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...


Saturday, 28 December 2013

I'll be home for Christmas (If only in my dreams...)

It's the 28th December. I'm sat at my kitchen table in bright red tartan pyjamas eating my weight in peanut butter cups with the promise that chocolate will stop being my main meal of the day on the 2nd January (it won't).

I've got big, fluffy, comfy socks on my feet and the Christmas episode of Mrs Brown's Boys playing in the background.

All sound about right so far?

Except one thing.

My kitchen table is in Orlando, not Essex, and apart from the sound of Mrs Brown's beautiful Irish tones, my house is silent, because I'm in on my own.

Two years ago I wrote that I totally believe that I am able to live and work away from home 362 days of the year only because of the knowledge that I would be back with the four most important people in the world for those three important days of December.

I knew when I wrote those words that this would not always be the case, and this year it finally happened. I had Christmas away from home, and away from my family.

Now if you're going to be away from home for the holidays, Disney is certainly the place to do it. Aside from the fact that they fill their Christmas shows with the songs "I'll Be Home for Christmas (if only in my dreams)", "There's No Place Like Home" and "Home Is Where The Heart Is", it is warm and magical and beautiful and I am so grateful that I was luckily enough to experience it.

But it's still hard being away from your family over Christmas, no matter where you are or what you're doing.

I Skyped my family as soon as I woke up on Christmas morning and have since been told that I was not myself at all. My mum thought it was because I was embarrassed of them. Embarrassed? Of my family? Not a chance. Everyone at work had already seen the picture of my little brother Chip, sleeping on the landing out of excitement for Santa (or maybe it was the seven beers before bed that made him choose to nap at the top of the stairs in just his boxers? You decide.), and I don't think there was a cast member or guest around on Christmas day that didn't hear the story about my Grandad talking into the webcam and waving at the speaker. Nope, it definitely wasn't embarrassment that stopped me from being myself on Christmas morning.

I think I was probably too busy thinking of my favourite things about Christmas at home...

1. Leaving out the mince pie and carrot before bed. 

As most of you will know I love the idea of mythical characters coming to life and playing in the real world (see my June post on my birthday if you're not sure what I'm talking about), so the idea of leaving out treats for Santa then seeing them gone in the morning because he's been there is far too exciting for me, even at twenty-four years old. One year (about three years ago), my mum foolishly ate the last mince pie so that we didn't have one to leave for Santa. A new tradition in my house is for my mum to tell that story and laugh about how upset I was even though I was twenty-one. Cruel, is what it is.

2. My parents still insisting on pretending they've no idea what we've got in our stockings despite the fact that we now know that they...ahem...help Santa.

Adorable.

My brothers and I play along with it so that we don't upset them. It's been about eleven years since Chip found out about their...ahem...helping Santa and still none of us has ever let on.

3. My Dad's sausage and egg sandwiches. 

My friends out here were shocked and horrified when I said that we have cooked sandwiches for breakfast and then Christmas dinner for lunch. Isn't eating until you just cannot stay awake anymore the true meaning of Christmas?

4. The Comfort of It All. 

I always think everything feels so cosy when you're surrounded by family. Everything feels safe and predictable- in a brilliant way. My Auntie Hazel always smells nice, my mum always has a special Christmas dress, my Grandad Ed always wears his hat, Uncle Dave has always seen something funny on the tv he needs to tell us about, my brother Mowgli always answers 'yeah good fanks' (no matter what you ask him), my dad always insists on having a music channel blaring Christmas music from the living room so that whoever's upstairs still getting ready can sing along without having to hear their own voice, Chip's last downstairs because he was having a shower (first one of the year Chip? Someone will always, inevitably say), Grandma's presents are always wrapped to such perfection that it seems a shame to open them, Grandad Derek will give each person an individual lesson on his latest computer gadget (and will subsequently be calling every day until Easter asking them how to get it to turn on), Auntie Alice will regale us with brilliant stories of our great grandparents, Uncle Simon will have us all in hysterics for the entire day and my cousins will pass meaningful looks to me and my brothers that only we would ever understand.

It's really, really hard to recreate that with anyone you're not related to.

5. Mince Pies. 

They don't exist in America. It is mentioned in one episode of Friends that they don't exist in America (when Rachel tries to put beef sauteed with carrots and onions in an English Trifle with the argument that English people eat mincemeat pies for dessert so maybe they like to mix sweet and meat?), so I did know what I was letting myself in for when I moved here but still...for a nation that like to think they're ahead of the game it's a bit of a failure really....

6. Advent Calendars. 

Again, Americans aren't as ahead as they think they are....I did, after several hours of trekking across several Disney Parks manage to track one down but nobody that I spoke to knew what I was referring to (imagine Peter Kay's garlic bread sketch but with chocolate advent calendars and you'll be very close to what I heard approximately fifty times on the 30th November) and it cost an absolute fortune.

7. British Television

I managed to watch all of the American films this year- Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, Elf, even a few cheesier, straight-to-Netflix ones called The Mistletones (starring Tia Mowry- one half of the Sister Sister twins) and Holiday In Handcuffs (starring Melissa Joan Hart or- as she's far better known- Sabrina the Teenage Witch)- both of which I highly recommend, but it really didn't feel like Christmas without the British staples.

