Sunday, 5 April 2015

Little Wonders...

On Friday 1st August 2014 I finished my shift at The Lion King and met Minnie Mouse and Pumbaa for a quiet dinner in my favourite restaurant. We were sipping our drinks and catching up when Minnie Mouse changed the entire world forever more.

She said the word "so."

As she said it, she looked up at both of us from under her unreasonably long lashes, and smiled.

My stomach immediately dropped.

Before my brain could register why on earth my stomach was behaving that way, Minnie Mouse spoke again.

"I'm pregnant."

And that was that. The world changed.

(Not that everybody felt it, of course. Our waitress continued to ask us whether we were ready to order and was not hugely impressed when we kept tearfully shaking our heads and laughing whilst snivelling, as dramatic girls do, about the fact that we hadn't looked at the menu yet. I used to be a waitress. We were the worst kind of table that night. But the world was different. The rules didn't apply to us.)

Minnie Mouse has been my best friend since 2005. When someone becomes your best friend at the age of sixteen, you go through a lot together.

We've spent plenty of years together in which the words "I'm pregnant" would have caused a different kind of crying.

So somehow her pregnancy didn't just mean that a baby was coming, it meant that we were well and truly adults.

Some of you may have noticed by looking at my various career choices and general behaviour that I am attempting to avoid growing up at all costs, and I'm doing a great job of staying in denial about the whole thing.

But my best friend being married with a mortgage and a baby? An actual baby, that she's having with her husband and taking home to her four bedroom house that has four bedrooms for this exact purpose?!

That is actually quite grown up, isn't it?

I spent the next seven months shopping for baby clothes (nb. if you work in a shop, specifically Disney Store for clientèle like me but any shop that sells baby clothes really, please don't ask the customer if they are pregnant. It's mortifying for all involved. She'll tell you if she wants to.), all manner of baby merchandise and talking to anyone and everyone about the fact that this baby was due.

Every now and then I would have a little moment of realisation, like the fact that Minnie Mouse was going to give birth to an actual person, who would go on to have a career and a love life and funny stories like the rest of us. Or like the fact that she was going to have a baby. It wasn't just a bump- one day she was going to give birth. And then there would be a baby. A real one like the ones my mum's friends have. And the fact that it would then be a toddler. We'd have a toddler running round when we caught up with each other.

I did get used to her being pregnant eventually. Probably in around the last two weeks.

We went on Pumbaa's hen weekend in September and Minnie was just about showing a bump. I drove her to Pumbaa's house where we met everyone and I felt like I had been left with the responsibility of running up a vertical travelator without dropping the crown jewels. The baby may as well have been strapped in the back wailing, for all the responsibility I felt on that fifteen minute, straight forward drive. I carried her bags, I held her hand, I brought her water at the drop of a hat. (Actually, Pumbaa would quite readily tell you that I have always been like this with Minnie Mouse. She's like a real life princess- you can't help yourself.) Then on one occasion, one tiny occasion, I slipped up. Minnie Mouse had to carry her bag herself.

She will never, ever let it go. That story will still being told at his 30th birthday party, I swear.

Pumbaa revelled in Minnie's pregnancy. She bought all the right things at all the right stages, she had all the right answers at all the right times, came out with pearls of wisdom and brilliant ideas. She'd run into the room and immediately go to the bump, running her hands over it and speaking to him like he knew her. She asked the right questions, made the right amount of fuss, and showed so much love to him from the word go.

I, like Pumbaa, was in love the second I heard that this person was even on his way to existing. I bought him haphazard presents- tops and babygros and bibs as I saw them, and was too excited to save them, just gave them straight to Minnie to go in the wardrobe. I told everyone about it, just couldn't wait. I cried walking down Surbiton High Street telling my mum about the pregnancy. For the baby shower, I took a present really suitable for a one year old, but I was too excited to wait a whole year to buy it. I touched the bump twice, when told to by Minnie Mouse, and absolutely could not get my head around that being a human.

So what I want to know is: how do people know how to act?

I was on Facebook this morning and saw that a friend had bought a mutual friend's baby a Christmas present. I'd say we're about equal friends with this mum, but I didn't even send them a card! Was I meant to send a present now that she's had a baby? Is all this wisdom just going to come to me the second I have my own house? Or a husband? Who teaches us this stuff?

Anyway, despite my lack of etiquette around the whole thing, I think it's the love that counts, right?

It reached March. He was due 12th March. (Mel C's birthday, incidentally. Why do stupid facts like that stick around?) By 7th March I was going relatively crazy. Checking my phone every five seconds. Checking Facebook just in case for some reason I didn't receive the text (my phone is notoriously unreliable.) I messaged Minnie on a daily basis to check that she was okay. Sometimes two or three times a day. Sometimes she didn't reply and I'd call her, imagining she was stuck in labour in her bathroom and for some reason couldn't dial out but would be able to answer the phone.

Once, I popped round there. She knew I was coming but she didn't answer the door immediately. I got to the point where I was about to knock on the neighbour's door and ask them to help me break in, convinced she was stuck upstairs alone and was waiting for me to turn up and rescue her.

What I had forgotten, of course, was that despite the pregnancy, she hadn't had a personality transplant. It was Minnie Mouse.

She sauntered to the door just as I was debating stopping the police car that was driving past and said "sorry babe, I was just doing my hair."


It got to 16th March. Dale and I popped round to see her. We got back in the car, she was stood at the door waving, and I checked my empty phone and sighed.

"You know she's not in labour Rebecca, she's right there!"


It got to 19th March.

I went into Costa and bought a coffee as a treat on the way into work. The service was exceptional, so I took down the names of the very busy-and-efficient baristas, and planned to write an email later that day. I got back into my car, and the phone started ringing. My doctor, returning a call about my appointment. As I picked up the phone I saw a text arrive. All I saw was the word "Minnie".

I never did send that email to Costa. And I wrote down the wrong time for that doctor's appointment.

She was five centimetres dilated and had been sent to hospital.

Somehow, the world had changed again. And I hadn't seen it coming this time.

I had been checking my phone obsessively for weeks. I had talked of more or less nothing else. My cousin, an excellent midwife, had been on call for me like I was pregnant, we'd been talking almost constantly about what would happen when Minnie did go into labour and how the date/time could change things. I'd watched all the tv shows where you see the characters wait for their best friends to give birth. Friends, SATC, Gavin and Stacey...I thought I knew.

I got the text and was overcome with emotion. I am quite an emotional person, so it's not shocking that I had an emotional reaction. But this was so unexpected. 

I drove out of the Costa car park, tears running down my face, when Hold On by Wilson Phillips came on. One of our (many) songs.

When I finished my year in Disney I remember one of my friends saying to me that as she watched the Epcot fireworks for the last time, she saw a show reel of the last twelve months in her head. When we moved out of our family home last September, my brother said that as he walked around the empty house for the last time, he saw a show reel of the past seventeen years in his head.

As I drove to work with the words of that text still echoing in my mind and Wilson Phillips singing in my ears, I saw a show reel of the past ten years in my head. Overhearing this outrageously beautiful and outrageously loud girl on the first day at my new college saying that she had to wait two hours for her Law class to start. Going over to her and introducing myself, explaining that I was in that Law class as well. Her telling me that I'd made a fool of myself randomly talking to a stranger like that but proceeding to hang out with me for the next two hours anyway. Her passing her driving test the same day that I failed mine. Her 18th birthday- the night that she fell over and actually seriously damaged her ankle and everybody told her to shut up and stop making such a fuss. Pumbaa's 18th birthday- the night that we all felt like actual Goddesses, despite pictures now suggesting that we were anything but. Coming back from my holiday to Halkidiki to hear that Minnie Mouse had met this boy at Pumbaa's barbecue and it looked like it might turn into something. (That boy, by the way, is the man that had text me approximately two and a half minutes earlier to say his wife was 5 cm dilated.) The trip to Dublin for our 21st birthdays where we all declared in front of my relatively new boyfriend that we couldn't believe we were almost half a century old, and he couldn't believe we really thought that. The holiday to Crete, where Minnie's bag weighed the same as the rest of ours put together and my dad almost did his back in trying to get it out of the boot. The time I got a message from Minnie whilst she was in Vegas and it was a picture of an engagement ring. The time I popped round there and she gave me a goody bag asking me to be her bridesmaid. The time we took a selfie just before we walked down the aisle and the vicar and the photographer thought it was hilarious and made it the theme of the wedding. The time Pumbaa and I walked down the aisle in our bridesmaid dresses and hadn't been warned that we were walking down to a live version of "A Thousand Years", and so sobbed in a wholly undignified manner for the rest of the service. The time we were sat in Sophie's in Covent Garden for a casual dinner and Minnie told us she was pregnant.

Where had the time gone? How was she in labour?

I got into work and told the lady on customer services as I signed in that my best friend was in labour. I got into the office and told both of the other managers. I continued to tell myself.

I spent the rest of that day in an emotional daze. I checked my phone approximately once every millisecond. The only relief I got was when I was holding interviews and was actually so focused on being professional and hiring the right people that I could temporarily forget that anything else existed.

My amazingly thoughtful and talented cousin came in and saw me at work twice that day, keeping me updated with what could potentially be going on. She told me that the absolute latest he could be born was 10pm.

I finished work at 8pm. Nothing.

It got to half past nine and I text Pumbaa. We proceeded to stare at our phones for the next ten hours, the only messages from each other.

I don't think I can tell you how I felt during this time. I'm not sure I can express it.

For some reason, despite the fact that we had spent seven and a half months being excited about her pregnancy, repeating to myself that she was growing a person, I still hadn't quite registered that she would go into actual labour and have an actual child.

It made me see pregnancy and childbirth in a whole new light.

At 7am I got a phone call to tell me that he was here, and that both mother and child were safe and sound.

I went to work in a daze. I was tired, and worried, and everything had seriously changed.

I kept seeing pregnant women and wanting to tell them: you know you have to get that out of you now, don't you? That's an actual person and you've got to push him out! Are you ready for that? Are your friends and family?

At 10am I got a text from Minnie herself.

At 12pm I got pictures of the most beautiful human being that has ever existed.

At lunch, I showed the pictures to a colleague, who couldn't believe how glamorous Minnie was post-birth. (Just to give you an idea, when she went overdue she was concerned that her eyelash extensions wouldn't last much longer.)

As I showed my work friend the pictures, I said: "Mm she had a list of names. I know she liked Joshua and Zachary but clearly they're out!" She looked at the pictures and frowned.

"Um...why? Has she said that?"

"No. But look at him. Neither of them are his name!"

