all. For someone that has been away for an entire year from the best people in the entire world- it's something worth giving anything for.

(Mowgli won, if you were interested, so my brothers are still friends.)

6. Turkeys.

Now many of you may already know this but for those of you that were not aware, my friend Piglet is a vegan. So when it came to Thanksgiving she came out the night before and celebrated, she joined us for dinner on the actual day and just avoided the turkey, and spent the evening putting the world to rights in front of Harry Potter with the rest of us.

But after a few too many celebratory thanksgiving drinks, it just didn't feel like she'd done enough....

So she sponsored three turkeys: Harriet, Minerva and Thomas.

I'll not tell you how much she spent but to put it into perspective it was her wages for Thanksgiving week. 

She now continues to receive emails on their progress.

Magical.

7. Sara Bareilles.

A few weeks ago a different dream of mine came true- one that I never thought would happen. I saw Sara Bareilles live. She was amazing. Her stage presence was totally different from what I thought it would be and she far exceeded my expectations, but it wasn't just this that made it magical.

The concert that she performed in was in aid of a children's hospital. Before she sang Brave (again, if you haven't heard it, listen to it right now) she brought a five year old boy named Joshua on stage. She explained that Joshua was the bravest person she had ever met and, after talking to him and being silly with him for a minute, she told the audience that he had asked whether he would be able to sing for everyone.

So Sara Bareilles and the entire audience (bear in mind how spine-tingling it is when an entire audience sings the words with no music) sang the words 'Sat what you wanna say, and let the words fall out, honestly...' then five year old Joshua confidently, whilst doing that half bop that five year olds do, shouted the words 'I wanna see you be brave.'

The whole audience- from big, beefy, fifty year old men to super skinny eighteen year old girls had tears streaming down their faces.

It was one of the most magical moments I have ever been a part of.

8. Concerts in general.

I always feel magical at concerts. I'll always cry at least once, laugh at least once, remember someone I haven't spoken to for ages, feel sentimental for the past and excited for the future....

This year I have been to so many more concerts than I ever expected to, and I loved every single one of them, but there was a moment during the John Mayer concert that I don't think I will ever forget.

I was daydreaming.

I was thinking that when I got home I needed to get my costume ready for the next day. I was wondering whether Dale would be home from work yet. I was contemplating whether to buy peanut buttercups on the way home or to be sensible and wait for toast at home.

When John caught my attention (yes, we're on first name terms). He was saying 'come back'. He said that he knew that mentally we had all left the room. We had all gone home and started doing other things. He told us to leave our houses. Get back in the car, drive back to the venue, park up again, and walk back to our seats and sit down.

Enjoy the moment whilst it's still happening.

I turned to the person next to me.

'Were you daydreaming about what you were going to do when you got home?'

'Oh my God I was that's so weird....'

We passed it down the line.

Everyone had mentally gone back home.

After he told us to all come back something in the atmosphere changed.

It became more magical....



Anyone who knows me well will know that I treat John Mayer's songs as everything I need to know about life. You know in Love Actually, how Karen says that Joni Mitchell taught her how to love?

John Mayer (with the help of Avenue Q and Dr Seuss) taught me how to live. He has taught me how to deal with life and everything it throws at you.

When I almost had a nervous breakdown about turning twenty (I know, I'll never cope with turning fifty), I became obsessed with Stop This Train. When I had my first big break up I couldn't stop listening to Slow Dancing In a Burning Room. And now? Now that I'm terrified about facing life after My Dream Come True? I keep replaying his words.

Stay in the room.

Come back to the present, and enjoy what's happening now.

Equally prominent in my mind just now is Richard Curtis's new film About Time. If you haven't seen it yet- make sure you do when you get the chance.

The story is that just after his twenty-first birthday, Tim finds out that every man in his family is able to go back in time- anywhere that they have been before. So if anything goes disastrously wrong, they can just leave the room, go back in time and change what happens.

Imagine if you could do that? If everything you did could be undone. How differently would you live your life?

One of my guests the other day told me that it's the things you don't do in life that you regret (that's also an Inbetweeners quote but I didn't want to crush her joy at passing on this piece of wisdom so I didn't mention it), and since seeing this film I have done so many things that I would never normally do, imagining that I would have the chance to do it again if it was a disaster.

None of them have been disasters yet. I don't regret a single one of them.

So between them John Mayer and Richard Curtis have got me living in the moment and doing things that I would never normally have the guts to do. My friends and family and sometimes strangers in the street are reminding me that magic is everywhere, not just inside Walt Disney World.

Between you, you're all making me feel far better about the whole thing.

In fact, as I take off my ears, pack up my Disney merchandise and bid a see ya real soon to all my favourite characters, I'm beginning to think that maybe a Dream Come True is just the start of a far bigger adventure....

...and that I might find a way to live happily ever after after all...