On Christmas Eve I found myself so desperate to be watching the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special (one which I have been known to watch three times a day during December) that I just watched the wedding episode (the only one I could find on Netflix). I watched The Vicar of Dibley Christmas episodes twice each but there's only so many times I can stomach the one where she eats four Christmas dinners (uuugghh), and in the end resorted to watching totally-not-seasonal-at-all episodes of Keeping Up Appearances just because they had English accents and a British sense of humour.

Today I finally found Mrs Brown's Boys (the most watched tv show on Christmas day this year, so I'm told) and at last feel relatively Christmassy. Sadly it's looking like Miranda and Eastenders will have to wait until I'm home. (I don't even watch Eastenders but the Christmas episode is always a must, right?)


8. British Food In General. 

I know I've already mentioned mince pies and advent calendars but I miss all British food. I miss decent bread for turkey sandwiches, tins of Roses, English sausages, Robinson's squash, sage and onion stuffing and good cheese and crackers.

You know how guilty you've felt for eating so much this past week?

Don't. Don't feel guilty, savour every mouthful and be grateful you come from a nation with such wonderful Christmas food.

9. Christmas Crackers. 

Yet another amazing Christmas tradition that our pals on this side of the pond haven't caught onto. As far as I know we are actually the only nation to have these wonderful inventions. I've lived with people from Austria, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Africa and America and one of my favourite things ever is explaining what a Christmas cracker is. Try it now. Say it out loud. It's funny.

10. The Stories. 

There are certain stories in my family that only come out at Christmas and I am heartbroken that I have to wait another year to hear them.

The time that my Grandma immediately regretted her perm so my mum (in her 8-year-old innocence) told her that she looked like one of The Three Degrees to cheer her up. The time that my little brother Chip gave my cousin his wrapped Christmas present with the line 'it's a truck!', the time that my Grandad was so mad at my misbehaving mother (again, she was about 10- not 45), that he called her a 'cow-face', and the time that my (three year old) dad was so mischievous that he covered himself and a nearby car in freshly laid, not-yet-set tar from the street.

I'm sure your family have them too- they're the part of Christmas that make it yours, and the thing that made me miss home more than anything this year.

I am honestly so sad to have missed Christmas at home this year and it's the most homesick I have ever been in my entire life but luckily for me the alternative was fairly magical in itself....

As I couldn't spend my Christmas with my family I spent it with some of the amazing people that I have met out here. All of us wanted to be with our families but we managed to remain positive (some of us better than others and for that I apologise) and create some special memories of our own...

1. The moment that I pulled out a present for Piglet, explaining that I hadn't intended to buy her anything but that I had seen it and thought of her and couldn't resist- and she then did exactly the same thing! Who knew that actually happens in real life?

2. The moment that it turned 7pm on Christmas Eve. Midnight at home. I was chatting to a guest about their plans for the rest of the evening when they told me that they were planning on being in Magic Kingdom at 12.
'Ah how lovely, see Christmas Day in in Magic Kingdom. Wait! What's the time now?'

 'It's 6.59.'

'That's good enough! It's Christmas in the UK! Merry Christmas!'

At that exact moment I was lucky enough to have the only four nice tables that I had for the entirety of Christmas week. All four of them shouted Christmas wishes at me and celebrated with me in all my excitement. After that it became surreal. I walked into the kitchen, in Walt Disney World, Florida, repeating to myself that it was Christmas day. One of my friends walked past muttering 'kind of bittersweet hey?'

3. The moment that we walked into our hotel. Dale had warned me that the hotel we finally booked was not going to be as nice as the one we had originally hoped for, and that I should prepare myself for that. When we finally made it to our hotel in the middle of the night after a very, very long night at work I could not have walked into anything better. It was beautiful.

4. The moment that Christmas Cheer seemed to infect Dale. 

It was Christmas Eve, He had been fine. He'd been ever so slightly grumpy trying to get to the hotel at a decent time after such a long shift, he'd been happy when we walked into the hotel, and relatively cheery as we put all the food for our Christmas dinner away, ready for the morning.

Then as soon as it was bed time he turned into Buddy the Elf. He was running around the room, jumping on the bed, singing Christmas songs- but changing the words to include the names of the people sleeping on bunk beds right outside our room- it might be the most excited I've seen anyone, ever. Brought my Christmas cheer right back :)

5. Watching Magic Kingdom's Christmas Wishes from our hotel balcony.

The fireworks were beautiful, the cold outside made it magical, the fact that we were in our jammies made it cosy, and the Dairy Milk bar in my hand that I had just opened from my mum made it all the more exciting. But my favourite thing about the fireworks is that Scuttle was making stupid jokes about people on the balcony below us, whilst the rest of us made stupid jokes about Scuttle. Dale made jokes about me and Dopey made jokes about Dale and Jane laughed at all of us. It was almost like being with my family and I'm so, so happy that I got to spend those moments with such wonderful people.

6. My Stocking!

So as we all know Father Christmas sees us when we're sleeping, knows when we're awake and knows if we've been bad or good- he's watching all the time! So he was well aware that I had moved to Florida and made sure that I woke up to a full stocking despite moving across the world. I think I deserve a medal for waiting until the very end of Christmas Day to open it (especially because Father Christmas actually left it for me in Florida in the first week of October), but it was worth every second. I laughed and cried opening it and loved every single present.