She laughed her head off.

"He's...he's a baby."

By the next day, I was the definition of exhausted. I'd had texts and pictures from Minnie and her wonderful family (who I will be forever grateful to for keeping me updated), but I needed to see her before I would sleep properly again. I kept being told that I needed to see him, I needed to meet him and then it would all make sense in my head and my emotions would calm down again. Actually, I needed to see Minnie again. I love that baby so, so, so much already- he is perfect. But his mum is my best friend in the world and she had been through one hell of an ordeal. It was her I was worried about, her I needed to see again to put my mind at rest.

On Saturday 21st March (remember Sam? From Sam and Mark fame? His birthday. Seriously. I should go on Mastermind for celeb birthdays), I finally met him. This little man that I had waited for for so long. And I finally saw Minnie Mouse. And the second I hugged her, everything settled back into place again. The worry evaporated, the world settled. I relaxed. I held and cuddled him, we talked about the birth, but we talked about other things. We talked about Pumbaa's wild antics from the night before. We talked about my job. We talked about friends and family and normal things.

The world had changed. And was the same.

That night I finally slept again.

The next morning, having put the photo on Facebook just before I fell asleep, I woke up to an outrageous number of texts congratulating me. I really had mentioned it to everyone I had met in the last seven and a half months, and they all text me to tell me to pass on their congratulations.

Which was wonderful.

What I couldn't get my head around though, and probably never will, is that the world didn't stop.

I still had to go to work. I still held those interviews. I saw people walking around Sainsbury's as though life wasn't about to change forever. People I told said it was lovely and gave me a smile but- it wasn't enough. It wasn't one of the news stories down the side of my Facebook. It wasn't trending on twitter. Nobody mentioned it on This Morning.

Millions of people go through this every single day in every corner of the globe. And when it finally happened in my world- in the centre of my world, not just near it- I realised what a big deal it is.

Once upon a time, this happened because you were on your way. That's how important you are. For someone, the entire world stood still because you were being born. You are so, so special. You mean so much to the people around you. You could do anything if you wanted to. You changed the world.

Isn't it funny that we write our date of birth on so many things? We use it as a password, as a form of ID, as a way of measuring what's going to happen to us this month and who we are compatible with according to astrology! But it's hard to think that was ever an actual day, isn't it? I know that the Hillsborough Disaster happened just before I was born, and that the charity single was number one that day. I know that Charlene and Scott had not long got married on Neighbours, and that everyone was still singing Especially For You. I know that it was the year that the Children Act was passed, and the year that The Little Mermaid was released.

But I can't get my head around it being an actual day. Sometimes I look at my birth certificate and try and imagine the person that wrote the date thinking "hmm, what's the date today?" then casually writing 1989, because it was 1989.

One day, he will know that 2015 was the year that Madonna fell over at the Brits (because that will definitely be a pub quiz question in 2035), that Frozen Mania was still upon us, and that Uptown Funk stormed the charts.

What he will never know is that the entire world changed for a whole bunch of people just because he was here.

Try and remember that, next time you're doubting yourself, or questioning your self-worth.

Welcome on board Jack James Orme. Born Thursday 19th March at 21.21. Weighing a very healthy 9.7.

You have already changed the world.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Break Away...

In October last year I made a decision- just a little decision- a decision to send a text message, to be precise, without consulting my best friends or parents first. I made the decision, wrote and sent the text, and then messaged my best friends and called my Mum to tell them I had done it.

Everybody immediately told me it had been a huge mistake. I shouldn't have been so honest in my text. "There's being honest and then there's that!" Minnie Mouse had despairingly replied. 

I couldn't see what was wrong with it. Honesty was the policy that I had with the receiver of that message, and it had worked well for us thus far. I thought he would appreciate it. 

Soon though, the horrified reactions of my Mum and friends were starting to concern me. I started to feel sick, actually. And he hadn't replied. Oh God, why hadn't he replied? 

I sent another outrageously honest text, that went along the lines of: Oh my God, I shouldn't have been so honest with you. I'm sorry. Forget I ever said anything. Can we start again. Please? 

I like to think it wasn't quite as desperate as that. But you get the idea. 

I called him. He didn't answer. I had to start work. Work was going to be hell. My stomach was in knots. I told the girls at work what I had done. I wasn't massively reassured. 

My break couldn't come soon enough. 

When it finally arrived, I had a text from him saying call me. 

Oh God. 

I frantically explained that I thought it was best to be honest but now I had learnt my lesson- my friends had all told me that that was a step too far, I was sorry, I wouldn't do it again. 

He laughed down the phone. 

He told me that yeah, it was honest, and it probably wouldn't suit most people. But that was the standard we had set. That was the policy we had decided on. He hadn't thought anything of the text. But he'd read it on his way into the underground and so I hadn't received his casual and happy reply before I'd sent my frantic sorry messages. 

Then he told me something that I believe has changed and will continue to change my life: 

You hold your friends' opinions up too high Rebecca. You rely on them too much, and you care about what they think far more than you should. 

Those words struck me far deeper than I think he intended them to. 

Did I rely on my friends too much? Or was he just failing to understand how girl friendships work? 

I had a feeling it was the former. 

A couple of weeks later I was at Pumbaa and Baloo's wedding, where I was reminded that Pumbaa's friends and family were actively against her dating Baloo when she first met him. 

"Imagine if I had listened to everyone, and cared what they all thought. Imagine if I'd thought that everyone else's opinions were more important than my own." Pumbaa had said, eyebrows raised and arms flailing when I asked her about it. 

I realised that I had had it in my head that this was how our friendship worked. We ran everything by each other. That was how we made decisions. Talking to Pumbaa I realised that that wasn't strictly true. I would run everything by my friends, take their opinion as gospel, and make my decisions based on that. None of the others did that. I was being ridiculous. How had I let this go on for so long?  

A few weeks later, Madame Adelaide suggested something that I wasn't totally sure I agreed with. Remembering the advice I had been given, I took a moment to consider what my opinion was. I told her. She tipped her head to one side and said: "Oh yeah. I hadn't seen it like that. That makes sense." Then we talked about something else. 

This was a revelation to me. 

Madame Adelaide is the nicest person in the world. The most angry thing I've ever heard her say is "and then she took the buttercream and iced the cake! Can you believe it?!" 

So I'm not sure exactly what reaction I was expecting from her upon hearing I didn't totally agree with her opinion. But I learnt a big lesson in that moment. 

Madame Adelaide, Pumbaa, and Minnie Mouse- as well as anyone else I put on a pedestal- are wonderful, really. And their opinions are valuable and will always be important to me. But they are not the only opinions, their point of view is not the only one, and they would be the first to say that their ideas are not the be all and end all. They don't necessarily know the situation that I need help with or the people involved like I do. It might be that they are so quick to defend and protect me that they can't see it from the other person's point of view. It might be that they are comparing it to a situation that they feel passionate about that it can't totally be compared to. 

There's a line in the Baz Luhrmann song Sunscreen that says: 

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. 

And that is what I had somehow let myself forget- despite listening to that song far more often than necessary. Advice is provided with the intention of helping you but you don't have to follow it to the letter. Just because you think someone is wiser or more experienced than you doesn't mean they have all the answers for you and your exact situation. 

Since this huge revelation, I have discovered another, very similar feature, about myself. 

It turns out that, despite the fact that I love them and just think they're the best human beings on the planet, I don't have to agree with my parents on everything. 

They might be reading this and laughing, shaking their heads. I am quite opinionated. and I'll not pretend that I've never disagreed with my parents until this year. But recently my friends were discussing how much they love Emma Willis and I, in my new practice of voicing my thoughts, disagreed with them. When they asked me what I've seen her on that made me dislike her I realised...I've never seen her on anything. I don't really know anything about her. My Mum doesn't like her though. 

That's a ridiculous reason to not like her, I realised. 

How had I caught that opinion off of my Mum without noticing?!

A few days later somebody asked me if I like cats. 

"Ooh no. Ugh. Not a cat person. Not me." I scoffed. 

Then one of them started telling stories about her cat. I remembered sharing a bed with the cat in one of the houses I worked in. Then I remembered the kittens that my ex-boyfriend found and hand-reared. And then I remembered how much I love Dale's cats climbing onto my lap. 

Actually, I love cats. I think that when I do finally grow up and have a house and a pet, I would like that pet to be a cat. 

Yet somehow I had held onto this idea that I hate cats because my Dad does. 

I am twenty-five years old. I left home almost eight years ago. I've lived all across the world. I've been responsible for other people's children. I'm someone's manager. What am I doing running around voicing my parents' opinions as my own?! 

These two huge revelations of how much I rely on those around me; despite my supposed independence, my travelling, my stubborn and opinionated nature and my own initiative, have been a wake up call. I have decided to make that independence genuine and am becoming a better adult and well-rounded person as a result. 

Here are the ridiculous things that I have discovered about myself on this journey of independence so far...

1) The voices in my head are enough. 

A few weeks ago I had to call in sick to work. I hate calling in sick. My mum was one of those parents that insisted I "had a try" if I was ill, so I went into school no matter what kind of vicious bug I had and nine times out of ten would end up having to sit in the horrendous medical room throwing up into a washing up bowl that smelt of bleach until she came to get me. I am grateful to her for instilling into me the importance of only calling in if you were genuinely too ill to be there but still. The guilt gets me. Ordinarily I would have called my Mum asking her if she thought I was sick enough to warrant calling in. Wanting her to reassure me that it was the right thing to do and remind me that everyone has to do it sometimes (I've literally done it four times in my life). But this time, in my quest for independence, I realised that I knew exactly what she would say and how she would say it. That if I tried to go into work I'd only end up being off for longer. That I'd be of no use to anyone in my state anyway. She'd tell me she hates doing it too. That the people I work with should know me well enough to know it would only ever be genuine. And then I'd have dragged out making the horrible call even longer.

So I did it. I made the decision and the phone call without running it by anyone And I was off for a whole day. And neither of my parents knew. What a grown up.

2) It's okay that I like tattoos. 

Lots of people like them. Lots of people have them. A lot of those people have parents that don't like them. And that's okay. I think that they're a ridiculous reason to judge someone and, for the first time, am happy to admit that out loud. And even put it in writing. Where my parents and grandparents can read it. And I'm fairly sure they won't disown me, and that I won't get struck down. (If someone could just keep an eye on me for a while though that'd be great. If I am suddenly disowned you all know why.)

3) I will be finding out the sex of the baby. 

It's such a stupid thing to disagree on but my Mum and Grandparents passionately believe that the sex of the baby should remain a secret until the baby is born. I want to know. And I've always kind of thought...well I want to know but the family don't so I guess I won't be able to.