Thanks Santa :)

7. Waiting for Christmas dinner. 

We all laid on the sofa. I was reading my magazine (Glamour UK, thanks Father Christmas!), Dopey was Skyping his girlfriend, Jane was reading (mostly racist) jokes out loud from her phone and Scuttle was...putting the world to rights. We spent the entire time laughing, talking, eating, resting, mocking and relaxing. It was as close to home as it could have been.

Thanks :)



8. Christmas Dinner. 

I wanted to help, I really did. I even attempted to help at one point, but Dale was fairly set on doing it by himself. Having seen the results, I understand why.

Dale chopped, sliced, stirred, boiled, baked, sauteed and steamed, all the while managing to chat to the rest of us and stay totally calm and poised. Then somehow, out of nowhere, as the last of the party arrived home from work, he produced an entire, huge, delicious dinner. I have no idea how he did it, everything was made at the exact right time, temperature and amount...it was absolutely perfect. With no fuss, and no help.

SO impressed.

9. Eating Christmas Dinner. 

The food was delicious, I cannot say it enough. But my favourite thing about the dinner was the company. Like the fireworks, the entirety of the dinner was spent making fun of each other. There was one point where Scuttle made a joke so funny that Dopey is lucky to be alive. You know that scene in Mary Poppins where  Uncle Albert's laughing so much he goes a funny colour and they're all a bit concerned about him? Yeah, it was just like that.

That moment was the most Christmassy I've felt this year and it could not have happened without these amazing people around me.

10. The moment I opened my Christmas Present.

I opened it on my own. On Boxing Day. I feel far too much pressure opening presents in front of people; I always end up doing a fake, over-the-top happy face when I really am happy, but feel like my actual happy face isn't quite happy enough....do you get that too?

For those of you who didn't hear my squeals on Boxing Day I am going on an actual cruise to the Bahamas next month- could I ever have made a face happy enough?!


So here we are, in three days time it will be 2014, my first (and only) Christmas away from home will be over, I'll be hitting up the gym 8 times a week (I won't), and my American Adventure will be coming to an end.

I wrote last year that I honestly believed that 2013 was going to be the most exciting, adventurous, magical and wonderful year so far.

It far exceeded that.

Right now I have absolutely no expectation for 2014....except that I'll be home for Christmas :)















Saturday, 30 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Two days ago I celebrated my first ever Thanksgiving. I spent the morning at work; serving beautiful, excited families that made me miss home. Then I came home from the freezing cold to my warm, cosy apartment where my gorgeous roommate had left a Pumpkin Pie for everyone to try. I had a hot bath to get the feeling back into my frozen toes and got ready to go next door for Thanksgiving dinner with some of my favourite people.

Once I was settled with a chair and a drink I had a slight worry that someone was going to get us all to go around and say what we were thankful for. I knew that when it came to me I'd say something ridiculous like peanut butter cups (of course I am hugely grateful for peanut butter cups but I'm not totally sure that's the kind of thing you're meant to say at these gatherings), and I think that might sound ever so slightly rude and ungrateful when I'm surrounded by these amazing people, eating a delicious, home-cooked meal with Harry Potter playing in the background.

But I have far too much to be grateful for. If I had listed everything that I have to be thankful for we would still be sitting there now.

So last night, when I was discussing this fact with my roommate and deciding exactly what I should mention here, she said that I should be thankful for November.

I think she's right. If I were to write to you now about everything that I am thankful for this year, you would never get to the end. But a lot of amazing things happened to me in November- I may even go as far as to say that it's been the best month of the year so far- and I am so thankful for every single day of this month. Here are my favourites....

1. Bonfire Night.

So much happened on Bonfire Night this year that I don't even know where to start explaining how brilliant it was. I arrived at work at 11.15 am to find that a whole party had been set up. There were buffet tables set up with delicious hot food, drinks and- my ultimate favourite- bakewell tarts; there were tables decorated in UK colours and covered in scarecrows to be burned, there were special Mickey-shaped UK pins to be worn for the day and kept as souvenirs, and to top it all off, a very enthusiastic cast member- one of the best people that I work with, in fact- explaining the story of Guy Fawkes to anyone and everyone that walked by. Everyone was in good spirits and the day flew by in a whirlwind of confused Americans and an excellent quiz that was clearly written by a confused American, for confused Americans, about a UK tradition (including questions such as what is English for goodbye?).

That evening I fulfilled every 90s kid's dream by watching Hanson in concert in the pouring rain (I'm not sure whether the rain is in the dream but I feel like it only added to the experience), then went to Magic Kingdom to experience Disney Christmas for the first time ever.

I cannot explain how magical it was.

When I first walked in it felt like we were pretending-the weather was relatively warm and time has gone so quickly that to me it still feels like August- so to be looking at Christmas lights was surreal. Then it got later. We went into Starbucks for Christmas-flavour drinks and came out into what was by now a fairly cold evening. I snuggled into my hoody, took a sip of my Peppermint Mocha and looked up at the lights again.

Suddenly they were real and it was the most magical I'd felt my whole programme.

I am so thankful for the fact that I was given the opportunity to work for the best company in the world for a whole year, and I'm thankful that every single day exceeds expectations. 

2. Book Of Mormon

Those of you that know me well will know that my favourite musical is Avenue Q. I have been to see it more times than I can count (actually that isn't true. I've been to see it six times. I can count to six).It never gets old. So when Dale got tickets to see a show made by the same people I was more than excited- despite his protestations that it was far too rude for me.

I will admit it was rude. Not ruder than Avenue Q just rude...in a different way. It takes quite a lot to offend me and even my eyes were wider than saucers at one point.

It was amazing.

If you haven't seen it (and you're not easily offended), please go. But please don't make my dad's mistake.

I'm going to make this very clear, for those of you on the same page as my father.

Book Of Mormon is written by the same people that wrote Avenue Q. It is not the same show. 

They are not similar in any way other than that they are made by the same people and are both quite rude.

Here's how the conversation with my dad went the day after I saw it:

Dad: I saw that you wrote on your brother's Facebook that you saw Book Of Mormon. Bit like Avenue Q wasn't it?

Rebecca: Mm it's nothing like Avenue Q really, I just wrote that it's more offensive than Avenue Q.

Dad: Oh okay. So do you think you'll go and see that five more times?

Rebecca: No, why?

Dad: Just you went to see Avenue Q about six times didn't you?

Rebecca: Yes, because Avenue Q is my favourite show. I loved Book Of Mormon but it's not the same show. 

Dad: Oh okay. So is Book Of Mormon puppets too?

I am so thankful that my dad continues to make me laugh even from this far away. 

3. Osbourne Lights.

So when I met Dale in June one of the first things that he told me was that he was excited for the Hollywood Studios Christmas lights. He's spent Christmas here before and they were one of the highlights for him. Which means that these lights had been built up for me for five whole months before I finally got to see them. On the day that they were finally turned on, I went to the park by myself while he was at work and spent the afternoon buying hot drinks to keep warm, watching the Beauty and the Beast show and drawing Tigger in the animation class. On coming out of the class I bumped into my very own Tigger, one of my best friends here, and spent the next hour wandering the park with him until it was time for him to settle down for the lights and for me to meet Dale.

It was really cold that night- something that I greatly needed to feel Christmassy and therefore massively appreciated.

As we were stood in the cold, surrounded by the huge crowd of people that had gathered in the mock-Streets-of-America, I felt like I really could have been in a busy city. The streets themselves are so realistic but filled with real, tired, cold, excited families, blacked-out Christmas decorations and loud music, it could have been any Christmas-light-switch-on across the globe.

Until it started.

First it started to snow, and despite the ridiculous man next to me shouting 'it's not real snow, it's fake' unnecessarily and repeatedly in my ear, it was magical.

Then the lights came on.

You know how you can see where the lights are before they come on?

I had thought I could see them all.

I was wrong.

They were everywhere. 

And they danced to Christmas songs, in the snow, in front of real families in the freezing cold. I loved it.

I am so thankful that I'm spending Christmas in the most magical place on earth. 

4. Discovery Cove

Around a month ago I happened to bump into Ariel on the bus and she explained that her family were here. She told me that, obviously- being Ariel, she was going to take her cousins swimming with dolphins. When I exclaimed that I was sure that would be brilliant, she asked whether I would like to go with them.

I accepted. Swimming with dolphins and Ariel has to be the dream surely?

It was fab.

We spent the day eating far too much, laughing far too hard and seeing things that we never thought we would see.

We swam with a gorgeous dolphin named Latoya. The experience was absolutely fantastic and one that I will never forget, but it wasn't the only amazing thing about the  day. We got to swim in a pool of every creature that you see in Finding Nemo (except sharks), we held and fed birds, we saw otters, we even managed to just lay in the sun and relax for a while.

This day was a real dream come true and I am so, so thankful that I was lucky enough to experience it. 

5. Gingerbread House.

A couple of weeks ago when I got to work one of the girls that I work with asked me whether I had plans that evening. I actually did have plans but they were super boring so I decided not to admit to them and knew immediately that I had made the right decision when she invited me to the Grand Floridian to have dinner and see the life-size gingerbread house that they have there.

The gingerbread house was amazing. It was perfect. I once wrote a story about a Princess who accidentally ate her house- I like to think that her house might have looked like that. It even had smoke coming from the chimney.

But actually, it wasn't the highlight of my evening. The best thing about that evening was that I was with some of my favourite people from this programme. I cannot believe how lucky I am to have met the absolute superstars that I work with here- so this is me being ever-so-slightly cheesy and being so thankful for the wonderful people that I have been lucky enough to meet and spend time with this year. 

(I also feel that I should mention that last month I explained that I, unfortunately, find the Japanese accent nothing short of hilarious and that my friend Fix-It Felix only encourages this. Fix-It Felix was with me on this particular night at the Grand Floridian and of all the servers, in all of Walt Disney World, we had a Japanese one. I am embarrassed by my own inability to stay poised during that dinner and I apologise.)


6. This time ten years ago I spent a lot of my time discussing the future holidays that I was going to take with my best friend and our boyfriends.

We used to spend our Geography classes planning exactly where we would go, what we would do, who would drive and what it would be like.

We didn't actually have boyfriends at the time, but this plan was for when we were really, really old like...eighteen or nineteen maybe.

I still have a really clear image of the trip we had planned.

I would be driving a silver fiesta, wearing a pink velour tracksuit with my gorgeous boyfriend beside me (James who I sat with in Science and who I had held hands with once at a disco in year seven and so was definitely going to end up marrying). My best friend would be in the back with her boyfriend (Ant who I also sat with in Science- she actually had his number so they were already semi-serious when we were fourteen), we would stop every now and then for food on the drive (I can only assume to France, I'm not sure we would have planned to drive anywhere else....). Actually that's as far as the dream got. I'm not sure I ever pictured the actual holiday.