But I totally can and will find out! They don't have to know if they don't want to :)

(Just to be clear: I am not having a baby any time soon.)

4) I actually would quite like to go to Asia and Australia. 

My parents have never wanted to, so I have never wanted to. But now I have lots of friends there and couldn't work out my feelings. All the pictures and stories are amazing- so why do I still not want to go?

Oh wait. I do.

5) Everybody doesn't have to know everything. 

I had got myself into such a mad state of needing everybody's opinion before I made any kind of decision, or if I had any kind of dilemma, that two things would happen.

Firstly, I would hear so many different opinions that I wouldn't be able to form my own; and secondly, everybody would know all of my business all the time. It drove me crazy and it didn't seem to be a pattern I could get out of.

Until I found the power of making my own decisions. It's okay to just make a decision or deal with an issue without telling everyone I've ever met. It's okay to just ask one or two people to get it off my chest. It's easier, in  fact.

How have I only just discovered this?!

6) Nobody knows the right answer. 

I always remember that when I worked with Flounder she told me that when you're on the spot you just have to make decisions based on your own feelings and hope it works out okay. You can't run every single decision by a manager or you'll never get anything done.

I found that a really difficult concept to get my head around: I like rules and regulations, thank you very much. Anyone who's ever worked for Disney will know that decisions are made using the four keys in order. Safety is the main priority in every decision, followed by Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. That suits me: a decision making formula. Wonderful.

But in the real world, the four keys don't always apply, decisions have to be made purely on instinct and common sense.

And what I've discovered since becoming a manager is that there's not a ruler of the world that decides whether what you did is right or wrong. If you can explain why you made a decision, people will generally support it. Even if you made it without running by somebody else.

That is a huge revelation for me. I can decide things without getting someone else's opinion. And it will all work out okay. There was a time when I couldn't choose an ice cream flavour without running it by my Mum first. I'm growing up :)

 7) My parents will support me even when they disagree with me. 

I recently called my Dad and asked him for advice on something. He gave me a lot of advice based on his own experience, and then I went and did the exact opposite. When I told him what I was thinking of doing and then what I had done, he listened patiently, asked all the right questions, and reassured me that I had done the right thing.

It turns out that I'm surrounded by people who are happy to disagree with me. How magical :)

So try it out: make your own decisions, be your own person, take a deep breath and decide your own opinion. Form your own thoughts, go your own way, and make your own mistakes.

Take a risk, take a chance, make a change.

Prove yourself.

And let me know how it goes :)

Oh! And another thing...

I am going totally against my boyfriend's beliefs by taking Davina's Five Weeks to Sugar-Free Challenge, and I will be documenting the highs and lows in my brand new blog: Just Sweet Enough.

Please do not feel obliged to have a peek, but if you're interested in doing it yourself or seeing what it's going to do to me, take a little look :)

Friday, 13 February 2015

All For Love....

Is it just me or is Valentine's Day a bigger deal than usual this year?

It feels like it is everywhere at the minute. You know that scene in the first Sex and the City movie when Miranda and Carrie go out for dinner on February 14th and there are actual paper hearts hanging from the ceiling? 

That's what my whole world feels like this February.

And I am not complaining. 

Any reason to celebrate, I say. 

One of my house mates argued that it's all just a big commercial excuse to charge an absolute fortune for everything. 

He has a point. Dale saw an advert for a two course meal at Wetherspoons for 30 pounds. Wetherspoons! 

(Just as a side note I own the only laptop in the entire world that does not have a pound sign.) 

Despite this, I am actually a supporter of Valentine's Day for two reasons: 

1) I love an excuse to celebrate. ANY excuse. I love how the air feels different if it's a special date. Everything from my own birthday to St. David's Day is exciting- anything to mix it up and make it different from every other day. (I tried to explain this to Dale the other day and told him that I even used to get a buzz out of being at school on my Mum's birthday- being reminded that there'd be cake later every time I wrote the date! Lovely.) 

2) YES, I agree, shops and restaurants absolutely take outrageous advantage of the fact that it's a date that everyone celebrates, and so the temptation is to opt out. That'll teach 'em! But shops and restaurants do the same for every celebration- ever bought Christmas decorations in June? Or those fancy soap gift box things in March? They're more than half the price they are in December. Of course they raise their prices when they know demand is higher- that's running a business. That doesn't mean that the original idea isn't just lovely. I honestly don't believe for a second that the first ever Valentine's Day back in the 5th Century was the idea of a dodgy up-and-coming Lord-Sugar-of-The-Times to make some extra cash. There is a little bit of uncertainty surrounding the origins of Valentine's Day, but the basic agreed idea is that St. Valentine put love before anything else and that everybody agreed that should be celebrated. 

And being the romantic that I am- I agree. 

Dale and I will not be taking Wetherspoons up on their 60 pound Valentine's meal, thank you very much (!) but we will be spending the day together, and acknowledging the fact that it's just lovely that we found each other. (That's about as far as it will go though- we're very British.) 

Anyway, I thought I would celebrate Valentine's Day with you, my lovely readers, by telling you just about the most romantic things I've ever heard.....

1) Surprise tickets!

This is the only story I will tell that happened to me- promise. Last year Dale was living in America and I was living...all over the place. Literally wherever I hadn't stayed yet and wherever I didn't think I would annoy people. Then I got stuck. Tube strikes and lack of a house meant that I was stuck in London for a whole Thursday with no money, nothing to do and nowhere to go. Luckily for me I knew in advance that I was going to be stuck, and on Wednesday afternoon the receptionist from work came in and handed me a piece of paper. 

She smiled and said "This is from Dale," then walked away. 

I frowned and unfolded it. 

One ticket to the show that I was desperate to see before it closed. For the Thursday matinee. 

Making magic for me from all the way across the pond. 

2) The little things. 

Regular readers will know that my best friend Minnie Mouse is currently on maternity leave. Today, instead of resting her seriously huge bump and putting her feet up, she chose to bake her husband his favourite brownies. 

When I replied to the picture she sent asking her what flavour they were, she told me they're "oreo because he LOVES oreos."


3) Absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

One of my house mates has a boyfriend that lives in France. This Christmas he called her a couple of days before Santa was due to arrive and told her he couldn't be without her any more. He had booked her return tickets to spend the week between Boxing Day and New Year's Day in Val D'Isere with him.  

So romantic. 

4) Fifty Years Later....

For the first seventeen years of my life every time I pulled away from my paternal grandparents' house it was to wave at my Nanny with her arms around my Grandad's waist. Not in a habitual way- but in a we-just-got-engaged-yesterday way. Even at my young age it always struck me how special that was. 

I really hope I'm still that in love when I've been married for fifty years. 

5) Wedding Bells. 

Dory married her Prince Charming in an absolutely beautiful country house. It was perfect. Except for one thing. Dory had dreamt of wedding bells ever since the first time she put a pillow case on her head and walked through the living room as a bride- but country homes don't provide wedding bells. 

So Prince Charming commissioned the church next door to ring their bells at three pm in celebration of their marriage. 

Of all the absolutely beautiful things that happened that day- that was my favourite. 

6) Genuine love. 

In case you hadn't noticed from the above examples, I'm not a fan of huge, over-the-top gestures. Singing with a guitar on a flight is great in The Wedding Singer but I would die if I ever saw that in real life. I appreciate the more understated gesture. 

Last year saw my Auntie and Uncle celebrate their 24th anniversary. I recently found out that they were only together for nine months before they got married. Nine months! Dale and I have been together for a year and a half and are just about entertaining the idea of booking a week-long holiday as a couple. Twenty-five years later they are one of the best couples I know, and my Uncle's Facebook status to celebrate twenty-four years together restored any faith in love I may have lost.....

24 years ago today I took my little Mrs up the aisle, if you'll pardon the expression. Ever since there's been nothing but fun, laughter and happy times spent with the most wonderful person in the world. What a lucky girl. I've quite enjoyed myself too!!! Thanks love. One more year until our silver wedding anniversary. It makes me feel old. Loads of love. xxx

There is so much love there, and absolutely no airs or graces. Magical. 

7) Treasure Hunt. 

When I worked in Disney World I witnessed a lot of proposals, but my favourite by far actually happened in London when I was working at The Lion King. We were a part of a treasure hunt that went all around the city, reminding the girlfriend of various magical moments in their relationship, and providing her with a series of souvenirs along the way. She came to us because they see The Lion King every Christmas, and in our shop found the Rafiki statue holding a bucket of popcorn (her favourite) with a note sending her to the bar to collect her favourite drink, and then on to Trafalgar Square. 

It was a huge, romantic proposal but still managed to be personal and private. Perfect. 

8) Lessons in Love. 

I always say that I've learnt everything I know about making a marriage work from my maternal grandparents. Sometimes spending the afternoon with them actually feels like a master class in love. My Grandma has an excellent knack of making my Grandad feel like the most important person in the entire universe- even after 51 years of marriage. 

I was recently there and my Grandad had cooked some bacon (yes for me, yes I'm vegetarian- they don't understand), and my Grandma said: "Oh Derek I don't know what I'd do without you. You just have that magic touch with the bacon don't you? You really are very good." 

And my quite serious Grandad actually beamed, then tried to play it down with "well, you know, it's just knowing what you're doing" whilst clearly bursting with pride. That is true love, and a very successful marriage. 

9) Endless Support. 

I've just seen this one on Facebook but I'm sure those involved won't mind me telling you. A friend has recently started her own business and is in the process of running and promoting it. Her husband has just posted a picture of her looking beautiful and professional, clearly running a presentation on what her business involves. He has posted "Go you! You are amazing." 

Being supported like that by the person I was spending my life with would make me feel like I could do anything, and is probably what encouraged her to start this in the first place. Amazing what a bit of love can do! 

In a similar vein, I have a different friend who always wanted to own a shop. One day she arrived home to her husband with all his finances laid out in front of him. He had found a location for her shop, and gone through his finances to establish that he could support her until her business found its feet. 

I can't even find the words to express how romantic I think that is. 

10) One last one. 

Okay I mentioned above that I'd only tell you one thing that had happened to me. But writing this has made me realise just how romantic Dale is. So I'll just let you in on one more. One day in December 2013 Dale just told me to keep Thursday free. When Thursday morning came around I still didn't know anything- just that I should wrap up warm. We went for lunch in House of Blues- somewhere that I had been wanting to eat but hadn't made it to yet- then we went to the most gorgeous hotel for a tour and then into an exhibition in which everything was made of ice. We watched the story of Frosty the Snowman come to life, went down slides made of ice and got some great photos of us in those big blue coats they provide. It was such a magical surprise and so romantic, I was delighted. 

We then went on to watch the snow fall in Celebration, the town that Disney built, and then on to a medieval dinner show. 

It was honestly one of the best days of my life, every step of it was so unexpected and so romantic, absolutely magical. 

Whilst writing this post I have spoken to a lot of people about their thoughts on love, and the general consensus is that the most romantic things are the little things that happen every single day. 

Dory did a month of romantic moments- every day for a month she did something different, from putting a note on his steering wheel to making him a special breakfast. Jiminy Cricket asked her husband what the most romantic thing that she had done for him was, and he answered that it's just the little things that she does every day. I thought about my own experiences with romance- and actually it's the little every day things that get me. I was worried about finding out whether I could get my holiday dates off of work today and woke up to a text from Dale saying he was on his way to work with his fingers crossed. I spent last night looking at his baby photos and laughing at his 90s haircuts. My brother Mowgli always has his arm around his girlfriend- and the two of them find each other hilarious.  My other brother, Chip, surprised his girlfriend with a trip to the zoo today and is constantly sending her things that remind him of her. I remember being at a barbecue with Pumbaa and her husband when she turned to him and said: "do you need to stand that close to me? Why are you standing so close?!" He replied: "Because I love you okay?!" in a totally over-the-top fashion and they both laughed their heads off. The other day Minnie Mouse commented that she hopes her new born baby is born with her husband's patience. I was once at Madame Adelaide's house when she was giving her husband very precise details on making her toast and he listened intently and followed the instructions to the letter. 

When we take the time to actually consider these things, they suddenly seem like the most special, important moments ever, yet we so rarely voice how important they are. 

So let Clinton's and Wetherspoon's and even Aldi this year (!) take advantage of this over-commercialised holiday, let restaurants go all out (I just spoke to my brother on the phone and was greeted by Love Will Keep Us Together blaring out in TGI's behind him), let the cinemas go Fifty Shades crazy and the tv ads bombard us with ideas about flowers and chocolates being essential for survival this weekend. In the mean time, take this holiday for what it is: an opportunity for you to remember just how lucky you are to be surrounded by so much love, and to thank those around you for being so magical.

And please feel free to share your own magical stories below, I'd love to hear them <3 

How romantic :) 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Beee yourself....

It's that time again.

The very beginning of the year. 

Apart from being freezing cold and done with Celebrity Big Brother; we're all feeling determined to make 2015 the year to top all others. 

We're vowing to lose weight, get fit, finish projects, start projects, look after ourselves, travel more, work harder, save more money, drink less, read more, handle our time more effectively and become generally more well rounded, better looking and intelligent people. 

Which is all great. Contrary to this year's fashion, I'm a big supporter of the New Year Resolution. 

What a brilliant time to make a change- apart from anything else- it's easy to measure your progress when you start at the beginning of the year. 

As a teenager I would come up with a list of about thirty resolutions per month, all along the lines of: stop doing/saying stupid things all the time, look more like Rachel from Friends, dress more like Destiny's Child, listen to cooler music, wear more makeup....

This went on officially until I was eighteen, when I made one resolution for 2008: to take up Latin and Ballroom dancing again. I fulfilled that one resolution and took it further than I ever could have dreamed, and so discovered the power of one realistic and life-changing vow per year. 

I did continue, however, to make resolutions throughout the year alluding to the ones I had made all the way through my teens, until around my 22nd birthday. 

Not long after I turned twenty-two, someone mentioned something about me being cool. 

Even reading the word cool in my voice is uncool. 

Anyway. Someone mentioned that I was cool and one of the girls I was with laughed. 

She said: 

Rebecca isn't cool in the traditional sense of the word. She's cool in that she is so far away from cool and yet is totally comfortable with that. She knows who she is and she's happy about it. She has no desire to change to become cool, and that makes her absolute lack of cool, cool. 

(Has the word "cool" started to look and sound strange to you, as well?)

In that moment the way I saw myself changed totally. 

She was absolutely right. I did quite like who I was. I knew I wasn't the beautiful, fashionable, smooth-talking popstar that I'd always assumed I would one day grow into, but I was really happy. 

I realised in that moment that if I continued to just embrace my own personality and everything that came with it, forgetting ever trying to fit a certain stereotype or constantly comparing myself to others, maybe who I was could be enough for me. 

Obviously I, like everybody else on the planet, will continue to change. I will continue to adapt and develop and grow, and am becoming a slightly better and slightly worse- slightly different, nonetheless- person every single day. 

But that core is still there. 

I am starting to accept that I will never be a popstar. I would now be in the overs category on The X Factor, alongside the likes of Wagner and Mary, and we all know where they end up (not in the charts, that's for sure). 

The reason I'm writing about this now is that a few things have happened recently to get me thinking about finding the balance between being yourself, being socially accepted, realising what has to change and accepting what never will...

1) Living with new people. 

At the beginning of last month I moved into a brand new shared house in Chelmsford. On day one, one of my new house mates was saying that he was spending New Year's Eve in Berlin. When I gushed that I would love to go to Germany, he responded: 

"I think you'd like it. Are you into your music?" 

My mind flicked back to the journey home from work. Singing as though my life depended on it to a combination of three Disney albums, Ed Sheeran's X and Taylor Swift's 1989. Intuition told me that was not what he meant.

"I'm really sorry I don't think I'm cool enough to have this conversation about music with you. Tell me about Berlin though..." I responded. 

When I later relayed this to my Dad's girlfriend's fifteen year old, she was horrified that I had said that to someone. 

Admitting to not being cool is not on your radar when you're fifteen. It doesn't seem quite so terrifying when you're heading toward the wrong end of your twenties :) 

2) Starting a new job.

I would like to know when everybody else feels is the right time in a new job to reveal your real personality? 

You're not actually an endless professional who reads about childcare in their spare time and has only ever wanted to work for this company. In real life you compare everything to Friends, drink far too much wine and plan on being the first winner of the X Factor to come from the overs category and go on tour with Beyonce. 

But when do you tell them that? 

I started at the end of October and am only just revealing my true colours, I think. We had a new girl start this week and she's already making everyone laugh out loud with her brilliant stories. She's made everyone relax and click with her straight away. I'm thinking that might be the way forward. Shed the professional and be yourself from Day One.  

What do you think?

3) Being a Role Model. 

At work this week I did a project with the older children on role models. 

We discussed who they are and what they do for us. 

One of the main things to come out of the project was that anyone and everyone can be a role model (though I can't say that the results were necessarily hugely accurate- one of the children insisted that his idol was his fish), and when the children wrote letters to the people that inspired them (yes, he wrote to his fish), some of them were magical. One wrote to her auntie, one to his Gran, another to the older brother of his best friend. I doubt very much that any of those role models were aware of the fact that that's what they are. They're probably crippled with self-doubt every day like the rest of us, looking at their own role models and wishing they could be more like that.

It's a lovely reminder that you never know who you're inspiring :) 

4) Remembering that somebody might be wishing they were in your shoes. 

Role model is quite a big word, and it might sound scary to think you could be one. You might think you never could be. 

But chances are someone's looking at you wishing they could be more like you. I wish I could be more like almost everyone I know. The majority of people I come in to contact have some kind of characteristic I wish I could take on. 

My cousin recently posted a diary entry that she found from when she was little that said: 

Wish of the Day: That I was my cousin Rebecca. 

Whaaaat?! It's mad to me that anyone- even a very small child- would think that. You never know who's thinking the same about you. 

5) Just being able to see yourself from other perspectives at all. 

I think Dale is the best person in the entire world. I have thought that since more or less the day I met him. And so do a lot of other people. He continues to be oblivious to how loved he is, to how wonderful everyone thinks he is, to how funny and gorgeous and intelligent he is. 

I know how oblivious he is because I spend so much time with him and I know him inside out. 

In reality I think we're all probably a little bit oblivious to these things. Except Kanye. I feel like he's quite comfortable with his positive features. 

6) Remembering who and what it is that makes you happy. 

My own role model, and one of the main people that got me thinking about this whole thing is, as any regular readers will know, Miranda Hart. 

This month, much to my absolute heartbreak, her award-winning series came to an end. 

But she ended it, as only she could, by reminding us of the importance of remembering what it is that makes us happy, and accepting that we are who we are and there's not much we can do about it. 

"I'm finally doing things for me, without the need of approval. I've finally worked out who I am. I'll always gallop with gay abandon, and I'll always find a euphemism in anything. I'll always sing if someone inadvertently speaks song lyrics, and I'll always love the word plunge. I've also realised that women like me can be sexy, it's just that the world might never affirm it so it takes us a little longer to realise it."

2014 taught me, more than anything, that my life will not always necessarily play out in a neat, fairytale story. Things will happen to ruin my plans, to make things messier than I expected, to stop my story unfolding in the way that I always imagined, and that's okay.  

At the end of last year when one area of my life went all over the place, and took the kind of twists and turns that I could never have predicted, I talked it through with my Grandma who told me "that's the tapestry of life darling." 

It was then that I realised. I learnt a lot from that unexpected turn, and have become a better person as a result. 

No number of resolutions made could have helped me learn that kind of lesson, and nor could any number of vows have prevented it from happening. 

So I'm following in Miranda's footsteps, and doing things for me, without the need of approval. I've finally worked out who I am. I'll always have a huge girl crush on Taylor Swift, and I'll always quote Disney films and Friends when giving advice. I'll always predictably wear stripes and a scarf, and I will always be obsessed with music-based reality tv shows. I'll always do that thing where I remember something funny in public and accidentally laugh out loud in the street on my own, and I will always look more like Maxine from Hollyoaks than Rachel from Friends.

I'll always be looking for a new adventure, and I'll always imagine that my life is a fairytale, even when the story's not quite working out the way it does in the movies. 

So yes, go against the grain this year and make a new year resolution. 

But remember that you are already wonderful, and no number of resolutions is about to change that. 

Maybe just vow to remember how brilliant you are. 

Oh! And in  the interest of always quoting Disney films when giving advice....

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Little Wonders

On the first day of 2014 the hashtag #100happydays started popping up all over my Facebook and twitter accounts. I did some research (well, I Googled it), and thought it looked brilliant.

Every day you post a picture of something that made you happy.

You're meant to post a picture, you're meant to do it every day for 100 days in a row, and you're meant to register with the website then link the website up with your social media platform of choice.

(That's not quite how I did it in the end but more on that later.)

The website made it very clear that you were supposed to do it for you, not to boast about your life, and that it could be anything that made you happy.