Anyway, I am sorry to tell you that this is one dream that never came true. By the time we were nineteen I was in Coventry and my best friend was in Hertfordshire, both without boyfriends or money for holidays.

Then last week the vision almost came true.

Unfortunately my best friend now lives in Saint Albans with her lovely boyfriend (not Ant, if you were interested), and I'm on the other side of the water.

But I did find myself hopping in a car to go on holiday with one other girl and two lads. Sadly the car was not a silver fiesta but some big American car that the boys got really excited about. Thankfully I was not wearing a bright pink, velour tracksuit but just jeans, boots and a jumper. Luckily I was not driving, but in the back where I belong when it comes to foreign roads. The other girl was not my best friend from home but Lilo, a beautiful, mischievous, funny girl from work; the boys were not James and Ant but Dale and Scuttle- far older but far better looking and entertaining.

As we drove along the roads of Tennessee I couldn't help but think of that dream and the fact that it was almost coming true.

I could write a novel on how much I loved Tennessee. In fact, I could write a novel just on the funny things that Scuttle said while we were away. But I won't bore you with too many memories, just a couple of highlights....

1. The Itinerary.

Two days before we left, Dale sent the three of us a minute-by-minute itinerary for the trip, including '10.55: Enjoy a leisurely breakfast or a hearty lunch', and '23.00: Lights out! Get some rest for the excitement that awaits the following day.'

2. The Hotel.

Scuttle and Dale had convinced Lilo and I that Dale had accidentally booked the wrong hotel (The Smokey Creek Motel- would you be excited to stay there?) and there was only going to be one bed. Dale was actually quite convincing and, until Scuttle got involved, I had believed that we were going to have to make a bed out of blankets on the floor.

As we were driving along a road surrounded by restaurants, bars and hotels, discussing absolutely nothing to do with the hotel or finding the place, Dale suddenly pulled into a beautiful hotel saying 'We're so lost, we'll have to ask in here.'

Scuttle followed that up with 'Wow, I bet it's really expensive to stay in this place', in a kind of Hollyoaks-style of acting.

Lilo slid down in her seat, stifling giggles and mouthing 'do you think we're staying here?', whilst Scuttle proceeded to talk and talk and talk some more about how lost we were and how it could be hours until we found the hotel.

Dale came back to the car and said he had directions. He proceeded to continue to drive around the same hotel, still adamant that we were staying at the Smokey Creek Motel, and eventually pulled up outside a room and walked in, leaving Lilo and me in the car. Eventually they both appeared at a bedroom window grinning like Cheshire Cats.

The hotel was beautiful.

3. The Coffin.

On the first night we went to an amazing dinner show about two families at war. Outside they had silly props for funny photos for everyone to take. One of the props was a stand-up coffin. Lilo went first. She stood in it with her arms across her chest and her eyes closed- you know, like almost every human you know would do?

Dale gave me his phone and asked me to take a picture of him in it. Then, without any introduction, he turned to Scuttle and asked him to lift his feet while he climbed in upside down.

Dale is the only person I have ever met that would automatically do that.

Unfortunately he wasn't quite as graceful as he'd hoped, he ended up trapping his fingers underneath his head and crying out in pain while we took pictures and laughed.

4. Dollywood

Dollywood (Or Dollyland as my dad likes to call it) is Dolly Parton's theme park in the Smokey Mountains. It has amazing rides, shows, stores and food and left me feeling super Christmassy. One of the highlights for me was the first rollercoaster.

Maybe highlight isn't the right word.

I'm not a particularly big fan of rides but I had been assured that it wouldn't be that bad- Dolly would have to ride all the rides to check she was happy with them and she was 67 years old- how bad could it be?

Scuttle- theme park enthusiast and expert- came off shaking and saying it was the scariest ride he had ever been on.

I know, I'm a hero.

5. Free Stuff.

On the first day as we were driving from lunch to our hotel we drove past a chair lift and decided to park up and see how much it would cost to go on it. (Okay for the others to go on it, I never had any intention of putting myself through that). In the end it was too expensive so we decided to let that go and instead had a wander along the high street. Somehow we ended up in a courtyard full of wooden rocking chairs where a band were playing. The band had the most beautiful accents when they spoke, and there was free popcorn, hot chocolate and alcohol going. That might have been the best half an hour of my life.

I am so thankful that I get to spend the majority of my time with the best person I have ever met, and that I was lucky enough to go away with such hilarious company. 




And so I'm back to my first thanksgiving....

I spent thanksgiving with some of the kindest, funniest, most thoughtful people I have been lucky enough to meet. We spent the evening laughing, eating and putting the world to rights, and I am so thankful to have this gorgeous home away from home. 

We spent the rest of the night in the Black Friday sales rolling our eyes at people queuing for H&M four hours before it opened, squealing at the discounts (okay that was just me), and spending all of our hard earned money.

I am so thankful for Abercrombie and Fitch discounts. 

Happy Thanksgiving :)



























Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Your Heart Will Lead You Home

Now I'm not totally sure whether there are any of you left in the world that were not aware, but on the off chance that you're not, guess what? Two weeks ago my mum packed up all the chocolate buttons and Percy Pigs that Virgin Atlantic would allow her to take onto a plane and hopped aboard flight VS015 to Orlando to visit her favourite (and only, in fact) daughter!

Having had a relatively dramatic goodbye at the airport eight months ago, my mum had warned me that she was likely to cry when I saw her again. 