On the first day of 2014 I lived in Walt Disney World, Florida.

I decided against doing #100happydays whilst I was there, mainly because my thinking was that there would probably be a time in the year when I needed it more.

If I was going to do this for myself (as the website insisted you should), I was going to wait until it might be more of a challenge. I was well aware of how wonderful my life was in America, I didn't need to remind myself every day; I thought there might be a time once I was back in the UK that I did.

I knew that my spirits would stay up when I got back from America because my best friend was getting married in May. I got a job I loved still working for Disney, I managed to move into a beautiful flat 20 minutes from Waterloo, and spent my birthday celebrating with a combination of my mum, Disney pals, and Katy Perry.

Then June came. I'd been in my job three months and wasn't totally sure where it was going. I was struggling a bit with some of my colleagues (this might be the first negative thing I've ever posted and I feel horrendously guilty about it already, but it's true. I don't like everyone I meet. I'm learning to come to terms with it.) I still loved my flat and London life but I spent most of the time wishing Dale was there to enjoy it with me. I missed Dale so much it became all I thought about most of the time. I wasn't really seeing my family because I'd moved, Minnie Mouse was on honeymoon and it was a huge effort to see my other friends from home once I was living in London.

I decided this was the time that I had been saving #100happydays for.

Even the thought of what could happen in the next 100 days cheered me up.

As most of you will know I am horrendous with commitment and routine. I like everything to be different all the time, I love having new experiences and meeting new people, and I like to be as uncommitted as possible at all times so that I never know what's going to happen next.

Nothing was looking like it was going to change any time soon, and I couldn't pinpoint what I actually wanted to change, so the idea of measuring the next 100 days was hugely exciting. Who knew what would happen? I realised that even every day that I woke up I didn't know what might wander into my life- especially living in London. How exciting.

On day 1 I got to work and someone from the theatre who I didn't know hugely well, and who only worked one show a week, had bought me a Belle mug and a Disney Princess bag because she'd missed my birthday.

On day 2 I got an email from the people I used to work for in Italy asking me to go back and work for them for three weeks. They were short staffed and needed someone urgently.

On day 3 my wonderful managers at The Lion King said they'd sort it that I could go.

On day 4 we went out for drinks after work and I realised that The New Boy who had started that week was amazing, and that he himself might save me from my slump.

On day 5 I started reading The Fault in Our Stars- the best book I have ever read. You know when you read a book and you just know that something has shifted inside of you, that you will never quite be the same again? It hasn't happened to me many times either, but it did with this one. I doubt very much that I will ever find a book that I could fall in love with quite so deeply again.

On day 7 I finished reading The Fault in Our Stars, and on day 8, The New Boy and I went to the cinema to watch it: sealing, I believe, our friendship forever. Once you've watched an adult man sob his way through an entire film, you're probably stuck with him for life.

And so week 1 was over. I had a brand new Belle mug, felt cared for by the lady that worked once a week at the theatre, had the prospect of three weeks in Italy looming in front of me, and had finally made a true friend in London that wanted to hang out and do all the same things as me. (The New Boy became Simba, by the way, a regularly featured character in this blog.)

And I knew that by the time I arrived home from Italy, Dale would be back on UK soil.

So much to be #happy about already. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

I decided against posting every single day, I didn't want to drive everyone mad (although I think I probably did annoy a few people. I'm not sorry.)

And so I managed to make my 100 days last from my birthday to New Year's Day (that's 216 days, so quite an achievement, really.)

But it did make me take note of what I was thankful for every single day; and I believe that it did make me happier. Or remind me to be happier, at least. And I'm generally quite a happy person anyway.

Now I'm not going to bore you with all 98 things that have made me happy so far (chances are I've done that over the past 214 days), nor will I tell you all the things that made me happy on the days I didn't post, but here are a few examples of things that I wasn't able to be publicly thankful for at the time...

1. The night before Pumbaa's wedding. 

I finished work, walked to Holborn and caught two trains before I was back at my car and anywhere near getting to her house. I called her. They'd saved me some pizza and vegetarian jacket potato toppers. I could hear them all being excited in the background, and so I quickly hung up saying I'd see them in fifteen minutes.

It might not sound like the most mind-blowing phone call of all time but I think it was casual air of it all that got me. That now I was able to just pop and see my friends on important nights like this. No flights, no Skype, I was just there. As I threw my phone onto the passenger seat and began to drive I got that same ridiculously warm, teary feeling I get when I watch cheesy films that I'm aware I shouldn't get emotional at (Hotel For Dogs, for crying out loud?!) but can't help myself.

2. The time I finally got to spend a day hanging out with a Princess. 

Barnardo's Community Fundraisers were throwing a Frozen ball in Hertfordshire and ideally wanted their Guest of Honour to be somebody from Arendelle. Thankfully, they managed to arrange for Elsa to go, and I was the one lucky enough to be friends with her for the day. We stood outside the door whilst children and adults alike chanted I believe in children. On the third chant, we walked in to the sound of Let It Go. 

It was emotional for all involved I believe: some children were so beside themselves in excitement they didn't know what to do, some children were terrified, and the parents were a brilliant combination of emotional and outrageously competitive to get their child in a photo with her. I did get emotional; but not until Let Me Go by Gary Barlow came on- when a little girl who shares the name I want for my daughter came up to me dressed as Snow White and said she was dressed as my friend, she hoped that was okay.

I spent the afternoon answering questions about Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven, watched children's dreams come true as they danced, chatted, and posed with their hero, and was lucky enough to then go out for dinner in the real world with Dale. What a magical day.

3. Popping to see my Grandma and Grandad.

I've got into the habit of popping to see my grandparents on a Monday. I wish I could video it for you all. I always try desperately to remember everything they say but I've inevitably forgotten by the time I go to my mum.

I do remember, however, that when I visited them a few weeks ago my Grandma interrupted herself to say: "Ooh Derek, that reminds me, we must make sure we don't forget to pick up the Santa suit," and then carried on as though what she'd said was perfectly normal between a couple in their seventies.

I then went the following Monday to discover that they had used the Santa suit.

They had organised the Christmas party for their Bowls Club (I think it was their Bowls club, they do a few clubs and I can't keep up), and it had been hugely successful. They asked someone to dress up in the Santa suit they had organised (he looked very good, apparently), and at some point during the night my Grandad announced: if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear Santa's sleigh bells. Then Santa came in.

At this point of telling the story my Grandad chuckled and said: they're all old people, you know. But they loved it. 

As though he's a 17 year old boy providing entertainment at the local retirement home.

Santa then handed out the presents that my Grandma had requested everyone brought with them, and they played some games.

I hope I'm that much fun in forty-seven years.

4) My Christmas Evening with Madame Adelaide. 

At the beginning of December I went along to a Friends and Family Christmas Discount Evening at my friend's beautiful shop in Maldon, with Madame Adelaide who had made the unbelievable cupcakes for the occasion. I bumped into a friend that I worked with whilst I was at college and haven't seen since, and had a lovely catch up with her. I wandered around the shop- only just stopping myself from buying everything I laid my hands on, bought the few things I couldn't put down (all for me, I am so bad at Christmas shopping), then went for a drink with Madame.

We walked in the seasonably cold weather to the tiny, cosy coffee shop next door, and ordered huge, Cadbury's-Flake-and-marshmallow-filled hot chocolates. We spent the evening catching up on anything and everything, enjoying the Christmas music that was playing (well we enjoyed it until we realised it was just the one song on repeat, then it got annoying), and putting the world to rights. Everything that Christmas is about.

5) Dinner with the blended family. 

A few weeks ago my little brother Chip met a girl who lives in Twickenham. He went there to see her twice before she arranged to come to Essex to see him. Chip mentioned to Dad that she was coming here this time. So Dad did what any self-respecting father would do. Text the entire family inviting them to a big dinner, and booked a restaurant.

So Chip's third date with this girl involved her meeting the entire family.

The dinner was brilliant. Mowgli and his girlfriend were hilarious, as always. Dad's girlfriend had one glass too many and made a totally inappropriate and very funny comment to Chip and his new girl. Dad insisted on making stupid Dad jokes, and his girlfriend's children took it all in their stride.

They're official now, if you're interested.

6) The Lion King Leaving Party. 

Okay, honestly, Disney didn't hire out a club in Trafalgar Square because I left. I'm sure they would have done, but my leaving date happened to land on the 15th anniversary so they probably thought they'd kill two birds with one stone.

And so after my last, very emotional shift, I was presented with an outrageous number of presents from the superstars I worked with, and then we all made our way to Trafalgar Square for a brilliant night. 

I was chatting to one guy for half an hour before I realised he was actual Timon. I can't even begin to explain how excited I was. I did attempt to speak to the actor who plays Simba but, unfortunately, I have an outrageous, teenage-girl crush on him and fall apart when he walks into the room. I've a few embarrassing stories thanks to that particular fact, but I'll not go into them now.

I talked to so many amazing people from so many parts of the show, and will be forever proud and honoured to have been a part of that anniversary.

I will not be forever proud that the front of house manager had to walk me to Leicester Square, put me in a taxi, and later check that my slurring, swaying wine-fuelled self had made it home safely. (Although I will be forever grateful that he did that.)

I am thankful for so many parts of this year. I'm thankful for at least one thing that's happened every single day of this year, and I will genuinely miss my #100happydays.

A couple of years ago I mentioned The Empty Jar idea, you know, where you write something down every day that made you happy so that when you feel down about the world or life you can look in the jar and instantly find a series of happy memories. I didn't end up doing that because I moved to America at the beginning of the year and just didn't get round to it. This year however, I have two gorgeous jars decorated with Disney characters thanks to my self-indulgent time at the Friends and Family discount night in December, and so will be continuing my own personal #100happydays at home.

I would totally recommend doing something like this. It highlights how wonderful your life really is, and helps you to see the Little Wonders that fill your days.

Enjoy :)

Monday, 10 November 2014

It's Fun To Be Free...

This year has seen the launch of #likeagirl, #HeForShe, #FreedomTo, and #TweetYourFeet, all working- alongside many others- to make equality the norm in the UK and across the world.

For those of you that have not followed these, #TweetYourFeet was Essex Police's campaign to encourage the county and beyond to Stand Together Against Domestic Violence. To remind us that men and women should be equal in relationships. There should be mutual respect, love and power in a relationship, and that's all there should be. 

#FreedomTo was this year's Pride campaign. People from all over the country and the world thought about, discussed, and tweeted what they wanted the #FreedomTo do without judgement from others, or fear of what could happen if they were just themselves. 

#likeagirl was a (brilliant, in my opinion), campaign started by Always in an attempt to show the world that no matter what steps we think we have taken against sexism, we have got so much further to go. They asked a number of teenagers and adults (male and female) to do a variety of actions like a girl. They were asked to act out throwing a ball, running and fighting like a girl. 

What would you do? 

Chances are, you would do exactly what the participants in the experiment did. You'd mime worrying about your hair, you'd make your feet fan pathetically out behind you and your hands dangle in front of you as you ran. You'd mime slapping your hands about and holding your head back in a fight, making stupid noises, and you'd pretend to try and throw the ball and drop it right in front of your feet. 

They asked girls under the age of ten to do the same thing. 

They did their best. Showed how they would run, throw, and fight. 

They asked the adults again. 

Women: Is that how you run, fight, throw? No? But you're a girl. 

Men: Do you think you might have just offended your sister?

But my sister doesn't run/throw/fight like that. Girls do. But not my sister. 

(I can hear my little brothers saying mine does right now. Cheeky monkeys. Maybe that's why I'm writing this.) 

#HeForShe was the campaign started by Emma Watson in her UN Speech. She pointed out that the word feminism has negative connotations. (I totally agree with that, and have not used it in this post yet for fear of putting you off. In my experience feminism is given a bad name by the man-hating few that unfortunately have the loudest voices. The extremists always do, why is that?) 

#HeForShe was started in an attempt to get men and women on board with making men and women equal. Not moving women up to men's level. Not getting evil men to submit to us women, but making the world equal for everyone, no matter what. 

We have quite different opinions on  equality in my house, which has got me thinking a lot lately about what it means to me. 

As most of you will know (because I never stop talking about it), I have been lucky enough to work, live, and talk with people from all over the world, and the result is that I find myself endlessly grateful for the fact that my background, race, sexuality and culture mean that equality is very rarely an issue for me. But I have seen how much of an issue it is for others and continue to see it every day. It is an issue and I am proud of the fact that Britain seems to have acknowledged and taken steps to change that in 2014. 

The one that does affect me, of course, is sexism. 

Not particularly in a deep, woe-is-me, men-are-trouble, let's-burn-our-bras, we-must-define-gender kind of way. I don't get paid less than my male peers, I'm not less likely to get a promotion in my line of work, my opinions aren't dismissed because I'm a woman, but in a general, every day sense, I guess I am affected by it. 

At the risk of sounding like Samantha Brick (remember her? The journalist who wrote about how difficult it is to be so beautiful?), I cannot walk down a street in London alone without being accosted. Just to be clear, I am totally aware that it is not because I am so breathtakingly beautiful that men immediately forget what they were doing and feel the need to sweep me off my feet, it's because all the weirdos of the world collect in London, and if they see a girl on their own without headphones in, they are going to take their chances. 

I actually don't mind this, I like talking to new people and I've met some fairly awesome strangers this way that I still talk to now. 

What I do mind is when the first question is do you have a boyfriend?, the second question is can I take you on a date then? And then when told no they don't understand why. 

"But you don't have a boyfriend. There's no excuse." I need an excuse to say no to a date with a perfect stranger? One guy continued to chase me down the street when I said no, insisting (very loudly) that we just go for a coffee, that I was boring, a spoil sport, I needed to be more adventurous in my life, that by saying no I was proving that I wanted every day in my life to be the same, that I need more spontaneity. 

Believe it or not that didn't make me want to go on a date more. 

Anyway, the point I'm making is not that all men are weird and stupid and unfair like the ones that stop endless girls in the street, but that I honestly don't believe that this happens to men walking alone in Leicester Square (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, I am genuinely interested.) 

So why is it that men feel that they have the right to do that, and not women? (Again, I am aware that I am hugely generalising. No offence meant.) 

I have actually had a similar experience with men I already know, as well. 

I've been told that by being friends with a lad who knows I haven't got a boyfriend I am leading him on- even if I've told him that nothing will ever happen. 

But he knows you haven't got a boyfriend Rebecca. Even if you've said you're not interested, it's not fair to keep texting back when he knows you're single. 

Am I supposed to have no friends when I'm single?

 Does the same apply to men without girlfriends? 

I was recently told by the man next to me on the train that I was "clearly dressing for male attention." 

I was wearing leggings, a baggy t-shirt with a long sleeved t-shirt underneath, a scarf, boots, and a winter coat. The only skin he could see was on my hands and face, and my body shape was totally hidden by the size of the t-shirt. 

When I pointed this out, he said "exactly. You've totally hidden everything. Left it all to the imagination. Totally on purpose for men. You're clearly a tease." 

It's not the first time I've been accused of bringing it upon myself. 

By admitting I'm single, by the way that I dress (quite sensibly, by the way), by the fact that I don't wear headphones, the fact that I suffer from Resting Pleasant Face. It's all my fault. I lead men on by simply being myself. 

I found a new campaign yesterday in which women send pictures of themselves in what they were wearing when they experienced a similar encounter to the ones I've described. This is an attempt to prove that women do not bring it on themselves, and it's working. 

Lily Allen has talked this week about the fact that when she was pictured coming out of a Halloween party with Chris Martin, the world went crazy accusing her of abandoning her two children for a night out. 

Nowhere did any journalist feel the need to point out that Chris Martin also has two children that weren't with him. 

There is, however, a flip side. 

There's an episode of Friends in which Ross and Rachel hire- to Ross's great dismay- a male Nanny. When the men are horrified by this they say "but that's like a woman wanting to be a...", and they can't think of the end of the sentence, and are too scared to suggest anything and have to deal with the consequences from the women. 

Why is it that we can say that it's weird for a man to be a Nanny but God forbid anyone ever said anything similar about a woman? 

Similarly I recently read an article that explained that in relationships men are generally expected to be taller, more athletic and earn more than women. I know that this doesn't apply to every relationship in reality but it generally is expected. There's a storyline in Sex and the City in which the characters end up breaking up because Steve just cannot deal with earning less money than Miranda. That's a storyline that I genuinely believe applies to real couples all over the world. 

I've also noticed since I've been dating again that there is a general expectation from men and women that either the man will pay or the bill will be split. I have never (thank goodness) been on a date in which the man expected me to pay for the whole thing, but I have been on dates where they expect to pay for the whole thing, and definitely have friends who expect men to pay.

We had a big discussion about this when I was working as a waitress, because everyone was concerned that if you give the bill to the man, you may be implying that the woman cannot pay, and offend her. 

My thinking was- what about the poor guy?! Why is he expected to pay? Forget offending the woman by implying the man might be treating her, worry about offending the man by implying he should cover the whole thing. 

I've also noticed- primarily on television but absolutely in real life as well, that it seems far more acceptable for women to discuss famous men that they fancy than it is for men to discuss their fantasies. Obviously it does happen- especially when men are in a group together- but I've noticed that women will happily talk about how hot Bradley Cooper is and make silly remarks about what they'd like to do if they met him, and everyone laughs and agrees and it's all wonderful. 

Have you ever seen a man do that in front of a woman? Most of the time they get an eye roll and told "you wish" or even that they're coming across as leering and disgusting. 

That can actually apply to all emotions, I find. 

It's totally acceptable for women to cry over tv adverts and episodes of Downton Abbey, but it's generally not as openly okay for a man to cry. 

I can't imagine not being able to cry, or openly discuss my feelings about everything from my new job to the lyrics of Jessie Ware's new song with my friends, but we happily look down on men for doing it. 

I went on a date once in which the guy I was with teared up relaying the events of an episode of The Middle to me. Guess what? I do stuff like that all the time, and it only assured me that we were going to get along just great. But he would probably kill me if I told anyone that he did that. (This doesn't count, nobody will ever know who I'm referring to.) 

As I'm fairly sure I've made clear, I am absolutely for equality. I'm up for men being able to cry and for women to be able to walk down the street single, proud, alone, and safe. 

But I also think that we just are different. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, right? Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but generally there are some traits that will always belong to men, and some that will always belong to women, and no amount of clever hash tag campaigns will ever change that.....

1. Friendship. 

Pumbaa was on a train next to a group of middle aged men last month when she heard the following conversation: 

"Chris can't come to football anymore, the doctor told him his arthritis is too bad in his hip, he's quite upset actually...."

*The whole group burst out laughing.*

"That's hilarious, oh mate I've got to text him telling him to get his goalie gloves out."

If that was women that conversation would have gone very differently. 

2. Interaction. 

I have always been fascinated by men and their behaviour towards each other. When I was at uni I used to occasionally go to my friend's house full of boys and just hang out with them while they got ready for a night out. One of them once frowned at me and said "why on earth would you want to just come and be here with us? You must be so bored." 

It might be the most fun thing I've ever done, I think about it quite a lot actually. Boys are hilarious when they're together. 

A few weeks ago I was working in the Grand Circle at The Lyceum when one of the boys was looking out of the window (the Lyceum is directly opposite a hotel and from the Grand Circle you can see into bedrooms. You can imagine what he was looking for.) One of the boys noticed some kind of stick on the side. I have no idea what it was for, opening high windows, maybe? He reached across from the bar and started lightly tapping it on the top of the first lad's head, not heavy enough that he was aware it was there but so that he felt a tickle and kept scratching his head. 

How do boys even think to do stuff like that to each other? 

3. Domestic Bliss. 

I discussed this at length with Minnie Mouse a few weeks ago, and what we agreed was potentially controversial so I won't go into it too much. But the fact is that- as much as I am for equality among all people: regardless of race, culture, nationality, gender, sexuality or background- nobody will ever be able to change the fact that it is women that give birth. 

Yes, women can be the sole breadwinner, they can be wonderful mums and have successful careers, some women don't want to have children and shouldn't be judged for that....but the fact that only women can have children means that men and women will never be exactly the same. Sometimes equal and exactly the same can be confused. But because it is women that give birth it will always be more likely in a lot of households that women will be the ones running the day to day life of the house. Obviously not every house is the same, and plenty of men cook and clean and look after their children, but generally it is more likely to be women that take charge of those things. 

Not with Pumbaa and Baloo. 

I was there the other day when Baloo was asked which washing powder they used. Someone interrupted, asking, "wouldn't you be better asking Pumbaa that?" 

The answer is absolutely not. Baloo is most definitely the domestic head of that household. 

When I discussed it with Pumbaa later, she said people ask her things like that now because she's just a boring wife. 

I pointed out that she clearly isn't, because she didn't know the answer. 

"Does that mean I have a boring husband?" 