'Oh no!' I had said aloud when I read her text, rolling my eyes as I did so, 'that's ridiculous, I hope she doesn't cry.'

So as my taxi pulled up to our hotel alongside the coach that I thought she was probably on, I explained the situation to my driver. Well, kinda. I managed the words 'I'm about to see my mum again for the first time in....' before the sobs started. 

That's right. It was me that cried.

He turned round, smiled at me and said 'It's okay Rebecca. You can cry. It's a big deal.'

Managing to compose myself, I hopped out of the taxi and shouted a dramatic (and probably unnecessary) 'Muuuum' across the hotel lobby. She didn't hear. So I grabbed my things and did a little excited trot toward her and my grandparents. 

So before my family came out here to visit I had heard a lot of things from my friends and colleagues about what happens when people from home come to stay- both good and bad, and mostly expected only good things to be true. 

Fortunately for me, I was right. 

We spent most of our time laughing, I was devastated when they left (this afternoon. I am currently drowning my sorrows in a bag of chocolate buttons), and some of my favourite memories of my entire year will be from the past two weeks. 

Since arriving in Orlando I have had several conversations with different people that have ended in: 'wait, you said that to your mum?!' which have led me to believe that perhaps I have an unusual relationship with my mum. One of my friends suggested that my mum sounds more like my sister. Never have I felt that more than the past two weeks, as we spent most of our time giggling at my poor grandparents (I say poor but I do think that a. they walk into these things a lot of the time and b. it's what grandparents are for. Kind of like a rite of passage, maybe?).

So here, especially for you, are some of my favourite hilarious moments from the past two weeks....

1. The Sea World Incident. 

As those of you who have ever been lucky enough to visit the Second Happiest Place On Earth will know, before each Shamu show the hosts ask all past and present soldiers from all around the world to stand up and be applauded as dramatic, patriotic music plays triumphantly in the background.  

It's an emotional moment and magical to watch. You look across the audience with pride and admiration as you see men dotted around standing up with their hands on the hearts and solemn looks on their faces.....until...wait...'Grandma! Mum! You're not soldiers! Sit down! Oh for goodness sake.' 

Both of their faces look at me in confusion: 'But they said from the United Kingdom.' 

'Yes, soldiers from the United Kingdom. Sit down.'


2. The Very-Clean-Glass-Door Incident. 

I probably don't even need to tell this story, I think the title alone explains exactly what happened. 

For those of you who have been lucky enough never to experience it and therefore cannot work it out at all....

On our last night we were about to leave for dinner when my Grandad announced to everyone that he was closing the balcony door so that we were ready to go. 

Despite hearing, and even responding to this, my mum proceeded to attempt to go onto the balcony without opening the door again, smacking her head and leg straight into the (unfortunately very well polished) glass. You couldn't make it up. 

3. My Criminal Mastermind Grandparents. 

I've heard that you learn a lot about people when you go on holiday with them: this is one trait that I never expected to find in my sweet Grandma and Grandad.

One morning my Grandad knocked on the door between our adjoining rooms (something that Disney assumed we would want, not something that we asked for), to ask if I wanted any milk for my cereal. As he asked he held out two of the free creamers that the hotel provide for coffee and tea. 

Good idea, I thought. Take an extra couple of those to put on your cereal in the morning. 

Before I could respond he added 'here you are, take some more', and proceeded to empty his pockets of what I can only assume was Disney's annual allowance for creamers. 

Later that day, we were in a park when something was spilt (probably hot chocolate. In a rare moment of self-effacing I will admit that I spent more time throwing hot chocolate over myself and others this holiday than I did on rides and eating combined), when my Grandma pulled one of the hotel flannels from her bag and began cleaning with it. 

My first thought on both of those occasions was that you can get away with it when you're grandparents, but my mum soon very wisely pointed out that The Schumachers didn't. (Those of you struggling to understand this reference need to go and watch Dirty Dancing. Right now. Don't even worry about finishing this post. That's more important.) 

(Also I feel obliged to point out that my Grandma did return all towel items belonging to Disney to the hotel. Thank you.) 

4. The Hand-Clapping, Leg-Slapping Incident. 

As those of you who have ever had family visit will know- it can be quite stressful. My family are probably the most laid back, happy, go-with-the-flow, easy-to-please people I know. Any stress that I  felt was most certainly caused by me. But when you've left them to go and live somewhere else for a year- somewhere that you love so much that you've made it clear that you would happily never come home again, there's a lot of pressure to impress them. I wanted them to love it as much as I do and to understand why I've made some of the decisions that I've made. Which is why when I took them to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, a dinner show that is one of my favourite things in the whole of Disney World, I wanted them to like it. It was one of the most expensive things that they did while they were here, it took up one of my lovely Danish visitors' few evenings and it's quite American and very silly so I didn't want them to be unimpressed. 

The second time that I saw it I was joined by a group who had never seen it before and I struggled to judge whether they were enjoying it or not (it turned out that they were but only after about the first twenty minutes, which made me even more nervous for my family's reaction). 

We went in and sat down, met our server and the lovely chef (because my family were lucky enough to be joined by Dumbo that evening who is vegetarian so needed to discuss her meal choice. From now on I will always be vegetarian at Hoop-Dee-Doo in the hope that the chef there could become my green card), ordered our drinks and took in the surroundings. 