No. It makes him a sexy, domesticated hero right? Mums at the school will be saying "She is so lucky. Her husband does the washing AND cooking during the week," and they'll all sigh and make some derogatory joke about their own husbands. 

Imagine that conversation happening among men? 

Me neither. 

4. Honesty. 

One of the lads who works at The Lion King told me that I've recently developed swagger. Yep, I had Cher Lloyd in my head for the rest of the day as well, sorry about that. We ended up discussing my confidence in detail and decided that I perhaps did need to keep an eye on my ego. I hadn't noticed it inflating but apparently it had. I told him something would definitely happen for it to deflate. I'd trip and fall in public, for example. That happens often enough. 

I thought a lot about my confidence that day, and considered ways of keeping it in check. 

Then I got home. 

Mowgli immediately hit the mole on my arm and shouted "got it!" with glee, as he does every time it is visible. Chip then made some comment about me needing to check a mirror, and a (male) friend called me and proceeded to make (predictable, honestly) driving test jokes (I took a lot, okay?!) 

As long as I have brothers and boy mates, I think my ego will be just fine....

5. Jokes. 

Similarly to the story above, Flounder recently told me a story about her best friend's brothers that has stayed with me because it perfectly demonstrates the difference between boys and girls. 

Her best friend was dating someone that her family suspected to be gay. A few people had mentioned it to her, as nicely as they could. 

One day she was saying something about her boyfriend and commented "that's what happens when you date an older guy I guess..." 

Her brother responded: "No, that's what happens when you date a guy who wants to be dating other guys." 


That's exactly the kind of thing my brother would say. 

A girl never would. 

6. Arguing. 

This is where I believe boys absolutely have it right. Whereas girls tend to tiptoe around being annoyed at someone, bitching behind their backs and then become quite defensive if they're accused of anything, boys' arguments tend to go like this: 

Man 1: That really annoyed me when you did that the other day. You're an idiot sometimes. 

Man 2: I know mate. Sorry about that. Beer? 

It's one of my favourite things to watch. 

Since Pumbaa sent me the text about the group of men talking about Chris, his arthritis and his goalie gloves about a month ago, I've done a lot of thinking about this and noticed a lot of differences and similarities, in adults and children. 

Whilst I totally believe that we should all have equal rights and be treated with equal respect, and am super excited about the developments that #likeagirl and #HeForShe are certain to bring about, I also believe that girls should be allowed to be girls and boys should be allowed to be boys, without any pressure to make us all the same. 

Exactly the same and equal are two different things, and I think it's important to remember that. 

Boys and girls are different, everyone is different, and we should be embracing that, learning from one another and appreciating one another for what we are. 

Minnie Mouse found out this month that she is having a bouncing baby boy. 

I want him to come into a world in which he can be himself. He can have the same rights as everybody else, he can tell his mates they're idiots, drink beer, and find himself hilarious. But he can also tear up at the BT advert, take charge of the household chores, and expect to only pay half of the Nando's bill. 

So let's continue to work for equality, and continue to remember that everyone's different. 

Let's Stand Together Against Domestic Violence; run, fight and throw like the real, strong women that we are, stand up for men and women alike, give everyone equal rights, no matter what their background, and make sure everyone has the Freedom To be themselves.

It's Fun To Be Free, and I want this gorgeous little man that's going to change my best friend's life to know exactly what that means...

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

For Now, For Always....

If the theme of 2012 was children, and the theme of 2013 was Disney, then the theme of my life in 2014 has most definitely been weddings.

Every single day that I took off from The Lion King in the seven months I was there was for either a hen weekend or a wedding. 

The Merchandise team would turn to me for information and opinions on weddings (something that I wrote at the beginning of the year that I struggled with, and am now an expert on), and would make me perform any wedding-related clues during particularly heated games of Heads Up. (If you've never played Heads Up cancel all plans for tonight and download it immediately. I feel I should point out that every game of Heads Up is a particularly heated game. At least if I'm playing it it is.) 

I had five weddings this year. Five. 

And four of them involved my absolute best friends in the entire world. 

One of those, I am mortified and devastated to admit, I missed. I was in Florida and in my extension and therefore unable to leave. 

That was the wedding of Jiminy Cricket and Rex. I introduced them in January 2006, and did that thing that you have to do for your friends when you're sixteen, of telling them they liked each other and giving them each other's MSN messenger addresses so that they could talk on there for a while, smile shyly when they passed each other in the corridors, and eventually go to Southend Pier to discuss their mutual love of John Mayer and Matchbox Twenty. 

In the weeks leading up to the wedding that it made me feel sick to miss, I started going to speak to various characters around the parks. (This is where I regret having a Disney alias for each friend. I mean the ACTUAL Disney characters in the parks now, make sense?) I told them that I was missing my best friends' wedding because I was in Florida, and their reactions were MAGICAL. Obviously. 

I asked them to hold a sign saying "Congratulations Dean and Becky" while I took photos, and hoped that they wouldn't be annoyed that I was taking up their time like that when there was an endless queue of excited children (of all ages) waiting to meet them. 

The Princesses squealed. Chip and Dale ran in circles. Duffy jumped up and down. Alice told the entire queue. Daisy ran to get Minnie so that they could pose together, despite the fact that they had separate lines of people waiting for them. The cast members working on the Where's Perry? attraction saw my sign and asked if they could pose for me. The team working in the America pavilion in Epcot took their own photo to use for promotional material. Carol, the entertainer in The Rose and Crown, wrote and sang a song about them to the entire pub while I filmed. A girl working in the Morocco pavilion wrote Congratulations in Arabic for me and posed with her own sign. Then I sent all the pictures and the music to Dale (back to using an alias now- Dale is an actual human with a real name that I won't be revealing)- and he stayed up until 2.17am putting together the video that I sent my friends on the morning of their wedding. 

They loved it. They felt me with them for the entire day and mentioned me in the speeches. (In reality I went to the cinema on my own and sat there crying about the fact that I wasn't at the wedding. Especially when Jiminy sent me a picture of her in her dress, my eyes well up thinking about it now.)

Wedding number one down. 

(This is the link to the video, if any of you are interested. It is magical, even if I do say so myself. 

The next three weddings involved hen weekends. 

The first wedding after Jiminy Cricket and Rex's was Minnie Mouse's. Minnie Mouse is ridiculously organised and had her hen weekend so far in advance that I was still in Florida and missed it. She did, however, then have a barbecue the weekend before her wedding. 

She had the women over during the day, and we had a tea party (which involved vodka in teacups and filthy games, obviously), whilst the men went out for an Indian. Then in the evening the men came back to the house, and everybody watched the football together. (Well. Not me. I was outside slurring about how much I missed Disney, I'm sure.) Then we had a barbecue and played Beer Pong. 

It was perfect, and definitely an idea I will be stealing for my wedding.

The hen weekend after that was for Madame Adelaide. 

We went to Bath for a relatively chilled weekend. We ate, drank, danced and spent a lot of time in our onesies and most of our time playing Heads Up. We got to see a beautiful city, learn Charleston, I bought my dress for the wedding, and got to know a gorgeous group of girls that I was then also lucky enough to see again a week later as we watched Madame tie the knot. 

The final hen weekend of the year was for Pumbaa.

Pumbaa's hen weekend was organised by her sister. Her sister is THE most organised person I have ever met. She's like a cross between Monica from Friends and Santa Claus. Seriously. 

Which meant that it was INSANE. It was jam packed and exciting and funny and magical, and I will be hiring Pumbaa's sister to organise my own hen weekend and my wedding. 

I could write up every second of every hen event I went to this year because I loved all three of them so much, but instead I'm going to provide you with the highlights of each one, and the things I love most about these occasions....

1. Grandparents. 

The absolute number one thing I love about hen weekends is that everyone's drunk and honest and outrageous in a way that they never normally would be- and there are normally mums and nans about to witness it. 

A few examples: 

- At Minnie's hen we played Mr and Mrs. The groom had been asked certain questions and his answers noted, then we asked the bride the same questions to see how many matched. One of the questions was: What is the groom's favourite...ahem...position? The bride answered -in front of the groom's mother- mortifying- then remembered it was her own mum that had done the interviewing! When she pointed it out her mum giggled and answered: "Thought I'd spice it up a bit babe. It is your hen." 

- At Pumbaa's hen we did It's A Knockout (which I cannot recommend enough), and as part of the warm up challenges the groom's sister had to pole dance on a man from another team. She did, she was amazing, and we won that challenge. As she walked away from the man she had stripped, taken her top off for and pole danced on, her Nana grabbed her, hugged her and said "well done, I am so proud of you." In what other situation would that happen?!

-A few minutes after the above incident, the It's A Knockout team were explaining the health and safety procedures to us, and to make it a bit more interesting for the filthy minded hens and stags (seriously, normal people become ridiculous at these events!), they made us "put one hand in the air and one on your genitalia". My favourite moment of the whole weekend, potentially just ever in my life, was when the sister of the groom, dead seriously and with a concerned look, caught her Nana's eye and said "hand on your genitalia Nan! Quickly!" 

2. Other Wedding Guests. 

This was something that I hadn't particularly thought about before this year. The three hen weekends I went to were those of my three best friends in the entire world. They are the centre of everything to me and anyone that has ever spent more than five minutes with me will have heard me talk about them. So meeting their other friends that I've spent years hearing about but never actually met was brilliant, and, clearly, these girls have excellent taste in friends so I ended up meeting some amazing people. And because hen weekends are SO full on, you end up getting to know people very quickly, and making friends easily. 

I found myself walking away from all three weekends excited to see everyone again at the wedding. 

Now they all need to hurry up and have babies so that we can be reunited again at the christening.

3. Fun- just because. 

I wrote in my last post that it is so rare for adults to do something just for the sake of fun. Obviously hen weekends happen to celebrate the fact that someone is getting married, and they take a LOT of organising, but once they're happening they are probably as close to doing something just for fun as you can get for an adult. 

I said earlier that the only time I ever booked off from The Lion King was for the sake of hen weekends and weddings. 

What a brilliant way to spend my only days off. 

I cannot think, in fact, of one other occasion in which a group of adults ranging from the ages of 20 to 70 would get together to play Pin The Pants On The Hunk, partake in a Burlesque dance class, do a "How Well Do You Know Your Friend?" quiz, dress up as brides and attempt to eat chocolate with a knife and fork, and time themselves bursting balloons attached to one another's backsides. Can you? 

4. Silliness. 

When Minnie Mouse had her hen weekend away, the one that I missed, I was in Florida. Specifically, I was in Walt Disney World- the happiest, most magical place on earth. I was with Dumbo, one of the sweetest, most magical people on earth, when I received a picture of a man. 