When we had finished our appetisers the music began, telling us that the show was about to start. I turned to my mum to tell her that our server was trying to take her plate and to check that she was okay so far, and the memory of what I saw will keep me smiling on my most miserable days. 

There was a reason that the server couldn't take her plate. 

She was clapping her hands, stamping her feet and nodding her head so enthusiastically that the poor server was frightened of being knocked out. Her face was lit up with glee (I wouldn't often use the world glee but I feel it's the only one good enough here), and, as I looked around the table, so was everybody else's.

5. The Soarin' Incident.

Soarin' is Epcot's most popular attraction, appealing to guests of all age, gender, background and experience. It is described by Disney as providing guests 'with a scenic aerial tour of California.' It's a calm, gentle float over California, appealing to all of the senses with what I always think of as Harry-Potter-style music over the top.

My mum managed Tower of Terror (described as an 'accelerated drop tower thrill ride'), Rock 'n' Roller Coaster ('an attraction for fans of cutting edge thrill rides'), and Space Mountain ('high speed journey into the darker reaches of outer space') with absolutely no problem all, but spent the first thirty seconds of the 'gentle float over California' screaming like a banshee.

6. The Husband Incident.

Six months ago I had what I like to call my Miranda-Moment. If you've seen Miranda you will totally understand why, if you haven't- you definitely should- but I think you'll still find the story funny.

I was in the queue for the changing rooms in a clothes store near where I live when the attendant began speaking to me. After establishing that I was from the UK he pointed to the (very attractive) man behind me in the queue and asked 'so are you and your husband having a good time?'

At this point I obviously should have quietly informed him of his mistake, given him a reassuring smile and gone to try my dress on.

But I was having a Miranda-Moment.

So instead I turned to look at the (very attractive) man behind me in the queue and said:

'Oh he's not my husband! No! Ooh I wish he was, he's lovely. He's not though. Not that I mean. Well. I have a boyfriend. But I'm only 24! Faaar to young to be married. Anyway. Um. I think I'll just leave the dress. Thanks. Thank you. Bye.'

(The 'bye' was accompanied by a girlish wave and coy smile at my would-be husband.)

How embarrassing.

Anyway. The reason I'm telling this story now is because I was back at that shopping centre with my family last week and was telling that very story before we returned to that store.

When we arrived at the changing rooms and were waiting for a free cubicle, another very attractive man had locked himself out of his while he was parading in his new clothes and was being helped back in by the- this time female- attendant.

After she had let him back in she turned to me and said 'he looked gorgeous, didn't he?'

Before I had time to reply, she continued, 'he is your husband, isn't he?'

Thankfully, I had learnt my lesson the first time and managed to very gracefully explain that he wasn't (before sharing a look with my mum that said- wish he was though!).

I therefore now wholly believe that I will meet my husband in that store, and will be dividing all my spare time between those changing rooms and Hoop-Dee-Doo. 

7. The Fish-Of-The-Day Incident. 

I mentioned above that my family were lucky enough to be joined by Dumbo at Hoop-Dee-Doo, but they were also lucky to be joined by Dale on several occasions and Tigger once too.

The Fish-Of-The-Day Incident occurred when Tigger was out for dinner with us and I am so grateful that he was there to witness my family at their most natural and most funny. 

So, picture the scene. 

Our server, Nancy, is spieling the menu to us like the professional she is. 

"Our fish of the day today is Pan-Seared Salmon, it comes with lemon sticky rice, fresh green beans and is topped with mushrooms, it is absolutely delicious, I cannot recommend it enough."

Tigger: 'And how much is the fish of the day?' 

Nancy (having misheard slightly): 'It's pan-seared salmon, it comes with-'

Tigger: 'Sorry, I meant how much does it cost?'

Nancy: 'Oh, I'm sorry! It's 21.99.' 

Grandad (as though it's a totally new topic): 'And could you tell me what the fish of the day is please?' 


8. The Creme Brulee Incident. 

This story is the last I will tell you just now and is actually the story of why you can't take me anywhere. 

On this occasion my family were joined by Dale (we did spend some time alone, I promise), we were at a Disney resort restaurant and were being served by a giant of a man named James. 

By the time we were ready for dessert James was clearly too busy so we were instead greeted by Nikita. 

Nikita was from Japan. 

Now before I go on with this story I need to make a few things clear. 

Firstly- anyone who has ever been to see Avenue Q with me (lots of people, I've seen it far more times than is socially acceptable), or has ever worked with me alongside Fix-It Felix will know that I find the Japanese accent nothing short of hilarious. 

Secondly, the reason I find it so funny is my own immaturity. I cannot speak Japanese and if I could I have no doubt that I would speak it with an equally funny accent. Probably on par with my English-speaking-Spanish accent. 

Please nobody take offence. I am a nice person. 

So, first of all I had this inane grin because Dale made some comment (so that only I could hear) about James having lost weight. 

Then Nikita began to speak and I had an even bigger grin imagining Fix-It Felix (who shares my love for the Japanese accent) being there and what his reaction (and later impression) would be like.  

Then Nikita recommended the Creme Brulee. Now I don't know if you've ever heard a Japanese person say Creme Brulee but I'd like you to take this moment, please, to imagine it. 

By this time I was holding my breath and hiding behind my menu in an attempt to avoid embarrassing my family and- more importantly- Nikita. 

When she left I was genuinely concerned for my breathing I was laughing so much. You know when there are so many tears running down your face you could actually be mistaken for crying? Your tummy hurts, your chest hurts. I actually haven't laughed that much for as long as I can remember. 

None of my family laughed. 

Dale was actually wearing an expression of nothing short of disgust. 

Fix-It Felix thought it was hilarious when I told him and has continued to provide me with re-enactments ever since :)

Now my family's trip here wasn't all making-fun-of-each-other and embarrassing-everyone, at the risk of sounding like a Walt Disney World advert, we did actually have some truly magical moments...

1. Cupcakes. 

When the cashier at the Animal Kingdom Quick Service saw our Family Reunion Badges she gave us no hint at all that she was going to provide us with free cupcakes. The food then came out with beautiful cakes and a receipt with *magical moment* written on. It was probably nothing to her but it was amazing to us and I'm sure we'll be talking about it for years to come. 

Equally magical (though slightly odd) was the free dessert that my grandparents were provided with at another Disney restaurant to congratulate them on their anniversary. Where they got the idea that it was their anniversary we don't know, but we didn't argue....

2. The Lion King. 

I have raved and raved and raved some more for eight months to my family about how amazing The Festival of The Lion King in Animal Kingdom is. It's my favourite thing to do in the whole of Walt Disney World and in my humble opinion they will never beat it. So, like Hoop Dee Doo, I felt a lot of pressure for my family to love it as much as I do. 

I spent the whole time stressing that they wouldn't enjoy it because we had an annoying, noisy child in front of us, or because of the woman whose Mickey ears were blocking the stage. At the end, I turned to my mum and asked what she thought. 

Eyes filled with tears, she squeaked 'I can't talk right now', and gulped down an entire bottle of water. 

Same reaction as me then. 

3. Meeting Belle.

Belle is my mum's favourite character. Meeting her was one of the first things we did on the first day of the holiday and it was probably one of the most magical moments I've experienced since moving here. She made a huge deal of the fact that it was a family reunion, asked us plenty of questions and- to seal the deal and make her officially the best character we met- told us that my Grandma reminded her of Mrs Potts. What a brilliant judge of character Belle is.


4. Fantasmic. 

We planned our whole day around seeing Fantasmic. It is my favourite firework show here and I wanted them to see it the way that I saw it the first time: I had absolutely no idea what it was, I just went in and sat down right in the middle (perfect seats) and watched it with no expectation whatsoever. 

Somehow, at the last minute, our plans went wrong. 

We could only get standing positions to watch it- right from the side, squashed between lots of been-in-Disney-all-day, tired, fairly smelly people. 

We decided to return the next day and wait for an hour for a middle, seated position. 

It was totally worth it. 

If only for the tears in the eyes of my normally sensible, composed Grandma. 

5. Meeting Buzz and Woody. 

You know how you get a little tear watching the Disney ad where the little girl meets Cinderella for the first time and she's so overwhelmed and starstruck? (Okay, well I do.) That's what my mum meeting Woody was like. I thought she was going to burst into tears. She didn't, and I'm thankful for that, but it was magical all the same. 

6. Right words, right time.

On our last morning I was wearing my beautiful white dress when I threw hot chocolate all over it in front of a very busy canteen. I was tired, emotional, embarrassed, soaking wet, boiling hot and annoyed.

You know when you have those moments when you think: if I cannot do something as simple as this without it being a disaster, how useless am I?

It's normally sleeping through my alarm that causes that thought in my head, but on this occasion I kept thinking: why can't I just wear a white dress like a normal person without it being something to worry about?

I had to go back upstairs and change, wash my dress out then carry it around in a plastic bag for the rest of the day and whip it out into the sun every time we sat down anywhere. Then I left it in a restaurant and had to get a bus back again to pick it up.

When I told my Grandad he said: 'I'm glad I'm not the only one that does things like that.'

Those words might seem simple and obvious now but at the time they meant the whole world.

Immediately I was reminded that I'm human, and my self-esteem began to rise again.

Just like magic :)

I like to think that you will be able to tell that I had the most amazing time whilst my family were here and I would happily keep them here for as long as I stay...

...but as long as I'm having to live without them, there is nowhere I would rather be.

I sighed as their coach pulled away to take them to the airport, and with tears in my eyes said 'back to reality.'

So I hopped on a bus and went back to reality.

I went for ice cream at midnight with Dale, then the following morning to Epcot to work with the wonderful cast of Walt Disney World, then to Italy for dinner, America for a Boyz II Men concert and France for wine with five of the most beautiful, funny girls I have ever been lucky enough to meet.

One day, not too far from now, I'm going to have to return to a different reality. One that doesn't involve eating round the world, meeting Princesses or dancing under the moon with the Mad Hatter (that did happen once, but that's a story for another time).

That day is one that I have been dreading for eight months.

But seeing my family again was a little reminder of how wonderful that reality can be too.

Climbing into bed with my mum in the morning to tell her about the night before, laughing with my cousins about the fact that Grandad gets more dinner on his chin than in his mouth when we're round there for tea, or grabbing my brothers and hugging them for no reason at all other than that I got a little rush of love for them when they walked past in their jammies and bed hair are all part of an amazing reality too.

So for now I will make the most of midnight ice cream, spontaneous Wishes and random concerts, but I will stop making depressed faces when anyone mentions February, and start to look forward to the time that I'm once again reunited with my wonderful family.

Aren't I lucky? :)