A very specific area of a man, to be precise. I'll let you imagine what body part it was, but I'll tell you one thing: it wasn't his face.

Receiving that picture in broad daylight in Walt Disney World whilst hanging out with Dumbo was potentially the most surreal moment of my entire life. We just don't send pictures like that to each other. 

Except, when you're on a hen weekend, you do. 

Suddenly male body parts are the funniest thing on the planet. They're on straws, part of the games, hidden in goody bags and referred to an unreasonable amount. You would never do that in real life. 


5. Gossip. 

I mentioned above that because hen weekends are quite full on, you get to know each other very quickly. The day before the most recent hen weekend I had given my number to someone and was waiting to hear from him. My memory of it is that I played it very cool and mentioned it in passing in the car on the way there. 

When I arrived at the wedding everyone that had been at the hen weekend- from the bride's colleagues and close friends to family members and groom's relations- asked whether I had seen him again yet. 

Equally I was keen to talk to people I had only met at the hen weekend about pregnancy, holidays, in  depth work issues and their love lives. 

I swear I made life long friends at these things. 

Now as magical and special as the hen weekends were, they were nothing on the weddings. 

Like with the hen celebrations, I could bore you with every second of each wedding, from having my hair styled to watching the first dances, but instead will provide you with my favourite parts....

1. The Moment The Bride Walks In. 

In the movie 27 Dresses we're told that instead of looking at the Bride when she walks in, we should look at the groom. I tested this three times this year, and can confirm it is the most magical moment of the day. 

At Minnie's wedding, it resulted in me sobbing unashamedly into Pumbaa's shoulder. At Madame Adelaide's wedding, it meant squeezing Dale's hand painfully tightly until the bridesmaid provided some comic relief by stepping on The Dress, and at Pumbaa's wedding, it meant taking a lot of deep breaths to steady myself in time for my reading. 

I guess maybe because they are my best friends, and I've spent ten years fantasising about weddings with them, it was extra special. Maybe because I've been at the end of the phone to listen to the tears of heartbreak, I've been hurt and furious on their behalf, I've told them that they deserve the best, I've reassured them It Will Happen, I've laughed and cried through He's Just Not That Into You with them approximately five million times, and I've told them how wonderful they are, watching the faces of the three luckiest men on earth register just how lucky they are was extra special. 

Plus my best friends are the three most beautiful women ever, which probably helped. 

Still, next time you're at a wedding, watch the groom's face. If you're not overwhelmed with love and magic, make a little noise when they ask whether anyone knows of any reason why the two of them cannot be joined in holy matrimony....

2. Confetti. 

When I was little I always thought confetti was a surprise for the bride and groom. When you look at pictures they always look shocked and happy, as though it has come out of nowhere over their heads. 

In reality, it really makes me laugh. The bride more or less announces "it's time to throw colourful paper over me now, so I'll wait here, you get into two lines. When you're ready, I'll walk down the middle of the two lines, and you must throw your confetti as I get to you, okay? It must be right, because the photographer only has one chance." 

Then the couple walk down, everybody throws it, and they look surprised and happy for the photo. Brilliant. 

3. The Speeches. 

I think the speeches are my favourite part of the day. I'm lucky in that I've only been to four weddings for the whole day as an adult, and every single speech at every single wedding has been heart warming, genuine, and funny in equal measure. 

At Minnie's wedding, her husband explained that he's got where he is today (he and Minnie have achieved a ridiculous amount at their young age), because his mum taught him you can get anything if you're nice to people. 

At Madame Adelaide's wedding, her husband said that if anyone had told him four years ago that he would be living in Essex, married to an Essex girl and the co-owner of a pussy cat, he never would have believed them. (I don't know if I can get across in words how brilliant this was, actually. I think it was the outrageously happy and proud smile that went with it that made it.) 

At Pumbaa's wedding, her dad said that his new son-in-law was not being welcomed to the family, because he was already a part of it. So much so that he can't even see where the joins are anymore. 

They are all tiny clips of long days but each of those will stay with me forever.

4. The Wine. 

On no other day of the year is it acceptable to start on the wine at 10am (except maybe Christmas day, and even then I think it's meant to be slightly later), and continue to drink until 1am. For free. Minnie Mouse was pregnant at the most recent wedding and I think she was fairly sad to miss out on that particular highlight. 

5. The Food. 

When I was a bridesmaid for Minnie Mouse the ridiculously delicious food started at 7am when we were brought bacon sandwiches. Yes, I am a vegetarian. But (I feel like I will regret posting this for all to see), I am a vegetarian with a dirty little secret. I miss bacon. And sometimes- when nobody's looking (or when my Grandparents don't understand the rules of vegetarianism- a story for another time), I eat bacon. Minnie Mouse's wedding was one such occasion. And it was amazing. 

After that it's a champagne reception with hors d'oeuvres (at Madame Adelaide's wedding they had these mozzarella and tomato with balsamic vinegar things that I am still dreaming about), then a three course dinner, then cake, and occasionally, an edible favour. 

It's like a dream. 

6. The Little Things. 

The weddings I went to this year were full of them. Little things that could never have been planned but made the day nonetheless....

- The Lord's Prayer: 

It was Minnie Mouse's wedding. Pumbaa and I had cried non-stop more or less since we had woken up. We had sobbed when we got to the altar (neither of us had been warned that we would be walking down the aisle to Christina Perri's A Thousand Years and we were therefore emotionally unprepared for it) and so were a little worse for wear. It was time to say The Lord's Prayer. We opened our mouths to say the first line. From behind us, an outrageously loud, passionate, Irish voice filled the church. Minnie's step mum. At first I thought it was just me laughing, that is totally my sense of humour. As it continued I could feel the bridesmaids either side of me vibrating with laughter. Four of you laughing your meticulous pedicures off wearing matching dresses and matching tear stains with Christina Perri going round your head is nothing less than real magic. 

- Let It Go. 

The next wedding I went to was that of a family friend, and was just for the evening reception. The bride and groom have been together for eleven years, since they were in year ten, and finally tied the knot in August. 

The bride and the groom's brother did an impromptu duet of Let It Go. She clearly knew the song very well, because she managed to swing around in her dress at exactly the right moments so that we felt like we were watching The Real Elsa. It was funny, powerful, and managed to avoid being cheesy or cringey. It was perfect. 

-I Wanna Dance With Somebody. 

Madame Adelaide didn't want a big party after her wedding. She wanted the service and the dinner, and that was that. When we had all finished dinner, she was at our table talking when I Wanna Dance With Somebody came on. This is my favourite song of all time and a huge hit between the four of us as a group of friends. The bride said that she wanted to dance. What I've learnt this year is that what the bride says goes, no matter how laid back the wedding (to give you an idea of how laid back Madame Adelaide's wedding was, Pumbaa and I recited our reading from Pumbaa's phone). Within seconds, Pumbaa had dragged every single person into the middle of the room, and her fiancĂ© had turned the lights down and the music up, and- da-daa. There was a disco. It couldn't have been any better if it was planned. 

- The Groom's Nana

I mentioned when I was discussing the hen weekends how brilliant I think Pumbaa's husband's Nana is. 

At their wedding, after the bride and groom had had their first dance, the dance floor stayed empty, and Pumbaa and her dad had a Father-Daughter dance. (I'd like to point out that I had managed to keep it together all through the service and the speeches, and only cried at this point of the day- 8.15pm. A personal record, I believe.) The second I registered that they were dancing to I Hope You Dance- one of my favourite songs and the song that means so much to Pumbaa that she has the lyrics tattooed on her- I lost it, and sobbed into my wine. A few moments later, couples started joining the dance floor. I stood, snivelling pathetically as I watched everyone, when I realised that Nana was dancing with someone very young and very good looking. I turned around to put my camera away. I turned back. She was dancing with someone different. Equally young and equally good looking. 

The pattern continued for the rest of the night. I didn't cry again after that. 

7. Thoughtful Touches. 

I couldn't tell you all of the thoughtful, personal additions to every wedding I went to because there were so many. But each and every one of them made it extra special for every single guest. Minnie Mouse provided us with Krispy Kreme donuts with our names on them, Madame Adelaide gave us personalised Dairy Milks, my family friends put photos of themselves as children on the toilet doors to show which were for boys and which for girls, and Pumbaa and her husband put photos of their parents on their wedding days on the top table. Everything was so well thought out, I will be expecting this every time I go out for dinner from now on. 

8. Dancing. 

One of my favourite things to do at weddings is to look around at the serious, teary faces during the service and remind myself that in a few hours they'll be throwing themselves around the dance floor with their ties around their heads. 

Similarly to the hen weekends there aren't many times in life that people of all ages and backgrounds will come together and let their hair down. There's a brilliant moment on the video of my 18th birthday party where my outrageously tall, 18 year old neighbour Rob is dancing with my relatively short, 65 year old Grandma, and they're chatting while they bop. I LOVE moments like that, and since I turned 21 it's only really at weddings that it happens. 

9. My Best Friends. 

The best thing about all three weddings is that I got to spend actual time hanging out with my best friends in a way that we never normally do as adults. 

We took a Charleston class, and a Burlesque one. We played Heads Up. We went wedding dress searching, guest outfit shopping, and tiara hunting. We viewed venues, assessed invitation designs and discussed seat covers. I spent real time with their husbands' families, learnt more about their taste in food, flowers and music. We drank wine for whole weekends at a time, dressed up, dressed down, even undressed at some wilder moments during the Burlesque class...We laughed and cried together, had our hair and makeup done together, opened presents, reminisced about the past and predicted the future together. We wrote and rehearsed readings together, and held hands as we watched our best friend walk down the aisle. 

I feel closer to my best friends than ever before, and we have made wonderful memories together because they agreed to commit their lives to someone else. Funny, isn't it?

A lot of people have asked me recently how I feel about all of my best friends being married. How I feel about being single at "this stage in my life". (Seriously. I'm 25.) When I'm going to get married. Whether I would like to have children soon.

There's a moment in Sex and the City when Charlotte says to the three other girls "maybe we could be each other's soulmates? And then we could let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with."

I've been lucky enough to watch my three beautiful best friends find their true soulmates, fall in love, and walk down the aisle towards men that know just how lucky they are.

For me, though, those three girls are enough right now. They're everything.

My favourite moment, out of all of the weddings I've been to this year, was on Pumbaa's wedding day. The four of us had a photo taken.

The photographer asked "Is it just you four?"

And my eyes filled with outrageously happy tears as I nodded and my voice croaked "just us four."

That's more than enough for me.

For now, for always.